Top 10 Books Read in 2014

Since I currently have two big essays to do for school over this holiday, I’ve decided to be lazy and follow *side gaze* ~the crowd~ by doing a Top 10 list of the books I have read (note: NOT books that are published) in 2014. Enjoy.

10. ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury

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This book, about a dystopian future in which reading books/essentially thinking for yourself, is banned, and if you are caught with a book then firemen will proceed to come and burn it, was weird. Everything lost control so quickly and before you knew it the protagonist (if there even really is one) is (spoiler) living on the outskirts of a society he once worked for. I really enjoyed it — it’s a quick read and, ironically, it makes you think.

9. ‘Everyday Sexism’ by Laura Bates

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Filled with informative statistics and facts about the state of our society re: sexism, ‘Everyday Sexism’ will leave you sad, scared, angry, infuriated, and hopeful. It is a must read for everyone, especially people who say “But feminism isn’t needed today!!” or people who still start sentences with “I’m not being sexist, but…”

8. ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ by Neil Gaiman

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The perfect mix of reality and fantasy. Neil <3.

7. ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahniuk

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I am one of the uncultured few who has not seen the film of the same name by David Fincher, so when I began reading this book I did not know what to expect. Basically, it’s weird, minimalist in style, and awesome. I didn’t see the twist at the end, and Tyler Durden’s speech made me question what I was doing with my life (eating Jaffa Cakes, watching re-runs of Keeping Up with the Kardashians).

6. ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ by Kurt Vonnegut

so-it-goes-1920x1200Jesus, how many Middle-Aged White Men did I read this year? Slaughterhouse Five was hard for me to read at first — I didn’t really enjoy the first couple of pages, but once I’d gone through them and really got into the story, I fell in love. More or less.

5. ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald

o-GREAT-GATSBY-facebookAnother white guy for the list. When I finished ‘The Great Gatsby’ for the first time, I hated it. All I could think was ‘what was the point of all that? How am I supposed to care about these characters and feel empathy for them when they were rich, white and in the heart of the place to make money in a time when The Great Depression was still looming and had its negative effects on millions?’ But, this was probably because I am a Moody Teen who had to read this in the summer for school, and after analysing it with my wonderful teacher, I realised the ~depth~ and ~emotional artistry~ behind it. You’re an okay guy, Fitzgerald.

4. ‘No Matter the Wreckage’ by Sarah Kay

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This collection of probably my favourite poet’s poems is beautiful and heart warming and everything you need when you are happy, sad, melancholic, angry, confused, or alone. You can watch loads of her readings of some of the poems in the book on YouTube, but having the actual physical copy makes the experience so much better because you feel like the poems are written for you and are 100% completely huggable.

3. ‘The Complete Maus’ by Art Spiegelman

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This graphic novel manages to talk about the war and the varying facets of people who were in the war, the camps and the people at home to great degree. Instead of being another sentimental capitalisation of one of history’s brutal times, Spiegelman deals with his story that he is telling with grace and mastery, showing us his doubts at publishing it himself. Thank goodness he did.

2. ‘Crime and Punishment’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky

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If it wasn’t for the epilogue, particularly the last page, this would have been number 1 on all of my lists. I need to read more Dostoevsky.

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I read this book about three months ago now, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. There’s so much to say about it, and I’d need to re-read the book to understand be able to form a coherent and critical/intelligent response, but this is one of those books that I think will stay with me for life.

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Writing About Form

I’ve just read probably one of my favourite reviewers ever (and author of one of the best books to have graced my measly life) Matt Zoller Setiz’s piece about writing about form when it comes to film and TV criticism — how it has become a sort of literary review in an audio visual world. I completely agree with what he said, and it kind of scared me because I’ve noticed I’ve been ignoring important shots, non-diegetic music, dress codes and mies-en-scene and not expanding on it enough because I, stupidly, thought people didn’t want to read about that stuff since most reviews of films I read never talk about this.

Well, TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ because I am going to take Seitz’s words and use my five years’ (and hopefully soon to be more) experience of being a film and media student in film analysis to learn to expand my reviews and make them feel more substantial, because, honestly, I do feel like a lot of my reviews (particularly Les Diaboliques) are quite superficial in the sense that they only focus on characters and plot.

Here is an extract from the piece that’ll hopefully make whatever person’s reading this (probably future me) (hi) want to read it because it is an important message.

We have several successive generations of film watchers—some of whom consume TV and movies voraciously and have surprisingly wide-ranging tastes—who don’t know how to interpret a shot, or how to think about what the size or position of characters in a frame might tell us about the story’s attitude toward those characters. That’s a problem.

We have critics and viewers who can agree that a particular episode of a particular show ended in a “shocking” or “unsettling” way, but they don’t think about the role that, say, a jaggedly timed cut to black or atonal music cue might have played in provoking that reaction. That’s a problem.

We have critics who will praise a particular pop song as being the “perfect” accompaniment to a particular montage in a Scorsese movie or an episode of “Mad Men,” but then skip merrily along after that, never elucidating why the song was perfect: because of the tempo? The lyrics? The instrumentation? The way the strings complemented the swooping camera?

Intelligence is relative: an essay on the narrative of Burn After Reading by Joel and Ethan Coen

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The tagline of the Coen Brothers’ 2008 film ‘Burn After Reading’ (if you couldn’t tell already) is: ‘intelligence is relative,’ and, like the tagline, so are the characters and narrative. Every time audiences are introduced to a new character, another character is added a facet. Each narrative strand strand that is presented adds depth to previous ones, and connotes the fundamental connotation of the film.

Taking this into account, the narrative cannot be confined into one subjective type; the Coen brothers continuously introduce audiences to new strands and layers to remind us of their tagline. Take, for instance, the introduction: audiences are immediately placed in a ‘top-secret’ style atmosphere, seeming very official and secretive, as signified through the low tracking shot of the footsteps in the sterile surroundings. Conversely, what audiences are met with are characters who cannot control their power, or lack o it. This is also where viewers are met with a clear typical convention of the Coen brothers: profanities, faux-clichés that make them more cliché, and the fact we are meeting a character at a heightened state of personal decline. It is clear from the offset the characters are the driving force behind the plot.

Additionally, the Coen brothers play on Grice’s Maxims, often blurring the boundaries between each one. Chad could be the maxim of quality, yet the CD makes him also become the opposite of this as he ties to blackmail Osbourne. Osbourne could be seen as the maxim of manner, as he is clearly unambiguous with what he feels about people, yet losing his job and his memoir being found leads him to a state of decline. This suggests the Coen brothers do not use the narrative to enhance the characters, but experiment with them and see how they change when their surroundings and ideals change.

Like with most of their films, for example ‘Fargo,’ ‘Burn After Reading’ can only loosely be applied to Todorov’s narrative structure. The introduction to the equilibrium coincides with the disruption, as the first part of the film is mainly an introduction into these multi-faceted characters rather than the narrative. However, once the narrative does begin, it is clear there is somewhat of a formula. From the first part of the film audiences know Osbourne and Katie’s marriage is unhappy; Katie is having an affair with Harry, and Linda wants plastic surgery but cannot afford it. These are crucial elements to the narrative as they become the driving force behind the characters once the disruption of the narrative begins.

The first time audiences see the link in the narrative strands is when the disruption of the narrative begins. This is when Linda and Chad discover Oswald’s CD, mistaking it for secret government files. The fact that it was these characters that discovered the CD suggests the ‘intelligence is relative’ theme throughout the narrative once again, as if this were any of the other characters (for example Harry) they’d see this was simply a memoir rather than confuse it for the confidential information Chad and Linda see it as; an important concept since if this were to happen to different characters it would completely change the narrative of the film.

The narrative also begins to develop at this point as Linda and Chad recognise the disc belongs to Osbourne, resulting in them trying to blackmail him and failing, so instead take the disc to the Russian Embassy. A second narrative strand is developed after as Harry and Linda meet through Internet dating. All characters are now connected, resulting in a rise in tension for audiences as this is most likely to have a detrimental effect.

The equilibrium is then restored through the fact Chad infiltrates Osbourne’s home but is trapped by Harry, who then kills him as he believes Chad is a spy – another link to the tagline. The scene where Harry shoots Chad is important as it encompasses the Coen brothers’ style – unexpected, unconventional and breaking the rules (at this point they might as well just have Grown Woman playing every time they walk into a room). There are no action codes or hints to what Harry is going to do to Chad — in fact, audiences believe Chad to be quite safe as the shots are consecutively through his point of view in the scene.

Finally, the complete reestablishment of the equilibrium is when the CIA agents comically disregard almost the whole film of what audiences had just sat through. They restore the narrative in a few sentences, and audiences find out what happened to the characters, for example Linda being paid off – a deal she initiated so she could pay for plastic surgery. This close of the film makes ‘Burn After Reading’ a circular narrative, as we begin where we started, and the goals most of the characters had at the offset of the film are achieved.

The Coen brothers’ idiosyncrasies are connoted through the binary oppositions they create with the narrative. From husband vs. wife, to masculinity vs. femininity and intellectuals vs. ‘morons,’ the themes are usually themes that have been explored in other texts, yet they have a post-modern elements due to the fact the Coen brothers often explore them in an unpredictable way, for example the husband and wife theme is reversed through the fact the archetypes of the characters are also reversed: Osbourne is, or at least becomes, the stay at home husband, whilst Katie drives the plot and marriage forward with her ruthless nature and affair with Harry.

The narrative proves to be post-modern once again as the ending is not created to satisfy audiences’ needs. The ending, which finished with viewers not seeing any of the characters but instead hearing about them, connotes the juxtaposition of semantic codes within the narrative vs. semantic codes that are relevant for the audience in real life. The Coen brothers have become self-conscious when creating the film at what audiences could interpret from it, and how they feel — they realise this film can’t provide audiences with something that will greatly impact their lives, but instead of pretending to, they remain authentic and dismiss everything viewers had just seen — for some this is frustrating, for others another comedic element.

‘Burn After Reading’ finishes with the theoretical bomb under the table going off, as, while there were many other points in the narrative in which it could be said to have gone off for Chad, Linda, Harry etc, this is the moment the bomb goes off for viewers, as we realise there was no point to the film; the majority of it is meaningless, and the Coen brothers reassure us that it is okay through the choral storytelling, when the head of the CIA closes the book on the inexplicable tale. Audiences realise that, as powerful and in control as Harry may have felt controlling his string of affairs, or Katie hiring the divorce lawyer, the people who had the power the whole time were the CIA. However, this is quickly juxtaposed with the aerial shot quickly zooming out of the location until we reach the sky, connoting the reason for the use of the tagline — once again, ‘intelligence is relative.’

(BTW: In case you were somehow wondering why this sounded like an essay for school (are you psychic??) that’s because it is [minus the Beyonce reference]!! I was too lazy to write up a separate review and, not to brag, this got full marks so….. waiting for my call from Matt Zoller Seitz to write for RogerEbert.com…)

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 Review

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The third instalment of the four-part billion dollar franchise, ‘The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1’ is probably the most forgettable film of the franchise. This is largely due to the inevitable decision to split the final novel into two halves in film form, so as to capitalise off of teenage girls’ emotions rather than, y’know, ~deep artistic reasons~. I don’t really know why so many people were shocked by this decision, since it was pretty obvious it was going to happen after how much money Harry Potter and Twilight raked in but, I digress.

I was pretty cynical going into this film as Collins’ final book didn’t cut it for me — it felt like nothing happened and then suddenly you were down to the last ten pages and (spoiler) literally everyone dies within the space of a mili-second and you’re left asking what the fuck just happened. Therefore, artistically and narrative-wise, I felt the decision to split this film in half was just a murder to the potential that Francis Lawrence could’ve done with the original text in one film, but obviously money was to be had here and the infamous Men In Expensive Suits wanted as much of it as they could get.

My cynicisms on this factor of the film were correct — it was far too long winded, there was no clear cut Act 2 or 3, and the script felt a little too generic ‘Hollywood action blockbuster’ for me.

However, whilst I did find my perpetually single self rolling my eyes at every scene of Katniss running to Gale/Peeta, there were some positives to the film. Like, the fact it was actually good, but being ‘good’ after Catching Fire is obviously going to underwhelm.

The length of the film and how little plot there was to fill the spaces allowed for Lawrence to peer into the lives of the characters more than he would have if it had been just one film. It is here where I’m kind of happy it is a two-parter because, unlike most book-to-film adaptations where you never get a clear sense of who these characters are and how they work, this extended time with side-characters like Gale, Prim and Effie makes you appreciate how many facets they have, and how, in spite of the giant landscapes surrounding the characters, they can never be washed out or silenced since they want something, and I mean ‘want’ in the terms of how Shakespeare used it – wanting something they lack in, in this case equality, rather than wanting something aesthetically, for example how I want Suzy Bishop’s whole wardrobe in a poor attempt at making my life feel like a Wes Anderson film.

In terms of directing, I think Francis did a wonderful job since it felt that rather than trying to make the film more exciting and action-packed than it’s supposed to be, he embraced the fact it is a filler film. The lack of plot allowed for time to pick up on micro-elements that would otherwise have just gone unnoticed to the majority of the audience, including Katniss’ wardrobe, the fact Lawrence is leaving shots with unfamiliar characters rather than constantly following the film’s protagonist (e.g. in the meeting room with Coin and Plutarch — we do not know and cannot wholeheartedly trust these characters, so leaving us with them feels like we are being let in on a secret), and the metaphors — particularly those involved with animals like the deer and Prim’s cat Buttercup. At first I thought it was some PETA (or Peeta haha…I hate myself) thing trying to make everyone vegetarians, but then I realised the DEEP MEANING behind it that, like, Katniss shining the torch that Buttercup chased whilst everyone was laughing was a mirroring of what Snow is doing to the Capital and also how he is using Johanna and Peeta and Annie as these metaphorical lights that Katniss and Finnick will never be able to reach and I’ve run out of pretentious stuff to say!

In short, the film feels as though it’s saying “just wait for Part 2,” and whilst I definitely will see Part 2, I’m not sure if I am going to be waiting for it.