Russian Doll

8 x 26 min.

In the case of some shows you feel bad about not experiencing at the same time others did it. With some, the experience is just enhanced by going “Ooooh sh-!” to someone else.

Russian Doll posterAnd there’s plenty of moments like that in this TV-show about a woman who just keeps dying and doesn’t know why and can’t get out of this Groundhog day-situation. It being a woman played and written by Natasha Lyonne (you might remember her from Orange is the New Black) this groundhog is more like Final Destination when it comes to dying creatively.

With less than thirty minutes of runtime and eight episodes there’s not enough room for this element to get old: there’s just enough glimmers of clues to feel like you’re onto something just a bit before Nadia does.

The one con is that there’s going to be a second season: this could have been resolved, even in a possibly unsatisfying way in the last two episodes – easily. Now there’s the risk of things becoming stale.

Although Nadia’s back-to-life soundtrack might just be good enough to prevent that.

Russian Doll, Netflix 2019

Trail of Lightning

The monster has been here.

More Charlaine Harris (True Blood and the like) than Eden Robinson, but you can’t always win,and at least I was entertained. Maybe I should have known better when discovering that there had been criticisms about this novel, but I very much enjoy the stories of indigenous people, so I was willing to risk it. On the other side, how could I have known if the author was doing something right or wrong with the very little I know about (North-American) indigenous people?

Anyway, hindsight is 20-20 and it wasn’t her representation of the Navajo – wrongfully or otherwise – that bothered me about this novel. It’s the characters, specifically the main character.

I understand that you’re a pretty tortured soul when you’ve gone through what Maggie has gone through and is still going through, but when it only leads to moping and lamenting – all the goodwill evaporates quickly. There are other characters that are more exciting, I would have loved to learn more about the world this plays out in, but instead I get ponderings-while-looking-in-the-mirror. If there would have been more sex and blood, I would have called this a Laurell K. Hamilton.

Coming down largely on the side of ‘meh’, you can skip this one for your dystopian, sci-fi and or not-just-white story needs.

Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse, Simon & Schuster 2018

Feel Good

6 x 25

This had me feeling awfully tender; not solely because I recognise everything the main characters experience, but mostly because the camera never turns away. You never get a break from emotions, fights and awkwardness.

Feel Good posterFor a show that’s easy to summarise, it’s not easy to review. I liked it, a lot. The story of a young woman struggling with gender identity and addiction, romance and family and being a comedian in the way that Hannah Gadsby is one – way too honest. Protagonist and creator Mae Martin added (some) biographical elements to the show as well, which might another layer of discomfort.

It’s the lack of heaviness that just makes it all more genuine and heartfelt. No musical clues about how to feel, not a lot of explanatory dialogue, just Mae and her girlfriend stumbling through life while you try to get them into a different direction.

Still, it’s sweet, and funny. There’s not fanfare or shoulder-pats about showing and discussing Big Subjects – they just happen to be the elephants in the room that have to be discussed.

Maybe not for everybody, but definitely for those that are always interested in the human connection.

Feel Good, Netflix 2020

 

De buitenvrouw

Leerlingen in de eindexamenklassen vonden Theo Altena de minst erge die je voor Nederlands kon krijgen.

Enkele uren nadat mijn moeder mij wees op de Joost Zwagerman-essay prijs (ik twijfel nog over een onderwerp), vond ik dit boek in een buitenbiebje. Toeval bestaat niet?

Dit was mijn eerste boek van de auteur: Nederlandse schrijvers, zeker mannelijke, kunnen mij niet bekoren. Hoogste tijd was daar een uitzondering in, maar ook weer niet op zo’n manier dat ik mij voorlopig een Mulisch-fan noem.

Naast het essay-toeval was het de samenvatting waarvoor ik het boek wel wilde proberen: man wordt zich bewust van racisme in zijn directe omgeving en man is docent Nederlands op het voortgezet onderwijs. En volgens de recensies beschrijft Zwagerman beide dingen zoals het is!

Ik ben docent Engels op het MBO dus ik kan niet alles vergelijken, maar verder is het toch wel zeer regelmatig best confronterend. En het ‘dat is niet racistisch!’ waar je ook bij anders normaal nuchtere mensen tegen aanloopt – ook.

Natuurlijk, ik had de precieze details niet nodig van de lichaamsdelen van Theo’s minnares, maar verder was ik zeer verrast door hoe makkelijk dit boek was en hoe vermakelijk ik het vond.

De buitenvrouw, Joost Zwagerman, De Arbeiderspers 1994

Rafiki

83 min.

Eindelijk. Rafiki heeft Rafiki omdat het het Swahili-woord voor ‘vriend’ is en homoseksuele koppels vaak als vrienden moeten leven om niet (geweldadig) uit de samenleving verwijderd te worden.

Rafiki film posterDus geen relatie tot de Lion King.

Deze film was voor verschillende festivals uitgekozen en ik kon bijna meer de frustratie herinneren van het te missen in Rotterdam dan wat het verhaal ook al weer was.

Het verhaal is simpel. Twee jonge mensen bevrienden elkaar en worden verliefd op elkaar, maar omdat het allebei vrouwen zijn, zijn er heel veel mensen die dit helemaal gruwelijk vinden.

Daarin ligt ook mijn enige frustratie: wanneer krijgen lesbiennes eens een luchtig niemandalletje (schrijf je dat zo?) van een film waarin het alleen om kalverliefde gaat? Als films met heteroseksuele romances net zo’n hoog percentage van geweld zou hebben, zou de politiek er waarschijnlijk vragen over stellen. Enfin.

Rafiki was het wachten waard door de twee hoofdrolspelers, en door de boodschap waar het mee eindigt.

Rafiki, Shortcut Films 2018

How to Love a Jamaican

The first time I saw Cecilia, she was the only other black girl in our small group during freshman orientation.

I like pleasant surprises.

After a frustrating couple of hours concerning my e-book reader app, I ended up with Libby. To make sure it was the app and not my tablet (six years old), I borrowed something to make sure the novel would show. How to Love a Jamaican was that novel, and it showed.

It’s also a collection of (short) stories, for those that are apprehensive about those (like myself). They all involve a Jamaican, Jamaica and love in some kind of way – self, family, friendships, romantically.

I know that PoC authors and their stories are all too often described as “colourful” or “vibrant” so I’m going to refrain and say that these stories were fun, even when they subject wasn’t. There was a certain kind of life in them, even when you can’t recognise the situation mentioned. Immigration is a part of these stories, but not the story, and – what a surprise – all protagonists go through the same things people in white authored stories go.

All in all, this was a great start with my new reader app and it better continues delivering.

How to Love a Jamaican, Alexia Arthurs, Ballantine Books 2018

The Half of It

105 min.

And that’s how you do a coming-of-age, finding-your-way film for teenagers in a way that isn’t bubblegum colours, dubious voice-overs and an aggressive soundtrack.

half of it posterThat might make The Half of It dull for some people. Protagonist Ellie goes through life in the shadows and not in the Everyone Notices The Wallflower-way but really: in the background of everything. Her fellow pupils only notice her because of her essay writing skills, and one of them decides to use those skills for a more romantic endeavour. ‘Romantic’, as this is a teenage story and Cyrano de Bergerac-ing a relationship is never a good idea.

But that’s what happens, and Ellie is confronted with things that hang out with her in those self-chosen shadows. Do I make it sound too much like a horror film like this? I swear it isn’t!

Although looking at the poster.. that’s a bad poster.

Anyway, focus. The Half of It is a film for the children of immigrants, the half-orphans, those who have ever been confused with their identity, and those that didn’t view high school as the highest point of their life’s experience. It’s sweet in a cool way.

Worry it’s all too teenager for you? Watch Saving Face by the same director.

The Half of It, Netflix 2020

Hasse Simonsdochter

O, de suizelende wind door het jonge riet!

Het aanbod in minibiebjes is zeer, zéér wisselend, maar een paar weken geleden had ik een Thea Beckman-jackpot. De boeken over Thule liet ik voor een ander staan (puur om die geweldigheid met anderen te delen), maar van deze titel twijfelde ik of ik het ooit gelezen had.

Nu ik ‘m uit heb, weet ik het nog steeds niet, maar daar lees je dan ook tachtig boeken per jaar voor. Dat maakt ook helemaal niet uit, ik heb genoten en dat is belangrijker.

Thea Beckman is een instituut, maar ik maakte me toch een beetje zorgen of de nostalgie sterker was dan mijn herinnering van kwaliteit. Bestaat dit genre sowieso nog wel, historische Europese avonturen voor tieners en jong-volwassenen? Dit zijn avonturenboeken zoals ze zouden moeten zijn.

Zo lukte het mij ook heel snel om mijn volwassen-bril af te zetten (want oef, de taal soms, en de opmerkingen soms!) en voluit mee te gaan in Hasse’s avonturen die als vreemd ‘elfenkind’ toch maar mooi zich bij huurlingen aansluit, mensen en dieren redt en bijna helemaal leeft zoals ze wilt. En dat in de vijftiende eeuw.

Hasse Simonsdochter, Thea Beckman, Lemniscaat 1983

 

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal

66 min.

I’m not a fan of comedians and their shows. Usually it’s too long, and there’s too much secondhand embarrassment to balance out the funny parts. I rejected several of the recommended shows on Netflix: some I couldn’t even handle for ten minutes. But I was cleaning up my list, this was the last remaining one – okay, I’ll try it.

Wanda SykesThe last comedian show I watched on Netflix was Hannah Gadsby’s. There’s barely no comparing here, which is good for both parties involved.

Wanda Sykes is about American politics and her personal life as a wife, a mother and a woman going through menopause. It’s stone cold sober with a large amount of questions: not very strange considering the subjects.

My biggest relief was that she doesn’t do the thing most male comedians do: wait for laughter. Sykes doesn’t go out with the aim of Being Hilarious – it’s her story telling and her subjects that make you snort.

And talking about length? I only checked how much time I had left once.

Wanda Sykes: Not Normal, Netflix 2019

My Sister, the Serial Killer

Ayoola summons me with these words — Korede, I killed him.

This is why I don’t read hyped up books. So much excitement and build up and no-one who mentioned the sheer disappointment of most of it but definitely the ending.

And that’s impressive for a story that’s only 200 pages and with a plot – see title – that could definitely provide a lot of thrills, philosophising and secondary story-lines.

Instead you get a repetitive, stagnant story filled with passive characters. There is very little motivation (why does she kill, why doesn’t she put a stop to it, why doesn’t she actively participate in her daughters’ lives), no-one seems to learn. Even the lack of different surroundings doesn’t provide anything to the story or even a sense of claustrophobia, only slightly more boredom.

The end – always a risky business – is sheer “Ma’am, I’m done with my assignment!” in hopes of being allowed to leave early.

And just like that it’s 200 pages of hoping for ‘so much more’ wasted.

My Sister, the Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite, Doubleday 2017