Short Term 12

With much dismay, I discovered my Netflix “Watch list” was entirely populated with TV shows instead of movies, but I didn’t want that sort of commitment at the moment. I wanted to be in and out with closure in under two hours, man. Since Netflix has completely castrated their ratings and sorting options to be beyond useless, I did a search for “Highest rated movies on Netflix” and the internet did not fail me. The first movie in the list that I had not already seen was Short Term 12. My husband declined to watch it with me, citing that it looked like it had “too many feelings” in it, which was fair enough. I, however, have been writing a story that has a subplot involving foster children, so I thought it looked pretty interesting.

Straight up front: This was a good movie and I enjoyed it. It stars Brie Larson (before she was famous), Rami Malek (before he was famous), and John Gallagher Jr. (to which my husband glanced over and said “Hey, it’s that guy” so maybe before he was famous too?), all working in a care home for, as Rami Malek’s character so eloquently stuffs his foot in his mouth to describe, ‘disadvantaged children’.

This movie is about broken people, and it does a fantastic job of portraying how broken they are without jamming their backstories down your throat. You see them. They are broken. And there are just enough hints as to why they are broken that you don’t ask any more questions. But it never preaches at you, which I really appreciated.

That said, the plot isn’t really anything special. It’s interesting, and there are a few points in the story where I was thinking “Oh man, so this could go either this way or that way, and both of those are pretty unique twists in this story!” Instead of either of those things, it went for the absolute most vanilla storybook ending possible, which, under these circumstances, actually made it less believable than any of the more unique alternatives. For that reason alone I kinda disagree with the 98% that is currently displayed on Rotten Tomatoes. This movie could have taken some risks and really been something. Although, I have come across a comment or two about how they had to edit it a number of times because it was simply too depressing, which is maybe why it went the route that they did. Unfortunately, I think it makes the movie stumble a bit right at the end, which is a shame, but ultimately it doesn’t ruin anything.

But boy.  The depictions of emotions in this movie are, for the most part, on point.  When a character is feeling something, you feel it.  When a character is acting irrationally, you have a good idea why.  It was well done and well written.
Except for the ending.

More ramblings about that past the spoiler break: Read more of this post

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Crow Lake

Crow LakeCrow Lake by Mary Lawson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really loved this book. It did an excellent job of tackling themes of trauma and abuse, and I felt the characters were portrayed very realistically.

I did a quick browse through the negative reviews and the majority of them mentioned that it was too slow. It is certainly guilty of that, but I feel the short nature of it helps to make up for it. I never felt like it was slogging on. There were plenty of points where it sort of meandered through a side story and you were like “This is all very interesting, but what is the point?” and then you get to the end and go “Ah. I see.” I felt like it all tied up at the end, although maybe lacking the ‘punch’ a lot of readers might have expected after all the foreshadowing hints that were dropped.

I did get a little annoyed by all the breadcrumb hints about “events to come”. Those are always meant to hook the reader and keep them going with a promise of something big later, and to a degree they work, but it feels cheap and sets up a book to be underwhelming. This book could definitely be accused of that, but I enjoyed the characters enough that I didn’t penalize it.

The other major criticism of the book is that the main character is unlikable and dense. If you’re holding that against this book, I’m afraid you’ve missed the point. The problem is, I think, that these characters will appeal a GREAT DEAL to people who can relate to them – that is, those who have felt snippets of how that sort of trauma can affect your personality, your worldview, and how you react to others. Everyone else will be stumbling along wondering why the characters are acting so strangely, perhaps because they’ve never been unfortunate enough to experience those sorts of emotions and mental states themselves. There are so many powerful scenes in this book that spoke to me because I know exactly how those characters were feeling as they acted that way. I could feel what they felt. It was beautifully executed.

I suspect this sort of book will not be ‘for’ everyone. It was definitely ‘for’ me, and I loved it.

Darwin’s Radio

Darwin's Radio (Darwin's Radio #1)Darwin’s Radio by Greg Bear

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am thoroughly impressed with the depth of research displayed in this book. I’ve got an undergrad biology degree, and I got an A in the genetics parts of things, but I ultimately spent more time studying other things and went in different directions after graduation and got pretty rusty on the viruses and chromosomes front. I’m pretty sure the author knows more about it than I do right now. That is a lot of god damn research for something that is dangerously susceptible to making you look silly within a decade (or, fuck, a year if you’re unlucky). And it’s holding its own.

That said, I’m sure if I actually studied viruses and chromosomes this book would have a lot of bits that would annoy the fuck out of me. And since I did study viruses and chromosomes at one point, I didn’t mind slogging through the absolute tons of detail provided about how they work and the proposed systems at play. Someone else might not.

I really like Greg Bear’s books, but I always seem to have this issue where I start reading them, get absolutely fucking hooked and can’t put them down, and then the ending leaves me with a slightly disgusted look on my face and I feel let down and don’t want to bother reading any more of his books. Until next time I’m craving a very good book and then I’ll pick one up, get absolutely fucking hooked, and…

Darwin’s Radio did not have the same effect on me. It was less extreme on both fronts, actually. I was less hooked than usual, and the ending didn’t annoy me as much. But, perhaps that is because this book has no ending. This book has a sequel. Presumably THAT book contains the ending because this one certainly did not. I remain interested enough to pick up the sequel, quite possibly even start it right now! But there was a shift somewhere in the middle of the book that made me think to myself “Oh, here we go again.” It got away from the facts and figures and started moving into the ‘what happens now’ which might account for that, and there were a lot of really good emotional scenes that I enjoyed, but it felt like reading a different book at times. Suddenly characters that I really admired started acting a bit differently and I started to like them less. I got more ambivalent about what would happen to them. I did not like that change and it makes me apprehensive about the sequel. I want to read about the characters I liked in the beginning, not these new ones they are turning into. I don’t just mean the speciation events, either.