In my attempt to watch all of the films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscar I think I’m going to run into a slight problem. Every new film I watch is going to become my new favourite. I thought Dunkirk would always be at the top because it was, almost, flawless. Then I watched The Shape of Water and instantly fell in love with it. I couldn’t imagine wanting any other film to win in March. Until I watched my third. You know that thing where you think you’re emotionally stable until you watch a film and start having a slight breakdown? That was my experience with Lady Bird. Then I made the mistake of Googling Saoirse Ronan’s age and became even more of a wreck. How can people so young be so talented and successful? It’s just not fair! I’ll admit that 3 weeks before my 30th birthday probably wasn’t the best time to be watching a film about an adolescent with their whole life before them. Nobody needs to be looking back on their achievements (or lack of) at a time like this. Luckily for me the supremely wonderful Greta Gerwig is slightly older than me so I was spared another break-down post-Googling her. I genuinely don’t know what I’d have done.
I have owned The Power since April this year but have only just got round to reading it. At first I was as excited about the concept as everyone else but it also worried me. The idea that Naomi Alderman has taken conventional gender roles and flipped them was inevitably going to interest me. However, I thought there was too much potential for this to go down a violent road that I wasn’t that keen on. I’m happy to describe myself as a feminist and think the fight for gender equality is an important and difficult struggle. I just don’t agree with the kind of militant feminism that exists in certain quarters that believes anger is the answer. I understand there has been a somewhat violent and extreme nature to the feminist movement but times have moved on. We’re not going to get real gender equality with an “eye for an eye” attitude. We don’t need to teach men what we’ve been going through by doing it to them; we just need to teach men to be better. The only people that a more aggressive fight for women’s rights is helping are the so called “meninists” who like to make out feminists hate men.
For a recent Instagram challenge I was asked to review my favourite September read using only emojis. This proved difficult for various reasons. The first being that I, shamefully, only read 2 books this month and wouldn’t really say I loved either of them enough to name a favourite. Then there was the problem of the actual review. It’s going to be difficult enough to sum up my feelings for Catherine Lacey’s The Answers with words so doing it using tiny digital pictures wasn’t exactly going to turn out great. I’m already working from the disadvantage of being a fucking idiot so trying to dumb down my already dumb opinions was a recipe for disaster. Anyway, I cobbled something together but it’s hardly the most useful review I’ve ever written. Not that I’m sure any of them have ever been any help to anyone but we’ve all got to have a hobby. I never read Catherine Lacey’s debut novel Nobody is Ever Missing but I was drawn to her second novel from the first time I read about it. It featured in my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2017’ list and I spent most of the year lusting after it. I don’t really know what I expected from this novel. Part of me thought it sounded like an episode of Black Mirror and the other thought it might prove to be a bit more chick-lit. Whatever it was going to be, I knew it was going to be better than the truly disappointing One of Us if Lying that was my other September read. There’s very little that could have been worse but I’ve already discussed that.
The Answers has a very promising title. Even Douglas Adams couldn’t provide us with an adequate answer in Hitchhikers Guide. So, in her second novel, could Catherine Lacey really provide us the answer to life, the universe and everything? On the surface her novel is the story of a 30 year old woman with a chequered past and riddled with debt. After escaping from a childhood spent in isolation with a religious fanatic for a father, Mary found freedom in New York but spent beyond her means. It was then that her mysterious illnesses made her life a misery and modern medicine scratch its head in confusion. Unable to find any other way out, Mary turned to holistic healing in the form of PAKing; a strange alternative treatment that not only helped her immensely but added to her already considerable money troubles. In order to fund the necessary therapy Mary answers a vague job advertisement that changes her life.
She is accepted to take part in something called the Girlfriend Experiment or the GX for short. It is the brainchild of superstar actor/director Kurt Sky and a group of scientists interested in studying relationships and love. After experiencing years of romantic indifference and creative despair, Kurt is turning his attention to finding out what makes people tick. Why do human beings have such a deep seated desire to pair off and bond for life? Is it something that holds them back or helps them on their journeys? To find this out, Kurt hires a gaggle of women to perform specific duties in his life. Mary is the emotional girlfriend and is responsible for listening to Kurt’s feelings, fears and secrets. There are separate women acting as the Anger girlfriend, the Maternal girlfriend, the Mundanity girlfriend and a couple of Intimacy girlfriends. Can Kurt understand the human experience by scripting his entire relationship needs through these perfect strangers and will any attachments form along the way?
The Answers follows this basic narrative whilst skipping between perspectives. We start and end with Mary’s first-person narrative but the main portion of the novel flits between third-person perspectives of Mary, Kurt and Ashley (the Anger girlfriend). Lacey uses these differing perspectives to question different aspects of the human psychology and various attitudes to relationships in general. I have to admit that it was jarring at first but the switching narratives ends up working with Lacey’s purpose. The Answers isn’t, strictly speaking, a novel but, for the most part, reads more like a study of humanity. It is a very clever novel that spends more time ruminating over the question of love than it really does on its plot. It is highly intelligent and forces you to think about things in a way you never would have otherwise. It’s an exciting exploration into such a huge aspect of humanity and social constructs that there are times when you really forget you’re reading a piece of fiction.
That’s not to say that it isn’t a decent novel. It is very driven towards character and features a great deal of amazing writing. Lacey has a command of the English language that is both beautiful and fascinating. It is at times highly lyrical and fanciful and at others staunchly scientific and stiff. It is a style that only highlights the various questions and ideas on display. She also creates some interesting characters along the way. Both Mary and Ashley are fascinating and have a lot to say about gender and equality. They are two women who have experienced different forms of abuse in previous relationships and are hiding secrets from the world. They are both running from their pasts but using very different methods. The pair find themselves both drawn to and alienated from Kurt but are tied to him through financial necessity. The Answers raises questions about the place of females in society but it never quite manages to give the answers that its title so proudly suggests it will.
I really liked most of Lacey’s novel. I loved the set up of the narrative and was really drawn into her analysis of the human condition. There is a great deal of deep and wonderful writing on display and I was sure that I was going to love it. However, the ending left me a little cold. It kind of felt like everything got away from her a little and she just didn’t know where to go with it. Everything was set up for something magical but it just, sort of, fizzled out into nothing. But not in that “I’m being clever and saying something important” way. In the “what the fuck do I do now?” kind of way. It’s a shame because Lacey builds towards something important and intelligent throughout most of the novel. She just fails to provide the answers that she promises. Maybe she just wasn’t asking the right questions?
Okay, let’s get the awkwardness out of the way as soon possible, shall we? Charlize Theron is fucking perfect. It’s entirely possible that the only reason I had any interest in this film in the first place was because of this perfection. However, I grew to really want to see the film for itself. It looked liked everything great about the Bourne and Bond franchises but with a female lead and 80s soundtrack. I mean if anything’s guaranteed to get me excited then it’s that. Despite appearances, I’m a huge fan of great action films. Anyone shooting their way out of a situation or beating people close to death gets me super excited. Not in anyway that anyone needs to worry about. I mean I’m not repressing my secret urges to start my own fight club or anything. I just like watching actors fight other actors in screen. Before I saw the film, I watched a behind the scenes video concerning one of the films major action sequences. I’ll be honest, it made me feel things that previously only the sight of Tom Hiddleston’s face had been capable of. Watching Charlize Theron performing her own stunts is now the greatest thing I’ll ever see. If I ever have a near-death experience I want to see that video flash before my eyes instead of my life. She’s a fucking badass. In my mental list of top female badasses, Theron is now competing with my beloved Gwendoline Christie for top spot. Now that’s a fight I’d love to see.
Getting into the spirit of things, I’m listening to ‘Blue Monday’ as I write this review. After all, Atomic Blonde is so wonderfully 80s that you could genuinly believe that you were watching a classic music video. Well, if it wasn’t for all of the super realistic violence. Director David Leitch has gone with a seedy and dark neon aesthetic that really shouldn’t work as well as it does. It’s a sign that this film is, when all is said and done, more about style over substance. Don’t get me wrong, this is a super cool and great looking film but I can’t say that I was overly blown away by the plot. Leitch, after all, is a former stunt coordinator so it is the action sequences that really stand out here. Everything in between just feels like filler. I found myself dozing off a bit every time Charlize Theron and co. got all talky and less punchy.
Today marks the beginning of Banned Books Week; a time where the literary world encourages people to pick up a book that has, at one time or another, been deemed unsuitable for society. There are endless great books that have gone unpublished thanks to various concerns regarding their morality. Most often is is books that are seen to contain dangerous amounts of sexual content, violence, or anti-religious sentiments that keep parents up at night. I’ve always thought the act of banning books is a really stupid one, not least because the majority of criticism is missing the overall point of the novels themselves. Of course, the major issue with saying outright that a book is “dangerous”is that it only increases the reputation of that book. How many people, upon hearing that their parents don’t want them reading something will instantly want to go and read it? A quick way to get people talking about and reading your book is to get it banned. How many people picked up a copy of the god awful Da Vinci Code because of the controversy that surrounded Dan Brown’s novel? His first 3 novels were hardly making headlines and each had fewer than 10,000 copies in their first printings. I’m not saying it was the only thing that made Dan Brown a success but all of the criticism and debate that came from it must have had an effect. So, banning a book doesn’t always get the right result. Especially when those books end up being classic works of literature. It’s weird to think that a lot of my favourite books were once unpublished because people didn’t want society to read them. So, in the hopes of inspiring people to pick up a banned book in honour of this week, I’m presenting my favourite banned books (and a few extras).
1. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence
Thanks to it’s questionable content regarding the love affair between an adult man and a young girl in his care, Lolita was banned in several countries after it’s initial release. The book was banned in the UK from 1955 to 1959 on moral grounds. Despite all of the controversy surrounding the book, Nabokov’s novel is not actually as erotic as it has been argued. Certainly not enough to see British customs officials seiing books that were entering the country.
4. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
5. 1984 by George Orwell
6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison
8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
I’m not going to lie, this has been a terrible work week. The girl who is responsible for out rotas messed up everyone’s holiday so we’ve been pretty short staffed this week. As it’s the school holidays that means we’re extra busy so we’ve all been feeling the strain. It’s times like this when everyone starts to feel unappreciated and used. There’s a very bad atmosphere in the branch right now and it’s not a great place to be. It’s also meant that I’ve been super tired and not really in the mood for reading much this week. So I’ve barely got any further with my reading. And it doesn’t help that I’ve officially got 3 books on the go. Even though student me was more than capable of reading three books at once, it seems that 30 year old me is only just able to cope with one. But I really don’t see why I care so much. I think starting Instagram has made me more competitive about reading quickly but this also means I’m more likely to read badly. If I’m focusing on quantity rather than quality then I’m not giving each book my full attention. So I’m vowing to give up on yearly book quotas and just focus on getting better at the basic act of reading.
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
- The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
- Jane Austen Collection (Arcturus Classics) by Jane Austen
I couldn’t resist this hardcover boxset of Jane Austen novels when I found it pretty cheaply. I’m not exactly her biggest fan but these covers are to die for. You may have seen them grace my Instagram recently and I can promise you that you’ll be seeing them time and time again.
- In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
1. I have an upcoming Instagram prompt that I need it for.
2. I really have wanted a copy of this for ages.
3. The new eau-de-nil covers for Penguin Modern Classics are just gorgeous.
I mean, for a book with pictures of two murders on the front, this is one beautiful book. I’ve spent all day filling my virtual basket with more of the new green backed classics and watching the as the total racks up to an insane amount of money. I’ll probably just buy them sporadically instead of all in one go.
- Netflix Binges: Futurama, Veep
- Baby Driver
- Rough Night
- Very Bad Things
There’s a lot to be said for my love of Kate McKinnon. I was almost 100% sure that I didn’t want to ever watch Rough Night but every time I saw the trailer I couldn’t help but think “Kate McKinnon though…”. So I decided to just go with it. Best case scenario: it’d be the new Bridesmaids. Worst case scenario: well, I’ve seen both of the Sex and the City movie and it’s got to be better than that, right? Don’t even ask me how that happened but it did. When you’ve seen those films and Mama Mia it becomes really difficult to imagine a film that I can hate quite as much. With every second of SATC2, each cell in my body started to shrink into itself out of anger and embarrassment; embarrassment for the people who made it, the people who liked it and for me, for making the decision to watch it. The good thing about writing this blog over the years is that I have a different range for what is good and bad. It’s like studying novels of sensibility during my Masters degree. I suddenly found a new appreciation for all of the books I thought were rubbish because they all had something more than just countless stupid young women fainting at the slightest sound. Once again, provided nobody in Rough Night fainted in the arms of their creepy uncle/step father then this definitely wouldn’t be the worst story I’ve ever experienced. So that’s something.
For one moment back in 2011 it seemed as though the world was finally ready to accept that women deserved to be given the chance to be a outrageously funny as men. As though everyone else was as sick of seeing the guys from films like The Hangover get into drunken capers and were as desperate to let the ladies have a go. Unfortunately, the change never really happened and the path towards gender equality in terms of comedy films has been a slow and painful one. It’s not as if people haven’t tried. Hell, Paul Feig is and Melissa McCarthy are trying desperately to make the raunchy female lead comedy land. It hasn’t quite worked in the way we wanted. Look at the internet’s reaction to a female only Ghostbusters for fuck’s sake. Clearly, that glass ceiling is still as thick as ever.
But that doesn’t mean Hollywood isn’t willing to give these types of films as chance when they arise. The latest is Rough Night from the writers of Broad City and boasts a great cast of female talent. It is also, in its basic form, like a female reworking of the 1998 Jon Favreau film Very Bad Things with a slight hint of The Hangover. A while ago I read a comment on the internet, probably YouTube, that was basically an outcry from some guy about remaking Very Bad Things with women. Now I can just about get that people were worried about Ghostbusters because it’s such a classic. But Very Bad Things? Nobody is worrying about that reputation being ruined. I mean it’s not exactly gone down in cinematic history. Who’s thinking “oh, I vividly remember watching Very Bad Things for the first time and don’t want my important memories to be destroyed”? Yeah, no one.
But, as it happens, Rough Night actually builds on the Very Bad Things legacy by being forgettably bad. The film is set around one night on the bachelorette party of wannabe Senator Jess (Scarlett Johansson). It is being planned by her college roommate Alice (Jillian Bell) who is feeling neglected by her old friend. Joining the pair are their fellow college friends, Blair (Zoë Kravitz) and Frankie (Ilana Glazer), who are battling with their messy romantic past as well as problems in their current lives. A random element turns up in the shape of a woman Jess befriended during a year studying in Australia. Pippa (Kate McKinnon) is a bit of a weirdo and instantly puts Alice’s nose out of joint by appearing to be much closer to the bride-to-be. After a night of cocaine, drinking and choreographed dance routines, the group return to the house they’ve rented to carry on the fun. Blair orders Jess a stripper but, a ridiculous accident, causes his untimely death. The ladies are then left with a body on their hands.
From the outset, Rough Night is desperate to prove that these women are ready to party and there is no underlying sense of judgement going on. The women are all allowed to enjoy their night out without the audience getting the feeling that it’s wrong. It also helps that the characters naturally fit together on screen. Their attempts at typical lad banter feels more natural than it does in a lot of these types of films. Rough Night isn’t a terrible film and there are plenty of funny moments. However, most of these moments are the smaller, throwaway gags that get lost in the mess. The rest of that mess is catered to specific criteria set about for commercial purposes. There is the generic slapstick silliness from the trailer and the cringey attempts to bring big laughs to all the idiots that are rushing out to see this film. It’s mostly just a big miss and the best moments are brushed aside for supposedly “guaranteed” laughs.
Rough Night isn’t the worst movie of this type around and, thanks mostly to the cast, manages to create some positive and memorable moments. However, it is a film that is clearly at odds with itself. It is written by clever writers who know how to bring the humour out of weirdness and stars actors willing to get a bit freaky. However, it ends up playing too close to the stereotypical humour of these R rated comedies. It’s a bit too big and brash to really work completely. Everyone is working overtime to make it come together but it’s a runaway train of outrageous comedy. As the narrative moves forward and more insane subplots keep popping up it just gets out of hand. Rough Night is trying so hard to be The Hangover that it’s forgotten the heart that made Bridesmaids so appealing. It’s so annoying in it’s desperation to appeal to everyone that is forgets to be funny or sweet. Although, there are some positives to take away. Most notably the relationship between Blair and Frankie, which is played out more naturally than most same-sex romances you see on screen anymore. This film could have been good had it focused a bit more on emotions and character than on trying to compete with the guys.
So I’ve just finished the first episode of Season 7 of Game of Thrones and I have so many thoughts buzzing through my brain. Which is why I’m not trying to get an early night ahead of my 7 am start tomorrow morning. Instead I wanted to write a quick post in response to yesterday’s announcement about the new Doctor Who as there has been so much controversy. Naturally, people have a lot of feelings on the matter… but that’s hardly new. Every regeneration has had some amount of hatred. Even the amazing Peter Capaldi still has his doubters as I discovered today when a female coworker proudly proclaimed that she hated him. I really had to bite my tongue at that moment. Capaldi has suffered because of terrible writing but has done wonders with the character. His version of the Doctor is one of the best we’ve had in years but his stories haven’t served him well enough. I have nothing against Matt Smith or David Tennant but Capaldi tried to do something different with the character and I will defend him to anyone. I imagine that the people who dislike him are also the same stupid people that fail to accept that Donna was the best companion. I reckon they’re all fans of David Tennant and Billie Piper and just can’t move on. Speaking of moving on…
After the men’s finals as Wimbledon yesterday, the BBC annonced that Jodie Whittaker will take over from Peter Capaldi and become the next Doctor Who. Yes, the new Doctor is a woman and I’m pissed off. Why? Because I wanted to be the first female Doctor. But I’m not an actor and have never wanted to be so that’s fucking crazy. So, putting those jealous feelings to one side, I’ve decided I’m okay with it… but I have some provisos. As a proud feminist, I’m all for better representation of women on television and better roles for women. As a fan of pop culture, I’m also all for making sure this happens organically and not for the sake of it. I understand why people are so excited that after 50 plus years the Doctor will be played by a women but I also worry about permanently tying the news to some sort of political benchmark. It should be about making sure the transition is handled correctly. Which is where I really worry.
In my opinion, Doctor Who has been steadily declining in quality since the fourth season. That’s not to say before then was all stellar but it’s undoubtedly gone to the dogs since Russell T’s final episodes. I can barely remember anything about Matt Smith’s first two series and the first two with Capaldi were abysmal. Moffat can crank out astonishing one-off episodes but, when it came to his time as showrunner, he’s allowed a lot of shitty episodes to make their way on screen. If Jodie Whittaker’s entrance is handled that same way Matt Smith or Peter Capaldi’s were then we’re in trouble because she’ll fail to make an impression. If the switch is handled for laughs then it will play into the naysayers hands. Whittaker needs to be given a well-defined and new characterisation of this well-known character. It’s going to be tricky.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t think it should happen. I love the idea of a female Doctor and I think Whittaker is a great actress. I’m remaining hopeful that this could be the best thing ever. Even now, as a 29 year old woman, I’m excited to see this character that I grew up watching is becoming someone I can relate to more. The image I have of Doctor Who from my childhood is Jon Pertwee’s face. Doctor Who has always been a white haired, white skinned man. Maybe this is why the show didn’t really stay with me as I grew up? Well, that and the fact that the older series were so rarely shown. When it came back in 2005 I watched it and loved it but it was always lacking. There was no really powerful female presence. I know people loved Rose but she didn’t cut it for me. Especially when she started going ga-ga over Tennant. That’s why Donna, so underrated, is my fave. She’s a genuinely strong and independent female who shows real growth. We need a female Doctor who takes after Donna.
And we do need a female Doctor. The show gets a lot of views and has a young audience. It is right that we show young people that women can take roles like this. It’s wonderful to see the reactions of young girls or parents who are rejoicing that their Doctor is a women. In the same way that we needed someone like Rey to be the hero of the new Star Wars films. It’s important and is everything this show has been about. The Doctor has never been about a specific gender but more about the ethos that has stayed with every incarnation. It’s about this good being who wants to explore and helps people along the way. The show has always been trying to encourage it’s audience into taking an interest in science and the universe around them but it’s always been a very traditional take on that world. The older male scientist and his sexy young assistant. It needed to be changed to reflect the real world.
And, no matter what the majority of angry fans are saying, there has always been room to make this work. The Doctor is an alien being who travels in time and changes his face every few years. If you can accept that but can’t accept that he can change into a woman then you really are a narrow-minded fuckwit.