Pretty Little Liars (2010-2016) TV Series Review

Title: Pretty Little Liars

Cast: Troian Bellisario, Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale, Shay Mitchell, Sasha Pieterse, Ian Harding, Tyler Blackburn, Janel Parrish

Series Running Time – 2010-Present Day

Genre: Murder-Mystery, Teenage Drama, Thriller

Rating: 4/5


It doesn’t take a lot for me to get sucked into a television show. Give me anything with either a good cast, great storylines or even plenty of seasons, and I’ll probably get stuck into it and become obsessed very quickly. I also use television series’ as background noise for my everyday life. For example, whilst I was writing my dissertation, I kept Parks and Recreation on and just sped through the whole lot in a few weeks.

And I’ve been aware of Pretty Little Liars for quite a while now, but I never thought it would be my thing. But after watching Gossip Girl, and searching online for similar programmes, I decided to cave in and just watch the pilot of PLL to see what it was. And oh, what a pilot. Now, as I stand, writing this in January 2016, Pretty Little Liars has just come back from its mid-season break, and premiered the pretty-little-liarssecond part of Season 6 which is set five years in the future. But as this second part is so vastly different from the past episodes, I thought I’d do a review on those.

So what is Pretty Little Liars all about? Well, if you focus on the tagline of the first season, ‘Never trust a pretty girl with an ugly secret’, I think that gives you a good overview of the entire show. Loosely based on the book series by Sara Shepard, and set in the fictional, small town of Rosewood, the series surrounds the entwining lives of four friends, Aria Montgomery (Hale), Spencer Hastings (Bellisario), Emily Fields (Mitchell) and Hannah Marin (Benson) as they struggle with the sudden disappearance of their clique leader, Alison (Pieterse). But, as the first anniversary of Alison’s disappearance passes, the girls begin to receive mysterious messages from a figure known only as ‘A’, who threatens to reveal their darkest secrets. And, at first, the girls believe it is Alison, but after her body is found, they all start to realise that a much bigger, and more dangerous game is being played with them.

The five seasons then predominantly follow the girls attempting to discover who ‘A’ is, and being led down false trails and having red herrings thrown left, right and center. There are different characters being accused of being ‘A’, but then being revealed not to be, and there are also little sideplots following other characters, but ultimately we discover that a lot centers on Alison, her friends and their secrets. Alison, as we discover throughout the series, was a lot deeper and more complex person than initially perceived, and she had secret dalliances all over Rosewood. And initally minor characters, like Melissa Hastings and Jessica DiLaurentis, equally have their own part to play in the ‘A’ storyline. The four main girls also have their own episodes and plotlines given to each of them, and issues with weight, drink and drug dependency, first loves, questions of sepretty_little_liars_640xuality and bullying are all explored in quite a well documented and sensitive manner.
So, is it a good series? Overall the acting is fairly good, and the girls all play off each other well. In the group, the girls are quite different and that provides interesting watching, as there is a brainy one, a creative one, a fashionable and canny one, and a sporty one, so for the audience, there will be one that individuals find to be most relatable. Each of the girls also have their own relationship with Alison, and we see how differently they took her disappearance.

For the tone of the show, there is an overwhelming sense of intensity throughout the five seasons, as the tension between the girls and ‘A’ really ramps up to dangerous levels. We also watch the girls grow, and change as a result of the bullying from their tormentor, as they begin to realise that their past actPLL4123ions as ‘social queen bees’ may have not been all that positive to outsiders. At some moments, the tension is almost unbearable, an
d there is some genuinely quite scary bits. The figure of ‘A’ is definitely the most intriguing, as their reasons for targeting the girls isn’t clear at first, nor is how they can do it. But as time passes, it is all revealed in a very detective mystery-esque feel.

However, there are so moments whilst watching that you do just want it to revealed. It takes 130 episodes for ‘A’ to be unmasked and their motives to be explained, and sometimes you do feel like it will never end. And that can make you feel bogged down. There are also moments when you feel like the writers are just scraping the barrel for the next possible suspects. And to me, the big ‘A’ reveal wasn’t all that great. I felt like some of the fan’s theories would have made more entertaining viewing. But, that is just my opinion.

But, all in all, the series is very addictive, and it does hook you into the ‘who is A?’ story arc so much that you do become emotionally involved in whenever a possible theory of ‘A’ is revealed. I watched the entire series as it was on the mid-season break before the latest episodes came out, so I had to be very cautious over making sure I wasn’t spoilt for who ‘A’ was, as I was that intrigued over who or how it was going to be revealed. I know I’m going to carry on watching it, and if you want a ‘Gossip Girl’/’Twin Peaks’ series, I’d recommend Pretty Little Liars.

But let me know if you’ve watched PLL, or anything similar! I’d love to hear!

The Hateful Eight (2015) – Film Review

Title: The Hateful Eight

Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Kirk Russell, Tim Roth, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, Walton Goggins, Bruce Dern, Demián Bichir, James Parks

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Genre: American Western, Mystery, Murder-Mystery

Rating: 4.5/5


 

To me, to this day, there is only one director whose films I will actively go and watch in the cinema. Yes, I love plenty of other directors and producers – Baz Luhrmann, Danny Boyle, Tom Hooper, are just a few – but when it comes to physically going to the cinema, buying popcorn and a ticket and just staring up at the screen for hours on end, there is only one director that I will properly do that for. And that is Quentin Tarantino.

the-hateful-eight-poster1To me, his blend of extreme violence, long tracking shots, lengthy monologues and the Mexican stand-off just makes for a story of epic proportions. I could rewatch every Tarantino film, and still feel like it was the first time. So, I was unbearably excited to finally go and see his newest, and coincidentally, his eighth film, The Hateful Eight. And with a stellar cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Kirk Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen and Walton Goggins, what more was there not to love?

Set in the blisteringly cold and mountainous Wyoming post-American Civil War, the film is divided into chapters – not unlike that of Kill Bill and other Tarantino films – and the first two chapters focus on a stagecoach ride. Its inhabitants are two bounty hunters, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) and Jon Ruth (Russell); and Ruth’s prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Leigh), as they all venture out towards the fictional town of Red Rock. Both are delivering their bounty’s – Warren’s being a motely group of dead criminals tied to the roof of the coach, whilst Ruth’s being that of the very-much alive Domergue. In the second chapter, the audience meets an ex ‘Lost-Causer’ military man, Chris Mannix (Goggins), who is also journeying to Red Rock to become the new sheriff.

However, as the weather worsens, and a blizzard threatens to overwhelm the stage coach, the motley crew are forced into stopping at a roadside inn called Minnie’s Haberdashery. And it is there where we meet the rest of the cast. They’re Joe Gage (Madsen), a solitary cattle-hand; Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), a highly charismatic hangman; Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a retired Confederate general; and Bob (Demián Bichir), a Mexican handyman and the haberdashery’s temporary caretaker.hatefuleight

And it is whilst these strangers are trapped together does it become obvious that there is something nefarious going on. Ruth believes that there is somebody working to secure the release of Domergue, and in a style that is very reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs, we have a group of gun-slinging strangers who all distrust each other, but remain trapped in one small location. And this is where Tarantino is at his most comfortable and creative.

This film doesn’t disappoint in a lot of instances. We’ve got the fail-safe Tarantino-esque monologues and sweeping bits of dialogue that Samuel L. Jackson performs with such gusto and feeling. The cast equally have their own amazing strengths – Roth gives the comic relief that is sometimes needed in such a tense environment, whilst Goggins delivers the perfect ‘Gone-with-the-wind-highly-racist-Southern-deserter’ role with conviction, that you find him both disgraceful, yet pitiful. And as the only real strong female role in the entire film, Leigh deserves all the credit for making her Domergue the most unladylike and lowlife murderess going.

The film is tense to the point of breaking. It continues to ramp up the pressure, and you know, as a viewer, that there is going to be a snapping point. But Tarantino keeps twisting and turning in his story-telling, so much so that you don’t know exactly when or how the facade will break. But, with the addition of the superb soundtrack, composed by Ennio Morricone – his first Western soundtrack in 35 years – the tension became almost unbearable in some places.

So yes, I did absolutely love it. I find Tarantino’s use of the one room and intimate setting to be one that would always work. And it has. But to me, this film did feel like an accumulation, and sort of celebration of his other work, whether it was supposed to or not. As it did have all the elements of the rest of his films, the Hateful Eight could seem slightly disappointing to some, as it didn’t have much originality. With a black bounty hunter and severe racial tension coming straight from the world of Django, and the group of betraying strangers being something out of Reservoir Dogs, The Hateful Eight does just about hold its own in terms of the rest of his films, but maybe next time, we need to go back to the non-linear storylines of Pulp Fiction, and put this Old Western vibe to bed.

But with a brilliant and always entertaining cast, a director who always pushes it to the limit, and a storyline that is full of tension and gore, this film is so distinctive, it just had to be a Tarantino movie. And to me, that quintessential trope is always going to be a winner.

(Disclaimer – This film is rated an 18/R – and depicts very graphic scenes of violence, profane language and having elements of sex and nudity. If you are at all squeamish or could get offended or triggered by such events, I would suggest you steer clear. Information all taken off the IMDb’s Parental Guide)

 

 

 

Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire – Book Review

Title: Egg & Spoon

Author: Gregory Maguire

Rating: 3/5

Genre: Children’s Books, Children’s Literature, Fairytale, Fantasy, YA, Modern Fairytale, Adaptation, Historical Literature.


“Think of egg and spoon. If there is an egg, well, fine. You eat. Unless you use your spoon to hold the egg out of my reach. Does being in possession of a spoon give you more right to the egg?”

When the author is man who wrote Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Mirror, Mirror, and who has carved himself a spot in the genre of revising and writing novels inspired by children’s stories, I was expecting great things when I picked up Egg & Spoon by Gregory Maguire. The blurb promised me a tale of weaving ‘together of Russian folklore, mythical creatures and fantastical characters’ and I was also intrigued by the cover art featuring typical symbols of ‘Russia’ – a Firebird, a Russian stacking doll and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. So, I bought it and read it in under a week. And yes, this is a modern fairytale with a interesting blend of Russian folklore against a 20th century historical story. And when you have the figure of Tsar Nicholas II arguing wi20708810th Baba Yaga, the Slavic witch, what more do you want?

This story follows a few plot lines, but mainly focuses on the tale of misidentity and a sort of Prince and the Pauper-scenerio. We start off with a monk being jailed, and relaying the story of when two worlds collide and the aftershocks of such a collision. Elena Rudina lives in the provincial and highly impoverished Russian countryside with her dying mother. Her father has been dead for years, and one brother has been conscripted by the Tsar into the army, whilst the other has been taken as a servant. Elena is desperate for a chance to start a new life. And when a train breaks down just outside her village, a train carrying a noble family destined for Saint Petersburg and an audience with the Tsar himself, Elena finds herself befriending a passenger. Ekaterina, or Cat, is of noble birth and standing, and despite initially finding Elena an amusing pastime, the two girls become firm friends. But after a freak accident concerning a Faberge egg, Elena and Cat’s lives become switched. And from a discovery of the firebird’s egg, and Cat stumbling upon Baba Yaga in her house perched atop of oversized chicken legs, this story sets the scene for a magical adventure across the wilds of Russia and The North.

So, what did I love about this book? The story is highly vivid and the writing is rich in imagery and description. Maguire certainly knows how write a fantastical world, and how to make it feel even realistic. As a Russian historian, I loved the time period in which it was set, and Maguire incorporation of Slavic and Russian folklore figures. Both Elena and Cat were girls who grew up and changed as the book progressed, and they became more likable, as Cat becomes humbler whilst Elena becomes more assertive. And the figure of Baba Yaga – a very popular supernatural being from Old Russian tales – becomes easily one of the favourites, as her no-nonsense view on the world is refreshing, especially when it helps cut down the fairytale element.

linnunjalka-talo

Image courtesy of http://lisasvensk.wordpress.com

The book also has some very life-affirming and positive messages. There is emphasis on family values, not losing yourself, and being open to different cultures and not narrow-minded. But the most obvious message comes in the form of the Ice Dragon. Towards the end of the book, Elena, Baba Yaga, Cat and others travel to the North Pole to visit an ice dragon, who cannot sleep due to humanity’s complaints and overwhelming needs, and is subsequently melting the ice with his fire. And if this isn’t a clear message about global warning, then I don’t know what is. But after the children assure the ice dragon that they would cut down on their own greed, he seems to fall asleep. To me, this is such a clever way of writing about anti-materialism and being more mindful of the planet’s needs. And for younger readers to read this, and perhaps take it in without realising it, it certainly has that moralistic ground that fairytales always have a base in.

But I did have some criticisms over this story. For a start, the plot can be very convoluted at times, and sometimes seem very long-winded. Not much happens in the first third of the book, and despite the action picking up later, this long-winded introduction does affect it in the long run, as it made it sometimes hard to follow, hard to read and just hard to digest. I also disliked Baba Yaga’s references to modern-day culture. She mentions Kool-Aid, Cheerios and musicals that were written long after tsarist Russia, and despite her stating that her magical powers allows her to travel between time periods, it completely lost the Imperial Russian feel of the book, and made the writing feel awkward.

But all-in-all, I did enjoy the book. The end was fairly satisfying and neat, as it brought the stories all together in one large fairytale mismatch, and all the characters parted after a period of growth. With a good mixture of both fictional and real historical characters, Maguire brought to life a well-written and overall fairly good piece of fairytale fun, and despite it being marketed for Young Adults, I would say that ages of 10+ could read, and enjoy it with ease.

But let me know if you’ve read Egg & Spoon! And what are your thoughts on modern/traditional fairytales?

The Danish Girl (2016) – Film Review

Title: The Danish Girl

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw, Matthias Schoenaerts, Amber Heard, and Sebastian Kochs

Director: Tom Hooper

Genre: Biography, Drama, Costume Drama, LGBTQIA Film, Historical Drama

Rating: 4/5


In the last couple of years, the LGBTQIA community have had some of their most positive media representation yet. With hit television shows, the-danish-girl-eddie-redmaynemovies, television presenters, media stars and political triumphs under their belt, it seems that the world has finally seemed to turn a corner in acceptance and love of a group of people that was so badly treated and downtrodden for decades.

And through all this, the transgender community has gone from strength to strength with people such as  Laverne Cox, Ian Harvie and Caitlyn Jenner highlighting the issues that so many have pushed under the carpet, and giving all the silent masses a voice in which to be heard by.

But before all this, there was a single woman. A figure of great significance, and a figure that, until now, has only been known by few. And that was Lili Elbe. Artist’s muse, haunting beauty, and born under the name Einar Wegener, Elbe was one of the pioneers of gender reassignment surgery, and remains a cultural icon to the transgender community today. And now, in 2016, Lili’s tale has come to life in a decadent film, directed by the acclaimed Tom Hooper and starring Academy Award -winning Eddie Redmayne and Golden Globe nominee Alicia Vikander.

At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to Einar and Gerda Wegener. Depicted as a bohemian and happily married couple living in Copenhagen in the early 1900s, the couple both worked as artists, but originally at different levels of success. Whilst Einar was highly successful in his paintings of bleak landscapes, Gerda was struggling to get people to notice her portraits. And it is one of these portrait sittings where Einar’s life seems to have a revolutionary and remarkable turning point. When the Wegener’s mutual friend, a beautiful ballet dancer a711955211nd socialite Ulla (portrayed by Amber Heard) fails to turn up for her sitting, Gerda persuades Einar to step in and wear stockings and ballet shoes to give Gerda a point of reference. It is then the audience notices that Einar changes. It’s both a visible and emotional realisation for Einar, and maybe one he had never experienced before.

And following this turning point, the audience witnesses the blossoming of Lili through Einar, and how, despite initially Lili becomes a welcome muse for Gerda, the transition of Einar-to-Lili fully becomes a source of tension and ultimately a breakdown of marriage between the Wegener’s.The rest of the film then shows Lili deciding to go ahead with the pioneering surgery. And it is then we witness one of the most perfectly spoken lines of script in the film. Whilst speaking to her doctor, Lili says in a nervous manner, ‘I believe I am a woman’, and Gerda follows up, in a calm and assured voice ‘I believe it too’. To me, this acknowledgement of Gerda’s is one of the most positive reactions. In agreeing with Lili, Gerda shuts the door on Einar, and lets Lili become the woman she always wanted to be. And it was really one of those catch-in-the-throat moments that makes you fall further in love with Gerda.

The acting in this film is superb in my opinion. I realise there has been strife over the fact that Hooper did cast a cisgender man to play a transgender role, as well as blatant historical inaccuracies, but to me, I felt Redmayne played the part of Lili and Einar equally well.

In Einar, we saw a sensitive, caring husband whose struggles with his true self are shown to be both heart-wrenching and completely painful at time, and with Lili we see a shy and initially retiring woman who does rise from the ashes, and just wants to live her life as the woman she can has danishgirl1-xlargefinally become. What I did love about Redmayne’s performance was the obvious soul searching he does as Einar to become Lili. He spends a lot of time perfecting how he thinks a woman should move, how she sits and gestures with her hands, and also just how to be, subconsciously. There is pain when there needs to be, and there is also glee and realisation. And, as Golden Globe and Oscar season approaches, I would not be surprised if we see nominations and awards left right and centre.

But for me, it was Vikander who brought the house down. Before this, I hadn’t seen Vikander in much. But in this film she blew me away. She plays the feisty Gerda in such a dazzling manner. She’s flirty, outrageous, daring and loving at the beginning of the film, and as she watches her husband disappear and Lili to come to prominance, we see her lose some of her old self and seem to grow up in a way. She shows grief, dismay and anger for ‘the loss’ of Einar, but then support and resilience in living and supporting Lili. Without realising it, she even helps Einar make Lili the woman she wants to be, as in a touching montage, she is shown how a woman should walk, what clothes to wear and how to move. Vikander’s Gerda was always there as a pillar of support, and we do feel sympathy for her marriage breakdown, but also admiration for her strength.

The movie was also decadent in its filming and taste. With beautiful costuming, backdrop, visual effects and filming, the film is typical of Hooper’s lush and almost costume drama-y touch. But sometimes it felt as though the backdrops did distract from the actual action.

But all in all, I was thoroughly impressed with this film. Yes, sometimes it did feel slightly costume drama, and unlike Hopper’s brilliant The King’s Speech, there was moments when the drama did fall slightly short. But Redmayne’s acting, along with the force-to-be-reckoned-with Vikander more than made up for it. All in all, a movie to see.

But what do you think? What were your thoughts on a cisgender man playing such an iconic transgender role? Does Vikander deserve an Academy Award? Let me know in the comments.

The Danish Girl is out now.

Book Fangirling Book Award

So, the lovely Lexi nominated me for a blog award! I’m so excited to have this Book Fangirling Book Award, and I highly suggest you go and check out Lexi @ DriftingLexi, as I always snoop on her blog to get good reading and reviewing tips.

So, the rules:

  1. Create a post to accept your award.book-fangirling-blog-award11
  2. Add the blog award button into your post and put it on the side of your blog as a widget. Visit fangirling for the award button.
  3. Answer the questions I have below.
  4. Nominate between 5-10 book bloggers who you think also deserve this award.
  5. Come up with your own 5 questions for your nominees.

The Questions:

Pick one – Harry Potter or Percy Jackson.

Having never read Percy Jackson, it’s going to have to be Harry Potter. Truthfully, you could probably put up anything, and I would still pick Potter.

Who’s your favourite Lisa Kleypas and Jane Austen hero/ heroine?

I’ve never heard of Lisa Kleypas, but I do love me some Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice, or the eponymous character of Lady Susan from Lady Susan.

Who’s your book soul mate?

A difficult one. If we’re going for classic literature, I hold a soft spot for Heathcliff, because I do love the ‘mad, bad, dangerous’ ones. But if we’re going for more modern fiction, then it might have to be Luke from The Shopaholic series.

Who’s your latest book crush?

Ooh, latest book crush… It might have to be Boris from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. He’s Russian, he’s slightly mental and he’s so interesting.

Book whose ending you disliked the most?

I haven’t hated an ending in a very long time actually, but I did dislike the ending of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, as it didn’t seem to be the most dramatic ending for such a promising series.

Nominees!

My questions:

1: What’s your next book on your TBR pile?

2: Favourite cover art that you own?

3: Which book surprised you the most?

4: Have you read any book series, and if so, what series?

5: Favourite genre of book to buy?

So, there are my answers and my new questions! Thanks for reading.