Leuke films maken die Fransen toch (soms). Is het de taal die de film gelijk een opgewekter, vrolijker gevoel geeft, of is het de Franse levensinstelling die hun (komische) films zo toegankelijk maakt?
Een film over halfzusjes en -broertjes die besluiten maar zelfstandig te gaan wonen omdat hun ouders er zo’n zooitje van maken en ze genoeg hebben van huis te wisselen elke drie dagen – het zou makkelijk sneu kunnen worden. Of in het geval van de Amerikanen: vol met superirritante, te bijdehante en wijze kinderen.
Niet elk familielid krijgt een gelijke hoeveelheid aandacht, daar zijn het er gewoon te veel voor, maar de balans tussen ouders en kinderen en kinderen onderling is nergens irritant. Aanstichter Bastien is ook de verteller van het verhaal en mag dan ook wat meer plotlijntjes van andere broers en zussen. De ouders komen helemaal licht uit de verf, maar zij zijn dan ook niet degene die met dit lumineuze idee zijn op komen dagen.
Het is een film met een Pippi Langkous-gevoel. Dat de kinderen Frans zijn, maakt dat zelfstandige alleen maar geloofwaardiger.
C’est quoi cette famille?, Netflix 2016
Francis Gleeson, tall and thin in his powder blue policeman’s uniform, stepped out of the sun and into the shadow of the stocky stone building that was the station house of the Forty-First Precinct.
I enjoy family stories. I’m quite the sucker for generational stories that sometimes are big and grand enough to be called family epics. It’s character based, sometimes with time and surroundings being an extra character, but simply about all the people involved (or some of them).
Ask Again, Yes shouldn’t be called epic. Maybe not even a family story. It somehow feels like it has picked the least exciting characters to hang the story up on, and then seems to just shrug about how they can’t carry whatever plot (points) they pass. Why not more information about the previous generation, their immigration, the world they moved into? Instead the reader gets childish stubbornness that never really gives any reason to warm up to it.
So, if you want the story of a family, and all of it, go for The Woo-Woo, or Run, Hide, Repeat or The Locals. They’ll give you something more enticing.
Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane, Scribner 2019
Night fell as death rode into the Great Library of Summershall.
I’m sure Margaret Rogerson hadn’t planned on setting such a dramatic scene with just the first sentence. It’d have been Death or DEATH otherwise, of course. Anyway, let’s not go off on a tangent.
I wanted some easy, accessible fantasy and Sorcery of Thorns didn’t disappoint. It even looks to be a stand-alone! And even though it’s YA pretty by the book (unlikely hero who’s Different, a dark and mysterious love interest, a funny sidekick), it doesn’t become a bother. The story doesn’t take itself too seriously, the tempo is high and there’s plenty of twists and turns to keep you entertained.
Elisabeth Scrivener (I know) was left as a baby at one of the Great Libraries and grew up in one. Books are magical creatures, but those that manage those powers are kind of feared and frowned upon. So of course, she ends up with a sorcerer after an accident, and magic becomes a large part of her life.
The clear love of books gets Sorcery of Thorns an extra star: if it wouldn’t have been so dangerous, I would have loved to have a look around in its libraries.
Sorcery of Thorns, Margaret Rogerson, Margaret K. McElderry Books 2019
It was the first day of my humiliation.
I’ve read some Zadie Smith before and I think I can repeat a previously used sentiment: Zadie Smith doesn’t write plots, she creates characters. Although this time, in Swing Time there definitely might be some plot-like features to be found.
There’s the growing up of a mixed girl in eighties England on the (edge of the) estate, her sort-of friendship with an equal in skin colour but very different in background and surroundings and their shared passion of dancing.
There’s the woman who’s an assistant of a world-famous pop-star who gets entangled in the lives of West-African villagers (maybe Gambian) in an attempt of charity work.
And then there’s the woman who can’t seem to do right by the dreams and ambitions of her mother, who in turn decides to pursue them herself.
It’s all the same woman, so you might get what I mean. It’s a slice of life but life is firmly on the background, even when the protagonist (unnamed) interacts with it and the people part of it. It’s all very much in her head, even when, or maybe especially when you would appreciate a bird’s eye view.
But the title is ever so fitting, the story providing a certain kind of rhythm that makes the book easy to pick up and stick to.
Swing Time, Zadie Smith, Hamish Hamilton 2016
Great fun, a film about child abuse in the catholic church! And it’s based on true facts, yay! It’s a crude introduction to a subject one doesn’t enjoy thinking about, which was precisely the problem in this real life case: too many people shoving it under the carpet.
Even the Boston Globe, the newspaper that unearths the story and publishes it, isn’t free from blame. The catholic church is a powerful monolith, Boston is a catholic filled city, churches are everywhere. To stick to the theme: Goliath was easily found, but was David even going to show up?
Spotlight isn’t a quick, bright film, it shows how (research) journalism and a newspaper work(/used to work) and how much time such a thing takes. As a retired journalist it was bittersweet to watch, for those that don’t have that connection it might be a look behind the curtains of what so many people already view as history.
I watched it in two parts, you could even watch it in four if your life is so serialised. Either way, it’s a story worth remembering or discovering. Both for the subject and the process.
Spotlight, Anonymous Content 2015
Red flowers were blooming in the front yard, but Nanase had no idea what they were: the names of the flowers did not interest her.
Well, the summary of this novel is going to be short and clear. Young Japanese woman is telepathic and listens in on the households in which she does maid-work. Any questions?
Nanase doesn’t really manage to hold on to a job for long, which could be quite understandable when you can hear everyone’s thoughts. It turns the novel into a collection of short stories: ever so often a new household. It also makes it quite repetitive: everyone only seems to think about status, money and sex.
So, yes, maybe that’s all what people think about when they think no-one else can hear them, but couldn’t there have been some kind of addition to prevent feeling like you’ve read this already the previous chapter? Sadly not. There’s no descriptions of surroundings and Nanase herself doesn’t seem to spend too much thought on herself and her future. It sadly turns The Maid into a creative writing exercise that went on for too long.
The Maid, Yasutaka Tsutsui, Alma Books 2010
In no way does this film show that the origin is a (comic) book, at least not the kind you might expect from DC (Batman and his ilk). This is ‘just’ a movie about the Irish mob in New York’s Hell Kitchen at the end of the seventies.
Three wives-of-mobsters are left hanging high and dry when their husbands are caught and imprisoned. The family doesn’t take as much care of them as expected either, so they decide to take matters in their own hands. And matters in this case are making money in less legal ways.
Not so surprisingly, this goes well, even better than the men that had started it. Other people, of course, are less than pleased by this, and some thing close to a hunt happens. So do dead bodies, but somehow The Kitchen never manages to add a sense of worry or urgency to all this. It all floats along; well-looking surroundings, okay soundtrack, okay dialogue. Any excitement? Not really. Why do I need to keep watching this movie, no matter how hard Melissa McCarthy is trying? Unsure, really. It’s all just there.
The Kitchen, DC Vertigo 2019
The job at Paradise Lodge was Miranda Longlady’s idea.
‘Teenager in seventies’ England gets a job at a seniors home and learns things about life, herself and others’ must have been a curious plot to pitch, but Nina Stibbe manages to land it with a homely, gentle feeling to the story and everyone involved. Even Matron.
Lizzie Vogel is a bit of an onion; she’s got layers. Starting off this job with ‘better shampoo’ as a personal motivation, she quickly starts to see that both seniors and the people providing for them as individuals as well. Her work at the home is more exciting and interesting than school, there’s a cute guy who’s someone else’s boyfriend, and her mother isn’t all that stable through all this; all of which causes issues in a domino kind of cascade.
That might make Paradise Lodge sound severe and dire, but even though there are deaths, it’s all on the lighter side of things. Teenage problems, without being teenage disasters. Lizzie really is an onion: she goes with many things.
Paradise Lodge, Nina Stibbe, Penguin Books 2017
The first time our mother came for us, we screamed.
Sometimes a book leaves you with a feeling instead of easy-put-into-thoughts words. Freshwater is exciting, eerie, scary and frustrating, both the story and the story telling. It’s a book you’d recommend with a long disclaimer.
Main character Ada (or the Ada) is born with one foot in the other world, she’s possessed by creatures/things/ghosts, and they have quite the impact on her health, her life and her loved ones. It’s not just her that gets to speak either, it’s the ‘we’ and others that get to control the human Ada from time to time, or at the very least debate her decisions.
It makes for a creepy, aggravating story that isn’t always easy to get through, like it’s not just Ada that’s being dragged down and manipulated by the other ones. At the same time it’s such a balanced story about a culture (Nigerian) that doesn’t view all this as too exotic, but at the same time has elements that prevents Ada from speaking the truth. So there’s different layers to her straddling two worlds, even when she hasn’t has her creatures involved.
Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi, Grove Press 2018
From “this looks entertaining” to “wait – people are talking Oscar nominations?” in under a week. The promotion team of this film must be pleased, but how true were both of these sentiments?
Disclaimer: I could watch this for free, and don’t know if I would have paid a ticket for it otherwise. Story and trailer showed me something that was Netflix-friendly, not necessary in need of the big screen experience. I was right about that one.
Hustlers is inspired by a true story about how strippers stripped (ha ha) Wall Street men of their money and then some. Not very legal, but quite satisfying. Of course, something like that can’t last, not for the people involved.
For a very long time, Hustlers keeps it light. Look at all the things they buy, look at the stunts they pull with the fools that think strippers are just entertainment instead of human beings. It’s in the last twenty minutes when different cinematographic and tonal decisions are made, almost like they have to show arguments for the ‘inspired by a true story’ part. Instead of leaving pumped, you might feel a bit deflated.
And those Oscar-nominations? Well, if Matthew, Jared, Emma and all those others have one… get Jennifer Lopez on that stage.
Hustlers, STX Films 2019