A Film A Week: 01

Ask me about books, and I could go on for hours about which ones I love, which ones I hate, those I could read a thousand times over and those I would happily never see again. Same goes for music. Films, however, are a whole other story- I have no real reason for it but the list of movies I have actually seen is strangely minuscule for a teenager that loves all kind of art forms. After one particularly in-depth conversation with my stepdad, who is one of those people that can name the director, release date and whole cast of practically every film ever made, it was decided that I was in desperate need of a film education. Now it’s not like I have never seen a movie before; I’ve watched my fair share of Mean Girls and Harry Potter’s, but it was those cult classics that everyone and their mother seems to have seen that I’ve somehow managed to avoid seeing for the first eighteen years of my life. So, along with said film buff stepdad, a month ago I spent an arguably productive Sunday afternoon going through the IMDb ‘Top 100 Films’ list and creating a list of 52 films to watch (the idea was one a week for a year, in case you hadn’t guessed).

So without further ado, the next Sunday rolled around and we were ready on the sofa with ‘Pulp Fiction’ in the DVD player and a good old roast on our plates. I know a lot of people are going to be in disbelief that I haven’t seen what has to be one of the most famous and best-loved classics of the nineties, and in all honesty I have no idea how I’ve managed to get this far without watching it. I’m pretty sure this was also the first Tarantino that I’ve ever seen and I can definitely see why both he and this film have been so successful. Pulp Fiction is funny in an ironic way, manages to be violent without being classed as an action of any shape or form, confusing at times thanks to its disjointed storyline, but also clever and definitely worth a watch. Is it worth all the hype that surrounds it? My stepdad would certainly say not; I would be inclined to agree, but it’s definitely one of those films that everyone should see at some point- if only so you finally understand the multitude of references that seem to be made to it in everyday life.

One week on and the setting is pretty much the same, apart from this time on the screen is ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’, one of my stepdads favourite films that I have never really heard a lot about. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t exactly pumped to watch it for reasons that I can no longer remember, but it completely blew my expectations out of the water. Directed by the Coen brother and starring the likes of George Clooney, it’s set up to be a pretty great film and it certainly lives up to that. Witty and funny, it’s set in Great Depression-ridden Mississippi and has everything a good film needs, from a great soundtrack to cop chases. Apparently it’s based on the Odyssey and is full of references but I’ll be completely honest and admit that I didn’t realise this until (no surprise) my stepdad informed me… Nevertheless it’s a really great feel good film and I would heartily recommend if you want a chilled evening watching something that’s not too taxing on the brain!

The third and most recent installment of my movie education came in the shape of ‘Memento’, a film that I knew nothing about besides the title and the intriguing DVD cover. As we sat down to watch, my stepdad warned me that I would have to actually focus on what was happening to understand, which is always something that immediately instills fear in me- although he is plenty justified in warning me as I am horrendous at remembering who is who and what is happening in even the simplest of plotlines. ‘Memento’ is the story of a man whose wife is brutally murdered and decides to dedicate the rest of his life to finding her killer. The only minor problem is that thanks to the killer, he himself suffered an injury that left him with short-term memory loss- he can remember everything up until the accident clear as day, but anything since then only lasts a matter of minutes before disappearing from his brain.. bit of an issue when you’re trying to solve a murder case. I think my favourite thing about watching this was that it is shot completely from the protagonist’s perspective; we follow him, see what he sees, know no more than he knows and are deceived just as successfully as he is himself. If you’re looking for a movie whose concept is something new and refreshing that makes you think a bit more than your average rom-com or feel-good film, then this is your guy.

The plan is to put these mini reviews up about once a month as I slowly make my way through the list, although thanks to the almost-impossible task of finding a single night of the week when none of us are busy, sticking to a film a week might be a tad unrealistic. Either way, I hope you found entertainment in some form or other in this because I’ll be back shortly ready to impart even more of my superior knowledge as I delve deeper into the world of films. Three down, fourty-nine to go.

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Paper Views: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I know that my blog has kind of been all over the place this summer thanks to a dangerous combination of my various trips and general laziness, but hopefully now that I’m back at sixth form for my last year of school (eek) I can get back in the swing of things, and the holiday has meant that I’ve plenty of books of which to impart my professional opinion on for you. The first of these, and one that I wasn’t exactly eagerly anticipating reading, was Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, one of the classics that was suggested reading for my A2 Literature course. Now, I don’t know if I’m the only one that had these preconceptions, but I was expecting this to be one of those novels full of wishy-washy lovey-dovey characters without any real plot line that anyone of our time can relate to (yes, this is exactly what I thought about Pride and Prejudice). I have to say, a few pages in and I was pleasantly surprised- the protagonist and the book’s namesake is a women who is independent-minded right from childhood and finds her way in the world without the help of any man- something that is refreshing to see in a book of that era.

It’s not until at least halfway through the story that you start to see a romance forming, and it is certainly not one of nature typical of romance novels; Rochester is moody and brooding and actually kind of ugly- something which only serves to make the characters more humbling and relatable. Described as something of a gothic novel, Jane Eyre definitely has more depth to it than the perhaps more commonly read Pride and Prejudice, and if you were going to read one of the two I would certainly recommend the former. Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite book that I’ve ever read, it completely surpassed my expectations and managed to be funny, gripping and profound in ways that I never expected. Definitely one to add to the bookshelf.

Paper Views: One Hundred Years of Solitude

Finally it’s this time again, school is out of the way and I can finally get round to making my way through the towering pile of books on my windowsill that I’ve been staring at longingly for months. Top of my list, and the book I instantly grabbed when we left for 12 days in sunny southern France the week before last, was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. This was recommended to me by my English Lit teacher as one of her favourite books, which is pretty high praise so I was unsurprisingly very excited to start it.

To give a quick overview of the plot, it is set in Macondo, Colombia, and follows the lives of seven generations of the Buendía family (who have an extremely confusing liking for using the same four names in many similar variations). The book was written in 1967 and was a big part of the Latin American literary “boom” of the time, which makes in utterly unlike anything I’ve ever read which I guess was part of the reason I was so intrigued to read it. Without giving too much of the story away, it cleverly uses references to real events at the time, such as the political atmosphere, but goes further to really understand the depths of the microcosm that is Macondo and all its inhabitants in a style that can be best defined as magic realism. 

If I’m going to be honest, by the time I was a good two hundred pages in (the whole novel weighs in at a hefty four hundred and twenty-two in total), I was getting a bit.. bored isn’t the right word, but I was starting to feel like the book could have ended right there and I wouldn’t have minded- I guess I just felt like the story was being dragged out longer than necessary. However, being the kind of person that can NEVER leave a book half read, I lay back on my towel, put back on my shades and powered on through til the end- and oh boy am I glad I did. You know when you reach the end of a book and you just kind of sit there for a minute and smile to yourself that it’s a good ‘un… so to all the times I grumbled about how I just wanted to finish it already I’m sorry Márquez, I take it back!

It’s part of the Penguin Modern Classics range, and I can’t think of a book more worthy- it’s different to everything I’ve ever read and I would definitely recommend it. Although not your typical read- with more than a fair share of death, incest and prostitution- it’s a novel that I have no doubts will stand the test of time and is certainly worth adding to your book list.

Paper Views: Animal Farm

I know that I did a book post recently and I promised to mix it up a bit, but I just finished reading Animal Farm the other day and I can’t help but write about it. It’s one of those books that everyone should read as a teenager yet for some unknown reason I’ve only just gotten round to reading it- at only 102 pages I really have no excuse.

I won’t go into too much detail about the plot as I’m sure most of you already know it, but for those who are unaware (have you been living under a rock?) it follows the story of a farm on which the animals overthrow their master and proceed to run the farm themselves, renaming it Animal Farm. It’s written to mirror the 1917 Russian Revolution and subsequent Stalinist rule, with characters representing all manner of political figures, from Napoleon who represents Stalin himself to Mr Jones (Tsar Nicholas II) and Mr Frederick (Hitler). As geeky as it sounds, as someone who took GCSE History I love reading it and recognising characters or events that I learnt about- it’s one of the many reasons I love this book.

As satirical novels go, it’s clever. Really clever. Orwell has this amazing ability to convey the characters and story completely through characters of farm animals in a way which makes this book a great read for those of any age, even though it is often marketed as a kids novel.  It also helps you really understand how deceptively the USSR became a dictatorship by telling the story from the point of view of those who are actively being deceived by those in charge, which somehow manages to be much more relatable than a textbook (I empathise more with a horse than a Russian citizen.. go figure).

I just think that this is a classic that everyone should read, no matter how old you are. Simply but beautifully written in only 102 pages, there’s no excuse not to.

Paper Views: Perfume by Patrick Süskind

I’ve been writing these reviews for a few weeks now, so I thought it was about time to tell you about probably my favourite book of all time- Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskindy. This was a book that was recommended by my English teacher who raved about it so much that I just had to go out and read it for myself… and let’s just say I was blown away.

Without going into the plot in too much detail, the novel is set in eighteenth century France and centres around the unusual (to put it mildly) character of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, who is born and promptly abandoned, left as a newborn on the streets of Paris. The book takes no time at all with introducing the abnormal atmosphere around which this odd tale is constructed, with the introduction of the key theme: smell. Jean-Baptiste, known better as Grenouille, is a child born without a scent, yet with the keenest nose in existence nonetheless- something that is the cause of great unease from everyone he meets, meaning that his childhood was spent being passed around between carers. That is, however, until he finds himself working as an apprentice for Baldini, a master perfumer in Paris. By this point it is apparent that Grenouille has an unusually twisted relationship with scents, which proves to be almost perverse when he hunts down a particularly beautiful scent of a young girl, who later ends up as his first of many murders.

I feel like I’ve already given a lot of the plot away, but that’s only the first part of the book so definitely go read it to find out the ending, especially because I feel like I’ve severely depreciated the genius of this intricate plot! Seriously though, I think it’s an injustice that not everyone has heard of this novel; creating something this unique and thought provoking is pretty unusual in this day and age (this was actually written in the 80s) so  I personally believe we should grab every opportunity we find. So although it may not be the happiest story line and “not my kind of thing”, in the words of Rainbow Rowell, “art isn’t supposed to look nice, it’s supposed to make you feel something”. Which is exactly what this book does.