Blogtober

REVIEW: Call Jane (2022)

Chicago, 1968. Joy (Elizabeth Banks), a housewife, is expecting her second child but when she learns that continuing her pregnancy could kill her in a time when abortions are illegal in America, she finds help in an unlikely place and goes on to work with the group of suburban women who helped her.

Call Jane does a great job at tackling a tough topic with both sensitivity and humour though never makes light of the dangers these women are in. Both the group known as Jane themselves as they organise illegal abortions, and the women who are having the abortions could face jail, and then potentially lose their jobs or families because of their actions.

The humour and candour in Call Jane works because the situation of women having to illegally procure abortions aka basic healthcare, is the kind of situation where if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Listening to male doctors talk about Joy as if she’s not in the room and not of value because the unborn child is seen as more important is laughable and frustrating.

Personally, I tend to think of Elizabeth Banks as a comedic actor so to see her as a lead in a more dramatic role was really different and she did a great job and is the heart of this story. Joy is an interesting character as she has her own biases that she’s never really considered before as she does have a more privileged background compared to some of the other women who come looking for abortions. It’s great to see how her attitude changes over time and how she almost gets a new lease of life as she does something meaningful and becomes more than a housewife and a mother – not that there’s anything wrong with either of those things.

Sigourney Weaver and Wunmi Mosaku play two of the prominent women in this underground abortion group that Joy meets. Weaver is especially brilliant and has pretty much all of the best lines and while the socio-economic factors of who has to get illegal abortions is mostly glossed over, Mosaku’s Gwen is an important Black voice in a group of well-meaning but white women.

The ending of Call Jane is quite abrupt and almost rushed which is a shame as the rest of the film was pretty well-paced and has an engaging script that does well to avoid some fo the clichés. It’s as if they didn’t quite know how to wrap things up or end this story without having a time jump. That being said, overall Call Jane is an enjoyable and unfortunately a timely film. If women could do this in the 1960s, what can they do today in order to have the freedom to chose what should happen to their bodies? 4/5.

As a sidenote, I highly recommend the documentary The Janes which goes more into depth about this group of women and the near misses they had with both the cops and the mob.

REVIEW: Hidden Letters (2022)

Documentary about how in modern day China, two women strive to preserve Nushu, an ancient secret language which bonded generations of Chinese women together through centuries of oppression in a clandestine support system of sisterhood and survival.

Hidden Letters paints a somewhat bittersweet picture of how the Nushu language is trying to be preserved and how the women preserving it are doing their best to keep their independence in a modern world. Hidden Letters covers culture, history, language, and how women fit into all of that.

Needless to say, I’d never heard of Nushu before and Hidden Letters was an interesting and informative documentary. There’s not a lot about how Nushu was invented as a language as it was something that was only came to light in the 1980s and often women had their writings buried with them when they died. It’s a secret language where they could talk about the hopes and fears when they were often kept locked in their chambers with their feet bound. It speaks of women’s strength when they refuse to be silent even when awful things are happening to them.

One of the young women the documentary follows is Hu Xin, a young divorcee, but even though her husband abused her, she feels like a failure as she’s neither a wife nor a mother and she feels like the whole point of being a woman is being a mother. It’s kind of sad that she feels this way but her friendship with He Yanxin, an older woman and an expert in Nushu, is lovely and continues the tradition of sisterhood that is such a big component of the language.

Simu Wu is the other young woman Hidden Letters follows and she faces similar difficulties when trying to find love. She sees the value in learning Nushu and the artwork she creates where the language is the focus and it’s a hobby she enjoys. Her fiancé on the other hand, sees it as frivolous and wants her to instead get a second job as getting enough money for them to buy a house and have a child is the only thing that matters to him. Her surprisingly progressive parents though are pretty awesome though.

It’s equal parts frustrating and farcical seeing how men just don’t understand the importance of Nushu and how it’s a uniquely feminine thing. At one point a group of two men and two women discuss on how to make Nushu more mainstream and one of the men says that Nushu has value but the main this is “how to exploit that value so it can be better marketed”. When one of the women pushes back on that idea and she’s quickly shut down. Sure, it’s a huge generalisation but women see the beauty and the cultural significance of the language as while things are certainly better compared to their ancestors, they can still relate to the horrible things the women experienced. Meanwhile, the men just want to find a way to commercialise Nushu and make money from it – exploiting women’s secret language like women have been exploited for generations.

Hidden Letters is a thoughtful and interesting documentary. Its observations are poignant as it shows how important and impressive Nushu is and that women and their voices still struggle to be heard today. 4/5.

REVIEW: Interview with the Vampire (1994)

Vampire Louis (Brad Pitt) tells his life story to reporter Malloy (Christian Slater). A story of love, betrayal, loneliness, and hunger.

Interview with the Vampire is one of those “classic “films of the genre that I’ve naturally been aware of for years but have never watched it. With a new TV show adaptation being released and it being spooky season I thought it was about time to see what all the fuss is about.

Overall, I did like Interview with the Vampire quite a bit, especially the whole gothic vibes it has going on. Plot-wise it felt kind of lacking at times and that tended to be when Tom Cruise’s Lestat was off screen for extended periods of time.

Lestat is a great character and Cruise looks like he’s having a great time being an almost campy vampire who loves killing and who is often exasperated with Louis, the guy he turned. There’s a scene where Lestat dances with a corpse and it’s just great. Feels kind of weird and out of place but also then again it doesn’t as Lestat is such a larger-than-life character you just kind of roll with it.

Louis is kind of a woe is me, kind of character so it’s a bit of a shame that he is the lead character and focal point for Interview with the Vampire. His sulkiness does make sense as part of him hates what he has become and how he has to kill in order to survive but it’s also made clear that vampires can be killed so if he was really craving death and freedom from this life, he was now stuck in then he could’ve done something about it ages ago.

Kirsten Dunst plays Claudia, a young child who is turned into an immortal vampire, and she gives a really impressive performance. How she appears to be an adult at such a young age is amazing and she outshines Pitt in nearly every scene they’re in together.

So really, the cast and vibes are what made Interview with the Vampire for me. When Lestat is off screen for a while it does start to feel like a bit of a slog as Louis just isn’t as charming or as interesting as the other two vampires that make up their odd little family. Because while Louis is lamenting about being a vampire, Interview with the Vampire is pretty gay and features Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise adopting a little vampire girl. It’s a strange family but it works for the most part – until Lestat and Louis start yelling at each other again.

Interview with the Vampire is kind of a strange film as it mostly tries to be super sombre but then you have Cruise’s Lestat camping up the place. It’s a drama, it’s a romance, it’s horror but it’s also comedy. Amazingly all those things work together for the most part and give you a film that somehow has stood the test of time. 4/5.

REVIEW: Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)

Directed by Wes Craven, Caribbean vampire Maximillian (Eddie Murphy) arrives in Brooklyn looking for a specific woman who is the key to his survival – a half-human, half-vampire. NYPD detective Rita Veder (Angela Bassett) is that woman and she and her partner Detective Justice (Allen Payne) are investigating the many killings that have suddenly started in Brooklyn.

Tonally, Vampire in Brooklyn is all over the place. It’s billed as a horror comedy but it’s also pretty heavy on the gothic and the romance once Maximillian and Rita start circling one another. The jokes don’t always land though Silas Green (John Witherspoon) and his nephew Julius (Kadeem Hardison) were the ones who could consistently get a smile out of me. Personally, was a big fan of how Witherspoon said the word “wolf”. Considering Eddie Murphy is the star of Vampire in Brooklyn and played a couple of characters in this (the hair and makeup work for one in particular was excellent) it’s a shame I didn’t find his performance particularly amusing.

Angela Bassett though was brilliant as always – and stunningly beautiful too. Rita has nightmares she doesn’t understand, and sees things she can’t explain, but she’s also headstrong and capable. Her relationship with Justice is great as the chemistry is there and there’s a real will-they-won’t-they vibe to it all, especially when Maximillian arrives and starts messing with both of them.

The aesthetics of Vampire in Brooklyn was also pretty great. Some of the makeup work on Julius as he slowly starts to decompose is suitably disgusting, and the scenes where Maximillian is trying to enchant Rita with how the camera spins around them adds to the drama of it all.

Really Vampire in Brooklyn isn’t the worst Eddie Murphy film but it isn’t the best. It tries to bring his style of humour into a Wes Craven horror movie and they don’t really mesh that well. It’s never very funny or very scary but with its 90-minute runtime, it’s a film that’s never grating and it doesn’t outstay it’s welcome. 2/5.

REVIEW: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

Narrated by Santino Fontana.

It is the morning of the reaping that will kick off the tenth annual Hunger Games. In the Capital, eighteen-year-old Coriolanus Snow is preparing for his one shot at glory as a mentor in the Games. The once-mighty house of Snow has fallen on hard times, its fate hanging on the slender chance that Coriolanus will be able to outcharm, outwit, and outmanoeuvre his fellow students to mentor the winning tribute. The odds are against him when he’s given the humiliating assignment of mentoring the female tribute from District 12, Lucy Gray Baird. Their fates are now completely intertwined – every choice Coriolanus makes could lead to favour or failure, triumph or ruin.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who was apprehensive about a prequel to The Hunger Games trilogy that was centred on a young President Snow. To be honest, that’s one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to read it but after rereading the trilogy and revisiting the films I thought now was the time.

I found Coriolanus Snow to be equal parts fascinating and infuriating. He is not a nice young man. He is obsessed with his standing and appearance in the Capitol and the power his family name no longer has, he is constantly hiding his true self from pretty much everyone and he’s always second-guessing other people’s motivations as he believes that everyone is out to get him. It’s almost funny at times as he’s so self-centred that he thinks every comment or action someone might make is supposed to be an affront to him but in reality, they probably don’t even think about him like that at all. He’s always thinking about what other people can do for him, and how his actions at any moment can either further his aspirations or tear them down. He’s arrogant and even when he’s been knocked down a peg or two and is in a similar situation to people of the Districts, he still sees himself as better than them. He continues to blame them for their own circumstances when if he took his rose-tinted-Capitol-loving glasses off, he’d see that the people of the Districts and his own really have the same cause.

As The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is told solely from Snow’s point of view it makes his relationship with Lucy Gray super interesting. As he’s possibly falling in love with her, and starts to believe she cares for him, you have to wonder if that’s really the case. Lucy Gray is in the Hunger Games against 23 other tributes, many of whom are stronger than her, surely she’d use anything at her disposal, including a boy from the Capitol who is supposed to be her mentor, in order to survive? As the book progresses, I’m not sure what Lucy Gray’s feelings are towards Snow but how he often refers to her in ways that makes her his possession or gets jealous of any mention of her having loved someone before him just made my skin crawl. I think how Snow sees Lucy Gray is a fine line between love and obsession and even at the beginning he mainly thinks of her as what she can do for him and any sign of kindness like getting her food, is so that she’ll survive to get to the Hunger Games for him, not for herself.

Though you don’t live the terror and fear of the Hunger Games in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes as you’re a spectator just like Snow is, it’s still a brutal book at times. It’s brutal in the cruelty the tributes face as the life of a tribute is vastly different to what we’ve seen before, and there’s moments that made my jaw drop because Suzanne Collins can do those sudden moments of violence like no one else.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is quite slow-paced but as I listened to the audiobook that didn’t really bother me. That being said, I feel like the ending took a sudden turn and was a lot more abrupt than anything previous so it was a bit jarring. Also, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was kind of an uncomfortable read. It’s not necessarily a book I enjoyed reading because you’re in Snow’s head and that’s not a fun place to be, never mind what’s going on around him, but it’s a book I found really interesting in the context of it being a prequel. It explored things I didn’t expect, how it tackled Snow as a protagonist especially, and had seemingly minor things that would go on to feature in the original trilogy.

Having been a couple of years late to The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes I’ve been looking at reviews and reactions and can see why it might’ve got a mixed response. Having the book being from the point of view of (for all intents and purposes) the oppressor was certainly a choice and while there may have been moments at the beginning that made you almost sympathise with Snow because of the trauma he had of living through a war as a child, it doesn’t dwell on it and you soon see the beginnings of the tyrant he’s destined to become.

What can I say except that The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes surprised me and I found it engaging even when Snow was wallowing in self-pity, being incredibly narrowminded and just generally an unlikeable character. 4/5.

Book Blogger Hop: Are you lost if you don’t have a book to read?

Book Blogger Hop

The short answer is yes. I always have a book on the go. I might not have picked up and read any of that book in four days but it’s on my bedside table or ready to go in my handbag whenever I might need it. I very rarely read more than one physical book at once (I do tend to read an audiobook and a physical/ebook at the same time as I consume them in different places and ways) but I do have a few books piled up by my bed as my would-like-to-pick-up-soon TBR.

I find I have to start a book, even if it takes me a long time to read it. If I finish a book and don’t pretty much immediately choose what book I’m going to read next, that’s when I can end up in an almost reading slump as there’s too much choice and I don’t know what book to read next.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Books I Read on Holiday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Artsy Reader Girl. Honestly all ten of these books could be books I read in Spain but I tried to have some variety. Pre-pandemic my “holiday” each year was to visit my dad in the south of Spain and there’s where I got a good chunk of reading done. Links will go to the review if I have one.

Internment by Samira Ahmed
Geneva, Switzerland

Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke
Bucharest, Romania

Red Sister by Mark Lawrence
Vera, Spain

Secret Son by Laila Lalami
Vera, Spain

The Last Brother by Nathacha Appanah
Vera, Spain

The Doris Day Vintage Film Club by Fiona Harper
Vera, Spain

Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Norfolk, UK

Night Owls by Jenn Bennett
San Francisco, USA

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Brussels, Belgium

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Groningen, Netherlands

Are there any books you remember reading on holiday? As this list probably shows, I don’t really have typical holiday reads!

REVIEW: Hocus Pocus 2 (2022)

Twenty-nine years after the Black Flame Candle was last lit, two friends Becca (Whitney Peak) and Izzy (Belissa Escobedo), accidentally bring back the Sanderson Sisters to modern day Salem and they must figure out how to stop the child-hungry witches from wreaking havoc on the world.

I am definitely of the generation that grew up watching Hocus Pocus pretty much every Halloween and I still rewatch it each year, so I was definitely equal parts excited and apprehensive about a sequel to a childhood favourite. Thankfully, I really enjoyed Hocus Pocus 2. It has the charm of the original without overly relying on nostalgia and the same jokes or plot points as the first film.

Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy all look like they’re having a blast as Winifred, Sarah, and Mary Sanderson. Honestly most of the fun and joy of this film is seeing these three comedic actresses back in these iconic roles and just going for it full throttle. There are a couple of new songs and seeing how the Sanderson Sisters can still be duped by modern technology but they aren’t so naïve as when they first arrived in the 1990s because they do remember the things they saw and learnt then was a nice touch.

Have to give a shoutout to the three young actresses who play younger versions of the Sanderson Sisters at the beginning of the film. Taylor Henderson, Juju Journey Brener, and Nina Kitchen are all brilliant. They each embody the various little quirks each sister has so well that it’s easy to imagine these girls grow up to be the witches we know so well.

The new young heroes are pretty great too. The friendship between Becca, Izzy, and Cassie (Lilia Buckingham) is believable and as they’ve grown up in Salem on stories of the Sanderson Sisters, they quickly jump into action rather than have any doubts or disbelief.

Sure, I might be blinded by nostalgia for the original when watching Hocus Pocus 2 but I really did have a good time with it. It’s a fun children’s film and the kind of kids film that adults can enjoy and don’t find any of the jokes or references that annoying. It’s a fun film and a worthy sequel. 4/5.

REVIEW: The Craft: Legacy (2020)

When Lily (Cailee Spaeny) moves into a new town with her mother Helen (Michelle Monaghan), she surprises them both by quickly making friends. They are outsiders Frankie (Gideon Adlon), Lourdes (Zoey Luna), and Tabby (Lovie Simone) who invite Lily to join their coven and together the four of them explore their powers and witchcraft.

I watched and reviewed the original The Craft last time I did blogtober so thought this was the perfect time to get around to watching the (very loose) sequel. It is definitely the kind of sequel where you don’t have to have seen the original to understand it.

While they’re not the focus of the film, I did really like Lily and her mum’s relationship. They were a very believable mother/daughter duo and I liked how Helen stuck up for Lily against her new partner Adam (David Duchovny) and his stricter parenting style. The young cast have great chemistry and every scene the four girls are together is good fun. Lily is definitely the protagonist of the film and it is a shame that the other three girls only get the most superficial of character descriptions and each fit a kind of archetype to make them recognisable. Perhaps unfortunately one of the most compelling characters is Timmy (Nicholas Galitzine), a boy in their class who goes from stupid jock to a sensitive guy when magic gets involved. For a film that’s big on feminist messages, to mixed results, it’s simultaneously interesting and regrettable that a male character and their arc almost has the most to say.

The Craft: Legacy does have some things to say about feminism and toxic masculinity which I wasn’t expecting. It sure is heavy-handed at times but it’s still an interesting inclusion. In the latter half of the film especially there’s stuff like when teen girls embrace witchcraft aka their power and agency, men want to control or take away that power as they feel women shouldn’t have it and shouldn’t be more powerful than men.

The Craft: Legacy is a 90-minute film which is so often a great thing as it’s always nice to watch a film in less than two hours, but in this instance, I think The Craft: Legacy could’ve used at least 10 minutes more. The final act/big reveal seems very rushed and I’d have liked to have learnt more about the potential repercussions for the girls’ actions.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed The Craft: Legacy. It’s probably not technically the greatest film, but it’s fun and seeing the power of female friendship on screen is always a good time. 3/5.

REVIEW: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Claire Redfield (Kaya Scodelario) returns to her hometown to reconnect with her brother Chris (Robbie Amell) and to try and prove that the pharmaceutical giant Umbrella Corporation have been poisoning the people of Raccoon City for years.

I have never played any of the Resident Evil games and I watched all the Milla Jovovich Resident Evil films for the first time back in 2017 (I was going to say it was a few years ago but then it turned out to be five! What is time? etc) so going into Welcome to Raccoon City I didn’t really have any preconceptions of what this film and its characters should be.

I think that was perhaps a blessing and a curse. A blessing as I can’t get mad at any changes the film may have made from the games but also a curse as I feel like I learnt so little about these characters, their personalities or the various relationship dynamics, that I couldn’t really care about them. The way character names were dropped it felt like the filmmakers were relying on viewers to already have knowledge of the characters and story from the games and didn’t really do any proper world or character-building to make you care if you were someone going into this film blind.

Everything about Welcome to Raccoon City is pretty generic but there are a few moments that are generally stylistically interesting. Most of them come from when Chris is under attack by these diseased and zombie-like people. Often the only light source is the flash from his gun or from a flickering lighter and then it becomes a point of view shot with his lighter held out in front of him and the creatures getting closer every time the flame goes out.

The dialogue is kind of awful and the cast does the best with what they’re given. Kaya Scodelario’s Claire is a highlight but that does mean that whenever the film is away from her it starts to drag again. The middle chunk of the film when the action gets going is pretty decent but it feels like it takes too much time to get to that point and then the ending is very rushed.

Overall Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City manages to be a frustrating endeavour. There’s few scares and what level of threat is there is diminished when you realise you don’t care about any of the characters chances of survival. 2/5.