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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A senstively handled take on bullying with a great paranormal twist, 27 Oct. 2012
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This review is from: OTOLI (Kindle Edition)
You know when you identify with a character in a book and say "I'm like him/her" or "I know what he/she feels like". Well, with this book I can genuinely say that to a point.

I initially found out about this book due to the author, Bryony Allen, becoming a friend through Goodreads and I became interested in the book's theme of bullying. The reason for this is because I am a bullying "survivor" (I prefer to use this term rather than "victim") who was bullied physically, verbally and emotionally throughout primary and secondary school.

The book is primarily seen through the third person points of view of main characters Alice and Keiran. Both characters are marginalised through bullying - Alice due to the actions of a school clique called "The Populars" and Keiran from his peers and parents due to his parents' desire for him to receive an education which caters to his intelligence.

Alice and Keiran stumble on OTOLI, a haven away from their day-to-day existence which is run by seventeen year-old Jenny. It's designed to their tastes, serves their favourite food and drinks and plays their favourite music.

The book follows Alice and Keiran as they develop a friendship with Jenny. However, alongside this developing friendship comes a price with inexplicable incidents happening to Alice and Keiran's tormentors.

The book's main theme of bullying is treated sensitively and without being sensationalised through three perspectives.

Alice and Keiran present the first perspective as people who are people who are being bullied - both are presented as people who are on the outside looking in, who feel powerless to act against what's happening to them and who just want to be accepted as other people are.

The second perspective is from the point of view of the bully mainly "The Populars" who are presented as people who use the power they gain through bullying to gain influence and notoriety. They don't physically bully but taunt, tease and use a campaign of hate to achieve their aims at Alice's expense - something that is more destructive.

The third perspective is that of Jenny. She is the most interesting perspective down to her attitude and personality along with the supernatural/paranormal aspect of the novel. Jenny is very much the character around whom the novel hinges as she seeks to become an increasing influence in Alice and Keiran's lives by becoming their "best friend". This is done by the character becoming an embodiment of the "Good Cop/Bad Cop" routine - she wants to help Alice and Keiran through their troubles by taking direct action against their tormentors and hinting that it was down to the wishes of Alice and Keiran and that the bullies/teachers/tormentors have brought it upon themselves. However, this is part of a longer game for Jenny as you find that she has an ulterior motive for this friendship which is both chilling and tragic.

Some people may feel that it is inappropriate for the supernatural or paranormal aspect to be included as an element in a story which could be seen to trivialise or overshadow a sensitive subject. I can assure readers of this blog that the supernatural/paranormal element serves as a device to heighten the emotions within the storyline through Jenny being a person who wants to gain acceptance and friendship by basically being a genie in a highly emotionally charged bottle - the emotions behind Jenny's actions are understandable as you follow her story but the means and the ends are morally questionable especially as events build towards the book's climax.

OTOLI is a book that works on looking to be sympathetic, empowering and chilling in equal measure and, from the perspective of this bullying "survivor", it's a book that delivers some food for thought... even for somebody who left school over twenty years ago.

DISCLAIMER: Although Ms Allen has been in contact me through the Goodreads site, this is a totally independent review. I have neither received payment or requested a review copy of this book.

The Way Back [DVD]
The Way Back [DVD]
Dvd ~ Colin Farrell
Price: £2.96

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A hidden gem, 9 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Way Back [DVD] (DVD)
In the midst of films such as Harry Potter, Tron and The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, the subject matter for The Way Back was not what you could term as "typical Christmas Fayre".

Set in 1940/41, this film follows a "prison break" from a Siberian Gulag and their escape from Siberia to India with dangers such as pursuing captors, lack of food and water and the elements to compete against.

With the star casting for this film, you would think that there could be one individual actor coming out as star billing - this film doesn't prove to be the case.

Jim Sturgess is, in effect, the lead character as Janusz, a man wrongly convicted of treason by the occupying Russian army. Through circumstance, Janusz is thrown very much into the role of leader of the escapees.

Ed Harris portrays the enigmatic Mr Smith. Unfortunately, I'm not able to say too much about Mr Smith's character without removing the mystique. Suffice it to say, Ed Harris provides a high standard of acting which is his signature.

Saiorse Ronan is cast as Irena, a teenager who meets up with the group of escapees and joins them on their journey. Again, hers is a character where I can't give away any background but she follows her standout performance in The Lovely Bones with another strong performance - especially alongside the high profile cast she works with.

But it's Colin Farrell who is the surprise of the film portraying the character of Valka, one of the gulag's hard case prisoners whose introduction includes stabbing a fellow convict over a gambling debt. In any film with Farrell in the cast, you would expect him to be the standout lead, but he isn't. He works alongside his fellow actors providing colour in the role whilst not overshadowing any of his fellow cast members.

But the real star of the film of the beautiful photography and direction by Peter Weir and with films such as Master and Commander under his belt, plus the involvement of National Geographic, it was always going to be a beautifully shot film - and that is the film's minor Achilles Heel. Whilst it's a true story, there are points in the film where the story and pacing is sacrificed into the film being a travelogue.

That point aside, it's a very good film and well worth viewing.

The King's Speech [DVD]
The King's Speech [DVD]
Dvd ~ Colin Firth
Price: £2.49

11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The understated Oscar contender for this year, 9 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The King's Speech [DVD] (DVD)
Whilst films like True Grit and 127 Hours will, understandably, be receiving the plaudits for this year's Oscar contention, The King's Speech is a film that should rank alongside them as a fellow Oscar contender.

Colin Firth delivers another brilliant performance as "Bertie" from his role as Duke Of York at the 1925 Empire Exhibition to his first wartime speech as King George VI and his battle to contain his stammer which prevents him from speaking aloud in public. Firth delivers a role which is a sympathetic portrayal of a person with a speech impediment and a man with a nation's expectation on his shoulders, whilst portraying the role with a gentle humour and shows Bertie the man as well as the Duke Of York/George VI the public figure.

Geoffrey Rush is a great foil as Bertie's unconventional speech therapist, Lionel Logue. Not only does the role call for Rush to display a sense of humour appropriately matched to Colin Firth's but also makes you believe that this is a man who can challenge Bertie and "peel away the layers of the onion" from his background to get to the root cause behind the speech difficulties.

Helena Bonham-Carter also excels as Elizabeth, the future Queen Mother, with a sensitive portrayal as the woman who loves and supports her husband and is note perfect in her performance. Like Firth and Rush's characters, there is not only room for a sensitive portrayal in her performance but also humour which acts as a support to the character of Bertie throughout the film.

The main antagonist to this film isn't a person, but the speech impediment. However, this needed to be personified as a character and is done so through Guy Pearce's role as David, the man who became Edward VIII. Although, Pearce's character isn't shown to be an out-and-out bully, you hear about the way he mocked his brother's speech impediment through conversation and is later shown face-to-face between David and Bertie.

The main cast are supported with a star cast including the likes of Michael Gambon as George V, Timothy Spall as Winston Churchill and Derek Jacobi as the Archbishop of Canterbury.

If anyone saw the film The Young Victoria, I would say that Tom Hooper's direction and David Seidler's script delivers a film of similar feeling and tone, whilst Alexandre Desplat's music is a character in its own right supporting the tone of the storyline.

This is as close to perfection as a two hour film can get. Satisfying enough that it didn't feel like a waste of time or money whilst perfectly paced so that you didn't feel bored by the film's conclusion.

Shadowlands [DVD]
Shadowlands [DVD]
Dvd ~ Anthony Hopkins
Price: £4.85

5.0 out of 5 stars Emotional and perfectly pitched, 5 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Shadowlands [DVD] (DVD)
After seeing part of this film on television, I decided to buy it on DVD and was not disappointed.

This film tells the story of CS Lewis's friendship, marriage of convenience and eventual tragic love affair with Joy Gresham.

Out of Lord Attenborough's catalogue of films such as Gandhi and Chaplin, Shadowlands is a film which appears, from this reviewer's perspective, to be sadly overlooked. His direction is pitch perfect, emotional and tender yet, given the subject matter later in the film, neither maudling or overly sentimental in a saccharin fashion. The photography of the Oxford colleges central to Lewis's lifestyle is rivalled only in the Inspector Morse series.

Like his director, Anthony Hopkins' performance as Lewis is pitch perfect. He shows several sides to the character - challenging and somewhat grumpy educator, an initial cold and aloof character when he first met Joy Gresham and, finally, the emotional version of the character when he realises that he is about to lose one of the central structures of his life.

Debra Winger is equally brilliant as Gresham. She plays the character as a woman who is interested in Lewis the writer and Lewis the man. The character is playfully dismissive of the Oxford college system whilst maintaining respect for the man she grows to love. Towards the end of the film, Winger portrays Gresham's cancer with dignity and shows the effects of the illness without weakening the character.

This is surely an acting masterclass by two actors at the top of their game without over-egging the pudding.

The supporting cast is also top notch, but of main note to this reviewer is Edward Hardwicke (Doctor Watson to Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes) as Warnie Lewis who is the human voice of reason to his brother and Joseph Mazzello (from Jurassic Park and recent television series, The Pacific) as Gresham's son who gets some emotionally charged scenes with Hopkins towards the end of the film.

If anyone feels that Narnia will be a main feature to the film may be disappointed. This film is very much about C S Lewis the man, rather than Lewis the author, and concentrates very much on his relationships with his peers, his brother and Joy Gresham. Saying that, this is a very powerful film and should be on the list of any self respecting film fan.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried towards the film's end and would defy anybody not to at least consider shedding a tear.

The Wigan Warriors Miscellany
The Wigan Warriors Miscellany
by Ewan Phillips
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great little fact book, 3 Jan. 2011
I got this little book for Christmas and wasn't disappointed.

This book doesn't simply provide pub ammo but also provides stories in categories such as Top 10 speedsters, Player Of The Decade and worst games.

Understandably, due to the book's release date, there are some errors - notably Pat Richards' Man Of Steel award and the 2010 Grand Final win. However, this is a great little book - not one to be read cover to cover, but one to dip in and out of to find answers to some of those obscure fan debates.

Tron Legacy
Tron Legacy
Price: £10.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly my cup of tea, but..., 1 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Tron Legacy (Audio CD)
I've never really had much of an ear for electronic dance music so I was in two minds about whether I would like this soundtrack by Daft Punk. I have to admit that, on the main, my concerns were removed by listening to this soundtrack.

Granted, the electronic score is the dominant factor with this soundtrack, but there is also room for a traditional orchestral sound and they work together rather than against each other.

The only real problem, and it's not a major problem, is that this is a soundtrack which only really works with the film rather than in it's own right. It emulates both a sound similar to Hans Zimmer and James Newton-Howard's soundtrack for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and Vangelis' soundtrack for Blade Runner and therein lies the problem.

Whilst one on their own makes a great soundtrack album, both together make this soundtrack difficult to listen to without the visual cues of the film.

As I said, it's a good soundtrack for a very visually based film, but it isn't a soundtrack that's going to get a regular replay.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World [DVD]
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Cera
Price: £3.98

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This film is the Bob-omb!, 1 Jan. 2011
Imagine Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist having a younger kid brother who's had too many fizzy soft drinks, e-numbers and sugar and you're half way to imagining Scott Pilgrim v The World.

Having been a big fan of Spaced, Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, I was always going to be drawn to this film due to it's director, Edgar Wright, and what a great job he makes of it too. He takes the comic book world of Scott Pilgrim and combines that with great photography and mind frazzling special effects to make it an eye popping treat.

Like his earlier films and tv series, Pilgrim also has geeky joke references and uses it's visual tricks to convey it's humour.

Michael Cera is a likeable lead and follows his roles in Juno and Nick and Norah in bringing the lovesick Scott Pilgrim to life. Mary Elizabeth Winstead makes a great heroine as Ramona Flowers, the girl of Scott's dreams who has more trouble with her various exes than anyone would care to ask for.

Notable roles include Fantastic Four's Chris Evans as Lucas Lee, Ramona's skateboarding and macho actor ex, Superman actor Brandon Routh as Todd Ingram, Ramona's bass guitarist and vegan ex (loved the Superman reference at the end of this fight), Keiran Culkin as Scott's flatmate and Alison Pill as Kim Pine, Scott's childhood "sweetheart" and drummer for Scott's band.

The extras are wide ranging, as you'd expect from an Edgar Wright film including a making-of, documentaries and featurettes about the music of the film, special effects, a prequel animation telling the story of Scott and Kim's relationship plus, if you're a fan of the Hot Fuzz featurette where the swear words are dubbed over with nonsense comedy phrases, this film has a similar special feature.

It's a visually demented concoction of humour, romance and great fight scenes with a video game element.

If you like any Edgar's previous work, you'll love Scott Pilgrim.

Hamlet [DVD] [2009]
Hamlet [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ David Tennant
Price: £5.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The acting version of Duelling Banjos, 30 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Hamlet [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Now, when I say the above as the title, it isn't an insult.

Whilst the cast of this production of Hamlet is of an extremely high standard including the likes of Oliver Ford Davies as Polonious, Penny Downie as Gertrude, Edward Bennett as Laertes (incidentally the actor who probably became one of the most famous understudies ever when he was required to take up the role of Hamlet for Tennant in London in late 2009) and Mariah Gale, putting in an electrifying performance as the doomed Ophelia, this film - like the stage version - showcases an acting masterclass in David Tennant's Hamlet and Patrick Stewart's Claudius.

Whether they be in scenes away from each other or together, these two actors command attention and spark off each other.

And that's a good thing. I have to admit, I was one of a generation of school students put off Shakespeare due to the education system's fascination of learning about Shakespeare's plays from the page rather than from the stage and the main selling point for me was to see these actors on stage.

Through the performances, cleverly directed by Gregory Doran, you get the meaning of this play, even if you don't understand the language - and that was traditionally one of the barriers to Shakespeare for me.

If, like me, you got to see this version of Hamlet live on stage then this will be a great reminder of the play. If you didn't get the opportunity to see this first hand and you have a fondness for Shakespeare, then I'd also recommend this.

Let Me In [DVD]
Let Me In [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chloe Moretz
Price: £3.81

6 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fairy tale for the modern age, 30 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Let Me In [DVD] (DVD)
I have to admit that I'm not into horror films, which is a good thing as far as Let Me In is concerned as it isn't really what I'd consider to be truly a horror film in the modern sense.

Yes, there is a vampire and yes there is, inevitably a bit of Kensington Gore on screen but it's nothing compared to the slasher flcks that have been the trend for the past 25-30 years.

If anything, this is more of a coming of age film where one teenager and one apparent teenager (we never discover how old the vampire character portrayed by Chloe Grace Moretz truly is) discover each other through a common bond of loneliness which in turn changes to friendship and even love.

Chloe Grace Moretz follows up her break out role of Hit Girl in Kick Ass as the vampiric Abby and unlike traditional vampire films you feel a sympathy with character as she is introduced into a life which she cannot lead. This is a fantastic and understated performance and if this wasn't a film that would, I imagine, be treated as a typical horror film, there would be some level of consideration for an acting award for this role.

Kodi Smit-McPhee also excels in the role of Owen, the boy whose life is one of isolation, either due to his religious mother at home or through the regular, and brutally portrayed, bullying at school.

Director Matt Reeves must also be given some credit for the success of this film. Yes, there is some gore but not to the extent of a modern slasher flick. Yes, there are special/digital effects used but these aren't overly used and they don't detract from a well scripted film based on the original film, Let The Right One In.

This is a solid start for the revived Hammer franchise. This film and the forthcoming The Woman In Black starring Daniel Radcliffe will hopefully sow the seeds for intelligent horror that can scare without the need for an overload of tomato ketchup.

Highly recommended.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader [DVD]
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader [DVD]
Dvd ~ Ben Barnes
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £2.99

19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful epic, 28 Dec. 2010
And we're back to the world of Narnia, and what a return it is given that the franchise has transferred from being the property of Disney to 20th Century Fox/Fox 2000.

Rather than have any jarring differences, Michael Apted's beautiful direction allows for this entry into the Narnia universe to sit alongside the previous two films.

Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley return as the two younger Pevensie children, Edmund and Lucy, and a great job they make of their roles too portraying the two characters on the point of moving from childhood to adulthood with all the problems they entail.

Ben Barnes also returns as Caspian and plays the role with an authority which causes conflict with the character of Edmund which is vital to the way the plot runs.

There are also returns for Liam Neeson in the role of Aslan and Tilda Swinton as the White Witch.

New main actors include Simon Pegg who takes on the role of Reepicheep following Eddie Izzard's portrayal in Prince Caspian and Will Poulter (of Son of Rambow fame), who has the unenviable task of being the new junior lead alongside Keynes and Henley as Eustace Scrubb - and a great task he makes of it too moving from odious family member to hero and the link to further films in the franchise (which is also referenced towards the end of the film when the character of Jill Pole is mentioned who becomes Eustace's co-lead in The Silver Chair).

There is also a change of soundtrack composer as Harry Gregson-Williams is replaced by Bond composer, David Arnold. Again, this is another area where the films match seamlessly as Arnold not only uses Gregson-Williams' Narnia themes and motifs but also the general sound of a Narnia score.

This is a fantastic film and it was also going to be a straight shoot out between this and Tron: Legacy as to which was the top film. In my personal opinion, with it's straight forward story telling of themes that we can all relate to (growing up and finding your place in the world), The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader has it by a nose.

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