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Of food, technology, movies, music, and travel—or whatever else strikes my fancy


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So instead, I'm writing about "Little Women"

I haven’t blogged in ages because I keep thinking that I should write something personal and insightful. But when I start trying to do that, I just get bogged down. I don’t want to seem preachy, I don’t know how much I want to reveal–I just don’t enjoy it.

So chuck it. Let’s talk about Greta Gerwig’s Little Women.


I work at a tech company, and before the Christmas break, the chatter was all about Star Wars. Who would see it when, how many times, in what format, and at which theatre. So much excitement.

… Which I couldn’t share, ’cause I didn’t care. I did see the first two in this new Skywalker set. I thought the first one was too much of a rehash of the original Star Wars. I found the second better, more interesting. But this one, somehow, really seemed primarily aimed at the super-fans (who are legion). I’m sure it’s an entertaining enough movie. But I’m in no hurry to see it.

When I first saw the trailer for the new Little Women, I wasn’t sure it was necessary, given that the 1994 version was so good. I was intrigued, though, by the near suggestion that maybe Jo… Doesn’t get married?

And then all the amazing reviews started coming out, so I started really anticipating its release. I had visions of seeing it at the VIP theatre–lounging in my comfy chair, being served appetizers and wine–but then realized that while it was playing at that theatre, it wasn’t in the VIP room. (Not with stupid Star Wars hogging a bunch of those screens.) So instead we trundled off to see it at on a regular screen at a regular theatre, with regular seats and not even any popcorn, because the lineup to get that was too long. (Stupid Star Wars.)

Jean’s been watching a bunch of women-centred shows with me lately: TV series Fleabag (which he loved), the movie Girls Trip (which he did not; must agree it was pretty stupid), and the movie Booksmart (I liked this one more as it progressed; he remained unmoved by the main characters).

With Little Women, he loved the cinematography and found the characters interesting, if not always likable. He’s never read the book and doesn’t remember the 1994 Little Women (which we saw together), so the story was all new to him. He declared he wished there was more plot. (Does Fleabag really have any more plot, though?) And he kept mixing up the actors playing Beth and Amy (declaring they looked too much alike), which made for a certain amount of story confusion, as you might imagine.

Me, I read the book multiple times in my youth, so it was all about seeing how the famous scenes were interpreted this time. And the unique approach here is that much of the story is told in flash-back form, as the movie begins with Jo in New York, meeting Professor Bhaer. As events occur in that time line, she thinks back on moments from her youth.

It’s kind of an exhilarating way of presenting it, as those of us who are familiar with the story are also, basically, looking back on those scenes with nostalgia. Giving away Christmas dinner to the Hummels. Getting in trouble over pickled limes. Oh right, the ice skating accident. Beth and her piano. The burnt dress. The burnt dress. The burnt stories! (So much burning!)

The movie just skitters along at a contemporary pace, moving across scenes before we can get bored with them, but without seeming rushed.

The actors are all terrific. Among the famous are Saiorse Ronan as Jo, Emma Watson as Meg, Timothy Chalumet as Laurie, Laura Dern as Marmee, and Meryl Streep as Aunt March. Not previously known to me were Florence Pugh as Amy and Eliza Scanlen as Beth, which I assume contributed to Jean’s confusing the two of them. They stood up among this cast, with Pugh doing an especially great job with Amu. And I would note that both actors had startlingly rich, deep voices, which was really striking (to me; Jean claimed to not have noticed).

But does Jo marry? (Spoiler alert, I guess?) That’s the thing: it’s not clear. By that point in the story, Jo is working on a novel called Little Women, based on her life. She is discussing the fate of the fictional Jo with her editor, he of the opinion that women characters must end up either married or dead. There is a scene of Jo and Professor Bhaer kissing in the rain. But did that really happen or is it just written into the novel…?

Brilliant.

This Vox article–The power of Greta Gerwig’s Little Women is that it doesn’t pretend its marriages are romantic–gives a great take on Little Women‘s “marriage problem”: that it’s hopelessly unsatisfying that Jo ends up with Professor Bhaer (especially the way he’s described in the novel) while Amy gets Laurie. Apart from making Jo’s marital status ambiguous, Gerwin makes the Laurie / Amy partnership much more palatable partly by, as the article says, spelling the economic reality for women at that time.

Sorry, Star Wars fan, for dumping on your movie, which I haven’t even seen. Just a joke. I do hope you enjoyed it. Because I do understand loving something in your childhood / teenagehood and wanting to see it re-created on-screen. Only for me, that something is a novel about four young women in the time period of the American Civil War.


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Good shows

Having finished the latest seasons of Glow and Mindhunter on Netflix, and the six episodes of Chernobyl on HBO (those are all recommended series, by the way, as is the new Stumptown), Jean and I needed a new show to stream. I short-listed four:

  1. Killing Eve
  2. The Expanse
  3. Good Omens
  4. When They See Us

Jean declared interest in all but the last (about the Central Park Five), which he thought he’d find too depressing.

We decided to start with the six-episode Good Omens, from Amazon Prime.

The premise here is that history as told in the Bible is actually true, and all that dinosaur evidence to the contrary is just God’s idea of a joke. Also, the apocalypse is nearing. An angel (Aziraphale) and a demon (Crowley), who have both been on Earth for quite some time, and have grown rather fond of the place, secretly team up to try and thwart it.

Four episodes in, we’re quite enjoying it. It’s quirky and funny. The cast, led by Michael Sheen and David Tennant–but also featuring John Hamm, Michael McKean, and the voice of Frances Macdormand–is terrific. The episodes don’t waste any time in speeding along toward the end of days. As an added bonus, it also happens to feature a great deal of Queen music.

Good Omens trailer

If there’s anything the show reminds of me of, that would be my favourite network show, NBC’s The Good Place.

Currently in season four, with past seasons available on Netflix, The Good Place is a half-hour comedy starring Kristen Bell and Ted Dansen. It begins when Eleanor Shellstrop dies and finds herself in “the good place” (as opposed to “the bad place”). Only, given the wonderfully charitable lives the other inhabits of “the good place” have led, Eleanor fears that she has mistakenly been assigned there. And has to figure out how to avoid being found out and sent to the bad place.

Good Place season 1 trailer

But that’s just the initial setup. This series goes places in its four seasons, with twists you don’t see coming, unexpected alliances, and utterly bold time jumps and compression. The series is really better watched unspoiled, so I don’t want to give much away. But it does share with Good Omens the off-kilter look at religious themes, the representation of the forces of good and evil as largely banal bureaucracies, and a cartoon-like comedy approach to dealing with deep subjects. Like the best of fantasy series (hi, Buffy) both use the fantastical to comment on modern human realities.

Still, you can’t push it too far. Good Omens is a six-part series of one-hour episodes, based on a beloved (albeit not read by me) Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel. It’s largely about poking fun at the absurdity of literal religious beliefs. (I think. I mean, I still have two episodes to go.)

(But, one of my favourite parts of Good Omens so far is the look back at the time of Noah’s Ark.

[The following are not exact quotes, but…] “What’s going on, then?” asks Crowley. “God’s feeling tetchy. She’s decided to drown everyone. Big storm,” replies Aziraphale. “What? Everyone? Even the children?” The angel nods, mutely. Then adds, “Well, just the locals. I don’t think she’s mad at the Chinese. Or the Native Americans…”)

Whereas The Good Place is a completely original, four-season (all short seasons) sitcom. It does not take on traditional religion and its beliefs, but really digs into morality and philosophy: can people change? What does it mean to be good? It’s stunning that there is a half-hour American sitcom about that, isn’t it? (And yes, it’s hilarious!)

So, in summary, Good Omens and The Good Place are both good shows that are somewhat similar but also not really, except that both are deserving of your time and attention.


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Finding fiction

A tip on reading more books that I’ve found useful is to just embrace having more than one on the go at a time. Prevents any one book from feeling like a slog that is stopping you from moving on to your new, shiny books.

Personally I aim to have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book in progress. Non-fiction isn’t so hard to line up—just go with subjects I’m interested in. Fiction is tougher. I now see why so many people love genres of fiction: makes it easier if your aim is to have a bunch of mysteries, romances, or sci fi novels at the ready.

But if your genre is, basically, General Fiction? Quite a bit tougher to narrow that down. I seek inspiration everywhere.

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Source: Spotted it in a book store (but later bought the ebook)

A love story, of sorts, between an eccentric owner of record store—as in LPs, at the time when everybody was buying CDs (and maybe cassettes)—and a mysterious young woman who swooned outside the shop one day. She claims to know nothing about music. He agrees to teach her about it.

That’s the best part of this book, to me—the in-depth discussions of great exemplars of different types of music: jazz, rock, classical, R&B… Makes you want to rush out and listen to what’s being discussed. Fortunately, the book comes with a Spotify playlist:

I do not know what the book’s main character would have thought of Spotify…

An American Marriage by Tayah Jones

Source: Barack Obama recommendation

A novel about a recently married couple in which the husband is wrongfully convicted of sexual assault. The wife has no doubt of her husband’s innocence; nonetheless, he faces a long incarceration away from her. How do you manage that?

Much of the novel is told as a series of letters. The story does not proceed on a predictable path, but it is plausible one. Thanks, Obama.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Source: Kobo (ebook seller) recommendation

A work of fiction built around the story of a young woman who has an affair with the older, married, male Senator she’s an intern for. Shades of Monica Lewinski, yes, though that affair is mentioned in the novel as the news that drives her own story out of the headlines.

What’s interesting is that the story is told exclusively from the point of view of the women involved: the intern, her mother, her daughter (the story covers many years), and the Senator’s wife. And you’re not always sure who is who, at least not right away. I loved the approach and really got caught up in this novel.

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

Source: New York Times best books of 2018

This one didn’t work out!

The novel is in three parts. The first two seem unrelated. The third is supposed to bring them together. I read the first part, about a love affair between a young woman and much older man (a writer). They were interesting characters, but they didn’t really do much. There wasn’t much plot happening.

Before proceeding, I look into other reviews. They said that the second part was less interesting than the first, and that the supposed connection you find out about in the third is tenuous, maybe unfathomable. So, I gave up on this one.

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian

Source: Recommendation from The Washington Post

Cassandra Bowden, a flight attendant and a binge drinker, wakes from drunken stupor to find that the man she spent the night in Dubai with has been murdered. What to do?

If there’s one genre I do tend to return to, it’s the thriller, and this one is somewhat reminiscent of The Girl on the Train. Unlike that novel, however, it’s clear early on in this story that Cassandra did not murder her lover. But her lack of memory about what happened complicates her situation. And her frequently poor judgment often makes things worse.

This was a pretty fun read. I got it as a library ebook and had to binge read through the last parts because someone else had put a hold on it and I wanted to know how it ended.

Non-fiction

I’ve been in a bit of a rut here, of musician bios.

Thanks a Lot, Mr. Kibblewhite is Roger Daltrey’s breezy, easy-reading autobiography. You can tell that it was built from Roger telling his story to the writer he worked with, who assembled the pieces into a coherent narrative.

It is an interesting story, starting in the deprivations of post-war London and continuing up to closing out the Olympic Games, making a triumphant return to Hyde Park, and nearly dying of viral meningitis. With many entertaining anecdotes on the way, from Keith Moon’s antics to the many women in his life (and a number of surprise children) to The Who’s financial challenges and musical triumphs.

I can recommend this one as being appealing even to more casual fans of The Who, as Jean and I listened to the audiobook version (read by Roger Daltrey) and Jean was approving. He had a much higher opinion of Mr. Daltrey by the end of reading this than he had going in.

Unlike with Roger Daltrey’s book, which I preordered and read pretty promptly, this one has been sitting on the bookshelf for a while. I ended up quite enjoying it, though.

This Ray Davies’ second autobiography. Though it does some moving back and forth in time, it’s told in a much more straightforward fashion than his first, which employed a faux, third-party narrator. Here, Ray just writes his own story, focusing on The Kinks relationship with America, and therefore covering the period starting in the early 1970s when the band’s work ban was lifted. It includes the whole 1980s “arena rock” period during which I discovered The Kinks and became a fan, so was of particular interest.

Ray discusses some of his relationships he was in during this time, but with considerable discretion, so if you’re hoping for dirt on his volatile relationship with Chrissie Hynde, you’ll be disappointed. It’s mostly about the music, the band, and his uneasy relationship with the US itself—culminating in his shooting by a mugger in New Orleans. Getting shot is no joke, it turns out…

Another book with a soundtrack (yes, there’s also a Part 1; I just prefer Part 2)