Recent Movies | Jan-Feb 2019

IMG_DC555A423312-1

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.

 

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 😀

 

 

 

 

Sunday Salon | 20 January

img_0801

So here we are, within spitting distance of the end of the first month of the year. An unpleasant image perhaps, but one that is sticking with me for now as I get excited about my birthday – more about that no doubt in my next Salon post.

But what about the books!?

Books read

Yes, I have finally finished a book! Not one that I expected to read at all but it caught my fancy and I’ll be writing about it soon – Notes from the Underwire by Quinn Cummings.

Currently reading

Still reading Global Crisis – I’ve hit the two chapters about the Civil Wars and the Stuart monarchy which I already know quite a lot about, so familiarity is holding me back a bit though I’m assured by the Book God that the author has much that is new to share

I’ve made quite a bit of progress with City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin, and will try to finish it this week. It’s a chunkster but a very enjoyable one. Also started watching the Tv adaptation of the first novel in the trilogy, The Passage, which is so far very promising.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – if you read my book haul post from earlier this week you will know that I can’t resist this sort of book. I’ve had this volume for ages and had always planned to read it this month, so anyone who accuses me of jumping on the KonMari bandwagon will be given a Very Hard Stare.

I am stuck with The Behaviour of Moths – I am going to give it another chapter and if it’s still not grabbing me I’ll set it aside.

New books

You would be forgiven for thinking that after the book haul I would not have been buying anything else, but come on, this is me we are talking about. So the following came into the house this week:

The Valentine House by Emma Henderson – “this deeply involving, intriguing novel tells the story of an English family through the generations and a memorable French woman, whose lives seem worlds apart yet which become inextricably connected” – bought because of the cover…

The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker – “Imagine a world where sleep could trap you, for days, for weeks, months… A world where you could, even, die of sleep rather than in your sleep.” – a pre-order and firmly in my wheelhouse

Heartsick by Dia Reeves – “A large creepy estate, mysterious twin brothers, family secrets, a diabolical invention known as the bone machine, and a young girl who is not at all human.” Likewise.

Long Live Great Bardfield by Tirzah Garwood – Tirzah, who has the Best Name Ever, was a very talented artist and wife of Eric Ravilious. I bought a Christmas card from Daunts with one of her haunting images on it and in finding out more about her came across this lovely autobiography published by Persephone. An actual physical book!

At the Existentialist Cafe by Sarah Bakewell – “Paris, near the turn of 1932-3. Three young friends meet over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse. They are Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir and their friend Raymond Aron, who opens their eyes to a radical new way of thinking…” Who hasn’t wanted a light and readable book about the key tenets of French philosophy?

So that’s it for this round-up. Hope you all have a wonderful reading week 🙂

 

 

October Movie Round-up

Thoughts on the films I watched way way back in October…..

Venom

IMDb is distinctly unhelpful on the plot, thusly

When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life

So many questions. Who is Eddie Brock? How did he get all symbiotic? Why is his life in danger? Who is the bad guy in this situation?

So I thought this was not as bad as most reviews have made it out to be, but it is fair to say that it’s a film with an identity crisis – it really doesn’t know what tone to take. Parts of it are really funny, and if they’d stuck with that it would have been so much better; there are some laugh out loud  bits when Venom him/itself finally appears. There’s a mismatch between the hero and the villain – Riz Ahmed is too subtle so he needed to ramp it up or Tom Hardy needed to rein it in. The final fight is messy and difficult to follow, there are lots of “but how?” moments and for a high security site, Riz’s megavillain lair seems pretty easy to get into when required by the plot. So fine, but Elon Musk may sue.

Coco

Miguel is a young boy who loves music and wants a performing career, but the problem is that his family has banned music because of the actions of his great-grandfather, who abandoned the family to go off and be a star. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel enters the Land of the Dead to find him and try to change the minds of his relatives. Things of course do not go according to plan.

This superficially is very similar to The Book of Life (you can find my thoughts on that here on the old Screen God), but to me it is far superior in both plot and structure. Coco is beautifully animated and incredibly charming. A lot of fun and I may have cried a tiny little bit because, you know, happy endings. Worth watching if you love animation and the music is very cool indeed.

Just lovely.

Blair Witch

After discovering a video showing what he believes to be his vanished sister, James & a group of friends head to the forest believed to be inhabited by the Blair Witch

The whole purpose fo this film seems to be to try to capture the mystery from the first film and cash in on its success, but that was a loooong time ago and we have all moved on since then. But it was Halloween and I wanted to watch a horror film and there it was.

It’s put together really were and is much less ambiguous than the original. It’s also more jump-scary and less creepy and intense than the first film. But its fine, no more than that.

Autumn Fiction Round-up #1

 

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

This was a planned read for a book club that I follow but don’t actually attend, using mostly for reading ideas (as if I needed any more help in finding books….). The Cabin is the most recent of Tremblay’s horror novels and the first one (but not the last) that I have picked up.

Wen, who is seven, is on holiday in a remote cabin with her dads, Eric & Andrew, when a huge young man turns up asking to be let in with Wen’s help. He is soon joined by three others, two women and a man, and they have a mission – they need Wen’s family to make a sacrifice to avoid the end of the world.

It’s a home invasion story with a twist, and it’s never made clear through all of the terrible events whether the incomers genuinely believe they have a mission to head off the apocalypse or whether they are just horrible people doing nasty things. There are clearly events happening in the outside world which are informing their actions, but we never really find out what’s going on.

It’s all very vague & ambiguous, especially the ending which doesn’t provide any closure at all, but I was hooked and thought it was very well done.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

One night in a warehouse in New York, the body of Ashley Cordova, daughter of a famously reclusive film director, is found dead. Most people, including the police, believe that she has taken her own life, but this doesn’t convince Scott McGrath. He’s a journalist who ruined his career by pursuing Cordova the father, making rash allegations that he couldn’t prove. And he’s still obsessed.

This is a literary thriller and a huge one at that. I was given this as a Christmas present a few years ago and hurried it up the TBR pile when I saw it mentioned in a list of recommended horror novels earlier this year. I had to cave in and buy the Kindle version because I found it physically difficult to read in hard copy, so be warned.

It seems to be a real love-it-or-hate-it book; if we’re keeping score, the Guardian hated it and the Telegraph loved it. I fell somewhere in between – it was worth reading and I did gallop through the second half when I was on holiday, but I didn’t really warm to any of the characters (except for Scott’s wee girl, who was adorable and hopefully grows up undamaged by the way her parents behave) so it became more about the puzzle than the people. The structure is interesting and the idea of a filmmaker so reclusive, and whose work is so horrific that it is only viewed in bootlegs by ardent fans, was intriguing. Some reviewers likened it to The House of Leaves (which I loved and need to re-read), and although I can see how they came to that conclusion I don’t think Night Film has the same impact; certainly not on me.

So an interesting novel, frustrating at times, and if you pick it up be prepared to make a significant investment of time.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

Longlisted for the Man Booker prize and winner of the Arthur C Clarke award, Jessie Lamb is yet another post apocalyptic novel, or more of a rushing headlong towards extinction novel if I’m honest. I cannot resist these at all.

Jessie is 16 and living in a world where an act of biological terror (presumed not explicit) has set loose a virus which is activated in a woman when she becomes pregnant, resulting in an extreme form of CJD and the death of the mother and baby. Science is looking at solutions and settles on the concept of Sleeping Beauties – women who will be put into an artificial coma and given drugs to stop the disease progressing while their baby comes to term. Once the child is delivered, immune to the disease, the woman will die.

Jessie has made a choice to become on of the Beauties, and the novel is about how she reaches that choice and the consequences. This is particularly an issue for her parents, who see the need for the solution but don’t want it to be their daughter. Jessie’s story is told against a background of civil unrest and protest, and her decision is he attempt to make the world better.

I like Jessie very much, though she clearly sees the world very much in black and white as most teenagers do. Some scenes, especially when she is imprisoned by her desperate father, are very upsetting but not gratuitously so. I’ve seen a couple of commenters mention the heavy religious symbolism of her name (Jessie = Jesus, lamb = sacrifice) but I have to say if that was the author’s intent it went completely over my head.

I thought this was very well done, and not as bleak as many of the novels I read in this genre; it makes clear that sometimes there are no easy choices. Well worth reading.

Sunday Salon – 18 November

fullsizeoutput_8b5Here we are again with another quick review of my week in reading and other stuff as needed.

Currently reading:

Global Crisis by Geoffrey Parker – war, catastrophe and climate change in the 17th century; I bought this as a gift for the Book God a couple of years ago but it is an enormous tome so treated myself to the Kindle version to make reading easier. Extremely interesting so far.

Bestial by Harold Schechter – from social outcast to necrophile and murderer – his appalling crimes stunned an era. This starts off in 1920s San Francisco and goes rapidly downhill from there. I’m fascinated by true crime (as most of you will have noticed I’m sure) and this story came up while I was listening to an old episode of My Favourite Murder (a brilliant podcast) so I dug this out from the virtual stacks.

Books finished this week:

Only one, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll – a strong refresher for the planning method I use these days. Lots to think about.

Books bought this week:

  • Bedfellow by Jeremy C Shipp – a tense dark fantasy novel of psychological horror; sign me up!
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama – I think she’s awesome and I’m looking forward to reading this very much. Sadly didn’t get tickets for her appearance in London though….
  • Black Prince by Adam Roberts & Anthony Burgess –  a brutal historical tale of chivalry, religious belief, obsession, siege and bloody warfare based on an original script by the late Mr Burgess. I have a lot of respect for Adam Roberts and have read several of his books so I’m giving this a go because of him and the subject matter rather than Mr Burgess, whom I’ve always found difficult.
  • The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles – A lord in danger. A magician in turmoil. A snowball in hell. I don’t really read romance but this author was recommended and I thought I should read something outside my comfort zone, but not too far – this is SFF romance after all.

Things should start to get quiet as the pre-Christmas book-buying embargo sets in once wish lists have ben exchanged. I have made my list, checked it twice and will be handing it over later today.

Hope you have a great reading week!

 

 

The Week in Review

IMG_0774I won’t lie – it’s been a quiet one. Apart from an outing to the osteopath (I have a shoulder problem, not affecting my drinking/eating arm thankfully 😀 ) and a visit to the cinema (the photo at the top of this post will give you a clue about the movie we saw), I’ve mostly been doing stuff at home in advance of our soon-to-be-upon-us annual holiday.

Here are the bookish stats:

Books finished:

Of course this means that I have exceeded my target of 52 books in 52 weeks, which I may just have mentioned before.

Currently reading:

  • Night Film – still reading this, will be trying to finish before my hols
  • Flowers in the Attic – a book club selection, which I haven’t read before; I must say that I am a bit wary

New books:

I am currently pulling together a selection of Kindle reads for my holiday, which I hope to share in my next Salon post.

Hope you all have a great reading week.