Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – Audio Book Review

Read by James Franco

I had no idea what this book was about, just that I’ve been meaning to read it for years. I knew it was a classic, and I knew it was about war. I did not expect time travelling or aliens or… well, any of that. And wow. It’s pretty hard to describe this book succinctly, but it’s about the bombing of Dresden, about a group of American soldiers who were prisoners of ware and were there for the aftermath, about a man trying to write about it and then… yes, aliens and time travel and etc. etc.

Initially, I was disappointed that it was read by James Franco. He’s okay, but I found his voice a bit monotonous. But, as it went, I found that his voice was prefect for this text – it had the resigned tone of someone who has lived through hell and needs to tell of it, but also kind of can’t. The only issue I had with it as an audio book was I couldn’t get a strong sense of the structure of the story, but I still really loved it.

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Ex Machina (2014) Film Review

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) works for some fabulous tech company and wins a week to stay with the founder of the company – the elusive Nathan (Oscar Isaac). After a long helicopter ride, he finds himself at an amazing property in the middle of nowhere. He discovers that Nathan is a mysterious alcoholic with a non-English speaking, Japanese servant, Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) and that he is not on a break, but has a task. He is to see if the robot woman that Nathan has developed, Ava (Alicia Vikander) can pass as human.

Exhausting, stunning, clever, wonderful, fantastic, I just loved it. It’s creepy but beautiful and raises a lot of questions about what we value in life and how we interact with the world around us. Since I watched this, Ex Machina keeps popping onto my head. I can’t recommend this enough – although I think if you cannot stand scifi, you probably won’t connect with this one.

Ex Machina won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Visual Effects and was nominated for Best Writing, Original Screenplay. It was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Alicia Vikander) and for BAFTAs for Best British Film, Best Supporting Actress (Alicia Vikander), Best Achievement in Special Visual Effects and Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.

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Bridge of Spies (2015) Film Review

There’s a Russian Spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) who’s been caught in the process of spying. It’s the height (well, the start) of the Cold War, and lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is tapped on the shoulder to defend him. Of course it is all for appearance, and Donovan is frustrated at being unable to present a full defence, but the American’s don’t want to risk him actually being freed. Meanwhile, a couple of America citizens are stuck behind the Iron Curtain: a pilot who crashed in the USSR and a student who got stuck in East Berlin as the wall was built, and Donovan is brought in to try to find a trade.

I expected a spy film to be all a bit Bond with lots of guns and running and tuxedos and cocktails, and this is so far from that… it’s the Cold War. It’s men in suits negotiating, it’s slow moving, and it’s fascinating. I especially loved watching the depiction of the Berlin Wall being built; that such a thing could just happen – and did. It was a great film – but with a crap name.

Bridge of Spies won an Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Rylance) and was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Writing, Original Screenplay, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score, Best Achievement in Sound Mixing and Best Achievement in Production Design. It won a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Mark Rylance) and a BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance) and was nominated for Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Production Design, Best Original Music, Best Sound and Best Film.

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Toy Story 3 (2010) Film Review

Andy’s off to college and something has to happen with his stuff. Unfortunately, the bags get mixed up, and instead of being stored in the attic, the toys find themselves at a day care centre. Excited about finally being played with again after years of abandonment by Andy, who has long outgrown them, they are yet to discover that the day care centre may not be the heaven that they are looking forward to.

Brilliant. It’s not hard to see why this was nominated for a Best Film award at the Oscars – even thinking about it now is making me tear up. It’s clever, it’s emotional, there are good guys and bad guys, but as always, it’s about sticking together, loyalty, and all that stuff. And it’s just wonderful.

Toy Story 3 won Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year, Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song (Randy Newman, We Belong Together) and was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, Best Achievement in Sound Editing and Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay.

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Toy Story 2 (1999) Film Review

It’s a few years post Toy Story and everyone in Andy’s Room get along just fine. But Andy’s getting a bit older and doesn’t really play with them so much, and when an error is made during a yard sale, Woody (Tom Hanks)ends up in the hands of the evil toy collector, Al (Wayne Knight) and Buzz (Tim Allen) leads the other toys on a rescue mission. But Woody meets a few new friends in captivity and learns of his past as a cartoon series.

So, it’s another great film about friendship and loyalty and the greater good. I felt a bit sad for poor old Al, because it seems that he is just a lonely, fat, lazy man who runs a successful toy business but who has spent years collecting classic toys with the hope of hitting it rich – and isn’t that the American dream? Imagine the story told from his point of view: after years of searching, he finds a toy in a yard sale that is damaged and poorly cared for – a toy that has been carelessly left on the ground. He saves it, has it fixed by a professional, and is going to put it into the hands of a rich, Japanese collector, who will treat it with respect and ensure it is always taken care of. Suddenly, the doll goes missing, as do his hopes and dreams, and poor Al is left looking as though he is delusional, doubting his own sanity. Not such a nice film now, hey?

Toy Story 2 was nominated for an Oscar for Best Music, Original Song for When She Loved Me by Randy Newman.

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Toy Story (1995) Film Review

Ah, Toy Story. How magnificent. Based in the room/world of young boy, Andy (John Morris), Toy Story sees Andy’s favourite toy, cowboy Woody (Tom Hanks) and his other faves Mr Potato Head (the late, great Don Rickles), Slinky Dog (Jim Varney), Rex (Wallace Shawn), Hamm (John Ratzenberger) and Bo Peep (Annie Potts) fearing for the worst as Andy gets a new toy for his birthday – a Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen), the exciting new astronaut toy. Will jealousy win? Can they find a way for all the toys to co-exist?

It’s so good. Despite my usual complaint that there are nowhere near enough female characters (Bo Peep is the love interest, there’s the annoying little sister character, and mom. Why Slinky Dog or Rex or Hamm couldn’t have been female – yes, it would be a shame to lose those characters as we know and love them, but could have actually been good…). It’s a great story, well written, fabulous characters, and just so much fun.

Toy Story was nominated for Oscars for Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen, Best Music (Original Song) You’ve got a Friend in Me, Randy Newman, and Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score. It won an award for Executive Producer John Lasseter for the development and inspired application of techniques that have made possible the first feature-length computer-animated film.

 

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Audio Book Review

Read by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, Cassandra Campbell

I’ve avoided audio books for the longest time, because when I drive or walk or whatever, I tend to listen to podcasts on my tiny little old iPod nano. But recently when about to leave work for my usually forty minutes drive home and heard that there were accidents everywhere and it was likely to take me a lot longer to get home, and my iPod nano was flat. Boo. But, thanks to a lot of advertising my audible on many of the podcasts, I knew what to do. I downloaded the app and headed to the audible store. Just because it came up early on and I’ve been meaning to read it for ages. One thing I have found in general about audio books is that listening to them is quite different to listening to podcasts, for some reason. Often, I’ll be listening to podcasts and find myself drifting in and out of concentration, and have to flick to music. But audiobooks hold my attention for much longer. Interesting.

So, The Help. The book is written from several perspectives – from Skeeter, the white woman who wants to be a writer, who sees the society and the segregation around her differently to her peers and family, who starts to write a book telling the stories of the African American women who take care of the houses and children of the rich, white woman; then there are a couple of the maids, Aibileen and Minny, who are faced with these horrible women who are happy to let black women raise their children but refuse to share a toilet. I recall that I found the film of The Help to be quite light – yes, it was dealing with serious issues, but it was kind of fun and entertaining. I found the book far more intense, giving a greater sense of how potentially dangerous the actions of these women could potentially be. The reading was wonderful, especially having different voices for the different characters. It was certainly a great introduction to audio books.

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