Autodidact: self-taught

Sep
01
2015

Housebound

by V. L. Craven

HB POSTER FINAL_BLEED_3

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.

5/5

Aug
18
2015

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.

4/5

Aug
11
2015

Grace and Frankie

by V. L. Craven

Grace and Frankie

Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) and Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) have been married to their husbands, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston), for forty years.

The husbands in question have been partners in the same law firm for that length of time, as well, and the women are ready for them to retire. They hope the men in their lives are going to announce their retirement (finally) at the fancy schmancy dinner they’ve invited them out to.

Or they could announce they both want divorces because they’d like to marry one another…because they’ve been having an affair for the previous twenty years.

That’s the other thing that could happen.

Like Transparent , Grace and Frankie is about what happens when an older person decides to start living their life honestly. The fallout, as it were, in regard to their family–their spouses, kids, lifelong friends, etc.

There are some very honest moments. There are also some rather contrived moments. Overall, though, the show is entertaining. It’s certainly nice to see people over 40 dealing with life (and technology) and sex and dating in a realistic way. More of that, please.

Netflix is on a roll with excellent shows. Last week I reviewed one and now this. (I promise I’ll return to films soon.) And they already have Orange is the New Black and I understand House of Cards is rather all right–no I haven’t seen it, give me a break.

Grace and Frankie can be a little uneven at times–the dialogue can go from laugh out loud funny to bad sitcom–but the cast makes it worth the watch.

4/5

Aug
04
2015

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.

Jul
28
2015

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.

Jul
14
2015

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.

Jun
30
2015

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

Jun
16
2015

Fresh Meat

by V. L. Craven
I had to use this photo of the series 2 cast because it has Jack Whitehall looking like a doofus.

I had to use this photo of the series 2 cast because it has Jack Whitehall looking like a doofus.

Fresh Meat follows the exploits of a group of awkward students as they awkwardly make their awkward way through uni in Manchester. None of them got into halls (the dorms) so they’re sharing a house. It’s a mish-mash of personalities. Let the good times roll.

The main cast:

Josie: (Kimberley Nixon) Bubbly, Welsh, naive and seemingly kind. People really aren’t what they appear sometimes. All of these people put on fronts to appear to be cooler than they are to their peers, but this one… Wow.

Oregon: (Charlotte Ritchie) A literature swot who makes poor life choices in terms of married professors and, you know, sleeping with them. Particularly when their wife is also in the English department.

Vod: (Zawe Ashton) Far more interested in drinking and drugging than studying, Vod, also isn’t a big fan of the Establishment. Go anarchy!

Howard: (Greg McHugh) Scottish, socially inept but kind, Howard is older than the others, as he changed courses from philosophy to geology. If this show were made a few years ago this character would be played by Nick Frost.

Kingsley: (Joe Thomas) Bog-standard English guy. Awkward in the typical way. Just wants to be a good person and get a nice girlfriend. That doesn’t mean he’s not a tit sometimes.

And J.P.: (Jack Whitehall) Complete posh-o who’s in Manchester because he couldn’t get into a ‘proper university’. This was Whitehall’s acting debut and though his character is absolutely dreadful, he’s still my favourite. He’s condescending and arrogant, but also a loser with women and can be genuinely kind.

There is not one cast photo where he's not pulling a face. This man.

There is not one cast photo where he’s not pulling a face. This man.

There are currently three series with a fourth being filmed this year. Each year there are recurring characters that are more or less successful, but it’s the main cast that makes the show.

A standout character from the second and third series (and hopefully the fourth) was Sabine, a Dutch PhD student. She’s very straightforward and doesn’t particularly care for the kids because she sees them for the self-absorbed not-yet-fully-formed humans they are. There’s a hilarious scene in a pub where the British group are asking her how she talks/bonds/gets off with people if she doesn’t drink. I mean…that’s the only way British people can loosen up enough to be social.

It is NOT perfectly natural, you weirdo!

The show was created by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the people behind Peep Show. Robert Webb was in series one and two as Kingsley, Howard and JP’s geology lecturer. (And I felt it right in the age bone when I realised that Peep Show is twelve years old. It’s nearly a teenager.)

If you enjoy shows like, well, Peep Show, The Inbetweeners and Bad Education–ensemble casts of disparate people getting themselves into and out of trouble and being awkward in the process–you’ll enjoy this one. 5/5

Jun
02
2015

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

Apr
07
2015

A Young Doctor’s Notebook

by V. L. Craven

Young Doctor's Notebook

In 1917 Dr Vladimir Bomgard (Daniel Radcliffe & Jon Hamm) was an utter Hermione at university in Moscow and scored 15 5s. Immediately upon graduation he’s shipped to a village on the outskirts of nowhere in Russia (and Russia does nowhere like no other). He has next to no practical experience and was too short to see some lessons so he’s beyond unprepared for life in a hamlet without so much as a shop and in the middle of a Russian winter (Russia does winter like no other).

The villagers are ignorant, the doctor is unprepared, the staff at the clinic are cynical (or realistic, depending upon your view). It’s an excellent combination for disaster and a few miracles.

The show is darkly comic in a very Russian way (it’s based on stories by Mikhail Bulgakov). And it doesn’t go easy on the gore. This is medicine circa 1917 on the outer edge of the end-of-the-world, after all.

It’s the first time I’ve gagged watching anything fictional. And I’ve seen all of the Saw and Wrong Turn films. To calibrate that–I refuse to watch anything by Miike or the Centipede franchise.

I wasn’t paying full attention at the beginning of the first episode because it took me awhile to realise Jon Hamm was playing an older version of Daniel Radcliffe. What with Daniel Radcliffe being 5’5″ and Jon Hamm being 6’2″, this wasn’t apparent otherwise. There’s also only supposed to be a 16 year age difference, but it’s twenty. I’m going to let that slide and focus on the giant height difference (see exhibit A above).

The framing device of the entire series is that Jon Hamm is looking back on his old diaries after he’s being accused of using dead clients’ names to fill morphine prescriptions for his drug habit. The older version of the character often speaks to the younger version–trying to talk him out of taking morphine for the first time, for example–but the younger version also speaks to the older version, which is just… Russian.

There are two series–both are four episodes long. Unaware of this when I started the first series, it seemed to end abruptly. This review is for the first series, which really is excellent, as long as you have a strong stomach. 5/5

Mar
10
2015

Transparent

by V. L. Craven

Transparent

Morton Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor) is a retired professor of political science, a father of three, and an ex-husband. He’s also actually a woman, Maura.

How Maura’s dysfunctional family (understatement warning) is going to take this news is anyone’s guess, but after knowing for years she’s finally ready to make the announcement and begin being true to herself 24/7.

About this family. Oy. They are so Jewish. In the most realistic way, which isn’t something audiences get to see on television very often so that alone was refreshing. Also, the characters are very real, meaning they’re not all that likable. (This has nothing to do with them being Jewish and everything with them being like actual human beings with actual human feelings and unattractive traits.)

There’s the eldest daughter, Sarah Pfefferman (Amy Landecker). Her marriage is in trouble (understatement) and she gets involved with an ex who happens to be a woman ( Melora Hardin who played Jan Levinson on the US version of The Office and the transformation blows my mind.) [That character is unlikable, as well. Everyone is obnoxious on this show, but I couldn’t stop watching.] Those two getting together wrecks two households but also kicks off Maura’s coming out process albeit unintentionally.

Then there’s the only son, Josh, who has a  lot of sex on this show. I don’t know what he’s looking for–new sex or new love or both or something else, but he’s doing his level best in trying to find it. Or trying to wreck his life. Perhaps that’s what he’s trying to do.

The third child is Ali, Gaby Hoffman, unable to settle on anything in life, perpetually jobless and dependent on Morton/Maura for money, Ali is also trying to work out who and what she is.

The matriarch of this bunch is the ever luminous Judith Light, who can do no wrong. She plays Shelly, Maura’s ex, and she’s remarried to a man named Ed with whom she lives in a retirement community. He’s lost the ability to speak by the time we meet him, he’s still quite the personality.

There are lots of flashbacks to the 90s when Morton was just becoming Maura, so we get to see her first, tentative steps into finding her true self. Her guide is a cross-dresser named Marcy (Bradley Whitford). It’s Whitford like you’ve never seen him before and it’s  amazing .

The show was created by Jill Soloway and was based on her own father’s coming out as transgender. Soloway also directed.

Everything about Transparent is excellent. Every character is fully-realised. The writing is top-notch and the actors are on top of their game. There’s humour and pathos and pain and joy. And every kind of sex you can imagine. No really.

This show is a must watch. 5/5

Mar
03
2015

Secretary

by V. L. Craven

Secretary

 

Shortly after Lee Holloway (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is released from a mental hospital following a self harm incident that accidentally went too far she attends a typing school.

With her certificate and very high marks she applies to be the secretary of an attorney, a Mr E. Edward Grey (James Spader, again playing a weirdo because the man can not play a well-adjusted human being).

After warning her the work will be boring and receiving the reply, ‘I want to be bored,’ Mr Grey offers her the job. This follows the most illegal set of interview questions imaginable.

Mr Grey notices his new secretary’s cuts. He catches her with her self harm travel kit one day and works out that she needs physical pain to help deal with emotional pain.

He recognises a submissive in this socially awkward individual who has been doing her best to please him. And he cares enough to not want her to hurt herself badly enough she may wind up in the mental ward again or worse.

Then one day she commits one typo too far.

Oh dear, oh dear. tsk tsk

Oh dear, oh dear. tsk tsk

And we’re off to the races. If races were kinky.

Their relationship changes then; while she’s still his secretary she also gets spanked on a regular basis (she’s clearly completely into this).

And he has informed her that she will no longer be injuring herself. She agrees to this because he is Dominant and she is submissive. He makes decisions about what she eats and where she walks, therefore it’s as though he’s with her all the time, which she’s fine with because she’s crazy about him. And she likes pain.

Then, like all romantic comedies (I promise that’s what this is), something goes wrong and they break up. Will they get back together? Well, it’s a romantic comedy so you guess.

But how it happens and what they go through to get there will surprise most people. Their relationship certainly isn’t what Hollywood generally serves up.

Secretary gif 1

Secretary gif 2

Secretary came out in 2002. And I loved it straightaway. It’s a damn sight better than that other BDSM film featuring a Mr Grey even though neither of them are entirely accurate in their portrayal of the lifestyle (there’s no pre-negotiation or aftercare in Secretary and …everything is terrible in the other film/books). A complete breakdown of the two films is here .

Back to the review at hand, though. It’s stylish and stylized. The soundtrack is by Angelo Badalamenti, who also did the music for Twin Peaks. E. Edward Grey’s office is gorgeous and bizarre in its own right, but so is everything in this film.

The writing is funny and real and unreal at the same time.

I recently re-watched it in order to write this review, showing it to a friend of mine who describes herself as a ‘vanilla weenie’. Around three quarters of the way through she asked, ‘What even is this film?’ Which I think is a good way of putting it. It’s not like anything most people have seen before.

It’s based on a short story by Mary Gaitskill included in the collection Bad Behavior, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow. I give the film 5/5 and I’ll see you tomorrow for the book review.

Bonus: On the official Secretary website there’s a little typing game, as well as Lee’s CV that’s pretty funny.

Feb
17
2015

Hysteria

by V. L. Craven

Hysteria_Movie_Poster

It’s the 1880s in England and all of women’s emotional problems stem from their uteri. They must be brought back into alignment and this was done by inducing hysteria… which involved, um… manipulating the lady bits. You know .

[The filmmakers weren’t making any of this up–this was actual medical science of the day.]

After being fired from his job for believing in the clearly made-up germ theory–whoever heard of doctors changing bandages or washing hands, I mean, really–Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) has a difficult time finding new employment.

That is, until he’s taken on by Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who is pioneering the new technique of digitally manipulation (see the first paragraph) in order to restore women’s uteri to their proper position. (People used to believe they moved around and cause all sorts of trouble. I swear to you.)

He calls this work ‘tedious’.

Granville would call it debilitating–he winds up with something akin to carpal tunnel, poor, giving soul.

Luckily, he happens upon an invention his great friend Edmund St-John-Smyth (Rupert Everett) is working on to make housework easier for women. Granville quickly realised that, with a few adjustments, it will make something else far easier for women, as well.

And it ain’t dusting, ifyougetmydrift.

In the midst of all this is Dr. Dalrymple’s two daughters. The eldest, Charlotte, (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a feminist trying to assist the down trodden in nineteenth-century England–so there’s no worry of her running out of people to help; the younger is obedient Emily (Felicity Jones) who will marry whomever her father says, including Mortimer, if he so wishes.

A contrived thing happens because it has to and we have a subplot.

Pictured: Anna Chancellor being underutilized

Pictured: Anna Chancellor being underutilized

The film starts off with Anna Chancellor’s voice. So I had high hopes. Then she has one other, very short scene. This did not bode well.

For something that was about female ‘paroxysm’ it certainly wasn’t sexy. The two scenes that showed women having their uteri replaced to their proper locations were played for laughs (because female pleasure is funny). Though I swear I want women to say that now. ‘Honey…I think my uterus is out of joint. Help me out?’

It also showed how things haven’t changed. Women are stilled called hysterical when expressing an opinion–something men are never called–and if a woman is being a bit too forthright, well. She needs a good seeing to.

Oh, and you’ll love this. The reason what the doctors were doing wasn’t considered sexual was because women couldn’t receive sexual pleasure without insertion of the penis. Le sigh. So the bit on the front of the ladies–That’s just there as a sort of mechanical part to bring inner bits back in line. It’s nothing to do with anything else. I knew this was the received wisdom of the time going into it, but still.

But I digress.

The costumes were great. The acting was fine. Everything was somewhat interesting and pretty to look at. I’ll just sit here and damn with faint phrase, shall I?

It was typical Hollywood fare with the ending obvious a mile off. Still fun enough. 3/5. 4/5 if you’re interested in the period.

I was a bigger fan of The Road to Wellville , even though that one was more about the early twentieth-century push to keep people from touching their naughty bits.  They prescribed cornflakes and vegetarianism. (Again, no joke.)

Dec
16
2014

Last Tango in Halifax

by V. L. Craven

Last Tango in Halifax

Sixty years ago, Alan Buttershaw (Derek Jacobi) was madly in love with Celia Dawson (Anne Reid). The sentiment was mutual, but due to a misunderstanding neither knew of the other’s feelings.

In the present day, after being pressed to join Facebook by their grandchildren, they find one another again. The misunderstanding is cleared up–it’s something similar to the premise of As Time Goes By–and they quickly realise they feel just as strongly as they did over half a century before so they decide to get married. ‘Quickly’ in this case means the same day they met in person.

Their daughters Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) and Gillian (Nicola Walker) arrive at the pub to hear this news and to say they have a rough start of it would be an understatement. Chalk and cheese, as it were. Caroline, Celia’s daughter, is a headmistress at a private school and lives in a house large enough for five families while Gillian, Alan’s daughter, is a sheep farmer who lives, well, on a sheep farm.

Caroline is married to a once-successful author, though that union is falling apart due to his philandering. She’s found an uneasy happiness with a teacher at her school (Nina Sosanya). That relationship’s repercussions affect her sons, as well as her mother’s new love, in profound ways.

Gillian is widowed from an abusive husband. She has the darkest past of the group (though Celia’s first marriage wasn’t a grand one) and, as the show progresses we learn more about just how dark that past was.

Last Tango in Halifax was created and written by Sally Wainwright and it’s based on real-life circumstances–her mother really reconnected with a childhood friend on Friends Reunited and they married six months later. Wainwright has a gift for capturing the complicated way alliances are formed when new groups of people are thrown together, particularly when those people wouldn’t naturally get on. The evolving friendship between Caroline and Gillian is especially compelling to watch. The bond between these two women with nothing in common except thinking their parents have gone mad feels very real. Part of that is down to Lancashire and Walker’s phenomenal acting and the other part is Wainwright’s script.

Though the show could be all twee, happiness and light, there’s a great deal of darkness and drama, as well, particularly in Gillian’s storyline and Caroline confronting her sexuality, which is handled with a deftness and humanity not typical of television today. I highly recommend this one–it’s just excellent television.

There are currently two series with a third that’s been filmed, but no air date announced yet.

I’d give the entire series 5/5, though, as with any television show, some episodes are better than others.

Bonus grumpy note: Because Americans can’t leave anything alone, Diane Keaton (I love her, but really) has acquired the rights to remake the show for U.S. audiences who, apparently, can’t understand a Yorkshire accent.

Dec
05
2014

The Cabin in the Woods by Tim Lebbon

by V. L. Craven

Cabin in the Woods

If you’ve seen the film The Cabin in the Woods (which you should because it’s awesome ) you know what happens, but because the book is based on the screenplay, you get all of the deleted scenes and cut lines (they actually played ‘Truth or Dare or Lecture’), as well as a lot of description of things you’d only notice if you freeze-framed every shot.

Some of the most interesting parts were seeing the casting decisions taken. For example, in the book/screenplay, the woman from the chem department is a six foot tall humour-free woman with a bun to rival  Lilith Sternin’s . In the film, the character has a ponytail and appears to be of average height. She also appears to have a personality.

Dana was also originally supposed to be a brunette. So glad they opted for a redhead.

They made the right decision.

They made the right decision.

There’s also a great deal of page space given over to the blossoming romance between Holden and Dana and those parts read like young adult fiction, but I suppose that was important or something. Whatever. I was just there for the monsters and Marty.

We get to see inside the other characters’ minds, as well, including Marty’s, who is a much more three-dimensional character than we see in the film. And between that and being able to ‘see’ more of the sets and learning more about the monsters, it was worth the read.

I definitely recommend it for fans of the film–5/5. As a book on it’s own, it’s maybe a 3/5–it’s sort of young adult but with a lot of pot and beer and sex. And gore. So, young adult for the people who still read YA when they’re 25.

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