Book Review: A Slow Burning Fire by Paula Hawkins

TL;DR – when Daniel Sutherland is found murdered on his narrowboat in Regent’s Canal, North London, the locals are naturally shocked. Those linked to Daniel and those who were last to see him alive are all interviewed by detectives. What is uncovered is a history of family tragedy and how preconceptions can lead to false assumptions of just who holds the power to the truth.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Laura makes bad choices. The latest involving hooking up with Daniel Sutherland who is later found murdered in his narrowboat and she becomes the primary suspect.

Miriam lives on a narrowboat next to Daniel and witnesses Laura, blood on her face, limping away on the towpath. People see Miriam as a hermit, an old spinster, who sticks her nose in other people’s business. She is the one who finds Daniel’s body.

Carla is Daniel’s aunt. Divorced to Theo with a history of tragedy. First she lost her three year old son, Ben, then her sister Angela (Daniel’s mother) dies in a horrible accident, and now her nephew Daniel has been murdered. She is haunted by her past, can barely function in the present, and does not know how to look forward to the future.

Theo is a somewhat successful author. His novel – The One Who Got Away – achieved success but has received controversy as well as a claim by Miriam that Theo based key events in the novel on a memoir she wrote and shared with him. Theo, like his ex-wife Carla, has never managed to move on from the death of his son.

Irene lives next door to Angela, an eighty year old widower who never managed to have children of her own. She has her own personal demons and remembers quite well the arguments Angela and Daniel used to have, which carried through paper thin walls of their neighboring homes.

Questions of who killed Daniel and why leads to uncovering truths about the past, both horrifying and tragic for all those who had links direct and indirect with Daniel.

Review

A Slow Fire Burning is Paula Hawkins third novel published in the mystery thriller genre and examines the effects of neglect and the assumptions people have of others by their appearance and mannerisms.

Hawkins does an admirable job in depicting a cast of characters that are all deeply flawed in some way. On the surface, these flaws are unlikeable as opposed to interesting. I was in danger of losing empathy with practically all the main characters in this novel.

Generally, characters must have flaws in some manner otherwise the story will be dead boring. It is neither believable nor interesting when a character is perfect. Flaws create layers and demonstrate humanity that allows a reader to connect and become invested in that character’s plight. But Hawkins dares to create a bunch of characters that are all unsavoury in a way that will make you feel you don’t care what happens to them.

However, Hawkins manages to walk this tightrope and slowly reveal that there are deep seeded reasons to their behaviour. Not all of them pleasant but at least understandable, and you can see why they act the way that they do.

A Slow Fire Burning is not so much a mystery thriller as it is an examination of how the seeming powerless seize power, and the method by which they do so is not always altruistic or just. In fact, for many, it is power for selfish reasons only.

Surprisingly, what helps carry the story is the main detective, DI Barker, which one of the main characters, Laura, calls “Egg” because he has a head shaped like a cue ball and is completely bald. Barker is intelligent (not Sherlock Holmes intelligent but smart enough at his job) and he exhibits a level of empathy that was needed in this story.

The mistake that the main characters make when they interact with each other is judging who they are and what they are like from their appearance and external habits. Even Theo and Carla who were previously married and have a deeper understanding make false assumptions about each other. The reasons for these assumptions lead to igniting the slow burn to obtain power or revenge or justice (depending on whose eyes you look through) and stems from complex and tragic past events experienced by each of them.

Barker, on the other hand, is not burdened by their past. He was not part of any of the tragedies experienced by each of them. At the same time, he’s not presumptuous nor a cold-hearted fact finder focused only on the evidence to determine Daniel’s murderer. He is as human as the rest of the cast even if he is not so deeply flawed. Hawkins wisely uses him sparingly, but when he appears, he enhances the story and thankfully brings another dimension of humanity that is usually missing from law enforcement characters in these types of stories (unless the law enforcement officer is a main character, they are usually relegated to the background to indicate a crime is being investigated). Barker is a supporting character but is not left as a plot device in a crime mystery to indicate that the police are doing something. His interactions with Laura are particularly well done.

For the most of it, I found this book to be reasonably compelling, but one plot device is used near the end that deflated my enjoyment. The device is used on Miriam to allow progression of the plot between her and Theo. Unfortunately, the device is too convenient. It was like Hawkins was not sure how to put out one particular slow burning fire that was occurring between Miriam and Theo, so she threw in a series of last-minute scenes that would explain it and lead to a resolution between the two. I found it far-fetched because Hawkins does not give any hint that this is going to happen. She just inserts it at the end of a chapter, and you’ll be asking yourself, “Who the hell is this character? Why does she suddenly mention him after 32 chapters?” The remaining seven chapters plus epilogue explain the sudden appearance of this character, but it is all too coincidental and convenient. A shame really because the rest of it is decent read.

2.5 out of 5.

Anime Review: Yuru Camp Season 1 (2018)

TL;DR – Rin Shima is slightly unusual for a girl her age. She likes going camping by herself and soaking up the tranquility at various camping sites near Mount Fuji. When a small group of girls set up a camping club at the school Rin attends, she unexpectedly receives attention in helping the club get off the ground and in the process creating new friendships.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Rin is a soft-spoken, quiet girl that loves camping out in winter at various grounds near the base of Mount Fuji. Along the way she meets other girls who become interested in camping also. That is pretty much the entire story, but the basic premise of slice-of-life animes is generally simple.

I have yet to figure out what makes a slice-of-life anime work over other slice-of-life animes. Personal taste obviously comes into play, but certain animes are more effective than others. What I found quite curious about Yuru Camp is that I am not a big camper myself. In fact, if I am on holiday, I much prefer the comforts of a rental house or a hotel than the idea of sleeping on the ground. But Yuru Camp somehow makes me want to buy a sleeping bag and tent and go find some isolated place in the woods or by a lake and be one with nature.

Elements that made this slice-of-life better than others include:

  • Camping locations are based on real ones in Japan
  • The scenery during the day and night is beautifully captured
  • They capture the joys of cooking in the great outdoors and make every meal look delicious
  • The characters are funny in their obsession to go camping and working part-time jobs to afford better equipment
  • It demonstrates the use of actual camping equipment and the many varieties

All of the above combined make for a series that had me smiling. More subtly, it shows how some of the greatest joys are the smallest ones. For example, cooking curry ramen over a campfire; staring as the sun rises over Mount Fuji; exploring new places; riding a scooter; soaking in a hot spring; the company of friends. It also contains the message that life should be savoured and there is nothing wrong with slowing down especially when we live in a world where it feels like we should be cramming in as much as possible.

Since the airing of season one, there has been an increase in tourism in the campgrounds depicted in the anime, this shows the positive influence Yuru Camp has had. There is a serenity in Yuru Camp that will lift your spirits. And that’s the most important element I could receive from a slice-of-life.

10 out of 10

Movie Review: Mortal Kombat (2021)

TL;DR – reboot of the popular video game of the same name. Mortal Kombat pegs Earth’s fiercest fighters against Outworld’s warriors in a battle royale. Expect plenty of action, solid CGI effects, and a thread of a plot that isn’t necessary to enjoying the film.

Review (warning: spoilers)

After the critically panned Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was released in 1997, further films based on the iconic video game stalled for decades. A quarter of a century on, and we see its return as a complete reboot of the martial arts fantasy film franchise.

Basing a movie on a video game is always a bit of a tall ask, and expectations should be measured on a different scale when the source material is a bunch of characters fighting one-on-one in a massive blood splattering, UFC-type event. Building any sense of a solid plot on such slim pickings should not mean an expectation of Academy Award nominating potential.

There are video games that have extensive lore. The movie Warcraft released in 2016 is based on the hugely successful video game series of the same name, and has tons of fantasy lore from which to create stories that arguably rival established fantasy novel classics like ‘Lord of the Rings’. Warcraft managed to be the first video game film to break $400 million in ticket sales. However, this did not stop critics from giving out derisive reviews.

Mortal Kombat does not have the luxury of backstory that Warcraft has but in a way that is something that should be commonly known. What you should be expecting from this film are outrageous but exciting action sequences, some corny but still laughable one-liners, more action, a slim thread of plot, more action, a solid sound track, and more action.

From this perspective, Mortal Kombat goes leaps and bounds above its 1997 predecessor, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.

Aussie actor, Josh Lawson, is probably the pick of the cast, transforming himself into the hulking, back-stabbing fighter named Kano. He delivers lines both foul-mouthed and droll that are downright laugh out loud.

Hiroyuki Sanada as Scorpion and Joe Taslim as Sub-zero are the ones that bring surprising emotional gravitas to what is essentially a turn-off-your-brain film.

The plot, for all its attempts at depth, can be summarised in one sentence. Selected fighters of Earthrealm (i.e. Earth) must battle selected fighters of Outworld (i.e alien world) in order to save Earth. That’s it. Enjoy the ride.

6.5 out of 10

Book Review: Chew (Volume Five) “Major League” by John Layman and Rob Guillory

TL;DR – Tony gets kidnapped by a crazed sports writer, who wants to use his psychic food powers to obtain the histories of famous baseball players… famous (dead) baseball players. Given he achieves psychic impressions of the past only from items he eats, you know this is not going to be a pleasant.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to see what has happened in previous volumes of this award winning graphic novel series. Volume Five focuses on Tony Chu, his working partner, John Colby, and his estranged daughter, Olive.

Tony and John have been fired from the FDA and are assigned new jobs. Tony ends up in Traffic division riding a motorised scooter dressed in what looks like a Scottish bagpipe outfit and issuing parking tickets. What starts off as anger and reticence in what he perceives is a demeaning role turns out that he can still uncover crimes and make a significant positive difference. This leads to his new boss in Traffic division lauding him a hero and making Tony realise it helps working in an office where he actually gets along with his team (at the FDA, his boss made his life a living hell).

On the flip-side, John is assigned to the USDA; an all female government agency where agents are partnered with cybernetic-enhanced animals. Every agent seems to hate men, so when John ends up working in their agency, he is an immediate outcast. His boss, Director Penya, makes his life a living hell (similar to how Tony was treated by his former FDA boss) but unlike Tony (who put up with the hate), John takes action by sleeping with her resulting in some hilarious consequences.

Meanwhile, Olive has partnered up with the infamous Mason Savoy. She is unaware of the previous fall out between Savoy and Tony. Together with Caesar, they continue to hunt down individuals with food-related powers. One such individual is Hershel Brown, a fugitive that has the power to sculpt chocolate into any item and mimic the exact properties of that item (e.g. he can carve a machine gun out of chocolate and it will work like a real machine gun).

Tony’s elevated joy at the Traffic division is short-lived when he is ambushed and kidnapped by Dan Franks. Dan works as a sports-writer at the Mercury Sun, the same media outlet where Amelia Mintz works (Tony’s girlfriend). Dan used to date Amelia but she broke up with him, and he has been scoping out Tony for sometime. His true motives revealed in this volume.

Review

Chew Major League is as brutal and gripping as all the previous volumes. Both story and artwork move at a pace that makes you want to turn each page as quickly as possible, but this would be a mistake as you will miss on the small details that often hint to what will happen in future volumes. Being a graphic novel, the story is told through both words and art, so the need to take your time and absorb each panel is worthwhile and a testament to what Layman and Guillory have created.

Seeing Olive’s character unfold and her food-powers develop opens up a world of possibilities of where the story will go. And John’s exile to the USDA and his desperate attempts to get a hold of Tony (who he doesn’t know has been kidnapped) is hilarious yet he still manages to do his job uncovering a counterfeiting ring responsible for creating life-like cash notes made out of vegetables.

But this volume is really all about Tony. The purpose of his kidnapping surrounds Dan’s belief that famous baseball players have sordid stories and skeletons in the closet that would allow Dan to write a killer book titled ‘Superstar Sluggers’ Untold Sex Tales’. Tony is force fed the corpses of deceased baseball players and while he receives the images and histories of them, none of them have anything sordid to tell. So, he makes up tales in order to buy time.

In the end, it’s Amelia who comes to the rescue when she becomes suspicious of her boyfriend’s absence. Her own investigative skills come to the forefront in locating Tony. She almost doesn’t succeed but Tony (having consumed a number of famous deceased baseball players) uses newly acquired baseball skills to stop Dan. It’s all pretty ghastly but will still keep you glued to the page. As Tony collapses into Amelia’s arms having been bashed and beaten by his captors previously, she calls for an ambulance and Tony is rushed to hospital.

I cannot get my hands on the next volume quick enough.

4.5 out of 5.

Anime Review: Kill la Kill (2013)

TL;DR – Ryuko Matoi is hunting her father’s murderer. In the process, she discovers a uniform that has an alien sentient mind, which provides her with superhuman powers.. Together they undertake a journey to not only defeat her father’s murderer but save the world from parasitic aliens that also appear as clothing known as Life Fibres

Review (warning: spoilers)

In fantasy stories, the idea of an inanimate object having a magical persona is not uncommon. Usually, the magical object in question can influence its owner in some way (and not always for the better). A couple of famous examples of this is Excalibur, the magic sword from King Arthur tales, and the one ring from Lord of the Rings. Normally these magical objects are a weapon of some kind.

Kill la Kill takes this idea but applies it to clothing. In reality, they are actually aliens called Life Fibres but they appear as clothing and can be worn by humans giving them powers. It’s a unique take I haven’t seen before and cleverly done as this anime series has “clothing” related themes throughout. For example, the main character, Ryuko Matoi wields a sword that looks like one-half of a pair of scissors. Another example is the organisation seeking to stop the Life Fibres are known as ‘Nudist Beach’ (a clear message against those that wear the parasitic aliens as clothing, and the first time I’ve heard of a paramilitary organisation coined with such a name; a title that is both funny and meaningful).

The art is spectacular and creates a world that has a unique style in anime circles. It’s almost as if artist, Ryō Akizuki, combines traditional anime elements with Looney Tunes creating a funky hybrid that is appealing to the eye. Playful, comedic, complex, gripping, action-packed, sexy are all adjectives you could use to describe the art in Kill la Kill.

Ryuko is hunting for her father’s killer and attends a high school that has a social hierarchical structure based on what ‘Goku uniforms’ (uniforms made of Life Fibres) are won by the students. Higher rank comes with more powerful Goku uniforms.

The story is somewhat convoluted as Ryuko initially believes that the person responsible for her father’s death is Satsuki Kiryuin (the president of the high school student council). She challenges Satsuki and enters a battle royale against various elite students (wearing more and more powerful Goku uniforms). So far so good.

But later it is revealed that it is actually Nui Harime (a member of a global corporation known as REVOCS seeking to take over the world with the parasitic aliens and destroy Nudist Beach) who killed Ryuko’s father. REVOCS also happens to be run by Satsuki’s mother, Ragyo. Ragyo is the true mastermind here, her mission to become one with the primordial Life Fibre and take over earth with all humans being consumed by the alien clothing.

It also happens that Satsuki has a vendetta against her mother and has been scheming for Ragyo’s downfall. The reason for this is that Satsuki knows that Ragyo experimented on her father and younger sister and wishes to avenge their deaths. Do you see the connection?

Yes, Ryuko is actually the younger sister that Satsuki believes to have died. Both realise their goals are one and the same. That is, avenge their father’s death at the hands of Nui Harime who was ordered to kill him by their mother, Ragyo. See, I told you it was convoluted.

The story, while complex, will still have you wanting to binge the next episode. The characters are all unique and colourful, the art is killer, and it all comes together in a final scene to stop Ragyo from causing humankind’s extinction. Crazy and fun.

8.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Wrath of Man (2021)

TL;DR – a character driven film elevated by outstanding action sequences and a solid supporting cast but let down by a script and lead actor that doesn’t deliver on the depth required to elevate the film beyond what is essentially a straight forward revenge flick.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Patrick Hill (Jason Statham) is a serious fellow who looks capable of freezing hell over by just looking at you. It is the type of role that Jason Statham excels at and does not require a wide range of emotion. He is sadly typecast, so if you have seen his previous films, you know that his character will be one-dimensional. But then again, that is probably why audiences watch him. They know what to expect like ordering a burger from McDonalds.

When Hill applies for a job at Fortico Security (an armoured truck company based in Los Angeles) and he barely passes the training and tests, such as firing a gun at a target, you have no doubt that it is all a ruse because it is Jason Statham. Why he undersells his capabilities is the question that the viewers will ask themselves, but they don’t have to wait long before Hill unleashes his wrath in merciless precision by foiling a robbery.

The strength of the film is not in its lead actor. The stoic, no-nonsense character of Patrick Hill is revealed to be a tormented soul, but Statham takes on the role like he is half bored and making any sense of emotional turmoil bland.

No, the strength of the film comes from the supporting cast and Director Guy Ritchie’s measured approach to telling the story.

The supporting cast around Hill comprises of Haiden (the excellent Holt McCallany from TV series fame Mindhunter) who is Hill’s trainer; Dave (Josh Hartnett) who shows not everyone is cut out to be a security guard; Dana (Niamh Algar), the only female guard with an understandable large chip on her shoulder; Terry (Eddie Marsan), Fortico’s head of operations; and FBI Agent King (Andy Garcia). They all bring much needed depth to the film and show the risks of the job they do (driving around in armoured trucks and picking up and delivering money) is not necessarily worth the paycheck. Note: Garcia’s FBI agent does not work at Fortico but is an important ingredient in why Hill is allowed to go berserk in Los Angeles.

But the cast does not stop there. Ritchie tells a story that also examines the antagonists and provides their back stories also. In this case, it is the robbers, a bunch of ex-military veterans unhappy with eking out a living that barely supports their families, disgruntled at having served their country and getting nothing in return, and wanting to hit paydirt by conducting various heists. This group is led by Jackson (Jeffrey Donovan) and their robberies are meticulously planned beforehand showing a level of detail that is often glossed over in other films involving theft. Jackson instils a prerogative that their heists must not involve any killing. This, of course, is impossible when one of their members, Jan (Scott Eastwood), is clearly a loose cannon.

The story is told in four parts and jumps between past and present events to reveal who the enigmatic Patrick Hill actually is and what he is seeking to achieve as his end goal. In short, he’s a powerful crime lord, whose son is killed during a heist of a Fortico truck planned by Jackson and his team. Jan (the loose cannon) is the man responsible for killing the kid. The rest is all predictable as Hill goes on revenge mode piecing together the people responsible for his son’s death by going “undercover” and working at Fortico.

The action sequences are blood pumping and Ritchie has a real eye for detail and atmosphere. But for all its strengths, it is still let down by a lead actor that doesn’t bring enough gravitas for you to care about his plight (you know he’s going to get his revenge). I often wonder if they had cast an actor with more emotional range whether this could have turned into a far more existential crisis type film rather than a straight action movie. But perhaps that was all Ritchie was after. The film is also not helped by a script that lacks a level of dialogue that allows you to invest more fully in the lead. But again, Statham is not known for espousing long diatribes or waxing lyrical the consequences of choosing a life as a crime lord.

Still there is enough in here that makes the film enjoyable and a notch above other action movies.

7.5 out of 10

Book Review: The Nowhere Child by Christian White

TL;DR – mystery crime about a two-year old gone missing, a family with dark secrets and a religious fundamentalist snake handling group. Past and present revealed chapter by chapter until they collide.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Kimberley Leamy lives in Melbourne, Australia and teaches photography. She is approached one day by a man who claims she is actually Sammy Went, a child who went missing twenty-six years earlier from Manson, Kentucky. The whole idea sounds absurd, especially when the memories of her childhood were generally happy, and she was raised by loving parents, Carol and Dean. However, when evidence is presented to her, she begins to doubt Carol and Dean are her biological parents and undertakes a journey to uncover her true origins.

Review

Christian White’s debut novel won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award and is a gripping tale that alternates chapters between past and present to fill in the mystery behind the abduction and sudden disappearance of Sammy Went. It is a clever story if a bit convoluted, and White is adept at keeping the reader on course by tying you emotionally into Kimberley’s search for the truth and her own identity.

Travelling to America, she discovers a world completely different to the one she has lived for most of her life in Australia. And when it is revealed a Pentecostal fundamentalist group known as The Church of the Light Within is involved and part of their worship involves the handling of snakes, you know that things are going to get a little dark. The idea of snake handling is to demonstrate one’s faith and that you should be able to handle deadly snakes without being harmed. This also involves drinking snake venom and the individual not being poisoned.

Combining snake handling with the secrets being hidden by Kimberley’s biological family, you will find yourself turning the pages easily enough in a desire to see out Kimberley’s fate. It is a decent read though I would recommend The Wife and The Widow over this one. The last half of The Nowhere Child not delivering the thrills that the first half seeks to build up.

3 out of 5.

Anime Review: Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

TL;DR – A coming-of-age story about a witch looking to find her place and purpose.

Review (warning: spoilers)

Kiki’s delivery service delivers more than mail and packages by broomstick. It brings a lot of heart and charm. In a world where people accept the existence of witches, not as terrifying or evil creatures but as human beings that can perform magical feats, Director Miyazaki demonstrates his full capabilities in telling an engaging story without the age-old trope of good versus evil. In the world of Kiki, there is no Voldemort, or Sauron, or Maleficent. The ability to conjure magic or fly a broomstick is to serve humanity.

Kiki’s mother is an alchemist who can create potions which can heal or cure illnesses. Kiki bumps into another budding witch who has become a fortune teller. They live among the rest of us non-magical folk and seek to find their purpose. In this way, Miyazaki tells a story that is more akin to Tonari no Totoro rather than Howl’s Moving Castle. He weaves a film that is utterly enjoyable in its simplicity.

When Kiki comes of age, she sets out with her black cat, Jiji and settles in a bustling town trying to plant her own roots and obtain her own identity. For a witch, she doesn’t seem to exhibit any special magical ability other than being able to fly a broomstick (not very well) and communicate to her cat who talks back to her and gives droll observations about her attempts to achieve independence.

Eventually, she sets up a postal delivery service in a bakery, delivers packages small and large, and along the way meets a variety of people young and old. One of the people she meets is a boy named Tombo, who has a fascination with flying and wants to one day fly as a pilot. Initially, Kiki is not all that drawn to him and acts aloof. But his persistence slowly pays off, and they become friends.

I expected that, by the end, their friendship would grow into a stronger attraction, but Miyazaki subverts this, and the film is all the better for it. Instead, the climatic scene is one driven by Kiki overcoming her own inadequacies (including the fear that she is losing her magical powers) to save Tombo out of the desire that it is the right thing to do, and he is her friend. Nothing more. Again, it is the power of simplicity in the storytelling. The distinct artistic style of Miyazaki’s films combined with a European setting creates an atmosphere that is both familiar and beautiful. It reminded me a lot of the backdrops and landscapes used in Porco Rosso, which was set in Italy.

One particular scene where Kiki is sitting on the back of Tombo’s bike, which has been modified to have an airplane propeller connected to the front and spun by using pedals is truly magical without having an ounce of witchcraft involved (at least, not until they almost crash). It is one of those scenes that reminds me of the creative and imaginative powers of the young, which should be encouraged rather than stamped out as immature. It is as if Miyazaki is saying that we should all dream, think outside of the box, and find what we are truly passionate about.

Kiki’s Delivery Service delivers a heartfelt tale about perseverance and the transformative and challenging time of growing from child to adult. Watch it and be inspired.

9 out of 10

Movie Review: The Social Dilemma (2020)

TL;DR – you are the product, your time and attention is what you pay. What you choose to do with this currency is up to you, but certainly this film depicts a side of tech giants that shows they are very good at convincing you to use your currency on them.

Review (warning: spoilers)

There are two sides to social networking through technology. Two sides that present a picture to the pros and cons surrounding social networking tools such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter etc.

On one side, there is this idea that this technology allows people to connect no matter where they are in the world. It allows people to share stories, to stay in touch, to provide information and to encourage each other on whatever journey they may be undertaking. There is a lot of inspirational contributions on social media that brings hope, joy, and a sense that we are not only connected but we can be there for each other.

On the other side, there is this corporate war being waged between tech giants to have your time and attention given only to them. Why? To make money. The longer and more frequent a social platform can consume your time, the more advertisements they can show you, the more chance they have in monetising your attention. And then there is the use of social media to tear down rather than build up. Dissemination of misinformation, the anonymity of trolls and hate speech, and the potential addiction from needing validation through social media “likes” or “hearts” or “shares” has seen an increase statistically in mental health issues resulting in self-harm or suicide.

The Social Dilemma directed by Jeff Orlowski focuses on the negative side. It is a docudrama that, in my opinion, is essential viewing to at least get you to think about what social networks and platforms seek to do. It presents a convincing argument that there is a problem by conducting interviews of individuals that have held significant positions in these tech companies. The ways in which programmers develop algorithms to learn from what you like and then funnel you down a rabbit hole to keep you on that platform or application is alarming. The fact that The Social Dilemma was released on Netflix, which uses the same techniques to keep you watching their streaming service, is an irony not lost on me.

The ability to switch off is becoming more and more difficult especially for young, developing minds in the teenage bracket.

Suffice to say, like most things in life, anything done in excess is usually not a good thing. How you achieve a balance is key to a healthy life in mind, body and spirit. Note, I didn’t say “happy” healthy life. For facing sadness, anger, disappointment and the range of other human emotions is part of life. How we acknowledge our humanity and the spectrum of feelings is critical to growth. The Social Dilemma shows that like any addiction, being addicted to social media is unhealthy.

Where I felt the film falls short is providing ways to achieve balance. Many of those interviewed simply say to delete the app, and go outside and take a walk in a park. I don’t think it is that simple. It is like saying to an alcoholic to throw away all their liquor and never go into a bar, or a gambling addict to ignore poker machines and casinos. If it was simply a matter of will then addictions would never be a problem.

Still The Social Dilemma delves deep enough to present a case that addiction to social media (or even addiction to technology for that matter) is a real issue and can have deep adverse effects to a person’s mental well-being. In a world where we are surrounded more and more by technology, this film is a must watch.

And on that note, I’m going to hop off my computer and go outside for a walk.

8.5 out of 10

Book Review: The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth

TL;DR – no one ever talks about the language unless you are Mark Forsyth.

Summary (warning: spoilers)

An essential (I repeat essential) book for every writer, budding author, lyricist/songwriter, screenwriter or individual who is curious about what makes a phrase stand out from another. A writer without this book is like a pianist without a piano.

Review

Mark Forsyth has gone to the effort of demystifying how the greatest writers write. What makes a convincing argument? How did the masters of rhetoric (e.g. Greek philosophers, American presidents, famous musicians like The Beatles etc.) capture audiences and have them listening to their every word? Why is Shakespeare considered the greatest playwright in the English language?

Did they have angels (or demons) on their shoulders whispering turns of phrase into their ears? Did some higher power bestow upon them a gift greater than the gab? Or were they all individuals of destiny guided by a clarity of purpose that was beyond us mere mortals?

The answer is no.

It is none of these things. Forsyth not only breaks down the tools that makes a sentence eloquent, but he demonstrates that even, what the world considers, the greatest writer that ever lived in Shakespeare came about his creations through the in-depth study of formal rhetoric.

From alliteration to hyperbole to anaphora, Forsyth is able to summarise each and every one of these tools and provide a plethora of examples to demonstrate its effectiveness.

For example, an epistrophe is the repetition of words at the end of consecutive sentences for emphasis. The Pulitzer prize-winning Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck uses this technique:

“Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beating up a guy, I’ll be there. […] And when our folk eat the stuff they raise and live in the houses they build – why, I’ll be there.”

Forsyth does much more than explain these tools to the reader. One would think dissecting passages from great works would be a dry topic, and understanding the difference between polyptoton and antanaclasis would not aid in one’s writing but instead just give you a mild headache. But what Forsyth does is he explains these tools not only in an accessible way but also with humour.

It is a genius piece of work and actually gives hope to anyone looking to tell a story and get published. I cannot recommend this book any more highly.

5 out of 5.