Something About Floating

Note: I promise I still have so many entries about my time in Europe last year (I think me writing about it might espouse the time actually spent there). But this week there's traveling for work and other things that keep me preoccupied with real life. Still, could not resist throwing in my two cents on this guy. Travel Tuesdays resume next week!

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I saw It this weekend. Initially, my plan was to tack on my thoughts during the weekly roundup: Hey, here are some interesting articles on It. Also I saw it last week and liked it. But then that alone started to get too long. So, screw it, here are my thoughts on the latest Stephen King adaptation.

First, a warning - I love Stephen King. I love the worlds he creates, the familiar characters and King-isms that imbue not only his works but a generation he's inspired. I cannot be objective about this film. I wrote a whole thing about it. Also, I was first introduced to Pennywise, long before picking up a King novel, via that TV miniseries from the '90's. I rented it with a friend when we were probably 10 or so, right before I started reading the books. The show itself was as daunting as the book - two cassettes! The only other movie I remember doing that was Titanic. And that's Titanic! The series terrified me. And somehow, in the thirty years since, the character of Pennywise has become ubiquitous. And while I think this latest iteration of the clown might even be better, as far as evil creatures go, I can't imagine anything replacing the iconography of Tim Curry all dressed up from the miniseries. I mean, do we have Bill Skarsgard smoking a cigarette under an umbrella? No, no we do not.

But onward! First, I enjoyed the film. It was a fun, and scary, 2 hours and 15 minutes. As an adaptation, it seemed to capture the spirit and themes of the novel without getting dragged down with the specifics. And look, we're beginning prime scary movie season. I just want to be scared. And that certainly happened. In a way, the film has two parts - the typical coming of age stuff that is more Stand By Me than The Stand. And then there's the scary stuff, big spectacle after big spectacle as the clown inhabits the things the children fear most. And I know I wanted to be scared, but I vastly preferred the former. The scenes between the kids, just being kids, are so excellent. There are some complaints going around the internet that this is a piggyback, cash grab off the success of Stranger Things. Honestly, okay, fine. Netflix, give me ten episodes of these kids running around Derry, getting in rock fights with bullies and jumping into the quarry. So many scenes were just perfect, like the boys' total awe at Bev in her underwear after the swim, the quick rally around Ben once they discover him. I wanted so much more of that, just them embracing that magical time in the lives of children that inhabits so many pieces of culture, especially from Stephen King himself. And while the scenes and interactions between them were excellent, the kids themselves shined. Sure, there were tropes and the movie didn't have time to get much beyond single traits (there's the black homeschooled kid, the one who stutters and has a dead brother, the Jewish kid not really into it, the hypochondriac, etc.). But even with that, this may be the best acting and chemistry I've seen among a group of child actors in a long time. Even Stranger Things didn't have it this good. For actors, I really appreciated the kid who played Richie, the one holdover from Stranger Things. It will be interesting to see where his career goes from this. But my favorites were Eddie and Bev. Eddie's humor and earnestness, his need for affection and acceptance from his friends, plus occasionally going toe to toe with Richie for bawdy humor, he was continually a welcome surprise. Bev had this cool exterior, all winks and New Kids on the Block references. And yet she was so vulnerable and so ready to help anyone else who might need her. In general, compared to the child actors from the TV miniseries, the teens were a dramatic improvement, but maybe none more so than the actress who played Bev. Again, can't wait to see what she, or her cast-mates, do next.

And then there's the other half, the scary part. And sure, it was really scary. The clown was excellent. While I have nothing but affection for Tim Curry, this version, in part due to technology and budget, was much more magical, much scarier. It was difficult to tell what was Bill Skarsgard and what was CGI. But Pennywise should be this magical, larger than life thing. I mean, he can turn into a spider whenever he wants! As for the scares themselves, there were some impressive ones. The painting coming to life, the awesome scene in the garage where Pennywise comes out of the screen. All terrifying. I jumped, I gave sharp intakes of breath. But still, when this movie comes out and I watch it again on HBO Go or Amazon in a few months, I won't be looking forward to the screams but just the kids being kids, throwing rocks and reading about Derry.

And now all the stuff that really bothered me. But I mostly liked it, promise.

First up, my heart for a gray character. Everyone in this show is either really bad or really good. That's it. There's one scene where the gang is riding the bike and they hear the bully beating someone up behind some trees. Without hesitation, they drop their bikes and run to help. Could we at least have a moment's doubt? Or have Eddie take off his fanny pack so it's protected? Something to show these guys are anything but good. I know, I know, later they have doubts about the mission, but no one guys so far as to actually not participate. But there's all the other characters. Eddie's Mom, Bev's Dad, and Henry's Dad, all just complete and total assholes whose kids would probably be better off raised by the direwolves from Game of Thrones. The pharmacist can't be a complex guy who wants the best for Eddie but also has to follow HIPAA. Nope, just your run of the mill pervert. The most galling, though, might be the bullies. There are two sets of bullies - the girl bullies and the boy bullies, the latter much more prevalent. And they beat up, to extremely disturbing degrees, our heroes. Why? I don't know. The one guy's dad is mean to him and that's really all we get. The Stand, a literal battle between good and evil, had more moral ambiguity.

And now I have the nittiest of nits to pick - the score. I feel like great movie scores are usually unseen. They assist the director in what he's trying to achieve without getting in the way. The score here bangs you over the head - you're supposed to be charmed by Derry, now you're supposed to be emotional over the dead kids. And now you need to be scared! BE SCARED! INCEPTION NOISES, INCEPTION NOISES. That was the score, basically. Watching it on mute with subtitles might have been more successful.

Finally, I saw this as someone who has read the book, seen the miniseries, and read most of the other books that take place in the same world. I know the history of Derry better than I know the history of my own hometown. So I can't answer this honestly, but did they explain everything well enough? With horror, I think you can go one of two ways - put out some horrible evil and just leave it. It's evil, who knows. Or you can try to explain it away. In The Descent, for example, there are creatures. They want to eat you. The end. Even looking at Stephen King, the salesman who shows up in Needful Things is clearly very evil and very old, but the book doesn't give you his backstory. Or there's something like Nightmare on Elm Street that gets plenty of backstory. It, in the novel, gets plenty of backstory. There isn't a definitive description of where the creature came from but you get an idea of how long it's been around and what it's done, how the creature influences the town and impacts everyone living there. This seems glossed over in the film. I kind of wish they had either gone all in or not at all, with Mike and Ben's attempts at explanations seeming half-hearted. Maybe this is something that will be explored more in the next film.

Which brings me to my final concern - did they make a huge mistake in splitting the film apart like they did? The book and original TV series constantly go back and forth, from present day to childhood (though I do appreciate moving the action up twenty years; a little bit of Amblin for everyone), as the adults rediscover the memories they repressed as kids. And there was something really effective in that. One concern I had while watching the movie was a certain sense of 'and then this happened.' Each child gets their run in with It, seemingly at random and without connection to the larger plot. This isn't an issue in the book, as each character is introduced as an adult and remembers their encounters with Pennywise. So much of the greatness of Stephen King books comes from what he gets right about people, not the horror. And in It, he effortlessly demonstrates the power and strength in childhood, how kids can do things grownups could never imagine. And I worry that the second part of the film is going to miss that, as it's just a bunch of adults, as we struggle to remember the characters from a film that came out two years ago, that got us there. Or will the second part of the film be a mess of new material and recaps of the first film?

And here is the one thing I think the TV mini series may have gotten right - splitting it (because you do have to split It into two movies - thanks every YA franchise of the past seven years preparing us for that) when the adults return to Derry. Or does that make it too incomplete a story on its own, too much a setup for the next film? Outside of that "Chapter One" business, this latest movie could probably stand on its own, in case the studio decides not to proceed with another film (though given the box office, there's probably gonna be an other film, maybe even more than one). And the TV mini series definitely is a two-parter. But everything else is terrible. First, the actors. Neither the adults or the kids are particularly great. There is one seen between child Eddie and child Bill that was particularly cringe-worthy. I could almost imagine some PA off camera, mouthing the words, or a director instructing the kids how to move their faces to convey an emotion. There was no charm to the TV series. It felt like a chore, watching it. Where the most recent movie had its own wings, feeling like a true adaptation, the TV series feels like a copy of a copy. It reminded me a lot of the first two entries into the Harry Potter series, where the child actors aren't that confident or good yet and the director feels obligated to hit all the points from the novel, but forgets the heart and spirit that makes the books so enjoyable and important in the first place. Recommendation - don't watch the TV series. If you really can't wait for the next movie, check out the Wikipedia to see what happens to everyone or just read the goddamn book. Personally, I'm grateful to have a very busy week ahead of me and two book clubs already or I would be reading the thing for the second time right now.

And I am looking forward to the next film, my above-mentioned reservations notwithstanding. Until then, Vulture takes a look at who might play who. There seems to be a general consensus that Amy Adams or Jessica Chastain should play Bev. Personally, I'm fine with either, though I am concerned about the very different age ranges of the actors being considered. I can only suspend my belief so far and it's totally taken up by an evil clown for this series.

But maybe don't listen to me because It made shit ton of money this weekend, especially impressive given its R-rating, an overall crappy box office summer, and hurricanes pretty much everywhere. Side note - Reese's new movie didn't do that well. I'm disappointed - it looks cute, reviews were good, I like Reese, and we don't have many movies like that. But also I only had time and money for one movie this weekend and of the two, there was no question which one I was going to see. As for It, my personal perspective is just, it's been awhile since there's been an adult movie to really see in the theaters. Outside of comic book movies, what was there to be excited about this summer? And of course, it's a known property with a lot of affection. But really, at a time when this country seems more divided than it has been since the Civil War, when hurricanes are destroying lives and islands and reigniting the climate change debate in ugly ways, we really just needed to come together over a clown murdering kids.

But it's only getting better from here. The film mother! had a trailer before my screening of It (as did Disaster Artist, which looks amazing and may finally make me watch The Room) and I don't know if I've ever seen a trailer as aggressive. It promised me I would never forget where I was when I saw the film for the first time and suggested I pick up my tickets after watching It at the box office. I could see it in the same theater! It seemed a little desperate but guys, I'm already going to see it, chill. And then it's Oscar season and also Halloween season, as I try to stuff in as many scary films as I can. Gotta make up for all those times I didn't go to the theater this summer.

Finally, as long as my list of complaints were, I really had fun with this movie. It was the right amount of nostalgia and pulpy terror and just kids hanging out during the summer. But mostly, it removed that bad taste from The Dark Tower. Thanks for giving the King fans a movie we can celebrate.

I'm So Much Happier Now That I'm Dead

In January 2014, I took a girls' weekend trip to Minneapolis for a surprise baby shower. It was the first pregnancy in our friend group and it was very exciting and important. Caveat: a weekend in Minneapolis meant two ten-hour trips within three days. Seriously. Three of us took Friday off, meeting at a friend's house Thursday night and driving a chunk of the way, then getting in the rest Friday before dinner. After a lovely weekend, we all bundled up and did the reverse trip on Sunday. Twenty hours in a car? That needs an audio book.

I went with Gone Girl. I knew a little bit about the book and the big twist. It had been hinted at and talked about for months so one afternoon I caved, inhaling the Wikipedia page and forgetting everything except the fact that she orchestrated the whole thing to frame her husband. But the three of us who were carpooling from Indiana had widely varying book interests and this seemed like a safe bet. Since then, I've read the book three times (it's one of my go to books on Kindle, always downloaded on my phone or tablet, for those moments when you're between books but need something to read at a solo dinner or during a necessary wine and bath and book night), seen the movie countless times (it's surprisingly rewatchable), and listened to the audio book twice, once on the Minneapolis trip and again when my mother and I drove out to Rhode Island a few months ago. There's something about the book that just lends itself to revisiting. And the audio book, I have to say, is excellent. There are two narrators, one for Amy and one for Nick, and they do a great job of it. And that's my history with Gone Girl. I recently joined a meetup group and the first event of interest was a book club on the novel. I've been desperately trying to find a good book club here and was willing to retread on a well-read and well-worn novel just to enjoy it. But reading for a book club made me really analyze the text in a way the generic 'it's a good book, I liked it' take doesn't require. So here are my serious Thoughts and Opinions on Gone Girl, the novel, with occasional film references.

My copy of the book on the beach last week. This copy is almost on its last legs. It's been partially chewed by a rabbit and suffered various drips and drops of many baths. This weekend, it also endured a somewhat serious water bottle spill that may have fully destroyed the spine. I'm going to hang on to it through the book club, then I may have to invest in a new one. Soldier on.

My copy of the book on the beach last week. This copy is almost on its last legs. It's been partially chewed by a rabbit and suffered various drips and drops of many baths. This weekend, it also endured a somewhat serious water bottle spill that may have fully destroyed the spine. I'm going to hang on to it through the book club, then I may have to invest in a new one. Soldier on.

This isn't a discussion on the plot. If you are interested in that, go read the Wikipedia, see the movie, read the damn book already, etc.

When I think of the novel, there are a few themes I keep coming back to that I want to explore here - various forms of role playing, our public personas, what love and marriage should be. And then there are some hodgepodge thoughts and film comparisons. I'm sure these thoughts have been assessed before in some article - the book hit peak popularity four years ago, after all. But I have a book club to prepare and a blog to fill. Book club people, please like me and let's have an interesting discussion.

Here we go!

I'm going to start off with something that really struck me with the book, that the film  attempts but doesn't explore to the extent the original text does - the timing. You are firmly in the recent recession. There's the sudden but not surprising loss of Nick and Amy's jobs as free online content takes over real writers. Nick is especially poetic, espousing how New Yorkers used to be able to making a living as a writer, how there used to be real magazines. How he entered a career that wouldn't exist in eleven years. Coal miners - please get to the place Nick is before you destroy the planet, thanks! My favorite bit during Nick's various inner monologues - his imagery of the Internet, starting out as a pet on a leash in the publishing world. Feed it some kibble, it definitely won't destroy you in your sleep. Ha! But it's not just the job loss. There's also the house itself - Nick and Amy rent a McMansion in his home town, new new new (do I have to remove my soul to enter?) and never inhabited, surrounded by mostly empty houses, built during much sunnier and hopeful times. The big mall, once employing 4000 people, now sits empty and abandoned, nothing to be done about it. It reminds me of all the photo essays we've seen the past few years, empty malls and big box stores, slowly but steadily being taken over by nature, abandoned by the economy or the new Super Wal-Mart down the road. There's the homeless Blue Book Boys and the drug epidemic. All so timely! This is a book that will probably be around for awhile, read by teenagers and college women looking for a break from all that Jane Austen years from now. But the way Gillian Flynn paints the novel, it very clearly takes place in a specific date and time.

I enjoy the book, but one semi-serious quibble: stop shitting all over the Midwest. Flynn is from my old neighbor, Missouri, and spent some time in NYC before settling in Chicago. And I totally get it! Whenever I'm regularly disgusted by something the current administration does or the NRA or education  numbers, I'm reminded, hey, that's where I came from! But also, it's not that bad. You need to chill on the hate, Flynn. Assholes and saints come from everywhere. I'm also a big proponent of the theory that the divide in the country isn't coast/flyover but rather rural/urban. All that being said, I noticed her flyover rancor much more this time and am preparing myself to defend my place of origin at the Book Club. Hey, the Midwest isn't so bad! Also, New England, please welcome me with open arms. For example, Amy bemoans the prevalence of Sam's Club and Costco (though she is pretty accurate - in Indiana, everyone had a membership to one and it did tend to split right along party lines). She can't find a single Midwesterner who likes New York City - either they've visited and decided it 'wasn't for them'  or they've never been and are shocked someone is really from there. Hey! This Midwesterner loves NYC! I'm faux outraged. At one point, Rand goes out of his way to say how ugly Nick's home town is. Sure, big box stores and empty malls aren't pretty, but antique barns and covered bridges and miles and miles of corn are out there, Rand. At one point, Nick says he can't figure Amy out, can't untangle her with his clumsy, bumbling country fingers. This one I'll allow because it's more rural vs urban. And there's what the real 'holy shit, is this a different country' business lies. End my defense of the Midwest rant.

Okay one more semi-serious quibble - the timeline. It's tough to follow, to be honest. Even though every chapter is clearly marked 'xx days gone' or 'xxx days since the return.' And maybe this is intentional, like Nick and Amy are speeding trains colliding. But it was jarring and somewhat confusing. Nick's first few days following her disappearance take literally hundreds of pages, while in that same amount of space Amy's diary describes years. Then she's at the Ozarks only ten days and yet that gets way more coverage than her time at Desi's lake house - which was more than thirty days. And then at some point the Nick and Amy timeline's collide and suddenly the time period that once took us a hundred pages now takes us a couple of chapters. It's jarring and maybe that's the intention. But it was enough I took note and had to write out the numbers.

That's it with the hodgepodge, on to the meat of the thing. One question that keeps popping up: what's marriage for? Any relationship but especially a marriage. At the beginning of the diary entries, Amy talks about being single and enjoying it, even as Amazing Fucking Amy gets fucking married. She looks at all her friends who settled. But then there he is, the rest of her life and suddenly marriage doesn't seem so bad. The book seems to support this idea of maybe not soul mates, but at least people who are arranged just so, so that one person's barbs fits in the other person's holes. Settling doesn't work. It's the taunt that ultimately gets Nick to really stay with Amy, as he imagines life with some boring girl next door, how he'll become his angry dad, thinking - but did you murder for me? Could you do any of the things Amy did? Would you care enough? Be clever enough? Nick even admits at one point he prefers the idea of Andie - the real thing can fall short. And there are the dancing monkeys, a brilliant and scathing retort to those women who beg and implore and nag for their men to continually demonstrate their love. But then Amy, always, turns it into a competition. If he doesn't take out the trash, you lose! If he gets away with fucking the cunt, you lose! And what's the point of being together if you're not the happiest? A central question for Nick, as he chooses between Amy and Andie (did he ever really have a choice?): should your wife/lover/spouse enable you to be who you are or make you be better? Amy: should love come with conditions? Is unconditional love complete and total bullshit? Because Amy totally elevated Nick. She made him above average. In her own words - the bitch who makes him better. And isn't that the point? And boy does it work, as he strives to be the perfect husband. Because if he's anything less, she'll kill him. Or put him in jail. Or leave him and plot some grand plan that puts him in a room with his kid once a week with a state-appointed therapist and guardian. Because only Nick can really be the husband Amy thinks she deserves and vice versa. Their barbs and holes fit just perfectly. They make each other better and isn't that the point of the whole thing.

And then we get to the role playing aspect of the novel, as Amy writes her own version of the events in the novel's final chapters. Nick won't totally acquiesce into the perfect husband? He's still just going through the motions? That's cool, she's got a novel. She'll write the perfect version of Nick, will him into exist. Because what's the difference? Throughout the novel, there's a desire to have the perfect image, whether it's to the public in the novel or to the reader herself/himself. The public image is of serious concern in the book. I'm not sure who Nick is talking to, but when Andie is finally introduced, after several references to a mysterious disposable phone, he says: here is the part where you stop liking me and I become just another lying, cheating bastard, because I have a mistress. It's not just a reveal of this other potential motive, this other imperfection in Nick's life. It's a direct address to the reader and the reader's perception of Nick. Back in the public opinion of the Gone Girl world, Ellen Abbott is introduced, in her most Nancy-Grace-est. She's essential to Amy's plot because if it's not picked up by the national news, what's the point? She fakes a pregnancy not to help her case or punish Nick and her parents but because everyone loves a pregnant woman. Throughout the novel, Nick's constant need to put a good face on things gets him in trouble - lies about who wanted kids and who didn't, his 'don't punch me' smile at the wrong times. And then Amy makes her first real appearance and her hope is that the reader likes Diary Amy, because she was meant to be liked. 135 entries, all written to curry favor with the police, the public, the reader of the book. As Tanner gears up for trial, it's entirely based on the public's opinion of Nick, which isn't great. It's public opinion, based on sound bites and 24/7 news coverage. Nick focuses on Hugh Grant and his hooker, because that turned out so well. His interview is play tested to death, only for Sharon to show up with pins on her dress. Ugliness to make the front look prettier. Later, when she reunites with Desi, Amy only allows herself to cry for two minutes. Anything else and she starts to get ugly. Her moment of true emotion, minimized to paint the right picture. Later, Desi gives her a sweater and turns up the AC and turns on the fireplace, because his mental image of them is perennially in fall. When Nick tries to convince Amy to divorce him, he doesn't appeal to their relationship or lack of love but the story it offers - Amazing Amy, leaves cheating scumbag. Nick and Go don't move forward with their version of the truth because all of them - Tommy, Hilary, Nick - are all less credible than Amy. It's all about who will believe whom. Before Nick's book is squashed, he thinks about selling some fucking tshirts - Team Nick versus Team Amy, Amazing versus Psycho Bitch. The public's perception, the story they tell, that's what matters in the end, that's how Amy figures out who wins.

Meanwhile, in another public display discussion, following her grand return, Nick and Amy pretend to be two people in love. And what's the difference? Their inner turmoil or everyone's take on the couple? Nick, while in his head saying 'come home bitch so I can kill you' pretends to be exactly the husband Amy wants, the husband that gets her to kill Desi and return to him. She falls in love with the version of him that he presents, a reverse of Nick in Act One, as he falls in love with the Amy she creates in her letters to him (you are WITTY and WISE and BRILLIANT). Ultimately, everyone is playing a role. First, Amy pretends to be the wife Nick wants, making him swoon with just the right words. And then he returns the favor. They know each other so well and finally have the impetus to once again put in the effort. As Nick repeatedly says, we've already experienced it all via television or movies or Youtube. Loved one sick and dying? Grey's Anatomy will give you just the right response. Want to see Mount Rushmore? Don't bother. There's a video online that has better angles, lighting, and musical cues to get your emotions manipulated. Nothing is new. When Nick is first interrogated by the police, it seems like a TV show, down to how Gilpin sits. What's real and what's just copying what you saw last night on TBS? Everyone has a part to play, everyone is reading from the same script, nothing is new any more. Nick doesn't behave like the husband is supposed to so he's a suspect. So he scripts his interview with Sharon. Just trying to say the right things, in the right way. Amy herself is always playing a role. Desi's damsel in distress, down to hair color and weight. Nick's battered and put upon wife. And then there's Amy piece de reistance, her Cool Girl rant, which is cruelly undervalued in the film. She beautifully lays out the pathetic Cool Girl - pathetic in that men believe this woman exists and women are willing to be her, not for themselves but for men. And suddenly it all fits into place. Seriously, thanks for Cool Girl, Flynn. Maybe it existed before you, like Darfur references and dead hobo jokes, but thanks for bringing into our vernacular. We needed it.

The plot of the book is maybe perfect. Nick's innocence in the first part of the book is never guaranteed. I wish I could read the book without knowing the twists and turns. He has his dad's rage, at one point assuring the reader that he really can't handle tearful women and oh boy, could Amy confirm THAT. He's way too comfortable with the phrase "fuck you, Amy." He's angry and spending money after his layoff - that shit is bespoke. He turns her into a nag, which she really doesn't want to be (don't worry Diary Amy, we like you). She becomes a problem to him, something that needs to be taken care, that interferes. At least that's how the diary and occasionally Nick present her. Hey, it's all about public perception. There are several iterations of "Nick can't just divorce her." She gets old and loses her money. At one point, Nick is disappointed he didn't get 'dumb cops.' The reader has to ask - why hope for dumb cops? What are you trying to hide? There's the facts - the crime scene is funny, so much blood! But there's also just Nick acting like an idiot, not acting like an upset husband should. He rapes her and beats her and becomes a domestic abuser so easily, almost as easily as he became a cheater after a not so great round with Andie. Amy even tricks Go into thinking he did it! And in Nick's own words - lately she was enough to hurt, a razor-wire knot his bumbling country fingers couldn't handle. And if that's not enough to keep the reading turning the page to figure out what the hell is going on, who can really be trusted, Flynn continually puts the legitimacy of our narrators in question.

Throughout the first chunk of the book, before the big reveal, there are discrepancies between the diary and Nick and other hints at what's to come. Nick mentions Amy crying about pregnancy, which surprises him since she didn't want kids, pages after a diary entry stating the opposite. The New York bed bothers me - in the first chapter, Nick mentions lying in their New York bed. Later, Amy insists they leave it in New York for one of his friends. I can't imagine this is an accident - Flynn does this on purpose. Which is true? At one point in her diary, Amy explicitly mentions that Nick hates an Amy that doesn't exist. I have to imagine this is a scapegoat to the reader (of the book or her diary) to account for any discrepancies. Later, Nick mentions, in passing, taking care of his mom, only pages after Amy insisted he was too busy having fun and Amy did all the lifting for Mama Mo. When he visits Desi, he mentions his nicest suit costs a couple hundred bucks, a far cry from the bespoke designer duds Amy mentions in a New York entry. The first time through, these discrepancies might just confuse the reader or make Nick look guiltier (my heart to read this afresh) but going through this time, it just pings out as well-done writing, little clues all over the place, like Scorsese's visual winks in Shutter Island. Some other bits I loved - in the first or second chapter, Nick mentions Go stealing from the tip jar. Later, we learn this is one of the many sources of the cash that Amy has been stock piling. A lovely and telling detail - Amy really did know Nick. And his relationship with his sister. She eventually manipulates him through three simple letters, knowing just what to say to get him to abandon Andie. And he in turn knows just what to say to get her to literally murder a person to make her way back to him. When Nick visits Desi, he doesn't understand the suicide comments and questions to Rand's behavior, a hint at Amy's lies and duplicity. While gearing up towards the big reveal at the woodshed, Nick and Boney briefly discuss a runaway wife scenario. Which she quickly dismisses for a litany of reasons, all items Amy will discuss in a few pages as part of her big list. 

And one more thought about the book: let's talk about Amy. Nick, sure, fine, whatever. But Amy! She's worthy of a goddamn book. We finally meet the real Amy after pages and chapters of bullshit Diary Amy. And she is totally right - the real Amy is so much more complex and interesting! She mentions the Hopes and it's a perfect encapsulation of Amy - also a throwback to a Nick comment - no he didn't know the story of her name. Everything is about winning and losing to Amy. No, really, everything. Getting Ellen Abbott's attention is a competition. She eventually shows the real Amy to Nick and is so pissed that he prefers the former (here is where we note the irony - she also fully prefers the Nick he was pretending to be for her). And that's when the hate starts. That is when she decides to be Dead Girl, because she's always in vogue, Cool Girl be damned. Or Gone Girl. And boy does she know Nick. At one point she makes a joke, that some criticism is derivative. And chimes in, mentally, Nick would say even to criticize as derivative is derivative. Which he did literally pages before. They might be a version of twisted soul mates. And Flynn quickly introduces us to the real Amy. When she's in the Ozarks, she's perturbed the cops aren't getting there sooner. The real Amy is always waiting on dumb people to catch up. Not getting Cokes for Stucks. Also super helpful: the Massachusetts truck driver story. She's Old Testament God vengeful. Later, she states that she and Nick will have a happy marriage, even if it kills HIM. She gets the last word of the novel, and, hey, she's earned it.

Side note: one thing that concerns me, in addition to the New York bed business, why did she tie her disposable cell phone to the security office? I could see wanting to know when Nick had made it that far. But was it worth it to create any tie to Amy Dunne and the phone? I'm thinking no.

Finally, let's talk about the movie. First, some caveats. I love David Fincher. The Leftovers and the latest round of Fargo have made me incapable of being critical of Carrie Coon. And I like the film! I really, really do. In 2014, I was home the weekend it debuted. Friday night, I drove with my cousins, aunts, moms, sisters, to see it in the nearby town, half an hour away. I did a family weekend. Then, Sunday, when I was back in my city, I saw it again. I, like, really liked the movie. That being said, here are my concerns. First and foremost, Ben Affleck is seriously miscast. Not that he isn't fine in the role.  I'm generally meh on Affleck but he's really fine here. But the description in the book is so jarring. He's supposed to be younger than Amy and have an 80's villain, punchable face. And I'm not feeling it. There are a few changes - no Hannibal, fewer flashbacks. But other parts are word for word. Maybe the stuff Flynn, who wrote the screenplay, was really proud of? For me, besides Affleck, the two biggest changes are Amy's transition and Tanner Bolt. In the book, I feel like her transition from happy wife to sad wife to wife plotting serious revenge is more understood. You, as the reader, are more sympathetic (not that she's not totally crazy in both iterations) to her plight and understand better how she got to where she did. In the film, there seems to be more leaps, making her sympathetic and taking away some of her complexity and agency. In general the film focuses more on Nick than Amy. Guys, it's not Gone Guy. Finally, Tanner Bolt. I don't care how many times he's referred to as a white/orange guy, I'm going to imagine Tyler Perry. I don't particularly like Perry (and as a white woman, I don't think I'm his demographic) and yet there's something about his Tanner Bolt, I can never imagine another. Also, how Nick approaches Tanner and how Tanner comes on board are very different. There's no Hilary Handy, etc.

But hey, you are two fucked up people. And I specialize in fucked up people.

Be Our Guest

So, I finally saw a movie opening weekend! And I have so many thoughts!

This Sunday, with a new friend, I saw my first movie in my new home. And of course it's Beauty and the Beast. It's been about twenty-four hours since the credits rolled so I'm ready to assess.

First, I love the original animated film and there is no way I can be impartial here. Second, hell is other people. This is the first time in maybe years that I've been in a super-crowded theater opening weekend. The place was packed. I don't know if it's because there were a lot of bored parents in the audience or people in Rhode Island do not know basic movie-going etiquette or if theater manners are just really that bad everywhere, but the crowd was terrible. At least a dozen people were constantly on their phones. These people were also incapable of dimming their phones. What were they doing? Okay, answering ASAP text messages, sure. But taking selfies and playing games and browsing Facebook? Come on! You paid so much money for this! So, trying to ignore that cunt a row over who decided the middle of the ballroom scene was the best time to pop out her phone and check the 'People You May Know' section of FB (this literally happened) as I write this.

Let's get the basics out of the way: Cinderella is a better movie than Beauty and the Beast (the latest iteration of live ones, anyway). Cinderella embraced the heart and themes of the original but not the imagery. It had the bravery to be its own thing, fancy blue dress aside. Beauty and the Beast went a very different direction, embracing its own iconography. Every scene was an homage or recreation of the animated classic. This made any deviations from the original jarring (e.g., new verses in "Gaston") while also tying the film down to the limitations of the original.

But I really did like this movie.

Would BatB have been more successful if it had eschewed the songs, like the aforementioned film did? Eh, maybe, but I enjoyed the songs. That being said, the pains they took to recreate the original musical bits was obvious. Most galling were "Belle" and "Be Our Guest." Guys, you have real people and it's twenty years later. Think outside the box! There don't have to be fireworks and awkward dancing silverware!

Most of the new songs were unnecessary filler, though the Beat's solo after Belle returns to her father was honestly a revelation for me, someone who has seen the original animated version a dozen times. I always thought everyone understood Belle would be going to see her dad, make sure he was okay, then return to her new BF. Maybe I just knew the ending too well to see anything else? But this version, especially his song, really made me understand the sacrifice the Beast is making by letting her return to Maurice. It was an effective, lovely song and nice to see the movie do something new. That being said, I've never seen the stage production, so maybe they pulled it from there. Whatever works!

That's the music. What about the changes to the plot? First, that enchanted map thing was just dumb and unnecessary. No offense to the talented people in the props department. I just know that the scene where they go to Paris will be the one I skip when I have it on Blu Ray. Side note: don't got to Paris and rub it in that most of the cast randomly has a British accent instead of French. And while no one cares about the two leads' parents (except to answer those pesky Beast age questions), I did appreciate Mrs. Potts' explanation of how the people of the castle were complicit, allowing the abuse of this little, innocent boy so they could keep having fun. While making the whole curse more understandable, this story also went a long way to humanizing the Beast and transitioning to the next section of the film where the two fall in love.

Other changes I did not love - that time Gaston basically leaves Maurice to die. How was that going to get him Belle? Making him a war hero though, good call. Other random thoughts - the wolves were really inconsistent on who they wanted to attack and when. Be evil or note, wolves! Also, were they part of the curse? Or was the castle just in a really shitty part of town? Similarly, how did Maurice get back to the village after Belle takes his place? In the animated version, there's a special magical carriage that whisks him away but the film makes no mention, yet Phillipe is available for Belle later, when she tries to escape. Did he walk and leave his horse for his daughter's escape? Or is the film assuming we've also seen that magic carriage in the original? I think if I didn't know the original, I might not have minded, but I kept waiting for that scene from the animated version. Also, there seems to be more magic in general. See above comments about the map. And what was that with the yellow dress and sparkly bedroom hanging things? Another random complaint - Belle was way too excited and directional when she went to the West Wing. Slow down, explore, maybe try to be quiet. And finally, the CGI. I read a review ahead of the viewing that basically said, wow, that CGI was bad and distracting. And you know what, I didn't mind it. It never stuck out as especially terrible. It never distracted me from the story itself. I do wonder what the Beast would have looked like if the creators weren't so limited by the cartoon version of the Beast. But hey, I'll take it. 

Overall, I was surprised by how quickly everything happens. Belle and Beast basically fall in love in one song. While the library scene lost some of its romantic grandeur with this film's plotting, I like the character changes in the Beast in this scene. Instead of an illiterate savage (Belle teaches him to read in a deleted scene of the animated version), he's this well-bred snob, which makes way more sense; he was a prince, after all. I liked seeing him quote Shakespeare and make jokes in the library. And Belle's pure glee at the library was infectious. Some of it is in Greek!

I also loved the ending, not-so-gay controversy and momentary nod to bestiality aside. I thought it was very smart to have the forgetting part of the spell and have loved ones reunite afterwards. In addition to answering very serious questions about the basics of the curse, it also gave more weight to the curse and the struggles of everyone in the castle. The ending dance was just so romantic and lovely and I would absolutely watch a sequel. Disney, you've got me.

Finally, let's chat about the cast.

Emma Watson as Belle. She really looked like Belle but will always be Hermione to me. She seemed young next to Stephens, especially when he was in human form. Maybe in part because of that, she was most effective with the Beast himself, in buffalo form. I especially was fond of the quiet moment outdoors, when they reflect on being lonely. Her singing was fine but she's certainly no Audra McDonald.

Dan Stevens as Beast. Okay, A plus. I think reviews have been mixed but I really enjoyed him. I thought he was great as the Beast, bringing a gentleness and pride to him, growl auto-tuning aside. And when he becomes human? I don't think there's anyone who fit the Jesus character at the end of the animated film better. Which seems to be what the filmmakers were going with. Good job, basically.

Luke Evans as Gaston. Sure! His singing and swagger were good but he definitely had this vulnerability masked by false bravado that fit the character. Plus he looked just like him, which was obviously very important to the casting folks.

Josh Gad as LaFou. Ah, the gay controversy that wasn't. I think he's really gifted musically and was especially effective in "Gaston" and during the big fight at the castle.  I did appreciate he was given a character arc. Good job, LaFou! Anyone from the Book of Mormon OBC is going to get a pass from me.

Maurice. Kevin Kline should be in more things, in general, though the changes to his character were the least interesting.

The Objects. I liked the look of them and really enjoyed how they become less human over time. It raised the stakes of the curse, made it more than just getting stuck in this castle forever. How about stuck and inanimate! As for the actors, Ewan McGregor was fine as the candlestick but, while watching it, I totally forgot who was voicing him, and I spent most of the time trying to figure out who it was. Cogsworth, played by Ian McKellen, was fantastic, as clock or human. The friendship between those two guys might be one of the better ones in the Disney Renaissance phase. Let's see, it was nice to see the feather duster have more to do. Mrs. Potts and Stanley Tucci were excellent, as expected. And Audra McDonald was perfection and didn't have enough to do. However, the wardrobe mouth was disturbing. Right? I get they wanted it to look like a stage but instead it just looked... cavernous.

Overall, the film wasn't perfect and maybe you need the rose-colored lenses of nostalgia to have a fun time at the theater. It will be interesting to see the animated version after this. Maybe it's just a blind cash grab from Disney. But you know what, to have fun and forget about the outside world for two hours? Here, take my money.

I can't wait to see it again, preferably in the comfort of my own home, without assholes who don't know how to dim their phone.

Holidays 2016 Pop Culture Roundup

I'm wrapping up a two-week long vacation. It has been busy - moving from Germany back to the States, celebrating holidays and my own birthday, taking all my worldly possessions from a storage unit to some form of organization in a new apartment. But don't worry - I still had plenty of time to watch way too many movies. About twenty, actually. Plus the released episodes of This is Us and more Sopranos episodes than I'm willing to admit. In my defense, most of these popped up on my 24-hour travel extravaganza across the Atlanta or my movie marathon with my mom on NYE. Warning - some of these just arrived in the new releases and others are just new to me. Here we go!

Grab a seat.

Grab a seat.

Short Term 12. This has been on my 'to watch' list for literally years. After an impassioned plea from my brother, Mom and I finally got around to it on NYE. Should have watched it years ago when I first put it on my list, honestly. Plot summary: Brie Larson and a pre-Mr. Robot Rami Malek are counselors at a group home for troubled teens. Brie lives with her boyfriend, another counselor at the home. She discovers she's pregnant. This, along with a new teen at the home, makes her encounter parts of her past she has tried to avoid. That's a terrible summary but the film has an honest, lived-in feel with intimate portrayals from the actors. Warning: it made me cry. A lot. That being said, it's excellent and should be seen. Brie Larson is the actress and person that Jennifer Lawrence tries so hard to be and I can't wait to see what she does in the future. I'm glad Room has brought her so much success and fame but she probably should have gotten there sooner.

The Invitation. This was a movie I had added to my Netflix Watchlist at the recommendation of several internet friends that I trusted. And for the first half of the movie, I had no idea why. An ex-husband is invited to a dinner party by his ex. There's obviously something weird going on but, aside from the husband repeatedly saying something weird is going on and a few very odd cult videos the hosts make everyone watch, there's nothing particularly interesting about the film. There are a few hints at what the couple really has in mind and when it does start to happen, the only thing that's surprising is how violent it gets. But the last half hour or so? Awesome, especially the final scene, which blew me away and which I keep thinking about. There's a good, maybe great movie, in the ideas of the film. It just sucks at bringing them to fruition. I honestly hope the filmmakers, or some filmmakers, take a 10 Cloverfield Lane approach here and tell another story set on that night. In summary, check the thing out but be very, very patient. Or just fast forward.

Dear Zachary. I'm super behind on this one. Summary of the documentary: a guy puts together a video to tell his friend's story following the murder of said friend by his ex-girlfriend. Following the murder, the girlfriend discovers she's pregnant. Then things get really dark and twisted and heartbreaking. Get ready to feel sadness, despair, anger, frustration, and shock. Canada isn't as awesome as we thought! I recommend checking out this movie, absolutely. If you're a parent, I can't imagine how difficult this would be to watch, especially the middle of the documentary, when the grandparents must spend time with their son's killer to see their grandson. Just heartbreaking and a reminder of how shitty our justice system can be.

Wishful Drinking. To be honest, if Carrie Fisher hadn't died I probably wouldn't have gotten around to this. But Mom and I needed something funny on while we played games on NYE. And this was perfect. Entertaining and a reminder that Carrie Fisher was much, much more than just Princess Leia.

When Harry Met Sally. Another NYE pick. Yes, it also stars Carrie Fisher (and her character's romantic stories are probably worthy of their own film as well) but it's a great movie to watch during the holidays, as major chunks take place at Christmas and NYE. It's also a great film to watch in the fall - Central Park and other NYC landmarks are captured in the beautiful autumnal colors. This is one of my favorite movies, maybe even at the number one spot. I can watch it anytime, any place, but it's especially poignant this time of year. If you haven't seen it, what the hell are you waiting for?

Amanda Knox. Netflix's new documentary is the latest piece on the Kercher murder and Knox's arrest. I've also seen the Lifetime movie version starring Hayden Panettiere, which was mostly the extent of what I knew going into this. If you're looking for a deep dive into the murder and the facts and evidence of the case, you should probably look elsewhere. At just an hour and a half, the documentary is light on details but does a good job on summarizing the case and spends most of its focus on the trial, how it was prosecuted, and how it was portrayed in the media. Knox herself features heavily in the documentary, giving it a general lean towards her perspective. Still, it's an interesting case and the documentary deserves a view. And the Knox story, as the girl herself puts it at the beginning, really comes down one of two things - you either see a total sociopath or you have to wonder, what if this happened to you.

Hush. A nice little horror film. Much better than the others in this list. It's an interesting and unique idea - a murderer realizes his victim's neighbor is deaf and takes advantage. Our hearing-impaired heroine behaves in a satisfying way and I was on the edge of my seat for a good chunk of the film.

Don't Breathe. A bad little horror film. In keeping with the subgenre of horror films with the physically impaired, this one features a group of teens who rob a blind vet's home because he supposedly has a couple hundred thousand bucks lying around. Here is my problem with the film - everyone is really, really stupid. The vet, who keeps the money in his house even though it is widely reported that he has the money and also does really dumb stuff once he realizes he has intruders. The teens, who make big mistake after big mistake. Even the safe makers are dumb - who the hell displays the code? It's somewhat entertaining and if you're desperate, sure, give it a try. For a good horror movie, look elsewhere.

Bad Moms. This is exactly what you think it is. And that's fine. I recommend it for airplanes or other situations where you just need something to kill time. Or, I guess, if you're a suburban mom looking for some outlet.

The Visit. This isn't The Shining but it's a serviceable, not-too-scary suspense/horror film. You will probably spot the twist about twenty minutes into the movie, but if you want a scary film without any trouble sleeping, this is it.

Me Before You. About what you'd expect. Emilia Clarke continues to be an eyebrow inspiration.

Passengers. Probably should have seen Arrival instead. I read the screenplay a few months ago and that had a better handle on the ethical dilemma of Pratt's decision and also a better whack at the ending (not that it was in itself good). The movie is just kind of a mess and wastes an opportunity to make the viewer ask what they would do in this situation. That being said, the ship's design is pretty and Michael Sheen is having a good time.

Ghostbusters. Not my favorite. I'm totally on the Kate McKinnon bandwagon, but I wasn't really a fan of the original so this is probably not for me. I did highly enjoy Chris Hemsworth, both as eye candy and occasional hilarious villain.

Zootopia. A typically great Disney animated film, with a side of racism allegory. Something for everyone! Seriously, it's a well-done cartoon to entertain kids and adults.

Suicide Squad. I tried watching this on the plane a couple of times and just kept falling asleep. Maybe it was the wine with lunch or the time difference or the stress of moving.  But it was probably just a crappy movie.

Ides of March. I really enjoy this movie. When it came out in 2011, I saw it at the theater and bought it as soon as it came out in Target. It helped me survive the 2012 election and was my go-to movie when I needed a distraction from the real-life drama. Watching it on the plane in our current state was much less enjoyable. But I'm still putting it on my list for when I'm really struggling with President Cheeto. Also, it's a crime that Phillip Seymour Hoffman didn't get to play Bannon. And if nothing else, this movie is a reminder of the Gosling golden years because, right now, Gosling affection is at an all-time high thanks to...

La La Land. First, a PSA in the Gosling vein: Go see The Nice Guys. That out of the way, this is such a love letter of a film, to Los Angeles and fulfilling your dreams and film musicals from fifty years ago. Visually, the film is great with colors that pop and fun gags, like the faux streets of Paris. The music and dancing isn't some belting showstopper but much more intimate; I'll be listening to "City of Stars" for days. The final fifteen minutes of the film are a dream, as we share in the lovers' beautiful version of What If. I don't know if it's the best film of the year (I haven't seen enough to make that call) but I'm looking forward to watching it again once I've had time to ruminate.

Moana. My first thought upon seeing this: it's not The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast. Afterwards, chatting with my brother, he brought up his thoughts upon a recent rewatch of the former: damn, that was fast. And it's true - looking back at the plotting and time of these Disney Renaissance films, shit happens quickly. And so maybe my first statement is really just a testament to the love and nostalgia I have for these late eighties/early nineties films. Because every milestone, every conflict, in Moana seemed to materialize and then be overcome way too quickly. And while my love for Hamilton and its writer knows no bounds, the songs weren't perfect. There wasn't a "Be Our Guest" or "Poor, Unfortunate Souls" or "Be Prepared." Here is where I also note that Disney villains get the best songs and Moana really didn't have a villain. Maybe that would have helped? But I still hope LMM gets his EGOT this year ("City of Stars" is beautiful but I've been humming "You're Welcome" and "Shiny" nonstop). I think Moana accomplished what Brave meant to. I enjoyed the mythology and the lack of romance. It's great, honestly. And it will, over time, probably earn its spot among the greats. I prefer Tangled, probably, but we can all agree: way better than Frozen. And more earning of that film's praise.

This Is Us. Need a good cry? Watch literally any episode of this series. Seriously. You can feel the emotional manipulation but that doesn't keep it from being effective. Mostly, I'm happy to see that guy from the O.J. series get good work.

Pop Culture: In Flight Edition

Part of my expat agreement includes one trip home for personal reasons. I used mine this past week. There will be a separate post on the trip but a trip home means, in total, 20 hours in a plane and almost that long in an airport. Plenty of time for movies and books!

First up, movies, with a bit of HBO thrown in at the end.

The Nice Guys: In the vain of In Bruges and the Travolta/Jackson bits of Pulp Fiction, we have the wrong-side-of-the-law version of a buddy cop comedy, with lots of violence and cursing. It's a fun movie, with plenty of twists and turns. The seventies setting gives us a chance to see Ryan Gosling in hilarious and horrible facial hair and both he and his partner, Russel Crowe, in disastrous fashion. It's a bit noir, a bit procedural. It's one of those movies that won't, and shouldn't, get a lot of love at awards time but it's probably going to be popping up on cable, Netflix, and airports for years to come. There's something re-watchable about it, comforting. It didn't get much attention when it first came out but I imagine, as it gets to the aforementioned venues, the word of mouth will start to improve. Check it out when it comes your way. And one final comment - the version I saw had all the curse words edited (but not the violence or nudity) so there was a lot of 'freaking's and 'dingus's thrown around. It took me out of the movie a few times, so maybe find an unedited one, though maybe they'll improve the dubbing by the time it makes its way to TBS.

The Lobster: If I hadn't read a review of this movie, I would have ignored it. But knowing a bit about the plot (single people get turned into animals if they can't find a companion, basically), I had to check it out. It's an odd film but I couldn't shut up about it. I explained the plot a half dozen times while I was home, in whatever conversation I could shoe-horn it into. It's a fascinating idea, providing commentary on society's focus on relationships. I especially appreciated it when I was home and my grandmother could only think to ask me whether or not I'd met a boy in Germany yet. But hey, at least I don't have to turn into a horse for reaching thirty unmarried. The film is bleak but also humorous. Also, if anyone is looking at an excuse to laugh at a kid getting kicked in the shin, this is it.

Neighbors 2: I really enjoyed the first movie. And the second movie is basically a Mad Libs version of the first, replacing 'fraternity' with 'sorority' and adding more babies. If you liked the first one, you will like the second. The feminism is super blatant, so anyone who thought the female Ghostbusters ruined their childhood need not apply. It was a little overhanded at times, but given how sexist the sorority and fraternity systems are, we can use some obviousness. I was in a sorority in college and so much of this hit close to home. The dumb party and alcohol rules. The strict codes that are nowhere to be found for the guys. At first I was annoyed that the girls started a new sorority - just get an apartment off campus and call it a day! - but I get it. I like knowing that I always have a place at my alma mater, whether it's a stay at the house or stopping by the Tri Delta tent at Homecoming. Having a family and all that. But also wanting to have wine while watching The Girls Next Door and have a party without dealing with dumb frat boys. One more comment - this one was also edited and the dildo baby Stella kept playing with was blurred out. Honestly, it made the gag more funny.

Me Without You: It was part my lack of sleep the two nights previous, part the jet lag, but I tried watching this movie twice on my flight back to Germany and fell asleep both times. Emilia Clarke, your eyebrows are adorable but it wasn't enough.

WestWorld: Brief foray into TV now. I spent my first day back from Germany on my couch, exhausted and with a huge to do list but not wanting to move. Honoring a promise to my brother, I binged the first three episodes of HBO's next big thing. I don't have real thoughts this early into the series. It doesn't seem to know yet what it's really trying to say or even which characters we're supposed to be rooting for. But the world-building has been impressive so far and I like how the humans interact with the robots. The world outside Westworld honestly interests me more. I want to know more about that. But overall I'm enjoying the show. That aside, my biggest reaction so far is questions. Why the West? Are there other worlds out there exploring other eras, like in the movie it's based on? What do the hosts think of planes? Do they see planes? Is Westworld a no fly zone? How do they prevent harm to guests besides shooting? Is there some type of panic button they give the guests? Also, how do other guests know it's a guest or host? The guns aside, what is preventing a guest from raping another guest, mistaking her for a host? Stabbing another guest? Is that picture really the first anachronistic thing to make it into westworld? Do guests really give up their cell phones? How far in the future are we? This awesome new technology is really just used for a theme park? Would westworld really be any fun, just watching other people shoot at each other? How did that one guest transition from his dressing room to the train so easily? Also, is it that cost efficient to have so many bespoke clothing and hat options for each guest? How long do guests stay in westworld? Wouldn't they need to bring luggage? Okay, that's enough of that.

Next: books! I was a bit lazy here and only read two, though I started In the Garden of the Beasts in paperback and started a re-read of To Kill a Mockingbird on my Kindle app.

The Good Girl: This book is really not perfect. The story line is a little silly and I hated the tacked-on ending. But I also read the whole thing in one day, which I don't think I've done since college. I just couldn't put it down. The romance is believable and there's chemistry between the characters. The central mystery is interesting and different from the usual romantic drama plots. It tries really hard to be Gone Girl in that respect and it's just not. None of the characters are as complex or interesting as Amy Dunne and the writings not as good but that's okay. It's perfect for a long plane ride or a beach.

In Cold Blood: This is the opposite of that. I don't recommend this on a beach. Maybe a plane.

What's Your Favorite Scary Movie?

It's October! Fall and leaves and sweatshirts. As an adult woman, I can switch to black nail polish for a few weeks and not feel guilty about it. More importantly - it's scary movie season. Thirty-one days of the scary stuff, whether it's perennial favorites or newbies. Here we go!

I really, really love scary movies. I am never not in the mood to watch a horror film. I recently was linked, via Wired, to a list of the best scary movies ever. Scream doesn't make thrillist's list, which is criminal. Though, honestly, I have so much nostalgia and love for Scream, I can't separate my experience of the film from the film itself. So I am a crap judge. Scream, and then it's sister film, Cabin in the Woods, introduced me to so many great horror movies, most of which are on that list. Also, updating my 'need to watch/re-watch' list after this... As for the ranking, I'm surprised The Shining isn't higher but I can't argue with much else. The Exorcist and Texas can scare me just thinking about them.

My best movie-going experience, horror or otherwise, is for the film Scream. The movie came out in 1997. I watched it when it first came out on VHS, so I was probably 10, maybe 11, with my friend Jessica. At the time, my mom worked at a daycare center with her best friend, Jennifer. Jessica was Jennifer's stepdaughter. She, Jessica, was my rebel friend, the person who first explained the ins and outs of sex to me, who gave me my first cigarette. She was a few months older and I copied everything she did. She covered her bedroom walls with posters pulled from magazines, so I did the same. She pierced her cartilage, so I did too. I slept over at her house all the time, especially over the summer. Playing in the lake her dad built with her two little half sisters. Visiting her grandma, who lived at the end of the driveway. Sleeping on the trampoline out in the country, looking up at the stars. When she slept at my house, we played flash light tag with my brother, hiding in the ditch half a mile from our house. And we would watch movies. So many movies.

Scream was the best, though. We were at daycare. It was summer. The school-age kids were all going to the park. Jessica and I managed to talk our way out of going - it was hot, we were tired from staying up late the night before. Our moms and the teacher aids agreed that we could in the school kids’ room by ourselves while everyone else went to the park. After a few rounds of video games, we got bored and started to look through the movies but it was all boring kids stuff - Disney movies, Nickelodeon TV shows. Luckily, we had a backup. Helen, one of the school kid teacher aids, had mentioned that she and her boyfriend had rented Scream and how scary it was. She had it in her purse to return it to the video rental store after work. She couldn’t leave it in her car; it was so hot; the tape would melt.

So Jessica and I got into Helen’s things and took the tape (sorry, Helen). We watched it on the television in the school kids’ room, laying out in the movie watching area. About halfway through the movie, around the part where Skeet Ulrich is released from jail and confronts Neve Campbell at school, my mom and Jennifer came in to check on us. They were pissed when they realized what we were watching and demanded we stop it immediately. It was so inappropriate for kids our age to be watching it, especially at a daycare center, etc. The video tape went into an office, under lock and key until the end of the day. Helen was scolded when she returned. Again, sorry, Helen.

That night, I stayed at their house again. Jennifer had rented some milder, tamer scary movie for us. PG-13. No Scream, that's for sure. Later that night, when we were supposed to go to sleep, Jessica in her bed and me on the floor next to her in a sleeping bag, we stayed up talking about Scream. All the possible killers. Who had done it? What was their motive? We had finished the movie at the perfect part. Everyone is a suspect! We discussed the movie for hours. Eventually we went to sleep but I woke up in the middle of the night, some time later. And was terrified. The room was totally dark. All I could think of was the movie, all those scary bits. Drew Barrymore's death and the killer's voice on the phone. I went to the master bedroom and woke up Jennifer, lying and telling her I was sick. She took me into the living room and we watched television until I fell back asleep. Later, she told my mom she was just waiting for me to go to sleep so she could go back to bed. I kept turning around, looking at her, making sure she was still there. I was so scared.

Eventually, Jessica and I ended up seeing the rest of the movie. I honestly don’t remember that part, but I’m sure we were disappointed. It’s almost twenty years later (fuck, I’m old) and I still love that movie, watch it every  Halloween and own it and all three sequels. It was part of growing up and my movie education.

After watching Scream, Jessica and I went on a horror movie kick. We rented and watched every movie that was mentioned in Scream, from Carrie to Prom Night to Halloween. Then went through anything else in the Horror section at Circus Video. There are a lot of shitty horror movies out there. The Shining and Halloween are the ones that we picked up that are on my shelf today, rewatched every time the Halloween decorations come out. It started my scary movie habit that I can't seem to kick. Any time I’m with my mom or my sister, we watch a scary movie. We need to watch them when we’re together because we all kind of live alone, and you can’t watch them by yourselves. Sometimes I’ll try, watching the scary thing during the day when it’s still bright outside, hoping the scary stuff is out of my mind by the time it gets dark. And it always is, at least until the time I curl up in bed hours later and the scary stuff comes back, the horrifying images suddenly something I can’t stop imagining.

A few years after I saw the movie, I was home alone for the first time. My mom, grandmother, and brother were going somewhere. My dad was at work. It was just me. In this house out in the country, in the middle of nowhere. What do I do? Work on a puzzle and watch Scream, daring myself to get scared.

I never had another friend like Jessica, another movie going experience like Scream, when I was 11. Jesus, does anyone?

 

 

In Flight Entertainment

I recently spent two weeks in the United States. Among other things, that means about 20 hours of plane time, including a chunk on an international flight with in flight movies! Here are the ones I checked out. Some were great and some were movies you watch on a plane.

The Reventant: I am a bad, bad Leo fan. After years of unconditional love (I've sat through J. Edgar and Body of Lies, insisted Gangs of New York is underrated), I couldn't do it. On my flight from Frankfurt to New York, I attempted to watch this movie three different times. The longest I made it was forty minutes in. I appreciate the work that went into the various performances and using natural lighting and it's all very lovely, but it's the type of movie you sit through once and never again. And that once is usually going to be when you've paid fifteen bucks at a theater, where you can really appreciate the cinematography and want to get your money's worth. This is not a plane movie. Sorry, Leo.

Spotlight and The Big Short: Okay, so I've seen both of these before. I watched Spotlight on the flight to the States, The Big Short on the way back. They're excellent, rewatchable films. Here are my thoughts from when I first saw them. Superb movies, on or off a plane.

Bridge of Spies: I mainly saw this because it picked up a Best Supporting Actor award and one of the blogs I follow really liked it. And I'm glad! It's definitely a plane movie or a Netflix movie. It's not something I would necessarily seek out but it is a well-made, old-school genre film. There's spies and secret soldiers and the lawyer doing the right thing. Mark Rylance, who won the Oscar, was excellent. Tom Hanks was perfect as always and it was just thought-provoking enough for a plane.

Carol: This one probably isn't the best to watch on a plane. It's a slow movie, moody, that doesn't do well to frequent interruptions from the stewardess. Also, there's a few bits of nudity and explicit sex scenes, which don't always work on a plane. Side note - I'm not sure what the rules are for plane movies. The nudity in The Revenant was blurred out, not so much for Carol. As for the film itself, there some movies you just want to exist in and this is one. The plot is whatever, but the characters and the time and the world created, that's the magic part. Llewyn Davis was kind of like this - I didn't really care what was going on as much as I wanted to spend time with Oscar Isaac's character. Like all of Todd Haynes film's, especially Far From HeavenCarol is lovely, with the perfect makeup and costumes and dreamy color palette.

How to be Single: This is a pure plane film. It's a romantic comedy that features at least two extraneous romance stories. Some of it works, some of it doesn't, but I like Dakota Johnson and there was just the right amount of Rebel Wilson.