30 July 2014

FILM REVIEW: Lucy

Besson tries and fails (again)



Luc Besson’s films haven’t really received many good reviews over the past few years and unfortunately his latest release, Lucy, does nothing to change that fact. Starring both Scarlett Johansson and Morgan Freeman, this film had the potential to be pretty darn great, but it fell short at just about every hurdle. The film follows the story of Lucy, a student who is forced into becoming a drug mule with a packet of a new drug, CPH4, sewn into her. Her passage takes a turn for the worse when she is violently attacked, causing the drugs packet inside of her to burst, releasing very large amounts of the drug, which increases the user’s brain function capacity, into her bloodstream.  Lucy immediately begins to develop powerful mental talents such as telekinesis, the ability to absorb information instantaneously and mental time travel amongst other things.  


Lucy seems to have passed under the radar in terms of popular summer film releases, which surprised me upon hearing about it, but doesn’t surprise me at all now that I’ve seen it. Whilst the plot is intriguing and there are some superb special effects, the two don’t quite mesh together and it all starts to crumble the minute the film gets going. At only 89 minutes long, there isn’t really any time for anything to be properly developed, be it the characters or the plot and quite frankly the last third of the film literally makes no sense at all. Typical of Besson’s films, there are lots of cool special effects and the whole film is very ‘visual’, but the attempt to combine snazzy action sequences and exploding visuals with a complicated story line about the capacity of the human brain results in a huge muddle (a beautiful muddle, but a muddle nevertheless).


I’d say that a lot of people don’t often fully comprehend the complicated scientific theories behind these sorts of films; however, enough information to support a basic understanding of what is going on would be ideal. Unfortunately, Besson does not seem to think the same, leaving watchers completely baffled as to what exactly is going on for all 89 minutes of this film.  

One of the main problems with this film is that it was just too ambitious. It has been said that in Besson’s ‘Statement of Intent’ he compared the film to Nolan’s Inception. Really, Besson? This film seems lost and misguided, unsure of where it’s going and what it’s trying to be. At several points throughout the film the audience was laughing but I certainly wouldn’t classify this film as a comedy. Whilst at the beginning this seemed like a serious thriller, it swiftly turned to meaningless action sequences reminiscent of Besson’s Hitman. The film’s one saving grace would be that Scarlett Johansson kicks some serious ass and there’s a real ‘girl-power’ vibe throughout. The acting is great but without a coherent plot to support it, it all goes to waste.



Indeed, Lucy has received very mixed reviews from critics since its release just under a week ago but a lot of those reviews tend to be along the lines of ‘it’s better than expected’ which doesn’t equal ‘worth watching’. All in all, Lucy is a film that had the potential to be something great but poor execution has led it astray and consequently the overall feeling is just one of confusion and disappointment.  

7 July 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult, Romance
Publisher: Orion Books
Publication Date: 31st July 2014
Goodreads Summary: Georgie McCool knows her marriage is in trouble. That it’s been in trouble for a long time. She still loves her husband, Neal, and Neal still loves her, deeply — but that almost seems besides the point now.

Maybe that was always besides the point.

Two days before they’re supposed to visit Neal’s family in Omaha for Christmas, Georgie tells Neal that she can’t go. She’s a TV writer, and something’s come up on her show; she has to stay in Los Angeles. She knows that Neal will be upset with her — Neal is always a little upset with Georgie — but she doesn’t expect to him to pack up the kids and go home without her.

When her husband and the kids leave for the airport, Georgie wonders if she’s finally done it. If she’s ruined everything.

That night, Georgie discovers a way to communicate with Neal in the past. It’s not time travel, not exactly, but she feels like she’s been given an opportunity to fix her marriage before it starts . . .

Is that what she’s supposed to do?

Or would Georgie and Neal be better off if their marriage never happened?

{ Review }

Landline wasn't at all what I expected it to be. I expected this to be a romantic young adult book but what I got was a lesson in life and in love. This story is written from the perspective of Georgie McCool, a thirty-something woman who is married with two children. She's busy trying to make it as the script writer for a major Television show but in the meantime she's let her family life slide. It's nearing Christmas day in 2013 and Georgie finally gets the call that she, and her partner (and best friend) Seth, have been waiting for. A major television producer wants their show. The problem is, this means Georgie has got a week to whip up four episodes worth of content, during which time she's supposed to be celebrating Christmas in Omaha with Neal, her husband, and his family in Omaha. She tells Neal that she can't go and to her surprise, he takes the kids and leaves without her. Thinking she's really blown it this time, Georgie ends up back in the comfort of her childhood home, but when she calls Neal from her old telephone, it's not her Neal that picks up, but a Neal from twenty years ago. Georgie has somehow managed to communicate with her husband from the past, but is unsure of what she should do with this power. 

Although this story sounds like it is mainly about Georgie being glued to a phone that is somehow connected to the past, that's not what this book is about at all. Now thinking about it, this book is very simple. It basically details the antics of Georgie McCool from December 17th through to Christmas Day. Taking place over a mere nine days, I feel like I've lived a lifetime with Georgie. Rowell has seamlessly weaved bits from the past into a story that takes place in the present in such a way that you don't even realise it's happening. There are rather a lot of books emerging on the market right now that involve either time travel or the past and present colliding and Landline is definitely one of the forerunners in this new craze. 

I am thoroughly amazed at the author's ability to capture the mind of her protagonists. In my review of Eleanor & Park, also by Rowell, I noted how impressed I was by her insight into the mind of a teenage girl, given that, obviously, she is no longer a teenage girl. The same sort of thing applies to Landline, I am thoroughly amazed at how Rowell has captured the thoughts of Georgie McCool, a thirty-something mother and wife, though in this case, Rowell is both. Georgie's narrative sounds completely authentic and she's not a perfect character, but she is wholly human. I am so tired of reading novels about perfect heroins or people that we should 'aspire' to be like when I'd much rather be reading about, for want of a better phrase, the girl next door. I am an eighteen year old girl; I don't know what it's like to be a wife or a mother but I could still wholeheartedly relate to Georgie. I thin there's a part of Georgie in every human being, a part of each person who has no idea what they're doing in life, so this book could be enjoyed by anyone of any gender, age or race. 

What's amazing is that this story wasn't sappy in the slightest. Yes, it is predominantly about recapturing romance and love, but somehow this doesn't overpower the story. Georgie's story didn't make me cry nor did it give me butterflies in my stomach, but there was something about it that made me want to keep reading. This book was nice. Not in a bad way, but in the best possible way. Nice has become a somewhat pejorative adjective so some of you may be confused as to why I'm using it to describe this book that I'm speaking about with so much praise, but reading this book really was a nice experience. I read this book in one sitting, but I didn't 'speed' through it, it was more of an amble really, a pleasant walk through Rowell's words. There are so many quotable passages from this story that it was simply impossible for me to note them all down. Every few pages I would have to set my book down and reflect for a few seconds on what I had just read. There is something profoundly true and moving about this Rowell's writing and he made me see love and life in a completely different way. 

Curiously, not all loose ends are tied up at the end of this novel, and for once, this didn't bother me! The endings of novels are a constant source of bother for me, but I was actually really content when I finished reading Landline. Rowell doesn't give us an answer for everything, but I found that I didn't need one, which, ironically, was something I learnt from reading this book. This book teaches you about how to approach love, family and life but it doesn't present Georgie's actions as the only way forwards. There are lots of ifs and buts along the way but I never felt like the author was imposing her opinions on the matter onto the reader which gives you a certain freedom to interpret this book how you wish. Rowell throws a different light onto scenarios that countless authors before her have explored and I feel like I'm looking at the future in a slightly different way now. 

All in all, Landline is a throughly good read, an inexplicably unputdownable tale that is impossible not to enjoy. This is something that everybody needs to read before carrying on with their lives because I firmly believe that every reader will carry away with them something profound and enlightening from Rowell's work. 

Available in UK bookstores from the 31st July 2014.

10 June 2014

FILM REVIEW: 22 Jump Street


I had serious doubts about this film from the second I sat down to watch it. From the outset it’s clear that this film is going to follow the same line that the first film did with very little variation, but stick with it because directors Lord and Miller will show you how good sequels can be.

Following their ‘success’ in the 21 Jump Street program, Schmidt and Jenko are back with a new assignment – they’re going to college. Their job is to find the supplier of a new drug, WHYPHY (pronounced ‘wifi’), which is spreading quickly across campus and has caused the death of a student already. The plot line is pretty much exactly the same as its precursor, 21 Jump Street, except the explosions are bigger and the jokes are funnier.


Neither Jenko nor Schmidt have matured in the slightest since their first assignment, which allows Channing Tatum and Noah Hill to be as silly as they like. Tatum shows off his character’s fearless and foolish attitude, scaling walls, jumping off buildings, getting shot (yes, again), whilst Hill reminds us what it’s like to be desperately unfit and uncoordinated. All things considered, Schmidt and Jenko shouldn’t really be friends and yet they have what is possibly the most beautiful bromance that Hollywood has ever offered us. This pair works so well together with their characters’ personalities each bringing something different to the table, but it’s when the two are combined that the real magic happens. The slight twist in this film is that Jenko and Schmidt’s relationship starts to wane under the pressure of the social hierarchy at college, which just makes it all the more obvious that this pair should never be apart.

It’s not just Tatum and Hill providing comedy gold, but the impressive supporting cast as well. We see much more of Ice Cube than in the previous film and there’s one particularly memorable scene involving green beans and a very, very angry Ice Cube. I can’t say more without revealing this film’s best moment so you’ll have to see it yourself to find out more. If that doesn’t tempt you then Jillian Bell’s rendition of a vicious Barbie doll sure as hell should.


There are numerous ‘in-jokes’ throughout the film which gives the impression that script writer Michael Bachall is having his fun with us.  These references are subtly blended into this film in such a way that you’re not sure whether it really is Bachall talking directly to us, but it is. This film doesn’t take itself very seriously, but it sticks to know what it’s best at and repeats. The jokes are not forced in the slightest and this film simply oozes effortless comedy value. The jokes are somewhat repetitive, but miraculously, this doesn’t grate on you, they just get funnier every time. There were a few occasions where I couldn’t help but massively cringe at the script but these moments were rare and infrequent.

For those of you who are fans of the first film but are afraid of 22 Jump Street ruining your fond memories of Schmidt and Jenko, give this film a shot – you wont regret it. Remodelling the exact same story is difficult, but rest assured that Lord and Miller have outdone themselves once again - this isn’t anything like the disappointment that was The Hangover Part II (and Part III for that matter).

Make sure you stay until the very end of the film where there’s a series of mock scenarios for future films, up until around 41 Jump Street – the perfect end to this smashing action-comedy. 

5 June 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

Title: The Apple Tart of Hope
Author: Sarah Moore Fitzgerald
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Orion Children's Books
Publication Date: 5th June 2014
Goodreads Summary: Oscar Dunleavy, who used to make the world's most perfect apple tarts, is missing, presumed dead. No-one seems too surprised, except for Meg, his best friend, and his little brother Stevie. Surrounded by grief and confusion, Meg and Stevie are determined to find out what happened to Oscar, and together they learn about loyalty and friendship and the power of never giving up hope. The second sensational novel from Irish author, Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, following her debut, BACK TO BLACKBRICK, perfect for fans of Annabel Pitcher and Siobhan Dowd.

{ Review }

The Apple Tart of Hope is a beautifully sweet read that leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. It's a story of friendship, love and hope. Following the disappearance of Oscar Dunleavy, one of the most loved boys at school, Meg, his best friend, flys back to Ireland from New Zealand. Having been away from several months, Meg doesn't understand what could've driven Oscar to ride his bike off the cliff. Sensing that something isn't quite right, Meg and Oscar's younger brother Stevie set off to find out what really happened to Oscar and what led to his disappearance. 

Told from the alternating perspective of both Oscar and Meg, the pair reminisce about the six months after Meg's parents dragged her off to New Zealand. It's curious how much of a connection you can feel between the two characters even though the reader doesn't see the pair together in the present-time and can only read each individual's memories of the other. Reading the thoughts and feelings of both Oscar and Meg gives the reader an immediate connection to both of them. They're the sort of people that you wish you knew and were friends with in real life. Both of them seem like real people and the author seems to have captured the thoughts of both the teenage boy and girl perfectly in her characters. I don't think the ages of either characters is explicitly mentioned which means that the characters could be teenagers of any age really but that makes this story even better - it is both ageless and timeless.  

This story and the writing is so simple and yet so beautiful. There are a few twists and turns in the story but for the most part I just meandered my way through this story. Whilst this film was a lovely read, it does also highlight the social pressure that teenagers are under at high school and how it can all go very wrong, very quickly. This story isn't really what you'd call 'predictable', but it's not particularly hard to guess what the outcome will be either. However, this story isn't about the ending, it's about the journey. You learn the true meaning of friendship and how you should never give up hope because, as the book cover says, "there's always a crumb left".  

I wish I could find out more about Oscar, Meg and their world, but one of the best things about this book is that it is so short and sweet. Nothing about this book is superfluous; each and every word is on point and hits you right in the middle of the chest. If you're a fan of Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park then I think you'd enjoy this tale as well. This book is an unexpected gem and I would absolutely recommend it to everyone, old or young, for it is a thoroughly heart-warming tale with a few life lessons thrown in too. 

*Many thanks to Orion Children's Books for providing me with a review copy. All opinions are my own. 

31 May 2014

FILM REVIEW: Maleficent

First published on The Oxford Student, see original here.


Maleficent is Disney’s latest attempt at a live action reboot, retelling the tale of the 1969 classic, Sleeping Beauty. This adaption focuses on the story’s antagonist, Maleficent, portraying her as the misunderstood villain. We are first introduced to her as a beautiful and sweet little faerie, but Maleficent grows up to be betrayed by Stefan, the man she loves, who, blinded by his greed, cuts off her wings in order to be named as the King’s successor. Heartbroken and consumed by hate, Maleficent turns to a life of revenge, placing an irrevocable curse upon Stefan’s new born daughter to prick her finger on a spindle the night before her sixteenth birthday, sending her into a deep death-like slumber that only true love’s kiss can awaken her from.


Maleficent seems unsure of what it is trying to be. Is it a tale for children or older audiences? Is it a dark tale or a comedy? Is it the story of revenge or redemption? This film didn’t even have itself figured out so what hope did I, as the viewer, have? Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the mixing of genres but there’s little integration here, just the slightly painful clashing of genres. Thus, whilst there are some very good parts to the film, there are also many not-so-good parts, which means that overall this film leaves you with the bitter taste of unfulfilled potential. There was even what seemed to be a revival of Angelina Jolie as Catwoman in her iconic black spandex one piece towards the end. Very confusing.

This lack of direction becomes especially apparent at the end of the film when the plot nosedives to altogether predictable and unimaginative finale. The film had established itself as what seemed to be a unique take on an old classic, but then it suddenly veered back towards the typical trite scenes that you’d expect from the modern Disney film. The minute that the attention is diverted away from Jolie’s Maleficent and towards Fanning’s Aurora, the film starts its slow and painful descent to a clichéd ending. This is not a reflection of Elle Fanning’s acting, but rather an unoriginal and bland script throughout the entire middle section of the film in which we basically just watch Maleficent follow Aurora around through the woods.


The film’s visual effects are rather impressive with some stunning scenery, beautiful, magical creatures and fiery action sequences. However, it is Angelina Jolie’s performance as Maleficent that is undoubtedly this film’s saving grace. She holds this film together and it is a shame that the way in which the plot develops means that she cannot continue to showcase her abilities. Maleficent is a complex character and the viewer feels an inexplicable sense of attachment to her, rather than the film itself, which is all down to Jolie.


All in all, I must admit that this film is considerably better than critics would have you believe, but that’s not to say that there aren’t some serious flaws in it too. This film wavers between really good and really bad and if it weren’t for the numerous juxtapositions in tone and genre, then this film would have been great. I suspect that kids will love this film whilst the unfortunate adults accompanying them will most likely forget that Disney ever tried to remake Sleeping Beauty.

29 May 2014

FILM REVIEW: Food, Inc.



I've recently become more and more interested in watching documentaries (and by that I mean, finding more and more ways to procrastinate) so I've turned to Netflix and am slowly making my way through everything they've got on here.

Food, Inc. is about how your food is made and how it makes it onto the supermarket shelves and then into your meals. The way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than it has in the last 10,000. This is due to the rise of genetically modified crops and numerous other scientific discoveries that have led to the easy mass-production of food. In America, only a handful of companies control the food system and Food, Inc. reveals just how much power these corporations have and how they exert their power over the American consumer. 


I've heard of and watched a few videos on what really happens in the food industry in terms of animal cruelty etc. but Food, Inc shows you how the food industry in America is closely tied to the government which seems to care little about the what its citizens are putting in their bodies. With problems such as obesity and diabetes on the rise in numerous countries, not just the US, it is time to make a change and watching Food, Inc. is a step in the right direction. That said, there are also some pretty shocking clips about how the animals are treated that are likely to be found distressing by many. At numerous times during this documentary, I found myself with my mouth agape in horror as I watched the treatment of some animals. 


Food, Inc is brilliantly narrated and gives the viewer a detailed insight into the food industry without overloading you with boring facts and statistics. Of course, there are lots of statistics included, most of which are utterly shocking; however, this documentary seems to be an appeal to human nature rather than a report. This documentary subtly urges you to think about what it is that you're eating everyday whilst also promoting healthy eating. They use a wide variety of case studies to demonstrate what's going on and numerous products are discussed, though quite a lot of this documentary is focussed on the meat industry in particular. There are interviews with real life farmers and consumers who have had to deal with the rise of the massive corporations that currently dominate the American food industry. 


All in all, Food Inc. is a shocking look at the reality of the American food industry and if you're currently living in America then you need to see this to understand what is really going on around you. Humans eat, on average, three meals a day, so that's three times a day you're filling your body with food, and yet I'm willing to bet that the majority of you don't know where your food really comes from. Food, Inc. will help you to understand the disastrous effects that this corrupt industry could have on both the environment and the health of those that consume it. The poor ethics of the transnational companies governing the US food industry are revealed and this documentary has definitely made a big impact on me and the way I will view food in the future. This is a rare gem that has probably changed my life for the better. It is informative and moving and I would urge everyone, particularly US citizens, to watch this as soon as possible. 


24 May 2014

APP REVIEW: Tunnelbear - A unique VPN service


Being half chinese, I have quite a lot of family in China and I often go to visit them for really long periods of time. For those of you that don't know, China has a really strict firewall in place restricting access to pretty much any website worth visiting, be it Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, Youtube, Google etc. So for blogger cum social media addict such as myself, you can imagine that it's pretty darn painful being stuck on the other side of the world with almost no means of communicating with the outside world for 2 months a year. In addition, my access to Spotify, Netflix and BBC iPlayer is cut off which means that there really isn't anything for me to do to distract myself. That's where Tunnelbear comes in.


What is Tunnelbear? 
Tunnelbear is the perfect app for browsing the internet when you're abroad. It is a VPN that gives you access to country-specific apps such as Pandora, Netflix, Spotify, Hulu, BBC iPlayer etc. Any app/website/activity that is country specific can be bypassed by installing VPN to your device. You can even vote for contestants on reality TV shows in your home country and unblock sports feeds for Soccer, NHL, MLB and NFL.


Who can use Tunnelbear?
Tunnelbear is currently available on a wide variety of devices including PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad and Android. It changes your location so that you can keep up the pretence that you are still in one of these eight countries: United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands. Tunnelbear is currently being used in 154 countries.

How does it work? 
It couldn't be simpler to install and start using Tunnelbear. Simply download the app to your device from the Tunnelbear website and follow their step by step instructions.


Why is Tunnelbear better?
I've tried numerous VPN apps before but none of them have been quite as good as Tunnelbear. It's much better than those which give you a browser from which you can go on blocked sites, as those apps won't give you access to country-specific apps such as Netflix. What's more, Tunnelbear makes internet browsing safer as your connection is diverted through secure channels to conceal your location. According to Forbes: “One of the best ways to claw back your privacy on the internet, is to use an app like TunnelBear.”

How much does it cost? 
Little Tunnelbear: 500MB of free data a month, or 1GB if you participate in their Twitter promotion (definitely worth it).
Giant Tunnelbear: $9.99 per month for unlimited data (SALE: $4.99)
Grizzly Tunnelbear: $60 per year for unlimited data (SALE: $49.99)

Final thoughts...
All in all, Tunnelbear is probably the best VPN service out there at the moment. 500GB of data is enough to give you a decent trial and is a great for those going on short trips. If you're going on a slightly longer trip then perhaps investing in the Giant Tunnelbear package would be worth it. $10 really isn't a lot to ensure that you've still got access to your favourite apps. If you'd pay your movie phone company an extra $10 a month for free text messaging when you go abroad, then why would you not invest in Tunnelbear?


12 May 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Metropolis Pictorial: Stepping into the Yards of Japan

Title: Metropolis Pictorial: Stepping into the Yards of Japan
Author: Tan Qi Rong
Genre: Photography, Travel
Publisher: CreateSpace
Publication Date: 25th April 2012
Goodreads Summary: This picture book serve as an appetizer to Tokyo, one of the best places to visit! It shows some of my personal favorites with stops in two unique bars. Relive the place through this pictorial buffet . . . intended to wet your appetite for more. Incredibly satisfying experience awaits you so... Take time off and start embarking on a journey to enjoy the beauty of nature in Japan!

{ Review }

I'm still going through books that I've discovered at the back of bookshelf and Metropolis Pictorial is one of them. I won this book back in 2012 from the Goodreads First Reads programme and I'd completely forgotten about it until now. 

Metropolis Pictorial is a photography and travel book that consists of full page photos of some of Tokyo's top sites. Each photo is labelled with some including short, but detailed, information about what makes each place special, how to get there, how to book tickets (if needed) and when the best time to visit is. 

I guess what's so good about this short book is its simplicity. This is essentially a picture book with little captions here and there telling you what to look out for in Tokyo. All of the photos were taken on an iPhone 4S, nothing fancy, but I guess that's part of the appeal. This book is designed to give people a look at the real Toyko, what the sights look like to the average visitor and not what they look like in the fancy brochure or the website. Expect to see photos of market stalls as well as beautiful temples, there's a wide range of photos so you can see what Tokyo at its best is really like.

When I think of Tokyo, I think of a busy city where you'll see the latest and most high-tech gadgets in the world and a lot of sushi shops. Yes, that is based on a stereotype but without having ever been to Japan, I doubt many people would be able to give a better description than that. What's brilliant about this little book is that it in probably just 5 or 10 minutes of your time you can get a quick glimpse at what Japan is like from the eyes of someone Japanese. Many of the places to see are tourist destinations, but the photographer has pointed out the best bits of them and how to really take advantage of them. As he is a native Japanese man, I trust his opinions far more than those on travel websites. 

I must admit that the photo quality does vary quite a lot and sometimes you're presented with a stunning photo that reinstalls your faith in Apple's over-priced products, but at other times you'll find yourself looking at a slightly grainy photo of something seemingly insignificant. I guess the photo quality reflects what the book is trying to get across - the reality of Tokyo and not some sort of perfect facade that has been painted by a tourism company.

What is a little disappointing is that the grammar of the captions and info/tips at the bottom of each photo is often incorrect. It's obvious what the author means but it's also obvious that he is not a native British person. This is something that would be quite easy to correct so I'm not sure why the author didn't get someone with better English to check his work over. This didn't really detract from my reading experience as it's not as if this is a work of prose but it is an unnecessary fault that didn't need to be there.

This book is currently priced at £13.38 on Amazon and whilst I would highly recommend it to anyone curious about seeing the 'real' Japan or future travellers to the East, I definitely wouldn't pay that price for it. This book is interesting and informative for tourists in Japan but it's something that I'd flick through for ideas and not something I'd rely on. This book appears to be self-published which would explain the high price but unfortunately I don't think this book is worth the money.

All in all, Metropolis Pictorial is a fantastic look at Japan from the eyes of a native Japanese person and is a real eye opener for the Western tourist. It is helpful in picking out a few key spots to visit in Japan that are perhaps unknown and it gives you the necessary information to find out more and book tickets. That said, it is a very pricey book for what it gives you. At the end of the day it is nothing more than a few pictures with interesting captions so as long as this book remains as expensive as it is now, I wouldn't recommend buying it. 

8 May 2014

FILM REVIEW: Divergent

This review was first published on The Oxford Student, Oxford University's student newspaper. See the original here.
Divergent, arguably one of the biggest young adult film releases of 2014, hit cinema screens last Friday with hordes of teenage girls storming cinemas all over the world. The mixed reviews from critics didn’t deter audiences as five times as many Divergent tickets were sold on Fandango in comparison to Twilight (the ultimate fangirl franchise), which was released six years ago. Divergent is the sort of film that critics love to hate, so all reviews must be taken with a pinch of salt as there are just as many good things as there are bad with this film.
Divergent follows the structure of a young adult film to a T. Essentially, a strong-minded teenage girl living in a dystopian world finds out she’s different from the rest of society but this is a secret she must keep or she will be killed. Throw in some action scenes, and a man with the most impressive jawline you’ve ever seen with a penchant for taking his top off, and you’ve got a major blockbuster in the works.
Somewhat unusual for a film aimed at teenage girls, but the acting in this film is actually pretty darmn good. It is the two protagonists, Shailene Woodley (The Sweet Life of the American Teenager) and Theo James (Underworld: Awakening) that keep most audiences captivated, not the plot and certainly not the repetitive and unimaginative action sequences. The strong female heroine is losing its novel status and fast becoming a pre-requisite for young adult novels but Shailene Woodley brings Tris Prior to life in a way that few other actresses would be able to. Alongside her is Theo James who is undoubtedly the perfect man to play Tobias Eaton (aka Four). Although over ten years older than his on screen counterpart, there’s something about him that is both powerful and gentle at the same time which perfectly captures Tobias Eaton.
Fans of the book are likely to be disappointed as this film diverges (excuse the pun) from Roth’s plot line by a fair amount. Whilst numerous readers have stated that they believe the film to be even better than the book, I would have to disagree on this point. There are so many details in the book that are not translated onto screen, and whilst this is understandable, it doesn’t make it acceptable. Numerous scenes in the film are rushed and unexplained and without the background information learnt from reading the books one would be left constantly fighting to catch up with the plot, just like the clueless Dauntless transfers running for their first train.
Having read the book myself, I know that there was so much potential for this film to be brilliant but unfortunately it falls short. The general plot and the relationships between characters remain largely undeveloped and the characters often seem rather flat because of the uninspiring script. That said, there are still many positive aspects to this film. Firstly, the acting, as mentioned above; secondly the score, put together by Hans Zimmer, the man behind the scores of Inception and The Dark Knight; and thirdly the graphics, which had to be pretty impressive given that this is an action-packed dystopian film.
No matter what the critics say, it is clear that this new series is going to be getting a lot of attention and making a lot of money. The sequels, Insurgent and Allegiant, were put into work before the first film was even released which suggests there are high hopes for this series. I guess producers know that no critic will stand between a teenage fangirl and Tobias Eaton.

26 April 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Obernewtyn by Isobelle Garmody

Title: Obernewtyn
Author: Isobelle Carmody
Genre: Fantasy, Dystopian
Publisher: Random House Books
Publication Date: 9th December 2008
Goodreads Summary: In a world struggling back from the brink of apocalypse, life is harsh. And for Elspeth Gordie, it is also dangerous. That's because Elspeth has a secret: she is a Misfit, born with mysterious mental abilities that she must keep hidden under threat of death. And her worries only multiply when she is exiled to the mountain compound known as Obernewtyn, where—for all her talents—Elspeth may finally and truly be out of her depth. Then she learns she’s not the only one concealing secrets at Obernewtyn.

{ Review }

First posted on Readgig, click here to read it there. 

Obernewtyn follows the story of Elspeth Gordie who lives in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the 'Great White'. Elspeth, or Elf, was born with strange mental abilities that cannot be explained and will most likely get her killed if she is exposed. Hiding amongst other Misfits, Elspeth knows it isn't long before she's found, especially as there have been subtle warnings that she is safe from her friends and her own visions. Following a visit to her village by a Madame Vega, she is taken away to Obernewtyn, a distant compound that nobody knows much about, but what they do know is that once you're taken there, you never return. Elspeth must constantly be on her guard at Obernewtyn because there's something strange going on and she's certain that whatever it is, it involves her and her coveted abilities. 

The plot had many highs and lows but I don't feel that it really had much of a driving force behind it. If you asked me to describe the plot of Obernewtyn to you, I'm not really sure where I'd begin or end as I don't think there's a conclusive story line and it was more like a bunch of events that happened. Some parts of the plot moved really fast and others moved really damn slowly with most of the more 'exciting' moments extremely rushed. I found this book very hard to get into at the beginning but once the plot got going it was easier to read. However, the ending was incredibly rushed and there were several important details that I feel were skated over leaving a few holes in my understanding of the story which was disappointing. This story is actually rather complex and in order to fully understand the new world that the author has created and what the purpose of each and every character is, you'd probably have to read this incredibly slowly and carefully or read it more than once which is a hindrance. 

The world that the author has created is really intricate with different words for familiar concepts and some altogether new words. It takes a little while to get used to her style of writing and the new universe that she has created, but once you've got a grasp of it, you become really absorbed into the new world post Great White. The setting and the descriptions are excellent and Isobelle Carmody presents an altogether new and unique world that I haven't read about before. Although it isn't explicit, the 'Great White' appears to have been caused by a nuclear accident so this book subtly ties into world issues that are prevalent today, but hidden in the form of fiction. 

Despite the brilliant setting, I have to admit that I really didn't take to any of the characters and this made it difficult to get into the actual story. I didn't feel any sort of connection to the protagonist, Elspeth, nor did I have any particular feeling about any of the other characters. A lot of the characters develop drastically throughout the story and some have completely different personalities by the end which I found confusing rather than interesting. My first impressions of characters were all wrong but I felt like this was more of a genuine fault in the writing rather than a stylistic device employed by the author. 

I wasn't really sure what to expect of Obernewtyn before I picked it up and in all honesty I'm still not quite sure what to make of it now. Whilst it is an interesting story, it has a few too many highs and lows and wasn't consistent in holding my attention at all. Sometimes I was thoroughly bored by this book, but at others I was really interested. The problem with the 'interesting' parts was that they either weren't fully developed or they didn't last long enough to peak my interest for a long period of time.  All in all, I feel that the author had a brilliant idea that didn't quite come to fruition. There are sequels to Obernewtyn but in all honesty I'm not sure whether this book interested me enough for me to read the subsequent novels. 

Many thanks to Sam at Readgig for providing me with a  review copy.