SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

This is such a late post because I’ve been unusually active today. I spent my Sunday off visiting a friend of mine so have been out most of the day. It means I’ve done none of my usual day off lounging and watching Netflix, which is good, but it also means I’ve done no reading. So you win some and you lose some. January has been a difficult month for my family so I think I’m just a little preoccupied to anything that taxing. Reading just seems too much whilst I’m in the emotional space that I’m currently residing. So I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. Something that is much harder to do when you’re as neurotic about insignificant things as I am.

Currently Reading

  • The Plague by Albert Camus
I really love this book but it’s so intense that I can’t read it at night and I keep forgetting to take it to work with me. The writing is fantastic but the chapters are lengths that are conducive to a quick pre-bed read. I doubt I’ll finish this by the end of the month which means there isn’t a forecast for 2017 to end with an improvement on the number of books I read last year.  

  • Ball by Tara Ison

Because I was so upset at the prospect of not finishing a single book this month I decided to take a break from The Plague and read something a little easier. So I picked up this short story collection that I’ve had for a while. So far it’s been a charming and fairly quick read which makes a change from Camus. I just need something simpler to get me back into reading before I’m ready to tackle that again. This could be the thing to do that.

Recently Purchased

I’ve been really good this week and not bought a single new book. Something that I would call a victory if I had successfully managed to read more. At least then it would feel as though my TBR pile were getting smaller. Instead it’s just staying at it’s now standard huge length. 
Recently Watched
  • Sherlock series 4 again
I was having mixed feelings about the latest series so decided I needed to watch all 3 epsiodes again. I still kind of like the first episode. I mean it’s not the greatest but there have been much worse ones. I liked the second episode more than I did the first time but still felt bored. I love Sherlock and John’s relationship but this episode pushed it too far. The final episode? I still think it was possibly the second worst episode in the show’s history… and that’s only because ‘The Blind Banker’ is the biggest load of shit I’ve ever seen. I don’t know. There were good moments and I think all three actors were great. I mean I was in tears as Mycroft willingly sacrificed himself. But it just felt too much like a parody. It was all over the place and didn’t make sense. I want there to be another series so we can improve on this one but it also feels as though Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have kind of lost their way. 
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)
I wasn’t sure that I was going to watch this new Netflix adaptation of the Lemony Snicket books but on my day off on Monday I decided to give it a go. I loved it. I mean it’s not perfect and, despite my absolute love of him and think he’s great in the role, I think NPH has been given a bit too much free reign. I mean that theme tune is just wrong for the show. Still, it improves dramatically on the 2004 film. Patrick Warburton is amazing as Lemony Snicket and the supporting cast have been sensational so far. It could be improved but is certainly worth a watch.  
  • Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Film)
Decided to rewatch this after I started the television show. You can read my thoughts in the previous post.
SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

I’ll be honest with you, this week has fucking sucked and I’m super glad it’s over. It’s been a shit week for my family and, really, I haven’t felt in the mood to do anything. Other than shop. That’s the one thing I can rely on at all times. So this week’s rundown isn’t exactly inspiring. I have read some things but I’m only getting through one chapter a night because I’m so tired. Still, it’s hopeful and tomorrow is the start of a new week. It can only get better.. or I hope so because any worse and I’d have to give everything up.

Currently Reading

  • The Plague by Albert Camus
This is slow going, I’m not going to lie but I am getting into it. I love the writing and it’s a super interesting study of humanity in a difficult time. I’ve had this on my TBR for ages so I’m hoping I get more inspired soon. I just need to watch less Netflix and spend less time on the internet. 

Recently Purchased
  • The Magician of Lublin by Isaac Bashevis Singer
I wasn’t supposed to be buying books this week. I was doing so well… until I saw that Pocket Penguin editions come in fucking pink. I know barely anything about this book but as soon as I knew it existed I bought it. I’ve seen bright pink Penguin editions all over Instagram and have always been jealous. Now I have my own and my life feels more full.
  • The Great Science Fiction by H.G. Wells
Another that I don’t need because it contains copies of books I already own multiple copies of. However, this collection of Wells’ stories is beautiful. I’ve never needed a better reason to buy a book in the past so it’ll do me now.
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Illustrated Edition) by J.K Rowling
This is another of those books that I’ve coveted for ages but haven’t felt like I could justify. Until I decided to just say “fuck it” and bought it. It’s a beautiful edition and has already come in handy on my Instagram. I’d say it was a great investment. 
Recently Watched
  • Sherlock series 4 episode 3
I’ve pretty much just finished watching this as I write and I’m not sure how I feel about it. This whole series has been weird. I liked the first episode but it wasn’t anyway near the best. I hated the second but loved the ending. This one felt… disappointing. It was emotional, certainly, but I feel like they’re forever moving Sherlock more into the realms of the Steven Moffat era Dr Who. He’s like a completely different character to the one from the beginning and I just don’t buy it as much. It’s too far removed from the books and it’s an unprecedented change. I’m kind of hoping we don’t get much more because it’ll be a fucking rom-com in no time. It’s less about the solving of crimes and more about Sherlock’s emotions. It’s as awkward and annoying as the moment The Big Bang Theory started making Sheldon a more emotional person. It just didn’t work with the character development they’d already started. I’ll have to watch this again.
  • The Girl on the Train
I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about this film considering my feelings on the book. But I kind of wanted to see how it worked out. And I do fucking love Emily Blunt. So, what did I think? Find out Tuesday.
Tuesday’s Review – Doctor Strange (2016)

Tuesday’s Review – Doctor Strange (2016)

I used to be one of those Marvel fangirls who would go and see a new release as soon as it was out. Now I tend to take my sweet time because there doesn’t seem to be any need to rush. I’m guarateend to love the film regardless but it’s becoming more like doing a Where’s Wally instead of watching a film. There can be no denying that Marvels films have become more than a little predictable of late. An underwritten big bad threatens the world and the good guy/guys have to save the day, probably involving something huge crashing to the ground. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a system that has worked for them and gives the audience everything they want from a superhero film. However, with the arrival of Phase 3 this year it was definitely the time to see something different. That started subtly with Civil War where we saw the good guys facing off against each other for a huge showdown. It wasn’t everything we hoped it would be but you can see that it’s starting to break the mould. The problem is that the formula is safe and adaptable enough for different themes, heroes, and genres. Marvel don’t want to risk losing fans when they know what works.

Which is why Doctor Strange always seemed like a massive risk. Of course, there are always anomalies and Marvel are always keen to take on a project that breaks the pattern. In 2015 Ant-Man took us away from the big time heroes like the Avengers and gave us a smaller tale that became more like a crime caper. Problems behind the scenes meant this was full of issues but it showed that there was room for different think. Like Ant Man, the story of Stephen Strange wasn’t one of the most widely known outside of comic book circles and wasn’t necessarily going to fit into the existing MCU. I mean, the minute you introduce magic into the world of superheroes then everything changes. Power is no longer measurable on a normal scale: this isn’t just about size and physical strength. Magic widens the limits of the possibility and means the rule book just got blown up. It could very easily have fucked up everything Marvel films has been doing over the last 10 years.

So Doctor Strange had a huge job to do: it needed to introduce us to its newest hero and explain the world of magic. It’s a big task that fills the 2 hour running time. Although, the first act is rather slow to get us anywhere. We first meet the egotistical but brilliant brain surgeon, Stephen Strange, who gets into a car accident that destroys his career. He’s helpless and desperate to get back to what he once was. If I’m honest, the first 30 minutes of this film was basically just an episode of House with Benedict Cumberbatch taking Hugh Laurie’s place as British actor playing a doctor who’s also a huge dick. I get that we needed to see why Strange was so desperate to get the use of his hands back but it all felt a bit too much like a parody.

When all hope looks lost, Stephen is directed to Nepal and a mysterious group of people who helped supposedly heal a man who couldn’t walk. Stephen meets the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who allows him to see the hidden dimensions that have remained hidden and sets him on a journey to learn to use magic for himself. As he learns, Strange learns that, as well as all the wonders he never knew about, there is untold danger within these different dimensions that constantly threaten humanity. It is up to Ancient One and her sorcerers to keep darkness away from the Earth. Darkness that is being summoned by her ex-student, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), to destroy humanity. Its up to Stephen, his mentor, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), to stop him.

There is a lot to take in when you watch Doctor Strange and the typical format of a Marvel film isn’t really the best place to try something so new. I mean Thor had to introduce much less than this and it had a hard time teaching the audience about Norse mythology whilst also leaving enough time for fighting. Doctor Strange only just manages to keep a handle on everything it’s trying to do and manages to introduce magic to the MCU in a really trippy and awesome way. When Stephen first meets the Ancient One, she sends him on a journey through dimensions that will definitely give a few hippies some 60s flashbacks. It’s a visual feast and is an incredible film to watch. The many out-of-body experiences and crazy architectural remodelling bring a new freshness to the usual superhero film. This manages to feel like every other Marvel film but, in so many ways, is something completely new.

Although, that isn’t to say it comes without its problems. Benedict Cumberbatch is remarkable in the title role as is Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One. Both are reliable actors who enjoy playing the outcasts of society and so they are well suited to the roles. The rest of the cast are more forgettable. Rachel McAdams is given especially short shrift as fellow doctor and love interest, Christine Palmer. Chiwetel Ejiofor, whilst setting up his role for the next instalment, makes a limited impression and the always delightful Mads Mikkelsen finds himself in the role of another underdeveloped Marvel villain. The main two aside, it is only Benedict Wong who makes any kind of lasting impression and that has little to do with the script.

Doctor Strange is a good film; it’s a very good film. I was super excited to see it and I was incredibly happy afterwards. However, it would be wrong to say that this is the turning point for Marvel. It is a fresh and new film in the midst of every other punch ’em up superhero film but, really, it’s still the same old Marvel underneath. Every time it looks as if a storyline is being allowed a modicum of freedom then its pulled back in. Despite the new ideas at play, this is the same structure as every other Marvel origin story and has the same flaws we are sick of seeing. It shows great potential for the future but Marvel really need to start giving their writers and directors more freedom. It was so close to perfection.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

It’s been a stressful week and I’m so glad it’s over. It started off terribly when my house was broken into on Monday. Thankfully there was no major damage but they took some of my mother’s jewellery, including her engagement ring. So I’ve spent the week feeling really angry and sad about it. I just don’t understand how someone can do that to another person. It’s absolutely disgusting to break into their home and root around all of their stuff. What kind of person thinks that’s acceptable? I don’t care how difficult or hard someone’s life is. It’s just horrendous. Still, there’s not much we can do about it now. It’s just bullshit. So a new week will hopefully mean a better one. It’s getting nearer to Christmas and, fingers crossed, I’m basically done with my presents. Although, I feel like I’m spending a shitload at the moment. It was my Christmas party this week and, despite being fairly restrained on the drinks front, I did end up caving and buying a fairly big round of drinks near the end of the night. One shot of tequila and suddenly I’m super generous. Just waiting until January and my year of sensible living awaits.

Just Finished

  • Not Working by Lisa Owens
This is another book that I can cross off my ‘Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016’ list. It wasn’t exactly a challenging read but I enjoyed it enough. I actually really related to the character of Claire who, during her search to find the perfect job, keeps making excuses for herself. She avoids dealing with issues and gets easily distracted with meaningless tasks. As someone who has lost their way a lot during job hunting it was both a positive and a negative to come face-to-face with a different version of yourself. It left me wanting to change and feeling happier that my life could be worse. 

Recently Purchased
  • Mistletoe and Murder: A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery by Robin Stevens
I’ve been inspired by the season of goodwill and am trying to find as many festive books as possible. This one sounded like a fun and silly murder mystery set at Christmas time. I’m not the biggest lover of crime fiction but if its silly enough I’ll give anything a go. 

Recently Watched
  • Lucifer
I am currently enjoying a free trial of Amazon Prime and am taking advantage of all the shows that I’ve currently missed out on. This was the first I tried and, I must say, I love it. Tom Ellis is fabulous as Lucifer and the premise is fun. I mean it’s hardly a challenging show and it’s always obvious who the killer is but it is enjoyable enough. 
  • Doctor Strange
Yes, it’s been fucking ages but I finally saw Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Stephen Strange. It was everything I wanted it to be and more. But I’ll go into this on Tuesday. I’ll see you there.
Top 10 Wen-sday – Top Ten Sherlock Episodes

Top 10 Wen-sday – Top Ten Sherlock Episodes

So with the new year comes some new additions to my blogging schedule. You will hopefully already have seen my new Monday and Tuesday topics. However, I’m pleased to announce a new, monthly addition. Yes folks, the first Wednesday of the month I will bestow upon you a Top Ten List of my choosing. I bet you can’t hold in your excitement. Now Top 5 Wednesday is already a thing on Goodreads but I think this has a much more appealing sounding name. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities to make things sound more palatable. If you work with me and ask for a Caesar salad then you’d better say “can I have a Caeser pleaser” or you’ll risk my ignoring you. Of course, if I was only doing this based on the sound of the title then it would be Top Two Tuesday but that would be a fucking waste of everyone’s time. So here we are.

Read more

TBT – Sherlock: A Study in Pink

TBT – Sherlock: A Study in Pink

Today is New Year’s Eve and people all around the world are excitedly waiting for the biggest event in the calendar. Yes, we are a few hours away from the Sherlock special. The first episode in almost a year, which is admittedly less time than we’ve been kept waiting in the past. An episode that take us back to the world of the books and places Tumblr’s favourite Otter in Victorian England. It’s an exciting concept and has allowed Martin Freeman to sport a much more impressive moustache than the last one. Now, I’ve not always been on board with Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ modern Sherlock and still only really like a couple of episodes in seasons 1 and 2 and all of season 3. I just feel like they keep mixing up Arthur Conan Doyle with Doctor Who and it’s really fucking annoying. I understand the logic: you want to persuade your already loyal Whovians to follow your new series so you make it so fucking familiar its like their watching the same show. It makes sense. It just doesn’t always feel right to me. I know it’s a modern interpretation but Sherlock is sometimes too quirky for my liking. I like my Holmes to be more stiff-upper-lipped than bouncy.

Still, back in 2010 I eagerly watched the first episode along with the rest of my family. Being major fans of the books, my father and I felt like we had a lot riding on this. To be honest, I liked the first episode. It struggled from the usual first episode problems but was promising. It was the second episode that stopped me watching. In fact it wasn’t until a good couple of years later that I finished series 1 and series 2. The scene in where Sherlock looks for clues in the office just pissed me off. That’s not Sherlock: that’s the Doctor.

It’s not even the fact that I’m a stubborn purist, The idea of modernising Sherlock Holmes was a fantastic one and the casting was superb. I’ll forget about any original material when something well-written and enjoyable is on offer, ‘The Blind Banker’ is one of the shittest things I’ve ever seen. You know how Star Wars purists feels about the prequels? Yeah, that’s how I feel about series 1 episode 2 of Sherlock.

Anyway, I’ve since changed my mind… at least partially. It’s all thanks to Mark Gatiss really. His Hounds of the Baskerville episode is the best thing in the entire fucking series, That man is one of the best television writers we have at our disposal and I always look forward to anything he’s helped to craft. It’s equally telling that the best episode of series 1 is also written by Gatiss. I dread to think what Sherlock would have been like without him.

But I digress. Before we see a more traditional version of the character we have come to know and love, I think it’s prudent to look back at the Cumberbatch’s first outing as the great detective. There was a lot of pressure all round when ‘Study in Pink’ first aired. How well would the modernisation work without the whole thing feeling like a bit of a gimmick? How well would the stories translate into a modern setting? And, most importantly of all, who would play the wiseman?

‘Study in Pink’ may not have fully proved that the new series was destined for greatness it certainly showed there was great potential. The use of social media and new mobile technology were used greatly and the graphics on screen allowed them to fit into the narrative. It is no new idea that Sherlock liked to be ahead of the times and loved to play with gadgets. It fits in with his character that he would utilise the internet and smartphones in his investigation.

As for the story, the plot isn’t the greatest crime mystery ever crafted but it works. There are few unanswered questions and a few dodgy moments but, in the end, it holds up. Obviously, the first episode of any series has the awkward task of introducing the concept and the characters. It had to bring our main characters together and create the dynamic duo. It had to quickly allow the audience to get to grips with Sherlock’s character and his history with the supporting cast. The actual case is neither here nor there but it has all the hallmarks of a traditional Holmesian tale.

What really made the series great was the casting. The supporting cast is amazing with Lousie Brealey, Mark Gastiss and Una Stubbs standing out. Although, for my part, I’ll always have a soft-spot for Rupert Graves’ Lestrade. Not only is he astoundingly handsome but is a bloody good actor. Of course the main event is in the casting of Holmes and Watson themselves. Bringing together Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman is quite honestly the greatest thing that Steven Moffat has ever done. It’s no wonder that Tumblr have accept the pair as a tried and tested ship. You can tell the success of a television pairing by the number of people drawing pictures of them in romantic situations and writing fanfiction about them adopting children together.

‘A Study in Pink’ deserved a much better follow-up than ‘The Blind Banker’. It’s a smart and stylish episode that showcases the talents of its actors. It is a strong opening episode that hinted at great things to come. You can tell that Gatiss and Moffat know their stuff in terms of Conan Doyle law and truly enjoyed updating the tales. It’s just as obvious that all the actors involved relish their roles and loved making the series. I’ll never be truly convinced that this is absolute greatest adaptation of the tales we’ll ever see but I’ve come around to the idea that it’s the best we’ve got at the moment.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Watching The Hobbit trilogy has felt a bit like Christmas dinner. The first course is absolutely delicious and you come away satisfied and hungry for more. By the time the second one gets under way, you realise you’re getting fuller and could probably made do with some smaller portions. Then comes the dreaded final course. After the first two you’ve had so much fucking food you might burst but then someone brings out the Christmas pudding. You know you don’t need it but you eat your portion anyway and spend the rest of the day, uncomfortably full, half regretting you’re decision. It’s all lovely in itself but together it’s just too much.

Since the release of the first Hobbit film in 2012 I have defended Peter Jackson’s decision to drag the short children’s novel out to make three films. I argued that this relaxed and time consuming process worked well with the style Tolkein played up in his LOTR trilogy. However, upon finally sitting down to watch the final instalment at the beginning of January, I suddenly found myself wavering. Having lived with the Smaug-shaped cliffhanger for 12 months I was excited to finally see the great dragon wreak some havoc. What I got for my year long wait was 10 minutes of confusing CGI smashing and a weird, human bow and arrow. Yes, for all that waiting, Jackson only goes and kills Smaug off even quicker than you can finish your popcorn. What was the fucking point?
There is a lot to enjoy about The Battle of the Five Armiesbut I couldn’t help finding it all a bit unnecessary. I admit that I sat there in a bit of a strop because it had become painfully clear that Jackson was stretching this as thin as possible. So little happens in this film and what does happen is just not interesting enough to cover up that fact. There aren’t as many fun, geeky references for die-hard fans to pick up here and Bilbo becomes much less prevalent in all the chaos. The titular Hobbit who has so far guided us on this journey is thrown into the background as other, less interesting characters, take centre stage.
Having finally ended their journey and watching some other schmuck deal with their annoying dragon, the dwarves have everything they’ve ever wanted. Now they just have to keep hold of it. As it turns out, a fucking massive, unguarded pile of gold and jewels is something everybody is willing to kill for. Having spent the last two films building up the bravery of this ragtag band of brothers, The Five Armies shows them hiding from much of the conflict they have helped create. It’s fucking inspiring stuff.
Meanwhile, a weakened Gandalf is still trapped in Orc-ville desperately waiting to tie-up any remaining lose ends, no matter how unnecessary, with Jackson’s previous trilogy. Now the Necromancer has been unmasked, it’ll take some of the most powerful actors from LOTRto draw him back into that dark corner of Middle Earth. In scenes never before associated with The Hobbit, Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond help him escape by battling the dark forces only for Gandalf can go and situate himself in the middle of another fight he isn’t ready for.
There are obviously several stand-out moments that are incredibly exciting: I’m mainly thinking of the time when, thanks to a little outside help, the 92 year old Christopher Lee kicks orc ass. Part of me feels that that alone makes the film worth it. There are several shining lights within the cast; notably Luke Evans and Evangeline Lily as The Bard and the Jackson original, Tauriel. These two still manage to bring a refreshing and emotional performance in the midst of the tired appearances from Jackson regulars and the floundering of great actors lost in a CGI world.
For someone who created some excellent battle scenes in both The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Jackson has a great deal of difficulty keeping track of his five armies. The main part of this film I taken from such a small section of the book that there was a great deal of potential for greatness. Instead of the well choreographed and exciting battles we’re used to seeing, the Battle of the Five Armies is a complete clusterfuck of fantasy creatures fighting over some gold, complete with Billy Connolly on a boar.
Let’s be honest though, this battle was never really going to work, was it? After all, a massive, confusing battle over evil is one thing but a massive, confusing battle over money is just… confusing. I sat through the hour or so of fighting in this film wondering one thing: why should we care? The various races of Middle Earth coming together to fight for power and wealth? It’s fucking Victorian!
By this point there are just too many characters to keep track of and too many campaigns to follow. Everyone, Jackson included, just gets lost in the fray. For something that doesn’t take up much room in the book, the battle of the five armies truly outgrows its cinematic surroundings and becomes as Falstaffian as a battle is ever likely to get. It’s a shame that such brilliant actors and characters aren’t given enough time to develop. The director really struck gold getting Richard Armitage on board as Thorin but he has never really let the actor stand out. This final instalment was the perfect chance for him to shine but he was relegated to hamming it up as the fucking mad dwarf king. This whole “dragon sickness” plot is pushed a little too close to soap opera territory.
The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t a mitigating disaster but neither is it the film we hoped it would be. Of course, you will read plenty on the internet about the amount of the plot that is either a figment of Jackon’s imagination or out-of sync with Tolkein’s timeline. By this point, that’s just to be expected I’m afraid. It was always going to be a fucking stretch and you’re fighting a losing battle if you do anything but accept things for the way they are. Yes, Thraduil mentions the Ranger Strider despite the fact that Aragorn would only have been a boy at this point. Calm the fuck down. It’s Jackson’s lead up to The Fellowship of the Ring, he had to get a mention of the eventual King in there somewhere. This trilogy is Jackson’s gateway drug to the harder stuff on offer in LOTR. If you must get angry, this is the internet after all, then get angry about how fucking stupid it is to signpost the audience’s way into a story they’ve all seen more times than they can remember. It’s like that moment in Revenge of the Sith when Lucas emphasises the names of Padme’s children as if anyone watching is still fucking surprised.
Like the Star Wars prequels themselves, The Battle of the Five Armiesbecomes a bit of a showcase for all of Jackson’s worst qualities. The battle scenes drag on for fucking years, stories are resolved in whichever way allowed the writers to finish quickest, the romance is completely overblown, and the signposting to his later story is just fucking laughable at this point. Like Revenge of the Sithis for the Star Wars saga, The Five Armies is both the best of the LOTR‘prequels’ and the stupidest. It is as technically astounding as it should be but none of this matters when you’re just watching Jackson continually flogging a dead horse before your very eyes.

I guess I didn’t hate it but it was the first time during these trilogies that I was disappointed with the director’s approach. Non-stop action and tireless entertainment are one thing but I value necessity and validity of existence above all else. Plus, I guess I just find it fucking hard to swallow the “money is evil” message when it comes from the mouth of a man who stretched out a fairly short children’s book into a 9+ hour film going experience.  
The Imitation Game (2014)

The Imitation Game (2014)

I think, by now, I’ve made my feelings about Benedict Cumberbatch pretty fucking clear. However, for those of you not paying attention, I’m more than happy to repeat myself. I love him and his weird alien, ottery face. There is very little that I wouldn’t be happy to sit through just to watch him. Hell, if I sat through the abysmal and disappointing August: Osage County then I could probably sit through any old shit if I had his face for company. It also helps that the story of Alan Turing is one of the few films that genuinely deserves to be made into a film. The man was a fucking war hero but nobody was allowed to know about it. He saved thousands of lives and his work was key in the development of computer science: just think how much we all owe him. Such a great man deserves to be portrayed by a great actor.

The story of Alan Turing can be seen as both a triumph for Britain and part of its shameful history. For years it was kept secret that one of our greatest mathematicians helped crack the enigma code and bring World War II to an early end. Not so secret is the fact that, in 1952, Alan Turing was arrested and charged with gross indecency on account of his homosexuality. After spending a year taking drugs that chemically castrated him, Turing took his own life in 1954. One of the most important men in one of the biggest conflicts this country has been a part of was only provided with a posthumous royal pardon in 2013. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t think all of that was a fucking disgrace.
A sentiment that is clearly shared by the team behind The Imitation Game. This isn’t the first attempt to dramatise Turing’s story but it is by far the best. With a script by Graham Moore that is loosely based on Andrew Hodges book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, the film explores three key timelines in Turing’s life: his miserable time a boarding school; his time in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park; and his post-war conviction. Moore’s script has the difficult task of balancing the more intimate aspects of the story with a massive world conflict. Thankfully, he is more than up to the task and has created a script that is simple and clear enough to explain the intricate details, whether technical or personal. The narrative expertly weaves between these timelines and creates a fucking great biopic/drama/thriller thing.
Norwegian director, Morten Tyldum, has produced a good looking and sleek film here with a cast of fucking amazing actors. However, it is pretty much down to outstanding leading performance by Benedict Cumberbatch that this film resonates so much. The film doesn’t exactly wow but Cumberbatch’s performance is incredible: something I was delighted to see described as his “most Cumberbatchian character yet”. It’s a little like Sherlock Holmes meets Sheldon Cooper but it works. Whilst I can’t speak for the accuracy of the portrayal, the actor fully embraces the role and gives a sympathetic and haunting portrait of Turing. Early in the film, Turing asks a police officer (Rory Kinnear) “Are you paying attention?”. Cumberbatch spends the rest of the film ensuring that you can’t help but do just that.
The Imitation Gameintroduced me to a new sensation – not instantly hating everything Keira Knightley does. Her portrayal of Joan was considered and controlled. Fighting against the sexist attitude of the time, Joan is strong, clever and thoroughly British. If ever there was a role hand-made for Knightley this would probably be it… even if she is just too fucking beautiful. Of course, I do have to agree with those people who are criticising the amount of time given over to their friendship. Joan was, at one time, engaged to Turing but their friendship is presented as much more significant than was probably true.
For a film so concerned with Turing’s homosexuality it does everything it can to hide it. Now I’m not suggesting we need to sex Turing up or anything. I’m not trying to say that audiences were crying out for some of kind of cryptologists after dark smut. If there is a demand then I’m sure Channel 4 can work out some sort of deal for a Russell T Davies late night special. However, it would have been better if there was more than one memorable reference to the fact that Turing liked dudes. It was the fucking point after all.
There has been already been a massive fucking deal made about the inaccuracies within the script and it is safe to say that The Imitation Game takes a bit of a Downton Abbey approach to historical fact. There can be no doubt that parts of the tale have been amped up for Hollywood, particularly with references to Soviet spy John Cairncross, who Turing would never have met, and a crazy sub-plot involving MI6 planting information for the Russians. Then we have the massively coincidental, convenient and super-emotional drama surrounding fellow code-breaker Peter Hilton’s brother being subject of an imminent German attack. Suffice it to say, Peter Hilton had no brother.
However, I don’t think The Imitation Gameever set out to create an in-depth biography documenting Turing’s life. It simply used him as a symbol for a problem that cursed British society for such a long time. In a similar way to 12 Years a Slavelast year, The Imitation Gamereintroduces a modern audience to a not so ancient practice of homophobia that destroyed people’s lives and still infects society today. So yes, the makers do take some liberties with Turing’s life and make him more a a Hollywood hero. He needed the additional conflict and struggle to make his inevitable fall seem even worse.

The Imitation Gameis not a film about cryptanalyst Alan Turing but a film that uses him to on behalf of gay rights. Turing was a man with a great man with a huge amount of potential. Unfortunately, Turing’s successes were kept secret for so many years and his continued greatness was derailed thanks to some misguided laws. It is a story not just about this war hero but about the injustice that he received once his work had saved so many lives: about a man who changed the world and the world that destroyed him.
12 Years a Slave (2013)

12 Years a Slave (2013)

We will constantly be told that 12 Years a Slave is groundbreaking and necessary filmmaking and it is true. A year after Quentin Tarantino placed the slave trade under his unique spotlight, Steve McQueen takes a more sombre look at that bleak part of American history. Comparisons can and will be made to Tarantino’s revenge Western but, aside from the theme that unites them, there is little to be drawn from such an association. Tarantino locks his slaves inside a cartoonish world where the damaged Django is able to gain some sort of catharsis through his violence. Steve McQueen makes this film knowing that there can be no easy answers. Whilst you could easily walk away from Django Unchained feeling that some form of justice has been served, there is nothing to shield you from the horrible truth in McQueen’s third film. Rather than revenge, we are being served up the unpalatable truth. 


12 Years is the adaptation of the 1853 memoir of Solomon Northup, a freeborn black man who lives with his wife and children in New York. Thanks to his unquestionably trusting nature, Solomon is tricked, drugged and kidnapped in Washington and sold into slavery. We follow Solomon’s journey from the capital to the plantations of Louisiana where he is passed from the hands of a money-hungry trader (a despicable Paul Giamatti) to the benevolent but weak Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and, finally, the malicious Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender). Solomon is stripped of his freedom, dignity and his name, having been giving the moniker Platt. He must hide his past, keep his head down and do everything that his masters expect of him.

Solomon is played by the hugely talented Chiwetel Ejiofor. There is a stark and uncomfortable contrast between the Solomon we see in the opening scenes and the man we see bound and helpless. The free man walks confidently around his home town and happily interacts with his neighbours. Then we suddenly see him chained up in a dark and dank cell before he is violently beaten by his captors.  It is a horrifying change.The violence and language of McQueen’s epic are intended to make its audience uncomfortable but it is presented in such a way that it affects on a deeper level. You are not seeing images that are simply shocking and disgusting but something that is barbaric and illogical. McQueen doesn’t have to do a lot here and just lets the narrative speak for itself. Through McQueen’s lens, slavery is seen in uncompromising brutality.
12 Years treats us to the typical McQueen style of precise framing and shots held onto just long enough to make you uncomfortable: the unflinching gaze. It is on Ford’s plantation that Solomon is given some respect but the caring owner does not control his staff quite as well as he should. The diabolical overseer (Paul Dano) takes a disliking to Platt and goads the slave into standing up for himself. In response, Solomon is hung from a tree with his feet barely touching the ground and gasping for breath. His fellow slaves go about their business behind him but the audience is held face-to-face with the violence for much longer than they’d like.
Then we have the harrowing scene towards the end of the film where the downtrodden Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o), already having been subjected to Epps’ uncontrolled lust and sexual assault, is savagely beaten. As Solomon is forced to dole out this punishment, the camera circles the scene showing the horrifying effect this has on both Patsy and Solomon.
McQueen focuses a great deal on Solomon’s face, which places an enormous amount of pressure on
Ejiofor. His face, and most importantly his eyes, becomes the emotional centre of the film: carefully conveying every necessary emotion. You never see Northup admitting defeat and, through every awful encounter, Ejiofor lets a hint of determination shine through. This is acting of the greatest quality and Ejiofor deserves every award and nomination he’s been given.
Alongside him are equally Oscar-worthy performances that ensure the drama on screen never feels melodramatic or mawkish. Nyong’o, in her film debut, is spectacular but harrowing and plays Patsey with a fiery tenacity. It is a breathtaking start to her career and I am still outraged that she missed out on the BAFTA she so obviously deserved.
Though the most memorable performance, by far, comes from Michael Fassbender as the savage Epps. Epps starts off as potentially cartoony: a drunk and sadistic man who delights in breaking his slaves and terrorising them with fake bible verses. However, he is given extra depth through his obsession with Patsey and his strained relationship with his wife. He is an utterly terrifying presence who, despite being only a second away from violence, is far more dangerous. Fassbender provides us with a disturbing and awful portrayal of a slave owner who has become just an inhuman as the people he owns.
12 Years is a film that unpicks the intricacies of American slavery – the power-relationships, the daily horrors and the overlooked practices – and shows it to be nothing more than madness. This is an angry, intense and stylish examination of the slave trade that is meant to challenge the audience (I for one was an emotional wreck by the time the credits rolled) and one that will stay with you long after it ends.

McQueen doesn’t hide the realities that were faced by many behind witty word-play, suggestions of great change, or violent revenge narratives. He offers a painful, emotional and unrelenting view of what thousands of people faced less than 200 years ago. There is no happy ending here: just the haunting image of a broken man. Forcing you to face up to the corporeal realities of slavery, 12 Yearsis set to become a modern classic that goes to show just how powerful cinema can be.
August: Osage County (2013)

August: Osage County (2013)

I love Meryl Streep. She’s a fantastic actress, she’s an awesome human being and she just doesn’t give a fuck. However, I find myself liking Meryl Streep films less and less as time goes by. She has an increasingly strange habit of choosing to star in really odd and terrible films, particularly ones involving the ridiculous Phyllida Lloyd. Streep is always a reliable and amazing performer but she just doesn’t seem to picking the productions worthy of her brilliance. However, I have been excited about August: Osage County for a while now because of its amazing cast and the potential brilliance from adapting Tracy Lett’s 2008 Pulitzer Prize winning play. Casting Meryl Streep as the unstable head of a fractured and eccentric family and surrounding her with other great actors could only be a recipe for success. Plus, as I’m sure you’re aware by now, I’ll happily embrace anything involving Benedict Cumberbatch’s cheekbones (especially when there’s singing involved).


August: Osage County boasts a screenplay written by Letts that stays as loyal to the original play as a dramatically reduced script (to cut the running time down by 1 hour) possibly can. We are introduced to Beverly (Sam Shepard) and Violet Weston (Streep), a husband and wife who have supposedly struck a balance between their respective addictions: in his case alcohol and in hers a cocktail of drugs originally prescribed for her mouth cancer. When Beverly goes missing, Violet’s extended family assemble in support: her three daughters Barbara (Julia Roberts), Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) and Karen (Juliette Lewis) and their partners; her sister and brother-in-law (Margo Martindale and Chris Cooper); and her shy nephew Little Charles (Cumberbatch).

The narrative takes some time to find its feet and the initial set-up feels a little flat. However, once the key turning point has been reached the drama is turned up to 11 and the volume reaches insane levels. August: Osage County boast an incredible cast, who bring with them a combination of five Oscar wins and 24 nominations, which goes all out to act their socks off in a narrative full of barbed insults, dramatic confrontations and a sweltering intensity. Everything really comes to a head during the 25 minute long dinner scene where Violet’s anger explodes over her unsuspecting family. It’s one of those scenes that just leaves you utterly engrossed yet horrified by the dialogue being thrown across the potatoes.
There is an exhausting amount of acting on display here that continually threatens to spill over the narrative and self-destruct. Each character has their own hidden turmoil which comes out in their individual big moment of shouting, verbal abuse and fist-clenching emotions. Thanks to the shortening of the script some of the quieter characters and scenes are less developed than they should have been: being shunned in favour of the more overwhelming moments of family melodrama.
Dramatic scenes that are dominated by Violet during her drug-fuelled moment of ferocity. Streep is clearly in her element playing Violet and completely indulges in the role of the vicious, pill-popping matriarch. It’s the kind of performance that staggers along the line between perfectly judged and uncomfortably hammy. She soars during Violet’s most heinous moments but falls flat in her more understated moments.
Streep finds herself a more than willing sparring partner in Julia Roberts who plays her angry eldest daughter. I have never been entirely convinced by Roberts but there were several scenes in August: Osage County where I saw hints of greatness. The subtle but powerful scene when Barbara is travelling with her daughter (Abigail Breslin) where they conduct an uncomfortable but emotional exchange was one such standout. This is one of Roberts’ greatest roles for a while and she spends her time moving between exhausted aggravation and uncontrollable anger.
Taking their place in the background are some fine but hardly dazzling performances. Juliette Lewis makes a mark as the younger and brassy daughter when she is allowed to do something more than react to other people’s arguments. Julianne Nicholson has been underrated and, along with an understated yet still measured Benedict Cumberbatch, gives the film a sympathetic point. Then we have Chris Cooper who, after a lifetime of accepting his wife’s criticism, finally comes into his own whilst defending his put-upon son.
There is a great deal of talent on display but all of these careful performances get lost thanks to the timid man at the helm. Director John Wells clearly holds the original stage productions in such high regard that he isn’t willing to go far enough to turn this into a film rather than simply a film version of a play. His direction just seems uninspired and his thematic vision is nothing but annoyingly clichéd. Everything Wells does he does out of respect but he certainly sacrifices style for loyalty. There was a great deal of potential to come from adapting this well-received play using some of the finest actors working at the moment. However, in the hands of John Wells the film just reeks of a lack of imagination. You can’t help but feel that in the hands of a more adventurous filmmaker that the real genius of Lett’s work would have shown through.