Books in December

A slightly slow end to the year’s reading with only 3 books in December, mostly due to brain trying to hibernate, so too many tube journeys just staring at stupid games on the phone. Must do better.

Jonathan Glancey – A Very British Revolution: 150 Years of John Lewis
This would seem a rather random book to read, except for the fact that I started working for John Lewis this year. The history of the company is very interesting and this book does a fair job at describing how it developed entwined with the history of retail, design, society and the country as a whole. It’s a little light and fluffy, and it’s lacking any true critical thinking that would make it a more relevant history book. But it’s nice to look at, and has enough substance to put it a step above a PR puff piece.

Gail Honeyman – Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
A colleague at work lent me this book saying she absolutely loved it, and for a while that was the only reason that I kept reading it. I REALLY didn’t like the first half or so of the book. It’s told first person and I did not like being in Eleanor’s head at all. I am still not entirely certain though whether this is because the book is good, or bad. I can recognise that Eleanor’s head is not somewhere that the reader should enjoy being, she’s got an uncomfortable approach to the world. But I’m not settled on whether that’s good writing that challenges the reader, or mean spirited writing that we’re supposed to find something amusing or freak-show like in her. The second half of the book did pick up a little (it thankfully swerved around what I thought was going to be an excruciating embarrassment for the character), but I never really relaxed into the book and can’t say I found it either entertaining or satisfying.

Caroline Kepnes – Providence
A random pick from the library because I liked the cover. Sadly I didn’t like the book as much. I’m not sure whether the book would be considered a young adult novel, but I felt it had a simplicity that is often found in the less good entries in that genre. Despite some interesting questions around what makes a person good or bad, there’s little depth to it with the characters all coming across as quite one dimensional. There’s far more focus on a relationship that I never really bought into. I didn’t hate the book, but it felt very ‘surface’ and disposable.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Season 1

I have vague memories of the original Sabrina television series, probably about the perfect amount as far as the creators of the new series are concerned – a mildly curious nostalgia without a defensive reverence. I immediately liked the idea of taking the teenage witch element and making it much darker and the show certainly on the surface delivers that with dark satanic rituals and casual references to pretty dark stuff, but I found if you really paid attention, it was all smoke and mirrors.

The pilot gets off to a good start with an immediate hook that Sabrina must soon decide between life as a human like her mother, or life as a witch like her father. Being raised by her father’s sisters following her parent’s death means that it’s assumed that she’ll commit to being a witch, taking a dark baptism on her 16th birthday and pledging loyalty to the Dark Lord Satan. But that would mean leaving behind her human school, friends and boyfriend and Sabrina is not so certain, questioning what it really means to commit to the Dark Lord.

The thing is, it quickly becomes apparent that the writers don’t really know the answer to that question either, and really don’t want to have to commit to anything. Sabrina doesn’t really seem to have to give anything up – she uses magic, keeps the boyfriend, goes to both schools (although never has to do any actual work) and seems to have no real problem doing whatever she wants to do.

The show never really reconciles what it means to “commit to the Dark Lord” in terms of morality and principles. After a while it becomes apparent that although Sabrina’s family are full members of the church, they don’t seem to act on anything. There are dark things occasionally done by other witches, but it feels like that’s because they’re “bad guys” rather than because they’re witches. It felt all talk no action, like teenagers saying they’re satanists, drawing a pentagram with a sharpie and then going home to do their homework .

In addition to these problems at the heart of the concept, there are more mundane issues on the surface too. Characters are completely under-used (Ambrose, Salem the cat) and the less said about the utterly dreary Harvey the better. The directing/cinematography annoyed me from the very start and I didn’t really get used to it. There was some sort of effect being used that only a small amount of the screen would be in focus at any time and it drove me to distraction. Some of the sets felt incredibly artificial and cheap and some of the acting and/or script writing was pretty clunky, and even the costumes and make-up annoyed me at times.

One of the weird powers that Netflix seems to have is that it doesn’t matter that I didn’t like the series, I still watched the whole thing, and may well end up watching the second season. It’s like some kind of dark spell, because heaven/hell knows, there’s nothing in this series that actually rewards the time.

Handmaid’s Tale: Season 2

I let the whole season of Handmaid’s Tale build up and sit on my Sky box for ages before actually watching it. It’s one of those shows that you really want to have watched, but actually wanting to sit down and start it is another matter entirely. You know it’s going to be good, really really good, but it’s not going to be easy and not necessarily much fun. There’s enough spark and flashes of humour to make it bearable, but only just.

Season 2 is completely beyond the source novel’s timeframe and plot, not that season 1 was exactly constrained as it was already expanding on the bones of the world and characters Atwood created. Season 2 moves further into backstories – broadening out the world and that may be the problem that I had with this season. I’m not sure that it hung together when looked at in that depth. The novel created a world without explanation, it didn’t try to work out how the world that we were reading about came to be, just that it existed and the reader and characters were in it whether they liked it or not. The first season of the television show started to add some backstory and it seemed just about plausible. But the second season really pushes the boundaries of the world out – looking at the transformation of our near-present day into Gilead and also the wider world of both ‘the colonies’ and more of Canada where the refugees flee.

The issue is, I don’t think it makes sense. I know we live in a world today where things happen that seem to defy belief, but I struggle to see how things could change so dramatically, so fast. This is the kind of tectonic shift that should take generations to gradually erode freedoms. But it is evident that it’s only a couple of years between ‘normal’ existence with recognisable technology, jobs and laws, and people being enslaved, tortured, raped and murdered. The problem is not only time, it’s geography, Showing ‘normal’ Canada really emphasises that, just a drive away from this horror, everything is fairly normal.

Everything else about the series remains absolutely superb. Every shot is beautifully and creatively framed, lit, and designed; there are scenes that could be considered works of art they are so stunning to look at. The script is cut back to the very minimum as all the characters mind what they say, while never lacking clarity or meaning. The performances are of course wonderful, and there is not a single weak link or boring character, everyone has so many levels to them. Even when characters are making frustrating choices, or their arcs don’t seem to make sense as a whole, the acting in the moment cannot be faulted.

But I could not get past that nagging feeling that the core of the series is rotten. That all the beautiful acting and exceptional production values could never quite make me ignore that nagging doubt and annoyance that fundamentally, the series doesn’t make sense.

Films in November

Bohemian Rhapsody
I always forget how many truly great songs Queen have had. The trailer alone for this film packed half a dozen songs together into a stunning mashup with incredible editing. Then you’ve got the story of the band, and particularly Freddie Mercury which gives more than enough story. Sadly, while the material is all there for a 10/10, the film only manages to get to 8/10. There were a few too many elements that I felt needed just one more polish – dialogue and direction were at times just too obvious, most of the characters were too thinly painted (particularly Paul and Mary) and I don’t think there was really a commitment about how to handle Freddie’s sexuality. Not to mention quite a lot of artistic licence with history.
BUT while these things niggle from the point of view of making an outstanding film, they don’t detract from the pure enjoyment of watching this film. I was entertained throughout, and firmly convinced of the joy and heartbreak of Freddie and Queen’s music. I watched most of the last 20 minutes with both a huge grin and streaming tears. I’m writing this a couple of hours later with Queen thumping out of the stereo and I’ve stopped typing several times just to sing along.

A Star is Born
First of all I want to say that Lady Gaga is absolutely phenomenal in this film. I knew she could act a bit from her tv work, but here she is a full blown, award worthy actress. The character has depth and complexity, she is clearly saying one thing while thinking another, and often not even really knowing how feels. It is a stunning performance, and I’m just disappointed that the rest of the film didn’t feel as worthy of her talents.
The biggest problem for me was that I felt the film presented itself as a love story and music film, and didn’t dig hard enough into the issues of exploitation and power dynamics. The issues were there, but never challenged and explored, continually sidestepped with a rousing musical number or emotionally manipulative confrontation on a different subject. I felt uncomfortable the whole time, even when I was also enjoying the music and spectacle. Was Ally being exploited by the older star who found his own passion for music and life reinvigorated by her as a muse and the music industry trying to change her image to sell more records. Or was Ally very aware of that and playing the game to her own gain? From their very first meeting Ally and Jack set off all my “me too” alarm bells with a famous, older, drunk man picking up a younger woman and offering her a path to her dreams. Maybe neither side felt there was a trade being done, but there was clearly a power imbalance at the heart of their relationship and I don’t think the film addressed that at all, it just romanticised everything. I would have much preferred if Ally hadn’t known who he was when they first met and she could obviously fall in love with the person rather than any uncertainty. Add to that the timeframe within the film felt rushed, but the film itself dragged. I spent the whole film feeling uncomfortable and the more I think about it, the more frustrated I get.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (netflix)
This is actually five short films stuck together and I’m honestly not sure whether I liked it or not. I watched the first 4 stories back to back one evening and I was utterly bored. But then I finished off the fifth one and I found myself rather charmed by it, and also thinking back fondly on the sections that previously I’d found quite dull. It’s a great cast of character actors, all giving it there all to bring characters to life so quickly. The stories are fairly minimal, but that works well to celebrate the acting and not outstay the welcome on any messages. There’s some lovely directing and cinematography as well. Maybe it’s best to watch each one individually.

Rewatches – I had a day of watching Disney films and playing with Lego. It was brilliant.
Up – Another really really amazing film from Pixar. The opening was really beautiful, similar to Wall-E in telling a meaningful story with very few words. There’s a slight disconnect between the beauty of the opening and then the more standard Disney style adventure, which I found a little tricky to process. But once I settled into the adventure it was a lot of fun. Once again Pixar made me laugh out loud and bawl my eyes out. They really are leading the way in film making, not just for animation but for family films in general.

Wreck-It Ralph – I don’t like the title. That really is the only criticism I have of the film, everything else about it was just so bright, original, entertaining and expertly crafted that the title really is the only thing that stands out as not being completely perfect. The care and attention that went into the design of the world, the characters and the storyline created something that seems to effortless that you come out wondering why other films aren’t that good. In many ways my gushing about this film almost doesn’t seem right, because it’s not really a groundbreaking film. It doesn’t try to do anything epic like some of Pixar’s films do, but that doesn’t feel like a lack of ambition, instead it feels like all of that creativity and skill has instead gone into producing a near perfect animation.

The Sword in the Stone – This certainly ranks near the top of my Disney films list, it’s certainly one of my favourites of the roughly described ‘pre-modern-era’. I must have seen this a dozen times growing up and I definitely remember it being one that my Dad would cheerfully watch over and over with me. It’s got that great Disney blend of humour and heart, enough action and laughs to keep the attention, and a good enough story and message at its core to give it life beyond the fun. It’s not the best animation admittedly, the style is quite rough in places looking like it’s more of a first draft than a finished offering (although the squirrel sequence, which presumably could re-use animation and studies from previous critter cartoons is more impressive). The songs however are wonderful (the Sherman Brothers strike again!) and the voice acting charming. Utterly wonderful.
Ranking: 8 / 10

Zootropolis – The lines between Disney and Pixar are really blurring under John Lasseter’s leadership of Disney and that’s turning into a really really great thing for Disney. Zootropolis does all the things we’ve always expected from Pixar – smart, bright, original and with a huge heart. It’s playing with classic ideas of the cop genre, taking a keen new recruit and throwing them into the reality of the city and partnering with a more worldly wise companion (in this case a conman). I laughed pretty consistently through the film thanks to the verbal and visual gags, particularly the elegantly included grown up references that in no way would detract from a child’s entertainment. There were a couple of slower segments in the middle where plot was explained and the kids in the audience got a bit fidgety. Also the moral message was really hammered home until it became a little frustrating, but given how important a message it is, I shouldn’t really complain. Another great entry into Disney’s catalog.

Moana – Another great entry into the Disney catalogue, it’s a good long while since they’ve had a dud, and they continue to meld both all the traditional elements that make Disney great while bringing innovation in tone, style and story that continually surprise. Moana’s focus on a very different culture is respectful of traditions without compromising on incredibly strong female characters. Like Frozen there are complexities in who the ‘baddie’ is which adds a lot of depth to the story. The animation is beautiful, and the voice acting is superb, completely integrated with the animation, never feeling like celebrities putting on voices and disjointed. The songs are catchy, and actually grow on me every time I hear them. I rewatched it on DVD and am actually improving its rating, which rarely happens. It had lost absolutely none of the joy or freshness on repeat viewing, and actually I saw even more strength in the characters and story, and more nuance and beauty in the animation.

Books in November

Marc ‘Elvis’ Priestley – The Mechanic: The Secret World of the F1 Pitlane
I stopped watching Formula 1 a few years ago, but when I spotted this in the library I was intrigued and thought it would be interesting to hear about the sport from the point of view of the ‘nameless’ mechanics. The perspective is interesting because the mechanics are the heart of the sport, at the centre of this massive show, and yet are largely anonymous and are certainly not making any of the money. Priestley gives an engaging and frank description of the near insanity of McLaren in the 2000’s as they challenge for world titles, are found guilty of spying (sort of) and Alonso and Hamilton do their best to destroy the team. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more description of the actual engineering, and race activity for the pitlane crews; and a little less drunken partying. Overall it’s interesting, but a little bit light. (596)

Ben Aaronovitch – Rivers of London 8: Lies Sleeping
It is a little hard to find something original to say about books in this series, they are stunningly consistent, just like an old friend that you can immediately fall into sync with. It is once again brimming with cleaver, elegant and witty turns of phrase that ground the characters entirely in present day London, even when the story is towards the bonkers end of the spectrum. As usual I found myself re-reading sections for the pure joy of it. I think the story line hung together a bit longer than usual, but I did lose track a bit at the very end. (593)

Susan Calman – Sunny Side Up
I love Susan Calman, and this book is completely HER. While her first book was about the challenging subject of depression, this one is about joy and kindness. Since doing Strictly Come Dancing, she seems to have blossomed and this book celebrates that. That doesn’t mean it’s a simpering saccharine affair, Calman still has enough witty rage and pithy cutdowns to please my cynical heart. It is quite a lightweight book, it’s not going to change the world, and it doesn’t give a huge insight behind the scenes of Strictly or the life of a comedian, but it is just a NICE book and sometimes that’s what is needed.

John Le Carré – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Generally I didn’t really follow what was going on, too many people and too much jargon. But at the same time, it was quite a page turner. It reminded me a bit of the Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander books, which have the same problem that I understand almost nothing they’re talking about, and yet somehow it all washes over you to give a quite immersive experience of the situation. It sort of all came together for me by the end, but I can’t quite definitively say whether I really enjoyed the book as a whole. I suspect if I immediately read it again, I’d probably really like it because I’d not feel so ignorant, but I’m not going to bother.

Laura Purcell – The Corset
Another very satisfying book from Laura Purcell, following on from The Silent Companions. The Corset is not scary in the dark and ghosty way that The Silent Companions was, but it’s still creepy thanks to just the day to day horrors of being poor in Victorian times was. The main story is told in flashback and interwoven with some day-to-day tribulations of a considerably more well off woman who is frankly quite irritating. While her own difficulties are significant to her, and obviously demonstrate the contrast in fortunes, I got frustrated at being pulled away from the more interesting story. Other than that the pacing is excellent and the resolution very satisfying. Heartily recommended for a dark Autumn evening.

Andy Miller – The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life
I keep reading books about reading books; and generally I find that the more the author talks about their love of books, the more I find myself turned off. This book is the closest I’ve read to actually making me believe the author really does love reading, and some of the aspects he talks about do resonate with me. But he’s also an English graduate with a tendency to pontificate and most of the books he picks are utterly unappealing to me. The book itself is rather forced, a meandering mission and a bludgeoned together structure that feels utterly artificial. His voice is strong though, and he made me smile all the way through with his little observations of life. I did enjoy reading it, which to me makes it a good book, but I think the author probably wanted a more profound impact than that.

Killjoys: Season 1-4

Canada has always done an extremely solid line in excellent, character driven science fiction. My understanding is that it’s thanks to generous tax breaks and a wide variety of different landscapes in a relatively small geographical area, making it perfect for any series where the characters are travelling a lot. So X-Files, Warehouse 13 and Supernatural could tour the US while the Stargate franchise, Dark Matter and Battlestar Galactica can tour the universe. It can get a little incestuous with the same names and faces appearing in cast and crew and the same forests and mountains subbing for different cities, planets, spaceships and whatever else the imagination can summon. But they all know how to make the money go a long way – making the most of minimal set dressing, effective stunts and special effects rather than flashy but insubstantial CGI, and writers and actors who can deliver meaningful scenes in a bare corridor, or the small standing set that they use every week.

Killjoys is a very worthy entry into this great pantheon. The building blocks of the plot can be taken from any role-playing adventure – the characters fall into their assigned roles neatly (warrior princess, thief, soldier, cleric, medic, gay bartender) and head off on requisite quests and heists. But the universe behind it is half science fiction exploration of a class based society gone mad, and half like a bad trip (shared memories stored in “the green”, bodysnatcher goo and unkillable zombie like opponents) with conspiracy theories and wars being fought across the millennia. As I try to write it down, I realise that I don’t really understand the plot. It doesn’t matter though because it’s not about any of that. It’s about characters.

The three main characters (the warrior princess, the thief and the soldier) form an incredibly strong core to the series. They are beautifully written, and wonderfully acted. Killjoys could be used to teach what good character and relationship writing looks like. The thief (Johnny) and the warrior (Dutch) are bounty hunters (known as killjoys), the soldier (D’Avin) is Johny’s estranged brother, suddenly landing in the middle of their lives. The relationships between the trio, and the individual pairings are all wonderfully nuanced, but it’s the relationship between Johnny and Dutch that is my absolute favourite. They are soulmates, they are codependent, rely on each other, bicker away and call each other on their crap. But they are not in love. They freely admit they love each other, but they are family not romance. The openness and trust between the two is beautiful; while the worlds shift around them, they are bedrock.

The other thing is, the series is FUNNY. Proper laugh out loud, spit out your tea, rewind to hear it again, funny. There’s a realness to both language and delivery that has me smiling just thinking about it. It’s not elegant in terms of creativity of language or delivering complex set ups; it’s the hilarity of a perfectly timed swear word, a shared sigh, a heartfelt insult, an acknowledgement of insanity, a well timed pratfall. It’s the private jokes of family members, that are somehow feel inclusive rather than exclusive.

I love this series. I powered through it, and then went back and re-watched many of the episodes to obsessively seek out key moments and lines. Yeah, the plot goes a bit nuts and there are holes that you could drive an asteroid through should you chose to look for them, but it’s such a fun ride that I just don’t care.

Films in October

I actually had quite a quiet month for films, the only reason this film doesn’t look quiet is that I had a day off sick and watched 7 films back to back. I think that may be a personal best.

New films
First Man
There’s a lot that is admirable about this film. The ‘story’ of the first man to walk on the moon is a fantastic one that certainly supports a film. Armstrong is simultaneously the least likely choice and the perfect choice for the history making position – a remarkable man, but also a very down to earth one (pardon the pun). The film’s writers, directors and star Ryan Gosling all fully explore the contrast – telling the story of his daughter’s death, showing everything in lingering closeup and performing everything in an very internalised way. It’s an incredible story, told well. So why didn’t I like it?
Firstly, I didn’t get on with the style. I see why they chose to film it in a period way (basic framing, lots of closeups, grainy texture, flat lighting) but I found it dull. I also often had to close my eyes when the handheld, fast motion got rather nauseating. I can see that the film isn’t about NASA, or even the moonshot itself, but is in fact about Armstrong, but I was disappointed to not get more of the ‘supporting’ characters, most of whom (even Buzz Aldrin) were reduced to single note cliches. I also understand why it played so slowly at times, but I found it boring. Maybe that was because I did already know a lot of the beats in the story and it just felt dragged out. There were a few moments scattered through that really, completely engrossed me (the footage on the moon was beautiful, and the Apollo 1 section was utterly horrific to watch). But my over-riding response for most of it was impressed but slightly bored.

Extinction (Netflix)
There were three phases to this film and I’m going to avoid spoilers, so pardon the vagueness. The first phase is well covered by the trailers – a ‘normal guy’ in a near future looking city is having recurring dreams of some sort of apocalyptic attack. It’s all very flashy, but it’s hard to make out real details. His family, friends and colleagues are noticing his distraction and want him to get treatment, but he feels that they’re not dreams but visions. Then in the second phase it looks like his visions are coming true, when an invasion starts. We start following the fairly standard steps of him trying to get his family to safety – dodging attackers and explosions. At this point I was pretty bored to be honest. While it was trying to look flashy, it felt cheap and unoriginal. Not enough was really made of the vision bit and I was feeling frustrated that the ‘unique selling point’ was being so dramatically underused.
The thing is, the final third explains what’s going on and pulls everything together. Suddenly there’s interesting depth to world and characters which I wanted to spend more time exploring… but having dedicated an hour to the boring bits, we’re now out of time. I can see that you wouldn’t be able to get to the interesting bit without the first bits, but that doesn’t change that they’re quite dull.

New to me
Crazy, Stupid Love – I wobbled about on this film. That’s not necessarily a surprise as it’s a sort of anothology film, with a few different storylines running through, either losely but obviously connected or seemingly disconnected from each other. Some of the characters are problematic, and some of the others also had some dubious moments. But, I did rather find myself charmed overall. The character development is quite sweet and the way things occasionally clicked together was incredibly satisfying.

True Romance – I just didn’t really get into this film, from the very start I found the characters irritating and frustrating. I didn’t really feel it was stylish enough to be a parody or riff, but it was a very long way from being realistic and a credible caper. There were moments that showed flair and originality, but for the most part I was bored and irritated.

The Stepford Wives (1975) – The film does suffer a bit when you know what the secret is, and I think you’d be hard pressed to find many people who don’t by now know it after it’s been referenced so many times. But I was actually surprised that there’s still considerable value in watching the film, the tension of suspicion and paranoia and seeing the characters work things out. It’s a heavily period piece now – not just in terms of the fashions, but also the film making style, but that just gives it another level of interest.

Panic Room – You could almost use this film as a masterclass of how to make a solid thriller. The sense of dread builds up from the very beginning, not rushed, but also not waiting so long before the drama really kicks in. The sense of claustrophobia is pitched just right – the eponymous panic room is small, but with the use of security cameras in the larger house the scale of the film isn’t too limited. There were times when I was almost shouting at the screen as characters made stupid choices, or didn’t think of obvious (to me, sitting on my sofa) options, but for the most part I think they fell just on the side of reasonable. My only real complaint is that it got a little ‘Home Alone’ at times.

Finding Your Feet – I felt really cross about this film. I put it on because I was looking for some feel good, easy entertainment. I should have known better because any film with ‘older’ characters seems to endlessly feel that they must have a death in it somewhere. So rather than smiling and tapping my foot, I’m reaching for the tissue box. The film is solidly written, the cast is superb and everything is very well delivered, so if you’re looking for a big dollop of heartbreak along with your feel good, then it’s a good film. But I do think films should come with a warning label that realistic but depressing life events may occur.

Bridget Jones’s Diary – Somehow, I’ve managed to got seventeen years without seeing Bridget Jones’s Diary. And after all that time I find that I wasn’t really missing much. I can see that it could really speak to some people, but personally I just found Bridget incredibly irritating and the choices of men that she’s presented with deeply underwhelming.

Rewatches
Scream 1-3 – I’m not a fan of horror films, but I’ve always loved the Scream films, maybe it’s because they’re as much a film for film fans as they are for horror films. Scream is now over 20 years old but is holding up quite well, it was a new take on teen slasher movies at the time and it still feels surprisingly fresh. The self-awareness of the characters still feels appropriate and the pacing is well managed to build and release tension. I think the fact the elements of the plot are so straightforward but delivered at such speed means there’s never time to start questioning how things fit together, or even to notice aspects that are now dated (at no point did I actually even think about them using mobile phones). Sadly the next two films in the trilogy have dated less well. The second one is still delightfully self-derogatory (“by definition sequels always suck”) with the characters realising they are in a horror movie and a sequel at that. It’s not as tight as the first film, but it’s still fun, which is more than can really be said for the third film. With Neve Cambell in a reduced roll it falls to the Arquettes to carry the movie and they just can’t manage it. The cannon fodder is numerous, interchangeable, and not very good; the villain is convoluted and unpredictable and the script predictable and cheesy. I couldn’t face watching Scream 4.

The Hateful Eight
I say over and over again that I’m not a Quentin Tarantino fan. I have a respect for his style, and frequently actually like it, but as a film maker I think his flaws override his strengths and I’m endlessly frustrated that he hasn’t learnt better. Hateful Eight is classic Tarantino. It’s a small (largely familiar) cast, it’s dialogue heavy, violence heavy, set slightly out of its time, with a spectacular soundtrack and some gorgeous visuals. It’s also classic Tarantino in that it’s waaaaay too long and that completely undermines the otherwise extremely good film.
I first saw this film digitally projected in a cinema and it was over 3 hours long with an intermission in it. An actual intermission! For a start, that just made the film even longer, for a second it gave you a chance to realise just how much more of the film there was to go and how much of your day was evaporating, and for a third, it completely broke the flow of the film. I next saw it on Netflix and had to watch it across two days. While every scene had something interesting in it (even if that was just Jennifer Jason Lee pulling faces in the background) as a whole it was baggy and draining.
I wish I spent longer in this review talking about how good it was, how funny it was, how original. How good the performances were. How interesting it was to have much of it set inside just one large room and be able to watch all the cast members in the background. But instead Tarantino shoots himself in the foot and all anyone talks about is how it’s too long. Learn Quentin! Learn!

Gosford Park – A great film that really benefits from multiple viewings. There’s about 30 different characters to try and track and most of the first viewing is spent trying to work out who’s who and how they relate to each other. However they are all well developed and have their own stories to tell. It’s definitely worth giving it a chance as it is a truly superb film with so many great performances and different layers to it. This is one of my top picks for a sofa day and I watch it almost annually and I never fail to be entertained and gripped.

The Woman in Black – The film is built around the scariness of long drawn out silences followed by things jumping out at you. The problem with that is, that if something goes wrong with either the tone of the movie, the casting, or just the interest level of the viewer, the long drawn out silences don’t so much build tension as just make you bored. This film was boring. Maybe it’s the relentless grey, the slight miscasting of Daniel Radcliffe (he’s good, but the character needed to be older), or just the fact that I was too easily distracted by other things… but I found this film not scary, but boring.

Before I Go to Sleep – Although I had read the book and been completely gripped by it, I couldn’t remember the details of the plot, so was equally gripped by the film (even the second time around). The story is very well told (in both book and film) with twists and turns constantly keeping the audience on edge right along with the main character. The real success of the film though is the casting which sees Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong switching back and forth between their rather typecast personas and the polar opposite. The whole thing played with audience expectations very slickly. The plot isn’t without holes and stretches, but it’s so atmospheric that you don’t really think about it while you’re watching.

Death Becomes Her – This film was a staple in my family growing up (I have no idea why!) so despite not having seen it for years, I found I could quote most of the dialogue and was laughing at things before they’d even happened. That does make it rather hard for me to objectively assess whether it’s any good, I have a suspicion it probably isn’t. But I don’t care.

Kubo and the Two Strings – Visually, this film is absolutely stunning. It’s beautiful to look at with an original and strong style to it, but throughout I had to keep reminding myself that it was stop motion, and when in the credits they show a tiny snippet of the scale and detail of the work that went into the film, it’s absolutely breath-taking. Fortunately the film is also entertaining and meaningful, taking fairly standard themes and building and twisting them. The visual style is original and gorgeous and the humour subtle but lovely.