Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Review of 'The Bean Trees'

Just read this, having read lots of her later work. This reads very much like a first novel - it's not terrible, but it's not as good as what comes after. Some of the same themes and characteristics are already present - giving a voice to what we would now call the 'left behind' - blue-collar workers (or would-be workers) usually unrepresented in literature, and the nature writing, and the kinds of insight into ecosystems that it properly informed by science. The plot and the characters just sort of ramble along, though, and eventually it just ends. I'm glad this wasn't the first Kingsolver I read, or I might not have bothered with the rest.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Review of 'Sanctuary'

A film about people with learning disabilities in a very bleak-looking Galway City, Ireland. A group of people with learning disabilities go on an outing to the cinema, and their not-very-competent (but kind) care worker arranges for two of them to have a romantic liaison in a hotel room.

I can't say I enjoyed the film, but I think it was good and I'm glad I saw it. There are a few laughs - it's sort of a comedy - but it's also very serious. I just don't think about people with Down's syndrome very much, and at the beginning watching them acing made me feel more uncomfortable that I'd like to admit to myself or anyone else.

As others more knowledgeable than me are probably already aware, after a little while you stop seeing the disability and start to see the individuals. I might have known intellectually that people with learning disabilities have the same emotions and human engagements as other 'normal' people, but after watching this I actually felt it.

Watched at Lansdown Film Club in Stroud.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Review of 'First Man'

A really long film that managed to be both tense and boring at the same time. Once we get to Apollo 11 the tension has gone, and we're all just waiting for Armstrong to say the lines that we know are coming; but earlier on it really feels like we're in that test plane or space capsule - the film is really claustrophobic and uncomfortable. Armstrong's character is oddly devoid of affect - not surprising, that's why NASA chose him, because he didn't let emotion get in the way of his judgement, even when a normal person would be scared witless. There is a sort of overlay that says he is bottling up the emotion of his young daughter's death from cancer, but it wasn't convincing to me. Clare Foy as his wife does all the feeling for both of them.

There is some suggestion in the film that the point of the moonshot was to beat the Soviets, who seemed to be winning the space race, but it doesn't really go anywhere with this. Towards the end we are left with the feeling that the moonshot was worthwhile in its own terms, and that all humanity benefitted from this great achievement of the USA. This is not examined at all. The film does show how there was dissatisfaction with the space programme before the success of Apollo 11, and suggests that this all evaporated when the landing was successful.

In order to achieve this it engages in a bit of dishonest sleight of hand. In general there is very little about the context of the time, but for a few minutes we get some audio overlay of anti-war protests and some shots of placards protesting the money wasted on the programme. Then there's some footage of a young black man performing Gil Scott-Heron's fabulous rap "Whitey on the moon" - all part of the sour carping criticism of the space programme that will later be vindicated by the spiritual moment of Armstrong's first step on behalf of all humanity. Except...that "Whitey on the moon" is from 1970, after the landing, and represents part of the still-strong protest and radical politics of that era. The film-makers must know this because they will have had to licence it, but they have literally re-organised history to make it say what they want it to.

Watched at the Everyman cinema in Muswell Hill.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Review of 'Swept from the Sea'

Period drama in which a lot of top-notch English actors spend a lot of time looking out to sea with moody expressions. A bit long and boring really, despite nice shooting and acting. Rachel Weisz barely has a speaking part, though she looks as gorgeous as ever.

Redeemed somewhat by the fact that it's about English hostility to an immigrant of impeccable manners and hard work - although he's a good guy he'll never be accepted by the locals. Based on a short story by Joseph Conrad, who manages to seem very contemporary so often.

Watched on Amazon Prime directly on the Smart TV.

Review of 'How to be single'

Rom-com sort of thing, slightly lifted by the presence of several quirky women - Rebel Wilson doing her fat coarse thing with some wit. Despite the title the women spend most of their time not wanting to be single and looking for Mr Right, while most of the men spend their time trying not to get hitched. A few laughs, watchable.

Was this on Prime or Netflix? Already forgotten, and in a few weeks I will have forgotten the film too.

Review of 'I don't feel at home in this world any more'

Billed as a comedy-thriller, but rather darker than we were expecting; rather a lot of gore and death. A woman is burgled and ends up trying to get her stuff back after the police take very little interest (apart from admonishing her about her home security and insurance). As a result she gets to see into a subculture of violence and criminality that's right next door.

Accurate in its depiction of working class life in America, unlike the way that TV and films often make it look like working class Americans live in mansions - this woman and her new neighbour-friend live in houses that are little better than shacks.

Watched on Netflix - we chose it because it had won a prize at Sundance.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Review of 'Restoration' by Rose Tremain

Really enjoyable...beautifully written, intelligent, insightful. A novel of characters rather than of plot, which works so well because Merivel is such a good character - with lots of insight into himself, but not so omniscient as to render him uninteresting. Just great...I can't believe I have waited so long to read this, and I'm quite tempted to watch the film too.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Review of 'Bombshell'

A bit on the long side but an interesting fim about Hedy Lamarr, who was both beautiful and very clever, in a world where being both was not a permissible option for women. So the film is quite sad. Lamarr was celebrated for her beauty but her intelligence was deemed inadmissible. Her achievements - notably the invention of frequency hopping - were not given any recognition in her lifetime.

She was too beautiful to get really good parts and ended up doing sultry sexpot roles, until she was too old for those. Then she descended into a world of ghastly and increasingly ineffective plastic surgery in a doomed effort to stay beautiful and young.

Watched on Netflix.

Review of 'Hold the Dark'

Thought this would be mystery story, and it turned out to be a brutal confusing splatter-fest, with multiple pointless brutal murders. I had to read the Wikipedia article to understand the plot, and even then what I learned was that there are bits of the story that just don't make sense - or that you can't understand from what's presented on the screen. Also over-long, though some of the nature scenes are beautiful to look at.

Watched on Netflix.