TW: Mentions of depression and suicide.
As I’ve said in my last few posts, this year has been a mess. A really horrible mess. My mental health has been so bad, which has affected my mood, my concentration, my engagement with the world, and so on. In regards to this post, it’s meant different things at different times: there were periods where I wanted to get lost in new worlds and then there were periods where I couldn’t handle anything new and rewatched old favourites over and over. I haven’t mentioned the rewatches – I’ve written about many of them in previous posts – but they were a much needed reprieve. Escaping into these worlds, old and new and has been one of the few relaxing, comforting parts of this year and, for that, I’m very grateful.
I’m just gonna say this here: SPOILER ALERT! In the writing of all of these things, I’m sure I will have mentioned important things that could potentially ruin a first experience of them. So please be careful when reading and, as always with these posts, please feel free to skim or dip in and out at your leisure; I know it’s long. Hopefully there will be something that you walk away thinking “oh, I want to read/watch that…”
I actually read more this year than I have in the last couple of years – on average – but nothing’s really stuck with me; to a certain extent, I feel like everything’s just bouncing off me. It’s been hard to engage. So I’ve read a lot more than is on this list but it’s like they haven’t really made me feel much, like I haven’t had the energy to have feelings about what I’ve read. There were a few I wanted to mention though.
The Comfort Book by Matt Haig – I know I struggled with Reasons To Stay Alive but there was a lot of hype around that book and I did quite like Matt Haig’s style of writing so I wanted to give his books another shot. But I struggled with this one too. There were parts I liked and I still like the way he articulates certain things. I think possibly my favourite example was “I felt like a walking signifier, signifying a person I could never quite be. There was a gap between what I looked like and what I felt like. And the only way to bridge that gap was by talking and writing about what was going on inside me… Once we take our personal unseen experiences and make them seen, we help others, and even ourselves, to understand what we are going through. What we say aloud can never quite capture what we feel inside, but that is almost the point. Words don’t capture, they release.” There were sections that I did relate to. But, for the most part, I found the ideas oversimplified and vague, which irritated me; I just felt like he made the world sound gentler than it is, like the universe is rooting for you, like there is always a positive to be found. It just felt naïve and removed from real life. There were even some parts that infuriated me. In Burn, where he talks about being told not waiting in pain and what a great lesson that was, I just wanted to scream: “I didn’t fucking wait. It’s just that no one fucking listened. No one fucking cared.” Sections like that felt like a slap in the face, given my experiences in life, given some of the things I’ve struggled with. With sections like that, it was hard to like the book. Some of his writing does do justice to the complexity of life and the universe and some of it makes the world sound so simple, when it just isn’t. I think I’m going to give up on his non-fiction books but I might still give his fiction books a go. I’ve heard good things about The Midnight Library but if I don’t like that either then I think I’ll just have to stop trying because I just end up very upset.
Same Time Next Week (An Anthology Edited by Lee Gutkind) – I first read one of the essays from this book (Came Down A Person by Ella Wilson) a few years ago and it’s stayed with me, so much so that I felt compelled to read the whole book. None of them affected me as much as that original essay (there were a lot of personal parallels so I can understand why that one would resonate with me so much) but I found almost all of them to be moving to at least some degree. I found it very comforting to be ‘amongst’ people who have also felt abandoned or traumatised by the mental health system although it threw up a lot of emotions for me, about my own experiences and my feelings about them. It was a lot; it was an emotional read. But I think there’s a lot to be learned from it and from the experiences of people who have been failed by the healthcare system because it can be better. I have to believe that it can. It was hard though, reading about people who (for the most part) have recovered when I still feel very lost in the thick of it all.
Searching for the Truth by Maranda Russell – I discovered Maranda Russell’s poetry last year and just fell in love with it so I had to read more. I just really love her writing style; it manages to be emotive and thoughtful without being flowery. My favourites were ‘Poetry is Dead,’ ‘Cynical,’ ‘Life & Death,’ ‘I Was Made This Way for a Reason,’ and ‘Schrodinger’s Cat.’ And even in the poems that I wouldn’t choose as favourites, the poetic style still feels strong and have some beautiful lines in them.
Crybaby by Caitlyn Siehl – I love Caitlyn Siehl. I loved What We Buried so I was really looking forward to reading this one (yes, I know it came out a while ago but there’s been a lot going on). I love the way she writes: the language she uses, the images and references she returns to, the flow of her words. There are so many poems that I just loved and/or found very striking, like ‘Golden,’ ‘Apple Pie Life,’ ‘Quiet Death,’ ‘Achilles To Patroclus,’ ‘Fear,’ ‘Wash,’ ‘Ajar,’ ‘Pink,’ ‘Fire,’ ‘Club Boys,’ ‘Forgotten,’ ‘Scrub,’ ‘It Ends Or It Doesn’t,’ ‘Handy Guide To Navigating The Fantasy,’ ‘Burning,’ and ‘Loveless.’ There are so many lines that I just found so beautiful, so tender, so harrowing, so fierce, both in the poems I mentioned and in many of the others. There are also illustrations and little pieces of writing, which are also really beautiful and powerful. What We Buried might be my favourite by a little but I think that’s just because it was this total immersion into a new world of beautiful writing that enchanted me but this is definitely a worthy follow up to that experience.
I’m currently reading The Good Place and Philosophy, a book about the philosophy that is discussed in the TV show, The Good Place. My friend gave it to me for Christmas; he introduced me to the show (and we then watched the later seasons together) and we both really love it. I haven’t read much of it yet but I’m enjoying it so far.
Interestingly, the books that I’ve found it easiest to read this year haven’t been novels but books broken up into sections, like poetry or essays. My concentration has been awful this year – whether that’s due to my depression or my ADHD – and clearly that’s made reading a more difficult task than in previous years.
The Protégé – If Maggie Q is in something, chances are I will be watching it. I love her and have loved her ever since I first saw her in Nikita and then Stalker. The basic synopsis is that, having been raised from childhood to be the perfect assassin by her mentor and veteran assassin, Moody (played by Samuel L. Jackson), Anna commits her life to revenge after her mentor is murdered. As always, Maggie Q is fantastic – poised and controlled but emotive, and fantastic during the action sequences (the stunts were awesome) – but the plot left something to be desired: there were a lot of different storylines going on at once (the central assassination attempt, the mentor-protégé relationship, her childhood trauma, the idea of a hitman clearing their conscience, and more) and although all of them were interesting, the amount of them meant that none of them got to be explored particularly deeply; after a while, everything turned out to have a twist, which got a bit predictable and tedious; and I did not understand the Michael Keaton character or his motives and the moment where his and Maggie Q’s characters randomly slept together felt very contrived. As one review wrote, “Maggie Q’s still waiting for the action movie that really deserves her” and I agree; I don’t think this was a bad film but it could’ve been better. She is a fantastic actress and I look forward to whatever she works on next.
Captain Marvel – It took me a long time but I finally got around to watching Captain Marvel! Maybe because I haven’t kept completely up to date with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (I mean, Agents of Shield is the love of my life but I find the wider universe overwhelming and sometimes a bit boring), I found the plot pretty difficult to follow for at least the first third of the film; I really had no idea what was going on. But once I figured out what was happening, I really enjoyed it (despite the fact that a fair amount of it had been spoiled for me by social media and Agents of Shield to an extent – I mean, the Kree being the good guys?! Pfft). I liked Carol and her sense of humour totally clicked with mine (asking Fury for a random story about himself – that he can’t eat diagonal toast – was hilarious and became a running joke in my house for a while) and I really liked the chemistry between her and Fury (not in the romantic sense, just in how well they got along). I loved that we finally find out what happened to Fury’s eye and that, basically from the moment it happened, he’s lying to people about it and being mysterious. And I thought it was very cool to see what sparked the beginning of the Avengers. I was almost hysterical with joy to see Coulson again; I squealed every time he appeared on screen. I’ve missed him since the end of Agents of Shield. Also, having seen WandaVision last year, it was nice to have the holes in the Maria and Monica Rambeau story filled in. And I loved the cat called Goose. On the whole, I thought it looked great too. I loved the super sci-fi Kree city (although, has it not been established that having an AI leader never ends well by now?!) and how beautifully detailed it was; I also really loved how they portrayed only half-remembered memories, fading in and out; and I loved the way her powers manifested, curling around her fingers like magic or smoke. Having said that, I did have serious questions about her suit. I wasn’t convinced by the CGI work when she powered up and the way it turned her hair into a mohawk made her look completely ridiculous. I also couldn’t figure out how, to begin with, she needed her helmet to breathe in space but, by the end, she didn’t seem to need it.
Before I Fall – Popular girl Sam wakes up the morning after she dies in a car accident only to relive her last day over and over. What could have been a complete cliché is instead a well paced (something that’s always difficult when there’s a time loop involved), engaging, and emotive story as Sam tries to change the course of events, to figure out what is happening to her and why, whether it means she’s a bad person, whether that’s something that’s too late to change. I thought, going in, that it would be fine, an easy way to pass the time, but I found it moving and thought-provoking. I first saw Zoey Deutch in Ringer back in 2011 and thought she was great then and watching this, it’s clear that she’s both grown and developed as an actress. It’s an emotive and emotionally complex film so I’m not sure it’s one I’d revisit often but I thought it was really good and I’m glad I gave it a chance.
Red Notice – I really enjoyed this film. I love cold openings; all of the stunts looked like so much fun; I loved the humour, especially from the Ryan Reynolds character; and I loved the way the story played out, surprising me a lot more than I expected. And I found it hilarious that literally everyone had daddy issues (I mean, relatable). I particularly enjoyed the climax of the film, apart from the Ed Sheeran cameo; that just felt unnecessary and sort of fourth-wall-breaking. The only thing for me is that I’m not sure Dwayne Johnson will ever convince me that he’s an FBI agent; it just felt unbelievable, right from the very beginning of the film.
The Lost City – Having seen the trailer and found it hilarious, I was really looking forward to this film and I did, for the most part, enjoy it. Author Loretta Sage (Sandra Bullock) and her cover model, Alan (Channing Tatum), find themselves in the middle of an adventure very similar to those Loretta writes about. It’s more than a little silly but it doesn’t take itself too seriously and it’s good fun if you can let it be the film it is. Apart from some very cringey moments (which did almost turn me off the film at the beginning), I did find it very funny. I love Sandra Bullock and I really liked her character in this. I also loved Daniel Radcliffe as a somewhat crazed, billionaire supervillain; it seemed like he was really enjoying himself with this character which made him really fun to watch. I thought Channing Tatum’s character was more than a little inconsistent, flip-flopping between being very dense and being really quite thoughtful. But overall, it was very enjoyable and I’ve watched it a few times when I just needed something that was fun and light.
Jurassic World Domination – I love the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World films. There I said it. No, I don’t think they’re cinematic masterpieces but I greatly enjoy watching them and often turn to them when the world feels too much and I just want to escape. I loved both the chaos and harmony of dinosaurs living in the present, amongst humans and other animals; I loved the return of the Jurassic Park cast; I loved the incredibly elaborate action sequences; I loved the big bad corporation; I loved the whole cast coming together at the end. I thought it was really cool and great fun.
Not Okay – I wasn’t actually going to write about this film because I wasn’t sure I had anything to say but then I kept coming back to it, kept thinking about it. The film begins with Danni, the “unlikable female protagonist” (as we are warned in the film’s disclaimer), lying on social media about a trip to Paris. When a terrorist attack takes place and she sees the overwhelming amount of attention she receives, she continues to lie instead of telling the truth. It was interesting because it was practically unwatchable at points – because of Danni’s absolute tone-deafness and later because you knew it was all about to explode and you could see how everyone was going to get hurt – but you also couldn’t help feeling invested. I don’t know if it’s some intrinsic belief that people will eventually do the right thing or if it’s just the ‘can’t look away from a car crash’ thing. If it hadn’t have been for Rowan (a teenage school shooting survivor and activist that Danni meets at a trauma support group), I’m not sure I would’ve finished the film, to be honest. Rowan was sweet and raw and passionate and just so compelling to watch, her authenticity and conviction a mirror to Danni’s vacuous, attention-craving, self-centered personality. Mia Isaac, the actress who plays Rowan, is captivating to watch – she’s the heart of the film – and is definitely someone to keep an eye out for. The film poses some really big questions about the fetishisation of trauma, how public figures are treated, the effects of cancel culture, performative activism, the reliance on social media for validation, and so on. And while I think the film ended where it should’ve, I’m always kind of fascinated by how people rebuild, whether that’s on a personal scale or a societal one. I’m intrigued to know where both Rowan and Danni ended up. Rowan’s trajectory is a bit more predictable but with Danni’s credibility destroyed, it’s harder to imagine where
The Good Nurse – This popped up on Netflix and without thinking too hard about it, I started watching it. I really like Jessica Chastain and her performance in this film is phenomenal, as is Eddie Redmayne’s. While quite a lot is happening throughout the film – the mysterious deaths of patients at the hospital where they both work, a police investigation into the deaths, Amy’s (Chastain) health deteriorating, Amy and Charlie’s (Redmayne) growing friendship – it’s the moments between the two of them that are the most compelling, even when neither of them are speaking. It’s very tense, even when Charlie is finally arrested for killing multiple patients at the hospital (and in previous hospitals), but the climax of that moment – of the whole film – comes with a relief that’s more sickening that satisfying. When he finally responds to the question of why he did what he did, he simply says, “They didn’t stop me.” Each hospital had simply fired him and made him someone else’s problem, allowing him to keep killing people; they could’ve stopped him but they didn’t. The final scenes, where they explain what happened to Charlie (and then Amy) were constructed beautifully I thought: there was no fanfare, just the facts presented in a really impactful way. The fact that Charlie only confessed to twenty-nine murders to avoid the death penalty when it was like to be around four hundred was horrifying; he’ll be in prison for the rest of his life regardless but the families of the people he killed still deserve that justice. But the most harrowing part was that, over the sixteen years he worked as a nurse, most of the hospitals he worked at had suspicions about him and yet none of them faced charges. What he did was awful enough but the fact that the healthcare system actually enabled him is just… I don’t have the words. On a more positive note, I’m really glad that Amy and her family were and are okay.
I’m still not sure how I feel about true crime films given some of the stories that have come out recently from survivors and the families of victims so I’m really glad that they didn’t glorify him. I spent most of the movie thinking about how much pain he caused and how utterly despicable the healthcare system is for allowing that to happen and unless Netflix grows a conscience and starts compensating the people they’re making money off by telling their stories, I think that’s the best we can hope for: focussing on the people that matter and the changes that need to be made to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.
Enola Holmes 2 – I loved Enola Holmes so I was really looking forward to the sequel (with some anxiety since sequels so often don’t live up to their predecessors) and it was everything I hoped for and more. I love Millie Bobby Brown as Enola and I think she commands the story and the audience’s attention beautifully; the script is brilliant and hilarious; and the chemistry between the actors is gorgeous. Henry Cavill is brilliant too and very funny but he never overshadows Millie Bobby Brown as the star, which I imagine is a skill that one isn’t just born with. The relationship between Sherlock and Enola is very sweet and it’s really nice to watch it grow with all of its ups and downs, especially considering how intelligent they both are. I also loved the returning characters, like Edith and Eudoria; they were fantastic even though they didn’t get a whole lot of screen time. I was very excited to see David Thewlis and the new cast members were really great too. These films don’t feel like anything else; watching them feels like an entirely unique experience and I love that (I would not say no to another… and another, etc). The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the editing, the action sequences, how apparently insignificant details effortlessly become relevant later in the story… It’s all so beautifully done. I found the plot (the multiple plots!) somewhat confusing to begin with but, as it unravelled, I just fell in love and was absolutely hooked: I was completely invested in Enola’s case, I loved her less than graceful relationship with Tewkesbury, the collision of Enola’s case and Sherlock’s, the historical events unfolding throughout and around the story. The twists throughout the film are just exquisitely done and the finale (well, there are two really: the finale of the case and the finale of the events that sparked the case) was fantastic. The final showdown has an amazing reveal that had me shrieking and then, the aftermath of that, was so moving I was almost in tears. Some of the specific details I loved: her detective agency plan didn’t succeed straight away and it took time for her to figure out how to make it work for her rather than following someone else’s blueprint; I loved that there wasn’t just ‘the villain’ and that the story and the wrongs they were trying to right were a lot more complicated and nuanced; I loved almost every scene between Enola and Tewkesbury (particularly their very chaotic declaration of feelings for each other and the parallel where he taught her to dance in a bathroom in five minutes and she taught him to fight in a carriage in five minutes); in the final showdown, I loved the multiple fights going on at the same time and how they were edited together. And the final scene with Sherlock was shriek-worthy; hopefully that means that there are at least thoughts for another film. Anyway. I could go on. I just loved it and will be watching it again and again. My only disappointment (and it’s really not that big of a deal) is that we didn’t see Mycroft since Sam Claflin’s portrayal of him is hilarious. But, as I said, I loved it. I absolutely loved it and there aren’t many things I can say that about this year.
Free Guy – I love Ryan Reynolds; I find him completely hilarious in everything (that I’ve seen at least). I loved the chaos of this film (the wrecking ball scene may be the funniest thing I’ve seen all year); I loved the over dramatic action scenes; I loved the super cool special effects; I loved that you had no idea what was going on when the film started; I loved the random cameos and pop culture references; I loved the bigger story, outside the game (I’ve definitely felt like a background character in life, just there to fill in everyone else’s storylines, this year). I really enjoyed it, which surprised me since, as much as I like Ryan Reynolds, it didn’t seem like something that would appeal to me.
Black Widow – Even though I love Agents of Shield, I have not kept up with what’s going on in the Marvel universe. There are just so many films with so many characters that I’m just not very invested in. But I also liked Natasha Romanoff and was intrigued by how she became an Avenger, became who she is. So I was very excited about her getting her own film (my depression just kept me from actually watching it until now). I was fascinated by the fact that even her childhood was an undercover mission, the pretend child of Russian agents living in Ohio and infiltrating SHIELD. But then that mission ends and she, and her younger sister Yelena, are taken (back in Natasha’s case) to the Red Room, where they are trained to be assassins (the montage of this process looks beautiful – the shots, the editing, and so on). Post a load of Marvel stuff I haven’t seen, Natasha and Yelena have reunited to take down the Red Room, something Natasha thought she’d done years previously, and free the other Widows from a chemical form of mind..