Monthly Archives: December 2016

Top 10 for 2016

As we say goodbye to 2016, Assholes are asking what’s the best thing you saw this year? And more hilarious for us, what was the worst? Happy new year to all of you, and a special thanks to all of you who stop by and leave comments. They are the oxygen of this site.

 

 

thumbnail_2508910. Peter And The Farm: I saw a lot of terrific documentaries this year. For the Love of Spock, Gleason, and Life, Animated all come to mind. But the one that never left my mind, not for a minute since I saw it, was Peter And The Farm. It’s unflinching and disturbing.

9. Hell or High Water: The best thing about this movie is that it sneaks up on you. It’s not flashy. It just builds. The writing is good and it earns every minute of screen time.

8. Jackie: Natalie Portman is spot-on in this film, but what I really enjoyed is seeing very familiar events, events we are so hyper-aware of they’re part of our collective conscience, be re-told from her perspective. And suddenly it’s fresh and eye-opening, yet still mysterious in the way only Jackie could be.

7. Arrival: A sci-fi movie that’s cerebral and genre-defying is exactly what I needed without even knowing it. The set-up is very precise and thoughtful, so even if you see the twist coming, it still unravels quite elegantly. Amy Adams is sublime.

6. Hunt For The Wilderpeople: Funny as fuck.

5. Manchester By The Sea: It’s a tough watch, and not exactly a ‘rewarding’ one but it takes a lot of courage to deviate from the ending we want and expect and instead go towards what’s real and honest, even if it leaves us feeling hollow.

4. Moonlight: Haunting in its portrayal of a perspective that feels at once unique, and universal. The film is well-crafted, the character unforgettable, the acting note-worthy across the board. Disarming, graceful, truthful.

3. Swiss Army Man: This movie just made my heart sing. It’s offbeat and original. It’s also maybe a little inconsistent, but the highs were so damn high I can forgive it nearly anything.07bluejay-master768

2. Blue Jay: Gutting. Superbly acted. Blew me away.

1. La La Land: the magic of this movie is almost indescribable. Stylish, joyful, smart, and above all, bittersweet.

 

 

For further reading, please check out the top 10 lists of our friends: Steve, Vern, Keith, Niall, Parrot, Becky, Sarah, 2 Eyes, Wendell, Caz, Brian, Tom, another Keith, Liam, Wilson , Mel, Paul, Lolo ….if we missed you, add your link in the comments!

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Kate Plays Christine

Christine Chubbuck was a newswoman in Sarasota, Florida in 1974. Originally hired as a repoter, she was writing and hosting her own community affairs talk show, called Suncoast Digest. She took her position seriously and sought out important local officials to discuss the community. On the morning of July 15th, Christine changed things up. As her guest waited in the wings, she sat behind the news anchor desk to read aloud a statement to her live audience. It read:

“In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.”

She pulled out a revolver, placed it behind her right ear, and pulled the trigger. Her hair puffed up, as if from a gust of wind, and blood spattered everywhere. Chubbuck fell forward, hitting the desk with a resounding thud, and then slipped slowly out of sight. The show’s technical director went immediately to black, but the damage was done: anyone tuning in had just seen a suicide live on TV.

 

christine-chubbuckShe had been depressed and spoke about suicidal feelings with her family, but never mentioned specific plans. Her mother thought her personal life was “not enough” and a recently removed ovary put pressure on Christine to find a man before it was too late and the door on her fertility closed forever.

On the bloodied desk, after Christine had been removed to hospital, was a hand-written, third-person account of her suicide, which she’d written for someone to read out as a statement. The article, written long-hand by herself, listed her condition as “critical” which makes me flinch. The prepared speech that she read out referred to the suicide as an attempted suicide. The statement lists her not as dead, but as critically wounded. Was this just an elaborate call for attention that she had every intention of surviving?

This movie is not a documentary, or at least not a straight-up one (docudrama, anyone?) and it’s the second of two films about this event that hit film festivals this year. The first, simply titled Christine, stars Rebecca Hall as Christine and Michael C. Hall as George Peter Ryan, a colleague of hers that she may have had an unrequited crush on but who was already in a relationship with Christine closest work colleague, the station’s sports reporter. This film, however, is not a straight-forward narrative. Instead, it’s more about actress Kate Lyn Sheil preparing to play the role of Christine.

Kate seems fairly genuine in her intention to portray Christine with empathy, and to not “fetishize the crazy woman” as she puts it.

The footage of Christine’s suicide has never been seen again. Lots of theories exist on where exactly this footage ended up, but it seems that the station owner Robert Nelson kept it, but removed it from the station. It seems now that his widow has passed it along to a law firm for safekeeping. No word on why it has never been destroyed. In preparing 000068-19843-16580_kateplayschristine_still1_katelynsheil_byseanpricewilliams_-_h_2016for the role, Kate finds it nearly impossible to access any footage at all, even of the many hours in which Christine was just the normal host of a daytime talk show on local television. Christine Chubbuck has vanished. Until these movies put her into the public’s consciousness again, her death (and life) was all but forgotten.

Early on in the film, Kate muses as to whether acting is compulsive, whether the impulse to act is perhaps unhealthy for her. As the film progresses and she interviews subjects increasingly on the periphery of events, she does seem obsessive in her pursuit. But for me, it feels like this movie never becomes any one thing. It blurs all the lines but never really takes a stand. It’s a deliberately frustrating experience for the audience. When we do see random snippets from this questionable movie that they’re supposedly making, they seem disjointed and random. Were they ever really making a movie? Those parts are the least convincing in a not-very-convincing film. But watching Kate get spray-tanned and shop for thrift-store stuffed animals that Christine might have had in her own bedroom…it’s just not very edifying. I think there’s supposed to be something in here about the nature of truth, but it’s not sitting right with me. Maybe it’s because that in some disturbing way, the director is making me complicit in the society of “gawkers” which the film claims to be skewering.

Anyway, there’s a lot of navel-gazing here, so much so that this feels like a self-indulgent performance piece more than an actual movie, and the more I watch, the more I question the motives of the people making it.

 

 

 

The Art of the Steal

Crunch and Nicky Calhoun are conman brothers, part of a merry little gang who steals art. Crunch (Kurt Russell) gets double-crossed by his own brother (Matt Dillon) when a heist goes wrong and winds up spending 7 years in a Romanian prison where he learns that trust, not cash, is the ultimate currency. When he gets out, he lives a semi-legit life with a new wife, a new sidekick (Jay Baruchel), and a second-rate motorcycle-daredevil career.

hero_artofthesteal-2014-1But then Nicky comes calling. One last heist, he says (is there really such a thing?). And since Crunch is so low on funds, they assemble the old gang and pursue a tricky art swap, even with Interpol (Terence Stamp) breathing down their necks.

I found this movie recently added to Netflix, but not very generously reviewed. I gave it a chance because: Kurt Russell. He’s kind of a badass. And Jay Baruchel, who I have enormous love for. And you know what? It’s not a bad movie. It’s not overly great either, it’s just an easy-watch heist movie that borrows a little to heavily from better movies. But the cast is extremely watchable, and the writing’s not bad, it’s just formulaic. So if you have no time to waste, skip it. But if you like the genre, I think you’ll get along just fine with the film.

Bonus for Canadians: much of the film is not just filmed in Canada but takes place ADMITTEDLY in Canada, and stars a whole bunch of Canadians, aside from Baruchel, including Katheryn Winnick, Niagara Falls, Kenneth Walsh, Chris Diamantopoulous, Quebec City, Jason Jones, Devon Bostick, Tim Hortons, and piles of fluffy home-grown snow.

Debbie Reynolds

Just one day after the death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds succumbed as well. It sounds like the official cause of death will read stroke, but the truth is likely closer to a broken heart.

I knew Debbie Reynolds before I knew her daughter. Fisher gained stardom in a galaxy far, 002-singin-in-the-rain-theredlistfar away from the household I grew up in, but my love for Singin In The Rain is nearly timeless. She was just 19 when she saw the soaring success of that movie, but she followed it up with many other notable roles, including in movies such as Bundle of Joy, The Catered Affair, How The West Was Won, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Mother, and In & Out. She was also on Broadway, in cabaret, and reached a whole new generation through her work on television (Will & Grace, Halloweentown).

Debbie and Carrie infamously had a rocky relationship, some of which was portrayed in Carrie Fisher’s book\script Postcards From The Edge. Needing to find her own identity, Fisher sought distance from her famous mother’s shadow and the two were estranged for a decade, while Fisher dealt with addictions and mental illness.

The pair have since reconciled, and were never more closely bonded than they were before their deaths. During a sitdown with Oprah a few years ago, Reynolds said: “I would say that Carrie and I have finally found happiness. I admire her strength and survival. I admire that she is alive, that she has chosen to make it. It would have been easy to give up and give in and to keep doing drugs. I always feel, as a mother does, that I protect her. I want happiness for my daughter — I want Carrie to be happy.”

Carrie responded: “What I say about being happy is that I am ‘also happy.’ I’m happy among other things. Happy is one of the many feelings or experiences that I will have throughout a day. I think happy has been sort of made into this Hallmark card of a word, and I don’t know what that means. So I will just say that I enjoy my life, I make choices, I do what I want to do. I am a strong person, I’m not afraid of almost anything, and that’s a lot because of your example.”

We weren’t ready to lose either one of them, but wherever they are, at least they’re together.

Debbie And Carrie

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Opening of "Irene" - March 13, 1973

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21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Press Room

 

Toni Erdmann

Ines Conradi is a successful businesswoman currently stationed in Bucharest but poised for promotion and transfer to Singapore when this next deal goes well. Winfried Conradi is her father, a lonely man, socially handicapped and prone to the dumbest, most trying “pranks” on the planet. There is no such person as Toni Erdmann. Toni Erdmann is just what Winfriend calls himself when he’s wearing ludicrous false teeth and an even worse wig, which is his go-to costume for “pranking.” His pranks, by the way, consist mainly of toni-erdmann-5-rcm0x1920ujust showing up and being this weird alternate personality. He more or less stalks his daughter and endangers her career by showing up at her office and various work functions. If he was your father, you’d either die of embarrassment, or you’d kill him. No two people should survive a relationship like this.

Nothing happens in Toni Erdmann. It’s dull as shit. It’s 2h40min of fumbling through “comedy” that didn’t even induce me to crack a half-smile. What am I missing? This film has been a hit at festivals, including Cannes and TIFF, and was just nominated for a Golden Globe (best foreign film). But I didn’t get it. Sure Ines needed some unbuttoning, poor corporate stick i the mud that she’d become, but I don’t see the humour in a father constantly humiliating his daughter. I didn’t get the public nudity, or the unironic belting out of a Whitney Houston song. The whole thing missed me completely. What the father accomplishes, to my eyes, is not the unburdening of his daughter but rather her undoing – some of her choices seem unhinged and nervous-breakdownish, especially since they’re so often done at work or in front of colleagues. And it feels anti-feminist to say that because this woman is business-minded she’s also cold and in need of saving.

Toni Erdmann was agony for me, maybe more so because I’d actually been looking forward to it. But it was a chore, one that felt interminable for a time, a long time, a period of time that felt even longer than the nearly-three hour runtime.

 

Manchester By The Sea: Discussion

If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review of the film, please see Matt’s excellent offering. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone, but if you’ve seen the film, then you understand the need to discuss it. It’s deeply affecting and disturbing and it’s one of the best things I’ve seen this year.

When Lee’s brother dies, the reclusive janitor reluctantly returns to his hometown to help out with the arrangements. He’s kept there longer than expected when he’s revealed to be his nephew’s new guardian.

Casey Affleck stars as Lee, a spook more than a man, a ghost still barely among the living, haunted by his past, carrying a huge burden of guilt, grief, and regret that we can almost physically see sitting atop his slumped shoulders. His performance is really restrained, as befits an emotionally blunted character. He manages to be subtle and to find lots of power in quiet moments. His performance will almost certainly be rewarded with an Oscar nomination, if not a win. What do you think his chances are? Did you see anyone out-act him this year? And what part do you think the allegations of sexual harassment against him will play in whether or not he wins?

Lee has a new life in a new town, though it’s pretty clearly only a half-life at best, given his physical and emotional isolation. During his questioning by the police, it’s clear that Lee feels he should be punished, and directly after he tries to take his own life. While clearly still trying to punish himself, do you think Lee is still suicidal?  When he tells Patrick “I can’t beat this thing” – is he talking about depression, guilt, grief? His reputation? Or something else?

I thought the movie started off pretty slow, but looking back on it with context, I wonder if the lethargy was deliberately representative of Lee’s depression. The movie never says the D-word, but certainly exhibits all the Hallmarks: violent outbursts, hopelessness, emptiness, the inability to enjoy life or take pleasure from thinks you used to enjoy, pushing people away.

The idea for the story didn’t originate with writer-director Kenneth Lonergan: in fact, it was Matt Damon and John Krasinski who came to him with the idea and asked him to develop the script. Damon would star and direct. But conflicts with The Martian prohibited him from doing so, and they turned control of the movie over to Lonergan. Do you think Lonergan stands a chance for best screenplay, or for that matter, best director?

The script is often praised for its “masculinity” which rubs me the wrong way. I don’t think Lee’s refusal to deal with anything should be lauded in any way, and his continued self-torture isn’t exactly gender specific. But the story is told in a refreshingly sparse sort of way, where the lead character speaks only under duress, and as a little as possible. And so much is implied rather than spoken outright: the unspeakable things his ex wife said to him, the town’s rejection of him, his own struggle with addiction, his attachment to pain,  his father’s death, the legal proceedings\media scrutiny that must have surrounded his case. Was there anything you felt the film missed? Any glaring holes you needed to see filled?

Some people felt the score was sufficiently bad to pull them out of some of the movie’s most impactful scenes (the house fire, in particular). Did you notice the score being good, bad, or ugly? Were there any stand-out supporting performances for you? Did you think the nephew, Patrick, was a realistic character? He really showcases the dark humour of the film, but sometimes I thought it odd how adult he seemed for a 15 year old.

We see Patrick trying to reconnect with his mother, who seems to have sobered up and carved out some sort of life with her new conservative Christian husband. But she’s not stable. She can’t handle things not going well. What purpose do you think this subplot served? Was it jarring or distracting for you to have Matthew Broderick in the role of her husband? Did you feel sympathy for the mother?

In the scene where Patrick’s girlfriend’s Mom comes out to Lee’s car to invite him for dinner and he says no, she responds that if he changes his mind in the next 10 minutes, “we’ll all be here”. The night of the fire, Lee remembered about the fireplace grate 10 minutes into his walk. He could have changed his mind, gone home, and his wife and kids would have all still been there. But he didn’t, and that scene is such a brutal reminder. What scene was the most emotionally engaging for you?

I think when Joe makes Lee the guardian, Joe is telling him: “You’re a good dad. I trust you with my kid. It’s not your fault.” And Lee can’t handle that. It’s too much like being absolved, and Lee cannot stand to be forgiven. In some ways, the guilt might be his only connection to his girls, and he’s unwilling to give it up. He doesn’t believe he deserves a second chance. Do you think there’s any hope for Lee?

Lee’s common refrain, uttered when things get too intense, is “Can we talk about this later?” only there is no later. We never see Lee deal openly with his emotions. He never lets us in. The audience is denied closure: how well has this film sat with you? Were you able to connect with a character who is so detached?

manchester-by-the-sea-boatI noticed that in flash back scenes with the 3 Chandler men aboard the boat, there was a big white pole stretched across the back of the craft, but in more recent scenes where just Lee and Patrick take to open waters, the pole is noticeably absent. Do you think this loss of a safety net is symbolic of anything else?

I felt like the film really addressed the ways in which we can judge parents. Clearly the town blames Lee for the accident that took the lives of his children. This is hammered home when he has a close call making dinner – he passes out and wakes up to an angry fire alarm. Some may see this as further evidence of his negligence, but who among us hasn’t made a similar mistake? Either way, it seems to be a catalyst for him giving up guardianship. Maybe it’s that his own self-doubt will never abate. One mistake proved fatal to his young family, and it’s clear that society has judged him harshly for it, perhaps because it makes us feel more insulated from our own mistakes. What really slapped me in the face though was when Lee is trying to make awkward conversation with Patrick’s girlfriend’s mother. I think she knows what is most likely going on in her daughter’s bedroom and she says something like “At least we know where they are.” Lee, however, knows damn well that kids are not necessarily safer in their own homes. No wonder he couldn’t get the conversation back on track. Even the most banal things paralyze him with fear. Remember how he overreacts when his nephew tries to exit the truck at the hospital when Lee thought he was meant to drive off? He admits that he just “gets scared” and his mind immediately goes to the worst possible scenario. In part, parenting often means confronting those fears. We try to keep our children safe but have to come to terms with the fact that we won’t always be there. Lee could have changed his mind just 10 minutes into his walk; 30 minutes later, his kids were dead. When he gets the phone call about his brother, he rushes to the hospital only to discover that Joe died an hour ago. He didn’t make it back on time. He wasn’t there. He couldn’t save him. There are so many near misses. But his reaction here is so real and raw. Do you think this sets the tone for the film? Does it foreshadow some of the later revelations?

One thing that I found very profound and very interesting is that the movie levels diseases. Three main characters suffer from disease: Kyle Chandler’s character from congenital heart disease, Casey Affleck’s from depression, and Gretchen Mol’s from addiction. None of them can “beat it.” But just as in real life, sympathy is usually only given to physical illness, whereas mental illness is stigmatized, and certainly here Joe is practically remembered as a saint whereas the other two are vilified.

We’re used to happy endings, or at least hopeful ones, but this one does little to console us. The ending is a bit abrupt, and just as bleak as the rest of the movie. Lee has sentenced himself to returning to the prison cell he’s built for himself. The only difference is that now he’s maybe possibly open to visitation. But could it have ended any other way?

 

In addition to discussing these points in the comments, feel free to ask your own questions, and to link to your own reviews.

 

 

Carrie Fisher

Carrie Fisher is dead at the age of 60. She drowned in moonlight, strangled in her own bra. That’s not remotely true, but it’s what she would have wanted me to say.

To most, she was their Princess, having played Leia in the Star Wars universe. To me, 978319-carrie-fisherunfamiliar with the Star Wars franchise for most of my life, she was a writer and a funny lady. She penned the semi-autobiographic Postcards From The Edge (and later, its screenplay) about her drug addiction and her relationship with her mother, Debbie Reynolds. She was also a notorious script doctor, doing uncredited polishes on other people’s scripts, including the Star Wars prequels, Hook, Sister Act, Outbreak, The Wedding Singer, Coyote Ugly, and Mr & Mrs Smith.

Then she did a one-woman show called Wishful Drinking, which has been one of my favourites, ever. She had such a great sense of humour about herself, above all else, and a keen eye for the ridiculous. Check it out:

She actually has a new book, The Princess Diarist, out just last month, based on journals she kept while she filmed the original Star Wars trilogy. You may have heard the bomb she dropped: she and Harrison Ford had an affair back in the day.

Of course you know she’d recently returned to her Star Wars roots, playing General Leia (badass warrior princess that she was) for a whole new generation. She could poke fun at screen-shot-2015-11-13-at-10-13-52-am-pngher character and her “cinnamon bun” hair style, but she clearly also has respect for the films and their fans. She recently completed work on Episode 8 and was slated to begin filming for Episode 9 this spring. No telling how they’ll treat her death in the films but safe to say it’s a blow for them as it is for us.

You may have heard that George Lucas told her on the set of the first (fourth) film that she couldn’t wear a bra under her iconic white dress. When she demanded to know why not, he famous replied “Because there’s no underwear in space.” When pressed for details, he explained “What happens is you go to space and you become weightless. So far so good, right? But then your body expands. But your bra doesn’t—so you get strangled by your own bra.” Fisher thought it had the makings of a “fanastic obit – so I tell my younger friends that no matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”

Fences

Denzel Washington says more in the first 5 minutes of Fences than Casey Affleck does in the entire 137 minutes of Manchester By The Sea. Fences was adapted from August Wilson’s brilliant play of the same name, a 2010 Broadway revival of which garnered Tony awards for both Washington and Viola Davis. Both reprise their roles for the movie, alongside Broadway costars Mykelti Williamson (as Gabe), Russell Hornsby (as Lyons) and Stephen Henderson (as Bono) also rejoining the cast. The performances are thus flawless: believe the hype. But as for the movie, I was less convinced.

The adaptation is a little too literal. A play will necessarily take place in the same few fences-640x427locations, but a movie doesn’t have such limitations. This one sticks closely to its confines, however, and as director, Denzel Washington uses a series of tight shots to further the exposition. The characters, and Washington’s in particular, are talky, prone to excessively lengthy essays that explore 1950s racial tensions in relation to their lives.

After an arduous life, Troy Maxson has just been promoted and will be the first African-American garbage truck driver in Pittsburgh (despite not holding a license). But good news is never so simple in the neighbourhood where he lives, and frankly, neither is Troy. The most compelling thing about this movie is that Washington and Davis give such thorough, riveting performances. Their characters are complicated, interesting, complex. It’s an excellently crafted play, but its transfer to film was a little too minimal for my taste. I needed a little energy between the marathon monologues. Powerful as the sermons may be, too many in a row meant that I was dozing off, sometimes barely able to keep up with the rapid-fire speechifying. And the monotony of the locations and the lack of movement from the cameras made me very aware that Fences was and is a great play but that as it is, it is not a great movie. It’s a true testament to some of the greatest living actors today that they master the language and the rhythms of the dialogue, overcoming the verbosity if sometimes overreaching.

Fences is a bit bloated; at 138 minutes there was plenty of opportunity to lose some fat. Washington is not a strong director, and some of his choices flat-out confounded me, though he mostly is reverential of the work, which is a complaint rather than a compliment. To me this movie is dead in the water as far as the Best Picture race is concerned, but both Denzel and Viola will be in strong contention as far as their roles go. Viola Davis, however, has engaged in some category fraud in order to better her odds: she’s campaigning as a supporting actress when as a matter of fact she constantly steals thunder from Denzel. It’s still early to predict how Oscar will go, but Fences is an electrifying vehicle for some incendiary performances, even if it never reaches true cinematic scope.

Short: The Present

What was the best present you got this year?

Did you ever get a dog for Christmas? Dogs are probably as close to the meaning of life as we’ll ever get, but a dog is also a responsibility more than a gift, so  you should always think twice, and maybe even three times before you give a dog to someone. Like giving a cell phone, which saddles the recipient with a monthly bill, a dog is a mouth to feed and 4 paws to clean, and about 3\4 of your bed to kiss goodbye. But they fill your heart with joy.

That said, I present to you a 4-minute short that will likely pull on your heartstrings. A boy gets an unexpected gift from his mother – and he’s less than happy about it. With thanks to Mr. Bad Bloke Bob for turning us on to it, you can watch it here (and I recommend that you do):

Attractive animation and smart, succinct story-telling accomplished in near-silence. The Present is a 4-minute gift you should give yourself right now.

My Christmas Love

Uh oh: two minutes in and this Christmas movie is already a Christmas breakup movie. She calls her “employee” (a guy who serves as a hunk on the Hallmark channel, I take it), who ditches his guy friends to console his heartbroken boss in her house on her bed on Christmas Eve.

So there’s also the following classic Christmas issues, compounded with some romantic movie cliches to keep them company: 1. her sister is getting married, and she needs to find mv5bota4ntnlzgmtogfkmy00mzhlltg5m2itzwe4mjk0ntgzngqzl2ltywdll2ltywdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyodm4mjyxma-_v1_sy1000_cr006661000_al_a +1 before the new year 2. her employee is going to be alone for the holidays so he gets invited along to her dad’s farm 3. her mother is recently deceased and it’s the first Christmas without her.

So now we’re 5 minutes into the movie, and I ask: is there a single person among us who CAN’T predict the agonizing ways in which this is about to unfold?

The rest of her family isn’t quite feeling the spirit, but she’s going to plod along, talking quickly and pooping Christmas as she goes. Her hometown is crawling with cheek-dimpled ex-boyfriends that make her “strictly platonic employee” not jealous at all. Oh, and every day a lady in an old-timey bonnet shows up to sing a verse of 12 Days of Christmas, and gifts her with the turtle doves or the partridge or whatever. So fun, right? And totally original. But she reframes it as a “romantic mystery” so basically she doesn’t get out much.

This movie aside, I’ve had a lovely little holiday, and now I’m passing time at work watching whatever crummy Christmas movie I can find on Youtube while wearing Christmassy dino socks and dreaming about leftover pie at home. Hope your day has been good too.