Light Perpetual

The light is grey and sullen, a smoulder, a flare choking on the soot of its own burning, and leaking only a little of its power into the visible spectrum.

Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford, Faber 2021

Sounds pretty dystopian, doesn’t it?

What if four children – who died in a WW2 bombardment – didn’t? The children aren’t extraordinary, they’re simply ‘allowed to’ play out their lives. What follows are slices of life of post-war England.

The characters make the novel, especially when the writing lacks a bit. It’s a history novel as history should be looked at: through the eyes of regular humans.

Nine Days

124 min.

Heartbreaking and heartwarming. Someone somewhere gets to decide who gets a life on earth. Something that could have turned very philosophical (“are they souls?”, “where are we before we’re born?”, “who deserves life?”) is kept very approachable — probably because of the two main characters.

Will and Kyo are very different from each other. Kyo thinks that is because Will used to be alive once, while he never lived. Will doesn’t share his thoughts on the subject, as he is wont to do with almost every subject.

He judges, though. Judges and tests to see who’s the right fit (“good enough” is another discussion). Again, I’m aware that none of this sounds very enticing, but this is actors showing their skill through emotions, text and body language. And do so without things becoming “floaty”.

Of course there’s something between Will’s very tough exterior, and it’s a cheeky-to-annoying young woman to get to it, but that’s about the only cliché this film offers.

Bolla

Having made the world, God began to regret his creation.

Bolla, Pajtim Statovci, Pantheon Books 2021

Delivered on its promise of being “Brokeback Mountain in Eastern Europe”. Except there’s no cowboys, and an even larger divide because of war going on, so throw in some Romeo & Juliet in there as well.

Arsim, Albanian, married falls for Milos (single, Serb) in nineties Kosovo. If that isn’t enough of a challenge, both his wife’s pregnancy and the regional war follow soon.

Bolla is a small story – less than two hundred pages – yet somehow manages to make this romance very intimate and a window to look through at the (developing) war. War is people, war is ideas but it’s also societies that just try to keep moving on, staying upright. But love needs more than ‘staying upright’ and Statovci shows it full of ache and longing. Neither characters make good/great decisions, but do they have any other options?

Not something you’d call a nice read, but definitely a good one.

How to be an Antiracist

I despised suits and ties.

How to be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi, Penguin 2019

With certain books you feel bad about not loving it. This is important information, this is something to learn from, and I struggled from beginning to ending.

That’s partly because of the style of this book: much too often it felt like I was paging through a dictionary because definitions are added to everything and repeated often. It could be that I spend too much time online that I am already familiar with plenty of terms, but no matter if it’s for rookie or the more experienced: the message has to be delivered in an attractive way. And I know repetition is key to learning and remembering things, but now I just remember the repetition; not the message.

Kendi combines his own story with the story of racism and anti-racism and doesn’t protect himself in either. Maybe it’s better to look at this like a part of encyclopedia instead.

Tick… Tick.. BOOM!

115 min.

To start things off, I didn’t expect there to be so many songs. I did know this was based on a theater-piece (right?), but not musical theater. Nor that the main character was based on someone who really exists. Yeah, this is what you get when you just follow the hype.

Add the run time of almost two hours on top of this and I was ready to be let down again (earlier I didn’t particularly care about Hand of God and Goodfellas was too long as well).

Yes, it took me a bit to get used to the amount of sudden singing. And Jon’s (the protagonist) anxiety is quite anxiety-inducing as well, and I’m not even 29-I-have-to-make-it-big-before-30 anymore. Still, Andrew Garfield sells it all and sells it well. He’s almost manic, can’t stop even though he knows he should if he wants to keep relationships healthy, friendships alive and the lights on.

This reminded me of Rocketman from time to time: also someone suffering because of talent and anxiety. Tick.. Tick swings less, but definitely touches you as well.

The Education of an Idealist

“What right has this woman to be so educated?”

The Education of an Idealist, Samantha Power, Harper Collins 2019

Pfew, this is a big one. I put this one on my list because I was curious about looking behind the curtains of the White House and the NATO, but those parts were the ones that made me lose (some) interest.

The idealist in question is Samantha Power and this book is her work memoir. Her resume includes foreign (war) correspondent), several functions within Obama’s team, author and US representative at NATO. Yeah, she went places.

All her experiences and insights into different systems are sad, frustrating and terrifying and they’re so many of them. Hundreds of pages on how American political actions work, sometimes even repeated (maybe to show how slow and grinding the system is?).

It’s all interesting, and I wouldn’t have had a deadline I might have spend more time on it, but for one week it’s just too much. A sharper edit, a tighter story telling or just more darlings killed might have left me feeling less relief when I finally reached the acknowledgments.

The Harder They Fall

139 min.

I wouldn’t have watched this if it hadn’t been this cast; I don’t care for westerns They seem to be the original genre in the category Film’s Too Long.

That’s one of the issues here: dare make it a straight revenge film without the unnecessary straight romance. Don’t bother fleshing out side-characters if you’re only going to do it half-cocked (because it a western, get it?).

The OST manages to carry almost the entire film on its back, but in the end it’s the running time that cripples us all.

Prince of Egypt

99 min.

A shorter animation, also to be found on Netflix, and possibly with an ever better soundtrack than that of my previous watched film, but it would be a close call.

I watched Prince of Egypt before, possibly even in the cinema. I can remember it being an Event and through the years it’s always (online) been a classic or at least the favourite of a generation. To watch it with older eyes is a risk, but I did it.

It still works. The animation is more beautiful than the C+P of today’s productions, the soundtrack is intense, the story is – even for heathens like me – appealing. I honestly don’t understand why the Vatican didn’t finance studios to do many biblical stories like this; I wonder if people turned to Christianity after watching Prince of Egypt.

Anyway, just telling you it won’t disappoint. I’m sure you still know the lines of When You Believe.

Monster Hunter: Legends of the Guild

58 min.

I almost definitely picked this film because it was just two minutes short of an hour. Okay, I’m always up for trying something animated, but a film that’s called Monster Hunter and created by CAPCOM (so probably based on a game)? Let’s not expect too much.

It turns out to be a very sanitised version of a Hollywood fantasy (no blood, dancing around violence and maiming, no naked boobs). Except for the statistician monster hunter. And a talking cat, and fun looking monsters – whom I rooted harder for than any human character.

It’s clear that I out-aged the demographic for this, but the potential is there. Right now it’s just cheap (looking) Saturday morning entertainment for cool kiddos, but imagine if the people behind Witcher ran with it. Or a young Tim Burton. You might have to see to see it.

The Hidden Palace

Of all the myriad races of thinking creatures in the world, the two that most delight in telling stories are the flesh-and-blood humans and the long-lived, fiery jinn.

The Hidden Palace, Helene Wecker, HarperCollins 2021

I don’t remember exactly why, but I remember absolutely loving in that swept-away-recommend-everyone way the prequel to this: The Golem and the Jinni. Maybe it’s a sophomore slump or the time between has dropped the rose colour from my glasses, but I didn’t love this one. Sadly.

My biggest complaint is how compartmentalized it felt: there’s never much room given to have the story flow, instead of continuously moving on to another character, another angle, another location. It’s like the notes for a story; not a story.

Of course, it’s still a wonderful look at a young New York city (although not that young anymore, with the first World War around the corner), a broad view at the mythology/-ies of golem and jinns. Some of the new characters add to the stories of the golem and the jinn, others take up too much space and sentimentally planned scenes (assuming, of course) don’t pull at the heart strings at all or only very little.

It’s all too one-dimensional, but there’s rumours there’ll be another book. Maybe the third time is the charm – again.