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 😀

 

 

 

 

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 😀