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

How Old is the Bride?

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This incarnation of the blog may only be 5 months old but the Bride has been around since 20/21/22 January (depending on what source you consult) in 2007 which means that the Bride is 12.

Cue balloons and cake!

When I was actually 12 years old it was 1974.

  • Christian Bale, Amanda Abbington, Alyson Hannigan & Matthew Macfadyan were born;
  • Agnes Moorehead, Georgette Heyer and Mama Cass Elliott died;
  • Tiger Feet and Waterloo (all hail ABBA)charted, and Andy Williams’ Solitaire was number one on my birthday;
  • Jeff Goldblum made his first appearance on the big screen; and
  • three of my favourite films were released – The Towering Inferno (still the best disaster movie in my view), Young Frankenstein and Murder on the Orient Express (the Albert Finney one, with a huge starry cast and a suitably sized moustache)

Elsewhere we had Watergate, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst and the publication of Carrie, the book that got me into contemporary horror.

That was indeed a year.

Here’s to another 12 months of blogging. Hope you will stick with me 😀

 

Mid-January Book Haul

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As mentioned in my Sunday Salon post, I have already bought enough books by the middle of January to justify their own post, so here we are. Try not to be tempted too much – I clearly failed!

These aren’t in any particular order of purchase or preference, I’m just adding them as they come.

The Histories

Hitler & the Hapsburgs by James Longo – I didn’t know that Hitler, because he loathed the Hapsburg dynasty so much,  pursued the children of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (yes that Archduke Franz Ferdinand) throughout his time in power. I am fascinated by all things Hapsburg and this has been well-received

The Royal Art of Poison by Eleanor Herman – subtitled “Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul”; I love all of these 😀

Who’s In, Who’s Out: The Diaries of Kenneth Rose 1944 to 1979 – from the bombing of London in WWII to the election of the Thatcher woman, this promises to be full of gossip; I can’t resist reading other people’s diaries and letters.

The Crimes

The Puppet Show by MW Craven – “A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless.” Sometimes you have to make your own entertainment

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup – “October, Copenhagen. The police make a terrible discovery – a young woman is found brutally murdered, with one of her hands cut off.Next to her lifeless body hangs a strange doll made of chestnuts . . .” Murder and crafting. Written by the author of The Killing which I loved, except for the ending of Series 3.

The Katherina Code by Jorn Hier Lorst – “Katharina went missing twenty-four years ago. Each year on the anniversary of her disappearance Chief Inspector William Wisting visits her husband, the man he could never help. He re-reads her files, searching for the answer he could never find. The code he could never solve. Until now.” Wisting is the new Wallander, according to Amazon at least.

The “I Can’t Believe You Haven’t Read That Yet”

The Road to Perdition by Max Allan Collins – in my defence I have seen and loved the film and toyed with the graphic novel but when my husband, a huge Collins fan who has been trying to get me to read his stuff for years, pointed out that there was a “new expanded novel” I finally agreed.

The Stuff That Only I Find Interesting

If you find this sort of thing interesting too, then you are my kind of people.

Declutter by Debora Robertson – “the get real guide to creating calm from chaos” Nigella Lawson said she needed this book and who am I to gainsay Nigella? Real solutions for real people. I am looking forward to reading this and comparing it to Marie Kondo’s approach (I’m reading her book at the moment and being irritated by many of the hot takes on Twitter). Whether I will actually declutter is yet to be seen.

L’art de la Liste by Dominique Loreau – I love lists and have been making them for as long as I can remember. I can’t decide if always writing things down has led to my memory becoming a little wonkier because I no longer rely on it so much, or whether I’m just getting older (I suspect it’s the latter). ” The humble list has the power to change your life. In its immediacy, its simplicity and its concise, contained form, the list enables us to organise, to save time and to approach facts with clarity.

Rituals for Every Day by Nadia Narain – “Let rituals bring you back to yourself.” I’m always looking for things to help me structure my day as a retired person, knowing that otherwise I would spend my life on the sofa reading. According to the Sunday Times this is non-patronising and authentic. I hate the word authentic in this sort of context but let’s give this a go.

Everything Else (otherwise known as the Bride gets bored with categorising)

Dr Jekyll & Mr Seek by Anthony O’Neill – “This brilliantly imagined and beautifully written sequel to one of literature’s greatest masterpieces perfectly complements the original work.” One of my favourite authors, Ronald Frame, thought this was fiendishly ingenious.

In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire – A fourth entry and prequel to the Wayward Children series. I enjoy her stuff immensely. This was a pre-order.

Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee – I found this by going down one of those Amazon ‘customers who bought that also bought this’ rabbit hole. “When it begins, it begins as an opera should begin: in a palace, at a ball, in an encounter with a stranger, who you discover has your fate in his hands . . .  She is Lilliet Berne. And she is the soprano.” I know nothing about this at all. Liked the cover though.

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar – alternative-history novel, love those, and Tidhar is an extremely interesting author, so looking forward to this one very much.

Thornyhold by Mary Stewart – “The rambling house called Thornyhold is like something out of a fairy tale. Left to Gilly Ramsey by the cousin whose occasional visits brightened her childhood, the cottage, set deep in a wild wood, has come just in time to save her from a bleak future. With its reputation for magic and its resident black cat, Thornyhold offers Gilly more than just a new home. It offers her a chance to start over.”

So that’s it. For now at least 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mary Poppins Returns

step_payoff_poster3_united_kingdomThose of us who were children in the 1960s will have strong, and in my case very fond, memories of Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, so when it was announced that a new film was going to be made I was a little anxious about how it would turn out. Once Emily Blunt was cast as the lead I relaxed a bit, and began to be excited about seeing the film.

And before I go into more detail, I am pleased to be able to say that it is really lovely and charming and highly entertaining.

Mary Poppins Returns is set in the Depression, several decades after the original, with the Banks children all grown up. Jane has followed her mother into political activism (hands up anyone who’d forgotten that Mrs Banks was a Suffragette) and Michael is a recent widower with three children, a job in the bank at which his father worked, and financial difficulties which may lead to the loss of the family home.

Cue the arrival of Mary Poppins.

If the original film was all about saving Mr Banks (and if you haven’t seen that film with Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks then you really should), then MP Returns is definitely about saving Michael. I will fight anyone who says it isn’t.

It is fair to say (as others already have) that this is less of a sequel and more an exercise in revisiting the original film. Not sure?

  • Non-cockney Cockney? Check.
  • Cartoon sequence? Check.
  • Really good songs? Absolutely, though only time will tell if they will last as long as, for example, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious or A Spoonful of Sugar. But let’s give it time.
  • Lessons to be learned even in the middle of surreal situations? Yep.

Everyone will rightly talk about Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda but for me, Ben Whishaw was one of the best things in the movie. The children were also excellent and there were some very enjoyable cameos. And a special shout-out to Colin Firth’s moustache which made me very suspicious from the outset as to his intentions.

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Mary Poppins Returns was clearly made by people who actually love the original. It looks very familiar but also totally fresh and really manages to retain the spirit of the original film. And has made me want to re-read the books.

Highly recommended; it’s super.

Dazzling details: directed by Rob Marshall, MPR is 130 minutes long and rated U for everyone if you are OK with very mild threat. I feel I may have said this recently about something else….