Tag Archives: fiction

Lady Bird Review

Snapshot reviews: Lady Bird + others!

Lately, I’ve hated movies a lot more. Where I used to watch any old thing, I withstood two minutes of the latest Guardians of the Galaxy before switching off.

I began to wonder if I was on a permanent downer. I decided to ease myself back into film-watching and blogging with some of the latest, more highly-acclaimed movies – after all, Oscars are a sure indicator of quality, right?! Errr…. First up:

FIRST MAN

Having glanced at the Neil Armstrong biography First Man (Ryan Gosling) is based on, I expected it to be as entertaining as a double seminar on the physics of rocket propulsion.

It’s the practical effects that really excel; NASA was essentially firing men to space in tin cans. “You’re a bunch of boys,” rages Claire Foy’s formidable Mrs. Armstrong. Sometimes that’s all it takes…

I’d rather watch Brad Pitt fight Moon pirates tho.. 🐞🐞🐞🐞

THE FAVOURITE

A luminous Restoration-era comedy-drama, The Favourite is the fictionalized tale of ailing Queen Anne’s (Olivia Colman) relationship with brash aristocrat Sarah (Rachel Weisz). They’re depicted as carer/patient, friends, and as lovers, with Sarah the power behind the throne.

Where Mary Queen of Scots was a traditional costume drama with a woke angle, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite is unconventional to its marrow.

Emma Stone, so insipid in La La Land, inserts herself into the bawdy period setting – and the Sarah/Anne relationship – with razor-sharp skill (and a spot-on English accent).

Where women in power are as vile as the men. 🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞

LADY BIRD

At her Catholic private school, Christine ‘Lady Bird’ (Saorise Ronan) is embarrassed by her relatively poor background, and mean-girls in order to fit in with an edgier crowd.

Set just post 9/11, she can’t wait to ditch her hometown of Sacramento and head east for college – upsetting her hard-working mother, frustrated that her daughter can’t be grateful for what she has. (I’d say putting a continent between them is clearly for the best.)

Even if Lady Bird needs to spread her wings, director Greta Gerwig makes their shared hometown look like bliss. It’s a love letter to contentment, and to Sacramento.

Little Women still looks insufferable. 🐞🐞🐞🐞🐞

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) believes local cops failed her slain daughter, so she rents three billboards with a damning message for Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), provoking his Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell) into a conflict that escalates to Molotov cocktails.

In Martin McDonagh’s earlier, 2008 cult hit In Bruges, you felt sorry for Colin Farrell’s bungling hitman, even though he (inadvertently) shot a child. You laughed when he beat up the Canadian Guy. In Ebbing, senseless violence makes viewers wince, while racist thug Dixon never endears like Farrell.

A ‘dark fairy tale’, or just full of plot holes? 🐞🐞🐞

GREEN BOOK

Named after the pre-Civil Rights guidebook for African-American road trippers, Green Book is based on the true story of classical/jazz musician Dr Don Shirley’s (Mahershala Ali) tour of the South.

Meant as heartwarming fare about the power of friendship, comedy is mined from the pairing of the refined Shirley and his driver/heavy Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen), an uncouth, working-class Italian-American.

So feelgood, you could almost forget why it was called ‘Green Book’!

Yikes, Aragorn really went to seed. 🐞🐞🐞

I, TONYA

This reminded me of David O. Russell’s American Hustle, so a no-go for me straight off the bat-on. It’s something to do with the camerawork and heavy-handed period detail.

Staged mockumentary-style (à la Drop Dead Gorgeous) I, Tonya follows 90s champ skater Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) and her connection to the attack (orchestrated by her husband, Jeff Gillooly) on her rival Nancy Kerrigan.

Tonya’s traumatic childhood and abusive marriage are set to retro tunes and playfully presented – she’s a gutsy chick sticking it to the snooty skating authorities, who never gave her a chance. An interesting take, challenged by some.

As exhausting and stressful as Margot Robbie’s frizzball hairdo. 🐞🐞

DUNKIRK

Christopher Nolan’s film about the evacuation of Allied soldiers in WWII sees practical effects again triumph. Kenneth Brannagh and Mark Rylance do stoic bravery; pilots Jack Lowden and Tom Hardy do stoic RAF fighter cover, while young soldiers including Harry Styles run the gauntlet.

Historical disaster re-enactment. 🐞🐞🐞

What are your fave films from the last few years? Recommendations please! Lx

Book Reviews Sally Rooney – NORMAL PEOPLE are overrated

You’re in so much pain you pass out. Before you collapse, you’re pondering your unearned cultural privilege and reductive iteration of gender theory. Meet Frances: communist, poet, and narrator of Sally Rooney’s coming-of-age debut set in post-crash Dublin.

Frances and BFF Bobbi study at the elite Trinity College. They encounter 30-something photojournalist Melissa, who introduces them to her actor husband Nick and their arty social set.

While Bobbi gets cliquey with Melissa, Frances has a desultory affair with the handsome yet passive Nick, who suffered a breakdown.

Before college, the girls attended high school together, where Bobbi scrawled “fuck the patriarchy” on a wall near an image of a crucifix. (She’s a rich anarchist who browbeats her fellow students with her “remorseless intelligence”.)

When not joining Bobbi in putting the world to rights on everything from gender roles to capitalism and police brutality, Frances self-harms, and mops up after her violent alcoholic dad. Bobbi ‘compliments’ her by saying she doesn’t have a “real personality”.

Frances has insecurities about her looks and working-class background, but consoles herself she’s smarter than other people. “I’m going to become so smart that no one will understand me…” she daydreams, leafing through A Critique of Postcolonial Reason.

It would be OK if Friends were a biting Millennial satire. But it’s as earnest as its characters, and like being battered round the head with that copy of Postcolonial Reason.

I can see why it would appeal to young female readers who identify with Frances’ self-esteem woes. It’s much, much darker though – in terms of mental health – and full of doctorate level gobbledygook. Hardly the witty, sparkling delight people have been cooing over.

Normal People

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The couple who mope together…

Normal People’s third person narrative is shared between Marianne and Connell.

Connell’s mother cleans for Marianne’s rich family. At school, he’s a popular soccer player, while Marianne is an outcast. Terrified of what other people think, he ignores her, setting up a tortured on/off romance.

They leave small-town Ireland for Trinity College, where (like Frances and Bobbi) they’re the two smartest people enrolled. Aspiring writer Connell is further alienated by his working-class background, and suffers a breakdown.

Marianne revels in her isolated perch, with the scholarship exams a matter of needing her “superior intellect to be affirmed in public.” In another Friends retread, she’s beaten at home, this time by a brother.

During an on-again phase (and in an echo of Frances and Nick) Marianne (who feels herself “degenerating, moving further and further from wholesomeness, becoming something unrecognisably debased”) asks an uncomfortable Connell to hurt her during sex.

Described as a ‘modern love story’, it puts you through the wringer: depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, domestic violence, abusive boyfriends, death, predatory schoolteachers, BDSM. If this is a modern love story, do count me out.

Rooney again nails Millennial hangups, and doesn’t challenge them. She’s a young voice emerging ahead of the pack, pale and interesting in interviews, so smart you can barely understand her.

FANTASTIC BEASTS: The Crimes of Grindelwald

You’d imagine J.K. Rowling had earned enough goodwill that people might give her the benefit of the doubt.

Yet even before her Fantastic Beasts sequel hit cinemas, the casting caused controversy. The online rage surrounding the casting of tabloid-stricken Johnny Depp as Grindelwald prompted director David Yates to release a statement via his agents Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs…

“Duh, he’s literally playing Wizarding Hitler, like literally,” shrugged Yates. “Let’s hope nobody takes a pop at Eddie Redmayne and accuses him of drop-kicking a Niffler. Now that’d be a real PR nightmare!” he laughed.

Then a scene in the trailer supposedly broke canon, and the release of the official cast list drew fury as it messed with the timeline established in books/minds.

But J.K writes great mysteries and she doesn’t make it up as she goes along, right? 

Well, there are some potential canonical problems here, but it’s only the second film of five. What’s worse is the critical consensus that it’s the worst Potter ever – that it has too many characters and confusing subplots, no clear protagonist, and exists only to set up later chapters.

To be clear, the first Beasts wasn’t that fantabulous – my review was basically, “Wow how hot is Colin Farrell?!” However, I could see it was the start of a story that promised to tap into the richer HP mythology.

‘Crimes’ opens with an impressive action scene, even if the criminal was actually already free, and just wanted his escape to have a certain degree of flair.

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Depp’s take on the character is more Black Mass than Captain Jack, but dark magic must take a toll, as Jamie Campbell Bower’s blond, handsome, spindly young wizard is just a mirage in the Mirror of Erised.

Grindelwald’s crimes include cruelty to cute critters (justice for Antonio!), murder, and nearly destroying Paris. He’s also guilty of making hot Dumbledore lovesick and mopey…after they spent a summer together in their teens, to put this in perspective.

The benignly manipulative Dumbledore has twisted Newt’s arm into protecting Credence – who is trying to discover his origins. And what a persuasive way Dumbledore has – “Hey Newt, you’re not popular, funny, or charming, but you do what’s right!”

So did Rowling have this new sibling twist planned, or did she come up with it between script revisions, à la George Lucas with Luke and Leia?

Well, there was a distinct lack of buildup. Audiences didn’t really finish the first movie speculating about a particular character’s parentage.

Of course Dumbledore always knows more than he lets on. “For the Greater Good” and all that – old ways die hard. Personally, I’ve always suspected he broke his dad out of Azkaban.

🧙🧙1/2

It’s fantastic Rowling is enriching the mythology of her world. I hope she stays true to her original vision. It’s a pity she didn’t leave her new franchise simmering in the cauldron for a lot longer.

The Aftermath: BOOK vs FILM Review

It’s “Stunde Null” – zero hour – for a defeated Germany following WWII. Sadly for audiences of The Aftermath, time stands still.

The screenplay puts us in the picture: more bombs flattened Hamburg in a single weekend than were dropped on London during the entire conflict. Among the scores who died in the firestorm, was the wife of non-Nazi architect Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård).

Top British officer Lewis Morgan requisitions Lubert’s palatial home, but being a decent fellow, doesn’t send its owner packing. Joining the mansion share – it could be a reality show – is Morgan’s wife Rachael (Keira Knightly), still grieving the death of their only son Michael in the Blitz.

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If she’s a bit chilly with Lubert and his resentful daughter Freda, things are quite tepid in the Morgan marriage too, with Rachael angry her husband would rather save Germany than confront their loss.

The obvious love triangle relies on the actors’ good looks to sell a shift from mistrust to lust. When Lubert lunges at Knightley it’s only because he resembles Skarsgård that it isn’t terrifying.

Sacrifices have to be made from page to screen, but it’s like the filmmakers dropped a payload on the book, with the final romantic twist axed, and Lewis’s political role reduced to nothing.

At least the cast try to do justice to the novel’s well-developed characters, and The Aftermath is picturesque enough to get you Googling “houses on the river Elbe”.

🍔🍔 1/2

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

20190323_104422-02.jpegWe first meet Rachael Morgan, muttering to herself on a train, as she travels to Germany with her 11-year-old son Edmund. The death of her older boy Michael has caused her to ‘think with a limp’.

Now her war-weary husband wants her to sleep with the enemy – staying in the home of German architect Stefan Lubert and his teenage daughter Freda.

Rachael’s pretty, but provincial – not a fashion plate. She mixes with the class-conscious army wives, all ‘uncultured cuckoos in the fancy nests of other birds.’

Freda notes how the Englishwoman talks to herself, how her hands shake. But Herr Lubert’s boyish enthusiasm reanimates Rachael, as he talks about his professional ambitions, art, and grief. In this zero hour, they both want a better world, where people talk about what matters.

It’s a slow burn, two people brought together by loss – compared to the onscreen soap opera, where Keira can’t get her kit off fast enough.

Clueless Lewis belongs to the stiff upper lip brigade, yet when he’s not battling the world over Germany’s fate, even he’s drawn to his translator Ursula.

With their parents busy, Freda and Edmund roam. Joining fellow Hamburgers clearing rubble, Freda meets a Nazi youth interested in Chez Lubert’s occupants, while Edmund befriends a feral gang – including the enterprising Ozi – who are in thrall to a sinister older boy.

The Aftermath has a compelling premise, and its subdued emotional heart and historical-political suspense make a dramatic finale, unlike the film’s thin action.

🍔🍔🍔1/2

jane fallon book reviews

BOOK REVIEW: Tell Me a Secret by Jane Fallon

Jane Fallon describes her work as chick noir. I’ve never read any of the non-noir variety, but this is my third Fallon, and I looked forward to another fab read with a happily-ever-after.

I don’t expect a psychological thriller exploring the dark side of human relationships and our own worst fears,  but a self-effacing heroine turning the tables on a cheating fella with the help of a bubbly best friend. There’s revenge, but it doesn’t involve death, cannibalism and crime.

Well, maybe a little bit of crime, but only ever for a good cause, and nobody gets really hurt.

In Tell Me a Secret, Holly is a fortysomething professional, and this time it’s a job, not a man, that she ends up fighting dirty over. She works as script editor for a TV show. She’s just won a promotion, when her office pal Roz starts running a campaign to make her look bad in front of the boss.

Roz is an unholy terror, and Holly a bit of a meek and gullible sidekick, sharing in her gossiping and Mean Girl-ing. It’s a mystery how she got the promotion in the first place, and you despair for her when her idea of retaliation is to hide Roz’s scripts.

There are cliffhangers, dramatic twists, and over-the-top antics, but also suspense and a real edge: How are you supposed to react when you’re targeted by a workplace bully? The Rozs of the world excel at playing the victim, and funnily I’ve always found authority figures tend to fall for it!

But this is escapist revenge chick lit. Before becoming a bestselling author with the likes of My Sweet Revenge, Fallon was a TV producer on shows including Eastenders and This Life, so it’s a backstage world she knows well.

With its supporting cast of badly-behaved z-listers and raging egos, I can imagine Tell Me a Secret on the small screen as a bright comedy-drama .

It was a fun read for a difficult time.

🍷🍷🍷🍷

catherine steadman something in the water movie

BOOK REVIEW: Something in the Water….

While scuba diving on your dream honeymoon, you discover something sinister. Do you a) report it to the authorities b) speed away and pretend it didn’t happen, or c) get in way over your head?

Sadly some people – like film school grad Erin and her jobless banker husband Mark – don’t make good choices.

Catherine Steadman’s debut isn’t exactly a hidden gem. In the UK I couldn’t avoid the hype, while across the pond it was a New York Times Bestseller and a Reese Witherspoon book club pick. (Steadman is an accomplished actress herself, with Downton Abbey among her credits.)

With Witherspoon’s new production company Hello Sunshine set to make the Something in the Water movie, normally I would have been all over this like a shark in a feeding frenzy, but it was described as a ‘beach read’, which put me off.

Luckily, I took the plunge when Jonetta @Blue Mood Cafe recommended it!

After a much-admired opening chapter, we head backwards as our narrator Erin plans an exclusive London wedding and a honeymoon on Bora Bora, with sumptuous descriptions of super-first class travel and deluxe wedding menus.

Their showy lifestyle is funded by Mark’s job in investment banking, while Erin has a creative background and is working on a documentary about prisoners on the verge of release.

Her greatest catch is a gangland legend named Eddie Bishop, who knows a scary amount about Erin. But she has bigger problems; before the honeymoon, Mark lost his job in spectacular, escorted-from-the-building-by-security fashion.

Then they find something in the water that could literally change their fortunes forever – if they’re smart. Ahem.

The narrative is shadowed by the fear and mistrust caused by the financial crash, and the subtleties of the class system. When Erin visits the home of another one of her prisoners, she is paranoid about sounding condescending or bourgeois.

Yet while Mark – used to babysitting wealthy clients – flies First Class like it’s no big deal, Erin is a fish out of water. She quickly learns that having real money isn’t all about buying nice things, so much as it’s about avoiding the rules.

The sickly way Mark talks to Erin – like she needs constant soothing and reassurance – grates, but then she really ramps up the stupid, making rookie criminal mistakes (not that I’m an expert!) and being really, really slow on the uptake, so maybe he was right.

I know some readers expected more confrontation or climax, but the story is less about who the bad guys are and what they want, and more about what greed and dishonesty do to normal people, and how much we ever truly know each other, even that stunning Millennial couple with the perfect life.

“Careful what you wish for…”

🌴🌴🌴🌴

13 reasons why book differences

NETFLIX 13 Reasons Why – Book vs Show

Recently I read the new story collection, “You Think It, I’ll say It”, by Curtis Sittenfeld, whose work often features adult women still seething at the injustices of high school.

It made me want to watch Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, based on Jay Asher’s 2007 YA novel about a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who leaves a suicide note blaming her classmates before taking her own life. Her note is actually a set of audio tapes, passed between thirteen recipients under threat of being exposed by a third party.

As nice kid Clay Jensen listens to the tapes, trying to figure out his place in the story, Hannah’s tale unspools in flashbacks. Played by Katherine Langford, she’s prettier and sweeter than an uptight, petty Sittenfeld heroine.

Each tape focuses on one individual, and a whole episode is devoted to that character and what Hannah says they did wrong, and about everything that was going wrong in their own lives, which, we discover, was a lot…

Because we move from mean girls and school cliques to sexual harassment, multiple rapes, victim blaming, abusive parents, fatal car crashes, gun incidents, drug addiction, self-harm and more. It seems like a lot of problems for a dozen or so under-18s, even if the cast do look more like 25.

Netflix even nightmared up a second season/sequel to Asher’s book where Clay – now straight-up cray – develops a saviour complex and runs an amateur rehab clinic under his parents’ noses, while Hannah’s absentee parents sue the school whose teachers lazily ignored a brutal culture of bullying and rape.

Supposedly a ‘realistic’ portrayal of teen life, they’re all feverishly conforming to that TV contrivance of ‘protecting’ their parents from reality, and being a ‘good kid’. Oh Netflix! We’re a few weeks into the UK summer vacation, and all I’ve heard are teenagers complaining about boredom and being unable to find any clean underwear!

That’s the immature demographic Netflix are targeting – and winning, by being edgy and smugly socially important. I get that certain aspects – such as the bullying and social pressures – hit home for many young female viewers, but the show is so implausible, bleak and slow-moving that I don’t get the appeal.

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher (2007)

After ditching the show before the end of Season 2, I was curious about the novel, so I checked the YA section in my local bookshop. “We’re not allowed to shelve that in YA!” cried 51syyO7qB5L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgthe sales assistant, nearly fainting, although he agreed it’s marketed at young people.

It was sold out, anyway.

Asher’s book is both gentler and sadder than the series. Instead of cramming in every social issue, it’s tightly focused on the mind of one suicidal girl, and Clay’s rising horror as he listens to the tapes over a single night.

At times their voices merge confusingly into one, and the premise still feels a touch far-fetched; I think if you have a dozen kids involved, somebody would have confided to a parent.

The school isn’t radioactive, but bullying goes on everywhere, and ongoing exposure can be a factor in suicidal behaviour. The book nails how hurtful gossip and rumours can be, and how one or two malevolent individuals, or pack leaders, can dominate a school or group.

Hannah clearly felt victimized, but as he listens Clay contradicts her – not because she’s a liar, but because of her mental state. He listens, powerless, as tape Hannah goes down a reckless, self-destructive path. (“You knew it was the worst choice possible….You wanted your world to collapse around you. You wanted everything to get as dark as possible.”)

He remembers Hannah withdrawing and avoiding eye contact, but he didn’t talk to her because of what other kids would say if they knew he liked her. He had no idea who she really was; he just believed what other people said. Then all the chances were gone.

It’s a bittersweet coming-of-age, and I think the message is supposed to encourage readers to be friendly and undaunted by toxic peer groups. Maybe schools and colleges could be easier for the Hannah Bakers of the world.

The number for the Samaritans in the UK is 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Further international suicide helplines can be found at http://www.befrienders.org.

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, but I’ve been too weak this, er…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.


 My Goodreads| My Twitter| My Instagram|

All seriously neglected, but I’m trying to get into the swing. I follow back all book, movie and writing accounts! Lx

Book Haul! Future adaptations Ophelia & The Lost Wife

Earlier this year I read Lion, about a little Indian boy, Saroo, who gets lost in Kolkata, and survives on the streets before being adopted by an Australian family. As an adult he tracks down his mother and sister in India by using Google Earth.

The incredible true story became a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel. I watched it and couldn’t help but be disappointed – it wasn’t a patch on the book. Yet if I’d seen it in theatres first, I wouldn’t have bothered picking up the memoir.

As a film blogger, I’d already packed my incredibly packed (not really) reading list with some future adaptations and it’s quite a mix – YA, historical, science fiction. I better get cracking before I’m tempted to laze in front of the screen. Here goes the YA/fluffier reading..

Ophelia, by Lisa Klein

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Ophelia by Lisa Klein

Get thee to a nunnery…not as passionate as Juliet, or bold and witty as Beatrice, Ophelia has always seemed a flimsy role.

But Lisa Klein’s re-imagining of Hamlet from his love interest’s perspective has forever banished thoughts of her as a tragic waif.

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

Under Queen Gertrude’s slightly capricious care, Ophelia grows into an exceptionally intelligent woman whom I can see inhabited by Daisy Ridley. She catches the eye of Prince Hamlet, and becomes an expert on botany and herbology, curing the ailments of people at court.

What if she used those skills – and her formidable intelligence – to try to survive the tragedy that engulfs her family and Denmark?

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 Naomie Watts.) They don’t speak in blank verse, but there is a vivid sense of time and place.

As a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance literature, Klein knows the setting and characters, and the result is a very atmospheric YA novel with a genuinely impressive heroine, although I did find the final quarter heavy-going.

Wrapped back in July after shooting in the Czech Republic, the film will star George MacKay – who was very good in Captain Fantastic – as Hamlet, and Tom ‘Draco Malfoy’ Felton as Laertes.

The Lost Wife, by Alyson Richman

Daisy Ridley is having a busy year (or two). In this, she is slated to play a young art student in WWII Prague.

Lenka, a young Jewish woman living with her well-heeled family, falls in love with a classmate’s older brother, Josef, who is following his father’s footsteps into medicine. They marry, but when he escapes with his family for the USA, Lenka’s own family are unable to follow, and the couple are torn apart.

This is well-researched (life in Prague before the occupation; the artwork of Jews suffering in the ghetto Terezin; the bravery of a few to produce an underground movement) but I couldn’t take to it.

Richman’s prose is flowing and romantic, but this is no epic, ambitious narrative. I didn’t believe Lenka and Josef were real people, while the secondary characters are very lightly daubed on the page, and their stories end (tragically) when it is clearly very convenient, which undercuts the tragedy.

I also have doubts about Richman’s decision to start the novel with the conclusion.

It’s hard to dismiss this as lightweight when Auschwitz and Mengele – names which strike immediate horror – appear in the text. Lenka’s choices and circumstances are naturally going to be heart-wrenching, but if I wanted to read a deeply affecting account of the Holocaust, there are plenty of books out there.

I suspect Richman just isn’t a writer I could enjoy. It’s far too early to say anything about the movie, but I hope they change it so that the ending….is at the end.

Next week, I review some forthcoming sci-fi adaptations….

The Light Between Oceans is Instagram-worthy, if not awards-worthy

The Light Between Oceans, or as I keep calling it – The Light Between Oscars – was once quite buzzy, tipped to give Alicia Vikander another shot at Best Actress after she lifted the trophy for The Danish Girl in 2016.

Based on a very popular work of historical fiction by M.L Stedman, an Australian serviceman, Tom Sherbourne (Fassy), returns from WWI. He marries Isabel (Vikander), and they go and live in his remote lighthouse.

After Isabel suffers two harrowing miscarriages, a lifeboat with a dead man and a squalling baby washes ashore.

A hesitant Fassy lets his wife keep the baby and raise her as their own. Things then take a Hardyesque twist when Fassy stumbles across Hannah (Rachel Weisz) weeping beautifully beside a memorial at the same church where the Sherbournes are holding their child’s christening.

the-light-between-oceans

Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/Entertainment One

This is, I think, the first big studio film by Derek Cianfrance, director of the indie hit Blue Valentine (skipped it – Ryan Gosling does my head in).

Light is a melodramatic, sweeping romance but Vikander is so intense, and the premise so far-fetched, that early on I wondered if it would veer off into psychological horror, with the lighthouse and the baby manifestations of the character’s break with reality.

After that early, creepy suspense, it gets really overwrought, with an ending that felt badly rushed.

Rachel Weisz is surprisingly a gentle undercurrent to the lighthouse couple; Fassy gives a very reserved, stoic performance as the traumatized veteran, while the new Lara Croft Vikander is a storm to be reckoned with once again.

As husband and wife, they have an interesting chemistry and are quite contrasting onscreen. Vikander is still such an ingénue it looks like Fassbender might have plucked a child bride from the sea. He’s a rarefied thespian; she’s raw and tumultuous.

By all means, I think people should see The Light Between Oceans, just for all the talent on board. It is probably the most beautiful film of last year, with the stunning coast and stark lighthouse interiors. You could Instagram the living daylights out of it.

BOOK REVIEW: My Sweet Revenge by Jane Fallon

In the summer, my cat makes me sit outside where I can’t get any WiFi. Apparently she is too scared to stay in the garden by herself, and just feels safer when I’m there.

I suppose I could spend my enforced no-WiFi time doing Yoga and meditating on how I became so devoted to such a demanding creature, but it’s actually a great chance to catch up on some reading.

My Sweet Revenge was written under the furry supervision of author Jane Fallon’s diva moggy Ollie (she’s a girl) Fallon-Gervais, so it’s only right it should be read while under the paw too.

Ollie has her own Twitter account (37,000 followers) and my familiarity with her social media antics clued me in that I would love Jane’s world. Not that Jane writes Ollie’s Tweets, of course.

So I really have to thank Olls – because this isn’t the kind of book I’d grab off the shelf. I know it’s not necessarily a popular term, but ‘chick lit’ isn’t generally for me. (Fair play to all such writers out there –  I would never have the talent to write it.)

As expected, Jane Fallon’s work has too much drama and deceit to be fluffy or girly. It’s chick lit written by an evil feline genius.

The heroine, Paula, works in a bakery (hence that mouthwatering jacket cover) and her idea of getting back at her (apparently) cheating husband isn’t just to fling a cream pie in his lying face.

(See? That would be the plot of my own romantic revenge novel.)

Paula and her husband Robert met at drama school; his acting career took off, hers didn’t. Robert’s not exactly Benedict Cumberbatch famous, more like second-billed lead on a soap (or ‘long-running drama’) famous, and beloved by the nation’s grannies. The couple’s teenage daughter Georgia is the only celeb sprog on the planet to not be an aspiring actress/photographer/model, and has her heart set on medical school instead.

Their life is shattered when Paula makes a discovery leading her to believe that Robert is having an affair with a gorgeous co-star named Saskia, who is married to a producer on their show Farmer Giles (!). Paula doesn’t confront her husband, deciding instead to execute a scheme for retribution that will make him fall back in love with her, while scuppering any chance he has of happiness with Saskia.

It’s playful, addictive, and about as likely as a sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, calorie-free pastry ever tasting good. Paula is a great main character – likeable and with enough gusto to keep the reader engaged. I honestly could not see the twists coming. The book has been an absolute joy and a great vacation read.

Verdict: I haven’t enjoyed a story set in an bakery so much since Pushing Daisies.

Mini movie reviews for 2016!

It’s February. That means cold, freezing weather. It is also the culmination of the awards season. Yes, it’s nearly time for the biggest, glitziest celebrity ceremony of the year – The Oscars. Chilly, horrible weather, and awards season? I think I better start with…

THE MARTIAN

Ridley’s Scott’s latest space offering is set on the red planet, where things get pretty cold for NASA botanist Mark Watney (Damon) when he’s abandoned by the rest of his team, ET-style.

Setting the tone for the movie, Watney patches himself up after getting harpooned in the gut. It’s realistic and gritty, unlike my beloved Prometheus . They’re going to “science the shit” out of this one.

Based on the 2011 Andy Weir novel, the scenes on Earth are as dry as Martian soil. Luckily, whenever things get a bit lofty at NASA HQ, something goes wrong for Watney (not that I actively wanted him to suffer.)

Mars looks like a fab destination, and the astronauts have cool space suits in a kind of burnt amber that match the scenery. It’s not as good or moving as Gravity, but it’s still a fantastic ode to human endeavour and ingenuity,  human strength and the will to survive. Matt Damon is the Best Actor on Mars.

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SICARIO

A fictional war-on-drugs action crime thriller so brutal I wondered what I was doing watching it.

Idealistic young FBI agent Kate (Emily Blunt) is a kidnap response expert who makes a  gruesome discovery in Arizona. She gets hauled into a narcotics task force led by the morally ambivalent Matt (Josh Brolin), a DoD/CIA bod and his even shadier partner Alejandro (Benicio del Toro).

Blunt is wide-eyed and vulnerable – enough to be affecting, but not so much to be miscast as a door-kicker rolling with Delta Force. She’s the audience’s proxy, not driving the story forward so much as along for the ride; in this movie, the good guys fight dirty.

Del Toro is so enigmatic he makes waking up from a nap compelling. Kate can’t tear her eyes off him; neither can the audience. She appears attracted to him, even if he scares her. He wants to protect her, even as he threatens to kill her. Intense stuff.

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THE DANISH GIRL

Save all your tears for The Danish Girl, a lavish costume drama based on 1920s transgender pioneer Lili Elbe, who starts her journey as Einar, married to fellow painter/illustrator Gerda (Alicia Vikander).

They are devoted to one another, with a circle of friends who love to hear about their blissful wedded life. (An earsplitting, hyper Amber Heard cameos as ballerina Ulla, a confidante of the couple.)

But an unhappy Lili eventually meets a humane physician and becomes one of the first to undergo gender reassignment surgery, before antibiotics or immunosuppressive drugs. “I am… entirely… myself,” beams an unconvincing Redmayne from Lili’s sick bed.

Although it starts as a two-hander, The Danish Girl is more of a blank canvas for Alicia Vikander. But it’s got its timing right, and it’s bound to find an audience willing to treat it with reverence.

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ROOM

Little Jack and his poor Ma (Brie Larson) are locked in a soundproofed shed they call “Room”.

Their captor, Old Nick, snatched a teenage Joy Newsome seven years ago, before she gave birth to Jack in captivity. In the evenings, Old Nick visits with supplies and inflicts himself on Ma while little Jack sleeps in a closet.

Mother and son eventually pull off a rather implausible escape, and wake up in hospital with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a vast cityscape, which seemed like a rapid adjustment for two people used to a cramped room with only a skylight.

Other characters start piling in: Ma’s divorced parents, lawyers, doctors, television hosts, and this is where it loses its hold. Larson is off-screen in the final act as she recovers from a suicide attempt, and we’re left with screechy little Jack making cakes with grandma and getting a haircut.

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CAROL

Trapped behind a toy counter in a Manhattan department store for the holidays, Therese (trussed up in a Santa hat like a festive fawn) is dreaming of a creative life as a photographer. Across a blur of Christmas shoppers she locks eyes with a statuesque beauty: it’s Cate Blanchett, as the titular blue-blooded 1950s socialite.

Their acquaintance becomes a love affair – dangerous, especially if Carol’s husband Harge (Kyle Chandler) has anything to do with it. Hounded by his private investigators, Blanchett is a free spirit – although there’s definitely something predatory about her.

Every frame is beautiful, however, it is slow, restrained and elegant – the lack of right-on wrath may make it too removed for some.

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CRIMSON PEAK

I expected a subpar Victorian horror. I knew it had a pedigree, with stars Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain directed by Guillermo del Toro, but Crimson Peak flopped at the box office.

Aspiring writer Edith’s (Mia) mother is dead, and her dad is a decent, bearded fellow – who’s got Brit aristo Hiddles trying to convince him to invest in his mining inventions.

Pa dislikes him and  his Bronte mean girl sister Chastain, but Edith marries Hiddles and returns to England to live at his crumbling estate, where gross red clay oozes through the walls and floorboards.

There’s a ghost, too, but although sinister, Crimson Peak doesn’t deliver shocks or scares like the Victorian Gothic The Woman in Black, and probably isn’t intended as a horror. It’s a dark costume drama, a weird Tim Burtonish fantasy and a brooding romance – I’m not sure. I wonder if anyone in charge of the marketing knew either.

The fab cast and the decomposing goo-mansion seem to breathe as one determined mess. Kudos to the movie’s strange warmth and passion, and to the best costumes.

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