The World According to Renee

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Review: 13 Reasons Why (novel)


This post discusses suicide, depression and violence against women. If this post triggers any harmful thoughts or feelings for you, please seek immediate professional help.

This post also contains spoilers.

Once upon a time, there was a teenager named Hannah Baker. If you’ve recently watched the Netflix series, you know what’s coming. Or do you?

The novel isn’t new; it was released way back in 2007. Still outside the era for recording cassette tapes, may I add. It came to the attention of Selena Gomez, who produced the filmed version.

The novel is told from Clay’s viewpoint as he listens to each tape. Hannah’s words are differentiated from Clay’s in italics, with Clay’s reactions intertwined. This is where the similarities to the series end. The book offers no outside timeline- what the characters think and feel about their own tapes is never mentioned. In fact, these characters don’t exist outside of the tapes. The only time Clay comes into contact with someone other than Tony is when he’s outside Tyler’s window and runs into Marcus. There’s no plot against Clay, there’s no subplot of Clay’s mother being involved in the civil case, there’s no grieving parents and no mention of Tony being gay.

There are other differences too: Clay gives away everything in the first chapter. Jenny Kurtz is the cheerleader who fells the stop sign. Hannah’s parents run a shoe store and took Hannah’s body back to their home town to bury her. Hannah committed suicide by overdose. Clay’s tape happens at the beginning of the party, not the end.

I don’t think the narrative is a particularly good one. What I loved about the series is that each character was presented in time and left you wondering what they did for Hannah to include them on her tapes. The novel doesn’t really lead you anywhere. They’re just names on a tape. There’s no connection with anyone except Hannah and Clay. What’s more, I gave up caring.

At the end of the version I read (Kindle), there’s a Q&A with the author, Jay Asher. He explains the concept of the story, how the idea came to him and why he wrote Clay interjecting with Hannah’s story. He even reveals the original title for the novel: Baker’s Dozen: The AudioBiography of Hannah Baker.

I don’t know what Selena Gomez saw in the novel in order to make it a series, but I’m glad she did. Most times, the novel is so much better than the filmed adaptation, but in this case, the series is the much better offering. Skip this and watch it instead.

2 out of 5 bookmarks.



April 28, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: La La Land

la la land

Hollywood loves films about itself, which explains why La La Land was nominated for a slew of awards. Arguably, its most famous moment was the non-winning of Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. Warren Beatty shoulda gone to SpecSavers…

Emma Stone plays Mia Dolan, an aspiring actress. Ryan Golsing plays Sebastian, a jazz pianist who pays the bills by sticking to the setlist at a club. They meet, fall in love, dance among the stars, break up… Usual film fodder.

On one hand, I loved the film. I love musicals and ‘old Hollywood’. La La Land appealed to me on those levels. On the other hand, I felt it was overrated. Emma Stone gave a good performance, but I don’t think it’s worthy of an Oscar. Ryan Gosling seemed distracted the whole way through, except for the last ten minutes when he really shone.

The technical aspects were fantastic. The difference between Mia’s bright, bold colours and Sebastian’s dulled hues along with visual clues harking back to Old Hollywood was brilliant. For a musical, it lost it completely in the middle of the film when their relationship wasn’t doing so well. Sure, I understand that singing and dancing only happens when joy is present, but this is billed as a musical yet lacks any of the painful emotions expressed in music. Let’s face it: break up songs are much more interesting than love songs.

The twist at the end was original and one of the most interesting narrative devices I have seen. It was probably the most interesting thing about the movie, to be honest.

I’m torn. The story itself was tired and cliched, buoyed by singing and dancing and a twist at the end. Because I love that kind of thing, plus production values, it scores 7.5 popcorns.

April 24, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: No Easy Answers

In the wake of the Columbine massacre, everyone wanted answers. How could these two kids commit such a horrifying act? What was going through their minds? Could this have been prevented? Why did this happen?

Brooks Brown was friends with Columbine gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. He uses this 2002 memoir to dissect their lives together to find answers. Although titled No Easy Answers, Brown’s recollections clearly indicate warning signs and puzzle pieces that no one put together.

I read this memoir after reading that of Dylan Klebold’s mother Sue, who asserted in her 2016 memoir that had she known what Dylan was up to, she could have prevented the massacre. Brown makes no such claim- he feels that his friends were entwined in destiny due to their toxic friendship.

Brown endured his own troubles post-massacre. Eric Harris, undoubtedly a psychopath, had made tangible death threats online towards Brooks Brown yet the police had not taken them seriously. In the days and weeks after the massacre, Brown and his family were discredited by the police although they were later vindicated and shown to be telling the truth.

It’s not easy being the friend or family of a killer. You’re forever implicated no matter what you knew (or didn’t know) and the subject of hate.

Brooks Brown clearly wrote his memoir still grieving for his friends and those they killed. Unlike Sue Klebold’s effort, he makes no apologies for being their friend. He’s just as angry and hurt as everyone else.

Further viewing:
YouTube “Brooks Brown” for a range of his media interviews.
Recommending viewing: Brooks Brown’s interview with Tom Brokaw the day after the shootings.

Further Reading:
A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold

9/10 bookmarks


March 24, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Beauty and the Beast: Review

Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme…

You know how it goes.

This is a live action remake of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, which holds the distinction of being the only feature length animated feature to be nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars; after that, a separate category was introduced for Best Animated Feature. Will this remake be a contender for next year’s awards?

Emma Watson’s Belle is something of a feminist. She’s the only woman in the village who can read, and is an inventor as well. She’s smart, which the villagers think is a little odd. Apparently, Ms Watson refused to wear a corset for the film, and had creative input into some of her character. Belle’s dress is hitched up tomboy-style frequently, so this Belle is not the ultra feminine princess we’ve come to know. I feel there could have been more, maybe Belle telling Gaston not only was she not thinking about children, but she wasn’t looking for a boyfriend either, let alone husband. But, this is a provincial French village where girls were probably married at puberty, so I may be asking too much.

In fact, Disney seem to be thinking themselves quite progressive: they’ve confirmed LeFou is gay (although there is nothing explicit in the film, it’s rather like Smithers and Mr Burns in The Simpsons) and there are interracial relationships. However, they also used cross dressing as a punchline, which I subtracted a full mark for.

All the songs one has grown up with appear in the new film along with a few new ones and extra lyrics written, but not used, in the 1991 version. Be Our Guest was the highlight of the film. Emma Watson can sing, handling the singing & acting seamlessly. Josh Gad as LeFou almost stole his scenes; he’s certainly been the face of the film’s promotion during the past few weeks. Visually, the film is gorgeous with sweeping cinematography. Technically, I found the direction a little clunky in places. I’m probably the only person who noticed, though.

It’s yet another Disney live action remake we didn’t need. I didn’t love Cinderella but I did enjoy The Jungle Book. Beauty and the Beast is not terrific, adds little to the beloved classic. I wish Hollywood would come up with some original ideas instead of milking classics for all they’re worth.

6 out of 10 popcorns, having lost a mark for using cross-dressing as a punchline.

March 23, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , | 1 Comment

Moana: A Review

Disney non-princesses sure have come a long way. No longer do Disney heroines need Princes to kiss them, they just need an animal sidekick, a loving mentor and a dude who can help kick some butt along the way (but she does most of the work).

Enter Moana, a tale of mortal heroine defeating gods to restore life to her dying world. Moana herself is Disney’s first Polynesian heroine, based on Polynesian legends and culture. The daughter of a Chief, she’s poised to take over official duties but cannot ignore the call of the ocean as she’s drawn to find the demigod Maui and convince him to return the Heart to goddess Te Fiti in order to save her island (and the world).

Moana is everything modern audiences would want from a Disney film. Visually, it’s stunning, although I thought the people looked very plastic-y. Everything from the crystal clear waters to the fierce gods is beautifully animated and I read that Maui’s tattoos were hand-drawn. There’s a ton of Easter eggs and other film references hidden in the film so keep an eye out for those.

The story is based on Polynesian legend. I’m not usually one for stories of gods vs humans, but I was able to overlook it just this once. Moana and Maui meet some interesting characters along the way, including the materialistic Tamatoa. He is voiced by Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement with a David Bowie-esque song (which I am still humming).

This brings me to the music. Wow! I was flabbergasted at the lyrical atrocities committed by the frighteningly awful Frozen (I know- just shoot me) but Moana redeems my faith in Disney musicals. Not only are they lyrically on-track, but the music itself is toe tapping happiness. I came home and downloaded the soundtrack immediately; I know it’s gonna be on repeat in my car forever.

Moana is awesome. I can’t write enough good things about this film. It’s amazing. As the cliche goes, if you only see one Disney film this year, make it Moana.

Nine out of ten popcorns.

January 9, 2017 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child


For those living under a rock, the latest (and, according to JK herself, the last) installment of Harry Potter’s adventures has hit both the shelves and the London stage.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child finds Harry a middle aged father of three teenagers. The play focuses on Albus, the middle child, who befriends Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius and together they screw things up pretty badly.

Yes, the book is a play. I personally have no problems with reading a play: I love Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest and Shakespeare’s works are still hugely popular and read in schools. Maybe a novel would have eliminated the issues I have with the story, but there’s definitely no problem with it being a script.

I do have two main issues with this: 1) The dialogue is utter rubbish and 2) It’s hardly an original story.

I’m of the understanding (and happy to be corrected) that JK Rowling provided the story while two experienced scriptwriters brought the story to life. Personally, I don’t think it’s  done well. The dialogue ranges from sappy to exposition with little substance in between. Apparently the play lasts over five hours! There are parts that could be cut; I don’t see the value of speeding through three years at Hogwarts nor repeating the same scene in its entirety three times. Your audience isn’t stupid, don’t talk down to them. As for exposition – your characters do not need to explain what’s going on.

I was also disappointed with the characters. Ron wasn’t himself, Harry was the most boring middle aged office worker one could imagine but at least Hermione was everything one would expect Hermione to be. Albus was a typical teenage kid and Scorpius was not what I expected at all. Draco has mellowed with age with none of the wit he once possessed.

As for the story… All I will say is all your most loved and most hated characters are back, even if it’s only a cameo. The story itself is predictable but moves along at a good pace once you’re past the initial fast forwarding of Albus’ first three years at Hogwarts. Obviously in a novel, there’s time to extricate the story and set the scene, but still… it’s a five hour play which doesn’t need to be that long. Films have proven you can still have good story representation in under three hours…

Overall, I didn’t love it. Some of my friends say it was a wild ride from start to finish but I humbly disagree. I was severely disappointed with the story and the characters were not as rounded as I’d hoped.

Sadly, only six out of ten bookmarks.

August 4, 2016 Posted by | Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Allegedly – A Review

Allegedly by Sarah Monahan

You may remember Sarah Monahan as Jenny Kelly, the adorable youngest child of the Kelly family in Australia’s most successful sitcom, Hey Dad…!

You may also remember she triggered an investigation into Robert Hughes after allegations of sexual molestation.

If you’re looking for gory details, you won’t find them here. What you will find is an interesting story of a former child actor, her life after TV and the gruelling years between the initial allegations and the day he was found guilty. Even without the gory details, this is still worth a read although I felt it was celebrity porn: Where did it all go wrong?

Sarah has managed to move on from her early years, and the years between Hey Dad…! and her allegations are filled with interesting times, such as her strained relationship with her mother and travels to the US, where she met her husband and now resides.

If you’re a survivor of sexual abuse, you may find this a trigger for anxiety, or you may find strength and courage. If you’re reading it for gory details, give it a miss. But if you’re reading it for another side of former child stars, it’s worth it. However, I will warn you that it is terribly edited and you may find yourself scratching out words with a red pen.

Three out of five bookmarks.

May 16, 2016 Posted by | Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sense of An Ending

Warning: Contains Spoilers.

There are two ways to look at Julian Barnes’ Booker Prize-winning novella The Sense of An Ending: a story about four friends, a girl and a mystery or, a mind-tease involving hints and clues but not telling the full (or correct) story. Either way, it’s probably the best book I’ve read this year.

The narrator is a sixty-something year old man named Tony who says “what you end up remembering isn’t always the same as what you saw”. Memory sets the tone for the rest of the story; the first part tells of Tony’s schooldays when he and his friends met Adrian Finn- a smart kid who likes to mess with your mind. But, like any mind-game played by true genius, you only realise it is a mind-game once you’re out of it.

Three friends and a girl named Veronica make up the narrative of Part 1. Their story becomes deeper entwined in Part 2, where Tony is now in his sixties, divorced and retired. He is told of a bequest, a strange ending to a life he knew nothing about. On a journey to find the purpose of the bequest, Tony finds out much more than he was supposed to know- the biggest mind-game he’s ever been involved in.

However, only the reader knows it’s a mind game, and only after the last page has been turned. Or is it?

(Here’s where the spoilers start.)

Once upon a time, Tony and Veronica were together. Around the time they broke up, they slept together. Tony later discovers his friend Adrian is now with Veronica, until the time Adrian kills himself in a melodramatic show of philosophy. Believing one cannot choose to begin life but one can choose when to end it, Adrian’s death becomes the background to the rest of the story. Years later, when Veronica’s mother dies, she leave a sum of money to Tony along with Adrian’s diary (now in the hands of Veronica). In the attempt to get the diary which is “rightfully” his, Tony becomes part of Veronica’s own mind-games once again.

Therein lies the beauty of the story. Tony is smart, but holds less than the full story (if indeed, his memory can be relied upon). The ending is perhaps not the bombshell promised; I made the mistake of putting the book down and coming back to it later, during which time the ending had already occurred to me. Still, the ending seems nice and tight, until you start reflecting on it and the entire novella starts unravelling itself again.

Tony discovers there is a child connected to Veronica. The ‘child’ is now about 50 years old and mentally handicapped. The narrative tells the reader that the man is named Adrian, looks like the Adrian of Tony’s memory, calls Veronica his sister and his mother recently passed away. Here is when the mind game starts: could Veronica actually be the mother and her pregnancy is the catalyst for Adrian’s suicide (echoing an earlier scene in the story from their schooldays?) Was the affair with Veronica’s mother and her pregnancy the final straw? Or is Tony misremembering both his own dalliance with Veronica and actually, the child is his? Or worse, the child is actually his but with Veronica’s mother?

Time and memory are themes in the novella; the opening paragraphs talk about time and how memory distorts and warps it. By the end of the narrative, it could be as straightforward as it seems or it could be that all the players have been part of Adrian’s mind-games.

Either way, it’s brilliantly written, a story for writers (Atonement by Ian McEwan is another written-for-writers novel) with quotes I would love to highlight and share in regular conversation. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to read it again…

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Reviews | , , , | 1 Comment

The Other Hand aka Little Bee

The cover of this novel says only one thing about the plot: two women’s lives collide one day when one has to make a terrible choice. Two years later, they meet again. This is where the story starts.

This is a novel which doesn’t want you to know about it before you read it. That’s somewhat difficult- how do you know you want to read it? (My tip was the Staff Recommendation from my local bookstore). I can say this: You do want to read this novel. It’s powerful, provocative, mesmerising. There are moments when your breath will hold and your heart will beat in anticipation. You know this novel is not going to end the way you hope it will, yet you cannot pull away…

Without giving anything away, this is the story of two women who are strong in every way you can imagine. Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee; Sarah is a British journalist and mother. ‘United they stand, divided they fall’ is the phrase that springs to mind when speaking of their relationship. Fate brings them together in unimaginable ways.

There is so much I want to say about this story yet I won’t. You need to discover the intertwining secrets for yourself. The cover describes this as “magic” but it is far from any definition of magic I know; perhaps the magic of the human desires for freedom and survival?

I cannot praise this book highly enough. It weaves the story around you until you are but a witness to your imagination. I will say this though: if anyone out there has a book club- read this book. Form a facebook group and let me participate!

The Other Hand (known as Little Bee in the US) by Chris Cleave. You won’t want to put it down.

September 22, 2010 Posted by | Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Tomorrow When the War Began

This was a much loved book when I was in high school, and ever since 1996, they’ve been planning a movie. Now, finally, it’s here!

Seven teenagers take a trip into Hell, a little-known camping place amongst rough terrain. It’s a week away together before school starts, a chance to unwind before the seriousness of their final year begins. Have a few laughs, some silly summer romances, all the two minute noodles you can eat. One night, they are woken by jets flying overhead and when they come back to their houses, no one is home. The dogs are dead, the phones and electricity have been cut. Soon they find all their houses the same. A war has begun, their country has been invaded.

During the first twenty minutes, I thought it was one of the worst movies I’d ever seen. It was cliched, juvenile and silly. The characters weren’t as I imagined and a lot was left out. Then, the war began and it quickly turned into a very good movie. Even though I’ve read all the books and know what eventuates with each character, I was still biting my nails waiting to see what happened next. Wisely, the romance was largely omitted in favour of more explosions, which kept the movie’s momentum from falling into its own version of Hell. The cast really have nothing to offer although Deniz Akdeniz is a standout and will definitely go a long way.

Unfortunately, this brings me to the reasons I didn’t particularly love this film. For some reason, everyone sounded like they have the clipped accent of the English, not the rural Australia they live in. They are completely unbelievable as country dwellers and the first scenes of Ellie (Caitlin Stasey) doing every day farm activities was laughable. It was as if young Sydneysiders were appearing in an episode of The Simple Life. The explosions, although plentiful, were clearly enhanced by pyrotechnics and CGI. This in itself isn’t a huge issue but added to the unbelievable atmosphere plaguing the film.

The cinematography was outstanding, but then again, I am a little biased considering the scenes in and round Hell were shot in my hometown of the Blue Mountains. In fact, Hell itself is in bushland near my mum’s house and I have been there many times on my bushwalks. Still, it was exciting to see it used. The bay and bridge integral to the plot were, alas, computer generated and at times isn’t as seamless as it should be. Even though I know there is no water visible from the area, there is still moments when the characters aren’t blending with the background- a sure sign of green screen CGI. The transition between innocent teenagers to guerillas is as bumpy as it should be considering the circumstances they find themselves in. Yet the cast managed this with some humour, which was refreshing and never out of place.

All in all, if you loved the books, you’ll enjoy the film adaptation. It’s not perfect and incorporates modern speech and technology not available 17 years ago when the novel was written, so perhaps the purists will not love it so much…

3/5 popcorns

September 5, 2010 Posted by | Reviews | , | Leave a comment