Tolkien (2019)

tolkien poster

It seems crazy that there hasn’t been a biopic of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, almost certainly the most famous fantasy author of the 20th Century (if not all time, but only because these young folk have no sense of history ;)). Then again, his life wasn’t the most gripping of sagas – his ‘jam’ (as those young people say) largely involving making up languages. Kudos to the writers here for coming up with a way to blend history, poetic license, and a bit of raw imagination to come up with a movie I rather enjoyed.

What I really loved was the attempt to portray inspiration, the way ideas meld from a half-dozen different sources. Cleverly, the film jumps back and forth through time, showing us Tolkien’s early life, orphaned young, falling in love with a fellow orphan; school days; and experiences n the trenches. Fans of Lord of the Rings have long known that those experiences of war fed directly into the book. But here we also get suggestions of where the magical concepts may have come from, and impressively those moments aren’t just jammed down the viewer’s throat: no, there’s a subtlety, that again mirrors how I think of ideas formulating.

The other aspect that comes across well is how the long process of getting all those elements to gel can be. That’s still probably downplayed a bit, but glad it isn’t all “boom” and the story lands fully fledged. Much 😉

Away from writerly themes, the film mixes romance and its period setting. I’m a big fan of the latter, and all of those dusty schooldays at Oxford bits appealed to me somehow. The romance is handled well enough, as is the sense of comradeship that is at the core of it all.

I can understand that non-Tolkien fans might be less gripped by this, but it’s lovely to see biopics of writers – and who, really, can claim quite the impact of JRR? I’m sure he didn’t actually see dragons rising through the smoke on a battlefield, but as poetic images go, it fits perfectly.

Released: 3rd May 2019
Viewed: 3rd May 2019
Running time: 112 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

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A Star Is Born (2018)

a star is born poster

There are films that no one should ever, EVER attempt to remake (ahem Princess Bride ahem) and then there are movies on their fifth version and (apparently) stronger than ever. Having only seen this latest version, I’ll take someone’s word for it – because this is a very strong movie, remake or not.

Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) is a successful singer/guitarist, but fame has brought issues. Tormented by tinnitus, he’s increasingly drunk and/or high. By chance he stumbles across Ally (Lady Gaga), who is all talent and little confidence. The pair are drawn to each other, and the movie charts her rise, his fall, and the tumultuous relationship between them as their positions switch.

I was utterly impressed by this movie. I went in relatively blind, and not expecting much – I’m not a fan of romances, or real life type dramas, and this offered plenty of both. But, oy, does it do them well.

I’m not a huge fan of Lady Gaga, and she was the weak point for me – not always, but just occasionally she can’t hide her talent and confidence when she’s playing a shy little thing. Still, her voice is amazing. And to be fair, Bradley Cooper holds his own – that was a surprise and a half! It doesn’t overshadow the amazing job he does acting, though, which was also something of a surprise given he more or less started as the ‘pretty one’ from the Hangover franchise.

Reader, I confess I sniffled rather a lot through this. The music is great, but the story is heartbreaking. Take tissues, but do see it.

Released: 5th October 2018
Viewed: 13th October 2018
Running time: 136 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 9/10

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

mamma mia 2 poster

Five (movie; 10 real) years have passed since the events of Mamma Mia! It’s a year since (spoiler only if you haven’t seen the trailer!) Donna died, and Sophie has dedicated herself to her mother’s dream. As we join the run-up to the big hotel launch, we also dip back in time to see Donna’s discovery of both the island and her self – and, of course, the events that led to the big ‘who’s the father?’ mix up of the first movie.

Mamma Mia! is one of my slightly embarrassing, go-to feel-good movies. Abba’s music is wonderfully catchy, and the sense of fun the cast are having is contagious. And the gorgeous sunny location doesn’t hurt either!

I was therefore a little dubious going in to the sequel: was it going to tarnish my fun? Nope! 🙂

I still had a few mixed feelings after my first viewing. The songs are less well known, and I felt they were a lot more shoe-horned in (there are a few too many ‘performance’ scenes with the characters hitting a stage) rather than quite as organically telling the story. I also didn’t really feel the need to have Donna’s encounters with Bill, Sam, and Harry ‘justified’, almost as if there’s an apology due somewhere.

But… y’know what, I had to go back and see it again. And I did relax from the scrutinising and just bloomin’ enjoyed it! This is an utterly joyful romp of a musical movie, but also quite affecting: the message of grabbing life by the horns (so to speak) is pretty well done. There is also scope for a need for tissues: there are a few scenes that just ‘hit the feels’, probably more so because the rest of the movie is so bouncy.

Don’t think about it too much. It’s daft. It rocks. Have fun! 🙂

Released: 20th July 2018
Viewed: 24th July 2018 / 14th August 2018
Running time: 114 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 8/10

Shelved Under Murder – Victoria Gilbert

shelved under murder cover

“One thing every librarian learns is that people rarely ask the question they actually want answered.”

Several months have passed since small-town librarian Amy Webber was caught up in the events of A Murder for the Books. Usual warning: if you read on, mention of events in book 2 might spoil some of book 1!

Taylorsford is preparing itself for the annual Heritage Festival, an arts and crafts spectacular. Art becomes the theme for the book, as the discovery of a dead artist seems to tie in with forgery rings and organised crime. Could it be that Amy’s late uncle, himself a struggling artist, might have been more connected to these events than anyone would wish?!

I’ve heard cosy mysteries like this described as ‘palate cleansers’ (or should that be ‘palette’, given the topic? ;)) and this is indeed just that. Light and easy to read, nothing too taxing on the brain, this was a sweet little romance with added murder. Urm…! 😉

I thought the story felt a little more assured than the previous book, or perhaps it was just that less setting up was required. We’re assumed to know who the main cast are, from the first book. Of course, this does mean that new players stand out like sore thumbs, and it was pretty obvious who was going to turn out to be the bad guys. The bigger mystery elements are more reveals about the main characters’ pasts, rather than the more obvious crime of the day.

Still, it served its purpose.  I like that this series is a little less ‘fluffy’ than some cosy mysteries, but it’s still a bit heavy on the romance for my tastes. There’s also the merest hint of something supernatural, which I’m not sure about: I think the author needs to commit to including/explaining some of it, or leave it out. Ymmv, as they say!

NetGalley eARC: ~327 pages / 28 chapters
First published: July 2018
Series: Blue Ridge Library Mysteries book 2
Read from 5th-9th July 2018

My rating: 6/10

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2018)

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society poster

Surely a contender for the most awkward title of the year award (I asked for tickets for the “Guernsey film”; a friend refers to it as the “Tatty pie film”), this adaptation of Mary Ann Shaffer’s book (which I haven’t read) is rather sweeter than the titular baked goods.

That the Channel Island of Guernsey was occupied by the Nazis during World War II is sometimes a forgotten part of the conflict’s history. As one character puts it, they didn’t just have to survive the war like the rest of Britain, they had to do so while living with the enemy. And a dark and terrifying time it was too, which we see in flashbacks as writer Juliet Ashton (Lily James) delves into the locals’ experiences.

Although I’m not really a fan of the kind of sweet romance that this film ultimately is, that element was very well balanced with the darkness of the war and occupation themes. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I really liked the bits about the main character’s writing career – I was reminded a little of a quieter version of Aunt Izzy in Life After Life. There were also similarities to Their Finest, although Juliet doesn’t seem to have many issues that you might expect for a woman in that time period.

The rest of the cast is all excellent, from Michiel Huisman (almost unrecognisable from his Game of Thrones look!) to Penelope Wilton. The aftermath of the occupation is really well explored in their different characters, from regrets to anger and fear to hope. Mainly, though, it’s about the necessity of friendships, as well as the wonder of books and words.

Not for everyone, but if it’s even half your cup of tea then this is a lovely little movie.

Released: 20th April 2018
Viewed: 24th April 2018
Running time: 124 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

Strange the Dreamer – Laini Taylor

strange the dreamer cover

“On the second Sabbat of Twelthmoon, in the city of Weep, a girl fell from the sky.”

Imagine when the name of a city disappears in an instant – not just from history or official records, but from the every mind and tongue. A few, such as orphan Lazlo Strange, are aware of the loss – he was playing at being one of the city’s fabled warriors at the time of the disappearance. This magic haunts his imagination throughout his young life, as he escapes the monastery upbringing to apprentice as a junior librarian – what a perfect life for a person with a head full of stories!

Halfway across the world, five young people live in an abandoned city. Each has a magical gift – some useful, some terrible – and all have blue skin. They are trapped by failed magic, and fear of the past, when they were the only ones to escape a cataclysm. Surrounded by ghosts, only one can ‘escape’ – by visiting the dreams of the mortals living below.

What happened all those years ago, to end the mystery of a century? What help can a rag-tag bunch of foreigners give to the fabled city of Weep? And what place does a dreaming young librarian have in either of these worlds?

This was one of those oft-recommended books that I decided to check out on a whim, and ended up completely captivating me! I absolutely loved it! Lazlo is a perfect main character for any avid reader, living as he does in stories and myths and dreams… all of which start to intrude more than a little on his reality. Twists and turns abound, and while some are guessable, the fantastical story will keep you turning pages to find out what happens next.

Massively looking forward to the sequel – and argh that I have to wait until October!

Paperback: 532 pages / 67 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: Strange the Dreamer book 1
Read from 21st March – 2nd April 2018

My rating: 9/10

When We First Met (2018)

when we first met poster

Noah (Adam Devine, Pitch Perfect) thinks he’s made a connection with Avery (Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson) after they meet at a party. Three years later, he’s still carrying a torch and wondering what went wrong as she celebrates her engagement to Ethan (Robbie Amell, The Flash). Drunk and bitter, he discovers something amazing: a photo booth that lets him travel back in time. Can he figure out his mistake, redo the whole evening, and create the perfect future?

This is a rather saccharine romcom version of The Butterfly Effect, with a time travel device that’s surely related to the aging wish-granter of Big. Noah tries again and again to alter his path to true love, and we’re shown most of the ways in which he gets it wrong along the way.

There’s nothing either surprising or objectionable to this, it’s just… fine. The cast are all pretty and/or bland, although the lead borders on irritating. There are a few laughs along the way, and exactly the message you’re expecting after about, oooh, reading the description 😉

So, while nothing special, if you have Netflix and nothing better to do for Valentine’s day, this isn’t the worst option. Probably 😉

Released: 9th February 2018 (Netflix)
Viewed: 10th February 2018
Running time: 97 minutes
Rated: 12

My rating: 5/10