Book Reviews Blog

Would you rather…

Although I’ve technically had this blog for a few years, I’ve only been well enough to put more time in recently. My goal is to post every week, so I’m rather grateful to Sara @ The Bibilophagist for this open book-related tag!

WOULD YOU RATHER…

1. Rather read only a series or stand-alone books?
Stand-alone books.

2. Rather read a book whose main character is male or female?
I notice that I tend to pick books with a female main character. I seem more likely to gravitate to female-led stories and authors, but I don’t feel I have an active preference, if that makes sense.

3. Rather shop only at Barnes & Noble (or another actual bookstore) or Amazon?
I find buying online is cheaper.

4. Rather all books become movies or tv shows?
The TV show format is clearly more attractive, because you have more time. Especially now where you have streaming shows and you can watch 10 plus hours in one go.

5. Rather read 5 pages per day or read 5 books per week?
I salute bloggers who read 5 books a week! I would love to read 5 books a week, but I give myself a pat on the back if I manage two books a week, max. So I’d have to say 5 pages. 😦

6. Rather be a professional book reviewer or an author?
I want to be an author. I am working on it, and it’s one of the reasons I haven’t blogged as much as I would like, because I just don’t have the strength to focus on my writing projects and my blog. 🤕🤒

7.  Rather only read the same 20 books over and over or get to read a new book every 6 months?
Ugh. Neither. But I’d rather get a new book every 6 months.

8. Rather be a librarian or own a bookstore?
I think I would be best suited to owning my own book shop. It would be very interesting.

9. Rather only read your favourite genre or your favourite author?
My favourite genre for sure. I would be unhappy restricted to one author.

10. Rather only read physical books or eBooks?
I love the feel and the smell of new books. On the other hand, eBooks are instantly available on download, and they make it so much easier to make notes. Sadly, I’d have to choose eBooks.

Mini movie reviews for the weekend!

I live on an island, and I have to get a boat to see most of the cooler stuff on at cinemas. But with movies coming out so fast on digital platforms and DVD, why spend all that money on choppy trips to the multiplex?

Flatliners 

How did the Oscars miss this little gem about five medical students stopping their hearts to experience the afterlife?

It starts out strong thanks to a talented cast including Ellen Page and Diego Luna. Keifer Sutherland cameos but he’s not reprising his role from the original and imparting any wisdom like “Don’t stop your hearts!” so it seems pointless.

With such a great cast, I’d have loved a dark psychological drama about ambitious, cutthroat young medics playing God. Sub-par horror.

Ingrid Goes West 

Aubrey Plaza gains your sympathy and alarm as a woman with an unspecified mental disorder whose only meaningful connection comes via Instagram. With inheritance money she heads to California to trick her way into insta-star Taylor Sloane’s seemingly perfect life.

But where Instagram is just a career tool for blandly commercial Taylor, for needy Ingrid it’s toxic. After a suspenseful and sun bleached hour of social media satire, the final act becomes more of a “psycho” thriller, and possibly sends confused messages about mental health.

The Limehouse Golem

The late Alan Rickman was set to lead this lurid, Ripper-style mystery, until his illness meant Bill Nighy took over as the elegant Inspector Kildare, investigating the grisly Limehouse murders.

Music-hall star Lizzie Cree is on trial for killing her husband – who Kildare suspects may have been the infamous Golem. Hoping to save the angelic-looking accused from the gallows, he dashes around an atmospheric Victorian London (it’s a treat to see Karl Marx pop up as a suspect).

An entertaining spin on the never-subtle dead prostitute genre. Nighy is softly restrained, but Olivia Cooke – who looks like a cross between Carey Mulligan and Jenna Coleman – is the standout.

Victoria & Abdul 

Queen Victoria had her summer home, Osborne House, on the Isle of Wight. She holidayed here with her family, and it’s where she retreated during her long mourning for Prince Albert.

The widowed Queen’s relationship with John Brown was dramatized with Judi Dench and Billy Connolly in 1997. Dench returns opposite Ali Fazal as Indian manservant Abdul, who incited jealousy and panic among her household and the imperialist government, including son Bertie (Eddie Izzard).

Dench’s frail old lady might be Empress of India, but she’s outlived her loved ones, and feels trapped and lonely. It’s a devastating depiction of old age. I think it’s meant as a feelgood, comedy-drama like The King’s Speech, but the larky tone and silent comedy jar with the classism and racism of the British Raj.

Viceroy’s House 

Following WWII, the British Empire was dying, and Victoria’s great-grandson Louis Mountbatten was dispatched to the Indian subcontinent to bury the Raj with dignity.

The 1947 partition of India triggered one of the bloodiest upheavals in history. Here it gets the Downton Abbey treatment, with a fictional ‘upstairs, downstairs’ romance between two servants in the Viceroy’s palace. It’s a stately, well-lit costume drama. Not my cup of tea.

mother!

Jennifer Lawrence is in an unpleasant relationship as dutiful wife to selfish creative Javier Bardem. When her quiet home is invaded by uninvited guests Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer, Bardem won’t tell them to shove it, much to Lawrence’s dismay.

mother! feels like a bad M. Night Shyamalan, before it becomes an unmistakable Darren Aronofsky fever dream. An ambitious climate change allegory which draws incoherently on the Bible, it’s messy and chaotic, but JL is a force of nature.

All the Money in the World

This is where they recast Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer so that audiences and Oscar voters wouldn’t be distracted by the misconduct allegations against the former. It’s based on the 1973 kidnapping ordeal of tragic John Paul Getty III in Italy, and how the boy’s tight-fisted billionaire grandpa had to have his arm twisted to pay the ransom.

Of all the movies I’ve just reviewed, this is the one with the most general appeal. It’s watchable, but there’s something airless about it.  It’s strongest point is Michelle Williams and her chemistry with negotiator Mark Wahlberg.

Girl holds Carrie Fisher book

The Princess Diarist – opus to Harrison Ford

Carrie Fisher once gave a cow tongue wrapped in a Tiffany box to a film producer who allegedly attacked her friend. My first thought was “poor cow”, and my second was “yep, that sounds like Fisher.”

It’s a tale that surfaced in October 2017, as #MeToo was going viral. Fisher was already gone, dying from sleep apnea and “other factors” in 2016 while promoting her memoir about life as teenage space royalty and the affair known as Carrison.

Having previously written about her addiction and Bipolar disorder, this memoir is based around the journals – which are really an opus to Harrison Ford – that Fisher kept while filming the original Star Wars (“the only girl in an all-boys fantasy“). She rediscovered them while renovating her Hollywood Hills home.

She starts pre-Leia, ambivalent about following her mother, Singin’ in the Rain’s Debbie Reynolds, into showbusiness. Reflecting this, the shy and retiring Carrie:

  • dropped out of school to be a chorus girl in one of her mother’s Broadway shows
  • visited the set of Shampoo! when she knew there might be a role in it for her
  • auditioned for and attended the Central School of Speech and Drama
  • left drama school after landing her first big professional gig – Star Wars!

She admits she might have been kidding herself. For all the hardships actresses face, their daughters seem drawn to the limelight (including Fisher’s child Billie Lourd).

Carrie herself was born during Reynolds’ marriage to 50’s singer Eddie Fisher, who left his family for Liz Taylor – which, in Carrie’s words was “one of the great midcentury tabloid feeding frenzies.”

Although Fisher writes with her trademark wit, she was traumatized by her mother’s love life and her father’s abandonment, and undermined by self-loathing.

After successfully auditioning for George Lucas, she was ordered to lose ten pounds – then worried she’d be fired when she didn’t. She quips that although just 110 pounds, she “carried about half of them in my face”.

Insecurity makes girls easy prey. At a party the crew plan a “joke” abduction – before Harrison Ford intervenes. Soon they’re having “sleepovers” at her flat, with Fisher falling obsessively in love with the married Ford. Some rescue.

A selection of diary entries and poems from her journals take up the book’s mid-section. They’re not her best work, but are disturbing in their intensity. Fisher poured her heart out on paper because she couldn’t talk to Harrison – who to be fair, doesn’t have a rep for easygoing chattiness.

Fisher explains that she presented a false appearance, a “kind of ironic, amused, disenchanted creature.”

She must have just seemed like a hip, rising young actress from a famous family, living in a fancy London flat. With the Harrison affair, she was good at “hiding in plain sight, mocking the suggestion that there was anything going on” – a bluffing technique she says she’d use throughout her life.

Well-matched onscreen and hooking up off of it, Fisher still thought Ford was out of her league, destined for greater stardom. Was she bitter? “…not so you’d notice“.

Of course she could never have foreseen the phenomenon Star Wars would become, or her own enduring fame. It rankled to the end that, aged just 19, she had signed away all merchandising rights relating to her image for the “little space movie”.

In the final third of the book, Fisher laments “celebrity lap dances” AKA signing photos for money at fan conventions AKA “has-been roundups”. She discerns a lack of empathy among some of the fans – something Jake Lloyd and Ahmed Best might recognize.

But Carrie still had compassion for the “sweet and mystifying” fans who’d wait in line for hours, including the poor kid named Leia Carrie and the man who thanks Fisher for his childhood and walks off. She knows he didn’t mean his whole childhood, “just the good bits. The parts he escaped to”.

It must have felt like listening to the prayers of the galaxy.

Carrie Fisher is often remembered as a tough rebel leader. Online tributes call her a feminist icon and a “bad ass” role model, skimming over her profound problems – essentially confusing her with a fictional character! In this surprisingly raw book, Fisher’s wit and wisdom fail to disguise her lifelong pain, revealing a side to a woman who was deeply damaged, but charming to the last. 

***

FILM REVIEW Solo: A Star Wars Story might have been suited to TV streaming series

I was sceptical when Alden Ehrenreich – who doesn’t look or sound anything like Harrison Ford – was cast as young Han. Ford is tall, rangy, and rugged; Alden could be a member of a galactic boy band (except he’s solo).

After a troubled production and reports of an acting coach, it seemed like the odds of Alden successfully navigating young Han were approximately 3,720 to 1.

But the wise-cracking smuggler never set much store by the odds, ‘cos if you have enough swagger, you can pull anything off. I can vaguely imagine Alden morphing into Original Trilogy Han, better than I could reconcile Hayden Christensen with the man in the mask – even after I saw it lowered onto his charred face.

We meet young Han on his scuzzy home planet of Corellia, long before he met a Princess and fathered a Supreme Idiot. He’s serving a slimy crime boss – a bit like Rey on Jakku, except Han and his girl Qi’Ra have time for appointments at the hair salon.

When an escape bid sees Qi’Ra captured, Han signs up for a stint with the Empire, before meeting thief Tobias Beckett (least imaginative SW name ever) and his gang. They chuck Han to ‘The Beast’ – no not a Rancor…it’s Chewbacca!

The pair are drawn into the murky world of a crime syndicate, where Han’s old flame Qi’Ra has risen through the ranks as a top lieutenant. (Was it just me or did a certain bad guy look happy to get ‘closer’ to Emilia Clarke’s Bond girl femme fatale? Isn’t he a cyborg/robotic below the waist?)

It all whizzes along as a straightforward, pulpy adventure, clearly absent the ‘event’ feel, and the awe that Star Wars has always inspired. It actually feels very “Adventures of Young Han” – suited to Disney’s new streaming channel.

Han could be a dark character like Anakin; he grew up as a child slave, he fought for the Empire on a planet resembling a WWI hellscape, he lost his childhood sweetheart. But all he wants is to be a cool pilot and make a quick buck. Under the leather jacket, he was always one of the good guys.

🎲🎲

NETFLIX REVIEW: Annihilation – future cult classic or subpar sci-fi?

A meteorite streaks past the camera. It carries an alien mineral, and it ain’t Vibranium. It smashes into a lighthouse; the invasion of planet Earth has begun.

Ground zero is covered by an iridescent dome called the Shimmer, which looks like a soap bubble, or a gigantic blister. Those who enter don’t return. It’s top secret, but the phenomenon is expanding, threatening to swallow up whole cities and states…

Annihilation started life as the first volume in Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach book trilogy, where a nameless four-woman crew venture into the mysterious Area X. One, a perpetual student and passionate observer of tide pools known only as “the biologist”, served as narrator.

In Alex ‘Ex Machina’ Garland’s adaptation, the biologist – now named Lena – is played by a characteristically poised Natalie Portman as an ex-military John Hopkins professor. Flashbacks reveal her cheating on her angelic-looking soldier husband Kane (Oscar Isaac) with Daniel (Interstellar’s David Gyasi).

We see Lena Portmansplaining cellular senescence – AKA aging to Kane, playfully arguing whether God makes mistakes. As they discuss the odd silence around Kane’s deployment, he tenderly says they’ll be under the same stars, but Lena mocks the idea of pining for her husband. He goes MIA, before mysteriously returning, clinging to life.

annihilation swimming pool

F*%! you, humanity! There’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool that feels like it sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Learning Oscar Isaac escaped the Shimmer, a guilt-wracked Lena leaves him on a ventilator to join Dr Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) for the next mission. The rest of their team are all damaged goods: Tessa Thompson is self-harming physicist Josie, Gina Rodriguez is addict Anya, Tuva Novotny’s geologist Cass is a grieving mother.

Inside, time is distorted. Josie theorizes that the Shimmer is a prism that refracts everything. DNA is reshuffled so that flowers twist into human shapes, deer have twig antlers, alligators grow shark teeth. Cass dies in the jaws of a mutant bear who later bellows with its victim’s voice.

Faced with the grotesque fate of being broken down into this new ecosystem, an already cancer-stricken Ventress rages that it feels like dementia. Josie refuses to let terror be her surviving fragment. She walks peacefully into the flower mannequin forest, buds sprouting from her self-harm scars.

Is Annihilation, therefore, about how we choose to accept the inevitable? While some thought it was about cancer, or interpreted the Shimmer as a manifestation of Lena’s guilt (to others it was about depression, or Pokémon), Garland himself said he was going for something on a theme of self destructiveness.

OK, but this stupid thing invaded us. Although Lena believes the organism doesn’t ‘want’ anything, it’s hard not to take it personally; there’s something about the fruiting corpse in the swimming pool, or the artfully arranged skeletons, that feel like they sprung from the imagination of a serial killer on NBC’s late, lamented Hannibal.

Following the trend for virtue signaling when sub-par movies debut on streaming platforms, there was outcry when international rights went to Netflix. Yet US theatre-goers only graded it a C CinemaScore. Fans try to ‘unpack’ the movie, lauding the way it ‘doesn’t give us all the answers’, rather than admit it loses its way as it nears the epicentre.

Tomb Raider’s Terrible Reboot. (OK it was more ‘meh’ than terrible.)

tombraider

London has never looked like a better location for a twee romantic comedy than it does at the start of the rebooted Tomb Raider, a capable origin story and actioner with no sense of humour or wonder.

Kickboxing at a local gym and bantering with her bicycle courier co-workers, Lara Croft is slumming it harder than most; all she has to do is sign some documents declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead, and she inherits a fortune.

Although he’s been gone for seven years, Lara (Alicia Vikander) adamantly refuses to accept that Richard Croft – superrich business man, adventurer and aristocrat – is no more. Flashbacks show the Crofts in sappier times, where West keeps calling Lara by the nickname “Sprout”, and declaring “Daddy loves you”.

Swede Alicia Vikander is a good actress, whatever those three crazy Michael Fassbender stans say. She makes a tomboyish Lara, whose defining characteristic is bullheaded stubbornness. Having beaten the likes of Daisy Ridley for the role, she’s convincingly English enough to be to the (Croft) manor born.

While participating in an illegal and reckless bike chase through our capital’s streets, Lara crashes into a police patrol car. Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), an associate at Croft’s company, pops up to post bail and warn Lara that if she doesn’t claim her inheritance, her father’s estate will be sold off.

I must check and see if Scott Thomas did any interviews to promote this artistic endeavour, because I just live for her rants about life as an ageing actress. The still beautiful KST grits her teeth at the sight of Vikander’s dewy prettiness, and wishes the fool had been crunched under those car wheels.

Oblivious to the KST death rays, Lara stumps into swanky Croft HQ to meet lawyer Derek Jacobi. She finds her father’s secret office, and his message detailing his research into Himiko, the mythical Japanese queen known as “the mother of death” or something. Richard warns Lara to destroy his work, in case it ends up in the wrong hands.

Hot on the trail of her father’s final destination, Lara heads east but gets captured by mercenaries funded by a shadowy organisation called Trinity, who definitely qualify as the wrong hands. They’d been failing at locating Himiko’s resting place when Lara turned up with Croft’s map, which pinpoints the exact spot the tomb is hidden.

Earlier in the movie we saw a waifish Ruby Rose lookalike easily put Lara in a headlock, but her survival instinct really kicks in, as she overpowers the hired toughs in hand-to-hand combat, before discovering Richard Croft living as a Tom Hanks castaway. He mutters, “Ignore it, it’s not real, it’ll go away, it always does,” when Lara appears, which is what my dad always says when he sees me.

Seconds later Lara’s dear old pa is back to normal. So did Sprout go to Oxford, or Cambridge? Look, Lord Sprout, this girl keeps landing on her thick skull, and the only reason there’s no damage is because she’s so dense.

Sigh. Croft performs amateur surgery on an injured Lara/Sprout and finally – it’s time to raid some tombs! Or rather, stop other people from raiding them in the case of the Trinity morons versus Himiko.

In what could be the start of an exciting-sounding premise (shame it comes at the end), Lara discovers that Trinity is actually a subsidiary of Croft Holdings, and a front for a secret organisation hunting for mysterious artifacts to control humanity. If Scott Thomas is in on it, believe me, they’ll be looking for the elixir of eternal youth 24/7. I know how she ticks.

FILM REVIEW: Black Panther

The Hollywood Reporter recently pointed out the obvious; even Jennifer Lawrence can’t open a movie. Studios don’t look to big star names any longer, but to brands like Marvel.

I’ve always thought superhero, or comic book blockbusters, were empty calories. Unpopular I know, but Marvel makes me feel like I overindulged on Haribo candy (and the DCEU feels like toothache).

My most charitable reading of Black Panther – a Marvel product – is that it’s a self-contained story about family, duty and honour.

Set in the fictional African country of Wakanda, the War of the Panthers is a kind of kid-friendly Game of Thrones, with warring cousins and tribes, and where the future of the kingdom hinges on revelations about an individual character’s parentage. (I’m not alone in spotting the GoT parallels; Panther star Daniel Kaluuya made the link a year ago.)

Wakanda’s language, artwork, and costumes are meant to be grounded in real-world African traditions, while its secret high-tech infrastructure is powered by magical sources of an alien element called Vibranium.

New king T’Challa isn’t a flashy show-off à la Tony Stark, even if his royal duties include dressing up like a panther. A noble character haunted by his father’s death, he’s trying to  protect his people at the same time as overcoming his nation’s isolationism.

It’s to Chadwick Boseman’s credit that he doesn’t get blasted off the screen by Michael B. Jordan’s swaggering, vicious Killmonger, who wants to swipe the throne and the panther suit, planning to lead the country in a more hawkish direction.

Killmonger might even claw his way into the Top Ten Movie Villains of All Time. Because the superhero is king, the superhero is the brand, but the performances should be key. If Hollywood is committed to saving the endangered species of the mega-movie star, it won’t find a better candidate.

Fantastic Beasts: the five crimes of Grindelwald

One of the great mysteries of the Harry Potter spin-off Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, was how a movie that gained rave reviews, crossed the $800 million milestone, and gained an ‘A’ CinemaScore came to be considered ‘lacklustre’.

Still, I doubt the studio are wringing their hands. Twitter and Youtube were buzzing when the teaser trailer for the next movie – The Crimes Of Grindelwald – was released last week.

If he’s going to be sinning against the magical world, what crimes can we expect Gellert Grindelwald to commit?

Escape custody.

depp

Obviously. We don’t know how much time has passed since Newt managed to outsmart Grindelwald and deliver him to the wands of MACUSA’s Aurors, but judging by his long hair, he’s been captive for a few months at least.

Apparently audiences groaned when Colin Farrell’s disguise shifted into a bloated and bleached Johnny Depp.

Following his rushed reveal, hair and makeup have worked their magic, casting a Revelio charm on Depp’s cheekbones. Grindelwald needs a hell-raising rock star vibe; Johnny Depp fits the bill perfectly.

End Madam Picquery’s incompetent reign of smugness.

“Do you think you can hold me?” Grindelwald asked MACUSA’s useless, smug and incompetent Madam Picquery, giving her a contemptuous stare down.

She refused to accept her city had an Obscurial problem, and didn’t notice her right-hand man was being impersonated by the world’s most wanted wizard – all while lecturing European officials for letting him slip through their fingers.

Picquery ignored Tina’s pleas when she apprehended Newt on his arrival in New York, yet later claimed outrage she didn’t tell her right away. She had them both arrested, before the pair were nearly executed by Graves/Grindelwald.

I’m surprised more fans didn’t pick up on Picquery’s Fudge-like incompetence. She’s definitely arrogant enough to think she could challenge an escaped Grindelwald.

Kick Newt Scamander’s head in. Again.

If I were a bumbling, animal-loving Brit wanting a quiet life – which I am – who had thwarted the evil plans of a deranged dark wizard, I would stay as far away from that individual as possible.

judeldore
We adore him: Magical bigwigs are terrified Dumbledore will make his own power play

Except Dumbledore is clearly a hard man to say ‘no’ to. “I can’t move against Grindelwald,” he tells Scamander in the trailer. “It has to be you.”

Last time Newt encountered an enraged Grindelwald, the wild-eyed dark wizard pinned him to a railway track and tortured him with Sith lightening. Newt should have been airlifted by Thestral to New York’s version of St Mungo’s. Instead, in the badly rushed finale, he was fine in seconds.

You had to strain to hear Grindelwald’s parting words to Newt: “Will we die just a little?” It was probably ad-libbed by Depp when he couldn’t remember his lines. He meant to say “You’re going to die, little British Hufflepuff weedling.” Gulp.

Corrupt Credence Bowlcut some more.

While Newt crashed around looking for his missing critters, the international threat of dark magic bubbled away like a cauldron in the background.

A third plot line saw teenage orphan Credence Barebone wreak havoc as an Obscurius. Cowering in fear of his religious, witch-hating adoptive mother, Credence was groomed then brutally rejected by Grindelwald, before the dark wizard realized the boy’s raw destructive power.

Don’t expect Credence to be transfigured into a sunny character any time soon. It’ll take more than a new life with the circus and the motherly(?) attention of a fellow performer to turn that Obscurial frown upside down.

Grindelwald looks like he has his Bellatrix Lestrange – Vinda Rosier (played by Poppy Corby-Tuech), from one of Britain’s ancient and prestigious magical bloodlines.

Will he will try to recruit young Credence again? What side will Credence choose?

Mass slaughter for the greater good.

niffler

Hands off my Niffler!

‘For the greater good’ is Grindelwald’s philosophy and his justification for his actions in the wizarding war. Yet ‘Crimes‘ is only the second movie in a franchise that will span a 19 year timeline, so it’s unlikely we will see Grindelwald do his worst yet.

Potterheads will know most of the main cast are safe. Little is known about Newt’s brother and his enigmatic fiancée, Leta Lestrange, played by Zoë Kravitz, but it seems unlikely that such promising characters will get bumped off too quickly.

Grindelwald will probably target Muggles, but I’d be worried about the magical creatures themselves.

Newt’s beasts could be in serious peril this time.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is out 16 November this year.

Wind River cameos Teen Wolf’s Ian Bohen! From Sicario, Soldado’s Sheridan

I wish I hadn’t watched Wind River on a Saturday morning. It’s an evening movie; when it’s over, you can lock your doors, hoping you don’t have nightmares.

Taylor Sheridan’s screenwriting has already given us Hell or High Water, and Sicario – which starred Emily Blunt as an idealistic FBI agent helplessly mixed up with shady alphas Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in the war on drugs.

In Wind River, Elizabeth Olsen’s Jane Banner is another FBI agent out of her depth. We’re no longer in Sheridan’s native Texas, but the wintry wild west of Wyoming.

Jurisdictional matters have pulled Banner in to investigate the death of a teenage Native American girl, found frozen and barefoot in the snowy tundra by Jeremy Renner’s quiet wildlife officer, Cory Lambert – for whom the case has disturbing echoes of his own grief.

Although Olsen is in charge of the investigation, his deep connections to the land and to the dead girl’s marginalized community mean the story belongs to Renner’s softly-spoken cowboy.

We get no backstory to Olsen’s character, who dresses like she should be reading the news in a warm studio somewhere. (‘Shouldn’t we just maybe wait for some backup?’ she bats her lashes. ‘This isn’t the land of backup, Jane … this is the land of “you’re on your own.”‘)

Where Macer was caught at the border by political forces beyond her control, Banner plants face-first into a community blighted by poverty, addiction and hopelessness. It’s unclear if she’s meant to be a symbol for governmental disinterest and mishandling.

Vertigo-inducing camerawork aside, Sheridan delivers like previous directors of his scripts. Incidentally, Wind River isn’t his directorial debut, despite what he said at Sundance, where the movie won praise, especially for the final gun battle (where Teen Wolf’s Ian Bohen – due to appear in Sicario sequel Soldado – makes a cameo!).

Wind River isn’t as ambitious as Sicario, with its tension between the leads. The violence, however, when it comes, is more personal, but no less shocking, while the creepy sense of dread outlasts the film.

mudbound netflix book tie-in

Mudbound book vs Netflix film

Mudbound is the Oscar movie we need right now,” admonished The Washington Post.

Distributed by Netflix (there were no other takers following its Sundance premiere), the film is a female-helmed drama about two families – one white, one black – living side by side in the Jim Crow South. The script is adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2006 Bellwether Prize-winner (for ‘socially engaged fiction’).

It’s perfectly-timed, with the industry currently under scrutiny for #OscarsSoWhite. There was a landslide of articles emphasizing the tough shoot and the transformation of star Mary J. Blige, warning voters that the movie must not be overlooked.

Mudbound sees stubborn Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) drag his kids and wife Laura (Carey Mulligan), plus racist father Pappy, to a dilapidated farm in the Mississippi Delta where the frequent rains strand them in acres of mud.

Their lives become entangled with those of their share tenants, Hap and Florence Jackson (Blige), who keeps house for the McAllans. They are joined by Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and the Jackson’s son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell), both returning from WWII Europe.

The veterans form a bond that riles Pappy, while Laura becomes infatuated with her brother-in-law – although unlike the prickly character of Laura in the book, she isn’t checking his shirts for lipstick, or taking her frustrations out on Florence.

Writers have described the movie as focused on Florence and Laura as two Strong Women whose differing views of the world are shaped by race and class etc etc. According to Refinery39, “both women…feel the growing weight of a patriarchal society bearing down on their shoulders...”

This is an interesting projection, as – in what is a very long and slow movie –  writer-director Dee Rees seems to concentrate on the friendship between 6’2 leading man Hedlund, and quirky little character actor Mitchell, miscast as the noble Ronsel.

Rees keeps Jordan’s strategy of spreading narration between six characters, but Hedlund emerges as the hero.He’s more enlightened than his book counterpart – instead of being shocked by interracial dating, Hedlund leers: “Ever been with a white girl?“.

It’s a shame that, along with other splashes of dark humour, his drunken encounter with a hapless cow has been culled.

What the picture does achieve, despite its small budget, is a truly epic look, especially in the flashback scenes. We get lots of stunning farmland vistas courtesy of Rachel Morrison’s cinematography, which earned her the distinction of becoming the first woman to be Oscar nominated in the category.

Deferential Oscar voters also handed Blige a best supporting actress nod for doing little more than look dignified with her arms crossed, while Dee Rees earned an adapted screenplay nomination for turning a historical suspense into solemn prestige.

🏆 1/2

Murder on the Orient Express – 2017 millennial version

“Not another remake!” is a familiar online cry, normally accompanied by declarations that Hollywood has run out of ideas.

The word ‘remake’ provokes a knee-jerk hostility. Having just dodged the new, BBC Little Women over Christmas, I was worried I’d caught the same faux fatigue. I’ve seen a stage play of Louisa May Alcott’s classic, while the still-fresh ’94 Winona Ryder film with a young, scene-stealing Kirsten Dunst is in my DVD collection.

I realized my aversion wasn’t because Winona Will Forever Be My Jo March! – it was because it looked genuinely bad. The accents sounded atrocious, and the actresses were more like sorority sisters in 2018 than impoverished, Civil War-era siblings. (Dunst at least was the right age to play Amy.)

Agatha Christie’s ’34 novel Murder on the Orient Express, featuring detective Hercule Poirot, has also been regularly re-crafted for screen. So there was a lot of online negativity around director-star Kenneth Branagh’s new blockbuster version; a perfectly good, Oscar-nominated 1974 Sidney Lumet adaptation already exists, so there was no need…

Au contraire, mon ami! OK, no need maybe, but judging by the box office, people were attracted to this gorgeous new production – which loses a lot of the mystery and suspense of the Lumet version, while upping the action.

David Suchet’s performance in the BBC Poirot is considered closest to Christie’s peculiar, egghead creation. Where Suchet was an odd duck, Branagh’s detective is eccentric by way of a comedy Belgian accent, and an OTT moustache. He certainly knows his own worth, calling himself the “greatest detective in the world”.

We meet him in Jerusalem as he closes a preposterous jewel theft case (easily the dullest bit), and then finally he’s on the Orient thundering west across Europe when an avalanche derails the train. While trapped high in the stunning Alps, a passenger named Ratchett is murdered, making everyone in First Class a suspect.

This brings us to another problem people have with the movie – Ratchett is played by none other than alleged train wreck Johnny Depp.

Depp-boycotters should know that despite starring prominently in the marketing bumf, he plays a) the most hateful character (“I do not like your face,” says Poirot) and b) is swiftly bumped off, with a troupe of Hollywood actors all in the frame for his brutal stabbing. Imagine if they’d cast Harvey Weinstein as a baggage handler.

Was it Judi Dench’s Russian princess? Or could it have been Michelle Pfeiffer’s vampy husband-hunter, or Penélope Cruz’s missionary (reminding me of her early role as a nun in Almodóvar’s All About My Mother)?

There’s an achingly relevant younger cast, including Beauty and the Beast’s Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley (a less grating Keira Knightley), and rising actress Lucy Boynton (Sing Street) as a enigmatic aristocrat. Plus Leslie Odom Jr. (Tony winner for Hamilton) is Dr Arbuthnot – played in ’74 by that old dinosaur Sean Connery.

Although the critics have insisted that it all “offers nothing new,” the contemporary cast open the story up with different races, nationalities and ages – even if everyone only gets a thin slice of screen time. (Michelle Pfeiffer alone is worth seeing.)

Cinema continues to modernize and amaze us, and Orient is an immersive experience, capturing the allure of the golden age of travel. And of course there’s that much-raved about epic five minute 65mm Steadicam closing shot.

Perhaps I liked this film for superficial reasons, but it was surprisingly poignant, presenting a moral conundrum for Poirot – the man who sees everything as right or wrong with no in-between.

Leaving me only to add that I didn’t cry at the end when the Patrick Doyle score was playing. I got some orange juice in my eye, and anyone who says otherwise is 100% lying.

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Like my review? Please consider liking it and following my book, film and lifestyle blog as we go forward into 2018! Happy New Year everyone! 

The Last Jedi: Luke what you made me do

There was lots of red in The Last Jedi, from the blood-coloured soil of Crait, to Snoke’s crimson throne room. And while critics were in raptures – Rian Johnson is an auteur after all – a lot of hardcore fans were left, well, seeing red.

After watching the film on preview night, I came soaring home like Princess Leia through space. But, then, depression set in.

It wasn’t disappointment over Rey’s parentage. Frankly, certain fans needed to get their heads out of their half-cocked theories. Sure, after the first trailer for The Force Awakens, I thought Padmé-lookalike Rey was Han and Leia’s kid, while Kylo was a Vader-obsessed loser (true) wanting to continue the bloodline with Rey.

But then I actually saw the film. Just half an hour in, a guileless Rey turns to Finn and says: “Luke Skywalker! I thought he was a myth.”

When Rey told BB-8 her parents would be back, ‘one day’, you could tell from Daisy’s delivery that Rey was in denial. As Maz said: she already knew the truth.

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Kylo sticks his throbbing red lightsaber past Rey’s trembling open mouth. “Why, Kylo, it’s HUGE.”

But there were people who thought Palpatine wasn’t Darth Sidious right up until Revenge of the Sith. Fans insisted Rey was either Kylo’s twin (despite the age gap), or Luke’s child with an unknown woman – perhaps Obi-Wan’s daughter!

Considering Luke looked like he last took a bath on Endor, he probably didn’t have any children to carry on the family name. Unless ‘Broom kid’ (Tamiri Blagg) is Luke’s long-lost son. No, I’m joking, please.

This brings me to the biggest of my problems with Rian Johnson’s movie. His bizarre vision of Luke no longer resembled the son of Skywalker, but his step-uncle Owen Lars. Festering away on an island, the only way he could have been more revolting would have been if he’d hit on Rey.

Chucking the lightsaber over his shoulder might have got a cheap laugh (a very nervous one, in my theatre), but the Luke that millions loved would never have been so weak, skulking off to let Leia deal with everything on her own.

OK, he was never the coolest member of the gang – even after maturing into the calm, lethal Luke of Return of the Jedi, Han still laughed in his face. Luke wasn’t necessarily the obvious tough guy type, but he was resourceful, and he never gave up.

We got one glimpse of that Luke when he Force-beamed himself across the galaxy, wearing an outfit that would have made Padmé Amidala proud. Poor old Mark Hamill gave a great send-off performance, even if he didn’t agree with the director’s ‘vision’.

It’s not Luke’s story now. This is a franchise hoping to pick up new fans, and I can imagine committees overseeing the new global franchise want to lob most of the original trilogy off the edge of Skellig Michael, along with that lightsaber.

On that note, I wish you all,

xx —-Merry Christmas!—- xx

Kylo Ren takes off his helmet. And his shirt. (Spoilers)

All the teasing, the memes, the SNL sketch and parody Twitter accounts took their toll on poor Kylo Ren. There is only so much mockery an unhinged young Dark Sider can take.

Supreme Leader Ren will see you now.

Snoke huh? His faith in his apprentice, misplaced may have been. The biggest, baddest guy in the galaxy, worse than Sidious, worse than Vader; his apprentice kills him with a two finger salute, a literal sleight of hand.

He didn’t see it coming, like Han Solo. (Even Han had an inkling of what would happen when he stepped out on that teeny tiny, narrow bridge in The Force Awakens.)

Of course Jedi is so twisty, I honestly kept expecting Snoke to force-knit himself back together after getting lightsabered through the middle. (Talking about smoking torsos, I can confirm Kylo Ren is shredded. Kylo Ren has an eight-pack.)

I’m a bit hazy straight after my first viewing, and I’m not sure when Kylo made the decision to snuff Snoke.

I think it was when he found out that Snoke had been arranging those Force FaceTimes with Rey, when Kylo thought it was just love.

So far, we seem to have ascertained that Rey is Rey Random of non-famous parentage. Kylo’s a bit of a snot about it, as if it’s good of him to see her as an equal, what with his mom being a princess and all.

I just can’t believe it’s been two years since the last Star Wars. There are many journeys and other strands to this huge and very long movie, and I’ll probably do a review in a week or so. For now, MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU!!

What is the Personal Shopper movie about? Explanation

It’s 2007, before teen audiences would learn that Kristen Stewart was to be their Bella Swan. There’s such outsize acclaim for her tiny role in Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, you’d be forgiven for thinking the former child actress was being prepped for major stardom.

While Twilight made Stewart an object of fascination, it also made her a fixture on Hollywood’s Most Hated lists. Now, she’s the ‘Best of her Generation’ — as Olivier Assayas described her after directing her to a César (the first American to win the French Oscar) for her role as an assistant to a neurotic actress in Clouds of Sils Maria.

Assayas would write Personal Shopper with Stewart in mind to star as Maureen, a young expat in Paris. Once again, she’s cast as a celeb flunky, running around upscale boutiques for her spoiled supermodel employer, Kyra.

But Maureen is more than an underling. She’s a psychic medium, in limbo in the French capital mourning her twin brother, who died from a heart defect she shares. The film opens with her alone at night in his eerie mansion, trying to reach him on the other side.

The angry spirits that appear to Maureen, scratching out her artwork, appear terrifyingly real to her. 

Stewart is so believable when she mumbles about the challenges of finding portals to the other side, she’d make a decent living as a psychic if she left showbiz. From that truthful base, she even makes the name ‘Maureen’ plausible on a twentysomething.

When she’s harassed by text messages, we question whether she’s at the mercy of something more sinister than a fashionista; have ghosts made the jump-scare to the digital era, or has she got a stalker? Is this all in her head?

Viewers have come up with some overly-intricate theories, confused by the way the script decides to glide from supernatural psychological horror to whodunnit.

In the final scene, Maureen encounters a ghost who begins trying to communicate with her – one knock for yes, two for no. She asks the ghost if it’s Lewis, and it seems to say it is. She asks if it’s at peace, and the answer is ambiguous. Then she asks if it’s in her head. It knocks for yes.

Perhaps the best way to interpret it would be through this J.K. Rowling gem: “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

Page 2 screen book haul: Ophelia, Annihilation, Oasis, The Lost Wife

Earlier this year I read Lion, the true story of a little boy who survives the streets of Kolkata before being adopted by an Australian family. Years later, he tracks down his mother in rural India using Google Earth.

It became a hit movie, which inspired me to get cracking with novels on my TBR that are destined to reach our screens!

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein. Finished filming in July after shooting in the Czech Republic. 

Not as passionate as Juliet, or as witty as Beatrice, Lisa Klein’s re-imagining of Hamlet from his love interest’s point of view has forever banished thoughts of Ophelia as a tragic waif.

We meet Ophelia as a motherless girl moving – with her ambitious father Polonius and callow brother Laertes – to the court of Danish King Hamlet.

Under Queen Gertrude’s rather capricious care, Ophelia grows into an intelligent woman. She becomes an expert in botany and herbology, curing the ailments of people at court. To escape the tragedy engulfing her country, she uses her skills to feign madness and death.

I was a bit doubtful when I read that the characters talk with ‘contemporary language’, but it’s not “Yo Hamlet, your mother’s a total MILF.” (Gertrude will be played by Naomi Watts.)

They don’t speak in blank verse, but there is a vivid sense of time and place – Klein is a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature. It’s an atmospheric YA novel with an impressive heroine, useful for young readers wanting to gain a better understanding of Shakespeare.

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman. Production status unknown!

Daisy Ridley is having a busy year (or two). In this, she is slated to play Lenka, a young art student living with her well-heeled Jewish family in pre-WWII Prague. She falls in love with a friend’s older brother, Josef, who is following his father’s footsteps into medicine.

They marry, but while Josef escapes with his family for the USA, Lenka’s own family are sent to the ghetto Terezin, where art became a way to resist the Nazi regime. She joins an underground painters’ movement, hiding or smuggling their work outside.

Richman, who studied art history, has written a very beautiful novel – chapters depicting Lenka’s life in Prague are irresistibly glamorous.

There seems to be few updates about the possible movie, but I hope they change it so that the ending….is at the end.

Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) by Jeff VanderMeer. To be released on Netflix in the UK.

Four women are sent by a secretive government agency to investigate Area X, a stretch of quarantined coast in the USA. The Biologist, the Psychologist, the Surveyor and the Anthropologist (we are given no names) uncover a terrifying force writing on the walls of an uncharted subterranean tower: “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner…”

As if I had breathed in the spores from the cover, the genre-defying Annihilation is immersive and sinister.

One issue I had was that it takes the Biologist’s field journal as source material. While she may be happy spending hours observing lifeforms in tidal pools, I’m not! (The novel also flashes back to her life with her husband, who volunteered for an earlier, doomed, expedition.)

I hope the movie doesn’t end up feeling like Alien Covenant – scientists behaving stupidly while trudging through the wilderness. Luckily, it’s directed by Alex Garland, who proved he knows a thing or two about creepy tension with Ex Machina!

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber. Now an Amazon Pilot, renamed Oasis.  

From a woman of science to a man of faith. King of the North Richard Madden has gone interstellar, playing a chaplain in this forgettable budget sci-fi, most notable for featuring Haley Joel Osment.

It seems unlikely it will go to series!

It takes as very loose inspiration Michel (Under the Skin) Faber’s melancholy novel The Book of Strange New Things (published in 2014 before the Netflix phenomenon). Chaplain Peter Leigh leaves his beloved wife for a job with a shadowy multinational, ministering to the native inhabitants of a distant colonized planet named Oasis.

Peter’s new congregation were introduced to the Bible by his (missing) predecessor. They’ve taken to it enthusiastically, calling themselves Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Two, etc. Their ‘faces’ resemble “a placenta with two foetuses…nestled knee to knee.”

To speak their language, Peter would “need to rip off his own head and gargle through the stump.” (Any linguists want a challenge?!)

A monumental, genre-defying novel about grief.  

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – film review

valerian-v-poster-full-highres-01The search for a male star who can replace Harrison Ford continues. As the eponymous Valerian, Dane DeHaan is supposed to be a happy-go-lucky, square-jawed hero and roguish galactic agent.

Instead he looks like he should be playing a space cadet in some sort of academy somewhere with fellow cast member Clive Owen as the bullying principal.

Unfamiliar with the comics, I briefly and mistakenly thought Valerian and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevingne) were siblings, like a Luke and Leia crime-fighting duo.

In fact, the French-Belgian Valerian et Laureline comics were a suspected early influence on George Lucas.

But Valerian drools over Cara (more than Luke did Leia) and it quickly gets annoying to watch the little twerp sexually harassing model Delevingne. “He’s got no chance!” I thought.

The romance is pure Attack of the Clones level space crash, complete with stilted dialogue.

There are hints of Avatar’s Na’vi in the humanoids from the destroyed planet of Mül, who stow away in the bowels of a giant free-floating metropolis called Alpha (the City of a Thousand Planets). There, different alien species all pool their knowledge in brilliant harmony. Or not.

There’s a plot involving the annihilated planet, Alpha’s Commander Clive Owen, plus a kidnapping and a little MacGuffin creature everybody is trying to get their hands on.

Agents Valerian and Laureline both get captured and have to save each other. Laureline puts a giant mind-reading jellyfish on her head to find Valerian, who later has to swoop in with a shapeshifting Rihanna to stop Laureline from getting her brains eaten by a race of master chefs on Alpha. (So much for harmony!)

The largely teenage audience were probably there for RiRi, but it’s just a cameo really. There’s a rushed immigration subtext involving her character, and the film has a message of love conquering all.

Director Luc Besson has an established reputation for style over substance. Valerian – his passion project – is a zany, hot mess, with the characters slaloming and sloshing around his crazy pinball machine universe. I tried to enjoy it – I loved the score and the soundtrack – I just would have liked better dialogue too.

Verdict: Valerian is like spending two and a quarter hours(!) on the now-defunct Bubbleworks ride at Chessington. Isn’t it amazing the childhood nightmares that can be dredged up years later?

Game of Thrones season 7 is short and full of terrors

At the start of season seven I wrote a grumpy post about how much I didn’t love Game of Thrones. Once they used up Grim’s good books (the first three!) from the Ice and Fire series, and then outpaced the novels entirely, the HBO show went downhill.

Of course, I carried on watching for the sheer spectacle. It’s fun to read the theories and get into the post-episode breakdowns. Plus (with a few glaring exceptions) it’s a fine cast, and easy to invest in the characters (knowing full well they’ll get killed off when you do).

I like to muse over which character I’d be if Westeros were real, although I’d probably be stone cold dead. I’d try to live by the sea, eking out my days and avoiding trouble – basically the same as my life here on Earth really.

The Red Priestess gig looks good. They never seem to feel the cold, and Stannis’ erstwhile sorceress possesses the hocus-pocus to look fab at 400 years old.

I’d love to be that arch and dramatic, but I’m more of a Gilly, the girl who thought being a Wildling made her “sound a bit dangerous.” She’s currently in the Citadel with Sam, who has turned out to be a total wildcard.

gilly

Knocking spots off that Targaryen girl: Hannah Murray as the absent Gilly. Credit HBO

Jon, meanwhile, is busy stomping around Dragonstone for his precious obsidian. (He got Davos to make those cave drawings, right?)

I hope Tyrion gets behind Jon, and I hope Jon & Dany don’t happen. Kit needs something to act opposite, and Jon, like Robb, needs to avoid exotic bimbos and marry a nice Westerosi girl. Meera Reed is available…

Because Bran is the Three Eyed Raven now, and people are gunning for Sansa to claim the North. Really? So far, Sansa has excelled at two things: being brutalized and running a castle. She was born to be a good highborn wife and run the domestic sphere – not command men or be a politician.

High on my Thrones wish list is seeing Jaime get together with Brienne, assuming she’ll still have him after he got sucker-punched by an old lady. I suppose the Kingslayer is a catch, although I wouldn’t want Cersei’s cast-offs. Ugh.

I think in the books he was well shot of her by now. Maybe the Drogon near-miss and the dip in a lake will bring him to his senses, finally.

It’s winter for our heroes, but summer for us fans. Years of trudging through the seasons have led to this payoff –  dragons over Westeros, Stark reunions and the unveiling of secret Targaryens.

And yup, we’ve already hit this season’s halfway point, for it is short and full of terrors…(Come back Melisandre!)

To the Bone – Netflix review

To the Bone opens with two alien stick figures walking down a bright corridor. It’s peaceful, as the beings glide from the light towards the camera….and into a group therapy session/art class, where a girl is feigning righteous anger at magazines for promoting thinness.

A sarcastic voice interrupts. “Ugh. Society’s to blame. The world is so unfair. I have to die.” Ellen (Lily Collins) is a twenty-year-old anorexic artist. “There’s no point in blaming everybody. Live with it,” she sneers, before holding up a crude sign saying “suck my skinny balls.”

Not eating makes you cranky. The anorexic Queen of Shade – in off-duty model chic – returns to the middle-class Californian home of her stepmother and half-sister, where she does sit-ups, counts calories, skips meals. Anorexic stuff.

Ellen’s mother and her lesbian partner are living at a ranch in Arizona, “feeling blessed” on Facebook. Ellen’s father is away working, and is never onscreen.

It’s Ellen’s stepmom who is the driving force behind finding a new specialist, Dr Beckham. Yes. Dr Beckham. He’s described as ‘unconventional’, although it’s not clear why. Because he’s played by Keanu Reeves?

He agrees to treat Ellen as an inpatient at Threshold, a facility for young people with anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Ellen befriends an annoying show-off named Luke. He already knows who Ellen is, thanks to an angsty subplot about her Tumblr artwork inspiring a girl’s suicide.

Family therapy with Keanu proves to be a waste of time, although it does allow the film to communicate the contemporary understanding that eating disorders are complex conditions with no single ’cause’.

The film is good at portraying the powerlessness and frustration that families often feel, although viewers are likely to be as confused as Ellen’s sister, wondering why she doesn’t “just eat.” Anorexia is abstract and internal. Films can show emaciation with weight loss, body doubles, makeup and CGI. But anorexic thoughts, or a compulsive urge to get ‘down to the bone’, is a challenge for storytellers.

The opening moments promised something more creative, and Ellen’s out-of-body experience where she see finally sees her malnourished form without the veil of anorexia also had the hint of something more inspired.

But To The Bone is a typical teen drama with a stock message of hope, recovery, and fighting for your own identity, and an old-fashioned little made-for-TV flick that would have slipped by unnoticed on Netflix’s roster if it weren’t for the valuable controversy.

At least star Lily Collins emerges from it well, having proved there is way more to her than being beautiful and the product of nepotism.

The Girls by Emma Cline – a book review

The Girls was one of the biggest, most hyped books of 2016. Debut author Emma Cline’s manuscript sparked a bidding war and was optioned by a powerful Hollywood producer long before it even reached shelves.

Amy Adams-lookalike Cline is young, enigmatic – and like the heroine of her coming-of-age novel – she grew up in sun-kissed California. There the similarity ends, with The Girls set during the late sixties, with a story inspired (rather luridly) by the infamous Manson cult murders.

girls

The novel focuses on its 14-year-old narrator Evie Boyd. Her parents are newly divorced; her father lives with his young girlfriend in another town, while Evie’s mother is busy dating and following every New Age trend going.

Evie studies the studio portrait of her late maternal grandmother – a famous, beautiful actress. “The realization was bracing” she thinks, “we looked nothing alike.” Evie’s dour best friend dumps her for a new best friend, who throws a drink in Evie’s face.

Bored and crippled by insecurity, Evie’s the kind of girl Russell Hadrick preys on. He’s teaching his followers about a “new kind of society”, that’s “free from racism, free from exclusion, free from hierarchy.” Except it’s not Russell, but his teenage lieutenant Suzanne, who holds a dark pull for Evie.

Some of the girls in thrall to Russell have vague histories of abuse and violence, but Suzanne’s a sly one – her past, motives and feelings for Evie remain obscure. During her long summer at the group’s decrepit ranch, Evie becomes less passive, acquiring coarser edges from Suzanne and co. as they scavenge, steal, and drop acid.

It’s been compared to Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, another queasily authentic look at the horrors of being an ordinary, unpopular teenage girl.

Sections with the older, adult Evie aren’t as successful, with Cline struggling to write a character much older then herself. But The Girls is a bleak, woozy, sometimes overwritten debut about the forces that shape and ruin girls’ lives.

Game of Thrones is back…

IMG_20170717_180832-01Are you glad it’s back? And by ‘it’ I mean the TV phenomenon that’s as big as Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings?

I’m not a constant admirer of the Game of Thrones juggernaut anymore. Characters get arranged into starting positions for epic showdowns, rinse and repeat. This season has seven episodes, and “Dragonstone” probably won’t be the only hour devoted to groundwork and prepping the set pieces.

We had Sam in the library, and Sam emptying bedpans. We had Emilia “I Can. And I Will” Clarke strutting around her ancestral home like a dumpy 12-year-old emulating a haughty catwalk queen. (And I’m not sure the show has enough time to explore the attraction dangling between her eunuch warrior and her handmaiden…)

Like Dany, Sansa is coming into her own, as the Lady of Winterfell. Soft-hearted Sansa now feeds her husbands to hungry hounds, and while I’m all for character growth, not every female character has to be a Strong Woman, and Strong Women don’t have to commit grisly murders to be powerful.

Perhaps they don’t know what to do with Sansa – the whole rushed, overripe Ramsay plot was not her book story – and Sophie isn’t a believable enough actress to play a ruthless killer AKA junior Cersei. Thanks to her dreary line readings and whiny nasal voice, I use Sansa scenes for any unpleasant chores, like putting the recycling out.

But Sansa, like sister Arya (who couldn’t look less like Sophie Turner), are a) fan favourites, and/or b) are part of George R.R. Martin’s endgame, and can’t be bumped off.

Maisie is a good little actress, but she seems super-aware that there’s a huge audience who love Arya and who think a bloodthirsty (female) child assassin is cool, and maybe this awareness is sometimes ever so slightly to the detriment of her performance.

She’s on her way to King’s Landing, where Bad Uncle Euron is trying to woo Evil Queen Cersei and come between her and Jaime, who have reached that stage where they’re more brother/sister, than red hot lovebirds…oh yeah.

There were things I liked, I promise, I’m not as grumpy as Sandor Clegane, who is still with the Brotherhood and in delightfully surly form, shaming Thoros’ topknot hairdo. (He’ll be coming for Jon’s man bun next.) The Hound is seeing visions in the flame, and it sounds like those screeching ice men are going to overcome the Wall by just….walking around it?

Really? Give fans their answers already!

(OK maybe I am as grumpy as the Hound after all.) 😉