Bumblebee

114 min.

I wrote ‘Hailee Steinfeld surprised me again’ in a review, fully believing that I had already reviewed this film and therefore could connect to it. Reader, I didn’t. Maybe because I was too surprised about liking a Transformers-film? I can hear my brothers sneering that “robots aren’t so dumb after all, eh?”. Anyway, this is a review for the film Bumblebee.

I can still remember the director of this mentioning how this would be an origins-film with heart, similar to The Iron Giant. I can remember because I scoffed at that, loudly. After Michael Bay’s nonsense with endless fight scenes, explosions and jokes about primary and secondary sexual body parts, the bar was below the floor. Try not to have your Transformer sound like a black rapper-cliché first before saying such things, director (they’re two different people, Michael wasn’t involved in this one). Not pestered by nostalgia, I was ready to watch this film with half an eye and still complain the entire way (I’m sure sometimes we pick films/series that can be followed with just half of our interest).

Except for the first couple of minutes, there’s very few robots in this, and because of certain reasons the main one can’t even talk. That’s one point in their favour. Next is – I will absolutely admit it – the fact that Bumblebee is quite adorable and main character Charlie (Steinfeld) really plays well off him. There’s so many charming moments that this could be called a “boy and his dog”-film, instead of it being Actiony Adventure (capitals essential). Bumblebee (not his first name, by the way) is on the run, Charlie is feeling alone and misunderstood, of course they find each other.

Another plus in my book is that there’s room for development of their relationship. Not just a five minute montage to quickly move on to fighting robots and exploding buildings – we get a glimpse at Charlie’s motivations and what’s going on with Bumblebee. Wow.

The run length completes my compliment-trifecta (not going to read back to see if I have three compliments): yes, it’s almost two hours, but you don’t notice because aforementioned room for development. I would have zoned out by number three of six action scenes in a row, but now I didn’t even want to pause for a bathroom break. This film had me.

And yes, just like The Iron Giant, it also made me cry at the end.

Edge of Seventeen

104 min.

I really didn’t expect to like this so much: just another American teen movie about a girl that’s struggling through growing up. Yes, we all did or do, boohoo. Honestly, I was expecting so little that I picked it so I could watch it with one eye on the screen and the other my book/phone/tablet.

Instead, I got a film that hit so close to home that it made me squirm. Good gravy, I was a brat. Good god, and not even an original one, look at Nadine go. Gosh darn, at least she has some solid excuse for this behaviour.

Because she does, partly – and it’s not just ‘puberty’, but I don’t want to spoil things. Hailee Steinfeld pleasantly surprised me again, all characters involved deserved their spot and managed not to be complete stereotypes: I’m still flabbergasted, I think.

So, maybe, only watch this without remembering how I admit to being almost a carbon copy to this main character. Or cut me some slack: you were probably a teen some time during your life as well.

Aria

Mehri opened her eyes.

Aria, Nazanine Hozar, Alfred Knopf 2019

This one also stemmed from a positive review. And okay, the beautiful cover that looks like there’s fabric involved – here we judge books by covers.

Aria plays out through several decades in Iran, ending in the 1980s. For a lot of unhappy elements (the baby is left behind to be found by an unhappy family, for starters) it’s not Aria’s story that makes this novel from time to time depressing: it’s the world around her.

There’s a lot of different tribes and people living in the country, and they all want revolution in different ways. In the same way there’s struggles between religions and different ways of poverty. The things Aria is put through mirror these issues, but she’s never just a metaphor. Sometimes she’s such a brat that the society that made her is easy to forget – good God, teenagers.

This novel made me more interested about the country, its history and the author. I read its entirety from a phone screen (thanks, Libby!) and still managed to do so in under a week (over 800 pages). There’s a clear appeal here.

So now I’m back to where I started: you never know if you can trust a positive review.

Trust Exercise

Neither can drive.

Trust Exercise, Susan Choi, Henry Holt and Company 2019

What an utter load of twatwaffle no doubt disguised as High Literature because there is a load of teens fucking in it, it described in all kind of visuals and all this done by a female author.

What a disappointment. This is one of those titles that drew my eye, lost my attention because of the summary, only to regain it because of a solid review – I think (I can’t even remember). This isn’t just a love story between different worlds, there is A Twist and boy – hold onto your panties for that one! When does the twist happen? In the last forty pages out of the 250. Is it satisfying and/or satisfyingly explained? No. Are there any explanations for the behaviour of these Cool Guys and Girls? Barely. Is all this written in such a way that you understand that this is DEEP? Sadly, yes.

Boo, I hate such a severe disappointment. The twist could have done something, but I was browbeaten into absolutely passive not-caring long before that. Yes, I’m going to make a bad pun to finish this off: this trust exercise failed massively.

Seven Fallen Feathers

You see, the giant Nanabijjou made a deal.

Seven Fallen Feathers; Racism, death and hard truths in a Northern city, Tanya Talaga, Anansi Press 2017

I honestly don’t understand why there isn’t a massive uprising worldwide because of all of the abuse indigenous people have been put through. Well, I do understand, but I don’t. No, this isn’t a light, happy read.

Seven Fallen Feathers are seven indigenous teenagers that are mauled, killed and spit out by a society that doesn’t have any room for them and doesn’t care about it either. This is Canada, but I’m sure it can be applied worldwide. Tanya Talaga gathers information about cases in the past decade that have been – one after another – just written off as accidents while plenty of signs point to the opposite. While doing that, she also shows life for indigenous people in Canada, their history and contemporary reality of endless racism and abuse and the government that is supposed to care be absolutely uncaring.

It’s an endless train wreck; after a while you just know not to expect better from police, society and government. The hand dealt is five fingers short and rotten thoroughly, but only excuses follow.

For someone who fell in love with the country, it’s an ugly eye-opener. But looking away leads to ignorance, and that’s never a good thing. Through all this, Talaga manages to show the beautiful sides, the strange and wonderful sides of the indigenous people. If only more would see.

Recently on Kanopy

A summary.

Free Fall (Freier fall) “The German Brokeback Mountain“. Sweet, sometimes sexy, but sadly also straight from the Gay Drama Clichés Play Book – including biphobia.

Kedi a Turkish documentary about the special connection the city Istanbul (and its inhabitants) has with (street) cats. Prepare yourself for burly men softened up by kittens, beautiful shots and a whole other view on Turkey.

What will people say (Hva vil folk si) shows a Norwegian teen getting the short stick in the culture clash between I- and we-cultures. It’s sad and frustrating and completely carried by the main actor.

The Cat Returns

75 min.

This might be my favourite Studio Ghibli. It’s less breath-taking in how it looks and how diversely weird the characters are, but I guess that it also makes it more accessible. Or that could be because it’s ‘just’ 75 minutes instead of the studio’s habit to go for two hours and over.

Is this a children’s film? I wouldn’t know, aren’t all of them? The style is of pastels and little chuckles, but with enough barbs for the viewer to scratch their head. Possibly.

Studio Ghibli

Sweet girl Haru risks her own life to save a cat. Turns out that that cat is a prince, and his father decides that Haru deserves eternal gratitude. Oh, and his son’s hand in marriage, because why not.

Haru is – understandably – a tad confused and rather doesn’t marry a cat. Good thing she gets help from an unlikely angle, and the catty balance is evened out.

The Cat Returns feels more traditionally like a fairy tale than other Studio Ghibli creations, and there’s less gruesome looks and characters. Maybe you should view it as an introduction to the studio. It will also help with preventing you from feeling slight frustration about every main female character from the studio looking the same, but maybe it’s already too late for that.

Mexican Gothic

The parties at the Tuñóns’ house always ended unquestionably late, and since the hosts enjoyed costume parties in particular, it was not unusual to see Chinas Poblanas with their folkloric skirts and ribbons in their hair arrive in the company of a harlequin or a cowboy.

Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Del Rey 2020

It’s always tricky to read a hyped book, I’ve mentioned this before. Is it a hype because people jumped on the band wagon, or does it really deserve all praise?

I wanted to say that I don’t know with this one, but I think I do. The promo laid it on thick that for once this wasn’t a Latin-American author writing magic-realism and that her scares were genuine. Magic-horror, terror, gothicness! I, far from a fan of horror, was curious because of the denial. I understand – no-one wants to be cornered as a one-trick-pony, but why not promote the story if it was So Different Than Any Other?

Maybe because it isn’t. Noémi moves to a scary, old house far away from civilisation to help a cousin that sent her a nerve-wrecking letter. Is it abuse, is it gas lighting or is it [add drums here] something else?

I won’t answer that question, but will say that Moreno-Garcia takes her time for a build-up only to throw everything at you in the last fifty pages.

It’s a nice roller-coaster ride, but nothing we haven’t experienced before.

Conservation of Shadows

It is not true that the dead cannot be folded.

Conservation of Shadows, Yoon Ha Lee, Prime Books 2020

Now that’s what I call fantasy. Or scifi. Maybe both. Either way, there is fantasy and there is science (fiction) and it’s mind boggling, eerie and beautiful (not just for linguistic and/or math enthusiasts either). Eat that, tropes.

Conservation of Shadows is a collection of (short) stories previously published by the author. It’s about colonialism, wars, music, writing, reincarnation or maybe only death.

Especially the first five – six stories tickled my imagination, but even when you get used to Lee’s style and subject choice the originality stays with you.

My only complaints are that some stories deserve entire novels and that – for an e-book – it’s almost too much, too dense. Experience this relic from a future time through paper, I’d advice.

As it is in Heaven

128 min.

As mentioned before, am I right now enjoying a Kanopy-account as if whatever Netflix provides isn’t enough. I vaguely remembered this name as being good, maybe? Or interesting, possibly? But sometimes you can’t decide what you feel like and films like that fit the bill precisely.

As it is in Heaven is a Swedish film (so subtitles!) with a common trope: stranger moves or returns to small town, changes the lives of absolutely everybody. It has been done, it has been done well. In this case it’s definitely a ‘done well’. It seems like the writers took pleasure in steering towards cliches, only to avoid them at the last moment. Here no characterisation just for laughs or sadness, but all people that are recognisable as people opposed to ‘small town character number 5’. There’s no shying away from more serious subjects, and even though this is an ‘old’ (2004) film, it doesn’t feel outdated.

In all honesty, it surprised me how easy to watch it was, how genuine it all felt. The one thing that made me squint a little was the main couple; it felt like quite the age gap and I never care for those.