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Fighting with My Family, 2019 - ★★★½

I didn’t expect to be watching a film about wrestling, much less one made in association with the WWE. I mean, if it had been about the old British wrestling matches they used to show on Sundays on ITV — Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki — then maybe.

But this turned out to be a lot of fun. Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, it’s based on the true story of a wrestling-mad family in Norwich, and how they try to get into the giant American wrestling entertainment business.

Not bad at all.





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The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014 - ★★★

I note that I gave this three-and-a-half stars when I added it to Letterboxd, some time last year. Watched it again last night, for, I think, the third time. My inclination is to reduce its number of stars. I don’t dislike it, by any means, but I don’t love it the way the test of my family do. 

Last night I was more puzzled by it than I recall being before. Why the three layers of story? I’m not sure that adds anything. I like the look, and I originally loved the weirdness, but… in the end it just feels kind of shallow.





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The Cabin in the Woods, 2011 - ★★★★★ (contains spoilers)

This review may contain spoilers.

I’m surprised to find this is from 2011. I saw it when it came out, but it doesn’t feel like eight or nine years ago. Three or four, I’d have said. 

The fact that I’m surprised to find that Chris Hemsworth is in it probably reflects the length of time that has passed, though.

Anyway, it stands up really well, though the question I asked the last time: why do they have a big red “Release all the monsters” button? That still stands.



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Springsteen On Broadway, 2018 - ★★★★

I finished this last night, but actually watched it over the course of several weeks. Not the way I’d normally watch a film, but since it’s mainly about the music, the interruptions don’t really matter.

Except… it’s actually equally about the music and the storytelling. Both are valid and worthwhile. There was no single overarching narrative, though. The stories are a set of recollections of Springsteen’s life. There are connections, of course, but each one stands alone well enough to watch it in this disjointed way.

Anyway, my main complaint is that it was too short and could do with having more songs. He’s written a vast number, after all. Well worth watching if you’re a fan. If not, then you probably won’t want to.





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Jojo Rabbit, 2019 - ★★★½

I liked this a lot more than I expected to. When I saw the trailer (I think back in December, when we saw Knives Out) I was a bit freaked out by it. What’s this, you’ve got a film about a kid in the Hitler Youth, with Hitler as a character, and they seem to be playing it for comedy? This looks well dodgy.

My kids knew it was by Taika Waititi , though, and that seemed to make it likely to be OK? I dunno, but eventually I decided to give it a chance.

And it turns out to be really good. A sweet film in many ways, though with plenty of menace and darkness, as you’d expect from where and when it’s set — which is an unnamed German town or city in the dying days of the Second World War. Waititi himself plays Hitler, who is not in fact the real one, but an imaginary friend that lets Jojo, the ten-year-old title character, talk to someone about the things he can’t talk to anyone else about.

So I enjoyed it, but I can’t help asking: why did he choose to make this film? Why that story, why now? It’s based on a novel, Caging Skies , by Christine Leunens. But Wikipedia’s description of it as “the internationally bestselling Hitler Youth novel” leaves me none the wiser.

Not, of course, that there has to be a specific reason for a creator to make something. And it’s far from the first comedy about Hitler or the Nazis. But there’s just something about the idea of it — not the actuality — that leaves me a little uncomfortable, in a way that The Great Dictator or The Producers didn’t.





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In General Election 2019: the news media failed profoundly — but not in the way you think, Adam Tinworth buries the “lede.” Probably deliberately, as the whole piece is worth reading.

The key point is that the Reuters research showed that people spent only 16 minutes a week on average reading news during the election.

That’s a ludicrously low figure.

Also odd is that the Shortcut that I used to create this post pulled this text out as the title: “The Media & the 2019 General Election: trusted, but little consumed.” Which would be better in terms of not burying anything, but I can’t see where it came from. The <title> tag, I’d have to guess, but you don’t really see those on a phone. And not that much on a computer, once you’ve got more than a couple of browser tabs open.

The Memory Police by Yōko Ogawa (Books 2020, 2)

Translated by Stephen Snyder. I asked for this for Christmas, because I saw it reviewed in The Guardian and it sounded interesting. And it is, but I had some problems with it.

Let’s look at the blurb:

Hat ribbon, bird, rose.

To the people on the island, a disappeared thing no longer has any meaning. It can be burned in the garden, thrown in the river or handed over to the Memory Police. Soon enough, the island forgets it ever existed.

When a young novelist discovers that her editor is in danger of being taken away by the Memory Police, she desperately wants to save him. For some reason, he doesn’t forget, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to hide his memories. Who knows what will vanish next?

That “[f]or some reason” is where this book doesn’t quite work for me. The setup is fine: a type of item, and the memories, the very idea of that item, disappears. The titular police make sure that all instances of the item — roses, hats, photographs… — are removed. But some people keep their memories and the ideas, and try to keep the things. The Memory Police find them and cart them off.

The protagonist’s mother was taken in that way when the protagonist was small.1

Why is it happening? How is it happening? Who are the Memory Police, and what happens to the people they take? Can they be resisted, and how can the islanders get their memories back? These are the sorts of questions you would expect to have answered, were this a science fiction novel. Are the islanders the victims of some sort of mind-control experiment? Are they in a simulation?

This is not a science fiction novel.

“For some reason”. Don’t read this expecting to find out what the reason is, or to get answers to any of the other questions.

All that said, I enjoyed reading it. The sense of danger, of menace, is palpable, but subtle. It’s about people trying to live their lives under these bizarre conditions. It’s just frustrating thinking about it now, about the unanswered questions.

But maybe I’m reading it wrong. In her essay “SF reading protocols,” Jo Walton writes:

A reviewer wanted to make the zombies in Kelly Link’s “Zombie Contingency Plans” (in the collection Magic For Beginners) into metaphors. They’re not. They’re actual zombies. They may also be metaphors, but their metaphorical function is secondary to the fact that they’re actual zombies that want to eat your brains. Science fiction may be literalization of metaphor, it may be open to metaphorical, symbolic and even allegorical readings, but what’s real within the story is real within the story, or there’s no there there. I had this problem with one of the translators of my novel Tooth and Claw—he kept emailing me asking what things represented. I had to keep saying no, the characters really were dragons, and if they represented anything that was secondary to the reality of their dragon nature. He kept on and on, and I kept being polite but in the end I bit his head off—metaphorically, of course.

The essay is largely about how there is a “toolkit” for reading SF — a set of understandings, of tropes — without which some can find the genre difficult to understand. We learn that toolkit, or build it, from early reading of the genre. But she follows the above quote with this:

When I read literary fiction, I take the story as real on the surface first, and worry about metaphors and representation later, if at all. It’s possible that I may not be getting as much as I can from literary fiction by this method, in the same way that the people who want the zombies and dragons to be metaphorical aren’t getting as much as they could.

Maybe that’s what went wrong for me with The Memory Police: Ogawa wrote a metaphorical work — about people trying to live their lives under bizarre conditions, as I wrote above. I read it with the expectation that the bizarre conditions would have an explanation, and they don’t, because they are “only” metaphors.

For, I would have to suppose, a totalitarian state, where the slightest infraction of arcane and obscure laws leads to being carted away by the secret police.

We also get sections of the novel the protagonist is writing. It is about a woman who loses her voice, and communicates using a typewriter. Then the typewriter is taken away from her. It works as a metaphor for the situation the protagonist lives in: a metaphor within a metaphor.

And from the Guardian review that started this:

Why this is happening is unknown; the ideology of totalitarian control and cultural isolation is implied, rather than explicitly outlined, and its intersection with the supernatural strengthens the feeling of allegory.

So maybe I should have been warned. Calling it “supernatural” suggests something more in the magic realism vein. That might be a better way to approach it. Magic needs — or at least, generally gets — less of an explanation.


  1. Note the lack of names, too: the editor is given an initial, R, but the only character given an actual name is a dog. 

The End of the Dream. The Start of the Resistance

Ian Dunt, writing at politics.co.uk:

What is happening is a tragedy. A betrayal of Britain’s role in the world. A betrayal of the Europeans who came and made this their home. A betrayal of the idea that this is a calm, sensible country, that thinks in practical and pragmatic terms about what it is doing, that deals in small ideas instead of grand ideologies.

The end of the dream. The start of the resistance.

Worth reading the whole thing.