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Second Half Of 2018 Film Round Up

In the last six months, I have seen more films than ever. When, in August, I realised I’d not watched anything since April, I started making it a priority, and as the months went on I looked for Indian films I’d wanted to see (thank you, Amazon!) and films from industries I’d not yet encountered. Here are the films I watched for the first time in the latter half of 2018, with my thoughts added in italics:

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13 Going On 30 (USA, 2004) – Her wish to be 30 immediately fulfilled, 1980s teenager Jenna finds herself in the new century – a magazine editor and best friend to the leader of the ‘cool’ girls pack from high school. But this adult life is missing childhood friend, Matt, the person who was always there for her. A lot of fun and Thriller.

Christmas With A Prince (Canada, 2018) – A paediatrician on a tight budget is offered the chance of funding if she will accept an injured royal onto her ward – a prince she used to know. Very much a TV movie but also an unintentional bookish watch; I was pleasantly surprised to see ‘based on A Harlequin novel’ in the opening credits – it’s an adaptation of a Sarah Morgan book.

Le Concert (France, 2009) – Andreï, a Russian conductor who failed to save the Jews in his orchestra, intercepts an invitation for a conductor to perform in Paris. Andreï searches with his friends for various past members who may or may not hold up their end of the bargain once in France, which isn’t going to go down well with the famous soloist who agrees to join them. A comedy drama in French and Russian, this film is a lot of fun but also very poignant. The full Tchaikovsky piece is included.

Despicable Me (USA, 2010) – A man who has been cruel since childhood hatches a plan to steal the moon but ends up stealing it back from someone who gets there first. Part of Grue’s plan involves adopting children to serve as a ruse and instead of distance he finds himself becoming a father. Very funny. I liked the Annie context, even more when they credited it in the film.

Despicable Me 2 (USA, 2013) – Grue is invited to join an anti-villain operation and gains a partner, who often makes things worse. As good as the previous film.

Despicable Me 3 (USA, 2017) – Grue, Lucy, and the children travel to meet Grue’s twin brother who desperately wants to do something villainous. Good. Loved the screaming goat reference.

Fallen Stars (USA, 2017) – A man with a mundane life meets a girl who seems equally fed up. Excellent, bookish, film. I reviewed it here.

Florence Foster Jenkins (UK, 2016) – Based on a true story, an American woman with a terrible singing voice nevertheless finds fame. Very average. Would’ve been better if they’d started a little earlier in her life and if they hadn’t fictionalised Hugh Grant’s character in regards to relationships (the real man was Florence’s loyal partner).

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Happiness Is A Four-Letter Word (South Africa, 2016) – Lawyer Nandi is mostly happy with her fiancé, she’d just like a bit more say in where they go in life, but when her ex hires her to help his business she’s tempted; Zaza leads a wealthy life but her husband travels a lot and, missing him, she has an affair; artist Princess meets a photographer and while there’s an artistic culture clash, she believes it will work. This is an adaptation of the novel by Cynthia Jele. The acting and execution here is pretty great and it all comes together to make a really good film.

The Incredibles (USA, 2004) – With super heroes made illegal, a family full of powers try to live normal lives until the father can’t take it any more and starts moonlighting as a saviour. Very good.

The Incredibles 2 (USA, 2018) – Still ruled illegal, Helen/Mum/Elastigirl takes a secret hero job while Bob/Dad/Mr Incredible looks after the children until they are inevitably all required to be there. My favourite part of the first film was the subtext that the baby was going to be the most powerful of them all, and so I loved this film much more for the development of the idea.

Kites (India, 2010) – Told in a mix of Hindi, English, and Mexican Spanish: Jay, an American immigrant who has married many women so that they can get green cards and he can get money, finally gets to where he wants to be when the daughter of a wealthy casino owner falls in love with him. But the family have vast connections and criminal backgrounds and when Jay discovers that his future brother-in-law’s girlfriend is the one woman he liked – his last wife he’s not yet divorced – and that she is being abused, he is forced to go on the run with her. Strictly okay – the action is understandably unrealistic, but the ending is a big disappointment.

The Lake House (USA, 2006) – Upon moving out of her beloved home, Kate leaves a letter for the next resident; when Alex finds the letter and replies to her, the pair discover that their time line is reversed. The Hollywood adaptation of a South Korean film, the changes made – few – work well to make this its own product.

A Little Chaos (UK, 2014) – Half based on a true story, the architect of the Sun King’s gardens employs a budding female botanist who has visionary ideas. Nothing breathtaking but well worth seeing. Sadly, Kate Winslet’s character is completely fictional.

Love And Friendship (UK/Ireland, 2016) – This is actually an adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan rather than Love And Freindship; a less-well-off-than-before society lady moves from house to house, creating gossip, helping people in their infidelities, and causing misery for her daughter whom she regards as a problem. The acting and script are superb – they’re both very funny and show off well Austen’s cleverness. The rest of the production isn’t as good.

Minions (USA, 2016) – The story of the Despicable Me Minions from the prehistoric period to the present day. Not sure why this went so wrong but the villain really needed to bow out a lot sooner, and the jokes were far and few between.

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Namastey London (India, 2007) – Jazz, a young British Indian woman, agrees to date Indian men, but messes it up on purpose because she likes her British boss. After a few rounds of this, her parents take her to India to see if they can arrange a marriage because whilst the boss is wealthy, he’s already been married 3 times in 2 years and even his own parents are dissuading Jazz from marrying him. A potential match comes in the form of a family friend, who is willing to wait. Features every Bollywood stereotype to fun, 90s effect. It’s a good story and the acting is okay but whoever added the audio track did a terrible job.

New Year’s Eve (USA, 2011) – The story of several people’s lives as the clock ticks towards midnight. There’s nothing new here that other films of the same type haven’t already done, but it’s a fair choice if you want easy viewing.

One Small Hitch (USA, 2012) – His father in failing health, a man asks the sister of his best friend to pretend to be his fiancée, to make his family happier in the days ahead. This is an independent film and so aspects of it aren’t particularly polished, but the humour and acting are very good. (It’s available on Amazon.)

Paddington 2 (UK, 2017) – Paddington tries to catch a criminal but is arrested himself and the family have to clear his name. Not as good as the first, but still fun.

The Royal Hibicus Hotel (Nigeria, 2017) – Quitting her job as a chef in London, Ope returns to Nigeria to take on her parents’ hotel’s kitchen. What she doesn’t realise is that her father is planning to sell the hotel and the rather handsome man she bumped into at the airport is the prospective buyer. It’s pretty slow which means less character development, but the acting, and the plot, are good.

Step Up (USA, 2016) – A young man who helps to wreck a stage set-up in a prodigious arts school is sent back there for community service, and there he meets a girl who needs a rehearsal partner for her final project. The dancing isn’t as slick as in other dance films but there’s more to it than most films of this genre.

This Beautiful Fantastic (UK, 2016) – An aspiring writer with OCD who hates her garden is told she must tidy it up or leave her rented flat. Superb. A little bit of The Secret Garden, and a hint of Alan Bennett. I reviewed it here.

West Is West (UK, 2010) – George becomes concerned that youngest son, Sajid, is too British, so he takes him to Pakistan to learn about his heritage, moving back into the home of the first wife he left 30 years ago. There are fewer members of the original East Is East cast here, so it’s not the same, but it’s still very funny.

Given my lackluster book statistics, I won’t be placing such an emphasis on films this new year, but I am going to continue to look for those I’ve wanted to see for a long time as well as recent literary adaptations, repeating the idea if not the same thoughts as to quantity.

What films did you see over the last few months that you would recommend?

 
2019 Goals And The Previous Year

A photograph of the lake at Hever Castle, with row boats on the water

At the beginning of what is now the previous year, I set out one ‘main’ goal as well as a few other ideas that were more wishy-washy. The main goal was ‘read as much as I comfortably can’.

‘As much as’ is technically an easy goal, because there are a lot of notions that can be applied to it, but with what was a busy several months in 2018, I almost feel I acheived this goal far better by reading less but perhaps more widely and for enjoyment, than in other years when the same goal was reached but with a bigger number of books.

It’s incredibly true, somewhat unfortunately I feel, that I didn’t get to as many new books last year, particularly as I do now have a small stack of review copies that I didn’t cover in any way at all, but there was a benefit in terms of getting through books I already owned, getting to books or authors I’d wanted to read for a while, and reading more books than usual in my preferred genres.

This year, I’m setting the ‘comfortably’ goal again, just with a few more caveats:

  1. Keep reading favourite genres but also put a priority on review copies I let linger. At first I thought to name specific books here, but I think that’d be more hindrance than help.
  2. Keep reading classics, with an emphasis on re-starting and completing Vanity Fair. Having now read Mitchell, Gabaldon, and Dickens, I really shouldn’t be having so much trouble with the idea of just getting it done.
  3. Read a novel or two by Charlotte Mary Yonge.

The last goal is two-fold – for one, it will aid my classics statistic, but more importantly, it will complete the goal I set in 2017 to read the five literary Charlottes I had identified. In 2018 I read two Charlottes: Smith (Emmeline, 1788), and Lennox (The Female Quixote, 1752 – June, according to a contemporary literary journal I found during my research).

In terms of 2018’s statistics, I didn’t do as well as I hoped but did do better than usual. I would like to up my diversity, classics, and (hopefully) translation numbers. I’m still reading far more women than men, which I’d like to do something about. The big difference to my statistics compared to other years was my use of the library. Eight out of the 39 listed books were from the library and I came to really appreciate how borrowing enabled me to read new, and slightly older, popular, books.

As it currently stands, I’ve carried over Monica Ali’s Brick Lane from where I left it on page 81 at the start of November, together with the eternal Thackeray. I’ve made a firm decision not to return to Ali until I’ve completed one new entry to the list so that everything feels fresh; my current read is Susanna Kearsley’s Season Of Storms.

Do you have reading goals for this year?

 
2018 Year Of Reading Round Up

This year I read a total of 40 books, though I’m considering it 39 as one was a re-read of a novelette, and I’m not sure I read all of it. 39/40 isn’t a good number for me really, but the year saw a few changes, not least the addition of two rabbits to my home and time. (I’m happy to report that rabbit time is now at a more normal level.)

I had a lot less trouble choosing my 5 ‘best of’ books this year. Granted, I read fewer books so there was less competition, but I also just found it easier – I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues to get easier – the more one reads and all that.

As always, books that have been reviewed include a link in the text. From here until my personal favourites list, all books are rated as objectively as possible. If you want to skip the objective list, click here to view my personal favourites.

The Best Of The Best

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah – A Nigerian student leaves behind the love of her life to study in America, where she discovers that she is now ‘black’. This book is fairly complex, summing it up difficult, but it’s incredible, albeit that the heroine isn’t particularly great (the hero’s fine).
Claire Fuller: Swimming Lessons – Gil sees his long-lost wife outside the bookshop and injures himself trying to catch up with her; alongside the narrative of the family coming together to help him are the letters Ingrid wrote to Gil about the lie of their marriage, that she slips in between the pages of relevant novels. This is an utterly fantastic book – very well written, well plotted, and the literature aspect is incredibly compelling.
Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad – Two slaves run away from the plantation and board an underground train to a less southerly state where life is likely better. Fantastic.
Weike Wang: Chemistry – The unnamed narrator has been proposed to by her boyfriend twice and can’t find it within herself to say yes; there’s a lot of confusion – she’s struggling with her PhD and is unconsciously still suffering from parental neglect. A search for identity where the reader is more privy than the character, this is an excellent book full of vignettes, humour, and it boasts an interesting writing style.
Yaa Gyasi: Homegoing – As the slave trade continues in Ghana, one sister is ushered into marriage with a white man at the ‘castle’ whilst her unknown half-sister is taken into slavery to be shipped to America; we follow both women’s decedents as they tackle their pasts. A wonderfully written book that succeeds in writing short pieces about various characters without you ever feeling lost.

5

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4.5

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3.5

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2.5

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  • Ben Okri: The Famished Road
My Personal Favourites

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I finished the books I’d carried over from the previous December – the Northup and Sullivan. The only real target I’d set was to add to my diversity stats, and this I achieved. Otherwise, I read a fair number of classics and newer popular books – I’m counting Outlander somewhere in between those times – and finally read books by Ben Okri, Hiromi Kawakami, Colm Tóibín, and Sylvia Plath.

I also read from a slighter wider variety of sources, incorporating the library in a more concrete fashion than the drips and drabs of previous years. Approximately eight books were from the library, which is over double what I’d thought before looking at my reading notes.

Quotation Report

In The Age Of Innocence a man of great means but lack of general awareness as according to his station in the novel, laments the absence of independent thought of his beloved and looks forward to the opportunity he will have to educate her… to a certain point… she shouldn’t be too knowledgeable after all. Whilst in the same book, a few chapters later, the author of it all produces this fun line:

She sang, of course, “M’ama!” and not “he loves me,” since an unalterable and unquestioned law of the musical world required that the German text of French operas sung by Swedish artists should be translated into Italian for the clearer understanding of English-speaking audiences.

In Swimming Lessons, Claire Fuller posits that ‘writing does not exist unless there is someone to read it, and each reader will take something different from a novel, from a chapter, from a line. A book becomes a living thing only when it interacts with a reader’.

Hilarity and heartbreak in Chemistry:

At the gate, he goes through his repertoire of tricks – sit, lie down, crawl, play dead, roll over, high-five, sit, lie down, crawl, play dead, roll over, high-five. I ask him to please be dignified about this, but I have not yet taught him that command.

In The Female Quixote, Arabella’s cousin and suitor agrees to read her favourite books at his peril – it just so happens her favourites include the (still) longest fiction book published, all 13,000 pages of it.

A thought from The Nakano Thrift Shop worth mulling over:

When it comes to old things, whether buying or selling, why is it that people act so cautious?… With something brand new, they have no problem just ordering it from a catalogue, no matter how expensive.

This is another occasion wherein paraphrasing the quotation just won’t work. Here it is in full, from The Underground Railroad:

Yet when his classmates put their blades to a colored cadaver, they did more for the cause of colored advancement than the most high-minded abolitionist. In death the negro became a human being. Only then was he the white man’s equal.

And lastly, as I mentioned on Wednesday, if you travel to 1740s Scotland, as one does, remember that disinfectant doesn’t yet exist. Failure to remember may result in a humorous exchange not unlike that experienced by one Claire Randall, an Outlander, whose requests for various disinfectants resulted in blank stares until she asked for alcohol and received a jovial response.

In the next few days I’ll be setting out my reading goals for the year. I’m looking forward to more historical fantasy – I might currently be eyeing up the George R R Martin box set that’s on the desk beside me.

What was on your best of list for 2018?

 
December 2018 Reading Round Up

Christmas flew by so quickly that it’s all a bit confusing here at the moment. It was a lovely time in general, but there was a lot of coming and going. There were several families to consider, which I expect many of you can relate to!

The Book

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Diana Gabaldon: Outlander – A woman from 1940s London visits Scotland and is whisked two hundred years in the past, a time when the Highlands was a dangerous place to be, especially if you had an English accent. A historical fantasy romance, leaning heavily on the side of the third genre.

One book is a 100% improvement on November, and I’m considering it a fair feat in other ways: 1) Outlander is 851 pages, and thus equal to a couple of regular novels in length; 2) although I didn’t love it, it was the right choice for the time. Once finished I immediately started the TV adaptation, which I’m enjoying a lot more. I’ve not yet decided whether to continue reading the books or to just keep watching the adaptation – finding out about the way the second book begins has given me pause in terms of the text. (It’s a huge spoiler so I won’t include it here – it’s on the Wikipedia page for Dragonfly In Amber.

Quotation Report

If you travel to 1740s Scotland, as one does, remember that disinfectant doesn’t yet exist. Failure to remember may result in a humorous exchange not unlike that experienced by one Claire Randall, an Outlander, whose requests for various disinfectants resulted in blank stares until she asked for alcohol and received a jovial response.

At the time of writing this I’m not sure exactly what I’ll be reading next, but the Gabaldon has made me want to return to Du Maurier’s The House On The Strand. I may well proceed along the lines of the Long-Awaited Reads Month concept of a few years ago; the Du Maurier would meet the conditions.

I missed Christmas, but I wish you a very happy New Year! Let me know what you’re reading!

Off topic, for those asking about What’s In A Name: I’m unable to host the challenge this year and haven’t yet found someone to take it over. If you are interested please get in touch with me via email (on the Contact page). Hosting the challenge requires an initial block of time to set up one post, a second block of time to set up eight more, and all but one post require a linking system (Mr Linky is recommended and costs US $5 per year). You’ll then want a bit of time each week/fortnight to comment on posts and you may, every now and then, need to add people’s reviews to the lists yourself. The challenge sees up to 150 people signing up, so do bear that in mind if you pay for website hosting – you’ll want to either disable hotlinking or upload your challenge logo to a separate image site.

 
Alice In Wonderland: What Is The Appropriate Age?

One of the original illustrations for Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, showing Alice and the mouse swimming in the pool of tears

In a previous post on this book, I made a brief reference to having given a copy of Carroll’s book to my nephew. The decision over just when I should have presented the novel to him was fairly long in the making – not nearly as long as the waiting period for the time when he would be old enough for Narnia (I made that all by myself by having a copy ready when he was only one year old, and finally gave it to him aged eight) but enough that I spent a number of hours on it all told.

It was this decision and the contents of the book in general – obviously related – that made me question at what age it would be appropriate to give a child, any child, this book. And this is because I think it should be a little later than the age it might have been given in years gone by, namely the Victorian period during which it was written.

Whilst Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, the first of the two about Wonderland, does not state Alice’s age – though we can make an informed estimate due to John Tenniel’s illustrations – the sequel, Through The Looking-Glass, gives Alice’s age as 7. That book takes place in November, and the first takes place in May, which means we can say for certain that Alice is 6 and a half to 7 years of age over all.

The two books were published in 1865 and 1871, and a lot has changed since then. The literary context and wider culture was different enough that a book that sports quite a bit of violence was okay then but not now – in fact I think it’s interesting that the word that comes to mind now is indeed ‘violence’, as it’s obviously a strong word, and there has likely been a change over the years where that word would not have been used to describe the book1. The violence in the book, such as the well known ‘off with her head!’ which Disney managed to rework into something a lot more palatable despite not altering the phrase at all, or the chapter featuring the baby and ‘highly strung’ guardians, isn’t really the sort of thing we tend to present to children. As Gardner says in his lauded annotation of the novel:

The fact is that Carroll’s nonsense is not nearly as random and pointless as it seems to a modern American child [Gardner was writing with his compatriots in mind] who tries to read the Alice books. One says “tries” because the time is past when a child under fifteen, even in England, can read Alice with the same delight as gained from, say, The Wind in the Willows or The Wizard of Oz. Children today are bewildered and sometimes frightened by the nightmarish atmosphere of Alice’s dreams. (p. XIV)

And that was said in 1960.

We could also bring in the ‘madness’ (“We’re all mad here,” the Cheshire Cat says), which is sometimes seen along with the violence, but I’d say it’s fair to assume that aspect is part of the bizarre wonderland, and due to the way children tend to interpret things in similar terms, isn’t anywhere near as problematic2.

As Alice is seven years old in the book we can assume that this is roughly the age Carroll imagined his readers to be. Seven could perhaps be the ‘right’ age for a modern reader, but I think we can say that nowadays it would depend on the reader’s personality and upbringing a lot more than it would have in Victorian times given societal and cultural changes. In a world where capital punishment was still acceptable and known about by all, for example, a queen running about shouting for people’s heads to be removed wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary. On the first book’s release, reviewers disliked it, but the first book sold quickly and has never been out of print (Wikipedia, n.d.). It’s also remained with the same publishing house, Macmillan. In 1991, Donald Rackin said of the novel:

Victorian readers generally enjoyed the Alice books as light-hearted entertainment that omitted the stiff morals which other books for children frequently included. (p. 20)

As we know, books in the centuries prior had been mostly about religion and instruction, and although ‘fun’ books had been conceptualised by John Locke in the 1600s, it wasn’t until the mid 1700s that what we would now call children’s books were published3. By this measure, Carroll’s work would have been something to celebrate over and above the simple fact of the fantasy it offered.

But there is of course a whole world in between strict Victorian morals for children and the education we provide today. Alice doesn’t take away from Wonderland any lasting knowledge, meaning that her brief stays are purely adventures and she remains the mischievous – or, ‘bother’, as I said for lack of a better word a couple of years ago – which, in the context of Victorian opinion and years that are not so far in the past, isn’t as much as a selling point as it might have been years ago. There are lessons for the reader to learn, namely, in my opinion, that of being considerate, but they are for the reader, and affect Alice only for that moment. (See the chapters wherein Alice offends a mouse by talking about the loveliness of her cat.) These lessons are easy to understand and well-constructed, but the onus is entirely on the reader to see where Alice is wrong, and there is no provision of reward for the reader in terms of acknowledgement by Alice apart from that momentary self-awareness in one scene.

It’s interesting to note that the recent live-action adaptation, partly produced by Disney, sticks to the original idea of bizarre to the effect that it’s fairly scary. This is solidified by the UK rating of Parental Guidance (‘should not unsettle a child aged around eight or older’), a marked difference to the 1950s cartoon version which is a U (‘should be suitable for audiences aged four years and over’).

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that, in conjunction with the second novel, seven is a fair age, but there is enough to consider to make eight, or even nine, perhaps, a good option. Six and a half, whilst only months away from seven, might be pushing it.

What’s your opinion on the reading age, and have you had to decide about what age to read/give a child a book that due to its era poses potential questions?

Footnotes

1 In 1936, one Paul Schilder wrote an entire essay in the context of psychoanalyse and the potential detrimental affect on young readers. The essay is unfortunately behind a paywall so I couldn’t cite it here, but if you have a subscription to the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases, you’ll find it here.
2 This said, there are comments that can be made in regards to eating disorders, mental illnesses, and Carroll’s life and intentions that Molly Stroud (2018) has summed up well in her essay, Mental Illness in Alice in Wonderland.
3 I wrote about western children’s literature here.

References

Online

Wikipedia (n.d.) Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, Wikipedia, accessed 12th December 2018

Books

Gardner, Martin (ed.) The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition by Lewis Carroll (1999), W W Norton & Company, New York.
Rackin, Donald (1991) Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland And Through The Looking-Glass, Twayne Publishers, New York.

 

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