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    2015 film round up

    Ever since the 2013 film challenge I seem to have decreased the number of films I’ve seen and 2015 carried this on; although with 34 films at the cinema-ish is still pretty good.

    The year started off typically with a lot of the films that I thought would be Oscar nominated, and I was right.  Personally of the films I saw that were Oscar nominated, Whiplash was by far my favourite for how much it kept me holding my breath and engrossed in the film.  There were also lots of big blockbuster movies; Mad Max, Jurassic World and Ant Man, as well as rom-coms like Pitch Perfect 2, Trainwreck and The Duff and a couple of documentaries like Internet’s Own Boy and Amy.  Actually, looking back it was a more rounded list than I’d realised.

    Anyway, should you be interested, here’s the full list is below (or clickable here).

    Screen shot 2016-03-26 at 13.58.54

    Birmingham, Books

    UKYA Extravaganza

    What do you get if you put 35 authors in the top floor of a book shop on a Saturday afternoon and a while pile of people who really like books? Chaos.

    I went along to the inaugural UKYA Extravaganza at Waterstones Birmingham New St, which was organised by authors Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass. The idea had been to pull together authors and fans and celebrate the genre that was Young Adult. This was purely a labour of love and with £3 a ticket no one was there for the money and the sheer enthusiasm was palpable.

    Sure it was chaotic; it was sometimes a choice between quietly chatting with authors at the back of the room and listening to the panels. But ultimately it was a lovely event, full of enthusiasm and good will – and two groaning tables of cake!

    As a fan of YA it was lovely tto hear from authors, some of who I knew and have read their books and others who enticed me into buying their novels whilst I was there – I went home with another five books, much to my groaning ‘to read’ pile’s displeasure! The range of authors, and genres, was fantastic and Emma and Kerry have plans to do some more events, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the hashtag #ukyaextravaganza if you want to go along.

    So many authors, I couldn’t fit them all into one photo!

    Films/Movies

    2014 film round up

    I never actually intended to set myself any challenges for films in 2014. I certainly thought about it – see all of the films nominated for an Oscar, watch X amount of foreign/indie/British films, finally see the classic film X. But in the end it came down to realising that I’d already proven I could watch over 50 in a year, if I made time to do so, and at times at the expense of other things.  And I didn’t really want to give up another year to excluding things for the sake of a silly challenge that was too similar to one I’d completed.

    Screen shot 2015-01-13 at 00.53.28So for 2014 I decided all challenges were off and to watch whatever I wanted whenever I had time (but still keep a list).  A year of going to the cinema whenever something semi-decent and I sort-of had time put me into a routine of thinking about going more.  Which translated into actually going more.  And is probably how I ended up at 45 films in 2014, without even really trying.  Sure there were still cinema days (three films in one day), but because I realised it was the best way I could recapture old days of binge watching films, something I struggle to do at home now because I get easily distracted by twitter/facebook/instragram/blogs/news/cat videos.  If the phrase didn’t make me shudder I’d suggest that it was much more a sense of being ‘in the moment’ of which what I really mean is absorbed in a good story.

    Much like 2013, the list for 2014 is an eclectic one.  There’s was a lot less watching films in non-cinemas and one month I didn’t see anything on a big screen.  However there were still films apparently aimed at children where the audience was mainly made up of adults (I’m looking at you The Lego Movie), superheros, love stories, thrillers, romcoms, action movies, chick flicks, foreign films and even one set in Birmingham itself (Arjun & Alison – good work Cineworld for showing it).  Some of 2014’s gems, for me, were the aforementioned Lego Movie, Her, Veronica Mars, Boyhood, Calvary – and the two films that made me cry, Pride and the Fault in Our Stars.

    Anyway, should you be interested, here’s the 2014 Film List.

    Books, My Thoughts

    Life’s too short to read bad books

    LUCIA book challengeI vividly remember the first book I never finished.  It was Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and I hated it.  Up until that point I read everything veraciously and this was the first book that I struggled through, that gave me reader’s block and made me struggle with whether it was okay to give up on a book.

    And my answer is yes.

    I’ve rarely found anyone who has given up on a book did so without good reason, even if that reason is that they didn’t like it; there’s often reasons why they didn’t.  It’s why the book club I run has a rule that you don’t have to finish the book.  Rarely do I find that people didn’t finish a book because they ran out of time, and if they did it’s usually because something was preventing them from picking up the book in the first place.  But if someone doesn’t finish a book, there’s usually just as much to talk about as those who mercifully struggled to the end.  Hated the plot, the characters or the writing style?  Great, lets discuss why!  Books people don’t finish often make better book club books anyway.

    Thankfully it’s not just me who thinks it’s okay to give up on a book, even as a self-described reader / bookworm.  Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project (which is a great book) talks about the relief of giving up on a book and letting go of the sense of obligation.  And Adele Parks advised a teacher not to force young people to finish a book if they hated it at a World Book Night event I went to.  So if authors are advising people to give up on books they hate it seems reasonable to do so.

    But when do you give up on books?  Writer Jen Doll suggests preserving with 100 pages.  I tend to go for 100 pages or 10% of the book before making a judgement, but some times the first five pages are enough.  This way I avoid the guilt that comes with leaving a book unfinished; I’ve given myself a point where it’s okay to just admit it’s not for me.

    What do you think, am I admitting defeat too early, should I struggle on and finish what I started?  Or is life just too short to read books you don’t like?

    Birmingham, Books

    World Book Day – three Birmingham authors to check out

    Today it’s World Book Day in the UK and what better way to celebrate than by picking up a good book by a Birmingham based author?  Here are three contemporary authors which i think are well worth checking out…

    Benjamin Zephaniah

    Writer, poet, lecturer and born in Handsworth, he is well worth seeing speak live as reading some of his work.  Having published (and performed) a slew of poetry, he has also released several novels aimed at young people.  He also did a blinder of a talk at the University of Birmingham’s annual Baggs Memorial Lecture on the topic of happiness and was in BBC TV show Peaky Blinders.  If you’ve never heard, seen or read anything by this man you’re really missing out.  http://benjaminzephaniah.com/

    Katharine D’ Souzaparklife2

    I read Katharine’s first novel Park Life a couple of years ago and adored it.  It follows the lives of two people who live in the same block of flats, with South Birmingham being almost a supporting character – and those in the know will be able to spot references to Kings Heath / Moseley, which just added to the book for me.  Katharine has since released a second book which I’m looking forward to reading soon. http://www.katharinedsouza.co.uk/

    Mike Gayle

    Ex-agony uncle (no really, check out his website) and author of a stack of bestsellers, Mike Gayle in a Brummie born and bred.  He’s also set a few of his books in Brum, namely Turning Thirty and its sequel Turning Forty, which is also set in South Birmingham.  But his other books are set in London, Manchester and there’s even a non-fiction book, The To Do List.  His books are light-hearted (except maybe My Legendary Girlfriend, that one’s a bit darker) and often confusingly called chick lit.  If you’re looking for a beach read, then you can’t go wrong with some of Mike’s novels. http://www.mikegayle.co.uk/

    Some other authors with links to Birmingham worth checking out are: W. H Auden (you know the Stop all the Clocks / Funeral Blue poem from Four Weddings), R J Ellory, Catherine O’Flynn (her first novel What Was Lost is set in a shopping mall which may or may not be Merry Hill), Lee Child, J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle (spend some time working in Brum) and Malala Yousafzai.

    So, what are you reading this World Book Day?

    Films/Movies

    50 films in 2013: How I did

    It’s a new year and time to reflect; in January last year I challenged myself to watching 50 films at the cinema in 2013.  Well the year is over and how did I do? I aimed for 50…I managed 74. 

    So how did I do it?  The short answer is with some good planning, a Cineworld Unlimited card and a ‘why not’ attitude.  Turns out if you have a a cinema pass and spend some time checking running times you can see three films in one day.  A big thanks to the staff at the Birmingham branch of Cineworld for their general amusement at me rocking up and getting three tickets – and even double checking my timings (and a special thanks to Megan who was brilliant when my mum and I saw Gone With the Wind).  I also saw films in the local independent cinema, in the basement of a coffee shop as part of the inaugural Birmingham Architecture Festival, an arts centre, a warehouse as part of the Jameson Cult Film Club and a couple of other cinemas – thanks to them too.

    The most important thing for me was that all the films I saw were films I actually wanted to see; I was determined that I wasn’t going to complete the challenge watching things I’d felt forced into watching.  Sure I saw some trash, I’m not going to apologise for that, but I also saw some great films too.  A couple of the films I enjoyed: The Way, Way Back; Rise of the Guardians; Much Ado About Nothing; Frances Ha; Frozen; Chico & Rita…and a few of the others!

    I’ve uploaded the full list of 74 films here.  This year I’m going to try and keep my ‘why not’ attitude towards cinema going, but I’m not going to set myself a number.

    Films/Movies

    50 Film Challenge #5-8

    January is always a busy month at the cinema as it seems to be when all the Oscar films are out in the UK.  It’s also why I ended up at the cinema eight time this month.  Here are the other bunch of reviews…

    5. Gangster Squad

    With a mob king virtually ruling the streets of LA in the 1940’s, a group of street-hardened cops are tasked with a clandestine operation to clean up the streets, but there’s one rule: no badges.

    This film could’ve been so much more than it was and yet some how that didn’t matter so much.  It was certainly watchable and nice to see Gosling and Stone reunite, but the plot was a bit gangster-lite.  The gloss of the film makes it difficult to take it seriously as the portrayal of the mob, but will hopefully encourage people to see out some grittier films. 3/5

    6. Les Miserables

    Set during the French revolution this epic based-on-a-play-based-on-a-book tells the tale of Jean Valjean, a man searching for redemption whilst being pursued by a ruthless policeman.  A rags-to-riches tale, when Valjean agrees to take care of a young girl his life changes forever.

    Presumably another example of translating from the stage straight to the screen this film attempts to employ the tricks of the theatre and in so misses some interesting plot details (particularly Valjean’s journey from outcast to respected and wealthy factory-owner).  Overly long and lacking in any real narrative plot this certainly has some emotional issues but they feel exploitative.  But Hugh Jackman’s performance is superb however. 3/5

    7.  Wreck It Ralph

    Video-game baddie Ralph is fed up of being the outcast in the game he has played for decades.  Taking matters into his own hands he escapes and goes game-hoping across the arcade in search of a way of being accepted.

    An entertaining film with cameos from retro computer game characters that are sure to keep the adults as interested as children, this is an adorable blend of humour and heart.  Ralph is a great character, labeled as the baddie he just wants to be accepted.  An utterly charming film (as is the short film shown before). 4/5 

    8. Zero Dark Thirty

    Oscar-winning director Kathryn Bigelow turns her attention to the CIA’s decade long hunt for Osama Bin Laden.  CIA agent Maya arrives as the tides are changing, torture as a method of gaining information is on the way out as the agency is forced to resort to conventional tactics which are at times hampered by man power and vast amounts of data.

    Despite being a film where the ending is know, the film works much like a slow-burning thriller that builds to a cool but edging will-they-won’t-they.  At 2hrs 37mins this is another ‘bladder-buster’ of a film but each minute feels worthwhile.  Chastain is a great lead, although the hints of her background (recruited straight out of high-school and almost single-minded in her determination) could’ve been explored a little more.  Despite criticism the film gives a considered look at the use of torture in evidence gathering and a lack of jingoism makes this one film well worth seeing. 4.5/5