Autodidact: self-taught


Kiss of the Damned

by V. L. Craven


Paolo (Milo Ventimiglia) is instantly captivated by flame haired Djuna (Josephine de La Baume). She’s drawn to him, as well, but warns him off and hints that she has a bit of a bitey problem.

He asks if she’s trying to tell him she’s a vampire and of course he doesn’t believe her.

So she has him chain her to the bed and they begin to get sexy with it (apparently sexy time is what makes the fangs come out in this type of vampire).

She vamps out and he decides he’s okay with that and she turns him.

The rest of the film is partially about him learning how to be a vampire in the modern world–there’s a dinner party scene that’s hilarious–and partially about their relationship. The two lovers want to get away from it all and start afresh.

Another big subplot is Djuna’s horrible sister, Mimi (Roxane Mesquida), arriving and acting like a rockstar. And I don’t mean staging free concerts to help the less fortunate.

Mimi is supposed to be shipped off to rehab in the American southwest, but she wants to stay in Connecticut. (I can’t say I blame her–dry heat sounds terrible for a vampire.) So she brings an offering to the lady of the house Xenia (Anna Mouglalis) in the form of a virgin.

She also brings an offering of her lady parts to Paolo because she’s one of those women who likes making trouble.

What goes around comes around though, you know.

Do you have any scarves I can borrow?

Do you have any scarves I can borrow?

Kiss of the Damned could be a little slow, but I enjoyed it and I’m not the biggest vampire film buff. So take that as you will.

I appreciated how non-exploitative it was–this could have been due to the writer/director (Xan Cassavetes) being a woman.

There was less gore than I was expecting, but the special effects that were there weren’t up to what today’s audiences are accustomed–I wondered if it was an homage to 70s horror films.

That said: Why are all these Europeans in the Connecticut countryside? The main vamps are ancient and from Europe–why don’t they live in New York or somewhere they won’t stick out? Like, you know, Europe?



The Perfect Host

by V. L. Craven

Perfect Host

John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) has just robbed a bank of a considerable sum and the cops are after him so he has to dump his car.

He blags his way into Warwick Wilson’s (David Hyde Pierce) house by saying he’s just got back from seeing a mutual friend, Julia, in Sydney–he found a postcard from her in the post box.

But the airline lost his luggage and he’s been mugged and the cousin he’s supposed to be staying with won’t be home for awhile. blah blah.

Warwick is hesitant to let him in, as he’s expecting several guests for a dinner party. But Julia would never forgive him so… come on in complete stranger with the bizarre story.

One thing leads to another and eventually Warwick discovers his guest isn’t who he says he is.

That’s all right, though, because Warwick isn’t exactly the most stable of human beings in the world, either.

What's happening here is even better than it looks.

What’s happening here is even better than it looks.

I love bad-guy-meets-worse-bad-guy films/TV. I knew that was the premise of this one, but I didn’t know what I was in for and it was so much fun!

David Hyde Pierce was clearly enjoying the hell out of himself. I had no idea what was going to happen at any time but laughed out loud multiple times.

Look, petty criminals–you never know when you’re going to stumble upon a total lunatic. Just stay home.

Unpredictable and hilarious, I highly recommend this one.


[Oh yes, apropos of nothing–one of the detectives looking for Taylor was Nathaniel Parker. He plays Inspector Lynley. His American accent was perfect, but every time he was on screen I’d think  What? Why are you in California being American in this teeny indie film? ]


The Suicide Theory

by V. L. Craven


Percival (Leon Cain) has been having no luck killing himself. He’s tried–honestly he has–but it’s not working.

Eventually he hires Steven (Steve Mouzakis), a hitman, figuring if anyone knows how to terminate another person’s life it’ll be someone who gets paid to do so.

Steven listens to his newest client’s inability-to-die problem (not believing a word of it) and shoots him multiple times.

It doesn’t work.

The two men form an odd sort of friendship based on shared tragedy–they’ve both lost their partners to tragedy.

Percival tries to work out why he’s still here–he believes fully in Fate. There must be a reason he can’t die. He must need to do something before he’s allowed to die.

Steven doesn’t buy it, even after trying other ways to kill his employer and friend, there are always ways to explain how he survived.

Then something happens and he begins to come round to Percival’s way of thinking. What if even he , someone who’s killed who-knows-how-many people, was alive for a reason?

Fate’s a funny thing, though.

Suicide Theory2

Pictured: a man clearly loving life.

Netflix recommended this one to me based on other things I’ve liked, which can be hit or miss, but this one was a winner. Dark and unpredictable (though, I admit, at the end I did think, ‘I should have seen that coming.’) and occasionally funny, it was worth the watch.




by V. L. Craven


Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) has difficulty living her life within the confines of the law. She’s been sent to various rehab clinics to no avail so, upon being caught once again colouring outside the lines, she’s sentenced to eight months house detention…at her mother’s (Rima Te Wiata).

As she’d left years ago without a glance back, this wasn’t her idea of a good time.

But back she goes and with an ankle monitor attached by security contractor Amos (Glen-Paul Waru). He shows her the distance outside she can walk (not nearly far enough) and explains any attempt to remove it will trigger an alarm.

That evening Kylie is listening to a radio show and hears her mother call in and talk about the ghost she saw in their house years ago along with all the other weird things that have happened over time.

Kylie may look like Lydia Deets but she most certainly isn’t in touch with the Otherworldly and doesn’t believe a word of it. This only furthers her belief that her mother and stepfather are the most boring humans on the face of creation.

But then, things start happening and Kylie begins to think perhaps her mother may be on to something. Luckily, Amos is an amateur ghost hunter and even has equipment to help look for disgruntled spirits.

Whilst the spirits are being prodded for information, our protagonist pokes about in the corporeal world and turns up unsettling information of her own. So which is it–reality or the otherworldly making her life a nightmare?

One of the gross bits

One of the gross bits

The plot is inventive–I didn’t know where it was going. The writing was witty–there was a part I was laughing about a couple days later. And the cast was excellent. Everything was really well-done. It was also occasionally gross. See above.

Housebound is the sort of film that can be watched repeatedly; I highly recommend this one.




by V. L. Craven


Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is out very late one night, doing something less than legal when he sees the aftermath of a fiery car wreck. Two men (one is Bill Paxton) are filming the carnage and rescue efforts to sell to the news. Bloom is fascinated by this and gets a camera and a police scanner.

He begins going to crime scenes (competing with Paxton) and selling regularly to one station in particular, dealing primarily with the morning news director Nina (Rene Russo).

But getting the most interesting shots and the best stories sometimes means doing little things the police frown upon. Like tampering with evidence…withholding evidence…putting innocent lives at stake to be in place when a story breaks.

Louis Bloom has no problem with any of those things, though. He’s found his calling. And nothing is going to stand in his way.

Looking a little Patrick Bateman-esque here. Fitting, really.

Looking a little Patrick Bateman-esque here. Fitting, really.

Nightcrawler is unlike anything I’ve seen–I didn’t know where it was going. The writing and acting and directing were superb.

Gyllenhaal was excellent. Louis Bloom relates to other humans in an unusual way–detached and almost Asperger-like, but with sociopathological undertones. He is a malicious, bizarre, but believable guy.

I highly recommend this one. 5/5


The Kings of Summer

by V. L. Craven

Kings of Summer

Parents can be infuriating and lame. In Joe Toy’s case (Nick Robinson) his father (Nick Offerman) is infuriating. In Patrick Keenan’s case (Gabriel Basso) his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are lame.

Really lame. So incredibly lame.

So one summer, after one too many crazy-making moments in both of their households, the boys decide to build their own house in a clearing in the woods. A place they can be men–away from the tyranny of parents. They’ve acquired a third somehow, Biaggio (Moises Arias) who is happy to help them out in any way and is…a bit creepy. But he’s all right, really.

Once built, they move in permanently–not telling their parents where they’re going, which prompts much fretting and police involvement.

The boys learn about themselves. The parents… well, some of them learn about themselves.

kings of summer pipe dance

Biaggio learns to dance on a pipe whilst his friends bang on it with big sticks. It ain’t easy.

The Kings of Summer manages to be heart-warming without making me want to die or vomit, which is saying something. Usually I’m allergic to that sort of thing. But it’s funny and unusual (if utterly unlikely) and there were moments of truth.

Nick Offerman as Suburban Dad Just Trying to Be a Good Father was a different role for him but felt real.

Seeing Megan Mullally play a ‘lame’ mom rather than a wacky, naked, swearing, drunk person was confusing. She nailed the character, though. It was uncomfortably accurate.

The boys performances were all excellent, as well. Arias was a particular stand out as the eccentric, vaguely disturbed Biaggio.

Something about it reminded me of Stand By Me. Perhaps that it’s one of the few coming-of-age films I actually enjoyed. Or about a bunch of boys in the woods? I don’t know. I just kept thinking of Stand By Me.

Oh, and watch all the way to the end of the credits. There’s a little bit at the very end.



Wet Hot American Summer

by V. L. Craven

Wet Hot American Summer Film

At the weekend I watched all of the Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer, but it’d been awhile since I’d seen the film and so rewatched that first.

It’s a spoof of the teen sex comedies of the early eighties and captures every trope beautifully. It’s also just… bizarre and hilarious.

The actions of the film take place on the final day of camp when the slack counselors are doing their level best to not counsel any of the campers, choosing to try to have sex with whomever they have their eye on for the final (or first) time.

The day is ridiculously long and the number of things that occur are impossible, but the cast (a mashup of SNL and The State with Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks and David Hyde Pierce for good measure) play it with the perfect amount of seriousness and self awareness. These people inhabit a cartoon world and we accept it because they accept it.

The film was released in 2001 and people didn’t get it. The budget was $1.8 million and the box office was a little under $300.000. Ouch.

Still, it became a cult hit because it’s a riot. Which brings me to

Wet Hot American Summer TV

Fourteen years later Netflix has released a TV show–eight episodes–that take place eight weeks prior to the film.

All eight episodes take place eight weeks prior to the film–on the first day of camp.

The first day of camp is also insanely long, but this time it seems a bit less nutso, as several episodes follow certain characters on their separate journeys.

It also explains certain things that are established parts of the universe of the film–like the talking soup can.

Incredibly, they got the entire cast back together–more than a few of whom have gone on to be rather well-known. So it must have been a fun time they wanted to re-live. They certainly looked like they were having a blast.

The TV show brings in Jon Hamm and he and Christopher Meloni have a scene together that made my day (and probably made theirs, too).

Generally, I dislike goofball comedy. I don’t get it and think it’s juvenile. (I know, I’m a curmudgeon.) But this bunch of doofuses paired with the script were great. I was constantly laughing out loud and saying, ‘What is WRONG with these people?’

It’s a great time if you like weirdness or implausibility.

My only question is this: If all of this happened on the FIRST day and then we’ve seen the FINAL day, which really seemed to pick up where the first day ended… Was every day in between really long re-set days, where you end up where you started each day until the last day of camp?

I suppose I do have one other question: how is it that half the cast looks exactly the same fifteen years later and the other half actually looks fifteen years older? Talk about ouch.

One more question because it’s my site and I can ask as many as I’d like: Do they have a warehouse of 80s crap for these sorts of things? The cars and clothes and those braided bracelets and the giant boomboxes. It was so authentic and…painfully accurate.

The film is a 4/5 the TV show is 5/5. You can watch all of it in a day, though and laugh and laugh, which I recommend.


Suburban Gothic

by V. L. Craven

Suburban Gothic

Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) has intelligence and fashion sense and an expensive degree from business school.

What Raymond does not have is a job. Therefore, he has to move back to the small town from which he hauled ass directly after high school. And back into his childhood home. Oh, joy.

His mother still loves him, her little boy, and his father, Donald, (Ray Wise, ever hilarious and awful) is the same racist homophobe he ever was.

Dear old dad is having work done in the yard and the people doing the work just happen to unearth an old coffin, which they open, as you do.

Then things go badwrong.

Raymond has always had a bit of a seeing-spirits-problem, which went away when he moved away. But now that he’s back, the spirits are a-plaguing him again. (He doesn’t know about the coffin at first.)

Unearthed spirits aren’t his only issue, though. The living are giving him difficulty, as well. They were the reason he got the hell out of there in the first place. Luckily, just before his old tormentors from high school can pick up where they left off, he befriends a fellow former fat kid, Becca (Kat Dennings) and they become buddies.

And that’s just as well, because he’s going to need all the help he can get when it comes time to fight the malevolent entity rearing it’s disembodied head.

Kat Dennings looks more like Lydia Deets in this film than Bewbs O'Klok up there.

Kat Dennings looks more like Lydia Deets in this film than Bewbs O’Klok up there.

I watched this film because I wanted to see Dr Spencer Reid swear–I’d seen a gifset on Tumblr of him calling someone an asshole and just had to see it in context. It was worth it. He drops the ‘f’ bomb a lot, too.

‘Quirky’ is the first word that comes to mind. It’s the next three words, as well. Suburban Gothic was released in 2015 but the special effects were…special. So I’m thinking they were an intentional homage to 60s horror flicks.

The script had some genuinely laugh out loud funny lines. Ray Wise was hysterical as the All American bigot. He nailed it. I have the feeling some of his lines came from things someone’s (Richard Bates Jr or Mark Bruner’s) actual father said and they were so over-the-top they just had to put them in.

I don’t know from fixing a curse, but the filmmakers really captured the special hell that is returning to your tiny, small-minded hometown. Except when I go back to mine I don’t pair up with a fellow outcast and have wacky adventures. I just deal with whatever unholy purpose has drawn me there and get the hell back to civilisation as quickly as possible.

As a comedy it succeeds. As horror, it’s not scary in the least, but most 60s horror films aren’t all that frightening today, either. YMMV, but I’d give this one a 4/5.

If you’re not interested in either of the leads you’ll probably think I’ve overrated it by a star.


Higher Learning

by V. L. Craven

Higher Learning

Malik (Omar Epps) is a young, black, incoming freshman track star. A little cocky–all right, more than a little.

Kristen (Kristy Swanson) is a white, naive freshman with no clue who she is or what she wants.

Remy (Michael Rappaport) is also white and a freshman but he’s odd. A loner. He can’t seem to fit in anywhere.

Out of their hometowns for the first time in their lives–and for some of them, having to deal with people who aren’t the same race, for the first time as well–they scramble to make sense of the new world they’re meant to fit in to.

Malik ends up with a group of guys led by Ice Cube (another guy in the group is Busta Rhymes). Some of their scenes are excellent examples of the way racism is alive and well (the film is twenty years old, but it remains accurate) on campuses. Malik also begins romancing Deja (Tyra Banks).

Kristen starts off hanging out with two friends from back home but after a traumatic experience she finds solace and solidarity with Taryn (Jennifer Connelly).

Then there’s Remy. Remy’s the sort of person the average human gets the urge to inch away from so of course the campus skinheads think he’s just swell and the feeling is mutual.

All of these characters; stories collide in one way or another and no one comes out untouched by the repercussions.

One of the professors is played by Laurence Fishburne and, in case I need to say it, he’s amazing.

John Singleton knows how to handle an ensemble cast and tell several stories at once whilst making a larger point.

I was reminded of this film after watching Dear White People last week. Mostly because the average film about American university life is about parties and hooking up and other things I could not care less about. Just in case you were wondering why this one seemed to be getting dragged out of the mothballs.

Do yourself a favour and watch this one. 5/5


Dear White People

by V. L. Craven

Dear White People

Winchester is an ivy-league university with a minority number of minorities. One recent Halloween a very white dorm sent out invitations to their very racist themed party.

Dear White People is the ‘re-enactment’ of the five week lead up to that party.

Okay, it’s all fiction, but barely. We’ve seen the photos of the racist costumes–the black-face and brown-face; the Native American headdresses and sombreros. As though white is a blank canvas of normal humanity and everyone else is putting on a costume every day and pretending to be ethnic.

The invitation in the film is a near-verbatim copy of an actual invitation to a 2010 party at the University of California, San Diego. The party in the film is based on an actual event, as well, though it didn’t turn into a riot. And over the closing credits are photographs of real life university students doing the same things satirized in the film. (That must have been an uncomfortable day on the set. Hoo boy.)

The supposed ‘re-enactment’ starts with Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) at the beginning of his sophomore year. He’s been moved from house to house (people live in large, gorgeous houses rather than prison-cell-like dorms at Winchester) as he doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Uncomfortable with his sexuality–he doesn’t like labels–and unsure what to do with his hair (he tells fellow black students he’s growing it out and they laugh and say it’s gaining sentience) he doesn’t know what he wants or who he is. He doesn’t even have a major anymore.

Then there’s Sam White (Tessa Thompson) revolutionary media arts major with a radio show called Dear White People. She wants people to pay attention. She wants to make a difference. But Sam has her own struggles with race to deal with.

Next up is Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris). She wants people to pay attention, too. To her. She wants to be famous. So when a producer shows up at the university looking for a certain sort of person she tries to get his attention by being provocative.

And finally we have Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell). His father is the Dean and he has aspirations for law school and, eventually, his own firm one day. He’s currently head of the house he lives in and is one of those All-American types. He’s Barack Obama, basically.

He has a white girlfriend, though, and that goes over just as well as you’d expect with his cohort. His girlfriend is the sister of the son of the President of Winchester. Who is also the man who beat out his father for that position. The long-term political fallout of this cause all kinds of problems.

Dear White People is funny as hell–there are exchanges and one-liners galore. But it also holds a mirror up to our society and shows how much further we have to go in terms of racial equality. It is accurate and perceptive while being witty.

This one is a must-see. Watch it. 5/5

We all know this guy, right? We know him and we hate him. Don't be this guy.

We all know this guy, right? We know him and we hate him. Don’t be this guy.


How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

by V. L. Craven

How to Lose Friends

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is an English journalist with a cynical view of … everything, but particularly celebrity. He has a small publication that’s on the verge of imploding and desperately wants to break into the big time of professional celebrity stalking/mocking. He wants to be a

After a truly ridiculous turn of events involving a pig and Clint Eastwood, young Mr Young is invited to work for the man whose party he crashed, Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), in New York. Mr Harding, you see, owns several magazines.

Sidney has caught his big break. He’s in. He’s going to be someone. But first, he has to make an utter tit of himself. Multiple times. I mean, this is an Englishman in America being played by Simon Pegg.

But he’s still in…sorta. His sense of humour is all weird British and he doesn’t dress properly and … Oh, dear. Sidney wants to take the piss out of celebrities, as God intended, but the people he desperately wants to write for want him to kiss simply all the celebrity backside, as journalists do in the States. Loads of things change when you cross the ocean.

So things begin to falter pretty early on. He does make friends with a colleague (Kristin Dunst) who helps him as much as she can help a person determined to shoot themselves in the foot. Another rather ruthless colleague (Danny Huston) teaches Sidney a few invaluable lessons, as well.

And then there’s the vapid celebrity he’s deeply smitten with, played by Megan Fox. She’s hilarious. No kidding. Her publicist is played by Gillian Anderson and do you need to know any more than that? It’s Gillian Anderson. She makes everything better.

There are some fantastic cameos: James Corden, Katherine Parkinson and her IT Crowd co-star Chris O’Dowd, Thandie Newton and others. Miriam Margolyes plays Sidney’s Polish landlady in New York and Diana Kent is an actress desperately trying to make a comeback. Sidney’s father is played by Bill Paterson.

It’s one of those films where every few minutes you’re saying, ‘That guy!’ and then running to IMDB.

How to Lose Friends and Influence People offers some not-surprising but still depressing information about how publicity and journalism (especially in regard to celebrities) works in the States. And it’s based on a true story . The ‘real’ Sidney Young (whose name is Toby Young) worked at Vanity Fair for five years. The one in the film… well. Five years would have been a miracle for that guy.

Knowing it was based on reality to some degree helped. Otherwise it would have been a very funny but somewhat predictable film. Instead, I was sat watching it wondering what was derived from what and who the real life counterparts were to some people. [The Jeff Bridges character was clearly based on Graydon Carter .]

Overall it was a good time. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments, an excellent cast and Simon Pegg doing his thing. 4/5


Mean Girls

by V. L. Craven

Mean Girls

Last weekend I decided to become the last person on Earth to see Mean Girls. I hadn’t actively avoided it, really. I simply felt that, being on Tumblr, I had seen most of it in gif form. I knew fetch was never going to happen. I knew on Wednesdays we wear pink. I knew Leslie Knope was the cool mom.

For once, though, Tumblr didn’t oversell something. I actually enjoyed this one.

I know, I know, I’ll let you catch your breath from that gushing praise. But when something is praised so highly and quoted so frequently, it’s difficult to expect much. Generally, when any product appeals to the masses it’s because it speaks to the lowest common denominator.

Occasionally, though, you get something else. *cough* Harry Potter *cough*

I’m not saying Mean Girls is on par with Harry Potter, but it was still entertaining. The internet hadn’t managed to show me every laugh and surprise from the film. (Including a really big one.)

I haven’t done my usual plot description then review because I assume everyone with eyes under the age of, say, forty has seen this thing, but if you’re like me and you haven’t, I recommend it.

It’s like Clueless–that sort of unrealistic teenage film that doesn’t even attempt to be about authentic teenagers, but still captures more about the high school experience than those films about trying to lose your virginity on prom night.

Mean Girls sort of reminds me of Popular, that Ryan Murphy television show that didn’t last nearly long enough. They could definitely take place in the same universe.

It’s written by Tina Fey and based on a non-fiction book called Queen Bees and Wannabees , which is about how horrible teen girls are to one another. If that doesn’t catch your interest then no plot description or review is going to. It’s just as excellent as you’d think that combination of things would be and is the sort of thing I’d watch again. On purpose.

The are very, very few teen films I’d say that about. 5/5


Harold and Maude Film

by V. L. Craven

Harold and Maude

Harold Chasen is nineteen years old. Wealthy in that old-money sort of way. Obsessed with death in that constantly-staging-his-own-suicide sort of way.

He drives a hearse, watches demolitions and attends the funerals of strangers. At several he notices an older woman (she’s turning 80 within the week)–who also notices him. She’s positively full of life.

Though she does have a bothersome habit of stealing cars…or police motorcycles.

She also poses nude for sculptures and frees trees being choked by smog. Oh, Maude is just what Harold needs.

Harold’s mother, however, thinks Harold needs to get married or join the army. She sets him up on dates arranged by a computer dating agency and then sends him to see his uncle, the brigadier general. These experiences go rather hilariously sideways.

The entire film is hilariously sideways.

Harold and Maude still

I admit my prejudice in that Harold and Maude is one of my top five favourite films. I watch it probably once a year and it never ceases to crack me up.

When the film was originally released in 1971 it was a flop, but eventually became a cult-hit being played on university campuses. It’s wonderfully dark and bizarre. The line-readings are classic, the set designs lush. Every character is perfectly cast.

It’s the sort of film you’ll either ‘get’ and love straightaway or stare at, nonplussed.


I pulled this one out to review when they re-released the novelization of the screenplay, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow.


The Well Film vs Novel

by V. L. Craven

Similarities and Differences Between Elizabeth Jolley’s Novel The Well and the Film Based Upon It

This post includes spoilers for both the 1986 Elizabeth Jolley novel The Well and the 1997 film of the same name. There are spoilers everywhere and will not be behind the usual ‘here be spoilers’ tags. If you need a moment to decide if you’d like to continue reading, here is a photo of Pamela Rabe.

The Well Pamela Rabe

If you’ve decided to stick around, then here we go.

There are more similarities than differences and the film sticks very close to the book–closer than most adaptations do. Many of the same conversations happen, though perhaps in different places.

The most noticeable difference, however, is the choice of casting Pamela Rabe as Hester Harper. In the book, Hester is menopausal or after–she’s fifty-something if she’s a day. Whereas, Rabe wouldn’t have been forty when she played the role. (Don’t get me wrong, they made the correct decision, but I was surprised by how much older the character was in the book.)

Per usual, there’s more about everyone in the novel–films don’t have the ability to capture the inner world of the characters the way books do–and we learn more about Hester’s beloved governess Hilde and Mr Bird and Katherine’s friend Joanna, as well as Katherine’s time at the orphanage.

Hilde had to leave one day after having a miscarriage (or giving birth? it’s difficult to tell from the description) when Hester was fourteen. Hester found her in the middle of the night on the floor of the bathroom bleeding profusely and crying. The next day her father took Hilde away and Hester was sent to boarding school. This gave Hester quite a dim view of bearing children or childbirth or relations between men and women.

Mr Bird dies suddenly near the end of the book but was trying to look after Hester right up until his end. There is some intimation that he was romantically interested in her, possibly. He certainly had affection for her, as he’d sent her cards on special occasions her entire life. She hadn’t wondered why until it was too late to ask. The original Hester Harper is remarkably self-involved.

Joanna, Katherine’s friend who spends most of the book and film on remand, sends letters and plans a visit. She eventually becomes an evangelist and her final letter in the book arrives on white paper with a gold cross on each page. She invites Kathy to join her for a tour of the States.

The Hester Harper of the book seemed much more frivolous and less capable than the one in the film, who was always in control and knew what was what. The Hester of the film also seems to have more of a sense of humour and a better singing voice.

The Katherine of the book (she’s never given a surname) is more annoying, but she also looks after Hester. She’s less conniving in the source material, whereas in the film, she comes across as money-grubbing and manipulative. This could be because the book is very much from Hester’s point of view, but the film has to be from a more objective viewpoint. However, in the book, Katherine never refers to her benefactress as ‘Hester’, as she does in the film. She always calls her ‘Miss Harper’.

The original Hester Harper is much less likable. She’s insanely possessive and absolutely will not allow Katherine to bring a man into their house and certainly not allow her precious Kathy to have a baby, even though, as she ages, these are things the younger woman expresses an interest in. She’s jealous of Joanna, as well, but not to the same degree, and, by the end of the novel, she’s resigned to letting Kathy go with Joanna to America if she wants.

The book explains where Hester gets Kathy (see my review ) which I had found confusing in the film. And in the book the Harpers didn’t have Molly–the woman they let go in the film–to make room for Kathy. The girl also didn’t find the work too hard and strop off only to return. Films need conflict, though. Something else the book explains that the film doesn’t is what Katherine sees in Hester. She seems to like looking after the woman–she brings her sweets at the dance, for example, in the book. But in the film it’s unclear why she’d return that day early on when she’d decided the work was too hard.

In the book, Katherine wears the yellow dress to the dance that Hester makes for her. It’s cause for some snide comments because Mrs Borden thinks Hester is trying to keep Kathy like a child even though she’s twenty-one, but Katherine likes it–she certainly doesn’t intentionally ruin it the way the character in the film does.

After the man is put down the well everything goes the same in both media. However, in the big argument in the film, Kathy says something to the effect of, ‘If you give me the key I’ll do anything you want, I’ll be so good.’ Intimating sexual favours. This line doesn’t appear in the book, though earlier Hester reflects on how her enjoyment of watching Katherine dance makes her feel and:

She groaned. The dance was for her the only physical manifestation of physical love. Hester did not feel guilty about the feeling. It was private. She pulled off onto the gravel for a few precious minutes alone on the edge of the great emptiness.

Afterwards, in her weakness, she cried a little…

So clearly there was sexual attraction on Hester’s side, even though Kathy doesn’t mention it in the book and that’s really the only mention

The last scene of the book is Hester with a petrol can in the car with Mrs Borden and a bunch of her children. She and Kathy had run out of fuel and the older woman felt like a walk so the younger woman stayed in the car to work on her sewing for an upcoming fete. Joanna will be arriving by then for a week-long stay.

The well has just been permanently covered over after the downpour, which nearly filled it. Hester had it covered as she thought Kathy would realise the men working on it all morning would have surely heard anyone alive if, indeed, there had been a living soul down there.

Hester has also set herself on the plan that, if Kathy decides she wants to go to America with Joanna, she’ll simply have to let her and fill the emptiness of her days by constantly finding things to do with her time.

The film ends with Hester in the Bordens’ car with the brood and Kathy hitch-hiking with a bunch of money. The book is never clear on if Kathy has the money or not. In the book Hester doesn’t look for it the way she does in the film.


Oh, and in the book the woolly hat is red, rather than yellow.


The Duke of Burgundy

by V. L. Craven

DoB Three Panel Maroon

This review is free of spoilers, though in some ways this film is better if you know nothing about it going in. It may sound odd, but I recommend not reading this review, or any review. Just watch the film—it’s incredible.

A young woman, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) arrives at her employer’s house—Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen)—a cold, demanding woman who makes her stay late at work and punishes her severely when she makes mistakes.

In the next scene we find out the women are lovers who play sadomasochistic sorts of games. This isn’t a spoiler—we learn this in the second scene of the film.

The women go through their normal lives—the older one is a lepidopterist—and they attend talks at the library, as well as do scenes at home.

But all is not well in kinky-land.

And then the end happened and I was: Whaaaaaa?

I know that seems like a short plot synopsis but it really is better to know less rather than more. Also, the film is more of a character-study than plot-based.

DoB Venus in Furs

The Duke of Burgundy was written and directed by Peter Strickland in the 20-teens, but feels like it was based on a 1970s novel. In an interview Strickland says it was an homage to 70s films, and that’s apparent in both look and feel. The cinematography (by Nicholas D. Knowland) is lush and luxurious.

The setting is somewhere non-specific in Europe and the time could be any time after the 70s. (It was filmed in Hungary and Budapest). The soundtrack is by Cat’s Eyes and compliments the film perfectly.

The Duke of Burgundy is about what happens when Dommes and subs don’t negotiate what they both want. (And something called topping from the bottom.)

There are some trippy sex scenes and music cues that are very 70s. And there’s an entire sequence roughly three-quarters of the way through that’s that sort of LSD weird-out sort of thing you’d see in the 70s.

Even though it’s surreal and artistic, it’s a more realistic depiction of a BDSM relationship than Secretary, as it shows how far the fantasy is from the—often boring or hilarious—reality.

Basically it’s my favourite film now. 5/5

[The images in this post are by Julian House. More are available here .]

Bonus: some behind-the-scenes photos of the film.

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