Movie review: Perfect Strangers (2016) directed by Paolo Genovese

Movie info:

Seven long-time friends (three married couples and a divorcee) are having a dinner. They decide, as a playful game, to put each one’s mobile phone on the table and reveal every text message or phone call they would receive that evening, to prove that nobody has anything to hide. Hilarity and drama ensue together as everyone’s secrets are unveiled and the seven friends find themselves perfect strangers to each other.

My impressions:

Theatrical-play-like movies are sometimes a hit and sometimes a miss but I have to admit this one impressed me. It was an interesting story albeit a simple one. A shared meal among good friends, three couples and an ex school teacher after a divorce. A moon eclipse, always a good excuse for pranks and wine. It should have been boring and yet it wasn’t. 

I’ve heard the movie has been a hit in Italy and there are many remakes. I am not surprised. What is better than chatting and gossiping and discovering secrets of your friends and neighbours? Who wouldn’t be a little bit curious? Is my wife faithful? What do my friends say about me behind my back? Is this young, happy couple as happy as they seem on the outside?

Behind all that scandal, merriment and drama was hidden an important psychological question. Should we always tell the truth to our partners, spouses and parents? Is it sometimes better to keep some uncomfortable facts to ourselves? Are white lies a necessity of life? Or maybe any lie hurts everybody around us and we are also the victims of our mendacious ways? Plenty to think about, don’t you think?

Final verdict:

A funny, quiet, slow-paced movie which mentions some important issues. Completely recomendable when you are in a pensive mood or you want to trigger a discussion afterwards.

Posted in comedy drama, contemporary, movie review, psychological | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike 03) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

Book info:

A serial killer is on the loose and he seems to hunt for Cormoran Strike’s secretary-cum-partner, Robin. Unfortunately the limping detective doesn’t know who out of three possible psychopaths from his past might be responsible. There will be walking and talking plus some personal drama.

My impressions:

Strike and Robin were just magnetic in this one, especially her. My problem? There were too few scenes featuring them both. The majority of the novel consists of a wild goose chase I wasn’t interested in at all. The murders were lurid but also somehow bland, quite an achievement I admit but of rather negative quality. The killer’s point of view? I found it not especially original or riveting, just a memoir of a sicko. If not for filling in the outlines of Robin and Strike, fleshing out the conflicts, secrets and anxieties that form their identities, most probably it would be a DNF, sad but true.

Final verdict:

Not the weakest book in the series but also one with a plot seriously lacking tension. And that wedding at the end –  it was mean, clearly added to make readers crave for more. Still meh.

Other books of this author reviewed here:

The Cuckoo’s Calling (Cormoran Strike 01)

The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike 02)

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Movie review: Ready Player One directed by Steven Spielberg

Product info:

Based on Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel, READY PLAYER ONE takes place in a dismal 2045, where most people live in utter squalor. As technology is booming, they choose to spend most of their time online in a virtual universe called the Oasis. Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in the “Stacks” of Columbus, Ohio — a tower of mobile homes held on spit and prayer (well, mostly scaffolding but you know what I mean) — and spends every spare moment logged in. Because in Oasis he is a cool, slim superhero with an impressive mane of white-blueish hair and big, anime eyes of a Final Fantasy protagonist. He can change his looks and clothes in a second. He can play with ingenious accessories and weapons. It’s great fun but there is more.

For the past five years, Wade and millions of other dedicated gamers have been hunting obsessively for an elusive Easter egg left hidden in the game’s code by its late creator, James Halliday (Mark Rylance). To find the egg, gamers must find three keys and pass through three gates, where their skills will be tested. The winner will receive the entirety of Halliday’s trillion-dollar fortune, including his controlling share in the Oasis’ parent company.

My impressions:

My first warning: nostalgic 80s fans might want to watch this movie several times and stop it here and there in order to get these blink-and-you’ll-miss-it references; others might find it a strange, even kitchy mix of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Star Wars, Stanley Kubrick’s Shine, Zombie Apocalypse, Final Fantasy, Battle Royal, Godzilla, King-Kong, Christine, Jurassic Park and maybe even Tolkien. And much, much more. In fact it is a simple story about love, friendship and a deadly fight between a corporate Goliath (enter one big, ugly boss dressed up in virtual world as a Superman on steroids who thinks only about money) and a David (a young but experienced player called Percival who would feel at home in any part of Final Fantasy and in Indiana Jones as well). A simple story but also one dressed up like an baroque aristocrat in digital finery. 

The virtual space was one big asset of this one, sleek and stylized to a fault,  a world within a world, full of amazing details, certainly awe-inspiring but never exactly life-like. Well, who needs life, taking into account the fact the reality, as portrayed in the movie, sucked to hell. The elaborate escapist digital world where your own imagination is your only limit was more than understandable. Still, overall, it was a rather hollow kind of fun even though I really loved  more than one sequence, like the one which owes a debt to Christopher Nolan’s Inception. And then there was the Zenneckis Rubik’s cube which could turn back time (yes, Spielberg meant the director of the Back to the Future movies). And then was a very funny and very icky Alien reference.

Final verdict:

Not bad for over two hours of mindless fun but still the movie left some bad taste in my mouth. I wonder why. Perhaps I like my characters better fleshed out. Perhaps I am not exactly young anymore…

Posted in animation, fantasy action movie, movie review, sci-fi | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Angeline by Karleen Bradford

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Stunned by the blistering heat, the noise, the sea of faces crowding in upon her in the teeming Egyptian market, Angeline cannot believe that she is being sold as a slave to one of the great princes in Cairo. Only a short time ago she left her small village in France to follow Stephen, a shepherd boy whose vision led him to mount a children’s Crusade to the Holy Land. But they were decieved by those who offered to help. Now it seems they are doomed to a life of slavery in a foreign land and even Stephen has lost all hope. Somehow, Angeline must find the strength to survive, as well as to help Stephen overcome his despair. But first she must learn to understand and respect the ways of a culture so very different from her own.

My impressions:

The premise of this one made me salivate but soon I found out this book is one big, ugly mess. Not only it can be qualified as pseudo-historical fiction of the worst kind so completely artificial, without any traces of the era, just some dates and info taken straight from Wikipedia I suppose, but also its plot is plain stupid. I don’t want to bore you with descriptions of its many flaws, let me just tell you about a feature I found personally the most galling.

Angeline, our MC,  is a teen sold as a slave in Alexandria, Egypt – that’s how  the ill-fated 1212 Children’s Crusade  ended for her. She is a simple peasant girl, doesn’t know one word in Arabic, and has just survived a very long and perilous journey, including a  tempest.  Plenty of other children, her friends, had died.

So. A man buys her and then she is given as a gift to a favourite concubine of a sheikh. And now comes the ‘stupid’ part. Angeline is not given any training. She is just fed, bathed, dressed in fresh clothes, made presentable and off she goes, to serve her new mistress. The said mistress doesn’t know a word in old French so Angeline doesn’t understand her instructions and the woman doesn’t understand the hapless girl in turn. What a gift! Would you like to have an untrained girl from a strange country who doesn’t know a thing about your style of living, doesn’t speak your language at all, and might be even psychologically unstable?  Who wouldn’t. Add to that the fact that the said concubine lives with a small  daughter and she trusts Angeline to take care of the child as soon as she sees her… well, if you are a mother I am sure you’d never let a stranger near your child, especially a stranger who  can’t communicate and has had some traumatic experiences.

I know, Muslims loved buying children-slaves, mainly because such slaves were more pliable and easier to train than adults. Still the training part was never neglected and for obvious reasons. A good slave had to know the language, at least some basics, so they understood what they were asked to do.  A good slave had to understand his or her role in a given household, the dos and the don’ts. They also had to have some skills. That’s why these kids were taught and presented to their future masters or mistresses only after a time. Quite elementary, dear Watson.

Final verdict:

A DNF, first this year! As you know, I have little mercy for stupidity, no matter whether it is disguised in historical or other apparel so I gave this book a kick after, roughly, the first half.

Posted in a total failure, book review, historically-flavoured, rating | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Runa by Vera Buck

Synopsis:

Mental health clinic Salpêtrière in Paris. A young medicine student from Switzerland called Jori helps the powerful and famous director Charcot to prepare his famous lectures by collecting fresh batch of patients from their homes. Jori is doubly motivated to watch and learn – his girlfriend, Pauline, has had mental health issues and he is eager to cure and marry her. After a while Jori gets in touch with Runa, a very strange little girl with prematurely white hair and one pupil larger than the other. The girl is behaving strangely, creating trouble for herself and everybody around. What’s her illness? Can she be cured?

My impressions

It was a surprisingly good story. Still before you approach this book you must know about several things or it might be a big fat DNF for you. First of all if you really despise reading about children who suffer without any reason, stay away from it. The same is true when it comes to humiliating women and, generally, patients, by doctors and other superiors (like nurses or guards).

Runa is full of dark, dark scenes and quite vivid descriptions of these. I mean here illegal experiments even doctor Mengele wouldn’t be ashamed of. I mean also a circus in a form of public lectures during which female patients, some of them really ill and helpless, are publicly stimulated to ‘perform’ i.e. have epileptic or hysterical attacks while the happy audience, all men, are cheering and hooting and salivating. Horrible and disgusting, I know, but not far from real situation of mental patients in too many hospitals at the beginning of the 20th century in Europe and America. These were the times when, if you were a female and had mental health issues your family could confine you in a hospital and forget about you. Then your treatment and your fate often depended completely on the doctor you had to deal with and other medical staff. Icy water showers, electro stimulation sessions, taking part in humiliating lectures, sometimes partially or completely nude, sexual abuse, cold, hunger, these were very real issues. The mind boggles, I know, but just google the story behind Camille Claudel, a very promising sculptor…

Final verdict

A dark, twisted tale with bittersweet ending. What a pity it is currently not available in English but I hope it is going to be translated soon.

Posted in book review, crime, grimdark, historical | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Movie review: Mission Impossible: Fallout directed by Christopher McQuarrie

Synopsis:

Two years after Solomon Lane’s capture the remains of his organization “the Syndicate” have reformed into a terrorist group named “the Apostles”. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is assigned to intercept three stolen plutonium cores in Berlin before the Apostles can sell them to fundamentalist John Lark. He joins Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) for the mission, but they fail when Luther is taken hostage and Ethan chooses to save his life, allowing the Apostles to take the plutonium. The team capture nuclear weapons expert Nils Debruuk and learn that he built three portable nuclear weapons for the Apostles. Now they have a more ambitious and complex task before them.

Furious at the IMF’s failure, CIA Director Erica Sloane (Angela Bassett) instructs Special Activities Division operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) to shadow Ethan as he attempts to retrieve the plutonium. Ethan and Walker infiltrate a party in Paris where Lark is believed to be buying the cores from an arms dealer known as White Widow (Vanessa Kirby). They track a man whom they suspect to be Lark but he is killed when Ilsa Faust intervenes just as he is about to kill Hunt. Ethan impersonates Lark and warns the White Widow that assassins are trying to kill her. Walker passes doctored evidence on to Sloane suggesting that Hunt has always been Lark and the man killed by Ilsa was a decoy.

My impressions:

When you are able to watch a movie over two hours long during one sitting, it is a compliment in itself. When you compare it to a James Bond series and finds it is definitely better, it is another very strong point. Add to that the fact that it is a sixth movie in a series and, in my humble opinion, the best one so far and you are facing a very positive review of an action flick starring Tom Cruise written by yours truly. Personally I hate Tom C. I am not a big fan of action movies. And yet…

In fact I found it the perfect time filler for the New Year’s Eve. My first argument: when it came to its length, it was almost a two-movies-in-one package. It was  interesting, funny, and it featured some truly great, ingenious and scenic sequences like an epic battle of two helicopters over and between cliffs.  Then I was entranced by locations. Paris, including Parisian underground Seine tunnels, really as good as catacombs. London streets and a church. Norway. Finally the narration. It was fast, sleek and entertaining. Coherent even. I couldn’t believe my own eyes

Last but not least: Tom Cruise managed to reinvent himself in his dotage which, in fact, isn’t dotage at all. He is still fit, he trains like a professional athlete, he co-finances his own movies… not bad for a 50+ guy, no matter what he believes in.

Final verdict

I am very positively impressed, it was a spectacular movie, very pleasant to watch. Way to go, Mr. Cruise, move over, James Bond! 

Posted in contemporary, movie review | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Always (Aud Torvingen 03) by Nicola Griffith

Product description (from Goodreads):

Aud Torvingen is back — contemporary fiction’s toughest, most emotionally complicated noir hero returns to teach a new round of lessons in hard-hitting justice, and to confront new adversaries: her own vulnerability and desire. 

The steely shell of Nicola Griffith’s seemingly indomitable protagonist Aud Torvingen appears to be cracking. The six-foot-tall fury (who proved in The Blue Place and Stay that she can kill you as easily as look at you) is shaken by the shocking consequences of the self-defense class she’s been teaching, and her investigation of what seems to be run-of-the-mill real-estate fraud is turning out to be more than she bargained for.

My impressions:

It is a stand-alone book even though officially it is marketed as a third part of a series. I didn’t have any problems with finding my bearings. In fact, at first I wanted to whoop with joy – I liked the beginning of this one enormously. These main characters. That narrative voice. But then the more pages I read the less I enjoyed the content. I ended up completely bored. Perhaps it was that duality in narration – the book is, in fact, two stories in one, joined by the same heroine, Aud. In one part she is teaching a group of Southern ladies from Atlanta basic self-defense.  It was the story arc I more or less liked, especially as the author proved time and again that she knew what she was writing about. In the second part Aud is visiting Seattle, meeting her high-profile Norwegian mom, the new stepdad, and falling in love with Kick, a stunt woman turned caterer whom she meets on a plan of a new tv series pilot.

The second part I had most problems with. To be honest it left me puzzled. At the beginning, I hoped it would somehow connect with the first line of narrative and make it more significant. I was wrong. Both stories flowed alongside but never merged (or merged very subtly  and I somehow missed it, could happen to the best of readers). Moreover the second part had some element which  annoyed me a bit. For example the fact that Aud, seeing Kick for the first time in her life, immediately assumed the woman had to be homosexual (or bisexual at least). There was no shred of doubt, no hesitation whatsoever, no questions, as if all film plan caterers inhabiting  the nice city of Seattle consisted mostly of homosexually inclined people (while the situation, I suppose, is the other way round ). If at least Kick sported that tell-tale rainbow badge or if Aud had overheard her speaking about her own preferences I would understand it. The fact that the author herself is a lesbian and admits it in the acknowledgments section doesn’t change a thing. The premise still sounded spurious.

Final verdict:

A good style but not especially good story line (and a horrible cover one have to add). I found the book both too long and too boring even though the beginning was great. Meh.

Posted in book review, chicklit, contemporary, crime, lgbtq, meh, rating, romance, suspence | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Silent Dead (Reiko Himekawa 01) by Tetsuya Honda

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When a body wrapped in a blue plastic tarp and tied up with twine is discovered near the bushes near a quiet suburban Tokyo neighborhood, Lt. Reiko Himekawa and her squad take the case. The victim was slaughtered—his wounds are bizarre, and no one can figure out the “what” or the “why” of this crime.

At age twenty-nine, Reiko Himekawa of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s Homicide Division is young to have been made lieutenant, particularly because she lacks any kind of political or family connections. Despite barriers created by age, gender, and lack of connections, she is mentally tough, oblivious to danger, and has an impressive ability to solve crimes.

Reiko makes a discovery that leads the police to uncover eleven other bodies, all wrapped in the same sort of plastic. Few of the bodies are identifiable, but the ones that are have no connection to each other. The only possible clue is a long shot lead to a website spoken only in whispers on the Internet, something on the dark web known as “Strawberry Night.”

But while she is hunting the killer, the killer is hunting her… and she may very well have been marked as the next victim.

My impressions:

Allegedly  it was just another whodunit, only penned by a Japanese author. Still it did make a difference. To be honest it was surprisingly good. I don’t think here mainly about the local flavor although I admit it was another asset.  I think about tight plotting, an interesting premise and a bunch of original characters. I also think about the fact that the main lead is a woman who has to face fierce opposition at her place of work even though she is a better-than-average detective.

It was really nicely done, that show of misogynism among some cops and civilians who had to cooperate with Reiko during her investigation. Reiko’s male colleagues often write her opinion off because she’s a woman, mock her fear of ‘hot summer nights’ because that’s how the weather was like when she was raped as a teen, make advances on her because they were in a dark place and that was apparently some kind of invitation, grope her, and more. I did wonder from time to time why she didn’t think of accusing some of them of sexual harassment  but, I suppose, she couldn’t. I also think it is an honest picture of the way the police work in Japan. A woman cannot be equal to men no matter how well she performs and what she does; if she wants to work she has to suffer many daily humiliations and accommodate or else. Small wonder Reiko’s mum would love nothing better than seeing her eldest daughter happily married. And having children.

Poor Reiko, being a rather good-looking woman, had also to suffer sexual abuse in public transport: ‘Reiko responded violently to sexual harassment. On the train, with would-be gropers she had notched up a tally of seventeen broken fingers and two broken arms. At work, her record was more modest: six broken fingers and zero arms- but she had kneed three guys in the balls and concussed a couple by kicking their legs out from under them’. 

Any flaws? Unfortunately the same Reiko seemed a bit flat from time to time – too good, too pretty, too clever  and perfect.  Despite her forced tolerance she also was surprisingly quick to lose her temper. When I come to think about it, everyone was rather quick to anger and to insult each other and threaten violence – another surprise for me personally. When I think ‘a Japanese’ I see those calm, constantly smiling and bowing men and women who are very kind to strangers and to each other too. Well, perhaps my perception is wrong.

Finally another flaw (at least from my point of view): the story starts from the first-person perspective of the main black hat and changes  into the personal perspective of Reiko and her colleagues in third person narrative voice; that switch is repeated several times. I am not exactly a fan of such tricks, it felt a bit unnecessary even if it permitted a glimpse into the perpetrator’s mind.

Final verdict:

A decently-written mystery with a believable main character. It also features plenty of violence, sexual violence included. Still if you like intrepid female detectives and are interested in contemporary Japan this one might be for you.

Posted in book review, contemporary, crime, mystery, whodunnit | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Movie review: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (2018) directed by David Yates

Product info:

The plot of this sequel of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (here you have the link to my review) follows the adventure of young Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his mentor, Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law), who have to face Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), a powerful dark wizard on the run and a populist extraordinaire. Grindelwald preaches abolishing laws concealing wizards from muggles, and utilizes future World War II images to justify worldwide wizard supremacy and domination, meaning of course pure blood wizards. He fends off aurors sent by the Ministry for Magic and seems to be unstoppable. Many magical officials believe only Dumbledore has a chance to fight him and win; yet Albus refuses, time and again, to face Grindelwald even if it means humiliating constant surveillance. Why?

My impressions:

This one was a mixed bag for me. While I truly enjoyed CGI beasts and beasties, Paris cityscape and really fantastic special effects, I was less than impressed by the pace of the movie and, overall, its lack of logic. A flying carriage as a way of safe transport of a dangerous criminal from the US to Europe? Seriously? Queenie believing Grindelwald’s claims so easily – so she can read minds and then she can’t ? Leta Lestrange haunted by an image of a drowning child when another scene makes it clear she couldn’t possibly have seen it at all, sitting safely in a boat while the said child was drowning. A case of overactive imagination or rather lack of skills from the part of the scriptwriter? 

And that ending. Really, J.K. Rowling seems to be infected by the ‘walking-and-talking’ curse. I don’t want to spoil you too blatantly but I do think the ending of this one significantly diminished all positives from the first part. I hated how many times we were told things by different characters instead of being shown them. After all showing in a movie should be a lot easier than in a book, right? I hated how, after a certain point, the tension dropped and disappeared, never resurfacing again. I hated how Queenie was turned into a pretty-faced, brainless bimbo. She wasn’t one of my favourites but I did have hopes for her, after the first part.

Final verdict:

There are sparkles of magic in this one ( Cemetery Pere Lachaise! Nicolas Flamel!) but few and far between. I recommend it mainly for Potterverse fans – they will understand and forgive.

Posted in comedy drama, fantasy, movie review | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Leviathan Wakes (The Expanse 01) by James S.A. Corey

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

My impressions:

It was a very pleasant space opera and a nice beginning of a series. I was even more impressed when I found out the author is actually a pen name of a joint venture of Daniel Abraham, writer of  The Dagger and the Coin series, and Ty Franck, George R.R. Martin’s former assistant and science fiction writer. These two can write and they do it well but the fact that this novel has two POVs helped a bit, I suppose – allegedly Franck wrote the chapters following Holden and Abraham wrote the ones following Miller. Abraham focused on the prose and filling in the details regarding characters and Franck focused on the world building and the plot.

Overall the book, even if long, was hard to put down and I was so pleased that the ending was rather conclusive, not one of those ugly cliffhangers that plague some series. Ironically, I think I am going to continue reading because now I’d like to know more.

Final verdict:

A stand-alone novel beginning a series. If you like sci-fi and space operas with a dash of good, classic whodunnit thrown in and a nice romantic story arc too, do give this one a try.

Posted in adventure, book review, crime, sci-fi, space opera | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments