The Shape of Water (2017)

shape of water poster

I’m a bit late to the game with this one, but at least I get to say “Yes, I know it won the Best Picture Oscar, but…”

I haven’t seen the other nominees, but I’m still finding it odd that this got the top honour. I mean, it’s a good movie, and there are layers to it, it looks amazing, and the performances are outstanding. But if I had to sum it up in one word, I’d have to go with “weird”.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a cleaner at a government research facility, and when they bring in a new ‘specimen’ (Doug Jones, once again under layers of aquatic prosthetics) she soon befriends the unfortunate creature. Tensions ratchet up when creepy project lead, Strickland (Michael Shannon), decides the research is going nowhere fast, and his preferred route forwards turns towards dissection.

The early 1960s time period setting works brilliantly here, adding in elements of Cold War paranoia, homophobia, racism, and dreadful sexism, all of which can be said to find parallels in the ‘alien’ treatment of the creature. Elisa’s muteness is also a fantastic device, allowing both the main characters to be completely silent while her friends – both from poorly-treated minorities at the time – give her voice. Not that she wholly needs it: the facial expressions and body language is a masterclass.

So, all good. But… well, hmm. I dunno, there was just something a little too bizarre to everything for me, I think, with a mix of elements that just seemed odd. In hindsight, yes I assume that no decision was made without due thought, but when you’re sitting at the start of a fantastical, cinematographically delicate, period-rich fairy tale, it was really really jolting to be left thinking, “Wait, was she really just masturbating in the bath – to an egg timer?!” o_O

I’m going to go with: yes, it’s a good film and very well worth the watch, but between the Academy Award and the rest of the hype, perhaps my expectations were just a bit too high. Still, what do I know – it did win Best Picture, after all!

Released: 14th February 2018
Viewed: 8th March 2018
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10

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The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief – Lisa Tuttle

“I admit I did not plan my escape very well, but the fact is that I had not planned it at all.”

There is something enduringly appealing about the Victorian mystery, which is probably what caught my eye on this one – along with the title I’ve been misspelling all over the place! ūüėČ Think Sherlock Holmes – mentioned in-novel as a fiction, with Arthur Conan Doyle a contemporary figure – but with a female¬†Watson narrating. Indeed, Miss Lane (she does have a first name, but the reveal is one of the mysteries of the book ūüėČ )¬†has an¬†excellent detective mind in her own right, but she’s a little more down to earth than her ‘Sherlock’, Jasper Jesperson.

The case(s) told here are strongly linked to Miss Lane’s past as a debunker of psychic frauds. When faced with what could well be the ‘real thing’, the crime solving duo must also deduce any links to the disappearing mediums in the city, while trying to set up their new partnership with more mundane cases, like the mysterious sleepwalking of their landlord’s brother in law. And there’s still the shadow of Miss Lane’s previous partner to be dealt with…

I did enjoy this book, but there were a few things that irritated me a little. Firstly, the first person narrative is just a little too… well, full of moans about emotions and doubts and feelings. I don’t want to say it’s ‘girly’, but I’m struggling to find another phrase. There is something just ‘meh’ about a lead character voicing their doubts and fears every few paragraphs.

The other main character, Jesperson, is the opposite: head first into everything with an enormous sense of adventure – which, alas, ends up coming across as childish, not least because he still lives with his mother (the Mrs Hudson of the piece) and acts out like a spoiled brat once or twice. Oh, and of course he’s a martial arts expert, master hypnotist, and not quite as differentiated from the ‘Great Detective’ as I imagine he was supposed to be. Hmm.

Overall, though, the story was intriguing and fun and the period mood remained appealing, so it’s rather a shame I didn’t get on too well with the characterisation. That said, this looks like it might be the first in a series, and I’d quite like to see where it all goes next.

NetGalley eARC: 416 pages / 32 chapters
First published: May 2017
Series: The Curious Affair Of book 1
Read from 7th-14th May 2017

My rating: 6.5/10

Their Finest (2016)

The Second World War was a time of enormous social change, not least because¬†– as one character in the film puts it – women and old men get opportunities they wouldn’t normally, since all the young men are off fighting and dying.

One such opportunity arrives for Catrin Cole (Gemma Arterton) when she’s recruited to write ‘slop’ – i.e. women’s dialogue – in the Ministry of Information’s propaganda films. She’s soon working as part of a scriptwriting team to write an “authentic and optimistic” movie to inspire the beleaguered nation to continue to support the war effort – and, perhaps, persuade the Americans to join in to what they’ve been viewing as a European issue.

As the movie-within-the-movie progresses, we get to watch often prickly relationships develop into friendships, all against a very un-cosy backdrop of the realities of the ongoing war. Far from the sweet and gentle movie I was expecting, people do die, or see their lives buried in rubble, or just cower in the tube tunnels as the air raids go on night after night. And yet, still, people get on and the movie goes on, and overall there is hope.

Based on a novel with the much better and more illuminating title,¬†Their Finest Hour and a Half, this is worth a watch for romantics and realists, and those who will – like me – smile the broadest at the scenes of how a ‘real life’ event is taken apart and put back together to tell a story more ‘worth telling’.

Released: 21st April 2017
Viewed: 25th April 2017
Running time: 117 minutes
Rated: 12A with a surprising (although not exactly gratuitous) amount of swearing, and some quite dark and potentially upsetting deaths

My rating: 7.5/10

The White Cottage Mystery – Margery Allingham

“It was a little after four o’clock in the evening when Jerry Challoner swung his sports car smartly round the bend in the Kentish road and slid quietly through the village street.”

Back in the late 1980s, when I was but a tadpole, Margery Allingham’s most famous creation, gentleman detective Albert Campion, was brought to life¬†for TV. A few¬†years ago I managed to catch a repeat viewing, and still remain absolutely charmed by the portrayal and the period setting.

Fast forward to this week, and having always meant to track down some of Allingham’s books, I was delighted to see¬†The White Cottage Mystery¬†on NetGalley. In need of a break from another¬†rather heavy-going¬†(and¬†very long!) book, this slim volume seemed like the perfect antidote!

The biggest plus for this book, for me, is the period setting. Head full of accents and costumes from the related TV show,¬†and with¬†turns of phrase¬†(“I say, can’t I give you a lift?”) one certainly doesn’t hear on the streets of Edinburgh in this day and age, the late 1920s seemed like a jolly marvellous, hockey sticks and ginger beer (lashings of) kind of a place for a (mental) vacation.

Stumbling by chance into a crime scene, Jerry Challoner calls his¬†detective father, WT, to handle the case of a murdered man, shot in his neighbour’s dining room. The problem becomes not so much one of identifying a suspect, but rather, whittling down the pool – it seems that everyone hated the dead man. No one seems shy of telling that to a detective, either, leaving WT and Jerry somewhat baffled as to which of the neighbours and employees¬†is lying about the murder – because all of them seem to be lying about something.

White Cottage is not a long book, and indeed most of the action takes place between the immediate post-murder interviews, before a jaunt across the Channel to Paris.¬†As the Challoners pick on the thread of the murder mystery, it turns out that there’s a long web of deceits between them and the answer.

While I guessed at the ‘whodunnit’ quite early, I still enjoyed my little sojourn in the relatively¬†un-gritty 1920s. My only real¬†disappointment was¬†reading¬†the few, outdated ‘women and their silly little brains’-type comments from a female author. Aside from the shame of that, I’ll be ferreting out more of Ms Allingham’s work the way WT tracked down the murderer!

NetGalley eArc: ~168 pages / 17 chapters
First published: 1927
Series: none
Read from 24th-26th May 2016

My rating: 6/10