Pieces of a Woman

128 min.

This is Vanessa Kirby’s film. Not only because Shia le B. doesn’t deserve any mention (the creep), but because – except for the actress playing her mother (Ellen Burstyn) – nothing and no-one comes close to her.

In Pieces of a Woman Kirby plays a woman that has a traumatic birth experience with lethal result. That isn’t who Martha is of course, but it’s the only role she’s allowed after. She doesn’t mourn correctly, doesn’t support her partner and family correctly, doesn’t scream for vengeance and fury correctly. Behind her eyes is both chaos and complete emptiness.

I guess this is one of those ‘actor-films’; it’s definitely a lower priority how the plot will play out than how Kirby will work her way through it.
Another gold star for how it never gets sentimental: mourning also exists out of rage and Pieces of a Woman shows plenty of that.

This might be my first film recommendation of the year.

Mismatched

6 x 35 min.

Can’t remember the last time I so enjoyed a YA romance, on telly or otherwise. I think that this would have had another To All The Boys-hype level if the majority of it wouldn’t have been in another language than English (I think it’s Hindi).

It has plenty of tropes, plenty of tempo and a tight grip on the plot. I don’t know the original material – YA novel When Dimple meets Rishi – so I can’t compare, but the series delivers everything you might need from a YA romance. Rishi is a romantic, Dimple wants to break free.. side characters that carry their clichés in an honest way, and a surroundings that makes you wish that there’d be a temporary ban on the UK and USA high school as decor.

It’s a slice of teenage life but with amped up volume and technicolour added. And for the romance part: you might not even straight-away know who she ends up with! There’s even replay value! So, I hope for two things: a sequel, and that more people will watch it so we can discuss.

Luster

The first time we have sex, we are both fully clothed, at our desks during working hours, bathed in blue computer light.

Luster: A Novel, Raven Leilani, Bond Street Books 2020

I don’t know if this is going to be a review about Luster or a confession.

Luster works hard, while simultaneously not doing shit to get the reader to feel something about its protagonist. Do we pity her, get angry at her, are grossed out by her? Can we blame her decisions or outlook on life when you see what she’s been dealt and the society she lives in?

It’s the kind of book I can’t get any grip on, an endless frustration that I can’t steer in any direction. I want a conclusion, no matter how unhappy. I want a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it’s a coming train. What I don’t want to be is infected by the manic, the passivity, the ugliness of it all.

This isn’t about bad relational decisions or how rudderless my generation is, it’s how Raven Leilani puts her hand on your neck and keeps forcing you to watch and think and experience.
Is that not something I enjoy? Am I a cookie-cutter reader?

Or is it simply that the confrontation is too big, the despair too overwhelming, and the possible life line too brittle?

I’m angry at this novel. I’m frustrated by the impact I allowed it to have on me and how I feel I have to defend myself. A happy ever after wouldn’t even have satisfied me at the end, I want to put this growth to bed so I can calm down again.

A confession it is, then.

Kärleck och anarki

8 x 30 min

Unlike the protagonist of my previous review, Sofie and Max have clear reasons to be maladjusted, rude weirdos. Most of the time. They also get much less flack from me for this because they’re funny and pretty attractive. Just being honest here.

Sofie is a married mother who’s brought in as a consultant at a publisher. Max is the IT-guy. They give each other weird assignments. The assignments escalate. So do feelings. So do their lives.
And it all plays out in Stockholm, so the escalations are all with subtitles.

This is romance, slice-of-life, coming-of-age without any Life Lesson beating you over the head of soundtrack telling you what to think. It’s quick (eight episodes), funny, sad and fresh.

Anarchy might be a big word, but it’s something different; in a good way.

Today Will Be Different

Today will be different.

Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple, Little, Brown & Company 2016

Maria Semple did it before: the frazzle, the alien character in a grand, wealthy world. This time it’s not a side-character, but the main. And that gets a bit exhausting after a while.

Because what’s happening, really? Our protagonist tries to be better, for at least one day. It doesn’t work the way she wants to, but only part of that is because of reasons outside of her control.

Unlike with Bernadette (I’m just going to continue comparing here) – there is no direction here, no pay-off, not even a crooked compass. It’s Ducks with better punctuation, but with even less consideration for the person we have to feel something more than annoyance for. There are crumbs of motivation behind her behaviour, but never enough to create even a biscotti from. Instead, you just don’t care about any of the people involved.

Maybe this is Semple’s thing. Maybe I’m not finely-enough-tuned to a traumatised person’s inner-workings, maybe it was the wrong book at the wrong time.

And just like the author of Today Will Be Different I’ll let the reader decide.

NYE films

What’s ‘NYE’ about any of these films? Probably nothing, except that I watched all three of them on December 31 and January first. Maybe the start of a tradition.

Anyway, what they do have in common is a black male lead. With two out of three films the male lead is turned into something else, but baby steps. Right, Hollywood?

I would have liked it better if Soul would have been done with a female lead, but what do I know about soul music. For a film about one, it was definitely lacking one: just a lot of minutes going through the Kiddie-story-with-A-Life-Lesson storybook. And will Pixar ever move away from that hideous way of drawing people?

Spies in Disguise, then. This time the main character is turned into a pigeon to learn that there’s no ‘I’ in team. There’s also long action scenes, fat jokes, and pigeons-are-stupid/eat-everything repetitions that might make you slightly nauseous. Besides that, some genuine humour can be found, but that’s mostly on Will Smith’s charm.

Maybe I’ve outgrown Disney Pixar/Disney Fox-animations. When you can’t find any relief from picking things apart, it might be time.

For something completely different, I finished this holiday with Get Out. You might still remember the reviews and discourse which partly seemed to be led by “OMG, racism is the real horror??”.

I went in with plenty of knowledge (I’m a scaredy cat), but was still enjoyable uncomfortable, definitely in the first half. I always enjoy the humans-are-the-worst-monsters trope, and it delivers.
The second part is more traditional horror, but doesn’t go overboard enough to lose balance. This way, you’re stuck to your seat the entire time and only want to look away out of discomfort or disgust, not boredom.

All in all, the satisfying cinematic experience I felt I deserved after two days of disappointment.

The Thursday Murder Club

Well, let’s start with Elizabeth, shall we?

The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman, Viking 2020

This was fun! Of course, like as in every detective the characters learn things sooner than the reader does, but Osman managed to balance it in such a way that made me go “Okay, we’ll wait a chapter” instead of reading the final paragraph and trying to remember how many story lines were there and how they’re being tied up in twenty words.

In an old folks home, a group of seniors meet up on Thursday to try to solve cold case murders. When a murder happens close by, they decide to put their talents to a warm case.

As with any detective, the senior Sherlocks leave the local authorities (far) behind, but because the author writes with an almost audible wink it’s entertaining instead of annoying.

Is the murder solved? Moh, do we really care? Are the characters on display entertaining and maybe a little bit tugging at the heart-strings? Definitely.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

“Oh dear,” Linus Baker said, wiping the sweat from his brow.

The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune, Tor 2020

This was just the sweetness needed. It felt like a story that could be animated as part of another story. It’s an origin story, the entire plot a huge cliché (man goes through things, discovers that there are joys in life to be had), but it’s all done so nicely, without ever veering into the saccharine.

Also, there’s monsters.

I mean – children with abilities. Hidden away in an orphanage on an island at the end of the world and our protagonist has to make sure they are treated well. It’s what he does for a living (if you can call it living). This time he even has to keep an extra eye on the headmaster because he likes to colour outside the lines (gasp!).

TJ Klune makes it all fresh, funny and adorable because of their descriptions, characters and little jokes. You might see the ending coming closely after the beginning, but it’s such a nice ride.

Peter Darling

James Hook was bored

Peter Darling, Austin Chant, Less Than Three Press 2017

A novella about Peter Pen and Neverland and Hook being …slightly different from what you might remember. Even though it’s pretty short (142 pages in e-bookformat), it took me a while to get invested.

Looking back, it almost feels like the order of the story is the wrong way ’round: large parts of the second half might have been more suited for the introduction part of the story?

Still, the author delivers from the start with descriptions of Neverland, the horror of facing reality and gives an element that could easily become super smarmy a soft and genuine landing.

I’m ready for someone to turn this into a film, and I don’t say this very often about a story.

Capharnaüm

124 min.

I watched this entire film with focused energy and still don’t know why this is the title. It’s not the only thing lacking: the summary says this is about a street kid suing his parents for being born. It really is about Zain and his lack of control over things, plus his attempts to change that.

He tries to save his sister, he tries to save a left-behind toddler, he tries to save himself a bit. The streets of Yemen provide little, but Zain tries to take all of it.

It’s hard to believe that this is fiction, that it’s only actors that were put through this. Especially the boy playing Zain pulls story-lines off that would have been scoffed or laughed at with a lesser actor.

After, you’ll be glad that this time it was fiction. It just won’t make it easier to acknowledge that this way of living is reality for plenty of people.

And the court case? Or the title? Meh, I can do without.