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The Shape of Family

Karina sat outside the principal’s office, kicking her feet against the wooden bench.

The Shape of Family, Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Harper Collins 2019

This probably pulled me in with its promise of ~dark~ family problems, but it turns out that the problems are dark in the most sad and depressing way and as a reader you’re just the bystander of seeing trauma tear a family unit into half-drowning islands.

The thing is: it’s not unrealistic that people that have bad things happen to them continue to have bad things happen to them. Sometimes they just seem to be magnets. But it is written in such a focused way that it seems only to be about scoring sadness points. {this is were mild spoilers follow} From death to separation to self harm and relational abuse: a large part of the 300 pages is just heaping it on. What am I reading this for: to learn how bad things happen?

Besides that; if it would have been written wonderfully and mind-blowing: okay. There’s no original idea in the world left anyway. But this just felt like we were going through the motions in hope of attaining some emotional response. I honestly should start writing down where I get my recommendations from.

Fighting With My Family

108 min.

Can you call a story clichéd if it’s based on a true story? Because Fighting With My Family goes through several well-used tropes (unlikely hero, successful comeback after a lowest moment), but uh – guess it all really happened, so do you judge a story on it?

The family mentioned is a boxing family from Greenwich. All four are in the ring (the fifth is in jail), but the children aim for the gold: becoming a part of WWE. The family expects the son to get it (at least), but it’s the daughter. This causes a rift.

One that will be mended through True Familial Love, after some solo hardships and end with a successful comeback. It’s marketed as a comedy, but I’d say “slice of life”/”coming of age” with both siblings learning what they want and can expect from life. With some laughs, that’s true.

The Midnight Bargain

The carriage drew closer to Booksellers’ Row, and Beatrice Clayborn drew in a hopeful breath before she cast her spell.

The Midnight Bargain, C.L. Polk, Erewhon Books 2020

Sometimes when you work hard to get a book, and when it disappoints it hits even harder. Like a book (or film) has to deliver for the sole reason of me having invested in attaining it. I even e-mailed the library about this novel (gasp!).

Luckily The Midnight Bargain didn’t disappoint: far from it. I hoped for a Victorian romance with a hint of magic; I got a historical fantasy with a hint of romance.

Beatrice lives in a world where her path leads into only one direction: marriage and motherhood. Even though she’s got magic, women can’t use it and carry children as well – society made the choice for her that she will deny magic. It’s also necessary for financial reasons: her father made bad investments and a connection to a rich family is essential to prevent them from poverty.

But of course: Beatrice doesn’t want this. She wants to hold on to magic and help her family, not be sold like cattle.

Spirits, wonderful, kind heartthrobs and dastardly competition get involved – it’s all too much fun to spell it out. Well done, cute little romance/coming-of-age: you absolutely delighted me.

Comment je suis devenu super-héros

101 min.

Aardige superheldenfilm die eens niet aan Marvel of DC Comics is gebonden. Echter niet helemaal origineel – gebaseerd op een roman.

Er is mooi (gemaakt) spektakel met een leuk plotje over superkrachten als drugs en een Eenzame Detective die hier natuurlijk Iets mee te maken heeft.

Daarbovenop is er net genoeg verdieping om niet verveeld te raken maar ook niet in de lach te schieten door alle kronkels, maar vooral fijn: niet eindelijk veel vechtscènes die alleen maar tijd vreten en de kijker duizelig maken.

Dus voor hen die wel graag een beetje super wilt zien, maar op de droge, Franse manier waarop zij science fiction behandelen: dit is een heel aardig filmpje.

High on the Hog

Dan-Tokpa Market, Catanou, Benin, West-Africa – I visited my first African market with my mother three decades ago.

High on the Hog, Jessica B. Harris, Bloomsbury 2011

It hardly can be any clearer how much this author loves her people, their culture and their history. This isn’t just a book about food or (for) black people: it’s the history of eating and about every continent is involved in some way.

This combination of travel, research and family stories taught me several new things about black history, without ever feeling preachy or as an information-dump. I’ve also learned of many things I want to eat.

High on the Hog travels from slavery to American contemporary day, and sometimes that’s a lot to take in. But Harris’ way of light, loved writing makes it feel like you’re listening in om someone’s stories while they’re preparing you a scrumptious meal. As I said – I really just want to try so many things.

Utopia Avenue

Dean hurries past the Phoenix Theatre, dodges a blind man in dark glasses, steps onto Charing Cross road to overtake a slow-moving woman and pram, leaps a grimy puddle and swerves into Denmark Street where he skids on a sheet of black ice.

Utopia Avenue, David Mitchell, Sceptre 2020

I really think that David Mitchell is my favourite male author. While Utopia Avenue wasn’t my favourite (“yes, you did your homework when it comes to how music is created, I don’t really care”), it was still a book I spent my nights on opposed to the usual screen time.

It felt like it was a character study. Of people (in the music business) during a certain era in history, but also of the era itself. The USA and England can be compared to Cinderella and one of her siblings: young, fresh and exciting versus jealous drudgery.

Jasper de Zoet (as far as I know the first time Mitchell refers to characters from other novels) delivers the eerie, magical realistic touch to the story. Is he mentally unwell – and if so, in what way? – or is there more between hell and earth? I felt like it both lifted up and brought down the story. Any more would provide spoilers, and of course Mitchell manages to interweave it thusly that anything else wouldn’t have worked.

It’s a book like an opera: if those come with drug abuse, celebrity house parties and detailed descriptions of jam sessions. After having written this, I feel like reading it for a second time. Make of that what you will.

Minding the Gap + Betty

Minding the Gap is a 93 minute documentary

Betty is a two season TV-show, 12 episodes of 30 minutes

And both of them involve skating, why I combined the two. Minding the Gap is a sober documentary about life in a small town with an even smaller amount of possibilities to get out of the rut your ancestors created for you. The documentary maker returns after a time and goes looking for all his (skater) friends. Not all of them got out – mentally and physically.

This might all sound terribly depressing and it’s definitely not a fun, cool watch, but director Bing Liu manages to make you feel for these strangers like it’s your own set of friends.

Betty keeps things (most of the time) a lot more lighthearted. It’s based in reality with the skateboarders having been plucked from the street and allowed input to stories (according to the credits), but HBO puts a very cool, glamorous, quick-living sheen over it. It’s a group of diverse female teens in New York that skate. There are a few (teen-related) problems, but mostly it’s just cruising: little goes permanently wrong.

That also turns it into brightly coloured wallpaper pretty quickly. Or maybe I’m just too old and not cool enough.

Either way, I still want to get a skateboard and try my hardest to master it now.

Shoplifters

121 min.

One of those films you miss the theater-run of, slightly forget about until they pop up somewhere and trigger the “Didn’t I want to see this?”-thought. Maybe I should start a To Be Watched list.

The shoplifters don’t just shoplift goods. This is a mild spoiler that won’t make sense until the end of the film. In the beginning of it, it’s just a poor family adopting a neglected toddler. Like in 10 Minutes it is shown that you can create your own family – this one is just built on much less sturdy foundations.

The funny thing is that for a long time little seems wrong with those foundations. Yes, some dodgy things happen and what are the exact relationships between everyone but by golly: at least they try t stay upright in a society that doesn’t even notice that it keeps kicking them down.

I’m also impressed by the acting and the thin balance between sharing and silence – it never gets annoying that we don’t know everything (yet). Except for that one story line; I must have missed the clues here. Or it was simply shoplifted from the story: everything and -one can clearly be.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, Elif Shafak, Penguin Random House UK 2019

Wow. Meestal schrijf ik Engels-gelezen verhalen ook in het Engels op, maar deze keer (en mogelijk het tijdstip – laat opgebleven om het uit te lezen) voelt de taal ontoereikend. Wat een mooi boek, wat een mooi verhaal terwijl er zoveel lelijke gebeurtenissen zijn. Wat een hoeveeheid liefde: voor de hoofdpersoon, haar zelfgekozen familie en ook de stad Istanbul. Wat een plaatjes, ook van de gruwelijke dingen en nare situaties. Wat een alles.

Tequila Leila is dood. Vermoord. Behalve haar laatste tien minuten mogen we ook haar leven en haar beide families – bloed en liefde – ontmoeten. Een meisje dat opgroeit halverwege de twintigste eeuw in een klein dorpje, bijna in de knop gedingest voor ze kan bloeien, en dan nog Istanbul in. Waar ze leeft, overleeft, geeft. Het zou zonde zijn om meer te vertellen, alleen erover vertellen geeft mij al de neiging om het boek opnieuw te beginnen.

Het is een fragiel sprookje, een mozaïek van een levende stad (ook iets waar ik zo van houd, de stad als personage), een ode aan eigenheid. Bovenal zo mooi, zo goed, zo sprankelend prachtig.

Stuntwomen: the untold Hollywood Story

85 min.

Kinda started this out of boredom, decided to stick with it because it told me a lot about Hollywood (history) I didn’t know yet. And showed a lot of cool stunts (which are usually also very dangerous, shouldn’t be reenacted and there should probably be a conversation about how it’s time to CGI stunts before anything else).

It’s the untold story, but at the same time and all too familiar one: women aren’t as appreciated in their job as men (in the same function).
Starting out, it was more women than men doing stunts. Then it turned out that money was to be made, and men came in in droves. Women have to be a carbon copy of the actress they replace: men are done after putting on a wig. Men are hired for every job (background victims, for example) with little experience, women didn’t because they “didn’t fit the bill completely” or “I don’t like to see women shot” – director’s quote.

Yet they – as in any other job – persevere(d). Sometimes by doing the too dangerous job (an interviewed stuntwoman broke her back twice), but they have so much passion for what they do that it’s hard to stay away.

Inspirational and motivational – both about standing your ground in the work place and I really want to pick up all kinds of martial arts, boxing and trampoline jumping right now.