Movie Review – About Schmidt (2002)

Been a bit behind on movie reviews this week so I’m going to try and catch up. About Schmidt is about Schmidt…Walter Schmidt (Jack Nicholson). He’s a man who has just retired from his job and is increasingly aware of the meaninglessness of his life. I suppose it’s something that a lot of people that age go through (although my grandparents keep themselves occupied and sad as it sounds they have more of a social life than me). Schmidt gave his life to the company but now he’s not needed, and he realizes that although he loves his wife there are some habits that irritate him. On a whim, he joins an ‘adopt a child’ service, and through the film he sends this child letters, detailing his frustrations with life, which we hear as a narration. 

I heard that this film was lauded and it has a pretty high rating. I enjoyed it but I though the lessons it taught were fairly obvious and it was material that a lot of other things have gone over before; work to live don’t live to work etc. The struggles he had to deal with were mundane but I liked that because it gave the film a realistic feel. I also liked how there wasn’t an easy solution to the problem. It’s not easy to fix the tangled threads of life, and even though he could identify the problem he didn’t know how to solve it, and that’s whta frustrated him the most. 

My interpretation was that he almost had a certain viewpoint of what people he should be friends with, or the type of person that he wanted to connect with and it just so happened that the people in his life weren’t his “type”. So it was either sacrifice a sense of belonging just to have some people around, or live alone. I thought it was a bit strange that he never even explored other avenues to make friends, but I suppose the film did show a short span of time. It’s telling that he did push away the few people he could have called friend, and in some ways he was his own worst enemy. 

However, I did think a lot of the people that he encountered were selfish as well and a lot of them didn’t care about him as a person (including his daughter), only what he could do for them. It was quite a grim outlook on human relationships really. But Schmidt wasn’t a sympathetic character for me, and perhaps he wasn’t supposed to be at all, because he did the same to the child. All through the film he narrated his own problems with life, and it just seemed as though he was using this child as a sounding board for his problems rather than taking an interest in the child’s life. So I felt a bit uncomfortable at some points because the film was a list of first world problems. The last scene was powerful though, and I like that it ended abruptly and leaves it open to interpretations. I choose to believe that Schmidt was crying because he realized that he was as bad as the people he had pushed away. 

I enjoyed the direction of the film as well. It was a very slow pace but it didn’t drag, and it’s always a risk to find that fine line. I think it’s definitely worth a watch, but after reading a few of the reviews on IMDB I think I have a slightly different interpretation than most people. 

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Movie Review – Gravity (2013)

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Gravity and it’s had a lot of lofty praise from critics. I’m a bit late to the party but I finally got to see it yesterday so here are my thoughts. 

I thought it was pretty good. I’m not sure it was five star material or worthy to be called ‘film of the year’, which I heard at least once. It was very good and very tense though. I’m a big fan of Sandra Bullock even though I know she gets criticism from a few circles. I thought she did a good job of conveying the sheer panic and terror, although how the character didn’t throw up at certain points I do not know. While there was a lot of tension there wasn’t much of a story, and I thought the outcome was predictable. 

Where the film really shines is in the visual department. The effects were phenomenal. I love space anyway, so to see the blanket of stars and space stations and the Earth…it was a joy to the senses. I’m not usually a huge fan of 3-D but I think this is definitely a film that benefits from it due to all the bits of debris flying across the screen. The soundtrack was great too and it really added to the atmosphere. 

All that being said, I can’t give it as high praise as some others. I thought it dragged a little bit in the middle and in the end, for me at least, there wasn’t the emotional substance that I like. I didn’t feel that much of a connection to the characters and while it was a tense situation there wasn’t enough to get me really invested in the film. On a technical level it’s a complete winner but on an emotional level it has some failings that prevented me from completely wowed. 

Still, it was set in space and there should be more films like this. 

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 7

Continuing through the range of emotions today is ‘a book that makes you laugh’. I was tempted just to say a joke book I own, but I figured I should try and answer the question properly. I laughed out loud a lot at certain points in The Wise Man’s Fear and there have been certain other books that have made me laugh. The on that’s made me laugh the most, however, is I, Partridge, the Alan Partridge autobiography. 

I’m a huge fan of Alan Partridge and I think it helps that the book was written by Steve Coogan, who has played the character for so long that at some points it must have seemed like he was writing an actual autobiography. The quirks of the character and the type of humour were translated brilliantly, which takes some skill since in the book he didn’t have anyone to play off. Hopefully the release of Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa this year attracted some new fans, and hopefully they will check out I, Partridge. As a quick note, he suggests a soundtrack to listen to as you’re reading certain parts of the book. I haven’t tried it but I’m curious to see what it’s like. 

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 6

Moving on from yesterday’s topic it’s a much easier questions today – a book that makes me sad? For those of you who read yesterday’s entry you’ll know that I enjoy reading books with a lot of angst and I find it much easier for books to make me sad than to make me happy. A lot of the books in my collection are ones that usually have a bleak outlook or they’re drenched in melancholy. Sometimes I am a sucker for a happy ending, but I also love it when there’s a gut-wrenching finale that leaves me astounded. Now although there are a lot for me to choose from there’s really only one I can pick. It’s a book that I read earlier this year, it’s free on Kindle and it’s People of the Abyss by Jack London. 

This book is an account of when Jack London lived as a beggar in London, in order to see what it was like. It’s a truly harrowing account, and the saddest thing about it is that some of the problems are still prevalent today. It’s a very interesting read, not just to document the conditions that these people had to endure, but also because as the book continues and Jack London gets deeper and deeper into this life his sheer frustration at the futility of it all bleeds through each page and you can feel his anger mounting. 

It makes me sad because I hate thinking that people had to live like this, and it makes me sad because I know that people still live like this in some parts of the world. It’s very eye-opening and it should definitely have a wider audience than it does. 

30 Day Book Challenge – Day 5

A book that makes me happy. Hmm. Is it bad that I’m struggling to think of one? I tend to prefer books that have a lot of angst and anguish, or ones that make me think about and examine my place in the world so this is actually a really difficult question. I suppose The Odyssey would be one, but I’m not sure it makes me happy it’s more that I’ve read it so often that reading it is like snuggling up in a warm blanket. I wouldn’t say I necessarily feel happy after reading, say, A Song of Ice and Fire, although I’m certainly excited while I read them, which I suppose is a form of happiness. 

The books I like are ones that stab at the soul so I suppose I’m happiest when a book makes me sad…although that’s a little paradoxical. I also like my mind being stimulated, so I’m tempted to put The Republic by Plato at the top of my list because that’s one of my favourite philosophical works. I think, however, I’m going to have to turn to the world of comic books. What can make anyone happier than a hero swooping in to save the day? 

There are plenty of Spider-Man comics that I could pick, but I’m going to choose Superman for All Seasons. It’s a book that is almost a mini-celebration of Superman and it shows the character from different character’s points of view, each one representing a different season. The artwork is simple yet powerful and the book encapsulates the ideals of Superman and what he represents. It’s not a story that feels the need to deconstruct him or make the story a darker tone. It’s elegant, beautiful and a representation of Superman that makes me swell with happiness and leaves me with a smile on my face. 

30 Day Challenge – Day 4

Today I’m talking about the favourite book of my favourite series. Yesterday I revealed that A Song of Ice and Fire is my favourite series, and now I have the arduous task of picking a favourite. I’ll keep this largely spoiler-free because I know some people might read this and only know what happens up to the third season of the television show. 

I read all these books within a two month span over the summer. I thought it would take me a lot longer than that but I got so engrossed in them I found it very hard to put them down. I liked how the world expanded with each book and it became much more of a sprawling read, with characters shifting location and new characters being introduced. I liked how there were new point-of-view characters too, and how in some books we got chapters from long-standing characters who we hadn’t had a POV from before (for those of you who aren’t aware, the chapters in ASOIAF are written from the perspective of selected characters, and this helps to make the characters more interesting and likeable than they are in the show, I’m looking at you Sansa and Bran). 

A Game of Thrones begins the saga and we’re introduced to the land of Westeros. It’s a pretty tight novel with a shock at the end that shows that this isn’t going to be a typical fantasy epic. It does a great job of setting up the world and showing the complex morality.

A Clash of Kings I would say is the weakest of the books. I thought there was a lot of set-up and moving around pieces to get them into place for later events. 

A Storm of Swords is really where the s*** stars going down. Obviously people will know about the Red Wedding from the show, which was one of the most shocking and brutal sequences I’ve seen on tv. I think the show actually handled it better than the books because I never really connected with Robb since he wasn’t a POV character. However, as good as the first half of the book is, the second half is even better. There’s so much good stuff to come and the ending…well I don’t know how people who initially read it were able to wait until the fourth book came out. A Storm of Swords is strong because Arya’s story develops and we get introduced to Dorne too.

A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons are strange in a way because they take place simultaneously. AFFC focuses on Westeros and the characters located in that area, and there are certainly intriguing stories that develop. A certain fan favourite doesn’t appear at all in this volume, which must have been very frustrating for the people who read it when it first came out. ADWD goes further afield. Again, both books are awesome but this is where the world starts to become a bit too complex for its own good, and there are so many characters and storylines it can be a little overwhelming. 

Given what I’ve just said I think it’s clear that the third book is my favourite. I think it hits the sweet spot between complexity and narrative focus. There’s still a lot going on but it doesn’t feel as bloated as the next two books. It also encapsulates everything about why this series is so great; political machinations, bloody battles, the impending threat of the Wildlings and shocking developments that take the story in unexpected directions. 

30 Day Challenge – Day 3

It’s day three of the challenge and today I have to talk about my favourite series. For those of you who read day two this may be a little repetitive. I’m assuming here that series have to be at least three books long. I’m a bit undecided as to what I should choose, because I’m wondering if comic books count. They’re ongoing series, and some storylines get collected in graphic novels but I think for the purposes of this challenge I’ll discount them because it makes the choice much easier. 

I mentioned The Chronicles of Narnia and Enid Blyton books yesterday so those would be under consideration. There’s really only one challenger for this though, and that’s A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s certainly not a perfect series but the world George R. R. Martin has created is an intricate one with such depth that it’s easy to get completely lost in it. There are so many compelling characters and obviously he’s a bit renowned for killing beloved characters off (although I don’t think it’s as bad as everything thinks, all the deaths make sense and have story reasons, and to be honest there have only been a couple of deaths where I’ve actually liked the character a lot). The narrative is excellent, the way the fantasy elements are weaved in is cleverly done and I can’t rave about them enough. 

So this is just a short one today, and tomorrow’s will probably be brief as well because I think I’ve raved about this series enough. 

30 Day Challenge – Day 2

The day 2 topic is ‘a book that you’ve read more than three times’. There aren’t many of these books because typically I don’t re-read. I’m always looking for new books to explore and I have a huge amount on my to-read list, and re-reading sometimes gets in the way of that. I also have a pretty good memory for these things, so I prefer to leave a few years at least in between re-reads so when I come back to them I can still be a little bit surprised. There are a few exceptions, however. 

When I was younger I used to love Enid Blyton and I read and re-read The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, The Mystery Of…, The Faraway Tree countless times. I haven’t read them since I was younger though, so I don’t know how well they’d hold up nowadays. I do remember enjoying them immensely, even though I knew how the mysteries turned out. 

Another series I have read more than once are The Chronicles of Narnia. Not much needs to be said about them, I’ve always enjoyed them and I liked the recent movies that came out. I liked all the books although The Silver Chair  and The Last Battle were a bit iffy. The Voyage of the Dawntreader is my favourite, just in case you were wondering. 

But the book I’ve read the most, or at least I’ve gotten the most out of, is The Odyssey. I studied it at college and read it about four times that year, and I never got tired of it. I think studying it helped my appreciate it more because we explored the text and I was shown things that otherwise I may not have picked up on. Later on, in my third year at uni, I did a module studying how literature changed from epic to romance, so I studied The Odyssey again. Thanks to my foundation of knowledge I had a good couple of essays and some of the exam questions were about it and it saved me. I would have done very badly if it hadn’t been for this book. I still re-read it occasionally, although I haven’t been able to fit it in this year. I love everything about it and it never gets old.

30 Day Challenge – Day 1

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I saw this on the LittleBookBlog and it seemed to be a fun idea! So Day 1 is the best book I read last year. Since my memory doesn’t go back that far and we’re almost at the end of this year I’m going to adapt the question slightly to the best book I read in the last year. There are a few contenders here because I received a Kindle Fire last Christmas and I’ve worked my way through a lot of the free classics available, and my reading habits have steadily increased over the past year anyway so I have a wider array to chose from. 

I could choose a work of Rafael Sabatini, W. Somerset Maugham or Jack London. I’ve read a lot of their works through Kindle. One I have very high praise for is People of the Abyss by Jack London. It’s an account of how he lived in London as a homeless person, and he documented his experiences. It’s a harrowing, depressing book, made all the worse by the fact that a lot of issues he talks about are still prevalent today. 

I’ve become a massive fan of Sherlock Holmes over the last year as well, so much so that sometimes I forget he’s actually not a historical figure. The Complete Works of Sherlock Holmes collects all of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels and short stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading them. Given the cultural impact of Moriarty and, to a lesser extent, Irene Adler I was surprised at how little they appeared in the original stories. I think it’s more of shock when compared with superheroes, since their enemies return and re-appear regularly. 

The Walking Dead Compendiums 1&2 are also really good. I was a huge fan of the tv show. It’s gone down in my estimation now, but the comics were awesome and I devoured them far quicker than I should have. 

Two recent books I’ve read and reviewed, The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear would come close. They’re complex works with so much depth it’s ridiculous. 

I was really impressed with the Locke & Key series of graphic novels, and I’m looking forward to the last couple of collections to be released. There were some shocking moments and the story was captivating. 

I’m going to choose two possible answers here because one of them is cheating a little. 

The first is the series of A Song of Ice and Fire. I know, it’s not one book, but it’s kind of hard to separate them, especially since I read them all back to back and was completely engrossed. I was hooked on the series and then I was hooked on the books. Some fantastic storytelling, and the world is given so much depth it’s incredible. I was in two minds about starting them because I wasn’t sure if it would change the way I feel about the show, but they are insanely good. I find myself liking (or at least sympathising) with all of the point of view characters, even some that I dislike in the show. The only regret I have is that now I’ve read them I’m hating the wait for the next one! 

The next one may strike some of you as an odd choice because you may not think of it as a book at all, and in some ways it’s surprising that it beats out all of the other novels and short stories I’ve read. Marvel have an Essentials line where they reprint old comics in black and white. Typically it’s 500-600 pages to a collection and they’re very good value for money, if you don’t mind the fact that it’s black and white. I resumed collecting them this year and added some more Spider-Man, X-Men and Daredevil to my collection. It’s the Spider-Man one I want to talk about though, and I’m not even choosing the whole selection, just a couple of issues #121 & #122.

Issue #121 is when Gwen Stacy dies and it’s such a powerful moment. Spidey’s sorrow, frustration and anger leap off the page. It’s made all the more traumatic by the fact that he came so close to saving her, and yet there was nothing he could do. It piles more tragedy and more angst on Spider-Man but it never strikes me as a shock death or one that’s done just to boost sales of the comic. It’s a purely storytelling decision and one that has ramifications, beginning in the next issue. The reason why I’m choosing this as well is because of the last page. Peter is desolate after Gwen’s death, and in the last page he shouts at Mary-Jane, insults and tells her to leave him alone. It would be completely natural for her to leave him alone, but instead she closes the door and chooses to stay with him. It’s just a pure moment. Despite what he says MJ knows he needs her in that moment, and she’s there for him. It’s a theme that was played up in the Raimi Spider-Man films to great effect, but here there’s so much emotion contained in in nine panels that it tops everything else. I do have to admit a caveat, obviously I’m a huge Spider-Man fan so this has more resonance to me than a lot of other things, but it’s so powerful and so simple that it’s the best thing I’ve read this year.

Book Review – The Wise Man’s Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle #2) by Patrick Rothfuss

You can find my review of the first book in the series, The Name of the Wind here.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this series there may be slight spoilers for The Name of the Wind in this review. 

 

For those of you who read my review of The Name of the Wind, you’ll remember that one of my complaints about the book was that for the length (600+ pages) it didn’t feel like an awful lot happened. The Wise Man’s Fear is just shy of 1000 pages, so one may assume that it suffers from the same problem – yes and no. 

I think it does still spend a little too long at the University in the early stages, but once we leave there is a lot going on and a lot of the world is opened up to us. It is a mammoth read but it’s one that I was eager to work my way though, and even though it’s long and there’s a lot of information packed into the text it doesn’t at any point feel too dense or too heavy. The narrative flows easily  which is extremely impressive considering that nothing in this book is included by accident. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that every word is deliberate and everything is relevant. The story even skips over a couple of bits that seem important, and would seem to be exciting parts of a story, but aren’t relevant to the story that Kvothe is telling. 

Every new character that is introduced feels real and any character who may seems a bit…surreal, well, again, it’s done deliberately. Patrick Rothfuss is a tremendously talented writer and the richness of the text is staggering. The world-building is done in a subtle way and everything in this world – like the way magic works – makes sense, and it’s all layered so that we get the information we need at the right time. Above all else it’s simply an entertaining story. There were some parts, particularly at the beginning, that had be laughing out loud. Other parts had me gasping and eagerly turning the page. 

It’s not entirely perfect. I still think Kvothe is too oblivious around Denna, but then I’m wondering whether there’s some other effect at play. There is a section in the book that’s a little repetitive as well, and it’s really hammering home the same point over a few chapters, but at the same time this section contains one of the most interesting parts of the book. 

Another of my complaints of the first book was that I found the interludes in the Inn jarring. After the revelation towards the end of that book I now read these chapters with a greater interest, and the story of how Kvothe became Kote and how Bast ties into it all is very intriguing, especially because Bast’s agenda is still unclear. 

One thing I touched upon in my previous review is the depth of the book. The level of detail in these books is insane. Some of it I picked up on while I was reading, but other parts flew right over my head. This is a book that is meant to be discussed and pondered. Reading it is actually an activity, where you should pay attention and immerse yourself in the text. Superficially it’s a good, entertaining story but when you look closer you realise just how much there is to examine. I was actually tempted to go straight back and re-read them to get a better understanding of some of the things I missed. 

If you have read these books or are going to read them I’m going to pass on a link that was recommended to me. Jo Walton, an author, wrote a series of posts while she re-read the two books. The observations she makes are interesting, but there are a lot of comments as well and it will shine a new light on what you thought you knew. The index for these posts can be found here

The next book can’t come quickly enough as far as I’m concerned.