Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Book Review)

Big Little Lies is a seven-episode series starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman & Shailene Woodley. It’s airing on HBO in America this Sunday (19th of February) and looks like it will air on Sky Atlantic in the UK sometime in March.

Based on the novel of the same name by Liane Moriarty, the show was created by David E Kelley & directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (director of films such as Wild & Dallas Buyers Club). Having just read the book, I figured it was time I do a quick book review for anyone who may be interested in either the novel or the TV show…

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

What It’s About: (via Amazon)
Perfect family, perfect house, perfect life; Jane, Madeline and Celeste have it all . . . or do they? They are about to find out just how easy it is for one little lie to spiral out of control.

My Thoughts:

I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed this book as it’s certainly not my usual sort of genre (give me Stephen King, fantasy, dystopian, or post-apocalyptic!). Is it chick lit? I hate that term – It’s so condescending. And I hate the so-called chick lit genre as it tends to be the “silly” books that are given this label. I suppose it’s certainly aimed at female readers, though.

I haven’t read reviews at all but I would assume the main comparison being used to describe this book’s story & overall feel is Desperate Housewives, which would be extremely accurate. I have a confession: I’m not a girly girl & watch very few girly things but I watched all of Desperate Housewives (despite its AWFUL title, which almost made me not watch it in the first place). But then the opening DH scene started with a tragic death and a woman who then happily realized that it meant she wouldn’t have to return (some kitchen appliance she’d borrowed – can’t remember) to the now-dead woman. And I was hooked! Well-written dark humor with rich characters is something I can get behind. Who cares what label you give it? I don’t think Big Little Lies is quite as good as that first season of Desperate Housewives (as with all shows, DH went badly downhill in later years) and it doesn’t have as much of that darkly humorous streak but it’s a fun satire on parents, particularly mothers, and the crazy world of school politics.

Big Little Lies starts with a tragic & unexplained death on the night of the adult-only trivia fundraiser taking place at the novel’s school. Our three main characters, Jane, Madeline & Celeste, each have five-year-olds attending their first year of school. This is a fairly long book that I found a very quick read thanks to the way it was broken up into so many chapters & the way most chapters ended with statements from witnesses who were there on the trivia night. After the opening chapter in which someone has died, the novel then goes back to the beginning of the school year to introduce us to all our main potential victims and murderers. I loved not even knowing who ends up the victim, which kept me reading as I was anxious to find out. The witness statements at the end of the chapters give us little clues along the way as to what may have happened.

Big Little Lies isn’t exactly some piece of “worthy literature” but it was a light & entertaining read and should make for an enjoyable TV series. I’d actually like to see them up the dark humor for the show if they can. The book sounds more shallow than it actually is – It tackles some heavy issues, especially at the end, but it could’ve done with sticking more to its sassy satire we mainly glimpse in the witness statements and through the character of Madeline. Speaking of Madeline, the casting of Reese Witherspoon for this role is absolute perfection – I can totally see her as this outwardly superficial character with the deep down heart of gold. I can also see Woodley & Kidman as Jane & Celeste now even though Celeste won’t be how I pictured looks-wise but Kidman definitely has the right sort of personality & manner to suit the role well. With a lot of big names involved, including Jean-Marc Vallée as the director, I think the show is in good hands & I’m looking forward to seeing how they adapt the book.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Here’s the UK trailer for the TV show. I think they’ve upped the drama! Hope the show doesn’t take itself too seriously…

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Dope, Comet & Me And Earl And The Dying Girl Movie Reviews

Three mega quickies for three movies I watched last year. I have a lot of these old reviews to catch up on so I’m going to keep these threesomes short. Here we go!

Dope (2015)

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

Starring: Shameik Moore, Tony Revolori, Kiersey Clemons, Kimberly Elise, Chanel Iman, Tyga, Blake Anderson, Zoë Kravitz, A$AP Rocky

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
Life changes for Malcolm, a geek who’s surviving life in a tough neighborhood, after a chance invitation to an underground party leads him and his friends into a Los Angeles adventure.

My Opinion:

I couldn’t wait to see this and the hubby & I immediately watched it the second it turned up on Netflix (or whichever service it was) instead of our usual “What should we watch?” deliberation which goes on for so long that we could watch an entire movie in the time we spend deciding what to watch. Probably one of the biggest disappointments that I’ve watched recently, I enjoyed very little about the movie Dope other than the fantastic soundtrack (which was great but also more predictable than I was hoping for). I think I’m just finally getting too old for certain teenage/twentysomething shit? Especially the quirky “indie-type” ones that try too hard (the next two are even more guilty of that than Dope).

I didn’t exactly hate this movie but no matter how many great artists you use in a film (Public Enemy! A Tribe Called Quest! Eric B. & Rakim!) it can’t disguise the fact that the story is weak & silly and only a couple of characters are likable. Shameik Moore is easily the best thing about the movie (after the music) so at least there was one character I cared about. Zoë Kravitz is also a decent character (with a much smaller role than I thought she’d have). Unfortunately, everyone else is an obnoxious asshole and the two “funny” best friends just annoyed me. Also, I suppose I’m showing my age & small town hickness but the only teenage parties I knew in the Eighties were, to quote Heathers, “keggers with kids”. Give me cheap beer in a field & some cow tipping! I can’t relate to you kids & your weird drugs. Okay – I’ve never actually tipped a cow. That seems cruel. Skip this movie & buy the soundtrack if you don’t already know all the songs. BUY the soundtrack. With actual money. That’s also how we did things in the old days!

My Rating: 6/10

Comet (2014)

Directed & Written by Sam Esmail

Starring: Emmy Rossum & Justin Long

Plot Synopsis: (from IMDB)
Set in a parallel universe, Comet bounces back and forth over the course of an unlikely but perfectly paired couple’s six-year relationship.

My Opinion:

What a load of pretentious bullshit. Feel free to give this one a go if you want to spend an hour & a half watching millennials whining about their first world relationship problems. Oh! And if you like that sort of thing, you’re really in for a treat since we get to see this couple whining in several slightly different scenarios since their relationship is shown in alternate realities. So clever!

I admit that I fell for the “parallel universe” thing in the synopsis so I put this on since I’m a sci-fi nerd. Don’t be fooled like I was! AVOID!!!!!! Do yourself a favor and go watch Arrival if you’re wanting a proper sci-fi drama. Or go watch anything other than this. Hell, just go watch a Nicholas Sparks movie if you’re wanting a bullshit melodramatic romance. At least you know what you’re gonna get with Nicholas Sparks movies since they don’t pretend to be anything other than silly & predictable. Hell, at least Nicholas Sparks characters usually have some goddamn chemistry unlike the two boring fuckers in Comet. And, most importantly, Nicholas Sparks movies know they’re stupid. Comet thinks it’s smart. You’re not smart just because you throw a “parallel universe” angle into a film to try to make it less boring. Comet is just a Nicholas Sparks movie minus any chemistry whatsoever between the characters and minus any good sex scenes.

My Rating: 4/10

Me And Earl And The Dying Girl (2015)

Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Based on Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Connie Britton

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
High schooler Greg, who spends most of his time making parodies of classic movies with his co-worker Earl, finds his outlook forever altered after befriending a classmate who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

My Opinion:

I’m sorry this threesome is turning into a bitchathon. I’m also sorry to say that I was very disappointed with Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. But, this time, I’m not exactly sure why since this is the type of movie that’s usually my sort of thing.

I like plenty of indie movies (whether they’re the true definition of indie or just the hundreds of wannabe indies nowadays – I’m too lazy to look into whether this was an actual independent film or not). But they can either be brilliant or they can cross that line into pretentious bullshit (like the movie Comet, which stays over that line the entire time). I think the problem with MAEATDG (stupid long title) is that it crosses that line just a little too much for me to have truly bought into it. It tries just a little too hard to be unique. And, once again, I found that I just didn’t like the characters very much. Why is it so difficult to make likable or, at least, interesting and/or memorable characters? With the sad setup to this story, I expected to feel at least a slight emotional attachment to someone. At least the dying girl, right?? We didn’t seem to get to know her well – we mostly spent time with the mopey boy who’s at first pretty much forced to befriend her when she’s diagnosed with cancer. We did have the added bonus of the two boys making amateur films, which is a big YES to us movie nerds watching. It was indeed fun to see bits & pieces of their spoofs of classic films but it didn’t make up for the fact that I didn’t really care about anyone and just found the film surprisingly slow & unengaging. There’s a slight redemption at the end as I liked the presentation of the final film made by our main character and the overall movie itself ended well (as in, it ended how I expected it to and I think it was handled well). MAEATDG was certainly not a bad film. I have respect for everyone involved in its making & can understand why it would have fans. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it just didn’t resonate with me. And I actually feel kind of bad about that! I’m sorry I didn’t like it that much.

My Rating: 6/10

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) Review

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***SPOILER FREE REVIEW***

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Directed by George Miller

Starring:
Tom Hardy
Charlize Theron
Nicholas Hoult
Hugh Keays-Byrne
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Riley Keough
Zoë Kravitz
Abbey Lee
Courtney Eaton

Running time: 120 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
In a stark desert landscape where humanity is broken, two rebels just might be able to restore order: Max, a man of action and of few words, and Furiosa, a woman of action who is looking to make it back to her childhood homeland.

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My Opinion:

YES! This is what movies are meant to be like! I’ve been moaning for years that they can’t make a decent action blockbuster anymore. It’s all CGI bullshit now with shitty scripts and crappy characters. Oh how I’ve longed for the days of The Terminator & Alien/Aliens. Well, I’m happy to say that Mad Max: Fury Road is a return to the good old days of action-packed blockbusters. And, as a HUGE added bonus, we have ourselves another Ellen Ripley with Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Imperator Furiosa. That’s right, ladies! This is a totally bonkers, violent, non-stop adrenaline-fueled extravaganza that has its female audience in mind just as much as its male audience! YES!!!! The female characters don’t take a backseat in Fury Road – they’re driving this bastard!

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I’m now kind of regretting my post from two days ago (HERE) in which I re-rated several movies I thought I’d given either too high or too low of a rating. I said that I think I sometimes rate new releases too highly due partly to hype & partly to my enjoyment of the experience of going to a movie in the cinema. So now I’ve gone to the best movie I’ve seen in a very long time & I’m still on a high as I’m writing this just after seeing it and I know I’m going to just rave about it like an idiot and end up giving it a really high rating. Well, you can trust me on this – Fury Road is not a movie that will need re-rating because I’ve rated it too highly in my excitement. In fact, I’m afraid I won’t do it justice & may rate it slightly too low as I want to be more cautious with my ratings now. Damn. We’ll see… I still don’t know at this point what rating I’ll give it.

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I always try to stay as spoiler free as possible in my reviews and I want to be especially careful with this one as I think knowing as little as possible before seeing Fury Road may add to your enjoyment (I know it did for me as I didn’t know quite what to expect beyond the one trailer I’d seen). So, I’m not going to get very specific about things that happen in the movie as I’m not sure what is common knowledge & what isn’t. I think people will like this one whether they’ve seen the Mel Gibson films or not. My experience is this: I saw the first two but I admit that, although I did really like them at the time, I only watched them once sooo many years ago that I don’t remember them as well as I’d like. Sorry Mad Max fans – I’d wanted to re-watch them before seeing Fury Road but haven’t had the time. I’ll definitely make time for them again at some point now but Fury Road works just fine as a film on its own.

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What I loved about Fury Road (besides the kick-ass female characters that I just can’t rave about enough) was, well… Everything. I loved the look & feel of the post-apocalyptic world and its insane inhabitants. I loved the action that never ever let up – the stunts they pulled off were amazing! My eyes couldn’t actually keep up with the amount of action going on – it was nuts! But in a good way – I want to watch this again as I know I missed things. The writing was very good – we got decent character development (for an action movie) as well as sympathetic characters we cared about and who cared about each other (so many action movies barely bother with this!). The baddies are over the top and outrageous in the most awesome way possible. Hell, the whole movie is over the top and outrageous but it’s so much damn FUN. George Miller really went to town with Fury Road & it all works perfectly. It reminds me in a way of how Tarantino makes his films – you can tell there’s a real love of what he does. It feels like he really put his heart into making this film. I wish every director would do the same.

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Summary:

Mad Max: Fury Road is totally bonkers. Its fast pace may have you leaving the cinema wondering what the hell just hit you but, hey – that’s what action movies should be like. Fury Road gives us Imperator Furiosa, a new badass female who deserves a place among the likes of Ellen Ripley and The Bride. As a female who is often frustrated by the sexism and misogyny in movies, I couldn’t be more happy about that (and the movie sure as shit passes the Bechdel test!). I think those who aren’t fans of the other Mad Max films should like this just as much as those who are but those who are may be a little disappointed that this movie should almost be titled Furiosa & Mad Max: Fury Road. That title sounds damn good to me, though – maybe we can get the female character’s name in the title of the next one.

My Rating: 9/10

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Divergent (2014) Review

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Divergent (2014)

Directed by Neil Burger

Based on Divergent by Veronica Roth

Starring:
Shailene Woodley
Theo James
Ashley Judd
Jai Courtney
Ray Stevenson
Zoë Kravitz
Miles Teller
Tony Goldwyn
Maggie Q
Kate Winslet

Running time: 139 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via Wikipedia)

The story takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic version of Chicago where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Beatrice Prior is warned that she is Divergent and thus will never fit into any one of the factions and soon learns that a sinister plot is brewing in her seemingly perfect society.

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My Opinion:

See that up there in the plot synopsis? “Dystopian post-apocalyptic“! I freaking love dystopian. And post-apocalyptic. And especially the two together – dystopian post-apocalyptic!!! And in my usual anal list-making ways, I already did a list of My Top Ten Post-Apocalyptic Movies HERE. I also love current YA fiction so Divergent is right up my alley, which is probably why I enjoyed it more than it may have deserved.

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First of all: I’ve not read the books. I used to read a lot more and I always try to read a book before seeing the movie if it’s the type of book that interests me. But I just don’t have the time to read anymore (I’ve been reading Doctor Sleep since December. I’m finally almost finished – should be done by June!). I LOVED The Hunger Games books (and the movies have been very good adaptations, especially Catching Fire, review HERE). But as good as they are, I never quite fully enjoy the movies as much when I’ve read the books since the books are better 90% of the time. So, with Divergent, I thought “screw it!”. It might be nice to just sit back & enjoy a movie series without having to overanalyze and constantly compare it to the books and to not know how it’ll all end. So I quite enjoyed this story even though it’s a not-as-good Hunger Games with a story that doesn’t come together as well and characters that aren’t as well-developed or acted. I know it’s YA fiction but it feels more “shallow” than The Hunger Games, which does make you think a bit. I don’t know if maybe it works a bit better in the books but the story was at least entertaining enough that I do want to see the rest of the movies to see where they go with it.

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I liked Shailene Woodley but don’t think she’s as strong of a lead actress as Jennifer Lawrence is in The Hunger Games (sorry – it’s VERY hard to not compare the two). The hubby especially didn’t seem to like her for some reason so… I don’t know. I think she may be one that female viewers like more than male viewers do whereas both sexes seem to love J-Law. I would think Divergent will have far fewer male fans than The Hunger Games does, which seems to appeal to everyone. Divergent FEELS more like young adult fiction aimed mostly at girls than The Hunger Games does. Well, I don’t care what the hubby says – I’ve liked Shailene Woodley so far in what I’ve seen her in & she at least seems like a “real world” teenage girl. I think she also has very lovely, expressive eyes & I’m looking forward to seeing how she does in The Fault In Our Stars (another YA book I loved. Review HERE). I think that type of thing may suit her more than something like this, which has a lot of action and far more violence than I was expecting. (It’s actually very violent, for any parents who may be reading this & wondering. The content is as violent as The Hunger Games and there’s a lot more hand to hand combat, almost making it feel even more violent than The Hunger Games).

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As for all the other characters, I found them a little weak & underdeveloped compared to Woodley’s. Ashley Judd as Woodley’s mother was one of the better characters but we don’t get to see as much of the two of them together as I’d have liked. Her brother & especially father may as well not even be IN the movie for as little as we learn about them. And, I’ll keep this as spoiler free as I can but… One character has a secret yet has a tattoo that gives away that important secret?! Whaaat? That seemed stupid. And Kate Winslet was fine but a total cookie cutter character. Zoë Kravitz wasn’t too bad and she’s pretty cute (it helps to have really attractive parents, I suppose). I just really felt no connection to anyone beyond Woodley – hopefully we get better character development in the sequels so I don’t have to read the books.

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Summary:

I enjoyed this movie but it definitely has its faults. The story is a bit of a mess and doesn’t come together all that well (I was a little confused at times). I’m hoping the sequels will be better and that the characters will be further developed. Basically, it’s just not as good as The Hunger Games and feels more “YA”. But I do like the overall concept and the amount of good YA fiction these days with strong female characters is a great thing to see.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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