2016: 100 Book Challenge

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Hello!

The end of the year usually means a lot of looking-back/reflection/summary posts. This one is no exception. Also, if you ever needed more proof that I am a gigantic nerd, this is it.

At the beginning of the year, I raised myself a challenge – to read 100 books and to keep track of them. I mainly did that because 1. I wanted to read more – I used to read a lot during childhood but couldn’t find time for books in later years, due to watching a lot of films and 2. since I read/watch/hear so many stories, I wanted to have a list of them so that I would not start reading a book which I have read before.

I’m glad to announce that I did achieve my goal and did finish 100 books in 12 months. I covered a variety of genres, authors, and languages.

Some statistics before I give you the list: out of the 100 books:

  • 23 were in my native Lithuanian language and 77 were in English.
  • 20 of them were for study purposes, 80 – for leisure.
  • 60 authors were covered: I read only one book by 44 authors and a few books by 16 authors. W. Shakespeare came in first with 8 repeats, T. Morrison followed second with 6 and J.K.Rowling with 5. D. Brown had 4, while A. Moore, R. Riggs, M. Strandberg and S.B. Elfrgen and Sir A. Conan Doyle all had 3. Lastly, I read 2 books by each of the following authors: A. Miller, H. Ibsen, A. Spiegelman, S. Plath, J. Conrad, J. Moyes, G. Flynn, and H. Lee.
  • 30 writers were American, 15British, 5French, 2 (each) were Lithuanian, Irish, Japanese, and Scandinavian and 1 (each) – Russian, Polish, Nigerian, and Pakistani.
  • 72 were stand-alone books, while 28 belonged to 11 series.
  • 53 were modern books, while 47 were classics.
  • 56 were prose and 2poetry books. 15 were plays, 18graphic novels, and 9memoirs.
  • 8 was my monthly average.

Before I give you the long list by genre, here is my TOP 10 in no particular order:

  • A. Spiegelman – ‘Maus’
  • A.Moore and D.Gibbons – ‘Watchmen’
  • J.K.Rowling – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’
  • S. Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’
  • H. Lee – ‘Go Set a Watchman’
  • A. Weir – ‘The Martian’
  • G. Flynn – ‘Sharp Objects’
  • E. Cline – ‘Ready Player One’
  • L. Wacquant – ‘Body and Soul: The Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer’
  • C. McDougall – ‘Born to Run’

Now the actual list by genre:

Prose:

  1. E. A. Poe – collection of short stories titled ‘The Gold-Bug’
  2. A. de Saint-Exupéry – two storiesSouthern Mail’ and ‘Night Flight’ in one novel.
  3. M. Shelley – ‘Frankenstein’
  4. J.M.Barie – ‘Peter Pan’
  5. W. Golding – ‘Lord of the Flies’
  6. V. Nabokov – ‘Lolita’
  7. K. Ishiguro – ‘Never Let Me Go’
  8. S. Plath – ‘The Bell Jar’
  9. J. Conrad – ‘Hearth of Darkness’
  10. J. Conrad – a trio of short stories ‘An Outpost of Progress’, ‘Karan’, ‘Youth’.
  11. J. Baldwin –  ‘Giovanni’s Room’
  12. C. Achebe – ‘Things Fall Apart’
  13. T. Morrison – ‘Beloved’
  14. T. Morrison – ‘Sula’
  15. T. Morrison – ‘Song of Solomon’
  16. T. Morrison – ‘A Mercy’
  17. T. Morrison – ‘The Bluest Eye’
  18. T. Morrison – ‘Home’
  19. M. Mauss – ‘The Gift’
  20. H. Melville – ‘Moby Dick’
  21. J. Austen – ‘Sense and Sensibility’
  22. J. Moyes – ‘Me Before You’
  23. J. Moyes – ‘After You’
  24. H. Lee – ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’
  25. H. Lee – ‘Go Set a Watchman’
  26. A. Weir – ‘The Martian’
  27. G. Flynn – ‘Sharp Objects’
  28. G. Flynn – ‘Dark Places’
  29. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘The Circle’
  30. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘Fire’
  31. M. Strandberg and S.B.Elfgren – ‘The Key’
  32. K. Vonnegut – ‘The Breakfast of Champions’
  33. I. Fleming – ‘Casino Royale’
  34. D. Brown – ‘Angels and Demons’
  35. D. Brown – ‘The Da Vinci Code’
  36. D. Brown – ‘The Lost Symbol’
  37. D. Brown – ‘Inferno’
  38. G. DeWeese – ‘Into the Nebula (Star Trek: The Next Generation #36)’
  39. R. Riggs – ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for the Peculiar Children’
  40. R. Riggs – ‘Hollow City’
  41. R. Riggs – ‘The Library of Souls’
  42. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Go Down to the Sea’
  43. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Go to Mystery Moor’
  44. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five Have Plenty of Fun’
  45. E. Blyton – ‘The Famous Five: Five on a Secret Trail’
  46. K. Keplinger – ‘The Duff’
  47. P. Hawkins – ‘The Girl on the Train’
  48. J.K.Rowling – ‘The Casual Vacancy’
  49. J.K.Rowling – ‘Fantastic Beast and Where To Find Them’
  50. J.K.Rowling – ‘Quidditch Through The Ages’
  51. J.K.Rowling – ‘Tale of Beedle The Bard’
  52. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’
  53. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’
  54. Sir A. Conan Doyle – ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’
  55. E. Cline – ‘Ready Player One’
  56. G.R.R.Martin – ‘The World of Ice and Fire’
  57. D.Grayson – ‘Doctor Strange: The Fate of Dreams’

Poetry:

  1. S. Heaney – ‘North’
  2. S. Plath – ‘Ariel’

Plays:

  1. J.M.Synge – ‘The Playboy of the Western World’
  2. A. Miller – ‘The Crucible’
  3. A. Miller – ‘Death of a Salesman’
  4. H. Ibsen – ‘A Doll’s House’
  5. H. Ibsen – ‘Hedda Gabler’
  6. J. Lyly – ‘Galatea’
  7. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Taming of the Shrew’
  8. W. Shakespeare – ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
  9. W. Shakespeare – ‘Twelfth Night’
  10. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Merchant ofVenice’
  11. W. Shakespeare – ‘The Tempest’
  12. W. Shakespeare – ‘Coriolanus’
  13. W. Shakespeare – ‘Hamlet’
  14. W. Shakespeare – ‘Troilus and Cressida’
  15. J.K.Rowling – ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

Graphic Novels:

  1. A. Spiegelman – ‘Maus’
  2. A. Spiegelman – ‘In The Shadow of No Towers’
  3. M. Satrapi – ‘Persepolis’
  4. J. Maroh – ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’
  5. C. Burns – ‘Black Hole’
  6. M.Millar and S.McNiven – ‘Civil War’
  7. Various authors – ‘Marvel’s Mightiest Heroes: Wolverine’
  8. A.Moore and D.Gibbons – ‘Watchmen’
  9. A.Moore and D.Lloyd – ‘V for Vendetta’
  10. A.Moore and B.Bolland – ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’
  11. M.Anusauskaite and G.Jord – ’10 litu’
  12. Various authors – ‘The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told’
  13. Various authors – ‘Marvel Platinum: The Definitive Iron Man’
  14. J. Sacco – ‘Palestine’
  15. C.Thompson – ‘Blankets’
  16. M.Wolfman and G.Perez – ‘Crisis on Infinite Earths’
  17. E. Brubaker – ‘The Death of Captain America’

Memoirs:

  1. D. Howell and P. Lester – ‘The Amazing Book Is Not On Fire’
  2. T. Oakley – ‘Binge’
  3. C. Franta – ‘A Work in Progress’
  4. G. Helbig – ‘Grace’s Guide: The Art of Pretending to be a Grown-Up’
  5. L. Wacquant – ‘Body and Soul: The Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer’
  6. M.Youafzai and C.Lamb – ‘I am Malala’
  7. I.Staskevicius – ‘Maratono laukas’ (‘Marathon running’)
  8. H. Murakami – ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’
  9. C.McDougall – ‘Born to Run’

I hope you enjoyed flicking through my 2016 reading list. I really want to start writing more book-centric posts next year, so this was like a taster-post. Have a great New Year and tell me in the comments your favorite book from last year!

A snapshot of my collection

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Movie review: Hacksaw Ridge

Movie reviews

Hello!

Before the year ends, I’m desperately trying to see all the movies I’ve missed and all the films that might make my top 10 list. Well, I just came back from the cinema where I saw a strong contender for it – Hacksaw Ridge.

IMDb summary: WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people, and becomes the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honor without firing a shot.

Writing

TV writer Andrew Knight and playwright Robert Schenkkan wrote Hacksaw Ridge’s script and did a very good job. They managed to tell a very personal story in the context of a huge global event – WWII – and have given a unique perspective on it. This film, similarly to The Birth of a Nation, was not only a war drama but a religious picture too. The power of belief and religious dogmas were contrasted to the horrors of war. The writing for the main character was really good and extensive: his upbringing and personal background really helped the viewers to sympathize and even identify with him. I especially liked the contrast between his quite violent childhood and the feeling of innocence that he maintained in his adult years before the war (the sweet flirting scenes showcased that the best). These varying scenes made him into a fully rounded character and set up his character journey neatly. The truly heartbreaking and inspiring part of his story was the fact that he managed to keep his goodness when faced with the evilest thing in the universe – war.

The most compelling part of the film, to me personally, was the second act. I found it really interesting to see how this man struggled to even get to war. The court speech was one of my favorite pieces of dialogue (the other one being the line from the 3rd act ‘Help me get one more’). The debate on whether rules or beliefs are more important was interesting too.

When watching this movie’s narrative unfold on the big screen, a couple of questions popped into my mind. The first one revolved around bullying in the army – we all know that that happens in real life and we all have seen the countless movie scenes with the Sergeant shouting at the Privates. This type of a scene has become a cliche in both the reality and in cinema. The question that bothers me is why? Why is bullying in the army seen as accepted and normal rite of passage? The second, more general movie question, has to do with war dramas. Every year, at least one WWII or WWI film reaches theaters and they all usually do pretty well, both financially and critically. I’d like to know when are we going to run our of real (and fictional) war stories to tell? When is humanity’s fascination with world wars is going to end? Maybe if one starts in real life, there won’t be any need to look for this kind of horrific violence in the cinema.

Directing

After a 10 year hiatus, Mel Gibson (Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ) came back to directing and did a magnificent job with Hacksaw Ridge. I loved how he realized all the different parts of the story (upbringing, training, and war) and how he paced them: the movie was quite slow and long but I didn’t feel like it dragged unnecessarily, the balance between drama and action was good. The way the actual war sequences were actualized was just spectacular. They were graphic, violent, and uncomfortable to look at – everything a war scene should look and feel like. From start to finish, Gibson crafted a solid and well-constructed motion picture, which was cleverly completed with the inclusion of the real life counterparts of the film’s characters. I always appreciate these real world tie-ins in the biographical dramas.

One last note before I move on to acting – I would really like to praise the sound designers of this film – their aural effects accompanied the striking visuals of war and really made an impact, this time around. The first few bomb explosions in the first few scenes of the war action really startled me – they were extremely effective.

Acting

  • Andrew Garfield played the lead and did an absolutely spectacular job. After he was replaced as Spiderman, Garfield has really turned his career around and focused more on serious and indie films rather than blockbusters. He started and produced 99 homes and was also in Scorcese’s Silence (which was yet to be released widely).
  • The supporting cast of the film featured so many familiar faces: Vince Vaughn (True Detective Season 2), Sam Worthington (Avatar, Everest), Luke Bracey (Point Break), Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, LOTR, V for Vendetta, Cloud Atlas), Rachel Griffiths (Saving Mr. Banks), Richard Roxburgh (Moulin Rouge!)Teresa Palmer (Point Break, Triple 9) and Nathaniel Buzolic (The Vampire Diaries, The Originals) had roles of varying sizes. All of them delivered great and realistic performances. One aspect in which the film lacked realism was the physical look of its soldier characters – the majority of them looked like male models rather than soldiers, but, this is Hollywood, so I should not have been that surprised.

To conclude, Hacksaw Ridge was a very strong WWII drama – the best one in recent years – coming close to even the likes of Saving Private Ryan in its levels of quality. This film had a truly amazing and unique narrative at its core, which was nicely brought to life by the main actor – Andrew Garfield –  and the main man behind the camera – Mel Gibson.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Hacksaw Ridge trailer

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5 ideas about a movie: Batman: The Killing Joke

Movie reviews

Hello!

I have been reviewing movies for almost 3 years and, throughout that time, I tried to branch out as much as possible – I wrote about big blockbusters and small indie films, Hollywood flicks and foreign pictures. All of the movies had one thing in common – they all have been theatrical releases. Well, this time, I’m widening the spectrum and reviewing an animated movie that was released on streaming and had only a limited theatrical run – Batman: The Killing Joke.

IMDb summary: As Batman hunts for the escaped Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime attacks the Gordon family to prove a diabolical point mirroring his own fall into madness.

  1. The Killing Joke is the newest addition to the DC Animated Universe. Lately, I have been watching a lot films of that franchise – I’m done with Justice League films and I’ve also checked out the Wonder Woman animated feature. All of the DC Animated films are beloved by the fans, so The Killing Joke was also highly anticipated. The original graphic novel was written by the genius Alan Moore and drawn by Brian Bolland, so that’s also a few of the reasons why the nerds couldn’t wait for it. I haven’t read the original comic book  but really want to and will do in a near future.
  2. Writing: the comic book writer Brian Azzarello penned the script for the film and did quite a good job. However, the story did seem uneven. The first half an hour of original material, regarding Batgirl and her relationship with Batman, did not have any connections to the actual narrative of The Killing Joke, so the feature seemed like 2 different shorts in one. I understand why they wanted to add more backstory and development for Barbara, but I think they could have found a more cohesive way to do so. Nevertheless, I really liked the ending of her story – The Joker might have broken Batgirl, but Barbara survived and moved on to better (?) things. I also liked that they kept the ambiguous ending and that they also played fast and loose with The Joker’s backstory: even though the visual flashbacks told one story, the lines of dialogue sorta contradicted it.
  3. The theme of insanity and loneliness during madness was explored in the film. I have a weird interest in insanity as a concept for creative cinematic stories (that’s why I love Gotham’s Arkham Asylum episodes), even though I understand what a serious, awful, and important real-world issue it is. Nevertheless, the dark portrayal of insanity in The Killing Joke was respectful and sophisticated – the film wasn’t just dark and crazy for entertainment sake. I also really liked the deeper dive into Batman’ and Joker’s relationship and the similarities they share. The Joker has always been my and a lot of people’s favorite comic book villain and it is quite easy to see why. He is so iconic and well-rounded, both physically and psychologically: his distinct look is instantly recognizable, despite the plethora of variations throughout the years, and his emotional stance as a villain is amazing: he is frightening, yet humorous; efficient, relentless and threatening; unreliable yet still scarily charming.
  4. Sam Liu directed the picture – he has a lot of experience with animated comic book properties and didn’t disappoint this time either. The animation was good, it was done in the same style as the majority of DC Animated Universe films. I don’t know if would look good on the big screen but it definitively worked on a small one. The action scenes were also realized nicely and I appreciated the recreation of the comic book panels – even though I have yet to read the original material, its graphics are familiar to me due to how iconic they are.
  5. The voice cast did an amazing job, but it is no surprise when you see who actually voiced the characters. Kevin Conroy returned to voice Bruce Wayne / Batman and did a perfect job, as expected. Mark Hamill shined as The Joker once again. I just love that slight crack and the edge in Hamill’s voice – it is so appropriate for The Joker and I cannot imagine a different actor who could do this job. He performed the infamous memory monolog perfectly: it wasn’t too flashy but just the right amount of terror and intimidation. Tara Strong, who has plenty of voice work experience did a nice job bringing Barbara Gordon / Batgirl to life, while Ray Wise was also good Commissioner James Gordon, even though it is his only second voice role.

In short, Batman: The Killing Joke was a nice addition to the magnificent DC Animated Universe. It might not be the best feature of the franchise but it is definitely enjoyable. I would love to hear the thoughts of those who have read the comic – how does the film compare to it?

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Batman: The Killing Joke

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Movie review: Steve Jobs

Movie reviews

Hello!

I haven’t written a movie review in more than 2 weeks! That seems unreal to me since I have watched at least 5 films in that time, however, the majority of them were for school – feature films for my film studies course and documentaries for my anthropology course. Other movies were old classics for my own enjoyment, like The Sound of Music and V for Vendetta. But now, let’s review a new film and, to my mind, another awards contender – Steve Jobs.

IMDb summary: Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicenter. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.

I have always been a fan of Steve Jobs and the products of Apple. Yes, I know that they are way too overpriced and that one of the reasons why people buy Mac Books and iPhones is to look prestigious. And I still don’t care. Call me a hypocrite, but I will be a happy hypocrite with my apples.

Speaking about Jobs as a person – he was a genius in his own right. He was an inspiring control freak and a likable asshole. Never has there been such a bipolar and complicated individual. Jobs not only played the orchestra but manipulated it. Some people say that he had no talent, but to me it looks like he had lots of talent – we just did not know what his talent was.

Steve Jobs (2015) is not the first and probably not the last film about this interesting person. Countless documentaries and 4 features films have been created based on his life. The latest feature film (before this one) was 2013’s Jobs directed by Joshua Michael Stern and starring Ashton Kutcher in the titular role. More than 15 books have also been released on the same subject. The book that I want to read the most and would like to recommend to you is Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. The film Steve Jobs (2015) is an adaptation of this 2011 biography.

walter-isaacson-steve-jobs

Writing and Dialogue

The script was written by Aaron Sorkin who has previously written the script for one of my all time favorite films about a different genius of technology and media Mark ZuckerbergThe Social Network. Surprisingly, this film, being a biographical film, had no voice-over and all the exposition was made through the dialogue. The whole film was driven forward by the dialogue and it demanded the viewers’ attention – if you weren’t listening for at least a second, you could have easily lost the thread of the story. All of the actors did an amazing job with the deliverance of the dialogue – I have no idea how could they find time to breathe in between that back-and-forth non-stop arguing. It was an interesting choice to structure the film in this way and, in my opinion, this choice was the right one. I also enjoyed the fact that the film did not focus on the whole life story and was set in the backstage of the 3 product launch events. I also liked the open ending – I usually penalize the film for having no clear resolution, but when a film  doesn’t need a resolution, there should not be one and Steve Jobs falls into this category.

Directing and Visuals

Steve Jobs film was directed by Danny Boyle. I have only seen one of his previous films – 2008’s Slumdog Millionaire, which I have definitely enjoyed. Speaking about Boyle’s work on this film, I do not have much to say: for me, the visuals were overpowered by the story or the dialogue, to be precise. However, I did enjoy the overlapping visuals in the scene in the corridor, when Fassbender’s character was telling a story (his plans) to Winslet’s character. In addition, I found it interesting how he used different gauges for different parts of the film: 1984 scenes were filmed on 16mm, 1988 on 35mm and 1998 on a digital film strip.

Acting

  • Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Inc – was amazing. I cannot imagine a different actor in this role. He is an extremely likable actor even if he plays a kinda unlikable character, so he was a perfect choice to play Jobs. Fassbender is a really versatile actor – he does big blockbusters – he is Magneto in the X-Men universe, but he also stars in smaller independent films. I have recently watched Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank, starring Fassbender, and he was really good in that film – I warn you, the movie has a controversial scene, which involves Fassbender’s character. In addition, this year, Fassbender also appeared in Macbeth, which I, sadly, missed. I do plan to check it out some time later. Fassbender also has starred in one of my favorite and one of the most heartbreaking films of all time – 12 Years a Slave and he will be part of the highly anticipated Assassin’s Creed, coming out next year.
  • Kate Winslet as Joanna Hoffman, marketing executive for Apple and NeXT and Jobs’ confidant in the film – was also really good. I loved how blunt she was with Fassbender’s Jobs and how she wasn’t afraid to tell the truth. Winslet is an established actress since 1997 – the Titanic era. She might be familiar to the younger audiences because of her role in the Divergent series. She will also star in another film this year – The Dressmaker. The trailer paints the film to be an interesting story, although, it looks more like a TV movie to me.
  • Seth Rogen as Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple and creator of the Apple II provided great support. I prefer Rogen in dramatic roles much more than in comedic ones. However, I liked him in Neighbors. Still, though, I had an allergic reaction to The Interview.
  • Jeff Daniels as John Sculley, CEO of Apple from 1983 to 1993 was also a great addition to the cast playing a slightly similar role to the one he played in The Martian earlier this fall.
  • Katherine Waterston as Chrisann Brennan, Jobs’ former girlfriend and Lisa’s mother and Michael Stuhlbarg as Andy Hertzfeld, a member of the original Mac team were also great. I’m not familiar with both of these actors, although, we will see more of them soon. Waterson will be starring in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Stuhlbarg will be in Doctor Strange.
  • Sarah Snook as Andrea “Andy” Cunningham, manager of the Macintosh and iMac launches – I loved how her character provided if not a comic relief, then at least a quick break and a tiny smile, from all that non-stop arguing and dialogue.
  • I would also like to give a shout out to all the young actresses who played Lisa Brennan-Jobs, the daughter of Steve Jobs and Chrisann Brennan: Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss. They all did a nice job.

All in all, Steve Jobs was an amazing motion picture. Personally, it was the type of film that assures me that my love for cinema is a justifiable and exciting hobby, which I would like to turn into a career one day. The acting was spot on and the dialogue – interesting, engaging and unapologetically on the nose.

Rate: 4.5/5

Trailer: Steve Jobs trailer

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