2017: 100 Book Challenge

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Hello!

Welcome to another 2017 round-up post. I’ve already done a post about my favorite and least favorite movies of the 2017 and now it is time for my list of book for this year. I don’ really post about books on this blog (I write short comments about them on Instagram as @sharingshelves) but since a lot of the books I’ve read are movie related (novels and comics that are adapted into films or non-fiction works about movies), I thought that some of you might be interested in my suggestions/recommendations. Also, I wasn’t planning on repeating the challenge but I managed to finish 100 books again this year (did the same in 2016). I have to promise myself that I’m not even going to attempt to read this many books next year, as when I have a certain numerical goal in mind, the reading experience does become more about quantity than quality.

Before I give you the list, here are a couple of general notes about it:
• From the 100 books this year, 10 were in Lithuanian (my native language) and 90 in English – I’m reading less and less in my native language every year.
• Most popular authors were Galbraith/Rowling for novels and Ennis, Bendis, and Snyder for comic books.
• I’ve read more graphic novels this year but fewer non-fiction books. My most often read comic book characters were Batman and Wonder Woman.
• I didn’t do an author break down by nationality but a general overview is this – I mostly read books by English-speakers. I didn’t even read a single book by a Lithuanian author (one by an author of Lithuanian descent was on the list, though).
• I’ve read mostly stand-alone books this year: if we’are not counting the comic book series, I’ve only read one full novel series.
• The 20th and 21st-century books were my most preferred for leisure reading, while for my English course, I’ve jumped around all time periods, but mostly focused on the literature of the 19th century.

Anyways, here is my list of books divided into the different genres. In every part, I’ve highlighted a couple of my favorites! I have also linked some movie reviews next to the relevant books. Enjoy!

Non-fiction:

  1. S. Cain – ‘Quiet: The Power of the Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking’
  2. W. Isaacson – ‘Steve Jobs’ (adapted to film)
  3. R. Roll – ‘Finding Ultra’
  4. P. Pfitzinger and S.Douglas – ‘Advanced Marathoning’
  5. F. Hufton – ‘Running: How To Get Started’

Fiction:

  1. D. Brown – ‘Digital Fortress’
  2. M. Zusak – ‘The Book Thief’
  3. W. Carther – ‘Death Comes For The Archbishop’
  4. Z. N. Hurston – ‘Their Eyes Were Watching God’
  5. N. Gaiman – ‘American Gods’
  6. N. Gaiman – ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’
  7. S. Meyer – ‘ The Chemist’
  8. A. Huxley – ‘Brave New World’
  9. A. Huxley – ‘Island: a novel’
  10. I. Welsh – ‘Trainspotting’ (adapted to film)
  11. J. Moyes – ‘ The Girl You Left Behind’
  12. L. Groff – ‘Fates and Furies’
  13. R. Galbraith – The Cuckoo’s Calling’
  14. R. Galbraith – ‘The Silkworm’
  15. R. Galbraith – ‘Career of Evil’
  16. L. Moriarty – ‘Big Little Lies’
  17. A. Burgess – ‘A Clockwork Orange’
  18. G. Orwell – ‘Animal Farm: a fairy story’
  19. G. Orwell – ‘1984′
  20. D. Eggers – ‘The Circle’ (adapted to film – review)
  21. J. le Carre – ‘The Night Manager’
  22. E. Morgenstern – ‘The Night Circus’
  23. L. Evans – ‘Their Finest’ (adapted to film – review)
  24. M. Bulgakov – ‘The Master and Margarita’
  25. D. O’Porter – ‘Goose’
  26. C. Palahniuk – ‘Fight Club’
  27. C. Bukowski – ‘Post Office’
  28. N. Larsen – ‘Passing’
  29. G.R.R. Martin and G. Dozois (as editors) – ‘Rogues’
  30. D. Gibbins – ‘Crusader Gold’
  31. R. Sepetys – ‘Between Shades of Gray’
  32. B. Ridgway – ‘The River of No Return’
  33. F. Molnar – ‘The Paul Street Boys’
  34. T. Parsons – ‘Starting Over’
  35. T. Capote – ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’
  36. A. Christie – ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ (adapted to film – review)
  37. A. Thomas – ‘The Hate U Give’
  38. P.K. Dick – ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ (adapted to film – review)
  39. S. King – ‘It’ (adapted to film – review)

Cinema related books:

  1. G. Jenkins – ‘Empire Building’
  2. J. Luceno – ‘Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel’
  3. A. Freed – ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’ novelization (film review)
  4. C. Fisher – ‘Postcards From The Edge’
  5. C. Fisher – ‘The Princess Diarist’
  6. C. Fisher – ‘Wishful Drinking’
  7. D. O’Neil – ‘The Dark Knight’ novelization
  8. C. Clark – ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’
  9. C. Clark – ‘My Week with Marilyn’
  10. J.K. Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them’ script (film review)
  11. A. Kendrick – ‘Scrappy Little Nobody’
  12. S. Nathan and S. Roman – ‘Frozen’ novelization
  13. S. Bukatman – ‘Blade Runner – BFI Film Classics’

English 3rd year degree books:

  1. Aeschylus – ‘Prometheus Bound’
  2. C. Marlowe – ‘Doctor Faustus
  3. J. Milton – ‘Paradise Lost’
  4. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein; 1818 text’
  5. R. Henryson – ‘The Testament of Cresseid’
  6. D. Defoe – ‘Robinson Crusoe’
  7. N. Shephard – ‘The Quarry Wood’
  8. N. Larsen – ‘Quicksand’
  9. A. Carter – ‘The Bloody Chamber and other stories’
  10. C. Bronte – ‘Jane Eyre’
  11. E. Bronte – ‘Wuthering Heights’
  12. A. Bronte – ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’
  13. G. Elliot – ‘The Lifted Veil’
  14. G. Elliot – ‘The Mill on The Floss’
  15. C. Dickens – ‘Great Expectations’
  16. H.G. Wells – ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’
  17. B. Stoker – ‘Dracula’
  18. W. Collins – ‘The Woman in White’

Graphic novels:

  1. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Doctor Strange’ (film review)
  2. D. Abnett – ‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Rocket Raccoon and Groot steal the galaxy’ (film review)
  3. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Gone To Texas’
  4. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Until The End Of The World’
  5. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Proud Americans’
  6. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Ancient History’
  7. G. Ennis and S. Dillon – ‘Preacher: Dixie Fried’
  8. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 1’
  9. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 2’
  10. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 3’
  11. B.M. Bendis and M. Gaydos – ‘Alias: Volume 4’
  12. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 1 The Lies’ (film review)
  13. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 2 Year One’
  14. G. Rucka – ‘Wonder Woman Rebirth: Volume 3 The Truth’
  15. M. Finch and D. Finch – ‘Wonder Woman: Resurrection’
  16. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Court of Owls’
  17. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The Nights of Owls’
  18. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: The City of Owls’
  19. S. Snyder and G. Capullo – ‘Batman: Endgame’
  20. J. Tyrion – ‘Batman Detective Comics Rebirth: Volume 1 Rise of the Batmen’
  21. G. Morrison and A. Kubert – ‘Batman and Son’
  22. T. S. Daniel – Batman: Battle for the Cowl’
  23. A. Conner and J. Palmiotti – ‘Harley Quinn Rebirth: Volume 3 Red Meat’
  24. J. Hickman and C. Pacheco – ‘Ultimate Thor: Volume 1’ (film review)
  25. M. Wagner – ‘Trinity’ (film review)

And that is it for the books I’ve read this year! What was your favorite book(s) of the year? What are you planning on/excited to read in 2017?

Leave a comment below and Have a Happy New Year!

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Movie review: Allied

Movie reviews

Hello!

Today, I’m reviewing Allied – the movie that ‘broke’ Brangelina, the ‘it’ couple of Hollywood. Okay, I’m kidding –  I don’t actually believe or care much about the rumors. To me, Allied is, first and foremost, a film by a director that is of my native descent (Zemeckis is half-Lithuanian).

IMDb summary: In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war.

Writing

Steven Knight wrote the screenplay for Allied. So far, his accomplishments have been a bit average: I absolutely loved his small film Locke and really enjoyed the stories of The Hundred-Foot Journey and Pawn Sacrifice. However, Knight also penned the script for the so-so picture Burnt and wrote the completely awful Seventh Son as well. His next film will be a different Brad Pitt picture – Wold War Z 2. Speaking of the writing for this film, quality-wise, Allied was a mixed bag , just like Knight’s track record.

I felt that Allied contained two distinct stories which could have been explored in two separate movies. The first suspenseful act of the two characters falling in love on a mission was cool and interesting. It was a successful homage to Casablanca and the Golden Age of Hollywood. The second story – the home life and the investigation – was much slower and less interesting than the preceding set-up. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the fact that this film focused more on the romance and less on the war because I have already seen enough historical films, in which the romantic aspect is relegated to the sidelines and feels out of place. Allied made a decision to be a romantic movie first and a war drama second and stuck with it. I, as I have mentioned, enjoyed and liked this idea, but I can also understand that some people might see it as too sappy and melodramatic. I, personally, found it touching and heartbreaking, although not Casablanca level heartbreaking (Allied didn’t reach the levels of ‘We’ll always have Paris’ is what I’m saying).

Having said that, Allied still did have some pretty nice lines of dialogue and some rather cool concepts. I don’t really know why but I liked the trailer line: ‘Being good at this kind of job is not very beautiful’. I also enjoyed the ideas about love in war – the problem isn’t the action of getting involved, it is feeling something about the involvement. Lastly, I liked how the film underscored that the two main characters could never be trusted, as they were trained to lie.

Directing

Robert Zemeckis, who is responsible for creating a whole slew of cinematic classics – Back To The Future trilogy, Who Framed Robert Rabbit, Forrest Gump, and Cast Away and whose latest films include The Walk and Flight, directed Allied and did quite a good job. The film looked beautiful visually, although the CGI at the beginning (the desert) seemed a tiny bit fake and took me out of the film. Other historical settings were realized nicely, though. Zemeckis also used a lot of time jumps in the film and they did make sense for the most part. Lastly, I did like his long takes that some critics panned. At first, they seemed unnecessarily long to me as well, but then I realized that they were this long for a reason and were meant to show or to indicate something extra.

Acting

I think that the lead duo – Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard – did an amazing job. First, they had crazy good chemistry and made a believable couple – their back and forth dialogue was superb, especially in the first act. Secondly, I think that the two actors nailed the ‘fake’ spy acting and didn’t make it seem cartoony. I was also quite surprised to see Lizzy Caplan in a supporting role and thought that her character was interesting, although, I question the motives behind the decision to include her character. A trio of actors, who seem to constantly appear in historical movies – Jared Francis Harris, Matthew Goode, and Simon McBurney, rounded up the cast of Allied and brought solid performances too.

Actors’ film recommendations:

  • Brad Pitt: Seven, Fight ClubMr. & Mrs. Smith (why not, it is still a good movie), Inglorious Basterds, Fury, The Big Short, By The Sea (even more ironic, as this one is directed by Jolie).
  • Marion Cotillard: Macbeth, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Big FishLa Vie en Rose for which she won an Oscar should also be on this list, even though I haven’t seen it yet. 
  • Lizzy Caplan: Now You See Me 2, Mean Girls (what a throwback).
  • Jared Harris: Benjamin Button, Lincoln, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
  • Matthew Goode: Downton Abbey, The Imitation Game, Watchmen.
  • Simon McBurney: MI:Rogue Nation, Magic in the Moonlight, The Theory of Everything, Jane Eyre.

In brief, Allied was a solid romantic war drama. It had good acting and a decent story and visuals. However, the film was not groundbreaking, which it could have been, knowing who was involved in its making, both in front and behind the camera.

Rate: 3,75/5

Trailer: Allied trailer

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Movie review: Alice Through The Looking Glass

Movie reviews

Hello!

This summer’s movie season seems to be dominated by comic book movies and live-action fairytales. So, let’s review the latest feature of the second genre – Alice Through The Looking Glass. I’ve  done a preview post for the film, where I discussed its director as well as other cinematic versions of Alice’s story – find it here.

While I didn’t really understand how Snow White and The Huntsman film got a sequel earlier this year (The Huntsman: Winter’s War), I do understand why this fairytale based property turned into a franchise – it earned a lot of money.And by ‘a lot’, I mean more than a billion dollars. I don’t know how it managed to do that, but it did. The Jungle Book – other 2016’s live action fairytale – will probably be joining the billion dollar club soon as well.

Writing

The film was written by Linda Woolverton, who wrote the first Alice live-action film as well as Maleficient and has also worked on stories of Disney animated classics (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and Mulan). I have mixed feelings about the writing and the story of this film. Let’s go over the different parts of the plot point by point:

  1. The film opens with Alice as a Ship’s Captain. While it was definitely cool to see a female heroine in a typically male role, it was also extremely unbelievable, giving the 19th century setting of the film. (+/-)
  2. The film once again explored the gender norms and while this issue always angers me, I feel that it could have been approached in a less annoying, more complex and more satisfying way. (+/-)
  3. The idea of ‘impossible is possible’ was once again depicted in the film. Alice’s hero arc was to start believing in the impossible once again and I think that the film succeeded in portraying this development. (+)
  4. I also really enjoyed the topic of time in the film. How Alice first thought that Time was a villain and thief, but learned that he/it is actually her friend and a gift. In addition, I enjoyed the commentary of how the Time was against her, both literally and figuratively. The idea that when one’s clock runs out of Time, one dies was also quite nice and was interestingly represented in the film. The way Alice learned to heal with Time and parted with her father’s pocket watch at the end of the film was also a nice gesture. The main idea that one cannot change the past but can learn from it was also a wonderful message. Lastly, the character of Time could turn his inner clock to speed up Alice’s monologue – even though I enjoyed the majority of the film, at times, I really wanted to do the same and speed up the movie, but, sadly, couldn’t do that at the cinema. (+)
  5. The film had a lot of obvious exposition, which was really annoying. The screenwriter should have found a more organic way to convey the story rather than just have the characters spelling it out. (-)
  6. The movie also served as a prequel/backstory for the Red Queen, the White Queen, and the Mad Hatter. We found out why the Red Queen was crazy and had such a giant head, that the White Queen is not as innocent as she seemed to be and that Mad Hatter had family problems. While I appreciated the new info and was entertained by it, I also feel that some characters benefit from the lack of backstory – this allows the viewers to fill in the blanks however they like. (+/-)
  7. The pacing of the film was also a bit wonky. It simultaneously felt both rushed (from pit-stop to pit-stop) and like it was dragging on without anything really happening. (-)
  8. The parallels, presented in the film, were quite nice: how the chronosphere could be piloted like a real ship in the ocean of time and how both Alice and The Mad Hatter did not want to end up as their parents but still chose their family over everything else. (+)
  9. The way The Mad Hatter and the other Tea Time participants mocked Time was actually quite funny and clever (e.g. ‘I am ON Time’).(+)
  10. In the middle of the story, Alice returned to the real world for 5 min for no real reason. However, this allowed the scriptwriter to include the example of that stupid ‘science’ of 19th about female hysteria, diagnosed to any strong-headed women – another annoying sequence of the film. (-)
  11. The film’s heroine – Alice –  was also kinda the villain of the film for the majority of ti and it the last act had to fix her previous mistakes. I kinda feel that she managed to fix everything too quickly – I wish there would have been at least a few permanent consequences. Also, the fact that putting back that sphere suddenly settled everything, didn’t make much sense either. (+/-)
  12. The film’s ending was quite touching – Alice’s and The Mad Hatter’s goodbye was both sweet and touching. The ending in the real world was also cool, yet, as I’ve mentioned already, unbelievable in the 19th-century setting. (+/-)

Directing

Tim Burton did not return to direct Alice’s sequel and his presence (the cooky-ness and craziness) was not felt as much as I was expecting it to be felt. Instead, Burton was replaced by James Bobin. Bobin is a TV director and has only directed two feature films in his career – The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted. Like the writing of Alice 2, its directing is also deeply flawed. However, I do feel that somewhere underneath this mediocre/less than mediocre film is a good movie. In general, the film definitely felt less Burton-y a.k.a. less dark, more light-hearted and lighter in the color scheme. The opening shot of the moon turning into Cheshire Cat’s smile was nice. All the visuals were good for the most part, but there were a few scenes where the CGI could have been neater. The actors also should have been told to interact with green screens in a more believable manner and their over-acting should have also been toned downed by the director. There is a difference between cooky-cartoonish characters and cartoon parodies/cliche characters, and I feel that Through The Looking Glasses’s characters, sadly,  belong to the second group.

A few cool visual effects were the Second/Minute/Hour monster, the sequence of the stopped Time and the hand-drawn-like end credits sequence. Questionable visual effects were Red Queen’s fruit/vegetable servants. The costumes, which also belong in the discussion of the visuals, were quite interesting. Alice’s Chinese-inspired costume was cool and impressive as well as the top of Time’s outfit – his bottom (those white tights) were a questionable choice as well.

In general, the way the film was directed left me with a lot of questions. The inconsistency was felt in the story too but it was even more obvious in the directing.

Acting

  • Mia Wasikowska as Alice was okay. Nothing bad but nothing ground-breaking. A film of hers that I’ve enjoyed much more is Jane Eyre.
  • Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter was also fine. Depp knows how to play crazy characters and we all know that. I wish he would take more serious roles like the one in Black Mass.
  • Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen was also serviceable. She screamed once again and acted like the child, because why not? I prefer Bonham Carter in less scream-ish roles – I especially liked her in Les Miserables.
  • Anne Hathaway as the White Queen was probably the most annoying character. Her hands and finger movements were distracting and added nothing to the character. Recent enjoyable films with HathawayThe Intern. Also, watch or re-watch The Devil Wears Prada. She’s really good in that picture.
  • Sacha Baron Cohen as Time was the most interesting character, I just wished that he wouldn’t have acted as clumsy as he did. As I’ve mentioned in the preview post for this film, I hate Baron Cohen’s satirical characters (Borat, Bruno) but really like him in theatrical roles like this one or like the ones in Les Miserables and Hugo.
  • Ed Speelers as James Harcourt. Speelers played the only redeeming male character of the film, so I appreciated the fact that they at least tried to balance the female v male dynamic. I liked Speeler’s reaction shots to the events that were happening around, and, although he didn’t have much to do in the film, I welcomed his presence. If you want to see more of his work, may I suggest the film Plastic.

A few notable actors provided voices for CGI characters, including Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar/Butterfly – I’ve always enjoyed listening to his voice and this film was no exception. I also appreciated the fact that the feature was dedicated to his memory. Stephen Fry voiced the Cheshire Cat and Michael Sheen voiced the White Rabbit alongside a bunch of other actors. Nothing really stood out as exceptional voice work: some characters sounded cool and interesting, while others had quite annoying voices.

Music

The two songs from the soundtrack that I think I’ll listen again are White Rabbit performed by Pink as well as the original song that she has written for the motion picture – Just Like Fire.

In general, Alice Through The Looking Glass was an okay film. It had a lot of flaws in all aspects, but it still somewhat entertained me.

P.S. Sorry if this review is not that great, I’m writing it in an airport, after not sleeping for more than 24 hours.

Rate: 2.5/5

Trailer: Alice Through The Looking Glass trailer

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