Screen Time….

There’ve been some good movies lately, so thought I’d bring you a couple of thoughts about two that we’ve seen in the past month or so. Both of them were good (although one was miles better than the other), and both were pretty different from each other. 


I’d been curious about seeing Bryan Cranston/Kevin Hart’s project called “The Upside.” The trailer had made it look like a light-hearted comedy (and Hart is a comedian) so that was the approach I’d taken and was expecting. It was a pretty good movie, but the end result was that I felt that the producers couldn’t decide if they wanted this to be a comedy or a serious drama. Due to this indecision, it felt like the movie didn’t really reach either of these goals and so I walked out feeling slightly dissatisfied. 

It’s got a fairly standard plot line contrasting two very different characters who are more or less forced to be together and then hijinks result. Cranston’s character is a quadriplegic who happens to have oodles of money. He needs to hire a full-time live-in caregiver and that’s the (slightly clumsy) way that Hart’s character is introduced – as a candidate for that position. Hart, on the other hand, is a foul-mouthed newly-released ex-con who has to prove to his probation officer that he’s been applying for jobs. Hart needs a signature on his form to show that he’s been on a job interview, and so this is how the two people cross paths. 

(You know, it reminded me of the older movie called “Trading Spaces” with Eddie Murphy which has a similar set up between its characters, and is actually, you know, funny.…) 

However, as mentioned, the movie couldn’t decide whether to play up the comedy angle (two colliding worlds) or whether it would be a serious drama (life lived with serious disability and the impact it has on the person), so at the end, I was left feeling confused. It wasn’t hilarious (as the trailer had sold it) but it also wasn’t a serious drama (which it could have been). It ended up being somewhere vaguely in the middle, which left some frustration. 

The other movie that I saw was the brilliant “On the Basis of Sex” about the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones who’s actually English but can do one hell of an American accent). I was slightly concerned when I saw the words “based on a true story” right at the beginning of the film since that can mean several things: is it only slightly based on the true story? Which piece(s) are not factual? And why did the producers decide to veer off the true life and when? 

However, despite these concerns, the bio pic ended up being really good (although I’m still not clear which bits were factual or not). Bader Ginsberg is a true American hero for me, and with the recent Cavanaugh hearing (he of the “I like beer” comment), the contrast between her views and that of other justices is huge – almost as though they are from completely different planets. With Bader Ginsberg alive and kicking, I feel safe that she’ll represent the more liberal views of this country, but she’s getting on in years and people don’t live forever…

Back to the movie: it was very well done and although I kept wondering what the true and not-true bits were, the plot line did show how driven Bader Ginsberg had been to be one of the first group of women to attend Harvard Law School, how she balanced home-work life with her husband (who seemed to be very cool to me), and how Bader Ginsberg had used her considerable legal knowledge to help to bring down the very-established gender discrimination which had been in place in the laws of the U.S. for eons.

Her plan seems to have been to show the courts that gender discrimination works in both ways, and so she developed a great argument for an unmarried male caregiver who had been denied tax relief for his caring for his old mum. By using such a non-threatening (to the males) approach of demonstrating the unfairness of such bias in the laws, Bader Ginsberg carefully paved the way for addressing the numerous other ways that the law had discriminated against women. An absolutely brilliant approach for the day and age in which they were living.

The film focuses around her law school years and on this particular case so it’s a fairly narrow time period, but it clearly shows the widespread discrimination that Bader Ginsberg and other women had to deal with. Looking back, I shake my head that it was allowed to continue as long as it did (and still does in some places), and so I am filled with admiration for Bader Ginsberg’s courage and leadership to change things. 


Anyway, I just loved this film and I’m still curious about what was true and not-true in the movie. Maybe this is the year that I finally read a biography of Bader Ginsberg to find out for myself.  🙂

TV-wise, we’ve been getting into Jason Bateman/Laura Linney’s crime/drama series called “Ozark.” Goodness me – they know how to ratchet up the suspense on these episodes (without Netflix bloat) , and now we’ve reached the end of Season Two, we’re all atwitter for Season Three. (Luckily, the series got renewed so there will be continuation. Phew.) Highly recommend it if you’re looking for a new series to watch – just know that it gets a little tense at times. 🙂

The Great Train Robbery – Michael Crichton (1975)

This book is *completely* different from my usual choice of books, but perhaps that is why I enjoyed it so much. Just a darned good story based on a real life event and set in Victorian times. (Bliss.) Crichton has so much talent in his little cells that he just makes the rest of us look bad. Sigh.

I had picked up this book initially thinking it was non-fiction about the Great Train Robbery of 1963 which occurred close to where I grew up in England. However, this was about another earlier Great Train Robbery in 1855 which also netted a big haul for the criminals and made the news, and the manner in which Crichton writes, made it all so exciting to read. I just whipped through this book just because it was so riveting a narrative.

The story starts from the beginning introducing the reader to Edward Pierce, the well-dressed and intelligent mastermind behind the crime. Along the way, we are introduced to other members of this gang, each with their own speciality in the criminal world: a locksmith, a man who can get through small spaces quickly, shady contacts in the industry… I think Crichton quite admires Pierce in some ways: his smarts, his ability to cross social class boundaries on all levels, his quick thinking. Crichton is also not shy about showing Pierce’s arrogance which can get him into some sticky situations, which, if he had known better, he would never have done. But this made it all the more exciting as you, the reader, knew the inside scoop and what the odds were.

London in the mid-1800’s was a city of contrasts: the extreme poverty and the extreme wealth existing side by side at the same time showcased why the life of crime was so attractive to many. And, as the author points out, most crime is done out of “greed not need” (which explains why Pierce was involved). That also holds true for the Great Train Robbery of 1963, although most of the spoils from that crime did not reach the actual criminals, instead being spent by disloyal friends and family whilst the original men were in prison. (How annoying would that be!)

It’s categorized as a historical novel and this categorization rescues it from irritating me as the book is full of descriptions of people’s thoughts and conversations. At first, I thought this to be a bit annoying, but when I stepped back and remembered that this was a novel (not non-fiction), then I quickly got over that hurdle. (I think I expected a lot of non-fiction standards in this despite it being a novel.)

You know what would have helped with the vocabulary problem? A glossary in the back or somewhere. As I got deeper into the book, I learned a few of the most common words but there were some that were hard to get outside of context. (But minor picky point really.)

Based on the robbery that occurred in mid-Victorian times, Crichton has obviously done his homework in researching the background of this. The characters constantly used historical criminal slang (a tad confusing at times until I went back and found what the words meant), and the author did a good job of giving the reader enough historical background to understand just *why* this crime was so notable at that time (e.g. Industrial Revolution, invention of steam trains, etc.). As I am currently really interested in Victorian times, the fact that this novel was set back then was icing on the cupcake. (Plus Crichton tosses in a lot of facts about the times in between the story which helps you understand why things were as they were.)

Crichton really knows how to write a cracking good read: chapters were short enough where it was easy to think “ok, just one more before I go to bed”, and quickly get sucked into the next one. There were a lot of characters but Crichton didn’t introduce them all at once, so you got to know them well along the way. And the narrative was just so exciting – honestly. Lots of action, the different personalities involved, and then the role of the police (who were quite a new concept back then).  Remember – there were no finger prints, no DNA, not much photography… None of the tools that help PDs today, so tracking down the criminals was a lot harder and much more time-consuming.

This train robbery also set me thinking about that other Great Train Robbery in 1963 which happened and so I searched the net for info on that as well. Again, a group of like-minded criminals, one master mind, and a complicated plan. I hadn’t realized that it happened fairly close to where I lived, and, like the earlier Great Train Robbery, this made the news all over the world. (It’s quite interesting if you want to google it.)

Anyhow, this was a nice fast-moving story that was well written and enjoyable at the same time. My friend would call it an “Ice Hockey Book” – very fast moving, tons of
action, not much depth. 🙂

(Bought second hand.)