Book review: Angela's Ashes

Posted by Bel. The time is 1.07pm here in Wellington, NZ.

My husband comes from Irish stock, as he likes to remind us all, any time any particular (drunken) behaviour needs explaining away.

So it was no surprise to find a copy of Frank McCourt's Pulitzer Prize winner on my mother-in-law's shelf, along with two copies of the follow-up Tis, and then the book he wrote about his career in the classroom, Teacher Man, and even the memoir written by his younger brother.

The tone of the book is immediate - deadpan, detailed, colloquial and charming. The dialect is obvious from the onset, ringing out from the page, poetic in the way that the Irish voice has, even when describing the least salubrious of situations.

Now, what with the book being a international bestseller and the film adaptation starring world class actors, I probably don't need to go over the plot with you. But if you haven't actually read the book, and you do come across a copy, I would suggest you give it a go.

The writing is superb and worth immersing yourself in solely for the experience is seeing a world with a child's eyes - as the narrative of Angela's Ashes is deftly told from this perspective. Not in a cloying way, but with traits that remind you of that age when so much of the adult world went over your head and you were happier for it.

Another comment on the tone. I found this book really, really funny. I took it to be a black comedy, with the tragic elements presented in such a way that there was a comedic spin on it all. Like, of course it was awful that he got a thump on the head each time he asked an awkward question, but it was still pretty funny that he kept asking awkward questions in the way that annoying wee boys do and that his parents would just thump him on the head each time he did.

The devasting alcoholism of his father, Malachy Snr, is even given a comedic spin. His relentless booze-fuelled desire to drag his sons out of bed in the middle of the night, dragging them upright to swear to defend Ireland to the death whilst panting whisky-laden breath all over them, becomes an almost affectionate tribute to the patriotic spirit of the Irish - though of course mutilated by Malachy's inability to be a father in any sense of the word.

To me, the passages which diverted most from truly evoking the time and place of McCourt's childhood, were those which retold the time which seemed to have the biggest impact. When he discovers the writing of Shakespeare, Noyes and Swift, a significant turning point in both the book and his young life, a more contemporary voice rings through - a writer still enthralled with these heroes and with literature, whose love of words help transcend the horrors of his origins.

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt. Recommended.
Published in 1996. Set mostly in the poorest, grossest slums of Ireland, 1930s/40s.
#48 from 'The List'

Book review: Excellent Women

The time is 5.10pm here in Wellington, NZ.
Sometimes the quotes on the front of a book can be immediately heartening. Excellent Women (an encouraging enough title!) was referred to as 'endearing' and 'amusing', which, when judging by the cover, does put you in a positive frame of mind.

I then noted that the quote was from the person who'd written the introduction to the book, rather than from any kind of critique, but decided to forge cheerily ahead anyway.

This kind of ambitiously positive attitude is just the sort sported by the heroine of Barbara Pym's novel it turns out. Mildred Lathbury (what a wonderfully British name) is an excellent woman, self-sufficient and independent, relishing spinsterhood in all its joys.

Her quiet life is thrown into somewhat of a disarray by the arrival of a tempestuous, squabbling couple into the downstairs flat of her previously peaceful home. The husband appears to be attempting to charm her. The wife seems to want to confess all sins to her. Mildred would just like to make sure that the church bazaar is going to run smoothly.

Apparently Pym's style is frequently compared to Jane Austen - and now that I am finally reading my first (!) Austen I can see how this fits. It also reminded me a little of Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm.

This book is filled with delicate humour and superb characterisation. I did find the pace rather slow, not so much a rollicking night out with salacious details, but rather more unwinding like a polite garden party peppered with snatches of shadowy gossip. And sometimes that can be just what you're in the mood for!

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym. Recommended as a very light read.
Published in 1952. Set in post-WWII London.
#47 from 'The List'

Two Roads, QT, George, and some Werewolves

Posted by Lou. The time is 2.30pm here in London, UK.

Quelle horreur! Neither Bel nor I have posted in 11 whole days! Lucky I've seen a few films, read a few books, and seen a couple of musicals in that time... okay I'll spare you the musicals...


The Road... and The Road. Read the book... then went to the film. The book is brilliant - Cormac McCarthy centres his story on a father and young son, trying to survive in a barren apocalyptic future. The intimacy of the story is all the more engaging for the simple and identifiable nature of this apocalyptic world: no zombies, techno-wars, or aliens - just dead trees, highways, and the occasional shell of a contemporary American city.

The story becomes even more human in the film, with Viggo Mortensen injecting the character of The Man with startling tenderness - further engaging the audience's emotions with their quest to survive. He is absolutely perfect casting: the sort of guy you think would survive the apocalypse and find a way to live without losing his humanity. And my visual imagination was once more shown up by a filmmaker, with the gray dead landscapes and cityscapes far exceeding my ability to envision such devastation.

Both highly recommended, though I will caution that I personally found that reading and watching very closely together detracted from the impact of the film.


Inglourious Basterds. Some really great stuff in there - iconic character performances (I refer to a couple of the Nazis, NOT Brad Pitt's horrific southerner), stunning imagery, the sort of magnificent dialogue that only QT can do, superb moments of tension surrounding the ultra-violence - but. Well. I couldn't switch off that this is a film set amidst the Holocaust. That dehumanises all members of the German army in a way that - as better commentators on the subject have put it - turns Jews into Nazis. All done by a non-Jewish, non-German filmmaker. Primarily to advance his own sense of ego and cinema. Maybe one day I'll view it differently, but for now there is a lingering feeling of discomfort that overrides the brilliance. But I still love QT so I guess didn't find it too objectionable. Maybe.


I started reading Michael Chabon's Werewolves in Their Youth a long time ago, but set it down partway into the second chapter (I guess not such a great advertisement for it), only recently remembering about it. I finished that chapter, got onto the next one, and thought "there's something funny about this". Happened to glance at the back cover and realised... ooops. It was a set of short stories. Not a novel. Now that is why the characters seemed to have nothing to do with each other and I just couldn't get into the story...

I'm not hot on short stories - it's not a genre I love, and it's a genre I only just know enough about to know that I don't know enough to judge short stories. But this collection had enough Chabon magic to keep me engaged, and is actually gosh-darned interesting for how much it drips with his real-life. You just know reading this that it was written by a man going through the experience of Becoming A Father.

Most interestingly for me was the running thematic of vaginas - implying the discovery by a heterosexual man of a vagina other than the sexual vagina: the vagina as a bearer of life, and the completely asexual vagina of a child. (Ugh, that sounds so wrong written like that - I guess that exposes the certain amount of bravery it takes to write a short story that broaches the subject. I can assure you it's not in any way whatsoever creepily done.) I'd never really thought of what that must be like for the guys who - until fatherhood - only know the vagina as something they want to fuck.


George. Oh we love George. He's so immaculate. So pristine. Perfect. I just think he and I would be so good together, living in his villa on Lake Como and discussing news, politics and literature over cappuccinos and croissants while the water laps gently against the terrace.

Okay I just needed to get that out of my system.

In describing Up in the Air the thing that comes first to mind is that it's a film for grown-ups: it's about grown-up relationships and grown-up lives. It is a very smart, sleek and contemporary film - but far from being "important" or "serious" it is actually quite frivolous with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. George is a guy who spends his life in the air, flying from city to city to fire people. He meets a woman with a similarly transient life, and also finds himself lumped with an ambitious young graduate to show the ropes.

While yes, this is another film about a middle-aged guy, the female characters are actually brilliantly unconventional and remain unjudged for career, sex or life decisions. I guess you could say that the dialogue and story explores ideas of how relationships should or could be in a way that judges neither tradition nor departures from. Another plus is that it provides another showcase for Our Melanie Lynskey's ability to be the character everyone wants to give a hug. And at the centre of it all it showcases George at his best doing what he does best.

Aside: I'm really, really curious as to how much of the film was funded via corporate partners, with the loyalty programmes of companies such as American Airlines, Hertz and Hilton getting extensive screentime. Clever, and very, very savvy in the current film climate.

Book Review: A Good Man Is Hard To Find

Posted by Bel. The time is 7.53pm here in Wellington, NZ.

A short story collection makes great summer reading. If you drop off to sleep in a nice patch of sunshine on your bed during an afternoon's reading, it doesn't matter too much, because you were probably only two or three pages into a six or eight page long story anyway.

But I'll tell ya what, Flannery O'Connor's writing will hold your attention and keep you from even thinking of falling asleep. And quite possibly, the darkly drawn characters of her 'Southern Gothic' tales will give you nightmares.

I was so enraptured by the title story of A Good Man Is Hard To Find, that I did that real annoying thing of re-telling it to the next person I came across, trying to quote her chilling sentences word for word, bungling it horribly and no doubt putting the innocent soul off books in general for life.

Not that her stories in the conventional spooky way. The various characters of A Good Man Is Hard To Find are gut-wrenchingly human and their hopes and flaws are what loads each story with an ominous sense of foreboding. Double-crossing is rife, an almost inevitable conclusion. Although the stories seem to be set in the immediately post-WWII era, there is a quality to them which is so reminiscent of the Coen Brothers' films that it is boldly contemporary.

A note on the title: I had the complete wrong idea about what this book was going to be like. I have an immediate connotation of some kind 80s era poster of a topless Fabio with the twisted slogan 'A Hard Man Is Good To Find' emblazoned across. And so I assumed that this book was some kind of romance trollop too. Read the first story of the book to see how the line is actually used and you'll see just how wrong my interpretation was.

A Good Man Is Hard To Find (and Other Stories) by Flannery O'Connor. Highly recommended.
Published in 1955. Set in the South (USA) in the mid 20th C.
#46 from 'The List'

Book review: Delta of Venus

Posted by Bel. The time is 4.30pm here in Wellington, NZ.

The search results on Wellington Central Library's computer told me that I had to go to the enquiries desk to locate the copy of Anais Nin's Delta of Venus.

'That's a bit weird', I thought, but then told myself perhaps it meant the book was in the process of being put into stack (like so many of the great books I've read off 'The List'), or maybe they were putting on a new layer of that clear coverall that librarians seem to like so much.

But twas not so. The man behind the counter delicately handed over the large hard-cover edition of Delta of Venus and I was faced with a garish sticker on the front: "NOT TO BE ISSUED TO THOSE UNDER 16 YEARS: INDECENT PUBLICATIONS ACT".

He didn't I.D. me, and so I just scuttled off to the issues desk. (Yes, that is the same cover up there, but I foolishly forgot to get a real photo of the blush-inducing label.)

The book is a collection of short stories, conjured up in the 1940s by Nin and her circle of friends, reportedly for a patron who paid $1 per page and demanded she strip the stories of their poetry and just get to, you know, the good stuff.

At the time, Nin was one of the only women in the world writing erotica and despite the benefactor's instructions, there is a sensuality and atmosphere to the writing which lifts it above the sort of 'Penthouse Forum' stuff of our modern times. (Forum? That's right, right? Where readers have supposedly written in? With their randomly raunchy tales of explicit seduction?? I don't want to google it to check on my work computer. But blog I shall, dammit!)

The content of Delta of Venus leaves conventional romance far behind. The opening stories present paedophilia and incest, confronting and challenging what we can regard as sexually acceptable. I can't really recall any stories where two adults indulged in a consenting relationship of harmonious love - everything was twisted. For example, when a couple meet on a train and realise they are perfect for one another, it is because they are both depraved exhibitionists who have been using the train ride as a perfect opportunity to fondle their exposed genitals in front of innocent passersby. Aaawh, how cute! See you guys at the wedding! Remember to wear pants!

From bestiality to necrophilia (one of my favourite stories - except that, oh yeah, gross, the woman was dead and had just been fished up from out of the river, *shudder*), there is no stone unturned, or legs gone unspread. Some characters reappear, but it doesn't have a 'plotline' as such, although the theme of exploration and freeing the self from inhibitions, is unsurprisingly prominent.

PS You guys, do you know how difficult it was to write this without puns?? I just had to put in 'difficult' instead of 'hard' because it made me snort laugh.

PPS I only knew who Anais Nin was previous to reading this because of the Jewel song. You know (2m 28s).

The Delta of Venus by Anais Nin. Recommended, if you're up for it, ooh err. AND OVER 16 YEARS.
Published in 1978. Set in Paris, 1940s.
#44 from 'The List'

Book review: The Golden Notebook

Posted by Bel. The time is 3.30pm here in Wellington, NZ.

I was looking forward to this book, as I recalled hearing of Doris Lessing's comments when she was presented with a Nobel Prize for Literature a year or so ago, at the age of nearly 90. (Basically, she was like, "So what? Took your effing time.")

But The Golden Notebook is not anywhere near as succinct or funny. It made my head swim and my mood increasingly sour as I plodded towards its conclusion. I berated myself for my compulsion to complete books - although it must said, there was something in this that kept me hanging on.

It tells the story (sort of) of Anna Wulf, through her various segmented diaries, and another interweaving section, telling her current life. One diary appears to be a re-telling of her life, fictionalised, reusing character names - which I found most confusing!! Much of the early part of the book focuses on idealistic political views and personal lifestyle choices; seemingly emerging from the dark cloud of World War II determined to improve the world (through Communist values, in this case) and with the early ripples of feminism.

But by the end of the book, it seems to have spiralled down into a nasty self-fulfilling prophesy. All of Anna's previous scathing indictment on the futility of co-dependant male/female relationships comes to fruition in her inability to either relate to or release herself from men. Sigh.

Also: she kind of goes potty about her political beliefs (which earlier they'd been scathing about); the young bright-eyed son turns industrialist (which earlier they'd been scathing about); and her best friend and fellow singleton gets married and moves to the burbs (which earlier, OF COURSE, they'd been scathing about).

I threw the book down in a huff, wondering why it was a tome of such import and went scurrying to ask questions of your friend and mine, the interwebs. I came across a website called The Golden Notebook Project, where a group of feminists have done an interactive 'close reading' of the book, with each page reproduced online with their notes and discussions presented alongside.

The site is worth checking out if you have any interest in website design, because its features and functionality are pretty unique. It is very snazzy-looking as well as easy to use, and made me geek out a bit, I must admit. Also, it made me feel better about the book in general, because many of their reactions were similar - one reader made a wrap-up blog post about how she had to recover from spending so much time reading the brain-churning book by indulging in the kind of shallow romantic comedies she usually hated. Whew! Not just me then.


The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. Not recommended.
Published in 1962. Set in England/Africa, 1930s-50s.
#46 from 'The List'

My dear Watson

Posted by Lou. The time is 9pm here in London, UK.

Since finding out the casting of Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr! Jude Law!) I've been all fingers crossed that there would be plenty of homoerotic tension and innuendo to please those of us who would say YES OH YES to a Bob-Jude sandwich. The publicity rounds seemed to involve plenty between the actors. And, thank you Jesus!, the film does too. Bob and Jude have absolutely fantastic chemistry - they are utterly hilarious together, bouncing off and complementing (and complimenting) each other perfectly. Casting WIN.

Now, I'm going to state upfront that I have never read an actual Sherlock Holmes novel. But I am of course aware of many details of the characters and their relationships, enough to appreciate what they've done here but without having enough invested to be like "BLASPHEMY!!" as I'd imagine fans might. You see, they've looked at the darker side of Holmes (his apathy, his addiction) and turned him into a bad-ass. Bad-ass in an awesome way - smart, funny, clever, KICKS ARSE, prone to spending a little bit too much time in his room playing with drugs and feeling sorry for himself... And Watson is adorably susceptible to him (and his own weaknesses), whilst obviously being far more sensible and normal.

The storyline is a bit silly, but silly in a kind of fun way. Okay, it's entirely silly. But shuddup, it's not about that, it's about how wonderfully awesome a pair Bob and Jude make so just sit back and enjoy it. (And, if you're familiar with London, perhaps turn off your geographic awareness as there is a patently impossible piece of logistics in one set piece that in something that is meant to be a couple of minutes takes them between two places that are at least 20 minutes at a run away from each other.) Oh yeah, Rachel McAdams is in it too. She's okay.

I'm certainly hoping it makes enough $$$ to greenlight the sequel that it is so obviously geared towards.

PS: Ooooh just saw a rumour that Brad Pitt may be cast as Moriarty for a sequel... it's the stuff of wet dreams!

Zeitoun. Compulsary Reading.

Posted by Lou. The time is 2.15pm here in London.



This book is ... like ... simply stunning.

Though does present some logistical difficulties as it is quite hard to read a book while your jaw is dropped on the floor.

In his plainest writing yet (and I mean that in the best possible way), Dave Eggers - "Our Dave", and oh boy does he justify our affection here - gives a voice to the experience of Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun before, during and in the after-math of Hurricane Katrina. His own voice is completely absent - even more so than in What is the What - the pages given over completely to a simple retelling of the Zeitouns' story. A story of such staggering, mind-boggling, appalling, preposterous, ... well, I can't even think of the word. And perhaps finding precisely the right one would spoil the book for you a little (don't read any reviews or interviews-with-the-author - let the book tell you the story first). I think the closest I can get is insanity. Utter, complete insanity.

Syrian-American Zeitoun (his first name proved too problematic for Americans to pronounce so he goes by his last) and his American wife Kathy, both Muslim, run a building contracting business and raise four children in Uptown New Orleans. When the storm warnings worsen Kathy takes the children and leaves New Orleans, Zeitoun insistent on staying to watch over their properties and the sites on which they are currently working. The Hurricane hits. It is okay. Then the levees break. Zeitoun canoes around his and other neighbourhoods, rescuing people and feeding the dogs left behind by his neighbours. He calls Kathy every day. Then one day he stops calling - another person disappeared into the chaos. Kathy's urgency is our own as we turn the pages willing him to be okay, to get answers, to find out what has happened.

We all know that in the wake of Hurricane Katrina the federal agencies and many sections of the media failed. With a combination of a slow, inadequate and disorganised response from FEMA and other agencies that - egged on by hysterical media reports that portrayed the flooded city as a lawless zone of muderin', lootin' and rapin' - sent in too many guns, too many battle-psyched soliders, too few rescue craft and basic supplies, they failed. They failed those trapped in the Superdome and the Convention Centre, on overpasses, under motorways, in homes, in hospitals... They failed the people of New Orleans and they failed the citizens of America (and the rest of the world) who were opening their homes and their cupboards and their wardrobes and their wallets to help those in need, little realising how those tasked with helping were falling short.

But... this. This takes it beyond the general sense of It Was Done Badly to a whole new level of insanity. How has FEMA survived? How did Bush manage to stay in power for another three years? Why haven't people hung for the inhumane aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in which heroes and victims alike were stripped of the last vestiges of their dignity by the very federal agencies meant to help them? How could this happen in the wealthiest nation in the world? I could not imagine this happening in any other nation - no matter how poor, how under-the-thumb of a fascist regime, how messed-up, how unjust - in the wake of a natural disaster when the immediate concern should be to rescue. It is insane.

The book immaculately presents the story, Our Dave and his team having stringently fact-checked, cross-checked, and canvassed witnesses to make this a work of truth. He weaves through imagery and stories of Zeitoun's upbringing, conjuring the fishing village in which he grew up in Syria and the lives of his brothers and family. Though he states upfront that this is not meant to be a story that represents Hurricane Katrina, it undoubtedly - hopefully - will come to be read and retold widely, ensuring people know some of the jaw-dropping things that went on.

The only negative for me was that at 1.47am when I closed the back cover having inhaled every page I needed to know more. All the hows, whys, whats, whos... We can only hope that with time more information and detail emerges, and that people - and most importantly the agencies - are brought to account for what happened in New Orleans in August and September 2005.

You must read this book.

[Decided I should add a note to clarify that my above rants, anger and questions relate very specifically to what unfolds in this book, and very much require reading it to see what I mean (in case it passed for rants against the general incompetence of the reaction to the disaster).]

NB: All writer's proceeds go to related charitable organisations.

Book review: Property by Valerie Martin

Posted by Bel. The time is 6:52pm here in Wellington, NZ.

I spent my Christmas break doing a whole lot of nothing. We watched DVD after DVD, pausing only to eat whatever was in reach, and reading in 100 pages chunks. It was very relaxing, so much so that I promptly got sick, developing a nasty case of pink eye. (PINK EYE!!)

The only copy of Property, by Valerie Martin, available at my beloved Wellington Central Library was a large print edition. This was a boon for me and my gammy eye.

However, I do find it hard to shake off the impression that large print books are for 'remedial readers'. You know... Even when the writing is lucid and evocative, I still get the impression the message is being dumbed down and that the over-size print is because I'm just not capable I'm playing with the big kids.

It was particularly tricky with this book, which told the tale of American slavery times from a (relatively) privileged white woman's perspective. Its portrayal of a household where the plantation owner blatantly fathered children with a black slave was startlingly honest, but the characters were all so unlikeable and with so little growth it was hard to understand what the message was.

Manon is freed from the marriage she hates when their plantation is destroyed in an attack by rebel slaves. Her despicable husband is killed thanks to the actions of her African American parallel, the servant called Sarah, who escapes on the night.

But Manon's obsession in life then becomes the hunting down of her 'property', determined that the slave be returned to her. She is not jealous of Sarah's status as bearer of her husband's children, nor does she actually need her around as a servant, she is just transfixed with the concept of what she owns must be returned to her, regardless of whether that be a human being or not.

I think I was mostly disappointed that the theme of oppression did not seem to be resolved. Manon's circumstances change but she was still entrapped in the same mode of thinking; Sarah made a break for freedom but her fate ultimately was to serve without question. Maybe this was the point? It certainly got across the mentality of the time and how slavery managed to persist for so long.

Apparently Property was a total shocker when it won the Orange Prize in 2003, beating out Donna Tartt and Zadie Smith, and that does not surprise me. I mean, it would have surprised me hugely at the time. Yeah, you know what I mean.

A note on the cover: The cover pictured above is not the cover I had. The cover on the large print edition was a really weird, heavily detailed and yet naive illustration of a ye olde sitting room with a fireplace. Not a good choice really, considering. And also ugly.

Property by Valerie Martin. Not recommended.
Published in 2003. Set in New Orleans in the mid-1800s.
#44 from 'The List'

A date with Ford Sawyer, Small Wars Permitting

Posted by Lou. The time is 12.15pm here in London, UK.

Bel sent me a book called Small Wars Permitting: Dispatches from Foreign Lands by Christina Lamb. That was all I knew when I turned to the first page. Turns out Lamb is an award-winning foreign correspondent working for UK newspapers, having focussed particularly on the Middle East, Africa and South America. Her book is absolutely fantastic.

Interspersed with a selection of her key published articles, she provides the behind-the-scenes story, context and commentary on some of the key driving people, places and issues of our modern world and also of her own life as a young female foreign correspondent. I can honestly say that I know more about the war in Afghanistan, the situation in Pakistan, the politics of Brazil and the Amazon, and - shamefully - far, far more about the political situation in Zimbabwe than I did before picking it up.

The access she has had, the stories she has covered, the life-threatening situations she has been in are staggeringly impressive, yet her writing is down-to-earth and entirely humble. She infuses each and every story with insight into the people and places (big and small), drawing forth each and every interesting element, and presenting it in a clear and absorbing manner. Definitely recommended!

Lamb in Afghanistan back during the war with Russia

Whilst Lamb's wonderful book took me through the drama of being plunged into travel purgatory due to an idiot's attempt to blow up a plane on Christmas Day (how apt!), I was glad to finish it in time to spend the Holiday Proper reading a piece of delicious trash. Another Nora Roberts romance called Tribute was my choice for beachside reading, and expecting nothing but a page-turning plot-driven, brain-frying treat I wasn't disappointed.

The dialogue is cringy, the plot is weak, the heroine one dimensional (but in a Sassy! Strong! Self-determined! way), the hero Mr Impossibly Perfect (Sensitive! Understanding! Patient!), but hey - I was on holiday! It had me turning the pages and giggling at its trashiness and looking forward to spending a bit of quality time with the hilariously named Ford Sawyer. Feel free to borrow it for your next sunshine holiday.

Oooh looks like they made it into a TV movie -
so bad I wouldn't be able to say no :)

Inflight Entertainment

Posted by Lou. The time is 11.03am here in London, UK.

The one upside to too many hours spent in a plane is the selection of films available to fill the hours. As I was first of all flying on Christmas day I started off with a festive one...

Four Christmases
. Not as bad as I expected. In fact, sorta likeable and a bit funny. It also starts with an excellent subversion of traditional ideals - a professional couple insistent that no thank you they do not want to get married and aren't interested in having children and no do not want to spend Christmas with their families but are rather much more interested in heading off to Fiji. But - and I can relate to this - weather keeps them grounded in San Francisco, they inadvertently appear on a news bulletin about it, and are forced to spend Christmas Day travelling between their four parents' homes. Comedy ensues, etc (helped along by what an hilarious - yet strangely good - couple Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughan make). Unfortunately towards the end it then subverts the subversion, with a family Christmas making them switch their minds back towards a more traditional path, but I think they still managed to keep it away from being too sentimental or bullishly traditional.

From there I moved on to another film I had no interest in seeing - My Sister's Keeper. I have heard about the book (which I refuse to ever read), and always thought it sounded utterly ridiculous due to a late plot twist that to me sounded like it totally negated the real point of the story. Well, the film surprised me in that it is actually a very good, well-considered, moving film. I had the sore throat thing from trying not to cry, and actually considered stopping halfway through as I didn't think a packed flight was the best time to sob through a movie.

For those unaware, the story follows a family in which the oldest daughter is very ill with cancer, her younger sister having been born in order to provide a donor for her. The sister though sues her parents for medical emancipation so that she doesn't have to donate a kidney. The film very much focusses on the characters, providing an extremely touching depiction of the effect of the elder daughter's illness on all members of her family. It avoids hysterics and unnecessarily dramatic plot moments, just slowly unwinding a reality of being a terminally ill teenager. The child actors are absolutely fantastic - particularly Little Miss Sunshine herself Abigail Breslin - with the rest of the cast also working very well (though Cameron Diaz is far too young to be playing a woman who managed to fit in a highly successful legal career and three children, the oldest being 15). I would definitely recommend this for a rainy Friday night in watching DVDs.

Having hit a certain emotional mood I decided to do the long avoided task of watching The Time Traveler's Wife. Oh my god, it's actually worse than I expected. Clumsy, false, badly directed, badly written, badly acted, and just utter complete drivel. In trying to hit certain plot points relating to the time travel aspect they have entirely missed the real story (love!), removed the emotional involvement, and left behind a piece of shit that I would recommend avoiding at all costs. The picture I've used here actually really well captures the film in how awkward, artificial and lacking in chemistry it is.

I'd intended to sleep my way back to London but unfortunately wasn't quite managing to drop off so stuck to some short and light entertainment, starting with Paper Heart. Bel and I had both been following this film a bit as it is a docu-drama-comedy thing starring a young female stand-up comedian/ musician who decided to go out and make a film that shows a version of femininity closer to her own life. In it she confesses that she has never been in love, and doesn't imagine herself ever falling in love. She seeks to understand a bit more about it by talking to some people, and then the storyline veers into a fictionalised account of her meeting Michael Cera (the dude from Juno and Superbad), and them dating.

Overall I have to say it was really disappointing - it neither provides an insight into love, nor provides any sort of drama or comedy in the fictionalised parts. I mean, fine to watch on a flight when you're half asleep, but if I saw that in a cinema or paid to watch it on DVD I'd be left feeling like I'd just wasted some money. But hopefully with that first feature out of the way she can go onto something with more depth as I found the idea of the docu bit very interesting and she herself is engaging.

To finish up the flight I sleepily put on The September Issue, the long-awaited documentary following the top members of the Vogue team as they put together the bigger-than-ever September issue. I would love to see how Anna Wintour reacted to this film, as the show is rather stolen by her Creative Director Grace Coddington. Whilst Wintour and the designers come across as a distant and extraordinarily snobbish bunch of people, Coddington is portrayed as a hard-working down-to-earth creative genius who seeks to create beautiful works for the magazine, often standing up to Wintour in order to do so. There is one particularly telling moment after Wintour sees some photos in which Coddington has involved a member of the documentary crew in the photoshoot... but I'll leave that one for you to see yourself. Definitely a very insightful documentary that I would highly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in the fashion biz.