Wednesday, 16 January 2013

To the next phase...

I've mulled this over for awhile and I've decided to bid adieu to this particular blog and switch to a new one. I essentially want to align it more with my new website, So it's got a look closer to the website and will focus more on my writing pursuits :)

I'm still going to keep a section for film reviews but it won't be the main focus of the new blog. If you've enjoyed what I've been penning over the last few years then please do hop over and have a peek and may be follow if it takes your fancy. (DO IT!) And if you've ever thought that 'Geez, she mentions her writing etc and yet there's no showcase for it', well my fine friend, that is what the new website and blog will be doing a lot of - it's a platform to encourage/inspire me to post up work and get people to read, share, comment - all that jazz that web users are doing these days, non?

I've had a blast writing this blog and keeping it 'fairly' consistent (...right?) I'm determined to be more frequent with the new blog, a sort of weekly update schedule rather than a once month. Can I do it? Let's see y'all! NEW BLOG: A Very Published Affair

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (indeed)

'The Hobbit' is a charming tale by Tolkien - sweet, uncomplicated and good fun. And not at all bloated or lengthy. But alas, Jackson has ignored the tone and the length at his peril. I don't want to be another voice adding to the complaining heap but, as a diehard fan of the LOTR trilogy, in which one has to give credit to Jackson and the production team for doing so damn amazingly well and giving the fantasy genre some credibility on screen, I expected therefore, that Middle-earth would be in their capable hands once more.

Overall, the film was enjoyable but my main issues with it was that it was bloated, boring and just plain unnecessarily nostalgic, with less than subtle references to LOTR, as if  Jackson thought his audience would love all of that. I am one who did not - though the first ten minutes were beautiful, the rest of the film felt a little confused. It felt as if they forced it to be a little too epic - when all the story really is, is the quest to defeat the dragon so the dwarves can have their home city back. Tis all.

There was too much 'padding', and if such material had been in the book, the editor would have taken a red pen to it and reminded Tolkien that this is a child-like tale - keep all the extra epic stuff to LOTR, where it makes sense - and seeing as the audience has all seen the grand scale stuff in LOTR, we kind of don't want to see it again, almost exactly the same way (same shot pattern sequences, sweeping over our heroes running over bridges, lots of clobbering of orcs and goblins, dwarves hating the elves because they didn't come to their aid, echoing Rohan's displeasure with Gondor in LOTR, yada yada - wait, I've seen these same sequences before ten years ago...damn) As a result, it was not to nearly as funny as it needed to be and far too serious when it needn't be.

The action is always top notch but still could have a third of them cut down - we were far too long in the goblin city place, far too long having the wargs chase our heroes across the plains, that brown wizard... It's as if Jackson's weight is inversely proportional to the film's weight - the less of him there is, there more 'fat' is thrown on screen. Ok, that's a little mean but still...*snicker*

The production design team should be given almost all of the credit in bringing Middle Earth so majestically to life. There are still plenty of jaw-dropping reveals of cities, landscapes and general detail to all of the film's mise-en-scene. It's really this that immerses one in the world and the story. Also, Martin Freeman does a FAB job of playing adorable Bilbo and no one is complaining about Ian McKellen reprising his role as Gandalf.

I'm not going to say much more, as I'm really trying to avoid giving away spoilers but to be honest, if you've seen LOTR, you've kind of seen it all before. The only thing that has me excited is the prospect of the dragon scenes. Canna wait. But because of two extra films, it looks like we're going to be MADE to wait. *sigh*

VERDICT: 6.5/10

Friday, 2 November 2012


Another film of the year that I got sucked into because of hype. I'm not feeling a great need to write much about the latest Bond film, which in due, in part, to the fact that I left the cinema feeling somewhat underwhelmed (should have known once Adele's voice rang out over the opening credit sequence - yeh, I said it, I don't like her).

Skyfall was a good and brave departure from the usual Bond fare, though enough of the typical elements are thrown in to still give it that flavour, so I appreciated the focus on M in this film. The only thing is that it was a little 'boring' and much of the story was just so messy and blase.

Firstly, there was a lot of talk about Javier Bardem as the villain but lo, he did not meet my expectation AT all. It was a classic, rookie mishap of 'telling' and not 'showing' vis a vis 'baddie' Silva. Because sorry, as a viewer, I didn't find him scary at all. We are only told that he is frightening - first rather convincingly by Severine, played by what's her name, who had NO role whatsoever, other than to fill the 'damaged, sexy girl Bond gets off with'.  Side note - apart from Dame Dench, no other woman on the screen was a three dimensional character - I know, I know, I should expect that, right? But I did expect a wee bit more from Naomi Harris - for all she was a bantering device for Bond - I know, I know! Back on track *SPOILERS ALERT* - when we arrive at the weird abandoned island Silva has as a base, we're only told that he was able to clear the place out by spreading some rumour and the people fled as if Diablo had come among them (might have added that bit in myself) Ok. He's badass.

Only when we meet him, we realise he's a dude with serious mummy issues with an agenda to get at M because, wah, he was screwed over on a mission. Poor show. The closest to badass was when he blew a hole in subterranean London and a tube crashed through - oh, but thank god, there were no people in it! (Sorry not that I'm a sicko who wants to see people dying en masse or whatever...)

So it comes down the old phrase, 'a film is only as good as its villain'. And the baddie was poor for me - not that it was Bardem but rather the writing of him. The only positive that came out of it was the conflict it created within M, so that we witness the crumbling pillar-like resolve of this stalwart figure. And the unwavering loyalty of Bond. That then led the best and commendable scene where Bond races through the streets of Westminster to save M, while she delivers a speech quoting Tennyson. Good show.

And also, what was a grave disappointment was the whole 'Skyfall' idea itself - in the trailers and film we're made to believe that something traumatising happened to Bond because he can't even get through word association when the name comes up. Oooh, dark intensity. Only we find out it's the old family mansion and he hid in the secret passage under the house for two days when he was orphaned. Are we shown that? Does Bond get uneasy flashbacks/feelings on his return to the mansion, or when he escapes through the passage? No. Instead, this back story, this psychological pivotal moment is neatly explained by the old Scot dude when he shows said passage to M. Hmm. Took all the drama out of that, Mendes. All potential psychological intensity was barely explored, indicative through one liners that are left hanging and lazy: "Orphans always make the best recruits." Ok...

Highlights were the scene in that tower in Shanghai with all those lights, projections and reflections; the opening chase scene through Istanbul, the fiery climax at the Scottish mansion, Daniel Craig delivering flawlessly and most of it being set in London and/or Britain.

VERDICT: 6/10.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Sridevi's majestic return in 'English Vinglish'

So I took the plunge and went for 'Bollywood' the other weekend. Shocker, I know. And p.s., the reason Bollywood is in quote marks is because the film, English Vinglish is a triumph and doesn't remotely feel like any of those lumpy, bloated and trippy saturated things that are churned out of Mumbai, supposedly passing as 'films'.

And so it is that English Vinglish rises to the highest echelons of film-making, another blessed example of brilliant writing, superb casting contained within a tight, focussed narrative. And of course, the wonderful Sridevi is the binding ingredient to it all, so long missing from our screens, so sorely missed because for once, the female character is central in the true sense, her seemingly 'small' battle made profound and dare I say, even epic, by an explorative and sensitive story.

Killing it in NYC in my 'exotic' sari bitches!

She plays an Indian housewife, Shashi, famed for her super tasty ladoos (if you don't know what ladoos are, shame on you) not able to really speak or understand English, and severely put down by her bratty daughter who makes out she is some unworthy human being for not being able to master the lingua franca of the world. When Shashi's sister asks her to come to New York to help arrange her daughter's upcoming wedding, she has to go there all by herself initially. Once there, after an encounter with a overly grouchy woman at the till of a grungy cafe, (scene is typical Indian melodrama here), Shashi decides to learn English in secret by taking a class everyday, which promises she will have mastered the language in four weeks. Hilarity ensues - or there about - as well poignant moments of triumph. The film doesn't skate over the seemingly insignificant trials, which only wonderfully emphasises how potentially inhibited you are if you don't know the language (totally scared me off Tokyo, can you imagine trying to navigate the underground there? And I'm somewhat 'worldly').

Basically, it was a joy to watch, it was neatly paced and I just stared up at Sridevi absorbing what I have so been starved of since circa 2002. The writing and the character was perfectly considered for her  and she did it every justice, so props also goes to Gauri Shinde, the writer-director.  I hope other 'actresses' in Bollywood can take note and aspire to this but I doubt it.  Even the supporting cast were strong and thank god they cast *actual* American Indians as American Indians (it's a deal breaker when you have Indians pretending they're American Indian or British Indian because they cannot do it, or when Dutch or Eastern European people are cast as Americans/British - Lagaan passed the test and that's when you know the film makers took their job seriously and respected the work). Also, the filmmakers respected the location and setting, New York, rather than having people prance around it all shiny like. Aside from some 'funky fresh' montage sequences, the cinematography served the story and protagonist, without flashing itself around saying 'look at me!' And as a result, people, it was gorge.

Finally, what got me the most and raised the film from damn good to exceptional, was the profound pearls of insight the film bestowed, illustrating how such a simple story of struggle can really mean so much and teach you great lessons about the experience of existence, namely family and the 'art' of communication without understanding words and shit (the killer dialogue was when Shashi admits at the end that when you don't like yourself, everything connected to your life appears bad to you, so you then get attracted to new things. But when you learn to love yourself, that 'bad' life transforms and looks wonderful again - woo, some deep ancient wisdom right there). Did I cry? Yes and you know it's got you then.

Ok, I'll wrap by saying that English Vinglish is a great triumph - not only in its high quality but also proving that not all is lost in Indian cinema, where you can still have a great symbiosis of writing and acting. Brava!

VERDICT: 10/10

Saturday, 29 September 2012

'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey

Why these stories for children always have to turn out so dreadfully is beyond me. I think if I ever tell it to my grandchildren, I will change the ending...We are allowed to do that, are we not Mabel? To invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow? 
(excerpt from the book)

It's been awhile since I've felt the need to really review a book but then it's so rare to come across a book that is so utterly enchanting and captivates you wholly. That is what I got from reading the achingly beautiful 'The Snow Child', the debut novel by Eowyn Ivey (jealous of the author's name!)

The narrative wraps itself around this fairy tale of an old couple who create a snow child in winter and she comes alive, a creature of the snowy wilderness. The book is split between the POVs of Mabel and Jack, a couple who've escaped to Alaska to start a life of their own after not being able to have children. It's a lonely and extreme existence but as surely as the snow melts, their lives are quietly transformed by the seasons, their neighbours - and a girl of the snow who lives in the mountains behind their homestead, who they alone can see after building a snow girl one night.

I couldn't get over how much the book affected me and overwhelmed me. I knew from the first page that this was going to be a keeper; it was the way the author spun the tale with sharp, simple but ever so vivid prose. After putting it down, I realised it's pretty much near perfectly weighted between the fantastical and practical, a subtle weaving of what it takes to carve a living off this harsh landscape and  being taken in by the mystic elements, largely encompassed by the ethereal character of the snow child herself.

It's coming of age, it's all the bittersweet aspects of parenthood and endurance, the fleeting moments of beauty life gives us - everything I adore. Some of it reminded me of 'Princess Mononoke', the film by Hayao Miyazaki about a girl of a primal forest, raised by wolves - that whole untamed beauty of the natural world that is both more substantial and more insubstantial than the working, 'human' world.
I can only urge you to pick it up and read it yourself. You cannot be disappointed by any of it. This book has firmly and surely placed itself at the top of my 'must read' list.

VERDICT: 10/10

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Camp Myth: Phoenix Watching - a Kickstarter Project

I am absolutely thrilled to be writing about a Kickstarter project that contributed to some months back - which has now culminated in what you can see in the image below:

Camp Myth: Phoenix Watching is the first in a series written by the fabulous Chris Lewis Carter. I can't remember how I stumbled onto the project now but I was instantly taken with the idea (anyone who knows me even a little, will know that the word 'myth' in anything usually gets my attention somehow...!). So I knew I wanted to contribute right away - I mean it involved a story based on mythical creature teens going to camp, what's not to love? Chris kept us informed every step of the way and invited backers to be part of the collaborative process - so many were able to come up with characters, which then got beautifully illustrated in the final piece (every fantasy writer needs a good illustrator, non?). And when our rewards came, they arrived with personal notes of thanks, which always works!

Another reason why this project resonated with me so well was because of the approach - the way that something like Kickstarter can help not only get much needed funds but also create a community around the project, backers who have a vested interest in making it work and succeed. It's a great platform, validated by the fact that I know so many people who are now using it as a process also. Therefore, personally, I've keenly watched how Camp Myth has developed and have been making much needed notes, because once my novel is done, well I needs to gets it out there and get some buzz. So thanks Chris, for providing some much needed inspiration :) (Please note, Chris persisted with a second Kickstarter Project for Camp Myth with a revised approach because the original didn't meet its funding - so, with persistence and some wise re-evaluating, Chris made it work and that's admirable right there). I know this is going to send corny but there is nothing quite like the feeling of holding the shiny, paperback edition and knowing you had a part to play in bringing into fruition.

I'll finish off by saying that Camp Myth is a thoroughly enjoyable read, immediately engaging, the characters have that vivid,  jump-out-of-the-page feel and I'm greatly looking forward to the next in the series. So I urge you to check out the site here and give it a go in any e-book format. You won't be disappointed. It's even getting developed into a table top game, so there's plenty more success stories to come from this (always loving a snowball effect, non? I'm keeping my fingers crossed for this getting picked up as an animated show and/or mobile game!)

Blurb of the book taken from the Camp Myth website:

Welcome to Camp Myth, the only summer camp built exclusively for young mythological creatures. Forget canoe rides and knot tying lessons – these kids are more likely to fish for a Kraken, or learn the proper way to train a Chimera!
Join Felix, a rebellious Fae forced to attend camp as punishment for his obsession with humans; Argee, the first (and only) nerdy Cyclops; and Moxie, a Kitsune who would rather smart-mouth than shape-shift. Can these three mythic outcasts survive long enough to earn a merit badge for Phoenix Watching, or will they end up as just another campfire story?

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Dark Knights Rises to an impressive conclusion

Chris Nolan delivers a near triumphant conclusion to one of the most successful superhero franchise.

This highly anticipated film is not without its flaws- the voice of Bane, various plot mishaps, motivations of villains with silly back stories - for most superhero films have a certain quota of ridiculousness but nonetheless, it stayed away from farcical and conveyed some respect for character storytelling, in direct contrast to the apathetically vomited 'story' that was Avengers Assemble.
Moreover, I'm not a huge fan of this caped crusader, so I had less preconceived boxes that needed ticking, so it didn't fail me on too many accounts. This doubtless, plays a large part in my perception of the film because, as with previous posts, one can tell that once I'm acquainted source mythology etc, then I'm really particular about how they adapt it.

I did fear that the plot would be complex or a little confusing like Dark Knight, yet this film's plot considerably more straightforward and digestible for the average viewer - it's essentially about how the hero struggles with wanting to returning to the fray and being somewhat 'behind' in terms of real skill needed to overcome the bigger and badder enemies. Nevertheless, there were a couple of twists I did not foresee, both of which are saved until the end, which then elevated the plot from being somewhat run-of-the-mill, though arguably it was predominantly predictable. It doesn't break any new ground in that respect but I don't think this conclusion needed it - it was just more dark, more intense etc.

Despite its length, I wasn't bored at all and for once, it paid off to go in with relatively low expectations-  I literally went to see Anne Hathaway as Cat woman, and she was amazingly brilliant, so I  genuinely came out surprised and pleased, finally caring about Bruce Wayne. As such, the last five minutes had me sitting up wondering and the way Nolan decided to finish it just meant I left with mad respect for him.

Joseph Gordon Levitt was a good addition, though his character's claim about recognising that Wayne was Batman right away was dubious - something about hiding anger and masks which came off rather overcooked. Michael Caine is always a gem and he elevated the film in each of his scenes.

My main issue with the film was the character of Bane - it's always a bit rubbish when you realise the big baddy is working for someone else and only because, well what do you know?,  he has a heart after all, as he's doing it for the one he loves. And while there were quite a few 'suspend your disbelief' moments, (the Ras Al Ghul/prison malarkey), it was pretty ridiculous how the thousands of cops who get trapped underground for 3 months emerge, fit and ready to fight - even the diabetic ones?

Additionally, I don't think the film should be a 12A - it's far too violent. I don't see how anyone under 12 coping with the 'back breaking' scene well. It was relentless and as such, the film should be a 12 - I think the British Board of Film Classification or whatever have forgotten that the rating of just '12' does exist.