Friday, 2 February 2018

Books and movies in 2018: January

Hello, hello. 

So we all made it into 2018, we’ll done people. As last year, I will be logging and reviewing all the movies I see at the cinema (whether it’s a new release or not) and all the books I read. 

Movies: in the order I watched them

1. Pitch Perfect 3 
The first movie is alright, the second was quite boring and this one was just awful. There’s not much plot apart from the world’s most contrived singing contest. As always, the decision to have Anna Kendrick’s character as the star is an odd choice, and the idea that she’s about to get picked up by a major label to be a pop star is ludicrous. Plus her outfit at the end of the movie is just lamé tragedy. John Lithgow and Rebel Wilson are the only redeeming features of this dull film. 

2. All The Money In The World
Christopher Plummer and Romain Duris are the best thing in an overlong, overwrought attempt to bring a fresh new take on a story that everybody already knows. There are just so many scenes of Michelle Williams, and/or Mark Wahlberg getting into cars, which really slows the pace of a film that was already not very pacy. I didn’t dig it. 

3. Molly’s Game
It’s based on a true story but everything about this is classic Aaron Sorkin. It’s Rounders, but everyone is talking NON STOP with Jessica Chastain in an array of fabulous, tiny dresses. I really enjoyed it, and it felt like it was about to say something really important about the different standards society holds men and women to but it flubbed it right at the end to go for a comfy parental reconciliation ending instead. Still good though. 

4. The Death Of Stalin 
I wasn’t sure about watching this, because the cast was just so male, but it was genuinely hilarious. Simon Russell Beale and Jason Isaacs are the standouts, but everyone is good. 

5. The Commuter 
The Commuter has a totally illogical, nonsensical plot. However, this is a Liam Neeson movie, so nobody cares. There’s one really good fight, and Neeson throws a few good punches, but ultimately it should have been better than it was. More Run All Night than Non Stop. 

The best movie I watched in January was The Death of Stalin’s and the movie i’m Most likely to rewatch is The Commuter. 

Books: in the order I read them

1. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
3.5 stars. It’s a really interesting insight into Mara’s life and it’s sad and sweet and funny. I wish there had been more of it to read.

2. The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
5 stars. I really enjoyed THE FIFTH SEASON, but it left me with loads of unanswered questions. Happily THE OBELISK GATE provides some of the answers, deepens our understanding of the character’s motivations and really expands the detail of this richly imagined world. I enjoyed it so much partly because the MC is an adult woman (so rare) and also because there’s really nothing else like it, so it’s impossible to tell where the story will go. Also boilbugs? I’m gonna have nightmares about those.

3. On Writing by Stephen King
3 stars. There’s some really helpful practical advice in here, which I  will try and utilise and the memoir segments are engaging. However we don’t all have career supporting wives to be our first readers and to ensure we have spare time to devote to writing, so those sections are less helpful.

4. Beneath The Surface by Rebecca Langham
3 stars. The world, story and Lydia’s journey are all interesting, and I genuinely couldn’t tell where the story was going, which was refreshing. However, ALL the story is driven by character dialogue and the MC pondering things, which doesn’t make for a very exciting read. Also there were 3 POVs but only the MC really gets a journey. None of the characters felt particularly realistic. 

Beneath The Surface wants to be like A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet but doesn’t have the memorable characters. 

I received a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

5. The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
4 stars. The world is richly imagined, and yet unexpected. I enjoyed the concept of the Belles, and the ambition of Camellia’s character and her multi-layered journey. After so much build up the ending came very quickly and was less satisfying than I’d hoped - it’s clearly set up for a sequel. However, it is a really innovative and readable novel and I look forward to seeing where the story goes next.

6. The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon 
3.5 stars. I raced through this. The high concept is excellent, and I really liked the world building of near future literary New York. However, Ana is a very passive main character, everything is happening to the characters around her as she just waits on the sidelines feeling confused and upset, which meant I could never relate to her as a real person. The ending is sadly just wrapped up in a massive amount of exposition and feels forced, despite it failing to tie all the plot threads together. However, the central mystery is excellent, and the peripheral characters are all entertaining.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

I didn't love the Last Jedi

I'm old enough that I saw all of the prequels in the cinema, and was so upset that Revenge of the Sith made Obi-Wan Kenobi a bad guy in the final minutes of the movie that I didn't re-watch it for another ten years. Argue with me all you fucking like, anyone who cuts off their friend's legs, FOR ANY REASON is an irredeemably BAD GUY and I now can barely even watch A New Hope without thinking how the Jedi (particularly Obi Wan) are actually awful people. I get that some people firmly believe that is the point, but SEE ABOVE. In my view you don't get to be redeemed when you do something like that to somebody.

So, because of all that I wasn't psyched when the new trilogy was announced and was also unsure about what a JJ helmed Star Wars would look like after the mess that was Into Darkness. Yet, I absolutely loved The Force Awakens when it was released. I saw it three times during it's initial theatrical run and have seen it twice more on DVD and while it's not perfect I really loved the central platonic friendship between Rey and Finn, and the distinct personalities of all the main characters (Kylo Ren, Poe Dameron, and BB8).

I was always a bit nervous about what the Last Jedi was going to be like. I'd absolutely loved Rian Johnson's movie Brick, was a bit disappointed with the tonally odd ending of the Brothers Bloom and the ending of Looper retroactively ruined the entire movie for me because it violated the movie's internal logic. I will gladly debate Looper with you in person but the short answer is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character doesn't need to kill himself, and the story 100% does not set that up as the only resolution, despite how the end plays out. A movie's inability to follow it's own internal logic is one of my number one bug bears.

Anyway, back to The Last Jedi. I was a bit concerned that I wouldn't like it, so I kept my expectations low. The first trailer was intriguing, but I tried to stay away from any advanced information or spoilers, as I wanted to go into the movie knowing as little as possible.

As expected, I didn't love The Last Jedi. It's interesting the extent that it's polarised people. I know a fair few people who vehemently prefer it to The Force Awakens. My flatmate implied that it would be unintelligent of me not to like it, which frankly was a crack at my character I did not need. I'm glad that other people enjoyed it, as I love the Star Wars universe (and I say that typing this whilst wearing a hoodie adorned with x-wings and tie fighters) but I thought there were big problems with the pacing and the story of The Last Jedi.


I'm gonna get a bit nerdy and forensic now. So many things I really loved about The Force Awakens seemed missing in the Last Jedi. My main beefs:

  • Rey seems to have completely lost her 'quit slowing me down I know how to do everything' bravado and her 'OMG, rebels are so cool' fangirling that I loved so much about her in The Force Awakens. Every core of her being in The Force Awakens screams 'self-reliant' and I loved that. Rey doesn't have anything much to do in the Last Jedi apart from have Luke slam doors in her face and try and save Kylo Ren from himself. As much I do have a massive crush on Adam Driver, Rey was ready to murder Kylo Ren at the end of Awakens for killing his father and her mentor Han Solo and mere weeks later she's holding his hand via the power of midichlorian Tinder. Also, she's continually trying to get Luke to teach her, and he just doesn't at all. Although I accept this may be a purposeful lesson I don't think it's useful in terms of reflecting Rey's character, because she is shown as less capable and less reliant in Last Jedi than she was in The Force Awakens. Also, considering she is the lead actress, I was disappointed in the amount of screen time she got. 
  • Everyone is far less powerful in The Last Jedi than they were in The Force Awakens, apart from Princess Leia, who is apparently now immortal. Neither of those things are ever explained. One of the things that really blew me away about The Force Awakens is how the movie immediately showed how powerful Kylo Ren is, in that he can stop a blaster shot in mid air and still Poe Dameron without real effort. Kylo Ren can also read minds, which makes him arguably more powerful than the Emperor from the original trilogy. In The Last Jedi Kylo Ren's main power appears to be the ability to turn on a lightsaber without pressing the on switch. Similarly, Rey goes from discovering her force power in Awakens and quickly using it to do psychic battle with Kylo Ren and making a lightsaber fly through the air to not using it at all for the majority of The Last Jedi, until she has to lift a bunch of rocks. I really liked the angle in The Force Awakens that these were incredibly powerful teenagers who were learning to control their power at the same time as their emotions (or not, as in the case of Kylo Ren). Yet, in The Last Jedi this aspect goes unexplored while Princess Leia's force power allows her stop time so that space doesn't freeze her brain/lungs etc, and then propels her through space back into a ship where she can be rescued. The Empire Strikes Back sets up the idea that Leia has force power but I just thought this was a weird and unsatisfactory way of having her use it. Why doesn't she use it to tell her son Kylo Ren to stop being such a dick? 
  • They didn't know what to do with Finn. I really loved Finn's character in The Force Awakens, it was the first time we'd been given a chance to see humanity in storm troopers, that maybe they were (almost) as oppressed as the rebels. I really felt for him in his quest to build an identity for himself, and how he always wanted to do the right thing, and protect Rey. Again, this idea goes basically nowhere in Last Jedi, as Rey spends most of the movie on Porg Island annoying Frog Nuns. I like Rose and I like Finn but I hated the Canto Bight interlude, as it felt like an outtake from Attack of the Clones. Finn and Rose don't actually do anything whilst on Canto Bight apart from get captured and then get rescued. It's almost as if that whole storyline was just a gigantic piece of filler to give Finn a reason to end up on a Star Destroyer and fight Captain Phasma. The bit at the end where his idiotic not-at-all-heroic suicide mission is thwarted is played as heroic when it is arrogant, dumb and not at all in keeping with Finn's character. John Boyega is a fantastic actor, and I really hope that Finn has a proper role in the next movie because Finn is the heart of the new trilogy, someone who believes in the right thing to do without having a mystical power to show him the way. 
  • Poe Dameron does not learn his lesson. Again, in The Force Awakens Poe Dameron is a cross between A New Hope Han Solo and the Anakin Skywalker that Obi Wan talks about - he's funny, reckless, but a totally awesome pilot that you can rely on to save the day. In The Last Jedi Poe Dameron is willing to sacrifice literally every rebel if it means he can down a Star Destroyer in a symbolic gesture of defiance. Though quite how this symbol would be known about given that's there's no video evidence of said gesture and only one rebel pilot left at the exercise is another matter. Poe, angry at being sidelined after his actions kill loads of innocent people then commits mutiny. When he is rightly overthrown ten minutes later he is sat down by Princess Leia for a short lecture and then told that he's basically an okay guy. We don't see Poe have any remorse for his actions, or even see any indication that he's going to change his ways, or even that he's an okay guy. Worst of all, while all of the female characters have to face death to get their heroic moment (Rose saving Finn from himself, Rey trying to save Kylo knowing it'll put her in danger, and Holdo blowing herself up to save others) Poe is praised as the hero the rebellion needs if he'd just become a bit more thoughtful. Based on his actions in The Last Jedi the rebellion would be far more successful without Poe Dameron in  it. 
I'm not saying I hated it. There were some great new characters: Rose Tico, Vice Admiral Holdo and DJ all had distinct personalities and character arcs that were all worth exploring in more detail. DJ especially as I liked the idea that maybe a significant portion of the galaxy thought that there wasn't enough of a difference between the rebels and the First Order. There were also some really memorable scenes, particularly Vice Admiral Holdo's sacrifice caused gasps in the cinema and was one of the most beautifully affecting scenes in the entire Star Wars cinematic universe. Similarly, I really liked how the movie dealt with the issue of Rey's lineage (and that particular scene reminded me so much of Excalibur, a film I've long loved). Yet I can't ignore the messiness of the story, and how it just reduced the power and the emotional complexities of the characters down to tropes. 

I get that some people love how The Last Jedi quickly dismisses as unimportant things that were set up in The Force Awakens, like Rey's parents, and even the Jedi, and I'm cool with that. I like that Rey isn't part of a Jedi dynasty, and I always thought that the Jedi were elitist morons and not really the good guys that they claimed. 

However, I don't really get the point in having a trilogy if there's no common threads between the movies. As it is The Last Jedi puts a huge amount of pressure on the final instalment of the trilogy to tie people's stories together in an emotionally satisfying way. I remember feeling the same way after I'd watched Matrix Reloaded. I really don't want the last movie in this Star Wars trilogy to be as unsatisfying as Matrix Revolutions, and I still have hopes that JJ Abrams will pull together a great finale, but I am a wee bit concerned. 

However, since I won't find out for ages, I will just continue to look forward to more movies set in the Star Wars universe. I can't wait until Solo comes out in May. 

Monday, 1 January 2018

2017: a year in books

In terms of books read and movies watched, I read 50 books and watched 59 movies in 2017. While this was better than 2016 when I read only 36 books but watched 59 movies, this was still less than 2015 when I read 70 books and watched 73 movies. Given how much of a stressful garbage fire 2017 was overall I don't think I did too badly. One of my goals for 2018 is to get more done, but at the same time not beat myself up too much if I don't achieve as much as I would like. I've given myself a stretching Goodreads goal of reading 60 books in 2018. That may not seem like much to people who read over 100 books a year, but it's gonna take a lot of effort if I can beat this year's tally.

I am an absolute perfectionist, so spent most of the year berating myself for not getting more of my creative writing done. For only writing x thousands of words rather than an entire book, despite the fact that i've been working insane hours for most of the year, and actually had far less free time that previous years. One of my resolutions is to get better at self-editing, which is the absolute worst, but also 100% necessary if I'm ever going to get any of my books into a publishable state. In 2017 I also began plotting my fifth manuscript, which I hope to be able to write a significant chunk of this year. Good luck to everyone else and their myriad of 2018 goals!

There were plenty of books that I wasn't really into in 2017, but I don't want to put up a 'worst' list, as I don't really believe there's such a thing as a bad book, just books that aren't for you. Even books that I aggressively dislike have ardent fans. That being said, I will occasionally hand out a one star review if I can't find anything I like in a story.

So now, here's my top 5 BEST books of 2017.

5. Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire
4 stars. I wish this had come out when I was a teenager. The world building is fantastic and the characters are diverse and interesting. The portrayal of friendship and difference is done very eloquently. It is very similar to the Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children series, but I like Every Heart A Doorway better.

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.

3. The Fifth Season by NK 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.

2. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterley
4 stars. I got this book after watching the movie and I think that it should be required reading for everyone! It makes me really angry that these women's hard won achievements have been kept in the dark for decades. It makes me even more angry that the tales of struggling to have professional experience recognised and being passed over for less-qualified men are things that I am still dealing with over 60yrs later.

1. Death's End by Cixin Liu
5 stars. I'm rarely impressed, but Death's End ambition and imagination continually astounded me. Although having Chen Xin as the protagonist felt a bit odd after Liu Ji's journey in Dark Forest, her mostly passive observer works really well as the eyes of mankind. However, the expansive, multi-narrative and masterful plot and detail of increasingly advanced technology were what drew me in far more than the characters. 

The 'fairytales' section and how it linked back to the central plot was an absolutely phenomenal piece of writing. Death's End is that rare end to a trilogy that is the better than the previous books. One of the most impressive, if not the most impressive science fiction novel I've ever read.
Other books I really enjoyed but didn't quite make my top 5 were: Brimstone by Cherie Priest, The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley, Dreadnought by April Daniels and The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi.

The full list of books I read this year in the order I read them are:
Gemina by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Noughts and Crosses by Marjorie Blackman
Redshirts by John Scalzi
VN by Madeline Ashby
Symbiont by Mira Grant
The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire Grant
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer
The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer
The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley
Hidden Figures by Margor Lee Shetterley
Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach
Hold Back The Stars by Katie Khan
China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh
The Loneliness of Distant Beings by Kate Ling
Ink by Alice Broadway
The Best of 2016 by
Deathless by Catherynne Valente
Brimstone by Cherie Priest
The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi
When You Find Out The World Is Against You by Kelly Oxford
Every Heart A Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
Death's End by Cixin Liu
The Space Between The Stars by Anne Corlett
Agents of Dreamland by Caitlin Kiernan
Infomocracy by Malka Older
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher
The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
Brother's Ruin by Emma Newman
The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Sea of Rust by M. Robert Cargill
The Cold Between by Elisabeth Bonesteel
Between Two Worlds by Emma Newman
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link
Bearly A Lady by Cassandra Khaw
All Systems Red by Martha Wells
Dreadnought by April Daniels
Not Your Sidekick by CB Lee
Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
Passing Strange by Ellen Klages
Weaver's Lament by Emma Newman
The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter
At The End Of The Day by Claire North
I Don't Know What You Know Me From by Judy Greer

Thus ends my entirely subjective book review of 2017.

I've already got a pretty big TBR pile, but in 2018 I'm really looking forward to reading Provenance by Ann Leckie, The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky by JK Jemisin and hopefully starting Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn series.

2017: a year in movies

I think we can all agree that 2017 wasn't a high point in the history of humanity. For me personally it was a year with a lot of ups and downs. I got promoted to a job which gave me a little more money but actually turned out to be fucking horrible, and dealing with that took up (and still does) an increasing amount of my spare time. It made me so stressed that I began having panic attacks IN MY SLEEP, which I can tell you is an incredibly not-fun experience. Needless to say one of my goals for 2018 is to get another job and hopefully bring my stress levels back to something a bit more manageable.

However I also spent two weeks in Japan, fulfilling a lifelong travel goal. While it rained for 9 out of the 13 days I was in Japan (thank you again 2017) it was an overwhelmingly amazing experience. The highlight was spending three days at an pricey but unbelievably worth it Seikoro Ryoken in Kyoto. The day we arrived in Kyoto we had been attempting to out-travel Typhoon Lan, which had caught up with us while we were in Osaka Castle. When we arrived in Kyoto we were weighed down with bags and soaked in rain. The ryoken grabbed all of our soaking stuff, gave us some yukatas and some tea and red bean cake, told us to go to the onsen (hot spring) and then organised us the most amazing 8 course meal so we didn't have to leave the room until the typhoon had blown over. While it was the most I've ever spent on a hotel, it was worth every penny.

In terms of books read and movies watched, I read 50 books and watched 59 movies in 2017. While this was better than 2016 when I read only 36 books but watched 59 movies, this was still less than 2015 when I read 70 books and watched 73 movies.

I don't think 2017 was a great year for movies. There was a few I enjoyed but lots of movies that were less than they could have been due to tonally off re shoots, a pedestrian script and an overall lack of direction.

So now, to the bit you've all been waiting for, my top 5 WORST films of 2017.

5. The Limehouse Golem
If there's one thing I love it's stories about serial killers in Victorian/Georgian/Edwardian London, so Limehouse Golem should have been a shoo in for one of my best movies of the year, not one of the worst. So what went wrong? Sadly, while the cast is good and the story decent, there are some really bizarre editorial choices that killed all tension from the movie, and just made it really dull. You can also see the twist coming from literally the first minute of the movie.

4. Silence
Passion projects almost always seem to fail, don't they? The first hour is interesting enough, then it goes nowhere for over an hour and a half, Andrew Garfield literally sits in a different series of rooms and cries while people tell him he's wrong about his faith. I really couldn't tell what point Scorcese was trying to make with the movie but when it ended I felt the need to apologise to my boyfriend for suggesting we go see it.

3. Alien: Covenant
Ridley Scott continues to trash his reputation by doing the one thing nobody thought possible: making a movie worse than Prometheus. My favourite part of the movie was watching my boyfriend open-mouthed in disbelief that a 5min scene showing Michael Fassbender teaching Michael Fassbender how to play a recorder made it into the final cut. The CGI is also not good, the plot is dull and the ending retroactively ruins so many good things about the original Alien time line. Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that Alien Resurrection would turn out to be one of the better movies from the franchise.

2. The Mummy
I am a massive fan of Tom Cruise, but the last movie I saw that was as incoherent and tonally bizarre as The Mummy was Ultraviolet, and I still think that Ultraviolet was a more coherent movie overall (seriously, what is the boy doing in the suitcase and what does that playground sequence mean - are they dead?). Ultraviolet had a budget of $30m and an unknown cast (apart from Milla Jovovich) whereas The Mummy had a budget of $125m and two A-list stars with a well-regarded supporting cast.

The Mummy is about 3 different films edited into one. The continuity is all over the place: it goes from daylight to the dead of night, then dawn in the space of about 15 seconds. Characters crack jokes then act serious then crack jokes again. It has a similar setting and plot to the messy and incoherent X-Men Apocalypse, but Apocalypse looks like Hamlet in comparison to The Mummy.

Russell Crowe is the best thing in it, as he has seemingly cottoned on to the fact that the movie is a mess and has decided to pull-out his hammiest performance and plummiest English accent. Sadly, the Mummy doesn't even fall into so-bad-it's-good territory. It's just a mess that someone thought was salvageable. It isn't.

1.  Baby Driver
I know ton's of people loved this, but frankly, they are all wrong. I didn't like a single thing about Baby Driver. I wasn't even able to hate watch it in the way I do with Zack Snyder movies and it doesn't even have the excuse that the Mummy has of being three tonally different movies hastily stitched into one. It was just really boring.

Every single person is miscast.  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 or DNA testing 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. Lily James acts as if no man has even given her the time of day before, when clearly she would have been hit on ten million times in every 12 hour shift - there's just no way she'd 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.

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.

As I've said before, every body's favourite movies are totally subjective, so if you disagree with me that's cool, but don't try to argue with me that I'm wrong. I'm not.

Bubbling under: films that I thought were terrible but weren't quite bad enough to make the list:
1. Baywatch and Jumanji (Jack Black and Bobby Cannavale's excellent scene-chewing performances aside) - The Rock has really gone off the boil this year. Somebody needs to stop letting him make movies with 'baudy sexual whatnot' in them because they are dull and low key sexist.

2. Live by Night and Justice League - Ben Affleck has also lost his way in recent years. There were multiple walkouts during the four dull endings of Live By Night and Affleck looks visibly embarrassed the entire way through Justice League. The man needs to make The Town 2 stat.

3. Blade Runner 2049 - Hated every minute of this boring, boring film. 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 old really quickly. 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.

So now, here's my top 5 BEST films of 2017.

5. John Wick Chapter 2
Like I said earlier in the year, I enjoyed it so much that I saw it twice in 48hrs. I've since seen it a third time. Understands what it is much better than the first movie, doubles the body count, with a variety of interesting antagonists, the best of whom is Common. It's not for everyone, but if watching Keanu murder people is your thing then you can't get better than the New York sequence in the final act of the movie.

4. The Handmaiden
It's visually stunning, but actually it was the incredibly detailed story that ultimately won me over. Quite unlike most other Chan-Wook Park movies, this Korean romantic thriller is very light on the horrific torture dismemberment (though there is still a little of that). However, don't let that put you off, the movie is spectacular. The scenery, the acting and the story are all intricate and engaging, and i was so tense at the end, really rooting for the characters. There are some explicit lesbian sex scenes but they don't come over as gratuitous in the way that say the Blue Is The Warmest Colour sex scenes do.

3. Get Out
So much has already been written about how great this movie is so I won't rehash it. It had me, and the entire cinema audience on the edge of our seats and there was a standing ovation at the end. Awesome.

2. XXX: The Return of Xander Cage
From the laughable attempts to showcase Xander as irresistible to women to the inclusion of a DJ as part  of his crack team, the movie is ridiculous in every possible way, but is 100% successful in it's glorious dumbness. Donnie Yen still has all the moves for a 50 something and if I had one small complaint it's that Tony Jaa should have more to do. Everything that Fast 8 failed to be.

1. Mad Max: Blood and Chrome
If you haven't seen it then I won't be able to describe quite how beautiful this version is. If you have, then yeah, you'll agree with me. I can't quite decide whether I prefer it to the original version, but it definitely draws your attention to different aspects of each scene.

Other movies I really enjoyed but didn't quite make my top 5 were: The Disaster Artist, A Dog's Purpose and King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

The full list of movies I watched at the cinema this year in the order I watched them are:
Silence, Assassins Creed, Manchester By The Sea, Live By Night, La La Land, XXX: The Return of Xander Cage, Split, Hacksaw Ridge, Lion, The Space Between Us, Moonlight, John Wick Chapter 2, John Wick Chapter 2, Hidden Figures, The Great Wall, Logan, Kong: Skull Island, Logan, Get Out, Beauty And The Beast, The Age of Shadows, The Boss Baby, The Fate of The Furious, The Handmaiden, The Rules Don't Apply, Ghost In The Shell, Mad Max: Blood and Chrome, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2, A Dog's Purpose, Sleepless, Alien: Covenant, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Baywatch, Wonder Woman, The Mummy, Transformers: The Last Knight, Baby Driver, Spiderman: Homecoming, The War for the Planet of the Apes, Dunkirk, The Dark Tower, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Logan Lucky, IT, The Limehouse Golem, Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle, Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle, Blade Runner 2049, Geostorm, Thor: Ragnarok, Murder On The Orient Express, Bad Mom's Christmas, Paddington 2, Justice League, The Disaster Artist,  Jumanji, The Last Jedi, and Die Hard.

Yeah, I know, I re-watch a lot of movies. I also listen to Stevie Wonder's Superstition at least once a day. So sue me.

Thus ends my entirely subjective movie review of 2017.

In 2018 I'm really looking forward to Annihilation, The Predator, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and Black Panther.

Books and Movies in 2017: December

December was hugely busy at work so I didn't get anywhere near as much read or watched as I would have liked. I got to 23rd December and was just so fucking exhausted I couldn't bear to do much more than stare listlessly at my phone whilst mainlining Quality Street. I know, I know, I need a new job. That's a goal for 2018.

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

1. The Disaster Artist
I saw The Room for the first time in 2016, so I'm a bit late to this party. The Disaster Artist definitely catches the strangeness of Tommy Wiseau in a really sweet and human way. The central cast are all absolutely spot on. It's great.

2. Jumanji
It was so dull that I actually forgot that I watched it. Really disappointed in this movie that talks about empowerment but it just low key sexist. Jack Black and Bobby Cannavale are excellent, but the rest of the movie is an 'instagram inspirational message' in terms of plot and dialogue.

3. The Last Jedi
I have so many opinions about The Last Jedi that I may do a separate post about it. I loved The Force Awakens but Last Jedi felt bloated and messy. While I didn't take offence to the portrayal of Luke, there just wasn't enough story for a two and a half hour movie.

4. Die Hard
Obviously I've seen it many times before and I'm pleased to report that it's still good, even though I fell asleep during this screening (see above mention of me being fucking exhausted).

The best film I saw in December and the movie I'm most likely to re watch was The Disaster Artist.

It being Christmas time I also watched some Christmas classics. A Christmas movie can be a movie explicitly set at Christmas time, or a movie that conveys universal themes that encompass the Christmas spirit. That's why Star Wars counts as both Christmas and Easter acceptable movies. Once Boxing Day is over then winter movies (movies where snow or winter are a key part of the story) are also acceptable.

Here is the run down of the Christmas movie traditions in my household. We must always watch: a Bond film, a version of A Christmas Carol, another traditional Christmas style movie, Eyes Wide Shut, and a Shane Black movie.

Christmas Eve Eve - Die Hard
Christmas Eve - Eyes Wide Shut
Christmas Day - A Muppet Christmas Carol, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, and this year, The Force Awakens
Boxing Day - this year, The Nice Guys, then The Nightmare Before Christmas
New Year's Eve - Didn't quite get my fill of Shane Black, so finished out the year with The Long Kiss Goodnight, then Pretty In Pink (I wanted to watch The Thing, which would have been in keeping with the tradition, but was outvoted).

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

1. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
3 stars. This is an interesting but hard read. I enjoyed the memoir aspects of it but both stories ask so many questions and rarely answer any of them, so it makes for a less satisfying end. There’s also quite a lot of repetition.

2. Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter
2 stars. The concept is excellent, but I found most of the multiple POVs fairly dull, and few had distinctive voices. The individual stories never managed to convey the emotion of purpose of the whole novel and all the stuff about the Pit came out of nowhere and seemed like filler. Some interesting ideas but it just didn’t work for me. 

This wanted to be the Wool Trilogy but it was more like Toby Litt’s Journey Into Space or The Loneliness Of Distant Beings by Kate Ling.

3. At The End of The Day by Claire North
1 star. There’s no plot, no character arc, and no stakes. 80% of the book is just snatched of dialogue that you would overhear in bars. If that’s your thing then go for it but I found The End of The Day really, really boring. It’s a shame because I think The 15 Lives Of Harry August and Touch are brilliant. I hate to give one star reviews but I really didn’t like a single thing about this novel.

4. I Don't Know What You Know Me From by Judy Greer
3 stars. It's a light and breezy book. There are no great insights here but Judy is funny and self-deprecating and she seems like she'd be a cool friend. 

The best book I read in December was The Fact of A Body.

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

TV wise I started re-watching Parks and Recreation, because it's brilliant and I'm almost finished re-watching Arrested Development for the third time. 

Next year: I'll be continuing to read The Broken Earth Trilogy, the new Ann Leckie novel Provenance, and Mara Wilson's autobiography. 

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. 

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