Review: Bitter – Francesca Jakobi

0

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: It’s 1969, and while the summer of love lingers in London, Gilda is consumed by the mistakes of her past. She walked out on her beloved son Reuben when he was just a boy and fears he’ll never forgive her.

When Reuben marries a petite blonde gentile, Gilda takes it as the ultimate rejection. Her cold, distant son seems transformed by love – a love she’s craved his entire adult life. What does his new wife have that she doesn’t? And how far will she go to find out?

It’s an obsession that will bring shocking truths about the past to light . . .

Bitter is a beautiful and devastating novel about the decisions that define our lives, the fragility of love and the bond between mother and son. – via Goodreads

Bitter is a really strange book. When I read it, I initially disliked Gilda intensely. She is nasty and cruel and reminded me of someone, and I didn’t like how obsessed she was with her son. Like really, it is unhealthy. She is not a likeable character at all. And yet she is the main character of the book and we need to follow her story, and as we do, we slowly learn more about her.

Gilda has a fantastic friend she treats like dirt but who loves her enough to stick around, though why anyone would put up with that for as long is beyond me. Then there is her obsession with her son and jealousy of his wife. It is pretty intense when a mother cannot see her son (child) as an individual, something more than just a title, a person who has hopes and dreams, but instead has a concept for them that they must adhere to, but still insists that they know their child better than anyone.

Anyway, let me not get caught up in that. It really seems that Gilda needs some serious mental health help, and the book goes on to show you the disturbing things she does, and as it does so, you learn more about her, that ultimately you can understand how Gilda got to the place she is in life, and you really hope that she will be able to overcome it. Bitter is not an easy read, though it reads fast. It is a decent one, one I am glad that I read. I could definitely recommend Bitter to anyone interested in darker books that are more of a character study.

Review: The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

6

“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
– Andy Dufresne

SYNOPSIS: Two imprisoned men bond over a number of years, finding solace and eventual redemption through acts of common decency. – via IMDB

Seriously. Truly. Wow. I definitely know there are more eloquent reviews on this movie, and it has been discussed endlessly, and it is that great and all, but I am going to try and share my two cents about this movie. I decided to rewatch The Shawshank Redemption recently after watching Gone With The Wind. Not because they are remotely the same or anything like that, but because I was in the mood for serious(ly) fantastic movies.

Well, this certainly ticked those boxes.

The Shawshank Redemption has a great story to tell, sure, but it is the characters and the performances from the actors that played them that are really the stars here. Everyone lives their role, gets right into it, and because of that you are swept up into the narrative as delivered by Red. Red tells you Andy’s story, we see Andy’s story, and it is told with such spirit that you can laugh like crazy in some places and just love all that is going on, and then be driven to sadness and heavy contemplative silence within five minutes of one another. It’s an amazing thing when a film can so successfully balance the opposites like that.

Andy suffered some extreme situations while in Shawshank, but there were also some amazing things that he achieved, even while imprisoned. Naturally there are the men who went on to become Andy’s friends, headed up by Red. The band of men have great camaraderie between one another, and they really all respect each other and get along. They are quite tight-knit, and it is sweet. The Shawshank Redemption is a story told from within a prison, but there are large sections of time where you forget this fact when watching the men together, and then the point is run home when you realise that they have to barter to have a few beers while working, or that they have to report to someone the whole time.

The movie doesn’t really dwell on the crimes these men committed to land them in Shawshank. It focuses a lot more on Andy’s story, sure, but also how these men have adjusted to life, and how they have worked through the acts that landed them there. Some for the better, some not so much. It’s also something to say about the storytelling that the free, law-abiding men are all twisted and crooked, and the men on the inside, the convicted criminals, are often portrayed as the more trusty, honest lot. Interesting times.

The score for this is absolutely fantastic, and truly lends itself to the experience. The performances are all great, and the pacing for the story drags you in and makes you forget all about the clock, and I love it when a movie is able to do that. You feel genuine hope, happiness, anger and sadness when watching The Shawshank Redemption, and it is great when a movie can make you feel all these emotions, not just some of them. I would highly recommend The Shawshank Redemption, and if you have seen it, I think it is high time for a rewatch.

Review: Annihilation (2018)

6

“It’s destroying everything.”
– Dr Ventress

SYNOPSIS: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply. – via IMDB

Alright, so this movie seems to have a lot of people either super loving it, or totally hating it. I guess when I think back on it I can totally understand how one could end up in either camp, if I am being honest. There is a lot to like about Annihilation, but there is also a lot that is going to be annoying and can’t be overlooked.

I liked it quite a bit. It was ambiguous, but not in that unsatisfying way that It Comes At Night was. It raised a lot of questions and answered very few, and the few answers it did answer, I could have done without, and some that I wanted, I went without. Visually Annihilation is a beautiful film, and that cannot be denied. Strange shimmer, exotic everything going on behind the shimmer, this new world, all of it, and it works really well.

Then there is the cast. I think this is where the movie got hurt a bit. The characters are all really flat and lifeless, after all is said and done. Jennifer Jason Leigh is just angry and resentful and there. I could have done with more Oscar Isaac, too. Tessa Thompson and Natalie Portman are the only two that will remotely stay with you. The logic is also a little bizarre – for years soldiers have been going in and nobody has been coming back. Let’s send a group of all-female scientists. Like, I got the sending scientists in and all that, but… the definition of insanity? Nothing is changing, evidently. With this there were inconsistencies (lost time only happening and addressed once the whole time??).

There were moments of delicious creepiness (you all know what I am talking about), and the explanation took away some of that beautiful horror shine for both my husband and myself, but the conclusion for this makes up for some of the weaker parts, all while leaving us with another ton of questions, which I liked. I definitely think that this movie is worth a rewatch to pick up on more things.

I think that Annihilation is ambitious and visually stunning, with decent performances of flat characters, and has a score that works really well. I don’t necessarily need a movie spoon fed to me, but Annihilation took it’s ambiguity throughout a little too seriously, leaving a slightly unsatisfied feeling towards the end, though the ambiguity of that is not what left me unsatisfied. Yes, I know that all sounds crazy. Worth a watch, and a rewatch for sure. Not Ex-Machina, but not terrible, either. I look forward to more of Garland’s work.

I went into this blind. I read a lot of good reviews on it, but didn’t read too in depth or anything. Don’t even watch the trailer, just go watch the movie.

Review: Her Last Secret – Barbara Copperthwaite

2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: There are some secrets you can never tell.

The last thing to go through Dominique Thomas’s head was the image of her teenage daughter’s face and her heart lifted. Then the shot rang out.

They were the perfect family. Successful businessman Ben Thomas and his wife Dominique live an enviable life, along with their beautiful children; teenager Ruby and quirky younger daughter, Mouse.

But on Christmas Day the police are called to their London home, only to discover a horrific scene; the entire family lying lifeless, victims of an unknown assailant.

But when Ruby’s diary is discovered, revealing her rage at the world around her, police are forced to look closer to home for the key to this tragedy.

Each family member harboured their own dark truths – but has keeping their secrets pushed Ruby to the edge of sanity? Or are there darker forces at work? – via Goodreads

Okay, so this one was something that I went back and forth on. I was interested, but I was also frustrated with the pacing of it, as well as the slew of characters and the rate the reveals were put forth. Not because it was agony to wait for the next reveal, but because there was a bit of drag between things. That being said, Her Last Secret is not a bad read.

There are an array of characters, and you are introduced to each one and their struggles, and get a clear look at how communication could have made such a difference here. Ruby suffers extreme bullying at the hands of her school peers and only has her boyfriend Harry to prop her up, and resents her parents for not seeing there is something wrong. Dom is dealing with Ben cheating on her, and is so fixated on that and wrapped up in it and keeping her family going she is missing everything. Ben is a cheating dweeb who is so wrapped up in stroking his ego by having a mistress and proving to the world he is so important. The only person who might not know exactly what is going on but is more aware of the distance and issues between people is Amber, the youngest.

All the characters have their own secrets, and all of these come together to paint a bigger picture at the end of the day, and it is an interesting one. The book flips between the lead up to Christmas day and the events of Christmas day. This works, but sometimes you totally forget that there is a flip back to Christmas day, so when it happens it is rather jarring.

Her Last Breath is a decent read and has a pretty good story to it. You can see the innocence of youth, the desperation and powerless of it, too, as well as the issues that come up when you are an adult. I like that it deals with a lot of themes, and it handles them well. While the writing sometimes frustrated me in terms of laying things out, I was certainly engaged. The final third of the book definitely barrels along and finally ties everything together and it does smoothly. I thought this was worth the read.

Blind Spot Series 2017 Rankings

6

So, another year gone, another twelve movies crossed off of my Blind Spot list. For the most part, I had particularly good movies this year. For the most part…

Anyway, as always, I decided to rank them all here.

12. Deliverance (1972)

Well. This. Fuck this movie. I will say it again, fuck this movie. Yep, totally hated it. I am sure you all remember the Shitfest-worthy meltdown I had about this. If you don’t, you are more than welcome to head on back to the review linked above to see how I raged. Ugh…

11. Once Upon A Time In America (1984)

Certainly not an underrated gem as I was led to believe, I was so amped to finally watch this gangster movie and was totally let down by it. What a waste of nearly four hours of my life!

10. Cronos (1993)

While I am always up for Guillermo Del Toro’s Spanish works, this one was not nearly as great as I was hoping it would be. It was not a bad movie by a long shot, but it does not stand equal to The Devil’s Backbone or Pan’s Labyrinth.

9. The Road (2009)

Dark, depressing, apocalyptic, The Road definitely paints a super depressing, far more realistic apocalyptic future than these movies usually portray. Viggo Mortensen is exellent, and Kodi Smit-McPhee also holds his own in the bleak movie. Worth the watch!

8. Say Anything (1989)

So pleased to have seen this –  it is one of those movies that is referenced all over the show, and I have never really known how it all fit in. Man, Lloyd Dobler is absolutely adorable and the boombox over the head scene finally makes sense now. Say Anything is sweet, but not to soppy your stomach churns. Enjoyed this one!

7. The Help (2011)

Okay, so right off the bat, this is not unpredictable, but that doesn’t make it bad. The Help is rather formulaic, and shies away from some of the sick history it is steeped in, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t find other ways to run home the story. There are terribly sad moments, moments that will make you mad, and some great sections with some fantastic humour, and the movie has heart. The cast, too, definitely sold this one.

6. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, but I really liked this one. I thought it was funny and shot really well and rather strange, but it all worked. I would like to rewatch it and see if it holds up as well. I must admit, this is where I finally understood Tom Hiddleston’s appeal to the world – before he was just a decent actor. After this? Impressed. Plus I liked the humour in this. So deadpan. Swinton and Hiddleston make this a treat.

5. The Orphanage (2007)

Another one of those cult classic type movies I have vowed for years to get to and just never did, 2017 was the year that changed. The Orphanage is haunting, sad, beautiful and creepy, and has a solid story as a strong psychological aspect to it, making it a movie that gets under your skin and lingers long after, not just a typical, generic horror movie at all.

4. JFK (1991)

Conspiracy theories galore! Naturally this was totally going to be my cup of tea, and it totally was. There were some solid performances and I was particularly interested in how Stone would set out his case for JFK’s assassination. While I feel that it was heavy handed in forcing his interpretation of events down the viewer’s throat, if you watch this as a theory and not as the gospel of the answers to JFK’s assassination, you are in for a good time. Great starting point for those not too familiar with the intricacies of the infamous case.

3. City of God (2002)

I can see why this movie is so popular – it is so not an easy watch, but it is engaging, gritty, violent, realistic, and truly gets you thinking. It tells a super solid story and it draws you in, getting you invested in some characters from this nasty slum. It is depressing and yet completely enthralling, something I can see myself revisiting.

2. Rear Window (1954)

James Stewart man, what an actor. The man is amazing, and with Grace Kelly at his side, the duo was bound to impress. Hitchcock, too, weaves a tense one-room story, which is carried and fleshed out completely by a talented cast. The tension is palpable, the story is smart and engaging, and the pacing is just right. Rear Window is a well-crafted movie and definitely worth the time.

1. Atonement (2007)

Ah, Atonement. Where do we even start? My goodness, what a watch. While it is not completely perfect or shocking, and it is predictable in places, it is handled so well and is shot brilliantly – truly, what beautiful shots. James McAvoy is absolutely perfect here, sweeping us all up so completely in Robbie. Keira Knightley, too,  managed to not work on my last nerve. The two work together well, and Atonement tells one hell of a story, a journey I both loved and resented in equal measure. I thought it was told so well, and some details were handled with such aplomb. What a movie, though certainly not a light, easy watch.

Review: The Last Mrs Parrish – Liv Constantine

2

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

SYNOPSIS: Amber Patterson is fed up. She’s tired of being a nobody: a plain, invisible woman who blends into the background. She deserves more—a life of money and power like the one blond-haired, blue-eyed goddess Daphne Parrish takes for granted. To everyone in the exclusive town of Bishops Harbor, Connecticut, Daphne and her husband, Jackson—the beautiful philanthropist and the confident real estate mogul—are a golden couple straight out of a fairytale, blessed with two lovely young daughters.

Amber’s envy could eat her alive . . . if she didn’t have a plan. Amber uses Daphne’s compassion and caring to insinuate herself into the family’s life—the first step in a meticulous scheme to undermine her. Before long, Amber is Daphne’s closest confidante, traveling to Europe with the Parrish family, and growing closer to Jackson. But a skeleton from her past may undermine everything that Amber has worked towards, and if it is discovered, her well-laid plan may fall to pieces. – via Goodreads

Disclaimer: I am so over reading these taglines for books touting it an addictive/shocking/thrilling and having “the best twist” or a “twist you won’t see coming”. Eventually this is going to cause me to not request books or something I swear.

Now, moving on from that, let’s get to the book. Initially I was not a fan of this book. I liked the concept, but didn’t know how well the execution was going as it was a bit rocky in the beginning. I resented reading from Amber’s perspective because really, what a bitch and what a horrible piece of work. There were absolutely no redeeming qualities to her, and the more you read about her, the more you realise that she is one hell of a selfish twit and sociopathic and all. Yes, I am aware that is exactly how she is intended to come across.

I won’t say that the book is shocking – Daphne is a character I liked from the beginning, one I did not believe to be even remotely as stupid as Amber thought her to be. Jackson set my teeth on edge, and I felt so justified in my belief that he was an abusive douche nugget and that he and Amber totally deserved each other. I felt vindicated man, really. They are truly icky characters.

The book flows quite well, laying this sordid tale bare, and you cannot help but be drawn in. As I said, it might come across as a bit predictable, but in no which way does that mean it is not engaging. It is compelling, but it could certainly have toned down on the money shaming that went on the whole time in the beginning, it got old fast. To read about the reality of Jackson and Daphne’s marriage was quite rough because really, that was some mad stuff going on there, and I was fascinated to see how Constantine would carry through with it. Every time you think that something might have been forgotten/overlooked in the narrative, Constantine delivers the goods.

All in all, The Last Mrs Parrish is well worth the read. It is engaging and interesting and has some things that will make you think (spoiled children and one’s notion of abuse amongst other things). The Last Mrs Parrish is a solid psychological/drama read (though not a shocking! thriller! like it is marketed), and I am so glad I checked it out, and can certainly recommend it!

September Blind Spot Review: JFK (1991)

6

“Telling the truth can be a scary thing sometimes.”
– Jim Garrison

SYNOPSIS: New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discovers there’s more to the Kennedy assassination than the official story. – via IMDB

A movie about the JFK assassination? Man, this must have been tailor made for me! Ask anyone I know (Natasha knows about as well as my husband) how I feel about the Kennedy assassination. It is ridiculously fascinating and I love reading about it or watching things on it – it never gets old for me. So yeah, this is something I just never got to, and this was the year to correct that.

I think JFK is actually a great movie for someone to watch who doesn’t really know much about the Kennedy assassination, or the ludicrous explanations that were put forth about it, and that embarrassing investigation into it. Really, it covers a lot of relevant ground, and also happens to have another story over and above it, bringing to Zodiac to mind, because of watching Jim Garrison’s obsession with the case. A lot of research went into this and that is evident, but I would not say to go into this movie and take everything it presents as gospel, for reals. Look at it as entertainment, don’t take it as a hardcore documentary and the holy grail for answers to the JFK assassination. Enjoy it for the conspiracy it discusses.

The movie is shot well and I enjoyed the pacing – it is long, but takes the time to lay down the evidence and the story and then get going with it, which I liked, but I can see how it could annoy others. One also cannot deny that the movie looks and feels dated. The pacing was just fine here, and the performances were pretty damn good all around. I was so engrossed by the telling of this from Stone, how the case was presented and researched and pursued. It was quite tense and definitely entertaining. There are obviously a lot of issues with the movie in the sense that there are a lot of fictitious characters brought in and spewing “facts” and Stone sets out the good guys and the bad guys in a classic black and white way without actually finessing anything there. The movie is also presented as “fact”, which at times is a little difficult to swallow, and you can see a lot of confirmation bias going on for Garrison at times. That being said, this movie had a lot of things to balance, from fact to fiction and everything in between.

Overall, JFK is an entertaining watch sure to keep you hooked, especially if you enjoy conspiracies (whether you take them seriously or just like to hear what they are) and especially if you are interested about what happened that day in November of 1963, provided you don’t think this movie is going to give you all the answers, evidence and proof you are looking for. But as a movie taking a look at some of the conspiracies surrounding the assassination, balancing fact, fiction, everything? So worth it, truly.

August Blind Spot Review: The Orphanage (2007)

13

“Seeing is not believing. It’s the other way around. Believe, and you will see.”
– Aurora

SYNOPSIS: A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, which used to be an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend. – via IMDB

Finally got to checking this out, too, and again, another one I am pleased to have checked off my list. For years and years it has been recommended to me and I have always been like Captain Eventually about it, but this year was the year for me! I honestly didn’t know too much going in to watching this, not about the story, nothing (except maybe that the kid from above was in it), and I am grateful for that. This is the kind of movie where the less you know, the better.

The movie gets into the swing of things gradually, not too rushed or anything, and you get the backstory for what is going on. When Simón goes missing, the effect on the Laura and Carlos is heavy. Their hope dwindles as time moves on, and to see the way they handle it is really sad. I think the story is woven so well, because there is a psychological and emotional aspect to this and it is handled deftly throughout. You really get caught up in the story and their suffering, as well as the mystery.

The performances from Belén Rueda and Fernando Cayo are truly good, as they are the ones that sell the story to you throughout. The Orphanage is a creepy film – it does not go big for jump scares, but a subtle chill that creeps in, which is awesome. Jump scares are overrated, and I always prefer a movie that works more with the atmosphere and the psychology. This one definitely goes for more of a look at the parents, specifically the mom, and how she is dealing with it. I wish they had explored a little more how it was for her to be back at the orphanage she grew up in. 

So we have covered the performances and the pacing, which leaves us with how the movie looks and sounds, and I think both work wonderfully to weave that dark, mysterious, magical feel of it. It all works together to create a fantastic atmosphere. I  didn’t expect it to have as much of an emotional core as it did, but I really think it takes The Orphanage from being a generic mystery/horror to having a little dramatic spine which elevates the whole experience.

The Orphanage is such a good movie and it has so much going for it. I was mesmerised from the off and enchanted throughout. It is a magical, mystical, dark, creepy film, and well worth checking out!

April Blind Spot Review: The Help (2011)

6

“God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me.”
– Aibileen Clark

SYNOPSIS: An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African American maids’ point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis. – via IMDB

I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, I did as little reading on it as possible. I was only told that it is really good and well worth the watch. The subject matter is something that interests me, and it wasn’t long before I realised that this was a movie I was going to enjoy based purely on the fact that the subject matter was handled from the perspective of women alone.

Let’s get right to this by saying that there are some great characters in this, and there are some truly reprehensible ones. Emma Stone is, of course, absolutely fantastic to watch here – sassy and strong. Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are brilliant – also strong women – brave women. Then there is Jessica Chastain, and she is such a sweet, innocent character. These are all characters that you like. They had good chemistry and worked well together. I enjoyed watching Celia and Minny every second, and the relationship between Aibileen and Skeeter is also touching.  On the other side of the spectrum, there is only one I really need to mention here, and that is Bryce Dallas Howard. Her character is so cruel and mean, and Howard plays her so well that you resent her guts. Ugh. Nasty stuff. I get mad just thinking about her transgressions and views.

Anyway, telling the civil rights struggle from the perspective of the women was something new, and that it was being investigated by another woman was also good. So often we hear of the plight from men, but the women, too, had stories to tell. The movie managed to balance cruelty, humour, joy and sadness very well, but it must also be noted that the subject matter, while heavy, never gets as heavy as it could. Look at it as this being a lighter serious movie, if that makes sense. Simplistic, that would be the word I would use. Also probably safe. Drama, yes, but not on the levels of, say, The Colour Purple or American History X.

A sweet film that tackles some heavy issues, but never really going for the guts and glory, but certainly carried by stellar performances and a great cast, so as to elevate it to an enjoyable watch. The movie plays it safe, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing here. Worth a watch.

Review: The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

2

“I don’t wanna take up a ton of your time, but I’m gonna kill myself. I just thought an adult should know.”
– Nadine 

SYNOPSIS: High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother. – via IMDB

Alright, so I know this rated really highly with people, so I was interested to see how this coming of age film sets itself apart from others in the genre, and there are a few ways, some good, and some bad. It was definitely different in the sense that you don’t actually really like our protagonist, though she does grow as the movie progresses (as to be expected), and ultimately you can see the changes.

Nadine is a more unlikable character than you are used to for this type of movie. Sure, they are supposed to have unlikable aspects, things that change as the movie progresses, but Nadine has virtually no redeeming points, and is selfish on a totally believable teenage level, this is to say that the whole world had to revolve around her. She also encounters situations where being abrasive doesn’t always helps, and other times it did. All that being said, I did like the way the movie did a really good job capturing the insecurities of a teenage girl, as well as the constant stress and complete teenage selfishness.

Even with that being done exceptionally well, I didn’t love this. It isn’t a bad movie, it just didn’t make me feel much of anything. I enjoyed watching Woody Harrelson, because he’s awesome and so was his character, but aside from that? Oh yes, there is Erwin, and I thought he was adorable. Besides them? There were no characters I really enjoyed, or situations, or interactions (except between Nadine and poor Mr Bruner). The movie just came across as really flat and shallow, which is unfortunate. It also wasn’t funny, which at times it felt like it was desperately trying to be. I didn’t find this as deep and poignant as others did. It isn’t a bad watch, it just didn’t do for me what I was hoping it would.

The Edge of Seventeen does a great job of capturing the totally self-centred nature of being a teen, as well as all the awkwardness of it. The movie features sold performances and is shot well, but it doesn’t have the heart or humour it thinks it has.