Recent Movies | Jan-Feb 2019

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A round-up of a few films seen in the first couple of months this year, and which I haven’t reviewed so far. I will leave Glass to the end because I have Notes.

Searching

Searching is directed by Aneesh Chaganty and stars John Cho.

After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her.

And of course what he finds is a whole side to her life that he didn’t know she had, and which has some bearing on her disappearance though not in the way I at least first thought. What could have become a gimmicky film actually delivers a really involving story and is clever about the way technology is accessed and used to move the plot forward. I thought John Cho was very good indeed as the single dad and the supporting cast is also great. I didn’t see where the story was going at all until the end was on top of me and I like that; I spend a lot of my TV watching time correctly guessing who the murderer is and I was way off here.

But the best thing about the film is the stuff in the background which the directors talked about after the film was released – I won’t spoil it (though there are articles out there giving an explanation), but I will be re-watching this specifically to spot the stuff they’ve dropped in.

Bad Times at the El Royale

This was a film that we missed in the cinema but which the Book God in particular wanted to see, so we got a hold of the DVD on release.

Circa 1969, several strangers, most with a secret to bury, meet by chance at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one night, everyone will show their true colours – before everything goes to hell.

It has a cast of well-known faces and a twisty plot which I enjoyed, but it was the non-linear structure in the first part of the film which really made this for me. I also liked the fact (not a spoiler) that although The Greater Hemsworth is front and centre on the poster he doesn’t really turn up until about halfway through the story, but boy when he does he’s in full Manson mode and very very watchable.

Sorry for going a bit fangirl there 😀

I really enjoyed it. I particularly liked Cynthia Erivo’s character and Jeff Bridges is reliable as always. One that I will definitely be watching again.

And now…..

Glass

OK, so I will say first off that this was much better than it had any right to be but that doesn’t mean it isn’t problematic. This is the last in what we are apparently now calling the East Rail Trilogy (who knew?) but I don’t think it has provided us with a satisfying conclusion.

For the record, I absolutely love Unbreakable, but I checked back on my old blog and found I had this to say about Split:

M Night Shyamalan’s latest is a multiple personality horror thriller thing with an amazing performance by James McAvoy but which in the end is pointless and confusing. I couldn’t work out where it was headed and became quite impatient. The much-lauded cameo at the end was a real blink or you miss it event. Annoyingly disappointing.

So I went into Glass with very mixed feelings. IMDB says:

Security guard David Dunn uses his supernatural abilities to track Kevin Wendell Crumb, a disturbed man who has twenty-four personalities

Which tells you absolutely nothing about the story. So Sarah Paulson (for it is she) is a psychiatrist investigating those who believe they have abilities in order to demonstrate that they are actually delusional. After a variety of plot devices she manages to bring together Glass (Samuel L Jackson), Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy) and David Dunn (Bruce Willis at his most laconic) so that she can study them, and of course things don’t go according to plan (or do they?) and all hell breaks loose.

McAvoy is brilliant and you can really see him transform into his character’s various personalities, but his very physical performance is in such marked contrast to Willis, who spends a lot of the film looking pained and confused that they could almost be in different films. There is the obligatory awful cameo from the director and if you think about it too much the ending makes No Sense At All.

It also made me think of a post my blog friend Jenny made about ableism in horror, which I quote a bit of here. You can find the whole post on her blog and is really worth reading. I say this as a massive horror fan who won’t stop reading the stuff but will certainly pay more attention to this sort of thing

Once someone gets you to notice the trope of the pure innocent disabled character (who dies! how poignant!) or the trope of the evil disabled character whose soul is as twisted as their [insert body part here] (who also dies! how inevitable!), you start seeing those tropes everywhere. I wish we had grown past them. Failing that, I want at least to not let them pass me by in silence.

This was about her experience of horror fiction but is equally applicable to film, and is similar to Anne Billson’s observation on the tendency for action films to have a woman kidnapped and/or killed so the hero has a reason to do the thing that he shouldn’t but knows he must.

Once seen, impossible to forget.

A bit like Glass really, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

 

Non-Fiction Round-up | 2019 #1

IMG_2278A round-up of non-fiction books I’ve read so far this year but have not yet reviewed in any way, shape or form. Enjoy.

NB: Comments on Marie Kondo will be accepted but I reserve the right to disagree 😉

Notes from the Underwire – Adventures from My Awkward & Lovely Life by Quinn Cummings

Meet Quinn Cummings. Former child star, mother, and modern woman, she just wants to be a good person. Quinn grew up in Los Angeles, a city whose patron saint would be a sixteen-year-old with a gold card and two trips to rehab under her belt. Quinn does crossword puzzles, eats lentils without being forced, and longs to wear a scarf without looking like a Camp Fire Girl. And she tries very hard to be the Adult–the one everybody calls for a ride to the airport–but somehow she always comes up short.

This is one of those books that I didn’t know I needed until I read it. It’s totally delightful and quite moving in places, especially where she talks about her involvement in an HIV advice line when she was a young woman. I am so enamoured of Quinn that I am one of her supporters on Patreon, and she is very much worth following on Twitter (she’s @quinncy) It’s the kind of book that you just want to read bits of out loud to anyone near you. I had a load of quotes but I’ll leave you with just one:

Like most heterosexual males, he sensed but rarely understood why the emotional room temperature dropped thirty degrees.

Very pleased that this was the first book I read in 2019.

The Life- Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

An obscure little book which has garnered minimal attention….. OK, just kidding. This is of course the book that will help you

[t]ransform your home into a permanently clear and clutter-free space with the incredible KonMari Method. Japan’s expert declutterer and professional cleaner Marie Kondo will help you tidy your rooms once and for all with her inspirational step-by-step method. The key to successful tidying is to tackle your home in the correct order, to keep only the things you really love and to do it all at once – and quickly. After that for the rest of your life you only need to choose what to keep and what to discard.

This was first published in 2014 and I bought it 2015 when I saw some YouTubers talking about it. I had always intended to read it this year because my home (and especially my study where I’m typing this at the moment) is in sore need of sorting out, but of course when I picked it up Marie’s Netflix series was being broadcast and all sorts of nonsense was hitting the internet. I feel she has been misunderstood, especially when it comes to books, and wonder how much those who object to her don’t like their consumerism being “criticised” or fail to note the cultural differences she brings from her Japanese heritage. Personally I found that the book gave me a lot to think about. My favourite tweet about the whole book thing was:

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And if nothing else, charity shops are benefitting from us getting rid of stuff we no longer want or need. That works for me!

The Big Ones: How Natural Disasters Have Shaped Us by Dr Lucy Jones

The Big Ones investigates some of the most impactful natural disasters, and how their reverberations are still felt today.  From a volcanic eruption in Pompeii challenging and reinforcing prevailing views of religion, through the California floods of 1862 and the limitations of memory, to what Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 tsunami can tell us about governance and globalisation.  With temperatures rising around the world, natural disasters are striking with ever greater frequency.

As someone who has never been able to resist any TV programme that warns us what might happen if Yellowstone erupts or a chunk of the Canary Islands falls into the sea, I couldn’t resist this, especially when I saw it was written by a woman, Dr Lucy Jones, who is hugely qualified as a seismologist and expert in disaster planning. Some of the disasters she deals with I knew quite a bit about I remember vividly watching the TV coverage of the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami), but others were new to me and reading about their impact served to show what short memories we have as we fail to learn from those experiences.

As the climate changes and there are likely to be a greater number of extreme weather events this is a very timely book, and an accessible read for the non-expert.

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!

 

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!

Red Sparrow

mv5bmta3mdkxotc4nddeqtjeqwpwz15bbwu4mdaxnzgyntqz._v1_sy1000_cr0,0,674,1000_al_Jennifer Lawrence stars in Red Sparrow, an undoubtedly for grown-ups spy thriller, where she plays Domenika, a ballet dancer so badly injured in an onstage “accident” that she will not dance again, and as she just so happens to have an uncle who is senior in the Russian secret service she ends up recruited into the Red Sparrows, via a rather sordid piece of entrapment she is required to carry out as a favour for uncle and which goes spectacularly wrong, .

At the Sparrow Academy she is trained to submit her body for use by the state and is finally despatched to sort out a CIA agent and find out the name of a mole inside the Russian spy operation.

If you think this is going to turn out to be a female James Bond, with gadgets and cocktails and frocks and romantic seductions, you are going to be very wrong. This is a really grim, at times disturbing and unpleasant depiction of what this sort of thing might actually look like in the real world, and it is not at all pretty. There is rape, torture and general mayhem presented in very graphic terms but with a glossy sheen on top.

Now, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t enjoy this film, despite some of the things I’ve mentioned above which made me uncomfortable while watching it, and even more so afterwards when thinking about it. There are some positives.

Jennifer Lawrence is pretty good in a rather unforgiving role, there are some wonderfully British Russians and much as I don’t normally warm to Joel Edgerton he is well cast as the CIA agent. The fact that the actor playing the really nasty uncle is made up to look more than Putin-adjacent is very entertaining.

And there is double cross piled on triple cross to the extent that until the very, very late stages I couldn’t tell what was actually going to happen.

It doesn’t entirely deliver but it’s good to see an action film with a decent budget aimed squarely at those of us no longer in our twenties.  I am still stunned that this wasn’t rated 18.

Grim and unrelenting so watch with caution.

Dazzling details: directed by Francis Lawrence (no relation), Red Sparrow is 140 minutes long and rated (shakes head) 15 for (takes deep breath) strong bloody violence, gore, sexual violence, sex, very strong language