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.

 

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.

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 😀

 

 

 

 

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 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hanging Tree

61d9sdyio4l._sx310_bo1,204,203,200_The Hanging Tree is the sixth novel in the Rivers of London series featuring PC Peter Grant and the Folly – the Met Police’s little-loved organisation called in to investigate crimes with a magical element.

It’s fair to say that new readers should probably not start here. There is a lot of referring back to previous cases and also developments in the main story arc, so although it would be possible to read this as a standalone a first-time reader would miss so much of the richness that is one of the pleasures of the series.

So, Peter is back in London and has been pulled into the investigation of a young woman’s drug-related death at a party in an expensive flat in Mayfair. Not normally his kind of thing in policing terms, but River Goddess Lady Ty’s daughter is involved in some way and so favours are being called in. It quickly  becomes clear that magic is involved; the young woman shows signs of being a magical practitioner. Cue the usual mayhem and double-dealing, especially when the Americans get involved.

There is a lot to be enjoyed in this novel. As always, Peter’s first person narration of the story really works and doesn’t suffer from the problems other first person stories often have. It also helps that his voice is distinctive and often very funny. All of the supporting characters are well-rounded and recognisable as individuals. And the ongoing story of the series’ Mega Villain (The Faceless Man) gets a major development that is both very satisfying and augurs well for future volumes.

The only quibble I have, which I’ve seen mentioned by other reviewers, is that there is insufficient Nightingale. But then I always think that’s the case…..

We all had to wait a long time for The Hanging Tree, but because I delayed reading it I already have the next volume (plus the novella released in between, and the comics) to hand, though I think I’ll space them out over 2019.

If you are a long-time reader of this series you won’t be disappointed.

On the Box – 2018

I don’t normally write about TV here but I thought it would be fun to capture the stuff I enjoyed this past year.

The stuff I knew I would enjoy and did

The stuff I came to a million years after everyone else

The stuff I’ve given up on because I just can’t any more

The stuff I enjoyed thoroughly despite possibly not actually being very good; though I will fight anyone who doesn’t like Instinct.

The stuff I rediscovered after thinking I would never watch it again

Do you have thoughts on any of these?