2019 Oscars | Thoughts

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I used to faithfully watch the Oscar ceremony every year but a couple of years ago I missed it due to illness and then last year realised that the thing I was most invested in was the fashion, which I could find out about more easily in other ways (I refer you to www.gofugyourself.com for all of your fashion needs.

This year I was enthusiastic about some of the films in competition and decided to pull an all-nighter, and I’m glad I did because although I was exhausted the next day – this is when being retired really comes into its own – I found the ceremony enjoyable though I’m not sure about some of the results.

So what did I actually think?

Best Picture

I only saw two of the best picture nominees – Black Panther & Bohemian Rhapsody – and BoRap, although very enjoyable for a lifelong Queen fan, should not have been in this list. What should have been in was Can You Ever Forgive Me? which I loved. In terms of the winner, I don’t like Peter Farrelly and the film holds no appeal for me whatsoever so I was disappointed in the outcome.

Lead Actor

I was happy that Rami Malek won – your mileage may vary but I thought his performance was excellent and he is generally lovely.

Lead Actress

Would have loved Melissa McCarthy to win, or Glenn Close who is one of my favourite actresses, but of course I was thrilled when Olivia Coleman won because she is a delight in everything she does.

Supporting Actor

I so wanted Richard E Grant to win because he is wonderful and was so good in the role and is also a National Treasure. Some commentators have been horribly cynical about his approach to the whole awards circuit, suggesting that his evident joy is manufactured. Those people are idiots. Was happy for Mahershala Ali, though in my head he is getting this for True Detective S3 where his acting is off the scale.

Supporting Actress

I had no strong views on this category, any one of these women would have deserved the win; I don’t know Regina King’s work but she seemed a very worthy winner.

Best Director

Still very cross that it was an all-male shortlist and that Marielle Heller in particular was not included.

The Others

I delighted that Bao won the animated short and that so many women of colour were honoured for their work this year. I enjoyed seeing Gillian Welch & David Rawlings perform because they are long-term favourites of mine, but was very impressed by the Lady Gaga & Bradley Cooper performance; I’ve been humming that song to myself ever since and that says Winner like nothing else. I also thought the ceremony was better without a host.

In terms of fashion, all of the older ladies kicked ass – Glenn Close, Helen Mirren and Michelle Yeoh all looked glamorous, and Barbra Streisand looked like Barbra Streisand and who can ask for anything more.

Hoping to catch up on the films I missed (except Green Book) over the next few months. Roll on next year!

 

Sunday Salon | 24 February ’19

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It’s beautiful sunny spring day here in SW London. The windows are open, the birds are singing and I’m having a relaxing day as I prepare to stay up all night to watch the Oscars; there is wine and there may be a small box of chocolates to see me through to tomorrow morning. But first, the books!

Books read

Since my last post two weeks ago I have finished Changeling by Matt Wesolowski (my review is here) and Thirteen Guests by J Jefferson Farjeon which I shall review alongside some other classic crime novels shortly.

Currently reading

Taking a break from Global Crisis and have set aside Our Tragic Universe as I’m not in the right frame of mind to give it the attention it deserves, though I will definitely pick it up again soon. So I’m 3/4 of the way through The Affinity Bridge by George Mann and in the early stages of Death in the Air. Thoroughly enjoying the former but not sure about the latter; will give it another couple of chapters before I decide.

New books – the speculative purchases

  • No Bells on Sunday by Rachel Roberts – I bought this second-hand having been reading about Roberts after watching her in Murder on the Orient Express; these are her journals interspersed with biographical details of her tragic life.
  • The Flower Girls by Alice Clarke-Platts – “THREE CHILDREN WENT OUT TO PLAY. ONLY TWO CAME BACK. The Flower Girls. Laurel and Primrose. One convicted of murder, the other given a new identity. Now, nineteen years later, another child has gone missing. And the Flower Girls are about to hit the headlines all over again…”
  • The Man from the Train by Bill James & Rachel McCarthy James – “Between 1898 and 1912, families across the country were bludgeoned in their sleep with the blunt side of an axe. Some of these cases—like the infamous Villisca, Iowa, murders—received national attention. But most incidents went almost unnoticed outside the communities in which they occurred. Few people believed the crimes were related. And fewer still would realize that all of these families lived within walking distance to a train station.”
  • The Sea Dreams it is the Sky by John Horner Jacobs – “They had escaped their country, but they couldn’t escape the past – a novella of cosmic horror”
  • The Pale Ones by Bartholomew Bennett – “Few books are treasured. Most linger in the dusty purgatory of the bookshelf, the attic, the charity shop, their sallow pages filled with superfluous knowledge. And with stories. Darker than ink, paler than paper, something is rustling through their pages.”
  • The Night Olivia Fell by Christina McDonald – “Abi Knight is startled awake in the middle of the night to a ringing phone and devastating news – her teenage daughter, Olivia, has been in a terrible accident.”

New books – the pre-orders

  • The Plotters by Un-su Kim – continuing my interest in Korean crime fiction – Reseng was raised by cantankerous Old Raccoon in the Library of Dogs. To anyone asking, it’s just an ordinary library. To anyone in the know, it’s a hub for Seoul’s organised crime, and a place where contract killings are plotted and planned. So it’s no surprise that Reseng has grown up to become one of the best hitmen in Seoul. He takes orders from the plotters, carries out his grim duties, and comforts himself afterwards with copious quantities of beer and his two cats, Desk and Lampshade.
  • The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders – January is a dying planet – divided between a permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other. Humanity clings to life, spread across two archaic cities built in the sliver of habitable dusk. But life inside the cities is just as dangerous as the wastelands outside.
  • The Revenant Express by George Mann – Sir Maurice Newbury is bereft as his trusty assistant Veronica Hobbes lies dying with a wounded heart. Newbury and Veronica’s sister Amelia must take a sleeper train across Europe to St. Petersburg to claim a clockwork heart that Newbury has commissioned from Fabergé to save Veronica from a life trapped in limbo.
  • The Buried Girl by Richard Montanari – When New York psychologist Will Hardy’s wife is killed, he and his teenage daughter Bernadette move into Godwin Hall, a dusty, shut-up mansion in the small town of Abbeville, Ohio.Meanwhile, Abbeville Chief of Police Ivy Holgrave is investigating the death of a local girl, convinced this may only be the latest in a long line of murders dating back decades – including her own long-missing sister.
  • Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech – Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught. Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers. Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P Djeli Clark – Cairo, 1912: The case started as a simple one for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities — handling a possessed tram car.Soon, however, Agent Hamed Nasr and his new partner Agent Onsi Youssef are exposed to a new side of Cairo stirring with suffragettes, secret societies, and sentient automatons in a race against time to protect the city from an encroaching danger that crosses the line between the magical and the mundane.
  • Master of Sorrows by Justin Travers Call – The Academy of Chaenbalu has stood against magic for centuries. Hidden from the world, acting from the shadows, it trains its students to detect and retrieve magic artifacts, which it jealously guards from the misuse of others. Because magic is dangerous: something that heals can also harm, and a power that aids one person may destroy another.
  • The Taking of Annie Thorne by CJ Tudor – One night, Annie went missing. Disappeared from her own bed. There were searches, appeals. Everyone thought the worst. And then, after 48 hours, she came back. But she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say what had happened to her.
  • Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce – Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…
  • The Vanishing Man by Charles Finch – London, 1853: Having earned some renown by solving a case that baffled Scotland Yard, young Charles Lenox is called upon by the Duke of Dorset, one of England’s most revered noblemen, for help. A painting of the Duke’s great-grandfather has been stolen from his private study. But the Duke’s concern is not for his ancestor’s portrait; hiding in plain sight nearby is another painting of infinitely more value, one that holds the key to one of the country’s most famous and best-kept secrets.

I am probably going to try to avoid speculative purchases next month, though I have quite a few pre-orders on the books. We shall see 🙂

Hope everyone has a wonderful reading week!

 

 

 

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

MV5BMjQzMzEzNDU2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzQ4NTUwNTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,670,1000_AL_Can You Ever Forgive Me? tells the astonishing story of Lee Israel, a successful biographer in the 70s and 80s who falls out of fashion with current trends and stubbornly refuses to refresh her approach. No longer publishable, she hits on the idea of forging letters from major figures such as Dorothy Parker, Noel Coward and Fanny Brice, selling them for large sums to reputable dealers until, of course, she gets caught.

I knew very little about the film before going in apart from the bare bones outlined above and a vague memory of an article about her around the time of her death in 2014, but the cast was intriguing, the trailers were good and it was encouraging to see a film that wasn’t about superheroes or cyborgs or horror – not that I object to any of those, which you will know if you are a regular reader of this blog, but it’s good to change things up from time to time.

I dragged my semi-reluctant husband along with me; he had been iffy about the subject matter but also intrigued by the trailers and has, I think, a bit of a crush on Melissa McCarthy, so off we went.

I really, really enjoyed this film. I thought it was clever and sympathetic without softening any of the crimes that Lee Israel committed. I particularly liked the fact that the director Marielle Heller (who doesn’t seem to get mentioned anywhere, which is a shame) doesn’t try to minimise the self-pity, arrogance, alcoholism and all-round unpleasantness of the lead character. And this is where the acting comes in to its own. Melissa McCarthy is really excellent as Israel, managing to make her horrible and sympathetic all at once. I wasn’t exactly rooting for her because she was duping a lot of people (though some of them deserved it IMHO) but she wasn’t exactly living the high life on her ill-gotten gains; this was about food and keeping a roof over her head.

Melissa is ably supported by the National Treasure that is Richard E Grant, clearly having the time of his life in the role of Jack, Israel’s friend and co-conspirator, a character who is equal parts touching and self-serving.

I may also have bought Lee Israel’s memoir on which the film is based.

Oscar nominations have rightly followed the success of the film, and I for one will be cheering on Mr Grant, though I suspect that he won’t win. This is a thoughtful film for grown-ups and I recommend it without reservation.

Changeling

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I usually try to summarise the plot of the novels I read in my own words but I was amused by the Amazon outline because of the wee bit at the end (embolding is mine)

Elusive online journalist Scott King investigates the disappearance of seven-year-old Alfie in an intensely dark, deeply chilling and searingly thought-provoking thriller … for fans of Serial

because I am becoming increasingly aware of the habit some online retailers have in trying to link one thing to another thing which is not quite the same – at least this time it’s not in the title as has happened in the past 😀 – this sort of marketing drives me a tad crazy. No criticism of Matt Wesolwski at all, of course.

Rant over.

So Changeling is the third in the Six Stories series, which is based around fictional podcaster Scott King who investigates events, usually involving murder or disappearances, over six episodes, each one having a different point of view. He is clear that he isn’t trying to provide a definitive solution to any of these mysteries but that he is leaving it up to his listeners to decide what happened in each case. The structure of each book is podcast episode transcripts, often interspersed with other material such as Scott’s own audio log.

I loved the previous two in the series and as soon as I saw this was coming out I snapped it up and read it almost immediately.

So as Amazon tried to tell us, Changeling covers the disappearance of Alfie, a young boy whose parents have separated, He is being taken by his doting father away from his alcoholic mother when, after his father stops the car to deal with a noise from the engine Alfie disappears into local woods. These woods have a reputation for sinister and potentially supernatural happenings, so the investigation is about whether Alfie was (literally) spirited away or if something else happened. And I’ll stop there, because the pleasure in the book is watching how things unfold.

I will put my hand up here and say that I was pretty sure I knew where the story was going to end up and I was more or less right, though not how it happened. But to be honest it didn’t bother me that I could see the end point; the writing, and in particular Scott’s distinctive voice, makes the unravelling of the mystery so enjoyable.

If you tend toward creepy mysteries with strong characters then you will enjoy Changeling, but be warned that it deals with issues relating to abusive behaviour; the author has a very helpful note at the end of the book explaining why he decided to tackle this distressing topic.

I really enjoyed this and hope that it’s not the last we hear of Scott King.

Alita: Battle Angel

alita-poster-800x1185Long in the planning (like a lot of James Cameron’s stuff these days) and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Alita: Battle Angel finally hit our screens in February. Although I was aware of the manga on which the film is based I really didn’t know anything about the story line other than, of course, that her name was Alita and she was, um, a battle angel. So turning to IMDB:

A deactivated female cyborg is revived, but cannot remember anything of her past life and goes on a quest to find out who she is.

What they mean by deactivated is that Christoph Waltz finds her head and a bit of her upper torso in a dump, attaches her to a body he had built for other purposes and voila, Alita is up and about.

We were really keen to see this movie because of the original trailer which looked exciting and fast-paced, but were almost put off entirely by the dull, boring and earnest infomercial (if that’s what they’re called) where Cameron & Rodriguez patted each other on the back for making the film. I hate the trailers/adverts where the stars and/or directors talk to the audience about the film – they are almost never enticing.

Anyway, we saw Alita in 2D because that’s the way I roll, and I have to say that we really enjoyed it. I thought it was going to be a disaster because (1) the Odeon whooshy thing that they play before the programme starts had its soundtrack replaced by light opera (!), (2) the house lights didn’t go down and (3) after the BBFC advisory card everything on the screen went blank. After a computer reboot everything was OK; have to say the staff at the Rotunda in Kingston were really helpful and got it all sorted as soon as they could AND we didn’t need to sit through the adverts again, but I do miss the das of a proper projectionist.

I also thought I might be put off by the aesthetic used for Alita herself (the very large eyes in particular) but Rosa Salazar did a really good job bringing her to life and after a very short period I just didn’t notice it any more – that’s just what she looked like, NBD.

The plot is no great shakes; revived cyborg meets boy, he is not what he appears, she isn’t what she appears and there are villains after her for reasons that become mostly clear as the story progresses. There’s a Rollerball-adjacent game and a lovely cyberpunk look to the movie – parts of it are genuinely beautiful – but the ending doesn’t really provide much of a conclusion, instead setting us up for a sequel which I for one would like to see made.

Big shout-out to Mahershala Ali as one of the bad guys. I’m currently watching him in True Detective S3 and it was fun to see him being all cool and villainous.

So like I said, not groundbreaking but really fun and enjoyable. On our DVD to-buy list!

Sunday Salon | 10 February ’19

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Missed another Sunday blog but never mind, here we are with a round-up post. This week has been quiet on the reading front as I seem to have been more focussed on watching films (five in February so far!), but that hasn’t stopped me buying more books. Yes, more since posting my recent haul, what are you implying?

Books Read – reviews will follow

  • The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams
  • The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin
  • Convent on Styx by Gladys Mitchell
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
  • The Big Ones by Dr Lucy Jones

Currently Reading

Still continuing with Global Crisis – I’ve finally started the Stuart & Civil Wars chapters, in the early stages of Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas for Mount TBR, and more than halfway through Thirteen Guests by J Jefferson Farjeon (I started this last year, set aside because I wasn’t in the mood and now picked up again).

New Books

  • Murder Theory by Andrew Mayne – Book 3 in The Naturalist series – Computational biologist and serial-killer hunter Dr. Theo Cray receives an off-the-record request from the FBI to investigate an inexplicable double homicide. It happened at the excavation site where a murderer had buried his victims’ remains. In custody is a forensic technician in shock, with no history of aggression. He doesn’t remember a thing. His colleagues don’t even recognize the man they thought they knew. But an MRI reveals something peculiar. And abnormal. What on earth made him commit murder
  • A Chill in the Air by Iris Origo – an Italian War Diary 1939-40 – With piercing insight, Origo documents the grim absurdities that her adopted Italy underwent as war became more and more unavoidable. Connected to everyone, from the peasants on her estate to the US ambassador, she writes of the turmoil, the danger, and the dreadful bleakness of Italy in 1939-1940.
  • Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge – because Christopher Fowler recommended it – When Master Georgie – George Hardy, surgeon and photographer – sets off from the cold squalor of Victorian Liverpool for the heat and glitter of the Bosphorus to offer his services in the Crimea, there straggles behind him a small caravan of devoted followers; Myrtle, his adoring adoptive sister; lapsed geologist Dr Potter; and photographer’s assistant and sometime fire-eater Pompey Jones, all of them driven onwards through a rising tide of death and disease by a shared and mysterious guilt
  • Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – because it was recommended by blogger The Intrepid ArkansawyerHow do you conjure a life examined? Give the truest account of what you saw, felt, learned, loved, strived for? For Amy Krouse Rosenthal, the surprising answer came in the form of an encyclopedia.
  • Sisters in Law by Linda Hirshman – the March selection for the new  Non-Fiction Women Book Club – the fascinating story of the intertwined lives of Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first and second women to serve as Supreme Court justices.
  • Figuring by Maria Popova – I support Maria’s site brainpickings.org and this is her first book – Figuring explores the complexities of love and the human search for truth and meaning through the interconnected lives of several historical figures across four centuries – beginning with the astronomer Johannes Kepler, who discovered the laws of planetary motion, and ending with the marine biologist and author Rachel Carson, who catalysed the environmental movement.
  • Figuring led me to The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd – In this masterpiece of nature writing, Nan Shepherd describes her journeys into the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. There she encounters a world that can be breathtakingly beautiful at times and shockingly harsh at others. Her intense, poetic prose explores and records the rocks, rivers, creatures and hidden aspects of this remarkable landscape.
  • And also to Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez – Lopez’s journey across our frozen planet is a celebration of the Arctic in all its guises. A hostile landscape of ice, freezing oceans and dazzling skyscapes.
  • Can You Ever Forgive Me? by Lee Israel – we saw the film version last week ( a really great film, by the way) and I had to read the memoir on which it was based)
  • You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian – a pre-order placed in october 2018 – a collection of short stories from the creator of Cat Person – the first short story to go viral – comes You Know You Want This, a compulsive collection about sex, dating and modern life. These are stories of women’s lives now. They also happen to be horror stories. In some, women endure the horror. In others, they inflict it.

Other stuff

Albert Finney passed away on Friday which was the perfect excuse to re-watch for the umpteenth time his Poirot in Murder on the Orient Express from 1974, my absolute favourite Christie film – if you want to know what I think of it here’s the last time I talked about it!

I also caught up with an astonishing documentary on Netflix – Abducted in Plain Sight – real gobsmacking stuff about child abduction and the impact of a master manipulator on one family. Worth watching knowing as little about it as possible; your reaction is likely to be WTF?

Hope you all have a fabulous reading week!

 

 

 

Yet Another Book Haul

IMG_0812I’ve skipped a couple of Sunday Salons and am behind on reviews and other stuff so I thought I’d ease myself back into the blogosphere by confessing what I have bought bookwise since my last post. I deliberately didn’t ask for books for my birthday but did that stop me from buying them for myself? Of course not.

So here goes

Speculative fiction

The Last by Hanna Jameson – Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilisation, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia, and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message. Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive. Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.  This was a pre-order.

The Line Between by Tosca Lee – An extinct disease re-emerges from the melting Alaskan permafrost to cause madness in its victims. For recent apocalyptic cult escapee Wynter Roth, it’s the end she’d always been told was coming. This was a pre-order.

Rosewater by Tade Thompson – I can’t believe it has taken me so long to get a copy of this highly-regarded novel, but here we are. If you’re not aware, this won Africa’s first award for speculative fiction. Rosewater is a town on the edge. A community formed around the edges of a mysterious alien biodome, its residents comprise the hopeful, the hungry and the helpless – people eager for a glimpse inside the dome or a taste of its rumoured healing powers.

Crime & Thrillers

The Great Mistake by Mary Roberts Rinehart – Illness, jealousy, and murder poison the atmosphere in an ultrawealthy community. MRR is one of my favourite old-school American crime writers so new editions of her works are always welcome chez Bride.

The Charlie Parker Collection 1-4 by John Connolly – I’ve read some of Connolly’s other work and some Parker short stories but it feels like its time to work my way through the novels.

Smallbone Deceased by Micheal Gilbert – Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation – especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr Smallbone was – and why he had to die. Another lovely British Library re-issue.

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey – In a crumbling park in the crumbling back end of Copacabana, a woman stopped under an almond tree with a suitcase and a cigar. That was the last time anyone saw the famous Brazilian novelist Beatriz Yagoda. Upon hearing the news of her disappearance, her American translator Emma flies immediately to Brazil. There, in the sticky, sugary heat of Rio, Emma and Beatriz’s two grown children conspire to solve the author’s curious disappearance.

Horror

Help the Witch by Tom Cox – Inspired by our native landscapes, saturated by the shadows beneath trees and behind doors, listening to the run of water and half-heard voices, Tom Cox’s first collection of short stories is a series of evocative and unsettling trips into worlds previously visited by the likes of M. R. James and E. F. Benson. In other words, creepy stories!

Sleeping with the Lights On by Darryl Jones – Four o’clock in the morning, and the lights are on and still there’s no way we’re going to sleep, not after the film we just saw. The book we just read. Fear is one of the most primal human emotions, and one of the hardest to reason with and dispel. So why do we scare ourselves? 

I seem to have a lot of pre-orders for download in February but I’ll try to cover those in Salon posts o that it doesn’t look quite so bad 😀