Obvious Child

85 min. 

Do you miss the (eighties/nineties) romcoms that weren’t plastic, painfully unfunny and kind of offensive? Boy, do I come to save your day.

obvious-child-posterObvious Child is girl gets cheated on, girls meets new boy under weird circumstances, boy turns out to be really just what girl needs.
Yes, the synopsis and reviews may make it out to be the Abortion Movie, the one movie that dares to show women easily deciding on having one and not burning in hell for it, but really, that’s almost a foot note.

This movie is about Donna and her relationships. With friends, with family, with men that are and aren’t bastards (it’s also very satisfying how little screen time the cheater gets).

Squeal your way through absurd adorableness and realise that not the entire roster of 21st century romcoms are horrible.

Obvious Child, Rooks Nest Entertainment 2014

Skippy dies

Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair.

You could say that this is the school/teenager version of Everything I Never Told You: someone dies, the reader learns about all the lives connected to and entwined with the death character.
But that would ignore a large number of differences, so let’s just keep the second part of the sentence. Skippy’s dying isn’t a large part of Skippy Dies, really.

The reader moves around Seabrook College, following some of the students and staff. Male teenagers of every age, with the familiar (male) teenage problems.
But there’s never just one dimension when there’s humans involved, and Paul Murray slowly peels away all the layers. Illnesses, abuse, shame, and is the reader supposed to change their judgment of character because of them or not? What does that say about our view of the world?
Of course there’s coolness, girls and futures to worry about as well. The characters are frustratingly human, rooting for them sometimes only possible because of how the story moves them.

I finished the book with a final sprint of the last 200 pages and am still a bit subdued. Skippy Dies isn’t a 600 page sob story about the decline of the (educational) world, but it definitely does remind you of all the sides of a person we never/barely see, yet shouldn’t forget about.

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray, Faber and Faber 2010

Jane the Virgin

40 min/22 episodes

Know how some people like to use the argument “you just have to suspend disbelief” when recommending stuff? For Jane the Virgin I’m going to give it a twist: “please remember it’s based on and inspired by telenovelas”.

"Pilot"
The CW Network, LLC. All rights reserved

Because seriously: virgin gets accidentally inseminated and pregnant. With the sperm of her boss, while staying abstinent until marriage with her boyfriend. For me, with my ideas about sex and sexuality, it took me a long time to get myself to try it (because “it’s so much fun”, “so sweet!”, “so cute!”). Why not get an abortion, sue the gynecologist and carry on with your well planned life?

Well, and with gold stars for the writers, all that is explained. And even though you may not agree with it, by then you’re sucked in by the sweet, cute fun.

That doesn’t mean that the telenovela (Latin American soap operas, P.S.) part sometimes is too loud and bright. But it’s so nicely balanced out by family love, friendship and adorably (awkward) silliness. It’s cotton candy, but with a heart.

Jane the Virgin, The CW 2014

The Little Paris Bookshop

How on earth could I have let them talk me into it?

Now this is a book that deserves my time, that very probably already landed a spot on my end of the year book list. A book like a four course meal, every dish not just bright and good looking, but a new experience in taste. This is Eat, Pray, Love in one country, Chocolat  for book lovers, an encyclopedia for emotions for those that can’t recognise them.

This might be the first male mid life crisis I have rolled absolute no eye over. Nary a blink. Because what else to call it, the discovery of a gross mistake leading him to throwing away twenty years of his life?

Luckily,  Nina George looks out for the lost Jean. Both travel, country and people help him, without it ever feeling too convenient, too easy or not human enough.

I’m glad I read this.

The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George, Crown Publishers 2015

Scrotal Recall

24 min. 6 episodes

Isn’t that a fun title to recommend to friends? Originally a Channel 4 show, but now to be found on (Canadian) Netflix as well, Scrotal Recall is a perfect little weekend show with plenty of ‘awwww’ moments.

scrotal-recall-poster-channel-4Well it doesn’t really start out very romantic. Main character discovers he has chlamydia and is told to inform previous sexual contacts. Good luck. At least he has a list of the women he slept with, and per episode we view the meeting, and the confrontation. But in the background there’s best friend Evie and ..well, things keep happening while both of them are off making plans.

It’s how rom-com’s should be, down to the awkward endings and weird side characters. Heck, there’s even more diversity than in most Hollywood rom-com’s combined. So brownie points for these stumbling fools, and a nice night of soft entertainment.

Scrotal Recall, Channel 4 2014

A Spool of Blue Thread

Late one evening in 1994, Red and Abby Whitshank had a phone call from their son Denny.

This may be a period in which I unconsciously drift towards family dramas/stories. Or maybe I just want to find another Everything I Never Told You to blow me off my feet. And this is a Pulitzer Prize winning book, sign me up! Right? Sadly, there was no blowing here.

The reader jumps through the time line of the Whitshank family. It’s about Red and Abby and their children, and later their grandchildren, but it’s about young Red and Abby as well, and even Red’s parents. It shows how the most random (little) situations can grow into a family, and that family doesn’t always have to mean love, communication or living (close) together.

So what was lacking? For me, the tone used felt a bit fake to me. Too chipper, too “Here, luv, let me tell you the story of my family, dear.” Combine that with (some) characters that (sometimes) don’t move past twodimensional acting and it quickly falls back to a small town novel, instead of the grand and appealing.

I just didn’t discover the reasons for why I had to care about these people, why I had to support their frustrations (although one character gets a very short end of the stick). It’s a book for a rainy afternoon on your day off, but don’t expect any warmth to come off it.

A Spool of Blue Thread, Anne Tyler, Random House 2015

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda

It’s a weirdly subtle conversation.

It’s always a risk to accept a recommendation from someone you don’t know their reading history of. But curiosity is a powerful thing.

Simon is gay and nobody knows, except for an e-mail contact. And except for Martin, who discovers the e-mails and starts to, awkwardly, sloppily, blackmail him.

The reader reads about Simon’s thoughts, daily lives and his e-mails with Blue. He’s a very put together teen, with insights that sometimes made me wonder if teenagers can come up with them. On the other hand there are plenty of fears and doubts and cock ups that will probably cause you secondhand embarrassment (because of how recognizable it is).

It’s nothing mind blowing, and for someone that gets some subjects very right (privilege, trans* people), there is the same time a bothersome misogyny that the author could have prevented. YA that’s best for teenagers, who still have to learn.

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli, Penguin Books 2015

What We Do In The Shadows

86 min.

You thought New Zealand movies were only Tolkien inspired movies? Think again. What We Do In The Shadows shows the silly side from the kiwis.

What_We_Do_in_the_Shadows_poster unisonVampires, but a documentary about them. New Zealand ones, but originally European import. Which means silly accents. Anyway, these vampires just want to be left alone and suck someone dry from time to time. They live in Wellington, try to keep a low profile (not even fighting stupid werewolves) and are quite ..dull.

Until a new element is added, of course. More silliness follows, and all thoughts about the fearsome creature that is the vampire disappear.

If you’re done with vampires but okay with mockumentaries and a lot of dry set humor, this might be your PG-rated (“werewolves not swearwolves!”) movie.

What We Do In The Shadows, Unison 2014

Habibi

Wow.

I wanted to read this for a very long time and I’m so pleased that it was completely to my satisfaction. It was beautiful, exciting, educational. And with about 700 pages, really not ‘just a quick comic’.

But what is it about? Where to start. It’s about two people that society has rejected, about the creation of the Quran and the science that came with it, about being on the fray while living in dreams and myths.

From time to time, especially during the darker, more confusing moments, it reminded me of the Sandman Chronicles. In those, there’s beauty in darkness as well, situations that leave you feeling a little bit unhinged.

If you are looking for a beautifully drawn book that will affect you and tickle your mind, this is for you.

Habibi, Craig Thompson, Pantheon 2011

Ghosts & Lightning

-Ma’s gone.

Is Ireland the most plain yet mythological country in Europe? Are the people very different because they grow up believing all kind of (fairy) tales, in such a very western society? Is it a thing based in class, more faith in the wee folk from those that need their help? Either way, Denny needs to go back home after the death of his mother.

Denny was in Wales, trying to get into university, trying to make a better life for himself. Because home is a house with his alcoholic sister and violent brother, drug addicted friends and a black hole of a life that can only suck him down again.

It’s always easier to give in than to fight. Denny tries, floats, tries a little bit less and lets life take over again. It’s like a Dickensian fairy tale, feeling contemporary and from the deep past at the same time. It’s grubby and vibrant, an easy read that leaves you just slightly hopeful about the power one has over its own life.

Ghosts & Lightning, Trevor Byrne, Canongate 2009