Sunday, 3 December 2017

Books and Movies in 2017: November

It's been really busy being back at work this month so I haven't quite managed to read/watch as much stuff as I would usually. My yearly totals are a bit down on last year's but at 46 books read and 50 movies watched I'm not doing so badly. The perfectionist in me wants to continually beat myself up for not being more productive but it's been a rough year for the whole world so I'm trying to give myself a bit of a break about that.


Movies I watched in November (in the order I watched them)

1. Murder On The Orient Express
I felt like I was the only person not looking forward to this adaptation, and my expectations were not challenged. Everyone knows how the story ends so all attempts to build tension immediately fall flat. Kenneth Branagh and Josh Gad are great but nobody else seems sure how to play it. Can we please stop casting Johnny Depp in movies? He's not a good actor by any means (his last great performance was Edward Scissorhands) and frankly any dickish American could have played that role. There's a half hearted attempt at a 'fake' alternative ending but it lasts for about 30 seconds and nobody believes it anyway. Also, for a movie set almost entirely inside a train there is a disturbing amount of CGI. Would it really have been that difficult to buy some stock footage or send a crew out to the mountains for a few days? While this version isn't horrible, the David Suchet TV adaption is far better.

2. Bad Mom's Christmas
Full disclosure, I really liked the first Bad Mom's movie and felt similarly warm hearted about this one. Sure, it has loads of problems, like confusing slow motion sequences with plot points (there's like 12 slo mo scenes) and a confusing message (adult parents constantly sniping with their parents about the kids) but it's enjoyable enough fluff. It's also the only movie franchise of recent times that shows/allows moms to have fun and have their own personal lives. So for that reason alone it gets a thumbs up from me.

3. Paddington 2
I usually hate kid's films but Paddington 2 is very sweet. It almost becomes saccharine but a great cast with standout turns from Hugh Grant and Brendan Gleeson help keep it the right side of schmaltzy. Hugh Grant is clearly having the best time as the camp villain and the movie as a whole makes a nice change from all the Grimdark superhero movies of recent years.

4. Justice League
We all knew it was going to be rubbish, didn't we? The only question was whether it was going to be as bad as recent turkeys The Mummy and X-Men: Apocalypse, and the good news is that Justice League isn't quite that bad. It's just boring. Really, really boring. Every beat in it you've seen before in a different superhero movie, particularly the Avengers movie Age of Ultron. It's not as trying as Batman vs. Superman but only because it's run time is 40mins shorter than BvS. The cast aren't bad: Ben Affleck looks embarrassed to be on screen but Ezra Miller provides some light hearted moments and Gal Gadot and Jason Momoa are both good as their characters. However, the plot is paper thin (a CGI monster and some crappy glowing boxes want to take over the world) and the final act has some of the shoddiest CGI of recent blockbusters (not quite as shockingly unfinished as The Mummy Returns but not far off). It's a fail, but sadly not even an interesting fail. Also, for the people campaigning that the 'real' Zack Snyder movie should be released: Justice League looks and feels like a Snyder movie to me, with glossy, pointless violence and vacuous characters pursuing largely nonsensical aims.

The best film I saw in November was Paddington 2 and the movie I'm most likely to re watch was Bad Mom's Christmas.

Books I read in November (in the order I read them)

1. Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
2.5 stars. I really struggled to stay engaged with this story. The main character has no journey - she faces no consequences for doing something that literally kills hundreds of people in really horrible ways. Her actions also leads to the deaths of her friends but seemingly that's okay because a faceless corporation did it first. The characters chasing the MC also kill people with impunity and face no consequences, they actually get rewarded to pursue their wildest dreams at the end.

The world building has some interesting things to say about modern life and how corporations have a stranglehold on the truth, but it reads like an editorial rather than fiction. Also for 2144 the tech seems to be stuck with innovation that is almost possible now.

I'm disappointed because there was so much hype around this book and I was really looking forward to it, but the story didn't grab me and the ideas feel quite old.

If you're interested in this I would recommend you also check out Slow River by Nicola Griffith or Lightborn or Sound Mind by Tricia Sullivan, as they cover similar themes. 

2. Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
3 stars. This is an odd novel. The descriptions of 1940's San Fransisco and the struggles each of the women, and gay women in particular face are well described and sensitively handled. I loved the romance between Spike and Haskell and wished there was more of it. However, there's some unexplained fantasy elements thrown in that while interesting, seem to jar with the rest of the story. The actual ending is very odd as it's a sad moment that's also almost played for laughs. 

3. Weaver's Lament (Industrial Magic #2) by Emma Newman
3 stars. It's pacy, and I like the world first outlined in Brother's Ruin, but Weaver's Lament offers little in the way of character development for the MC and provides no answers to the mysteries raised in the first book. The plot is low stakes and while the MC asks a lot of questions very little actually happens. I will read the next novel but if the pace of the series doesn't pick up then I probably won't stick with it. 

The best book I read in October was Passing Strange.

All of my book reviews can also be found on my Goodreads under my profile Doon. 

TV wise I've started watching Mindhunter, which is quite slow but interesting enough.

Next month: I'm on a bit of a true crime trip at the moment and so will be reviewing The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich.

Friday, 10 November 2017

#MeToo - everyday tales of sexual harrassment

I've been thinking a lot about the recent sexual assault allegations that have been rumbling through Hollywood, the entertainment industry, and politics. The allegations themselves are genuinely sickening, and I'm absolutely in awe of the women who have come forward. I don't think I would have been brave enough to go public if I'd been in a similar position. We should be building statues to them.

I've been incredibly lucky in my life. I've experienced sexual harassment, and even violence, but in comparison to all of the stories aired so far, my experiences have been relatively mild. Yet, it wasn't until these Hollywood allegations started flooding out that I realised how I'd normalised the sexual harassment I'd gotten. It also led me to re-evaluate other encounters with men that I'd filed under 'weird' but had ultimately forgotten because they fault like a regrettable but inevitable part of being female.

When I was 12 I answered the phone and said my name, as you do. "Wow, is that you xxx? You sound like a supermodel or something, like Cindy Crawford. You need to be careful with a voice like that. Men will get the wrong idea." Hugely embarrassed I mumbled something obvious about not being a model. The caller was my uncle, who was in his early 40's at the time. Funnily enough, the exchange didn't bother me (although the fact that I have always been able to recall it with vivid clarity is telling) until I got within a few years of the age my uncle was then. I find people in their late twenties off-puttingly young, and that really drove home to me how fantastically weird it was that a 40 something man was flirting with an actual child.

A few years later my uncle would marry an 18yr old who looked suspiciously like me, who was a mere 6 months older than I was. She seemed like a nice girl. Marrying him gave her a route to permanent residency in the UK so everyone in my family acted like it was no big deal. She left him the week she received her leave to remain so I guess she didn't love the arrangement that much. They stayed over at our house once and I lent her a pair of my pyjamas because she didn't own any. Poor girl. We lost touch after she left my uncle (and he's been dead for years now) but I hope she's doing well.

Again, around 12/13 my mum had a boyfriend that I never liked. He was twice divorced, and lived with his mum (she paid the rent). He once bought me a cheap white miniskirt and badgered me to wear it all the time. I did, reluctantly, along with the thickest, blackest tights I could find. He would make up songs about saucy women with the same names as my sister (10/11) and I and sing them to us constantly. When we didn't appreciate them he would yell that we were spoilt. When he and my mum broke up he sent me a couple of postcards urging me to get in touch with him. I never did.

When I was 15 our music teacher used to make sexual jokes to our mainly female class, and was well known for getting girls to sit next to him on a piano bench so he could place his hands over ours and guide them (we weren't being taught piano). One time he asked me to come see him outside of class to talk about a composition I'd been struggling with. I panicked at the thought of being alone with him (I'd heard the rumours) and so copied a bit of music from a piano book that was lying around, went to his office to hand it in and make clear I didn't need a private tutoring. He looked at it, then sat at the piano and beckoned me to it. I sat about as far as I could on the same stool and told him I was happy with the piece, that it didn't need to change. He then told me told wait there in his office, shut the door and left. I ran out the building. The teacher reported me for plagiarism. Turns out I'd copied a bit of Handel's Messiah. I got threatened with suspension. The next academic year the music teacher has abruptly gone. He'd fled to Australia after an 'incident' at his 5 year old daughter's nursery. The owner of the nursery had a kid at my school so we all found out that something untoward had happened. The school never admitted they'd had a paedophile as a music teacher.

At 16/17 I had a group of friends who were the year above me, and they hung around with some boys, so sometimes we all hung out together after school. One guy would get really drunk and just come over and rant at me, barring my way and ranting about how women didn't appreciate men like him. When he was sober he'd always apologise, only to do it again next time he was drunk and I was there. Telling him to go away just made him angrier, walking away made him follow me so I felt safer in the group, with him ranting at me while my friends chatted amongst themselves. After this had happened numerous times I bumped into a friend of his and he said "oh yeah, he's a bit obsessed with you, we talked about beating him up to get him to stop. Do you want us to?" I stammered no and went on my way. At the end of the school year he graduated and I never saw him again. His parting shot was to steal my camera, and then return it the next day without the film in it.

I didn't tell any adults about this, or any of the other incidents I've described, because it didn't occur to me that anyone would have done anything about it. For as long as I can remember I was told that men only want one thing and it's a woman's job to resist it. I thought it was just something I had to put up with. I didn't even realised that harassment was illegal until my mid-20's.

What is the point of this post? I've actually been incredibly lucky that I'm one of the few women who hasn't had a man flash or masturbate at her, when almost all of my female friends have. Yet I've chosen to highlight just a few of the dozens of instances of sexual harassment I've faced in my life to make the point that for women this stuff is relentless. Jo Brand really nailed it for me when she said "if you’re constantly being harassed, even in a small way, that builds up and that wears you down." 

It's obviously not the worst thing that could happen, and I've brushed off all of these incidents, though of course I remember them. It also, for me, has meant that I'm constantly aware, for example, when I have to go to a meeting with a man that I don't know. I genuinely take care to make sure that I'm nearest the door. You might be thinking, "ugh, she's hypersensitive, whose going to harass her when she's at her boring office job?" 

Lol to the 60 year old guy who called a meeting in the cramped, basement offices at the end of the working day, telling me there was important work he wanted to commission my team for, only to repeatedly ask me on a date, letting me know how wealthy he was and how important he was. Through gritted teeth I explained that I was busy for the foreseeable future and left. 

Or the guy who thought that me fainting in front of him was a good time to ask me out on a date. He hauled me into a chair and as I woozily regained consciousness put both hands on my knees and explained we should go for a drink. I looked at him genuinely dumbfounded, told him I could managed and then staggered into a stairwell to collapse in peace. 

I didn't report either of these incidents either. Both of the guys had been at the company decades longer than I had, and were friends of my manager, and my manager's manager. Also, nothing had actually happened to me, I just assumed that I would be told I was being over-sensitive, and then shunned. 

To the guys that say "if I'm not allowed to ask women out at work then how will people date?" I've been asked out at work so many times - by email quite a few times, over the phone, at the photocopier, and one guy even created a fake survey to give him the chance to get me alone to ask me out -  and I've never said yes, because I'M AT WORK. 

I have loads more of these stories, and it would just get boring to share any more of them. I just wanted to make the point that these super horrific abuse allegations are also just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the harassment that women deal with. If there's one thing I'd like to see, is every company publish their clear policies with regards to how to raise a sexual harassment complaint (not through a manager) and how each case will be dealt with, and nominate anti-sexual harassment champions in each business area to raise awareness of the policy. Have senior leaders in the company write blogs and make speeches about how they won't tolerate sexual harassment, specifically, not just under the catch all of harassment or bullying. It's the sort of thing we've been doing for years with mental health, but I genuinely can't remember ever seeing anything in any company I've worked with, about how you make a sexual harassment complaint, or what constitutes inappropriate sexual behaviour in the workplace. While I think there is still a really long way to go in terms of proper support for those with mental health conditions, I've definitely seen a change in attitudes towards mental health since I've been at work and people in general are more supportive. We really need to give sexual harassment at work, and in society that kind of targeted airing. 

Obviously there's a million other things that need to be done as well, but that's my small suggestion. I really hope this can be the start of our society saying that we cannot tolerate this widespread, everyday harassment any more. 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Books and Movies in 2017: October

This month I spent two and a half weeks in Japan where it rained almost every day. I thought that it'd be a low month for reading, but then I read four books on the 12hr flight home while the rest of the plane slept soundly. I've learnt to take small victories where I can. Then I had 680 work emails when I got back and I wanted to hurl myself into the sea. That's a humblebrag, right?

Movies I watched in October (in the order I watched them)

1. Blade Runner 2049
I had low expectations for the Blade Runner remake/reboot. I absolutely love the original and as far as I'm concerned we never needed to return to the world. Sadly Blade Runner 2049 exists and is retroactively ruining the original.

What's good about it? It looks pretty enough, but it's not a patch on the original. What's bad about it? Everything else. The entire plot revolves around the body of a dead woman (hello every contemporary thriller). Every woman who gets more than three minutes of screen time dies and they can all be described using one word: madonna, bitch, innocent, whore, bitch, innocent. That got boring really quickly. The plot does not stand up to scrutiny at all and even the few interesting themes the movie has (the idea that a replicant might rather have a romantic relationship with a hologram rather than a human) sadly go unexplored. I know that plenty of people have labelled it a masterpiece but all of those people were men.

2. Geostorm
Gerard Butler is the WORLD'S BEST SCIENTIST. If that wasn't enough to convince that this movie is world class trash and you should watch it immediately, it also desperately wants to be ARMAGEDDON but doesn't have the balls to make one of their actors do a Bruce Willis. A10yr old girl narrates the movie at seemingly random intervals. There is some heroic attempts to recreate the Gravity special effects on a far smaller budget but it just looks like a cheap video game.

Butler hams his way though a serious of frankly ludicrous scenes that attempt to demonstrate his scientific prowess while the rest of the cast look on awkwardly. There's literally several scenes in the movie where a woman has to save Butler because he's gotten lost on the spaceship he actually designed and built. Action scenes happen at random points in the movie that bear no relation to what the characters are saying. Abbie Cornish has a nice turn as a top Secret Service agent who keeps committing treason because her boyfriend asks her to and she needs to kidnap the President of the USA for REASONS. If that sounds terrible, well, yes it is, but I would rather watch it on repeat than watched sexist, faux-intellectual rubbish like Blade Runner: 2049 again.

3. Thor: Ragnarok
As i've said before, I'm super bored of superhero movies but Thor Ragnorok is terrific fun. The dilemma is kinda low stakes in comparison to recent Marvel movies but nobody really cares about the dilemma in these things. Chris Hemsworth is at his best when he's allowed to be funny, and he, Mark Ruffalo and Tessa Thompson prat about having fun and it's just so nice to watch a superhero movie that is more fun than Grimdark. You can just about see the mediocre movie that this would have been without Waititi's involvement, but it's super fun and I loved Karl Urban's ridiculous cameo.

The best film I saw in October was Thor: Ragnarok and the movie I'm most likely to re watch is Geostorm.

Books I read in October (in the order I read them)

1. The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
3 stars. The premise is excellent, and I have just so many questions about why and what happens next, and it's frustrating that the novel doesn't answer any of them. At heart it's a coming of age story, and while Julia's tribulations are engaging enough, I really want to know about Circadia, her father and the real timers. The most interest facets of the story always end up tantalisingly just out of reach.

2. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
3 stars. I prefer Pretty Monsters, but Magic for Beginners has some interesting stories. The Library and The Faery Handbag are the standouts.

3. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
3 stars. I loved the central character, and her journey to find herself, but the world didn’t quite add up for me. The final third is just exposition rather than plot and it still didn’t really make sense WHAT was going on. It’s YA, and I think I would have loved this if I were a teen. It was interesting, so I would continue reading the series.

4. All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells
4 stars. Murderbot the character is great: awkward, grumpy, physically uncomfortable around humans and just wants to be left alone to watch soaps. Murderbot’s journey to true autonomy is also really interesting. The ‘thriller mystery’ part of the plot is really one note and makes little sense (even the characters in the story say so). So while I loved the character I think Murderbot deserves a more interesting story next time.

5. Dreadnought by April Daniels
4 stars. The MC, Danielle, is Dreadnought’s strong point, and I found her journey to be both sad and uplifting and I would recommend this own voices novel to people based on her alone. I found Danny’s desire to be measured and kind in her superhero exploits (weighing up how much violence was necessary) both an important and refreshing take on the superhero genre. 

However, (apart from Dr Impossible) the other characters and the plot are pretty one note, and the general world building is currently too thin, in my view, to support a series. There’s also a lot of repetition in the text that I would have expected a professional editor to sort out. I still plan to read the next in the series. 

6. Bearly A Lady by Cassandra Khaw
3 stars. This wasn’t what I expected, particularly the contemporary setting, but I really enjoyed it. Zelda is super fun and interesting, and I enjoyed her struggles with the Change. The romance aspects were fun too, but did both the men really have to be such ‘hot arseholes’? The faery stuff also seemed a bit thrown in without explanation. However it was fun, and I would read more from this world.

The best book I read in October was Dreadnought.

Next month: I will be reviewing Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Books and Movies in 2017: September

I'm getting progressively more sucky at these as the months go by, so I apologise, but I also don't really feel bad about it as I think there's only one person who reads this blog on a regular basis.

Movies I watched in September (in the order I watched them)

1. Logan Lucky
I watched the trailer in the cinema and thought it looked rubbish, but this will they/won't they mystery is super engaging. Channing Tatum and Adam Driver have great chemistry as the weird brothers and Daniel Craig is having a great time playing a lecherous old bank robber (please release the man from James Bond so we can see him smile again). Riley Keogh does a good job as the only woman of substance but Hilary Swank and Katie Holmes are wasted, though it's nice to see Katie Holmes play bad again, she was fantastic in The Gift.

2. IT
It's basically two different films rolled into one. The Stranger Things style stuff for the 30 somethings and the jump scares for the kids. Some genuinely creepy moments but falls apart towards the end. Finn Wolfhard and Sophia Lillis are both excellent.

3. The Limehouse Golem
I love stories about old London so had high hopes about this story about Bill Nighy's detective tracking down a serial killer. Sadly, while the cast is good and the story decent, there are some really bizarre editorial choices that killed all tension from the movie. You can see the twist coming a mile off.

4. Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle
This was both better than I was expecting, but also a bit disappointing. I really love the premise of "what if James Bond was a chav?" Sadly, Kingsman 2 sets out from the very beginning that not only is Eggsy is no longer a chav, he's also dating royalty (presumed penance for the bumsex joke at the end of the first film). The plot is convoluted, and the characters go places and die for no reason that to service Eggsy's character journey that just feels so forced in a way the first one didn't.

5. Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle
See above. It didn't get any better with a second viewing.

The best film I saw in September and the movie I'm most likely to re watch is Logan Lucky.

Books I read in September (in the order I read them)

1. Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill
3.5 stars.  The world building is excellent. I loved all the stuff about the war, and most of the little stories about the different bots were terrifically inventive, Doc and the Cheshire King especially. The modern day timeline was less engaging, partly because I didn't find Brittle that interesting and the dialogue is quite jarring in parts (I just can't imagine a robot repeatedly saying "that's a fair point"). 

However, if it turned into a series I'd definitely read the next one as I felt there were so many stories in this world that could be told. 
*received a free copy on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*

2. The Cold Between by Elisabeth Bonesteel
3 stars. The Cold Between set up an interesting mystery and then another interesting mystery, but then the story got so convoluted I struggled to follow it and ultimately found the ending unsatisfying. Also, I just didn't really get Elena as a character. Everyone kept on saying how calm and professional she was but her screaming fits at Captain Foster just seemed really weird. 

However it was an enjoyable Star Trek style mystery, and I would read other books in the series.

3. Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman
3 stars. Some of this novel is fantastically inventive. I love the world building, particularly the Arbiters, the gargoyle and the high society world of the Nether, but I just didn't really like Cathy as a lead character. She is so outspoken and clumsy and wrapped in her own thoughts that she never really feels like a real person. 

Still I am interested in how the story progresses from here so am looking forward to reading the next book.

The best book I read in September was Sea of Rust.

Next month: I will be reviewing The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker, Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee and Dreadnought by April Daniels.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Captain not so Fantastic

I found the certificate for my father's first marriage in Kent. It was startling. He had told me, and the Irish government, that his first marriage was only a religious ceremony and that there were no records of it. He even signed an affidavit to that effect. Yet when I tracked down the certificate it told me my father had gotten married three years later and 150 miles away from where he had originally claimed. I immediately texted him a copy of the certificate. The reply came 15mins later.

"Wow. I have no memory of that."

If it had been me I would be beside myself with worry that signing an affidavit whilst also submitting paperwork that suggests that the affidavit is wrong would get me into trouble. My father was unperturbed, and why not? He moves house/country whenever he encounters an obstacle, so he's never really faced consequences for his actions.

Movies like Captain Fantastic and The Glass Castle tell heartwarming stories about non-conformist parents with the Hollywood sentiment that these quirky characters might cause their children problems, but ultimately impart something to them more important than stability. Some deep insight about enjoying life.

Lolz to that.

By the age of 21 I'd had 21 different addresses. There were lots of explanation for us moving: X 'didn't feel right', Y 'had more opportunities', and Z because my father was recovering from a virus that he'd caught in Borneo and had a vision after reading an article in a newspaper. I hated moving all the time but my parents would hear no dissent about the next move, and the next, so eventually I stopped dissenting. Ultimately the overriding reason was usually money: in the 80s and 90s it was still possible to outrun your debts, so we kept on running.

I got lucky. I left home at 18 to go to university and didn't go back. By the time I had graduated the family had gone from fractured to fragmented and there wasn't anywhere to go back to. My dad, seemingly having run out of people in the UK who could lend him money, did not stop running. He moved to the USA in the early 2000s. My mother had decided that she was sick of running, stayed in the UK. My dad left without her. They had always been terrible for each other, so I didn't mourn that.

I asked my dad for a forwarding address so I could write to him and he gave me a PO Box address. I sent a couple of postcards. He never wrote back. I suspected that the PO Box wasn't even his.

When I was 22, after graduating, my dad invited me out to visit him and we spent a week driving round Arizona. It was unexpected, as we had barely spoken for two years and even when we did speak our exchanges were limited to him telling me that my ambitions for my life were unimportant. A woman's work was to have children, as I was repeatedly told.

Yet, I'd always had a huge interest in America and so I couldn't pass up the chance to visit Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. I had a genuinely decent time, as much fun as you can have hanging out with someone who is visually familiar to you but basically a stranger. We visited some friends of his and they talked to me about chakras and Chem Trails. Nice people with alternative ideas about life, just like all my parents friends.

My dad has always been famously tight lipped about himself, so most of the things I did know, like that he'd been married before he met my mum, I knew because my mum had told me. On that trip I learned that as a 20 something he'd had an American girlfriend who'd become successful and he was considering whether we should drive 200 miles to 'surprise' her after 25yrs. I talked him out of that one, suggesting that he might want to email her first. He did. She didn't reply. I was unsurprised.

That revelation always interested me, because it was the one time my father seemed willing to revisit the past. From the time a 6 year old me attack hugged him, causing him to spill an entire cup of scalding tea on my head and then yell at me for it. To the time he reacted to the knowledge that our house was being repossessed by making a bonfire of the contents, my father has always refused to analyse his actions after the fact.

"It's in the past" may as well be my father's catch phrase. A defence mechanism that means he never has to analyse, or apologise for his actions.

I'm not saying this to condemn my father. To be around him you have to accept that he will take action when he wants and probably never explain why. I have long accepted that about him. He is a true nonconformist. However, what that really means he's not reliable, or outwardly caring, as all of those things require you to occasionally put yourself in others shoes, to put their feelings first.

I'm tired of having people (and Hollywood) imply that there must be some amazing upside to having a nonconformist parent, when frankly, there isn't. Who really wants to hear, aged 14, their father say when told by airport check-in that we would all have to sit separately: "don't worry, we aren't a close family."

I know what you're thinking. Maybe it wasn't the fact that my dad is a nonconformist but that the rest of the family was so awful he just didn't like you enough to be caring or reliable? I get two three word messages from him a year, so yeah, maybe?

I love it when friends tell stories about their dad helping them build some shelves, or help them apply for a mortgage, or how to cook something from scratch. That's so cool. That's what I always wanted, to be shown how to do useful stuff. Sure, Youtube and Google can be great surrogate parents these days, and they've instructed me on a million things I would never have figured out myself. I will always be eternally grateful for the internet for saving me from my own inability to problem solve, but it's not quite the same.

So if there's anyone out there who wants to hear about the boring minutiae of my career and give me advice about gardening, let me know! I can provide copious amounts of tea, and I make wicked avocado brownies.

Books and Movies in 2017: August

So it's September 26th and I'm just writing up my August list. I know I suck, but I've just been so busy - stress busy, not cool busy - that I just couldn't be arsed to put this to the top of my agenda.

However I did go on a miniature steam train in Saltburn, did a zip line over a small lake, and attended a craft beer festival, so go me.

Movies I watched in August (in the order I watched them)

1. The Dark Tower
My boyfriend goes on and on about how great the early Dark Tower novels are, but I'm usually not listening so I went into this movie without any real knowledge of the plot. After watching the movie I was none the wiser. The movie tried to tell me that it was a film about Evil vs. Sorta Good, but i didn't find either of the main characters particularly good or evil. I don't think it deserved all of the vitriol it received, as I've seen way worse movies this year. It was just a bit dull.

2. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
I loved elements of this. The City of a Thousand Planets is like a futuristic City of Lost Children and Cara Delevigne was a great lead who correctly judge the pitch of the movie (performance firmly tongue in cheek). However, Dane DeHaan seemed to be playing a completely different character to the guy he was supposed to be playing (basically a ladies man Captain America) which jarred and the plot, while interesting, was all over the place. It's not a patch on the Fifth Element but I'd love to spend more time in this world.

The best film I saw in August and the movie I'm most likely to re watch was Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

Books I read in August (in the order I read them)

1. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
4 stars. It's always difficult to review essay or memoirs. I really enjoyed this, but is it because I hold many of the same opinions, or the quality of the writing? Probably a bit of both.

2. Brother's Ruin by Emma Newman
3 stars. I love the world building, and the central mystery is really engaging, though sadly there is little resolution at the end of this first book. The lead character is a bit two dimensional and I found her burgeoning relationship with the magus not particularly convincing. However I am interested to see where the story goes next so will be reading the next one.

3. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
4 stars. I don't read much fantasy but I was really struck by how unique the world of the story felt. The different characters are engaging and their journeys intriguing and I found myself more engrossed in the story as it went along. FIFTH SEASON definitely feels like the first book in a series as there are so many questions left unanswered (unlike THE HUNDRED THOUSAND KINGDOMS) but I can't wait to read more in THE OBELISK GATE.

4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

4 stars. Parts of The Underground Railroad are so tense I could barely breathe. The first 150 pages are 5 stars, but it loses momentum in the middle and the story slowed to a crawl in the final 50 pages. Cora is an engaging, interesting character and I really rooted for her to succeed throughout. The other POVs were in my mind, unnecessary and detracted from the main narrative. 

I bought and read this because it won the 2017 Clarke Award. It's absolutely not science fiction, but it was a engaging, but sad book. I would recommend it. If you do want to read a sci-if novel set in this era then Kindred by Octavia Butler is the book for you.

The best book I read in August was The Fifth Season.

I also watched a documentary about the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) which was interesting and bittersweet. I also watched Netflix Original movies The Incredible Jessica James (which was really sweet) and the Death Note remake, which was Edgelord worshipping bullshit. 

Next month: I will be reviewing Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill, IT and The Limehouse Golem.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Books and movies in 2017: July

I am currently listening to Tom Sawyer by Rush so I'm feeling rather bombastic. Though I am sad to report that it was another low month for book reading and movie-watching. I need to get a bit less of a life, or quit my job, or both. One day I will realise my life's ambition to win the lottery so I can drink tea and read/watch films all day.

Movies I watched in July (in the order I watched them)

1. Baby Driver
As someone who isn't into Edgar Wright stuff - "Not even Scott Pilgrim?" - "Surely you like Spaced, it's even co-written by a woman?" - No to both - I wasn't expecting to like Baby Driver, and I did not like it. There are multiple problems with every aspect of it. In terms of being a heist movie - these endlessly quirky crew members (Darling with her pink cropped fur coat, the guy with the Hat tattoo, Bats dressing like Michael Jackson from Thriller, and Baby, a 6ft 3in dork) rob banks in their own clothes and then just wander around the city as if CCTV had never been invented. The women may as well be cardboard cutouts - note to Edgar Wright, giving a woman a gun isn't the same thing as giving her agency - and just because a hot waitress is lonely at a diner doesn't mean she'll abscond with the first enigmatic weirdo that comes her way because he knows a song that uses her name. Baby doesn't learn from his mistakes and the ending is white privilege served with no acknowledgement or irony. I know people have been saying it's their film of the year but those people need their heads examined.

You wanna watch a cool heist film? Then watch Heat, The Town, The Inside Man, Triple 9, Point Break, hell even the Point Break remake has more going on, or Sleepless, which is a high concept mess. I could list about 50 others.

2. Spider-man Homecoming
If there's one constant thing about my personality it's that i hate every incarnation of Spider-man. I literally only watched it because I was worried I wasn't using my Cineworld card enough, but actually it was great! I enjoyed it so much I actually recommended it to people. I think Tom Holland portrays that teenage sense of arrogance in a breezy, engaging way. Michael Keaton is excellent, and while it had the same ending of every Marvel movie for the last x years, it worked better in Homecoming because they made an effort to develop the characters. Marisa Tomei should've been given more to do but it was still great.

3. War for the Planet of the Apes
I loved Dawn and Rise and so was expecting to enjoy War but I was sorely disappointed. I know it's gotten rave reviews from basically everyone but THE PLOT IS UNBELIEVABLY DULL AND MAKES NO SENSE. Like absolutely no sense. Just think about it for a minute. Yes, from that bit, to that bit, and ending up at, with them, just ... doesn't make sense. There's loads of little nods to Apocalypse Now and other serious films, but referencing a great film is not enough to make your film great. The movie looks stunning, and the CGI of the apes is fantastic (though the weight of the apes is still a bit off) but overall it feels like a missed opportunity to detail the last gasp of humanity as Caesar grapples with his.

4. Dunkirk
I was apprehensive about this because Interstellar was such a crushing disappointment - I still get flashbacks of those wheat fields. Wheat fields have no place in a science fiction movie - are you listening Alien: Covenant?

Dunkirk does have it's problems: the whitewashing of the soldiers on the beaches and the total lack of women don't stack up with historical accounts and yet must have been an active decision, which is concerning. However, the movie is visually stunning. It felt more like an experience than a movie, and I got really caught up in that sense of foreboding every time anybody boarded a ship. The choppy timeline wasn't necessary but I didn't mind it, once I figured out what was going on.

I actually knew very little about Dunkirk until I read Connie Willis's  historical time travel  novel Blackout last year, but was enchanted by the small vessels. I thought Dunkirk did a really good job of wordlessly conveying the individual choices of people trying to do the right thing, it's just a shame that Nolan took the decision to only tell white men's stories.

The best film I saw in July and the movie I'm most likely to re watch was Spider-man: Homecoming

Books I read in July (in the order I read them)

1. Infomocracy by Malka Older
3 stars. There are some interesting elements to Infomocracy: the centenal jurisdictions, some of the political positioning and Mishima is an interesting character. However, as someone with a knowledge of election systems I found a lot of the conspiracy to be ill-focused and the ending rushed and dissatisfying. The voting irregularities stuff is years old, which is a bit silly for a novel that is supposed to be a relegation in how to mess with democracy. There are also too many characters and some just disappear mid-way through the book with no wrap up of their journey.

2. The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
2 stars. I feel bad for being disappointed by The Princess Diarist. I love Carrie Fisher, and there are some funny moments and interesting insights, but i just found it too rambling and unfocused. I'm just gonna go back and watch Carrie Fisher's cameo in 30 Rock again instead. 

3. The Power by Naomi Alderman
3.5 stars. The world building and the positioning of how the power rolls across the world is fantastic. The little nods to modern sexism are initially very illuminating, though become a bit repetitive. However the characters and the plot very pretty pedestrian and overall it seemed like a missed opportunity to explore how a matriarchy might create a different world (as opposed to just mirroring a patriarchy). 

However I definitely think it's worth reading and if you enjoyed this you should also check out Ammonite by Nicola Griffith and Women on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy.

The best book I read in July was The Power by Naomi Alderman

Also, my boyfriend made me watch Robocop, which I had never seen before. I'd been refusing to watch it as I thought it would be sexist but after some careful cajoling from the boyf - "your cries of sexism have finally jumped the shark" and "you have literally no idea what you are talking about" - I decided to watch it, if only to stop him from fucking going on about it. It is actually less sexist than I thought it was, but I still found Robocop quite boring. Still, at least now I get to make the boyf watch Nicholas Cage's USS Indianapolis with me. 

I also watched Dear White People (the TV show, though I've seen the movie too), which was excellent, and started watching Insecure, with Issa Rae, who I've loved since the Awkward Black Girl web series. I live in hope that one day Netflix will show a sci-fi series I can bear to watch but I've tried and given up on the OA, the Expanse and Killjoys so I think I'll give sci-fi a rest for a bit. 

OMG, I also saw the Stranger Things 2 trailer and it's so perfect that I want to cry. I dressed up as Eleven for Halloween last year (along with about a million other women) and so plan to watch the whole of the new series in my Eleven costume. Yes, I am in my thirties. 

Next month: I'm going on holiday to Center Parcs so that should mean more reading time. I'm hoping to get through Kameron Hurley's The Geek Feminist Revolution and a couple of others. 

wonder wheel

wonder wheel