Simplify Your Life – Sarah O’Flaherty

simplify your life cover

“Frustrated with the old processes of goal setting and outmoded self-help techniques, I’ve developed a new, simplified approach to personal development.”

There’s nothing wrong with this book, but there’s nothing new or desperately interesting about it either. And the title felt a bit misleading: there’s a lot of very generic improve-your-life stuff (mainly pretty obvious), and very little about actually simplifying through the first part.

The first two sections are ‘About You’ – self awareness, on different levels – ‘About You and Me’ – relationships and ‘tribes’. So far, fine but much as will be found in any self-help tome. The third section is about relating to the world and your environment, creativity, purpose – again, not awful, but still had me shouting “Get to the simplicity!”

Section 4 is ‘Essentials’: being present, gratitude, giving, and – FINALLY! – simplicity. Seriously, one short chapter in a book of 23 that deals with the topic I was here for?!

So yeah. Being harsh for not being what it called itself, although otherwise it’s a perfectly fine (if nothing wow) self-help 101. This ‘new, simplified approach’ really wasn’t apparent to me, just light reading on basic topics.

NetGalley eARC: 136 pages / 23 chapters
First published: 2019
Series: none
Read from 27th May – 4th June 2019

My rating: 5/10

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Fisherman’s Friends (2019)

fishermans friends poster

Based on a true story, this movie tells of a group of Cornish fisherman who went on to achieve chart success – continuing to this day! – with an unlikely album of sea shanties. It’s got feel-good, heart-warming British comedy-drama written all over it, and I went in (mainly to avoid Five Feet Apart but also) fully expecting to have my cockles warmed, foot a-tapping, and feeling good.

Alas, things did not go according to plan. It’s not a bad movie, and it does have many elements of the above. But, contrary to the advertising this is not so much a movie about hard-working shanty-singing salt of the earth types (I’m using all these cliches on purpose, btw – it suits the movie to a t!). Instead, we get the rather less appealing story about the cynical record exec finding that Cornwall’s heart is better than London’s glamour, blah blah, so much blah, yawn blah.

The focus on the movie is so skewed, in my opinion, that it takes a ‘real’ story and instead trots out every cliche known to man. There isn’t a beat in the narrative that doesn’t follow the archetypal story: love won and lost, darkest moment before the dawn, ‘hero’s’ change of heart. All of which bored and annoyed me in equal measure. I didn’t particularly want the London knob head to get a redemption story or happy ending. I actually dislike Daniel Mays as an actor, so putting him ahead of the actual supposed subjects of the movie was just… everything that’s wrong with the UK’s London-centricity, in a movie that was meant to distract me from politics. Argh!!

tl;dr: not enough fishermen, too much London tosser. Two hours of gorgeous Cornish scenery and the shanties would have left me happier without the story.

Released: 15th March 2019
Viewed: 22nd March 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5.5/10

Isn’t It Romantic (2019)

isn't it romantic poster

Cynic Natalie (Rebel Wilson) hates romantic comedies, hates the lies they tell about life. And then one day she hits her head and finds the New York she knew has been replaced with a flowery, polite, nice kind of a version where men find her fascinating and every swear word is beeped by a reversing truck or similar. Could it be… she’s in a rom-com?

I had a couple of recommendations for this movie, and thought as a bit of fluff it might tick a few boxes. I suppose it did. It’s inoffensive enough, I think. Rebel Wilson was the right choice of lead, playing a sort of anti-Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect, in terms of having zero confidence. The message is delivered well enough.

Otherwise, though, even poking fun at all the genre cliches doesn’t stop them from being, well, cliched.

Sweet enough and watchable enough, but I’m not going to be raving about it. Although more movies need to end with a dancing Hemsworth, methinks – we’re up to two, let’s keep going! 😉

Released: 28th February 2019
Viewed: 3rd March 2019
Running time: 89 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

legend of tarzan poster

Almost a decade has passed since Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, returned to his inheritance in England as Lord Greystoke, John Clayton III. But as Europe tries to carve up Africa for their own economic gain, all is not well in the Belgian Congo. Struggling to pay his debts, the Belgian King Leopold invites Clayton to tour the ‘improvements’ he’s made to the lands where Tarzan once roamed.

Clayton (Alexander Skarsgård) is unwilling to return, but wife, Jane (Margot Robbie), is keen to get back to the lands where she, too, grew up. Finally he concedes when an American (Samuel L Jackson) asks him to go to look for evidence that the real ‘economy’ is slavery, that they might put a stop to it.

I’ll confess up front that my main reason for watching this movie was to perv at Alexander Skarsgård’s eight-pack a bit, and so it probably serves me right that that’s actually the highlight of the movie. He’s worked out hard, has the boy, and kudos to him. Alas, solid abs do not an entertaining movie make, and somehow – given the pedigree of the source material and the dozen or so film adaptations before it to learn from – they’ve managed to make the whole thing, well, kinda dull.

Lord Greystoke is a taciturn, brooding character, all the better to highlight how much more relaxed he was/is as Tarzan. Jane is supposed to be a bit less of a damsel in distress here, but it only half works. The rest of the impressive cast aren’t given enough to work with and just don’t pack the punches they should, including Christoph Waltz, who we know fine and well can pull off evil much better than this.

The story isn’t dreadful, and yet somehow it never gels. Flashbacks interrupt the otherwise kidnap-and-rescue tale, telling us of Tarzan’s upbringing in the jungle, with an ape (not a gorilla, bigger and meaner) as a surrogate mother, his first meeting with Jane, and other things that make the plot make some sense. The CGI isn’t bad, but it’s quite forced: Tarzan rubbing heads with lions, for instance, to make up for all the bits of story that were skipped over in favour of a darker, more serious kind of story.

And overall, I think that’s the problem. When you’re making movies with a premise as vaguely absurd as this, you either go the po-faced serious route, or you have a bit of fun with it. I think I’d rather watch George of the Jungle, tbh.

Released: 6th July 2016
Viewed: 23rd February 2019
Running time: 110 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10 – it’s not awful, just dull

The Great Wall (2016)

great wall poster

The first trailer I saw for this made it look a bit like historical fiction, which was maybe vaguely interesting. It took much longer for the penny to drop: here be dragons! Why on earth would you not have that front and centre in the trailer?! And suddenly very much my cup of tea…

Turns out they’re not really dragons, but a swarm of nasty critters that feed on humans. This movie postulates that the real reason the Great Wall of China was built was to keep these things away from a – pardon the pun – all you can eat Chinese buffet. Ahem.

However, the story is handed to Matt Damon’s ‘European’ (hmm) mercenary, on the hunt for the semi-mythical ‘black powder’ to take back home. When he stumbles into the secret of the Wall, they neither believe his story or plan to allow him to take tales back to the rest of the world.

There are things to like about this movie. I’ve long been a fan of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Hero (2002), which brought an Eastern flavour to Western audiences, complete with aerial acrobatics and saturated colour palettes. Great Wall picks up on many of these facets, and as faintly ridiculous as they can be here, I did like the richly coloured armour, in shades of red, yellow, blue, and purple. The fight scenes are as impressive as you would expect, too.

However, that’s probably about it. The story is so-so, nothing particularly novel once you get past the intriguing fantasy-myth element. There was a bit of a ‘hmm’ on release about putting a white man front and centre, and while I went in unsure if this was a bit of an over-reaction, it is more than a little insulting that Matt Damon is such the hero, set up to save the day, the entire battalion that spent its life training for this, and the ‘delicate’ female, too.

I haven’t quite put my finger on what the creatures reminded me off – some sci-fi or other – but I’ve definitely seen them in a slightly different format before, so yawn.

Overall, quite the disappointment, alas, especially as I’ve been looking forward to it cropping up on a streaming platform since I missed it at the cinema. It’s not terrible, so by all means fill a boring couple of hours, but go in with much lower expectations than I managed.

Released: 17th February 2017
Viewed: 26th January 2019
Running time: 103 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 5/10

Venom (2018)

venom poster

Investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is having a run of bad luck – losing his job, his girlfriend, and his home – when things take a turn for the worse. Trying to get his revenge on totally-not-Elon-Musk entrepreneur and space nut, Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Eddie breaks into a lab that turns out to be holding an alien symbiote – which decides Eddie is just the host it needs.

Venom is a Spiderman villain, and the announcement of this Spider-verse movie without the webslinger always sounded a bit odd. However, that’s one bit of this movie I did like: the focus is on the villain, not the yawn-some conflict with a superhero, meaning the character is far from the usual one-dimensional offering.

And, Tom Hardy is pretty darn good at playing crazy, as he holds conversations with himself and reacts to the voice only he can hear, saying such wonderful things as “Let’s bite off all the heads – pile of bodies, pile of heads.” The CGI is… fine?

Alas, that about ends the things that were particularly good about this movie. When it hit one of the highs, it was very enjoyable – but most of the movie was not at that level. The plot is a bit meh, the baddy is as one-dimensional as a regular superhero villain, and Michelle Williams’ girlfriend role is not good.

I did enjoy this well enough as I watched, but I won’t be looking to see it again. I might hope a sequel could build on the strengths, as this is an interesting way to add to the very very crowded superhero market. But I’m too ‘meh’ about this one to care if they don’t try for a follow up.

Released: 3rd October 2018
Viewed: 26th October 2018
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 5/10

Read and Gone – Allison Brook

read and gone cover

“I glanced around my cottage at the thirty or so guests laughing and chatting, and grinned.”

It’s only been a few months, book-time, since the events of Death Overdue. Carrie is settling into all aspects of her life: moving back to her childhood town, finding a perfect new home, library job, cat ownership, new boyfriend, talking to the odd ghost, and solving a few murders.

What her new domestic bliss does not need is a reappearance from her absentee, jewel-thief father. Jim Singleton arrives on Carrie’s birthday, but his visit has more to do with some missing loot… trouble is, he’s not the only one keen to get his hands on it, and soon the bodies are piling up…

The Haunted Library wasn’t my favourite cosy mystery series of last year, but picking up this second volume felt like it was written for me: it starts with a big birthday (I’ve just celebrated one) and house warming (which I’m looking forward to hosting!), and the main character has recently found a job that fits her, after many years of being an outsider. I’m even considering going the other way with her fashion choices, and dying my hair purple…!

However, similarities end there, and my camaraderie with Carrie slipped massively when she started throwing histrionics at the slightest provocation. She storms out on her boyfriend more times than I counted, after jumping to conclusions and very little chat. It got a bit annoying. I could forgive the plot-driving daft choices (oh yes, of course go chasing a known murderer on your own, you librarian!) but the chick-lit relationship woes (with boyfriend or with father) wasn’t really for me.

The mystery element is okay, not the strongest but at least logical enough. And yes, I guessed the baddy ahead of time! Alas, characters are somewhat two-dimensional, serving plot or stereotype rather than feeling rounded. Ymmv.

I’m not really sure about this one, overall. It requires a lot of foreknowledge from the previous book, but uses it as brief background. The library ghost, for instance, feels crammed in with no real purpose, just out of necessary for the series title. And the amount of time spent writing about the cat feels a bit out of proportion.

That said, I was in the mood for an untaxing read, and this suited that perfectly.

NetGalley eARC: 320 pages / 38 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Haunted Library book 2
Read from 16th-18th September 2018

My rating: 5/10