Goodbye Charlie Bright

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See Charlie streak. See Charlie fight. See Charlie steal a stereo. Say, “Goodbye, Charlie Bright!”

When you hit the highlights, Charlie’s life with Francis, Tommy, and Justin seems exciting on the estate—that’s the council housing estate—what Americans might be more familiar with as Section 8. Really, it’s another lazy summer, with no jobs, no girlfriends, and no cash unless you’re open to some purse-snatching and B&Es.

Actually, though, Francis has a girlfriend. So he’s not around much anymore. And Tommy’s off to Afghanistan, which is one bloody hell of a job. That leaves Charlie to his own devices, with only his Zack Morris sweater collection and a psychotic best friend.

Justin’s got Charlie to take care of him, but other than that his safety net is an ersatz godfather with a cowboy and Indian fetish, and you can tell he spends a lot of time hanging out with the voices in his own head.

Director Nick Love’s become known for his gritty looks at South-London life, but none of them are quite as sweet as this early (2001) effort. It’s a friendlier version of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. Charlie’s trapped in a nowhere town, constantly not quite doing that thing he wants to do—usually because of a misguided affection for screw-up Justin. You can just feel how much Charlie cares about this idiot, even as Justin’s increasingly erratic behavior draws Charlie into more and more violent confrontations.

The first third of the film feels like a slow burn, but if you can stick with Charlie and Justin, you might be surprised by how much Love gets you to invest in their relationship by the end. By the time you say Goodbye Charlie Bright, you’ll be wishing he could stick around.

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Sexy Evil Genius

It may seem like this review is horrifically late, but in reality it’s right on time for you to notice it. It was creatively timed, rather.

All right, I’ll say it—I’m sorry.

Recently, Eleanor and I had the opportunity to do some visiting in sunny South Florida, and on a time-honored jaunt to Target—because everything you will ever need can be found at Target—we took a peek at some bargain-priced DVDs and were surprised to find an absolute gem.

I’m talking, of course, about Sexy Evil Genius, and no, it’s not a slutty Halloween costume. For everyone who’s spent hours reminiscing about how great 90s TV was, the inclusion of Michelle Trachtenberg and Seth Green is a real treat.

For anyone who doesn’t, well, they’re a treat anyway. Shut up and let me fangirl.

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Sexy Evil Genius

Genre: Black Comedy, Mystery

Main Cast: Seth Green, Michelle Trachtenberg, Harold Perrinau, Katee Sackhoff, William Baldwin

Trailer:

Rating: 4/5

Don’t let the trailer fool you. The film plays out much more like a black comedy than a thriller or action flick, and therein lies its strength and ultimate value.

The cast works very well together, and the chemistry and hurt feelings are all very apparent from go. Past relationships are explored with all of the sensitivity and wry humor that we ourselves employ looking back upon our misspent youth.

Each failed relationship is brought to light, expounding on our expectations of Nikki—a manic pixie dream girl gone horribly realistic. And more than a little in love with My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult.

(No, seriously. The songs are a major plot device.)

There’s very little I can tell you without spoiling at least some of this film, but I’d definitely urge you to at least give it a shot. Nikki is every bit as clever and manipulative as her former lovers give her credit for, and even if you don’t come out on the other side just the tiniest bit in love with her, you’ll have to respect her.

That’s just the kind of woman Nikki is.

When I wasn’t busy laughing, I was muttering disbelieving expletives and shivering at the careful weaving done in an immersive and subtly impactful screenplay. It’s a great ensemble. It’s a great movie. Easily one of my favorites in recent memory.

There’s not a lot of action, and really, there doesn’t need to be.

The film plays with stereotypes—Green’s stifled workaholic, Trachtenberg’s bisexual goth, Perrinau’s hep jazz cat—but the focus is on the tiresome world behind each one. Their backgrounds are clearly all tired and gray, tainted with sorrows and failures. Their lives just aren’t as interesting as they seemed when Nikki was involved.

But when Nikki finally makes the scene, we discover, she may not have suffered quite so well in her madcap world. There’s always been something off about her, and it’s cutting and a girl can’t live forever by making scrapbooks out of other people’s lives.

The humor is real and easy to come to grips with, because while Nikki’s life seems to have done a spectacular series of tailspins into the foothills of one seriously grand kerfuffle, the heartache and the nostalgia dripping from every word and gesture is almost tangible.

I will definitely be watching this again.

And Now For Something Completely Different

All the Literatease have been wonderfully pleased with your views and responses. After this first week of reviews we’ve come to some conclusions:

1) Rating a read in cups of tea is just too twee for words. So we’re going to stop doing that.

2) Having a week-long theme of reads is strictly unnecessary. We were working on “revenge” the first time around, but there was nothing really connecting those posts. So we’re going to review books and other media as we stumble on them. Movies are up next week, then back to novels and so on, so there will be some semblance of order–just less jack-booted.

So thank you for your patience as we rumble along!

Until next time,

Eleanor

“A Bad Day for Sorry” by Sophie Littlefield

Miss Stella Hardesty is not a dominatrix, but she is in the business of making men feel awfully sorry. When she isn’t battling menopause, Miss Hardesty tends to find herself occupied with championing the abused women of rural Missouri—a class from which she only recently graduated with a well-placed wrench to Ollie Hardesty’s head.

Now, she does little jobs here and there, ensuring that women like her have, if not a supportive shoulder to cry on, then a few hot cigarette butts to burn the mean out of their men.

But Stella herself isn’t such a sweet lady. I entered the book expecting a much more compassionate character than the one I ended up reading about. Miss Littlefield spends perhaps a bit too much time attempting to prove exactly how capable Stella “the Hardass” Hardesty really is.

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The end result is a character that is, to me, entirely inaccessible. All of her self-hatred and doubt is reflected rather unfortunately on the characters around her—even Chrissy, a sweet if slow-witted girl whose child she is attempting to recover!

While the descriptions that Miss Littlefield provides are rich and honest in a very refreshing and involving way, they are also often completely off topic or inessential to the point at hand. (I really don’t think I needed to know quite so much about the sheriff’s sexy eyebrows. Or the brief history of everyone Stella has ever known to chew tobacco.)

At times, it comes off as a bit of humor that’s been too enthusiastically attempted. At other times, the digressions are downright frustrating. The search for Tucker is instated early on, but Miss Littlefield spends much more time describing Stella’s ever-raging battle with her own dismal self-confidence than she does engaging in the description of anything of merit.

On more than one occasion, there is lengthy discussion of her chosen beauty products, her tasteful shoes, the dangly little earrings she pairs with a ‘night out’ outfit, or that little spritz of White Diamonds she dashes on just before going out. But concerningly little mention of the kidnapped baby.

I caught myself stopping every now and then to ask, But what about the BABY, Stella? Which is not a good sign. I cared more about a baby that was described in less than two sentences than I did about a main character apparently uninterested in actually improving her surroundings rather than just taking her pound of flesh from every abusive idiot in her rural county.

In the end, A Bad Day for Sorry is a book that I really wanted to enjoy, but even the action billed in the prologue was a false start. What seemed like a book prepped for action and intrigue unusual for a small town turned into something just as slow-moving and lazy as the typical rural stereotype.

The action was inactive, the protagonist was mean, and I found myself unable to make it all the way through the book. I appreciated the buttmonkey more than the heroine, and I’m guessing that’s just not the intended message of the book. Oops.

Final Rating : 2.5 cups of tea. Bitter tea. And you’d better pour some Johnny Walker Black in it, because I really don’t think Stella would have anything else. Ever. She talks more about the booze than the baby. 

I really wanted to enjoy this book. Some of the narration stands out, and I felt for Chrissy because, well, who else was going to? If you don’t mind waiting ages for the action to finally make its way to the page, you might want to give it a try anyway.

“Red” by Jack Ketchum

Dog is man’s best friend, provider of sloppy kisses and unconditional love. But what can man offer his dog in return? Food? Squeaky toys? …Justice?

Through his thrilling novel Red, Jack Ketchum (a.k.a. Dallas Mayr, if you drop the pseudonym) introduces us to a world in which justice and vengeance intermingle, in which action and passivity replace the moral binary of right and wrong. The story begins with Avery Allan Ludlow, an elderly, simple man who is troubled by a gruesome past. His present is likewise gruesome; within the first chapter of Red, Ludlow’s eponymous pet dog is shot in the head by local troublemaker Danny McCormack, seemingly for no reason. Ludlow refuses to let Danny and his two accomplices get away with what they’ve done. You think retribution would be easy, right?

Wrong. Although the townspeople support Ludlow’s mission, Danny’s father, the affluent Michael McCormack, is willing to defend his son through whatever means possible. Plus, the law is not on Ludlow’s side – a dog is considered property, and there is little that Ludlow can gain from a court hearing. But it’s a man’s right to protect his property, even post-mortem, and of course, Red was much more than property to Ludlow. Motivated by love for his dog and feelings of heartbreak from his past, Ludlow decides to take the law into his own hands, even if it means getting those hands dirty. But the McCormacks are willing to fight back, and as you can expect from a dog-killer’s family… they don’t fight fair.

Even for an animal-lover, it’s hard to stomach the extremity of Ludlow’s actions; he no longer seeks justice, but vengeance. He no longer wants Danny to be punished, but for Danny to be hurt. Without saying too much, Ludlow’s quest for vengeance causes many innocents and mostly-innocents to be caught in the crossfires, proving that revenge isn’t a cycle but a bomb blasting outwards, shattering all in its path along with its detonator.

I give this book four out of five cups of tea. I’m subtracting half a cup for the unnecessary, rushed romance between Ludlow and the much younger Carrie Donnel; I’m tossing the other half due to the unrealistic, widespread commendation of Ludlow’s actions. Beyond the antagonistic McCormack and Daoust families, only one character ever questions Ludlow’s quest for revenge, while the rest support (and even assist) in his mission. It’s one thing to punish a dog-killer; it’s another to do anything in your power to make him apologize. On that note, make sure to pet your dogs tonight, maybe buy them a treat or something else to chew on. After all, dog is man’s best friend, and if Ludlow is willing to turn vigilante for his, the least you can do is throw your own dog a bone.

Marisa

“The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” and “The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag” by Alan Bradley

If Flavia de Luce offers you tea, don’t accept it. At the very least, she’s trying to trick you into an untimely admission—but, really, it’s probably poisoned. Don’t worry, though: she’s just trying to solve a murder.

Though she lives in the idyllic 1950s village of St. Tancreds, England—author Bradley’s a Canadian retiree, so expect nostalgia rather than racial tensions or post-War rationing—there isn’t anything very conventional about Flavia. Well, she is an annoying kid, kind of a know-it-all, and that’s a type we’re all familiar with, but once you get past her spotty-faced brashness, and even leave aside her prankish sense of fun, she has a remarkable mind.

Sherlock Holmes can identify brands of tobacco from their ashes, but, after a trip to the laboratory she inherited from her uncle, Flavia can give you the exact chemical composition of anything. Did I mention she’d then find a way to make it poisonous?

Remarkably, Flavia isn’t at the center of either of these revenge plots—either as poisoner or poisonee. As antiheroic as Flavia is, the mysterious red-haired man who turns up dead at the end of her garden and the cruelly violent puppeteer who’s electrocuted during a church hall show are vastly more despicable, with plenty of enemies willing to put them in the ground.

 Flavia’s debut in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is as delicious as the name suggests. Flavia’s chemical quirks combine with a cast of equally interesting characters—her mother, the dead mountaineer; shell-shocked veteran and friendly gardener, Dogger;  or Mrs. Mullet, the cook whose nose spends more time in other people’s business than her food does in their stomachs—and layer the book with a light-hearted complexity that delivers plenty of twists and turns before the thrilling resolution. I’d rate it four and a sip out of five cups of tea—that’s Harrisons & Crosfield’s Tempting Mango Tea, delicate and fruity for a sweetly elegant book.

The young sleuth’s sophomore outing is an altogether earthier affair. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Noose keeps on many characters from The Sweetness, but Bradley’s less adept at weaving them here, and heavy-handed story-lines clunk against each other. Dogger and Flavia continue to deliver some of the series’ most heartfelt interactions, but many of the other relationships fall flat. Still, Bradley concocts with a charming whimsy, and tea fans might find it worth reading for the story of a samovar called Peter the Great. Personally, I’d give it three out of five cups of tea for faithful Dogger: he’s a simple man, so we’ll make the tea Yorkshire Gold, and we’ll drink it as a real builder’s brew.

I’ll go put the kettle on.

Till next time,

Eleanor

An Introduction

Welcome to Literatease, a review blog of (moderately) epic proportions. We say moderately because we’re not really going anywhere, unless you count the library, the tea shop, your occasional record store, and, okay, maybe we are a little more epic than we thought.

We’re happy to bring our reading and raving to a screen near you, and will hopefully be adhering to a steady Monday, Wednesday, Friday post rotation. I tend to have distracted giggling fits and put things on my head when people try to introduce me to the concept of structure, and Marisa gets distracted when I put things on my head, so Eleanor’s planning finesse is our collective best bet.

We thought it would be appropriate to start off with the ever so lighthearted theme of revenge.

Marisa will be reviewing Red by Dallas Mayr (Jack Ketchum).

Eleanor will be reviewing Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley.

Hillary will be reviewing A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield.

Regards,

H

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