October Round-up | Movies

As we were away for a chunk of October we didn’t watch many movies. In fact, I saw the two London Film Festival screenings by myself…..

In the Shadow of the Moon [Streaming – 5 October]

A Philadelphia police officer struggles with a lifelong obsession to track down a mysterious serial killer whose crimes defy explanation.

I enjoy a good time-travel-paradox-what-just-happened movie like the next man and this was that thing. It is a strong portrayal of the toll an obsession can take on a person and the impact it has on the people around them. It wasn’t earth-shattering but had a good cast, a story that wasn’t too WTF and was nicely done. A good choice for staying in on a Saturday night. Though let’s face it, at my age I always stay in on a Saturday night 😀

Dazzling details: directed by Jim Mickle, ITSOTM is 1h 55 long and rated 15 for strong language, gory images and drug misuse

The Lighthouse [LFF screening – 6 October]

The hypnotic and hallucinatory tale of two lighthouse keepers on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s.

So basically Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are on this remote island at the end of the nineteenth century carrying out their duties as lighthouse keepers. The weather is dreadful, there are whispers of the supernatural (mermaids!) and as time passes the two men veer between comradeship and hatred with a single destination – madness. It isn’t clear whether what they are experiencing is real or not but that doesn’t really matter, because the film is extraordinary – beautifully shot in black & white, it is ominous, claustrophobic and full of dread. It is also surprisingly very funny in places; I did laugh out loud, mostly at the language used which is colourful, to say the least. The two lead performances are astonishing, and I had never really noticed before how unmodern Pattinson can look.

I was thrilled at the screening to hear both the director Robert Eggers and Willem Dafoe (in the flesh!) talk about their intentions and experiences. It’s not going to be for everyone, but I loved it. It reminded me a little of The Servant and will stay with me for some time.

Dazzling details: directed as I said by Mr Eggers, The Lighthouse is 1h 49 long and rated 15 for strong sex, nudity, violence, gore and disturbing images.

Marriage Story [LFF screening – 7 October]

Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate look at a marriage breaking up and a family staying together.

Straight from the poster and telling you nothing about what turned out to be my favourite of the three films covered in this post.

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are married; he’s a well-regarded indie theatre director in NY and she is an actress who has been given a TV series in LA. Unable to resolve the tensions between them they head for divorce and the film follows them through the horrible experience.

What I really liked about this film (as someone who has been divorced) is how realistic it was (setting aside the business that is show background) and in particular how both lead characters are just people, not goodies or baddies.

There are some fabulous supporting performances but the success of the film rests on the shoulders of the two leads who are just fabulous. It’s absorbing and emotionally complex and my love for Adam Driver remains intact.

Dazzling details: Mr Baumbach’s masterpiece is 2h 16 long and rated 15 for strong language

Two last things:

  • how can three such different films get rated the same – and what do you have to do to get rated 18 these days?
  • I’ve just noticed that the posters are basically dudes looking moody

Two Mini-Reviews and a Hiatus |Sunday Salon * 29 September

It’s dark and windy outside and feeling distinctly autumnal and seemed like the right time for a Sunday Salon post.

As with last week there has been no progress on reading – I’m still [not] reading the same two books and that means I haven’t finished any either. But as we are in peak publishing season a few new books arrived on my Kindle app this week, mostly pre-orders. Here, in no particular order, are the details:

  • Grave Importance * Vivian Shaw – the third Greta Helsing novel, set in a health spa for mummies. The Book God has already read this and recommends highly.
  • The Monster of Elendhaven * Jennifer Giesbrecht – defnitely a Halloween book, this tells the story of the city of Elendhaven which “sulks on the edge of the ocean. Wracked by plague, abandoned by the South, stripped of industry and left to die. But not everything dies so easily. A thing without a name stalks the city, a thing shaped like a man, with a dark heart and long pale fingers yearning to wrap around throats.”
  • The Tenth Girl * Sara Faring – a Gothic haunted school set in a mansion in Argentina with a family curse.
  • The Flower Arranger * JJ Ellis – Tokyo-set police procedural involving a reporter teaming up with the police to look into the disappearance of a number of young women
  • Starvation Heights * Gregg Olsen – a true story of murder, malice, quackery, a snake-oil saleswoman and untimely deaths. Fasting treatment is rarely if ever a good thing. Bought this after hearing the ladies on My Favourite Murder outline the story; I was really keen for a deep dive and this came recommended.
  • My Name is Anna * Lizzy Barber – “Two women – desperate to unlock the truth. How far will they go to lay the past to rest?
  • Gone * Leona Deakin – the first Dr Augusta Bloom mystery. I’m a sucker for any book where the protagonist is a psychologist and a private investigator, so here we are. “Four strangers are missing. Left at their last-known locations are birthday cards that read: YOUR GIFT IS THE GAME. DARE TO PLAY?

So, plenty to be getting on with as the nights get longer and I hopefully start reading properly again.

But if I haven’t been reading, what have I been doing?

Well, for three days this week I was away from home accompanying the Book God to the annual Jeff Hawke Society meet-up, for the second year in a row at West Dean College in Sussex. Also for the second year in a row the weather was very, very rainy. We spent a lovely day in Chichester (see arty picture below), and thankfully the food, drink and company was excellent and we had a good time.

I also took the opportunity to think about the blog as I have a lot going on over the next few weeks.

On Tuesday I will be having a minor surgical procedure (under general anaesthetic no less, something I haven’t experienced since I got my tonsils and adenoids removed when I was five (or six?) years old). It should be straightforward, and the biggest concern I have is which physical book I’m going to take with me to read during the inevitable waiting, though I understand that my age and chronic condition means I might actually be first on the list.

After that the London Film Festival kicks off and for a few days in a row I have new movies to see.

And finally we go on holiday later in October, off up to Scotland where we haven’t been for any length of time in quite a few years. So looking forward to going home and eating all of the wrong things….. especially if those things happen to be Empire biscuits!

So I’ve decided to take some pressure off of myself and put the blog on a break during all of these shenanigans, hoping to return on Sunday 27th October. Fret not, because I will be occasionally tweeting and regularly posting on Instagram, so please follow me there if you don’t already. The link are above, (she says, gesticulating vaguely)

The only thing left for me to do is mention two books I read in September which I haven’t reviewed as yet, just included for completeness.

Swan Song by Robert Edric is the last in his Song Cycle trilogy about a PI working in Hull. Young women are being brutally killed, the chief suspect is in a coma but it becomes clear that he isn’t really connected to the killings. Add an ambitious chief constable and our hero Leo Rivers has a lot on his plate. This has been a great series (I reviewed the others here and here) and I recommend them heartily.

Dahlia Black by Keith Thomas – when I bought this I said “this is ” … a suspenseful oral history commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Pulse—the alien code that hacked the DNA of Earth’s population—and the response team who faced the world-changing phenomenon.” They had me at “for fans of World War Z” :-)” And I was right. Really enjoyed this one as well. Nice slow release of information through various characters as we all learn what happened and what it might mean.

So that’s it from me for a while. See you on the other side!

Ad Astra

If ever there was a Marmite movie this is going to be it. I’ve seen Ad Astra described as thrilling and a masterpiece, but also as boring and dull despite having (MINI SPOILERS) moon pirates and killer monkeys.

My thoughts will follow a quick detour to Planet Synopsis

Astronaut Roy McBride undertakes a mission across an unforgiving solar system to uncover the truth about his missing father and his doomed expedition that now, 30 years later, threatens the universe.

So after surviving a quite spectacular fall from a space structure tethered to Earth which serves to demonstrate that space is dangerous and Roy is a very calm dude, he is called in by his bosses to take part in a secret mission to find out if his Dad is still alive and the cause of cosmic blasts from around Neptune which are wreaking havoc in the solar system (and actually caused Roy’s accident). Of course, he says yes because he wants to find out what happened to his father.

I will say no more.

The tone of this film is hugely important and it’s constant calmness, reflecting Roy’s view of the world, reminded me very much of 2001 with periods of silence interspersing the action.

It’s also key that this is not far-future space; the fact that much of the infrastructure shown is plausible in the next few decades allows the audience to engage with the characters. I say characters but this is very much Brad Pitt’s film. He is so good in this role, displaying a calm and dispassionate outlook but with anger and hurt and resentment just below the surface. Such a contrast to the last film I saw him in!

The supporting cast is excellent though most of them don’t have much to do. The scenes between Pitt and Tommy Lee Jones as his Dad are very powerful, and the great Donald Sutherland is always a treat to watch.

I was not at all surprised to find that the director, James Gray, was responsible for The Lost City of Z, a film I adored (you can find my thoughts about it here), as the tone and approach is very similar.

So as you might have guessed, I loved Ad Astra and would happily watch again. It is thoughtful and engrossing and gave me a lot to think about.

Dazzling details: Ad Astra is directed by James Gray, is 2h 3m long and rated 12A for infrequent strong language, moderate violence, threat, gory images killer space monkeys

The Ka of Gifford Hillary | Dennis Wheatley

Dennis Wheatley is one of those authors that I feel I have to apologise for enjoying because he is definitely problematic. Born in 1897 he was as conservative as it is possible to be. I first came across him when I saw the (now very dated) Devil Rides Out adaptation starring Christopher Lee and released in 1968. I’m pretty sure I read the book afterwards and loved the pacing and development in terms of plot, even if the characters were very Wheatleyan.

The man himself was a staunch supporter of imperialism and the class system all of his life, and his views permeate his novels and can’t be ignored even as the reader (OK, me) enjoys the story. And reading this one had me rolling my eyes so hard it gave me a headache, even as I read on to find out what was going to happen.

First published in 1956, the Ka of Gifford Hillary is listed in the recent set of reprints as Black Magic Book 5, though I won’t be giving anything away by pointing out that this is more of a science fiction thriller with a bit of the occult thrown in rather than a full-blown book about magic.

Gifford Hillary runs a company which builds boats and has several contracts with HM Government, and it appears that the book is going to be all about that as Wheatley takes the opportunity to air his views on the future of the British Armed Services. To be fair this is something he knows quite a bit about, given that he served in various capacities during WW2 devising strategic military deceptions to fool the enemy.

But really this is a book about a man (Gifford) killed by someone who wants to be his wife’s lover by ingenious means which leads to his soul leaving his body and floating around invisibly trying to communicate as he is (a) buried alive, (b) unable to help his wife falsely accused of his murder, (c) unable to help his young relative accused of treason because of his (Gifford’s) loose lips and (d) did I mention he was buried alive? Oh, and when he reconnects with his body he is then charged with murdering the man lusting after his wife, who was actually killed by someone else.

If you can put aside all the racism, imperialism, sexism (evidence below)
and the huge sense of entitlement based on class and wealth (evidence also below), this is actually a very interesting story. The only thing that lets it down in terms of plot is the ending, which was a little too reliant on one of the few female characters finding the one piece of evidence that will resolve the situation given that the truth, which Gifford spells out, or at least up to a point, is too fantastic to believe.

And with a single bound he was free; far too rushed given the build-up that had gone before.

Evidence for the prosecution:

On the charge of sexism:

Women cannot be judged by the same standards as men. They are much more apt to become dominated by their emotions than is the case with our sex.

On the charge of entitlement:

By it I could enter houses unseen and listen to the most intimate conversations. That at least offered a prospect of taking my mind off my own worries.

I know I’m going to read more of his books and but not for a while I think.

Munday Salon | 23 September

Better late than never, I guess, here is my round-up of last week which had very little in the way of reading (ie no progress on either of my books), a situation that’s likely to continue into this week as well, as I am away for a few days.

But still, the details……

Currently reading the two that I was reading in my last post, namely Roy Strong’s diaries and Sarah Lotz’s Missing Person.

Several new books arrived including a sighting of the rare lesser-spotted paperback:

  • A House of Ghosts * WC Ryan – a mystery of the classic kind set during WWI, described as And Then There Were None meets The Silent Companions, and therefore deeply intriguing
  • Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare * Giles Milton – The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Downfall, recommended by Christopher Fowler in a recent blog post, this looked fascinating and was heavily discounted so I snapped it up.
  • Monster, She Wrote * Lisa Kroger & Melanie R Anderson – all about the women who pioneered horror and speculative fiction, from Mary Shelley onwards. Given my interests it was inevitable that I would get my hands on this.
  • Mythos * Stephen Fry – just because I like re-tellings of ancient myths.
  • The Grip of It * Jac Jemc – so on Saturday afternoon I just happened to be in the Waterloo Station branch of Foyles buying a birthday card for my brother when my eyes fell on this actual physical book, which I then bought because of Jeff VanderMeer’s comment on the cover. Young couple. Haunted house. Yes please.

In other news we went to see the new Brad Pitt movie, Ad Astra, this week. I will be reviewing it properly shortly; just wanted to say that I think it will be divisive but I loved it.

I also hit Sadler’s Wells again on Saturday to see the English National Ballet perform a re-working of Giselle. The fluttering ghostly women in the second act were significantly creepier and 100% more vengeful looking in this version, and I adored it. Lovely start to the weekend.

Hope you all have a great reading week!

Photo by Kristina Tamašauskaitė on Unsplash

The Clockwork Scarab | Colleen Gleason

Evaline Stoker and Mina Holmes never meant to get into the family business. But when you’re the sister of Bram and the niece of Sherlock, vampire hunting and mystery solving are in your blood. And when two society girls go missing, there’s no one more qualified to investigate.

Young society women don’t just go missing, and when a couple of them are found dead Irene Adler (for it is she) summons the Misses Stoker and Holmes to assist her in getting to the bottom of this mystery, all at the behest of HRH The Princess of Wales. After all, without this patronage how could any respectable young lady afford to get mixed up in this sort of business?

Not that these two are entirely respectable. Evaline has inherited the family mantle of vampire hunter, albeit not terribly successfully so far, and Mina wants to follow in her uncle’s footsteps given that Mycroft Holmes, her father, is rarely around and her mother is out of the picture, so she is very much left up to her own devices.

This is the background to a fun young adult novel set in an alternate Victorian London where electricity is banned for being dangerous and everything operates on steam and clockwork, and where a cult based on the worship of ancient Egyptian gods seems to be enticing debs away from the social whirl. There may even be an inadvertent time-traveller hanging around.

I will confess that I set this book aside about a third of the way in because I just wasn’t in the mood for the story of two young women who don’t get along being forced to work together surrounded by male persons expressing varying degrees of disapproval and disdain. But I wanted to know how the story developed, so picked it up again after a few weeks and I’m glad I did because it was very enjoyable once it got going. There is definitely more than a hint of romance – there is much blushing and fluttering of hearts – which isn’t normally my thing but in this context it works for me, and the developing realtionship between Evaline & Mina is well done.

The Clockwork Scarab is the first in a sequence of five novels which develop the relationship between these two young women, and I’m looking forward to reading them at some point soon.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Or as I originally typed Fantastic BEATS, which would have been a very different film…..

As always I turned to IMDb for a quick summary of the plot and they let me down:

The second instalment of the Fantastic Beasts series featuring the adventures of magizoologist Newt Scamander.

That is a prime example of the desire not to give anything away veering hard towards being wilfully obscure.

So basically the film starts with a lengthy escape sequence where Grindelwald gets out, as we all probably thought he would, and heads off to Paris to plot mayhem and havoc. The Ministry of Magic wants Newt to help them but he doesn’t want to work with their team despite the urging of his big brother. Dumbledore then persuades Newt to hunt down and help Credence (who has survived the first film) and in the process face Grindelwald because he (Dumbledore) can’t do so.

Then it all kicks off.

Everyone who survived the first film turns up in Paris and although the story does move things forward a fair bit we are clearly being set up for the next instalment.

The good stuff:

  • the creature design is stunning as always
  • Jude Law makes a dashing Dumbledore
  • I’m still very fond of Newt and I like his brother Theseus also

The meh stuff:

  • whatever you may think of the casting of Mr Depp, he is fine in the part I guess
  • maybe too many characters, several of whom did not have enough to do

The stuff I did not like:

  • oh boy, some Choices were definitely made, including one that doesn’t really make sense
  • Tina being sniffy
  • and the thing I HATED – Queenie is absolutely my favourite character and I am not at all happy with the direction they have sent her in. Not. At. All.

But despite my feelings veering towards this being a bit messy as a film, I will be watching the next instalment. Of course, I will. That is how they all make their money.

Dazzling details: directed by David Yates, FB: TCOG is 2hrs 11 long and rated 12A for moderate fantasy threat (and questionable plot developments IMHO)