A Failed Book Review: Handle With Care

Tuesday 12 January, 2016

Content Warning: This review mentions and in some cases goes into depth about eating disorders, self harm and rape. If these topics are upsetting or triggering to you, please stop here and either navigate to another post by the links on the right hand side, or exit the blog via your back button. A new post will be up in 2 week’s time and will replace this post as being the first to read should you wish to return.

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Handle With Care.

Handle with Care was published in 2009 and was written by the famous My Sister’s Keeper Author, Jodi Picoult. This novel, Handle with Care, is hard to describe and it’s only today that I realised why. This novel is meant to be about the difficult life of a young girl, called Willow, who was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3 (Brittle Bones Disease), and how her parents are coping with having a disabled daughter (her sister: a disabled, younger sister). What this story is, like what any other story is when it concerns a disabled person, is more about how everyone around this disabled character deals with the disabled person’s existence (in this case Willow), and how their existence impacts on their own lives. This book is not so much about Willow, but those characters in the peripheral of Willow’s life. She is, arguably, both the main character and the most minor character in the book.

The main character, I would say, is her Mother, Charlotte, who tries to show that she cares the most about Willow, by suing the Ob/Gyn for wrongful birth.

And here’s some context as to why I read this book:

I hadn’t read Jodi Picoult before and I didn’t know all that much about My Sister’s Keeper. I knew the film was “a weepy”, and I tend to avoid those, so I didn’t know it was a book nor did I know the author’s name. But this book, Handle with Care, was recommended to me by my the mum of my friend, Laura.

My friend Laura, for those who don’t know, had Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 3. Actually, according to her specialist, she had one of the most severest cases of it he’d ever seen. Unfortunately, after a serious bout of sickness related to her condition, she passed away back in October 2005, aged 20. It was with personal interest in mind that her Mum read the book, and then recommended it to me some years later. In her words, “Just so much of it’s like Laura”.

So, with high expectations but the understanding that any knowledge I had of OI, and the treatment of it, was second hand and might very well be outdated by now, I started reading. And for a good two thirds of it, I couldn’t put it down.
The story itself is pretty easy to follow, despite story switching POV between multiple characters, and random recipes and misplaced narrative throughout the book. Charlotte had her first daughter Amelia, then she married Sean O’Keefe and had her second daughter, Willow. Charlotte was best friends with Ob/Gyn Piper Reese, who became her and Sean’s go to doctor when they had trouble conceiving, and when their friendship somehow survived through all of that awkwardness and then some, she took on the natal care of Charlotte.

By the time Willow is five, which is when the novel really starts, where the real introduction to Willow happens, the O’keefe’s have mounting medical bills, money problems, a frustrated pre-teen daughter, and a super intelligent, intuitive younger disabled daughter who is being held back by her mobility problems and America’s general lack of understanding of severe disability.

I’m going to take this moment to say that I didn’t realise wheelchair services were so bad in America. Unless Picoult has used some artistic licence, I didn’t know that children had to wait so long between fittings for a suitable wheelchair. We’re not much better in the UK, especially now in the age of the post code lottery, but at least the wheelchairs are free, they tend to try and get things right, they’ve always provided children with chairs you can sort of adjust around their growth, and charities do always help where they can. Leaving a child of five to sit uncomfortable in a chair they got fitted in when they were a toddler, especially if it can be dangerous to their health and safety, would have been unheard of (until about 2010, when the wheelchair services all had their fundings cut. But that’s a post for another day!)

Back to the Book. This is when it starts to get a bit complicated, but I’m going to try and simplify it as much as possible. The O’keefe’s go to Disneyworld and Willow suffers from a bad fall (as is the unfortunate nature of Brittle Bones Disease) and both her thigh bones end up broken. The doctors at the local hospital check it over, but because the medical letter that explains Willow’s condition was accidentally left at home, they mis-read all of Willow’s breaks as abuse, and both Sean and Charlotte end up being arrested. Amelia ends up in guardian home for the night, under child protective custody, and poor Willow ends up in hospital, alone, in a spica cast.

Curiosity drove me forward in reading, but even at this early stage I was sitting there wondering how realistic this would be.

Knowledgewise, I was questioning whether it would be really possible for a child with OI type 3 to be put in a spica cast. I was put in a Spica cast following corrective surgeries on my legs when I was five, they’re not the easiest things to live with; And Laura couldn’t have any casts of any type put on her, ever, because they were more of a danger to her than helpful. They were so heavy, they would have caused breaks either side of the cast. And, a Spica cast can go almost all the way up to the chest, just one bump or wrong turn could have meant the spica cast digging the wrong way into a rib. I was left wondering if maybe things had progressed so much that this wasn’t actually a fatal risk anymore. I welcome comments to inform me either way!

Similarly, besides the bouts in her wheelchair, Willow could walk. If medical treatment and medication has come on leaps and bounds since Laura was a child, I’m happy to hear it, but you hardly ever heard of someone with OI Type 3 walking, even into the late 90s. I’m aware a friend of Laura’s could walk with crutchers, but he was a lot bigger than she was so I don’t think he had type 3. What many people with OI decide to do, is to have steel rods inserted into their long bones, so that their legs can bare weight. That was never an option for Laura, her bones wouldn’t have accepted the rods.

And talking of size… It has happened that the less severe forms of OI has been misdiagnosed as severe abuse, and probably does continue to happen. Because you’re looking at someone just a bit outside of the averages of height, weight, proportions and mobility. But with OI type 3, the person is very small. They have certain, unmistakable attributes to their physical appearance. I can understand these factors being overlooked twenty-five years ago, especially in a very young child up to toddler age, but it wouldn’t have taken them more than two seconds to see Willow’s body differed from that of an average child: Her body being a certain shape, the length of legs and arms not being in proportion to her torso or head, the whites of her eyes possibly being a blue-tinted colour, and a voice at a higher pitch than normal you’d find even on an able bodied child. With some conditions, you might not know what it is you’re being faced with, but you certainly know that, skeletally speaking, you’re looking at someone atypical. A child, yes, but an atypical child in physical appearance. Abuse wouldn’t explain low levels bone density or unusual calcium markers in the blood, and I would expect doctors, especially within the last decade, to check into these things before throwing the A word around.

It was one of many occurrences I found that Picoult depended on the sheer ignorance characters and readers alike to carry the plot along. (But hey, how else would the story drive forwards?)

Anyway, in the plot, once everything is sorted out and everyone’s released and free to go home, that leads to the O’keefes trying to sue  everyone involved in the events that lead to the mistreatment of the family. The lawyer says that’s a no go, but they should consider sueing the Ob/Gyn for wrongful birth. That is to say, sue the doctor overseeing Charlotte’s pregnancy for not figuring out that Willow had OI in time to give Charlotte the option to abort.

In other more specific words, blame and sue Piper for not giving her the option to abort Willow. Despite the fact that they’re catholics, abortion was never going to be an option as agreed by both Sean and Charlotte, and a late term abortion was in fact offered to and subsequently turned down by Charlotte.

Amelia develops bulimia, the sisterly relationship between the two daughters breaks even further, and eventually Charlotte’s drive to carry through with her plan causes a rift in her and Sean’s marriage.

 

It’s a very full on story, and the further long I read, the less sympathy I had for Charlotte. She didn’t see what she was doing to her family. Or she did, but she didn’t care. There was one bit where, because Piper’s husband is the small town Dentist, Amelia misses her appointments, because Charlotte refuses to take her, even though she was due to have her braces removed. That’s just cruel.

Willow was intelligent enough to pick up on what was going on, and there’s just no nice way to say “if I’d have aborted you, we wouldn’t be in so much debt” to a young child. There’s also no nice way to say “I do love you, but I didn’t ask for this and someone has to take the blame for that.”

Then there was the convention. Charlotte is confronted by a bunch of mothers who read about the court case in the news. Charlotte is actually angry for being confronted. Charlotte really doesn’t understand how lucky she has it, in comparison to other people. Meanwhile, Amelia’s wandering around the hotel the convention’s held in, pretending to have a lesser form of OI, and she picks up a boyfriend along the way.

Those are the parts I’d say that were written well, even if on the surface I didn’t particularly enjoy the plot. However, intermixed with these parts were really poor writing and plot devices that made me think Picoult’s editor had set a holiday response for their email saying “Whatever you’ve written, I’m sure it’s perfect! We’ll publish it in when I’m back!”

We’ve got the part where, following the removal of Spica Cast, Willow needs to exercise. How does an over protective mother encourage her reception aged daughter, who has a condition where just one fall can kill her, to exercise? She makes her to walk the end of the driveway, by herself, to collect the post (admittedly something she likes doing but still…) where any dubious adult could just come along, sweep her up and run off with her. The route to the mail box at the end of the driveway involves going past a pond that Willow has an attachment to, and not the adult logic of risk assessment. Between any of these points, she could fall and die, if not be abducted by the aforementioned dubious adult.

Holy Brain Fart, Batman!

(I later realised this was a Chekov’s Gun situation, but I’ll get back to that later.)

At one point Sean and Charlotte talk about Willow’s future, and I cringed at the ignorance. It’s very realistic for parents to suddenly realise what the future holds for a disabled offspring, but it’s very undermining to the plot when you have a character (in this case Sean) who are portraying themselves as masters of their daughter’s care, victims in the eyes of the law, prepared to do all that is needed to make sure their daughter’s life is lived as equally as possible… being disparaging about any aids she may need in the future. If it’s meant to add depth to the character, it doesn’t. It wreaks of short sightedness and narrowmindedness.

Then we’ve got the “let’s throw this in/blink if you miss it” rape. Yeah. Rape. Sean and Charlotte have a break in their relationship, and then from the point of view of Sean, they have awful sex that Charlotte didn’t want, where Sean’s main goal is making her hurt as much as her actions have hurt him. Deliberate hurtful sex without enthusiastic consent? That sounds like rape to me.

Then there’s the part where Willow selfs harms because she’s seen Amelia do it to herself. I’d say that this was the point where it felt like Picoult was dragging it passed the point where she should have ended the book. This didn’t just feel like a red herring, it felt tired. It felt like a way to allow the author to point to the book and say “No, see! It really IS about Willow!”, instead of having Willow be this sort of phantom main character that the story is meant to be about, but really isn’t.

There is also a conversation after Willow is hospitalised for self harming between Piper and Sean, because Piper is the only reasonable person in this book. She (rightfully) suspects that Amelia is self harming and suffering from bulimia, and thinks (knows) that’s where Willow “learnt” how to hurt herself. What does Charlotte do when Sean mentions that his information come from Piper? She has a go at him for talking to Piper, talking to the “enemy”. She’s got one daughter in the hospital, and another daughter suffering from serious emotional distress that has manifested into self harm and an eating disorder. But all she cares about is the case.

There’s the whole side plot involving the lawyer, Marin, who doesn’t like the case, because she was an unwanted child herself. I’m not sure what she really added to the story, but things got very contrived when one of the jurors turned out to be her birth mother. What are the actual chances?!

And then, the main big problem I had with the book. The ending.

Willow, once again, is a child who could die from a sneeze (No exaggeration, sneezes can break ribs, ribs can pierce lungs), and yet she is allowed to go outside, by herself, to look for Amelia. It’s cold, slippery winter weather. There’s that pond that she can’t resist going near, which her mother knows. And Yet! The over protective parent allows her to go, by herself, despite ALL of these dangers. Despite the long arsed court case that she’d just won, by saying how much she looks after her severely disabled daughter.

And what happens? Willow goes to the pond, the ice breaks suddenly, and she falls through into the freezing cold water and dies.

The epilogue involves a brief update on everyone. Sean and Charlotte are back together, Amelia’s in therapy, Charlotte placed the cheque she got from winning the case in the coffin with Willow, and Piper moves away and is never heard of again.

I was left so disappointed by the whole ending. Not because of the understandable “After all that!?” feeling I was left with, but because… I suppose, because there were more realistic ways for a person with OI to die, and Picoult chose that one!?

I went from wondering whether a child with OI Type 3 these days could actually walk, to wondering what sort of brain fart do you have to have to let your child, who could fall and die by slipping on ice (as any child could, but this is more so), go out by herself in icy weather?! You can only consider it in character because of the same brain fart earlier on, (Chekov’s brain fart alert!) and although it must have been planned out due to the previous incident of letting Willow out to the end of the drive and going missing by the pond, it just reads as a quick solution to bring about the end of the story.

There are natural complications with OI that a person can die of.

There are the usual risks anyone has in daily life where the risk of dying is increased due to the nature of the condition. For example, one day, Laura, aged 4 or abouts, was spinning happily around in a circle, in her wheelchair, and Almost cracked her head on the edge of a piano. She didn’t, luckily, but the point is, it could have happened and the outcome would have been devastating. An able-bodied child would probably just give themselves a concussion.

It feels, for the lack of a better word, disrespectful.

And then Piper… Piper just moves away!? I think that was another point of contention for me. It was written in a half unbiased, half sympathetic style directed at Charlotte, as if we should all see it her way. It was all very pragmatic towards Piper, a sort of “Well, what can you do? Someone has to answer for this child being disabled” attitude about it. There wasn’t much sympathy at all for a woman who not only did not cause Willow’s disability, by action or inaction, but also did everything right by the whole family, and still had her career ruined for it.

I’ve missed a lot of out, half because I can’t remember it, and half because I couldn’t be bothered going into those bits. There is so much to this story, from so many different points of views, it’s just difficult to go over.

I’ll give credit where credit’s due (although again, I wonder if this was from lack of research on Picoult’s part and not really through a deep understanding of disability), there was one good thing that came through over all. Many people don’t understand that disability can be a spectrum, and that mobility can and does change from day to day for many people. Sometimes there is a conscious choice involved over what “part” of your disability you have to consider most important, and allow the rest of yourself to suffer the fall out. For example, having to walk because a problem with your upper body doesn’t allow you to self propel, and then dealing with the pain in your legs from walking, which is the lesser of two evils in this scenario.

In this book, there is an understanding that when Willow’s health is best, she can walk and only needs her wheelchair for safety and speed. She also has a walker and other aids for bad days and an array of things for the worst days. Many people think that if you’re a wheelchair user, that’s it, you can’t walk. Nobody says to Willow’s parents, “Well, she could walk yesterday”, nobody asks why she doesn’t use walking aids all the time. It’s just understood she uses whatever she needs, whenever she needs to. That’s so unaccepted in today’s society that people have actually become afraid to stand up, lest they get abuse for it.

People who deal with fluctuating conditions are at least experienced in preparing for the worst but knowing that’s not always the case so do what they can on their good days. There needs to be more of that shown across all medias.

Although, preferably with accuracy and research, and not a research fail, which is what I suspect is the case here.

The remaining issue is: Was Willow like Laura?

Well, yes and no. Laura was a lot like Willow when she was that age. But, a lot of disabled children are, just like a lot of able boded children are similar. There’s just this amazing phenomenon where physically disabled children develop brilliant personalities that differ from their able bodied peers, and some are quick witted. In the book, it’s explained that children who can’t learn through physical play find solace in books and television, and they become intelligent because there’s this thirst to do everything and know everything, and if all they can do is read and watch television instead of, I dunno, play football and poke things, then they will quench that thirst with good interesting books and documentaries. And Laura did have a high reading age for her age and was interested in a lot of things. But Laura also did accessible sports, so, you know, same outcome, different processes.

Mostly, they just shared experiences. I may have been the one with the Spica cast, but Laura was the one going to hospital every few months and spending three days tied to an IV pump of pomedrominate (before they switched to tablets for Laura). Laura did have to go on holiday with letters from doctors, to prove she was fit to fly, to prove that her Mum knew what she was doing. Laura had fun getting fitted for a wheelchair in a way that the O’keefe’s were only aware of. She was mistaken more than once for a baby. Even at the age of 18, she had people mistaking her for a toddler, and sometimes her and her mum couldn’t tell if people were speaking down to her because they’d mistaken her for a child, or because of a terrible attitude towards disabled people (again, different process, same outcome). There’s only so many ways you can react to these life situations, and maybe that’s what feels so familiar.

But that stops, the characters all become their own beings… and it stops being an enjoyable read.

I gave this book a 2.5/5


The Sex Corner Or: How One Asexual Has Got Fed Up With The Usual Romantic Tropes and Sex Scenes In Books

Tuesday 20 October, 2015

Well, this is a post that goes well with Asexual Awareness Week!

I’m thinking of calling one corner of my room “The Sex Corner”.

No no no! Not like that! I’m not going all 50 Shades of Domestic Abuse Grey on everyone!

No. It’s one corner of my room where, in theory, I would throw, fling, chuck and lob books for containing Sex Scenes in otherwise interesting novels. Of course, I say “books”, but I can’t actually read physical books anymore, so I split my reading between my kindle and Audiobooks these days, and I can’t do anything to them because they’re expensive. And I doubt the insurance for the former includes “Damage by Asexual Rage”, and the latter belong to the library. And you should Never do anything to harm items from the library. (If you believe in such a place, there’s a special level of hell for people who damage items from the library, and it’s worse than the level reserved for people who talk at the theatre)

So anyway, instead, when applicable, I’ll write the titles down and then throw the them in the corner.

Why?

Because that’s where bad things belong, in the Naughty Corner. (You can groan if you life, it is a very tedious build up to a pun)

The first to go in there will be Solar by Ian McEwan, whose regular bouts of Sex scenes are jarring and off-putting. I get it, despite the main character (Michael Beard) not having much to offer, the man’s a womaniser and he had women eating out of his  hand, and everyone loves him. And how else was the author to prove that but with graphic descriptions!?

But, despite any contrived exposition that lead to these scenes happening, I don’t really get why the Sex scenes themselves are needed for the reader. Was it so the reader could believe these things happened to the character? A sort of “pics or it didn’t happen” thing, but in literary form? The first few felt like they were thrown in there for the Shallow Shock Value. Here’s an ageing man still having Sex. La gasp shock!! Surely a sum up line confirming that fact could have done the same job, if it was really, really needed. What I’m saying is, this went in to the Nth degree… and I’m not quite sure why.

Michael Beard is a scientist failing at his job, which is what caught my attention in the first place, so I’d have much rather it focused on that aspect. But, Oh no! We need a one hundred word description of what he looks like naked and, not to put too fine a point on it, failing to go? Really? Repeatedly through the book…? Okay then…

I know. I know what you’re thinking. I should have pitched the title across the room when I first ran into problems. I would have saved myself from having to hear the graphic description of indigestional distress, and then much later, sitting puzzled after the rushed epilogue-styled ending, if I had.

I just don’t get what McEwan thought it added to the story. I skipped as much as I could (a feat that deserves a medal when you’re dealing with audiobooks), and it made no difference to what I felt was the essence of the plot development. I still saw and understood how Michael Beard was a failure of a husband, father, scientist, lover, and an all around human being. And if, despite taking out the over-tired scenes of a sexual nature, those things remained obvious, then having them in, in the first place, obviously added nothing.

Right? So, belatedly in the Corner it goes!

###

The second to be thrown in the Sex Corner is Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Like Solar, there is a Sex Scene early on in the story. I compelled myself to skip on by and carry on. This book was recommended to me by a friend, so it can’t be all bad, right?

Wrong! From there, there was then the poor writing and narrative, and a pretty ridiculous romance. I should have given up whilst I was ahead!

The ridiculous romance went like this: Female Character (Alice) meets Male Character (Will). They’d met once before and  spent four hours or so in each others company working on a mutual project. Later in the evening of the day they meet again, danger hits. Alice tries to ask if they’re safe, once it looks like the danger has passed. What does Will do? He doesn’t actually answer the question, be just strokes her face. And then the danger returns.

A similar thing happens later on in the book, too. What does Handsy McRomeo do that time? Oh he just kisses her whilst she’s mid-question.

Yeah, Juliet, sod your safety concerns. His need to kiss you comes first. Sorry love. I’m sure you don’t mind!

Bonus? He spends days after those four hours being knocked out, waking up pining over her, and then getting knocked out again. What a guy! What a Romance!

Then there’s the sex scenes. Were they necessary? I mean, were they really necessary? I know i’m biased here, but considering there’s other parts of the story were the author just skimmed over a summary when more detail would have been appreciated, I really don’t see why a sum up of an extra marital affair couldn’t have done the same job.  It’s not just that her writing was all over the place, the decisions she made on what was kept in and what was skimmed over made no sense.

So, belatedly in the Corner that goes too.

###

Thirdly, a book I actually gave up on, lest I repeat the same mistake a third time.

Dead Air by Ian M Banks. Different Ian, virtually the same protagonist. Or antagonist, really, seeing as the main character describes himself as Professional Contraryman. This is the story of a “Shock Jockey” who gets paid to go out of his way to offend everyone. I attempted to skip through four Sex Scenes, but I got fed up of playing “Guess The Plot Beyond the Minefield” , and imagined myself pitching the CD Case across the room.

And that’s what I’m going to do from now on. You know, people say to people like me “Don’t like, don’t read”, and I don’t think people appreciate how much we would remove from our everyday life if we sex-repulsed asexuals intentionally went out of our way to avoid or removed all things Sex related.

Well, to show just part of it:

TSC1

I don’t like, so I’m not going to read anymore.

Watch this space for more Sex Corner Updates.

AFJ: Arranging titles artistically so that you don’t have to.

 


A Failed Journalist’s Anniversary Review of Wimbledon

Thursday 30 July, 2015

For this entry, I’d really recommend you go to this post here and read that first, for this to post to make sense.

But because I believe in the freedom of choice, I’ll also give you a summary.

Four years ago, to the day, I wrote an entry about Paul Bettany. It was the post that started the Paul Bettany back cataloguing (film watching with intent, basically). In the post, I explained how I had a friend in school who fancied him, and she’d talk about a film called Wimbledon and really wanted me to watch it, because she thought the main actor in it (Bettany) was gorgeous, but I was never interested in watching it, because it was a romcom, and I’m not one for romcoms. I also mentioned how I love(d) a film called Gangster No. 1, and recommended my friend watch it, but she wasn’t into bloody, gorey gangster films, so she never did, despite my description of the main character being Really, Really blonde and she seemed to like that look. I never knew the name of the main actor in it, and neither me or my friend realised we were recommending films to each other starring the same man.

I know. Hilarious, right?

Well. Just the other weekend, I had a film marathon. It’s a long story how I ended up with such a hodge podge of films that I wouldn’t ordinarily watch, but amongst them was the film Wimbledon. I’ve had this collection of DVDs in my possession for about five months, but I just haven’t had a chance to sit down and watch them.

And because of emotional sentimentality, a penchant for nostalgic blues, and the sheer fact that it’s a romcom, I wasn’t all that keen to watch Wimbledon anyway. I felt as though, even if I did find out I enjoyed the film, it’ll always be tinged with the sadness of the yesteryear. (I know. Pathetic, right?)

But it was there, and I was watching the others, so I took the plunge.

And I almost hate myself for this, but I actually… sort of… liked it??? I mean, it wasn’t that bad. I watched better films during the movie marathon (Stardust) and I’d watched worse during the movie marathon (Martha, Meet Frank, Daniel and Laurence) and this fell just above the line between “good” and “uninteresting”.

It’s down to Paul Bettany. All Hail the Acting God that is Paul Bettany! It’s his dry delivery and tone of voice that makes it worth watching, I think. I didn’t really think much of the romance, i’m getting fed up of the leading male roles being played by men that are 10+ years older than the leading female roles, and normally I can’t stand watching anything to do with Tennis. When the real Wimbledon’s on, I will go to great lengths to avoid it as much as possible.

But I was kept interested by the dialogue and Paul Bettany’s delivery of it, in this film.

If I could have changed anything about this film, besides the age gap between the actors and the fact that it’s another A B C Heterosexual Romance RomCom, it would be that I would have wanted Peter Colt (Bettany’s character) to lose. You know, throw some reality to these things. He is old for a tennis player, which is highlighted in the film, he was struggling to keep ahead for most of his matches up to that point, and he hurt his back. That’s a big career destroyer for a lot of athletes. At some point, these films should be telling people you can’t have everything you want in life.

So, in conclusion, I’ll give the film a 5/10.
Next Paul Bettany Catalogue review will be Blood.


Classic Movie Quest: Empire of the Sun

Sunday 23 February, 2014

I know this probably sounds like a broken record, but this was another film on my Must See Classic Film list. It is based on the semi-autobiographical book of the same name, by a man called J.G Ballard.

Not having read the book, I can’t compare how closely the film follows it. But to me, it would be strange to take something which is based on experiences, but dramatised to make it fiction, to be further dramatised and fictionalised for the sake of a film…

But anyway, about the film. It stars Christian Bale and John Malkovich. In fact, this was the film that apparently boosted Christian Bale’s career. From what I saw, because this was another film that didn’t make it past the 40 minute mark, it’s based in the times of the Pacific war in the 1930s, and is about a child, Jamie Graham, who becomes an orphan after being separated from his parents during a mass evacuation in Shanghai.

Here’s my first problem with… well, it’s not so much the film, it’s the character’s actions which brought about the film’s rolling plot point. I simply can’t stand a character who ignores instructions and falls victim to their own mistakes.

First he sees a boat in the harbour, opposite his bedroom window, flashing it’s light in a form of communication (light Morse code?), and flashes back with his own torch! He’s not that young of a child to not have any form of common sense. He should have known that that was not a good idea.

And then there’s an explosion. I’m not sure whether that’s coincidental or whether his light flashing back created a signal for the boat to fire at them, but either way, it was not a smart move and could have ended up with him being killed. He was lucky he moved away from the window when he did.

And then there’s the mass evacuation. There’s people everywhere, the crowd crush just by itself is dangerous, but these are desperate people just on the edge of rioting. Jamie and his parents have to leave their car and escape on foot. He’s meant to keep tight hold of his mother’s hand… but then he loses his toy aeroplane, and let’s go of his mother’s hand.

There’s a war going on, there’s mass panic, there’s a real danger they all could be killed just by being on the street, and he thinks his toy plane is important enough to risk not only his life, but the life of his mother’s as well!?

He doesn’t listen to his parents and he doesn’t do what he’s told. I know, that doesn’t mean he deserves to lose his parents or end up in a prisoner of war camp, and there was no way of knowing what exactly the outcome of his actions would be, but surely even a child of his age should have known that doing what he’s told = good and clever, and not doing what he’s told = unknown but definitely negative consequences for him and all else involved!?
Pretty much straight off the mark, I wasn’t liking this child and his precocious ways, but this plunged me even further to not like this character. And it makes it hard to concentrate on the bigger picture of the film when you have so much trouble even sympathising with the main character.

At least he had the common sense to listen to his mother when she told him to wait for her back at their house. But unfortunately all damage was done by then. The house was in disarray, especially his parent’s bedroom. All signs pointed to his mother being there but being taken, and to add to everything, the servants were looting the furniture.

He stayed in the house for some time, surviving on whatever was left to eat and drink, but eventually he ran out and had to flee onto the streets to find the Japanese had taken over.

I think his aim was to be taken prisoner by the Japanese, going by his exclamations of surrendering. But not even they wanted him.

I gave up shortly after John Malkovich’s character came into it and tried to sell off Jamie’s teeth.

I think, whilst part of my dislike of this film is obvious, I also find it very hard to sit down and enjoy films that you can’t really say you enjoy at the end of it. I know I say I can dislike a film for some reason, but appreciate how good the film is anyway, but a film like this… where I can’t appreciate how good the film is anyway, because of it’s focal point, and I dislike it for the same reason… It’s almost pointless in me trying to stick with it.

Because I’m not going to be able to get to the end of the film and say “Well, as much as such and such annoyed me, it was really enjoyable! It had a great message!”.

Because I can’t see past the barriers of this child’s lack of common sense. It would have been a very different story if he’d have acted a different way in the first place, and on the downside, that could have made for an even more sad story. But at least it might have been a story I could say “Well, I didn’t like the topic, but what a film!” about it, like I could with Full Metal Jacket or Apocalypse, Now!

And it’s a shame, and I know it says more about me than it does about this film, because this was based on a novel, which was loosely based on a man’s life. And you can’t really critique a film’s depiction of actions which could have really happened. You just end up critiquing the person’s actions.

So, for that reason, I say if you’re more of a sympathetic type of person who likes to see a character grow and learn during difficult times, this film might be worth giving a go. It is, after all, considered a classic.

But for me…
I give it a 1/10. And that’s just for the acting.


Classic Movie Quest: Doctor Zhivago

Monday 10 February, 2014

Before I begin properly, let me just say that getting a comprehensible review out of this film was, for me, more difficult than the clichés of getting blood out of a stone and pulling teeth combined.

Which is why this review will be so short! You could either have comprehensible or short, or unintelligible but long. I went with the former and trust me, you’ll thank me for it.

And now without further ado:

Doctor Zhivago is one of those films that almost everyone considers to be one of the most bittersweet romantic films of all time, along with Casablanca and Gone With The Wind. It stars Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Alex Guiness and Tom Courtenay, and it’s set during the times of the First World War and the Russian Revolution.

Here’s what I got from the first watch, before I gave up in a fit of mass confusion:

A young woman by the name of Tonya is meant to be Yuri’s daughter, even though they’re of similar ages. Her Aunt Lara/Larissa is having an affair with the same man her mother is having an affair with, all the while Billy Liar (Aka, Tom Courtenay, but I couldn’t remember his name at the time of the first watch) is starting the Russian Revolution.

You can see where I got horribly mixed up. At least, I sort of did on a second watch. Unfortunately whilst a second watch did help with what I’d got confused over, it didn’t change the film from being boring and still difficult to follow for me.

So, what I got from the second watch was this: Yuri Zhivago’s half brother is searching for his niece, who may or may not have the same name as the girl Yuri Zhivago grew up with, after he became an orphan.

Yuri Zhivago grows up to be the eponymous Doctor Zhivago. Tonya returns from Paris, and her and Yuri Zhivago get married.

Tom Courtenay’s character takes part in a protest that turns violent after involvement from the Coassacks, and he get’s stabbed for his troubles. He goes to the woman he’s in love with, Lara, to be looked after, and also to hide his gun.

Unfortunately for Tom Courtenay, Lara’s having an affair with her mother’s “friend”, who on second watch I’m still unsure whether she’s also having an affair with him or not. She get’s found out, the mother attempts suicide, Doctor Zhivago comes to the rescue.

To make matters worse for Lara, and I don’t mean that lightly, when Lara realises she wants out of the affair, the mother’s friend attacks and rapes her. There’s a whole avenue of a sexist, patriarchal society rant that I could go down from this part alone. But I won’t, because it’s pretty self-explanatory. That man thought he had the right to do that, and he didn’t, and times haven’t changed even today.

I think that’s about where I stopped, both times. You can see how just one small detail made the difference for those fourty minutes, the story of who was who to whoever was a bit clearer.

But it is a very involved sort of film. It’s not one you can watch lightly. From what I saw, I’m not even sure how people could even call it romantic, especially seeing as if the scene with Alec Guiness is to be believed, Doctor Zhivago went and had an affair whilst he was married. Is it that affair that’s meant to be romantic? That’s not very nice for the other parties involved.

So yes, a very heavy film. Maybe the acting and the directing is what got it put onto The List, but I’m a bit lost on the story, in more than one ways. And I say that as someone who knows that sometimes, these films are just on the list because, despite the convoluted plots that can be their ruin, or the hit and miss dialogue which make them difficult to stick through, they’re a golden well for media analysis. The fun of analysing can come from the very things than can make films unwatchable.

This film isn’t one of them. Or at least, not for me.

2/10.


Classic Movie Quest: Some Like It Hot

Monday 22 April, 2013

This is really another film that I went into blindly, and that hasn’t worked out well for me so far, if I’m honest. And of all the people I mentioned this film to, only one person had both seen it and liked it.

Well, maybe that’s the key, because I can honestly say that of all the films I’ve watched so far for the Classic Movie Quest, I enjoyed watching this one the most! I actually properly laughed at the bits people are meant to laugh at. That hardly ever happens with me!

It’s very loosely based on a French “drag comedy” called La Cage aux Folles, a film which has a closer American remake in the form of a film called The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams and Hank Azaria. That’s another film which never fails to make me laugh every time, for the record.

And alright, it’s not the most politically correct of films in this day and age. If two men dressed up as women and successfully infiltrated a woman’s band in order to escape the mafia after accidentally witnessing a mass execution – talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time – in real life, it’d be, quite frankly, very weird and worrying, especially for the women involved.

But it would still have the air of so surreal, you have to laugh to it, if you disregard the seriousness of the Saint Valentines Day Massacre… And built on that, you have this comedy.

It stars Tony Curtis (Joe), Jack Lemmon (Jerry) and Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane). Like I said, it’s about two men, both talented musicians, who accidentally witness the Saint Valentines Day Massacre and have to go on the run to avoid being killed by said Mafia. They dress up in drag, join a women’s band, one catches the eye of a womanising millionaire with a yacht, and hilarity ensues.

Some parts do come off as skeezy, which is unavoidable. Both Jerry and Joe compete to gain the affections of talented ukulele player and solo singer, Sugar, and, Jerry more than Joe, struggle to remember that doing so would put their disguises at risk. Which is why Joe takes up yet another disguise as a millionaire with a yacht, taking advantage of the fact that a real millionaire with a yacht named Osgood Fielding III has not only docked at the beach, but is vying for Jerry-in-drag’s attention.

This film is nothing more than a farce, it is meant to be seen as nothing more than a comedy, but for the time it was done and set, it’s actually quite a “modern” story. I mean this in the most positive way, but it borders on Carry-On-Film territory for most of the film. And for a farce, it makes for a good example of the social conventions that are only being questioned today.

Of course, all good films have to go wrong before they end on a happy note. The Mafia make another appearance, there is a chase which is just as funny as it is life-threatening, and poor Sugar is left chasing their tails as they end up on Osgood’s boat, safe from the Mafia once again.

Luckily, she can jump really well, but unfortunately for the now less-than enthusiastic Jerry, Osgood still wants to marry him despite knowing he’s a man. Talk about modern!

I really did like this film. It is dated, but there’s no getting around that fact, considering it’s a black and white film from 1958 based in 1929. It is not for anyone a part of the Social Justice Warriors or take Political Correctness to the extreme, but I would recommend it to those who know a good laugh when they see it, and I definitely would watch it again.

8/10


Classic Movie Quest: All About Eve

Monday 25 March, 2013

I don’t know if this will surprise anyone or not, but I genuinely liked All About Eve. I really liked it!

Despite figuring out the twist of Eve lying about her life and how it lead to her latching on to Bette Davis’s Margo almost as soon as the character starting tell her story to the whole group, I still found the film interesting enough to keep watching through to the end. Just knowing that one piece of information didn’t give the rest of the film away (As apose to something like the 6th Sense, which I figured out half through the film and spend the other half hoping that it wouldn’t end in the cop out I was imagining it could be. Predictably, it did), especially as we’re already shown the ending at the beginning and the rest of the film is shown in flashback form.

I think what kept my attention despite my brain already spoiling the big shock for me, is the fact that by now, it’s a common plot twist found in many television series and films by now, regardless of genre, on top of the sheer fact that I like these sort of twists when executed well. A La Folie Pas Du Tout, for example, is one that is executed very well and a must see if you’re a fan of either All About Eve or Play Misty For Me.

And that’s because there’s a whole story to unravel besides the twist. I might have known Eve was lying, but I didn’t know why, I didn’t know what was the truth, I didn’t know how it lead to the end scene, which we saw first, and I certainly didn’t know how I’d feel about the characters as the story progressed.

It’s very easy to see Bette Davis’s character as a bitter old woman, resentful of a younger fresher face on the scene, paranoid to the highest degree over her friends finding a place in their group for this young up-and-comer who started out as a lowly fan. It’s very easy to see her as the rest of the group see her and the situation, that Margo is anticipating the fall of her career after reaching forty and can’t handle aging, and sees anyone younger as the enemy, and anyone helping anyone younger is also the enemy.

But the thing is, is that even if you know the twist or not, the audience sees the manipulation side of it too. Eve is an opportunist and she carries around a kicked puppy look wherever she goes. Margo’s friends have taken her under her wing, they give her opportunities because they feel like she deserves them, and she eats them up because she knows the worse she makes it for Margo, the easier it is for her to take her place. After all, she is a very good actress.

We see as she moves in on the characters, one by one, from Margo to her friend Karen, wife of the Lloyd Richards, who writes the plays that Margo stars in, to Lloyd himself. She orchestrates situations where she has to fill in for Margo, with a theatre critic watching.

It’s mesmorising. Watching it all unfold is honestly mesmerising.

And doesn’t it say something about the ignorance of the acting industry that a woman hitting forty is just as at risk of losing grip on her career in today’s society as she was over fifty years ago? Alright, so it’s got better over the last couple of years, we are seeing more genuinely older ladies on the screen and in theatre, I think that’s down to the way we percieve middle age these days. But older women actors are few, far between, and in the majority. The parts aren’t as varied as for other dynamics, that’s for sure.

But back to All About Eve. I can’t fault it at all. Bette Davis, Anne Baxtor, Celeste Holm and the rest were amazing. This film deserves it’s place on the list of Must See Classic Movies. I would watch it again and I would recommend it.

10/10