Memoirs of a Book Thief

 

Released: 2019

Authors: A.Tota and P.Van Hove

Publisher: SelfMadeHero

Reviewer: Sarah Gonnet

 

We received a free copy of this book, from SelfMadeHero, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Memoirs of a Book Thief is a graphic novel set at the centre of the avant-garde scene in Paris. It is the world of de Beauvoir and Sartre. Of living life as a work of art in itself. A world which is often romanticised; but in this book it is shown to be ugly and duplicitous.

Daniel Brodin is obsessed with books, but lack of money forces him to often have to steal them. This theft soon expands when he recites some else’s poem at an avant-garde party. He becomes the toast of Paris; but it is all based on lies. Still, he gives up his law degree in favour of pursuing the life of the writer. A life he imagines involves more time drinking, smoking weed and socialising with the in-crowd than actual writing. As a writer myself I have issues with this kind of depiction of the writing life. However the authors of this graphic novel seem to have the same doubts- Daniel Brodin is far from an aspirational figure.

Yet, at times, the authors’ depiction of life in the avant-garde scene seems unnecessarily and bluntly ugly. It is also extremely masculine. Like many histories of the left bank in the 1940s and 1950s; the focus is on the men of the scene. Even de Beauvoir isn’t mentioned by name, only depicted sitting next to her life-partner, who is repeatedly directly mentioned. Meanwhile the fictional women created entirely by the authors, are merely followers of their male counterparts.

Overall I found this book interesting, but I can’t claim to have enjoyed reading it.

Out of Blue

 

Released: 2019

Available On: Out Now in UK Cinemas

Director: Carol Morley

Reviewer: Mhairi Ledgerwood

 

We received a free ticket to see this film from Tyneside Cinema, in exchange for an honest review.

It’s been a while since I’ve been attracted to a film based on it’s poster. Normally I find my movies through the actors, directors, or Avengers that it promises. However, the poster for Out of Blue is extremely eye-catching and made me stop in my tracks when I passed it at Tyneside Cinema earlier this week.

Unfortunately this is a film that promises more than it delivers. It fails to live up to the beautiful images featured in its publicity or in the film itself.

Patricia Clarkson plays Detective Mike Hoolihan, a recovering alcoholic with a reputation for being the best at what she does. She is called upon to investigate the murder of leading astrophysicist and black hole expert, Jennifer Rockwell (Marnie Gummer). Jennifer’s body is found in the observatory where she worked, the day after she is seen giving a lecture on how humans are ‘made of stardust’. Suspects quickly emerge, including Jennifer’s boyfriend Duncan Reynolds (Jonathan Majors) and colleague Professor Ian Strammi (Toby Jones).  Another theory is that Jennifer’s killing may be linked to the .38 caliber killer, a serial killer from years before. However, Mike’s ability to work on this case is soon affected by blackouts. There is also the mystery of why she has no recollection of her childhood.

As mentioned previously, the film is shot beautifully. It’s also extremely well cast, with James Cann and Jackie Weaver leading support as Jennifer’s parents, Tom and Miriam. I also liked the use of repeated images, such as a red scarf, a blue bead, and a jar of face cream.

Patricia Clarkson is great in any role she takes on. Her confusion over what’s happening to her, and her battle with alcoholism is completely believable. But sadly this is one of the few highlights of the film. I am a fan of the fantastic and was quite excited by the discussion of multi verse theory, and hoped this would be central to the film’s premise. There’s also something really interesting in having a Detective work on a case that opens up old wounds for them. However, there’s just something about this film that failed to catch fire for me. I think the problem is that Out of Blue sets up an intriguing premise but then runs out of steam. This is a piece of cinema where the performances and cinematography are stand outs in a very muddled film.

 

Blossoms in Autumn

 

Released: 2019

Author(s): Zidrou and Aimee de Jongh

Publisher: SelfMadeHero

Reviewer: Sarah Gonnet

 

We received a free copy of this book from SelfMadeHero, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Blossoms of Autumn is a piece of magical realism about a couple who discover each other, and the joy of sex, in the later years of life. It isn’t a magical realist piece because sex between the elderly is pure fantasy, a point carefully made by detailed sex scenes and the passion shown between both parties. Instead the magical realism tends to come in when the characters are contemplating the nature of life, and, inevitably, being closer to death than they were at a young age.

Neither of the characters, Ulysses (yes his late wife was called Penelope), or Mrs Solenza, are philosophers. Their outlook is one coloured by the impact of living an everyday life for many decades. However they both have fresh and lively imaginations, which dream up a world to contain their sexual ambitions, and their genuine love for each other. Questions of whether one or both of them are experiencing some kind of dementia, only invade the story when they get lost in tales of their pasts. Yet these sections also have a key purpose- they learn about each other through sharing their stories as much as sharing their bodies.

Overall the book is a refreshing and ultimately beautiful insight into old age. It was also a book that made me realise how rare characters, especially women, over fifty are. Bring on more stories about old age! Especially ones that look at it all with a keen experimental eye, rather than a purely sentimental one.

You can buy Blossoms in Autumn here: https://www.selfmadehero.com/books/blossoms-in-autumn

Guantanamo Kid

Released: 2019

Author(s): Jerome Tubiana, Alexandre Franc

Publisher: SelfMadeHero

Reviewer: Sarah Gonnet

 

We received a free copy of this book from SelfMadeHero, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Guantanamo Kid is the devastating true story of Mohammed El-Gharani, who was sold to the Americans, as a supposed Al Qaeda supporter, at the age of fourteen. This happened despite the fact that he would have only been six years old when his alleged crimes occurred. He was imprisoned at Guantanamo for years, entirely missing out on anything resembling a normal childhood. However, this is not the story of someone who quietly took what was happening to him. At all points he remained rebellious and determined. This graphic novel tells his story based on in-depth interviews with El-Gharani himself.

Guantanamo Kid is endorsed by Amnesty International, and it is fantastic that this story is getting such major recognition in our current era, which so frequently seems to be defined by denial. There is no escaping the brutality of life in Guantanamo, and the flagrant abuse of the prisoners’ human rights. El-Gharani is at first relieved to be moved from a prison in Pakistan to one run by Americans, because he pictures a new reality where his rights may be respected- instead he is confronted with violence, manipulation and lawlessness from the soldiers that guard and abuse him.

This book doesn’t beat around the bush- there is a very clear finger point of blame at both the American government, and the individual American soldiers at Guantanamo. Even the few soldiers who treat El-Gharani well are complicit in his abuse. El-Gharani didn’t do what he was assused of, but it is suggested that some of the prisoners are actual members of Al Qaeda, but Guantanamo Kid makes it very clear that there is little difference between the brutalities committed by both sides of the war. I was a child myself when the events described were happening, and it makes my insides curdle to think how different my life could have been if I wasn’t lucky enough to be born where I was.

You can buy the book here: https://www.selfmadehero.com/books/guantanamo-kid-the-true-story-of-mohammed-el-gharani

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

 

Released: 2019

Available On: Out Now in UK Cinemas

Director: Marielle Heller

Reviewer: Mhairi Ledgerwood

 

We received a free ticket to see this film from Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Oscar season continued at Tyneside Cinema this week with encore showings of nominated and award winning films from this past year. This gave me the chance to see Can You Ever Forgive Me? which I had previously missed.

This film is based on the memoirs of writer Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy), a writer of biographies. When work dries up and she finds herself in financial straits, she stumbles across the idea of forging letters from famous literary types. Eager collectors are more than happy for the chance to own personal correspondence from writers such as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, so Lee’s forgery takes off.

Lee is quite an unpleasant person, prone to pushing away people who care about her. Such as bookseller Anna (Dolly Wells) who is interested in Lee professionally and romantically. Her relationship with her girlfriend Elaine (Anna Deavere Smith) ended because she couldn’t open up to her. There’s also a throwaway mention of a brother that she isn’t close to. That was where the film confused me. I struggled to understand why Lee was so unpleasant. I would liked to have been given more information about why she was like this. Though having said that, this is based on Lee Israel’s own memoir. Perhaps to tie up every loose end would have been proven as false as Lee’s forgeries.

I wouldn’t say this is a feel good film. But I did really enjoy gaining insight into the world of literary collectors. And while we may not like Lee, we certainly feel for her. The film does a great job in portraying the brutality of the book business where you can go from having a New York Times bestseller, to struggling to pay your rent. Her anger, directed at author Tom Clancy, who as a ‘white male’ appears to have had an easier ride than her, does feel justified. As does her being motivated to commit crimes to pay the vet bills for her sick cat.

Mention must be made of Richard E Grant’s performance as Jack Hock, Lee’s friend and partner in crime. His performance is just delicious. He deserved every nomination he got and seeing him on the awards circuit has been a delight.

This is a sad story but a fascinating one. It’s elevated by career best performances, especially from Melissa McCarthy. I don’t think it’ll be long before we see her at the Oscars once more.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

 

Released: 2019

Available On: Out Now in UK Cinemas

Director: Mike Mitchell

Reviewer: Rosie Earl

Sequels are often a tricky beast to master, especially when they’re following up a film that was an instant classic. The danger is that the film will simply try to recreate the best bits of the first one, with a flimsy plot to hold it together (I’m looking at you Anchorman 2…)

However, The Lego Movie 2 is a thing of beauty in its own right.

Picking up where the previous film left off, Lucy and Emmett are living in a post-apocalyptic landscape, trying to avoid being packed away into storage. As you’d expect, it’s a sweet story about friendship, family, and being yourself.

Having a kids film written by experts in surreal comedy (fans of Last Man on Earth and the tragically underrated Son of Zorn will recognise the work of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller); and starring a number of household names from beloved series including Chris Pratt and Nick Offerman (Parks and Rec), Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine Nine), Alison Brie (Community), Will Arnett (Arrested Development) and Charlie Day (Always Sunny in Philadelphia), is a smart move, because the jokes hit a number of levels. This includes a jibe at film one, in which Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) saved the day; yet Emmett (Chris Pratt) was dubbed the hero. A knowing titter from all the mums (and in my case, aunties) in the audience during that exchange between Banks and Beatriz.

The film’s star turn comes in the form of Tiffany Haddish as Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi – a shape shifting, all singing all dancing set of Duplo blocks. She’s one of four named female (Lego) leads in the film, and she delivers time and again with comedic aplomb.

For a diverse ensemble cast with something for everyone, The Lego Movie 2 is definitely worth checking out.

And, of course, the soundtrack is awesome.

RBG

 

Released: 2018

Available On: DVD and Blu-ray

Director: Betsy West, Julie Cohen

Reviewer: Sarah Gonnet

 

We received a free copy of this film from Dogwoof, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Despite my interest in feminism and women’s rights; I didn’t know much about the American Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg until I watched this documentary. At this point in history, we need to be reminded that figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg do exist, and are still fighting for women’s rights. There is also currently a fiction film out at cinemas about Bader Ginsburg- On the Basis of Sex.

RBG unexpectedly begins with scenes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at the age of 85, working out with a personal trainer. These scenes are cut with rap music as we are introduced to the Notorious RBG (a nickname given to her after the Notorious BIG).  In this form she has been the subject of hundreds of memes, a book and even an action figure. Her place in popular culture began when she took on sex discrimination cases as a young lawyer; but was cemented when she has appointed to the Supreme Court, and began a long stream of dissenting opinions. When she was appointed in 1993 there had only been one woman on the supreme court. Even now, twenty-six years later, there have only been four.

Young women need someone to look up to in the current political situation; which could explain somewhat the cult that has built up around Bader Ginsburg. Young lawyers clamour to see her speak; and take on her unrelenting approach to work in their own careers. None of this is a bad thing. RBG is an inspirational powerhouse.

And yet… this particular period in history is also deeply hostile to women like Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I had forgotten until I got to this very last paragraph, but preceding the shots of RBG at the gym there were a series of quotes played over the Washington skyline. As a result, the opening line to the film is “this witch”. A phrase which has frequently been used to describe women with any kind of power. Hilary Clinton was also repeatedly called a witch during the 2016 election. Maybe, if powerful women are witches, witchcraft is something we need to reclaim and celebrate.

Kramer Vs Kramer

 

Released: 1979

Available On: Tyneside Cinema are currently screening Best Picture Oscar winners

Director: Robert Benton

Reviewer: Mhairi Ledgerwood

 

We received a free ticket to view this film from Tyneside Cinema, in exchange for an honest review.

 

Tyneside cinema are celebrating Oscar season by showing popular Best Picture winners. I was lucky enough to see Kramer vs Kramer, which won in 1980.

Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) works in an advertising agency. On the night he lands his biggest account, he comes home to find that his wife Karen (Meryl Streep) is leaving him. She feels ignored due to his workaholic ways and walks out of their apartment, leaving Ted with their son Billy. (Justin Henry). The film explores the aftermath of Karen’s decision and the consequences for the whole family.

I was surprised by how my sympathies kept changing throughout the film. I automatically assumed I would side with Karen and that’s where my loyalties would remain. Karen is a college educated woman who gave up her job after she was married and has spent years feeling unfilled. It wasn’t hard for me to understand her character’s motivations in wanting to find herself at a time when women’s roles were changing.

But it’s to the film’s credit that the story is given a balanced point of view. The way Ted’s boss  treats his situation with any lack of understanding is appalling. A particularly memorable scene is where Ted has to turn down after work drinks to pick up Billy. He’s expected to operate in a 24/7 work culture and the look on his boss’s face shows he now believes that Ted isn’t as engaged as he should be. Ted undergoes a huge transformation from workaholic to devoted Dad and it’s hard not to feel heartbroken in the places where he has to comfort Billy when he is crying for his mother.

I also liked Ted’s relationship with neighbour Margaret (Jane Alexander). A male-female platonic friendship is something you don’t really see in film, and I was glad that my fears of it turning into a romance were proved unfounded. Margaret has her own conflict over whether to reconcile with her husband. We can see it’s not right for her and so can she. But humans are complex and I think what this film does so well is to show that some conflicts require a compromise.

Kramer vs Kramer stands the test of time with themes that we are still examine today. It does this without making either partner into a villain. At times harrowing to watch, it’s a great study of gender politics. Do seek this out if you can.

Rosa Luxemburg

 

Released: 1986

Available On: Out Now on DVD and Blu-ray

Director: Margarethe von Trotta

Reviewer: Sarah Gonnet

 

We received a free copy of this film from ORGANIC Media, in exchange for an honest review.

Margarethe von Trotta’s feminist films often put the personal at the heart of the political. Rosa Luxemburg is a perfect site for building on this theory- she spent her entire life, personal and political, battling to have her views heard, mostly over the voices of men within her own party. Von Trotta’s film guides us through Luxemberg’s life in a fairly traditional biopic way. This makes the attention paid to Luxemburg’s friendships with other women, and her deeply personal experiences of depression, stand out as something different. This is a view of Rosa Luxemburg that is highly sympathetic, yet doesn’t smooth over her flaws.

I came to the film knowing very little about Luxemburg, and I did find myself having to look her up and read reams about her in order to fully understand what was going on in this film. However this process of educating myself is not something I regret, and the quality of the film encouraged me to do so. I also ended up researching the other films of von Trotta- a leading light of the New German Cinema. Rosa Luxemburg was made in the mid-1980s, but has the gravitas of a film make a couple of decades earlier. Its careful pacing allows the viewer to become immersed in Luxemburg’s (often harsh) reality. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that von Trotta has been compared to Ingmar Bergman. It is therefore fitting that this new release of the film has been done through Studio Canal’s Vintage World Cinema imprint.

Overall I enjoyed this film, and I will be seeking out von Trotta’s other films about rebellious, and complex women. I hope that more are re-released as they are currently quite difficult to find!

The Wife

 

Released: 2018

Available On: Out Now in UK Cinemas

Director: Bjorn Runge

Reviewer: Sarah Gonnet

 

We received a free copy of this film in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Wife is all about Glenn Close’s face. Throughout the whole film I was completely distracted by the multitude of emotions one face can express. I barely noticed that there were other things in shot. The film is a definite career highlight for Close, if not a career best.

The plot of the film is marginal- we are mostly watching for character study. Close plays the wife (Joan) of Jonathan Price’s Joseph Castleman; an author who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize. Yet despite all of the focus within the reality of the film being on Joseph, it is his Joan who is the lead for those watching the film. Close plays her immaculately, as she is revealed as the woman behind the man; by the end of the film, in a more extreme way than we first expect. At the same time she is aware that her own superior intelligence and capabilities are being squashed. It is this conflict of competing emotions that provokes Close’s shape-shifting face.

Close’s wife is a symbol representing all of the wives who have secretly been the fire behind their husband’s work. It is a phenomenon which seems to periodically re-surface, get some attention, and then be forgotten about again. This time it has been dredged up in wake of the #MeToo movement. Colette, which is currently out in cinemas, is another piece of the puzzle- it also looks at a woman whose words are stolen by a man.

I won’t reveal the ending of the film, I will only say that it provides an opportunity for rebirth for Joan. Whether she will grasp it with both hands is left unclear, but I hope she does reach out for more than her marriage could ever provide her with.