Harry Potter Week: The Girl Who Read

anniversary, books, fucking, fucking awesome, Harry Potter, harry potter week, history, J K Rowling, ramblings

When I turned 20 I was at university and I had an epic night out with a load of my flatmates. It was a typical university style night out and we all got super drunk. It was during the days when people still took digital cameras on nights out (yes I’m super old) and I took a shit ton of photos. It’s safe to say, as the night progressed, things get less pretty and my eyelids droop ever lower. My 20th birthday was a fantastic night out but the next day I experienced my first, grown-up hangover. Literally the day I turned 20 my body stopped being able to just get up and go after a night out. I was dying. I’d never felt as old as I did that morning. I doubt Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone woke up this morning with a banging headache and feeling super nauseated but I bet it felt old. I mean I fucking do. The first Harry Potter series was released 20 years ago. I’m nearly 30 but it still feels like yesterday that I first read about the boy who lived.  How did this happen? Imagine if I had another night out like my 20th birthday… I probably would die at this point. Jeez.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t read The Philosopher’s Stone when it first came out. ARGH! I know. This probably makes me less of a Harry Potter fan than you. But it’s fine. I actually got the book one year later, in 1998. My father bought me a copy of the first adult edition and I’ve never looked back. It was during the time that Harry Potter fever was infecting the nation and I vividly remember one of my teachers bemoaning the fact that I was jumping on the bandwagon. She was a massive bitch and I ignored her. Ultimately, I didn’t care because I loved the book. I was 10 years old and I’d never read anything like it before. It had everything and I read it obsessively. I’d always been involved in reading as a child but it was my twin sister who would ingest books in a single sitting. This series turned that around. I wanted to read for fun and I wanted to read for long periods. It was the first time I remember not wanting to stop reading because I was desperate to see what happened.

We didn’t realise 20 years ago that the whole landscape of literature was about to change with the release of the first 500 copies of JK Rowling’s debut. When you look at the lists of people’s favourite books ever, it’s highly likely that Harry Potter will always top, or at least be near the top, of a reader’s most loved novels. They have overtaken such classics as To Kill a Mockingbird and The Lord of the Rings. Despite everyone being convinced it wouldn’t take off, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone has reached an insane amount of people all around the world and has got so many children into reading. I have some intense views about Rowling nowadays (see my many old school rants) but I will always respect what she has achieved. She found previously unknown success through writing and has inspired generations people: young and old.

That’s the great thing about Harry Potter. It was the first time that children’s fiction also became super popular for adults. It was the first time I remember my whole family being invested in the same book. I didn’t really think about it at the time but it was a really binding experience. Every time a new book came out I would read it first and then it would be passed round my entire family. We would discuss the books and would all share in the excitement and sadness that ensued. The majority of my friends read them too and we would talk about theories together all the time. I remember writing to a penfriend and theorising over who the Half Blood Prince was before the book came out. We wrote fucking pages about the books in our correspondence.

I only ever queued up at midnight for the final book but my friends and I did it together. It was a really great night. We went to a friend’s house, got food, and messed about with our homemade magic wand (they were literally just sticks from her garden). Then we headed into town and stood in line with all of the eager kids. I admit that I was in that period where I (mistakenly) felt a little too cool to be doing it and I forced my friends to leave their “wands” in the car. However, I’m so glad I did it. The day after we’d all finished reading it I remember going out with the same friends and we all just felt numb. We genuinely didn’t know what to do now it was over. We’d dedicated 10 years to this story and it was just finished… and with such a terrible epilogue. I didn’t know what to feel. I was a mix of sad, happy and kind of angry.

Which is why I think my feelings towards the series have cooled off a bit now. You see, unlike a lot of fans out there I haven’t obsessively reread the books every year since I first read them. I think it’s partly because, after I read the final book, I was done. It took so long for me to get over the book that, when I did, I wanted that to be it. It sounds really fucking stupid but it was like a breakup. There was so much pain that when it eventually went away I didn’t want to risk getting back to that feeling. Also, if I’m honest, I’ve never managed to get all the way through the first 2 books again. They just feel so childish now. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t love them. After all, they have shaped my life in such a massive way and in ways that I probably don’t even realise. Just as they have for so many other people.

After all, these books aren’t just fun children’s literature. They taught us all so much about life. It’s not a glossy and lovely Disney world where everyone is happy and good always triumphs over evil. This is  a story where awful things happen to good people and they struggle to go the right thing. We saw discrimination at work and we saw the oppressed standing up for themselves. The thing the book’s did most of all was offer hope. It showed that, no matter how awful things get, with people by our side we can get through anything. The books don’t sugarcoat life for children but inspire them to keep going. It’s no wonder that so many studies have shown that fans of the book show an increased sense of empathy towards others. They taught us that difference isn’t something to rally against but to embrace.

What has been so lovely in the run-up to today is the amount of people sharing memories about the books. On Instagram there are Harry Potter related posts everywhere and people from all over the world are bonding over one series of books. These books are decades old and they are still bringing people together. Writing this post has forced me to look back over my time in this fandom and it’s actually been quite emotional. I forget just how massive a part of my life this was. Little silly memories come back to me and it’s wonderful. I grew up with these books and will always have a place for them in my heart. I’ve since moved on to bigger and better novels but Harry Potter is about so much more than the writing. Yes, JK Rowling wasn’t the best writer but she improved in every new book. Yes, her ideas weren’t original and she took bits from other work. That doesn’t matter. Harry Potter doesn’t survive because of the quality. It survives because of how is makes you feel. It’s nostalgic and charming but it’s also important and embracive. It’s a community that, admittedly, sometimes can be a bit brutal but is somewhere you always have a place.

I was 10 when I started reading and I was 19 when it ended. I had grown up with this series and my love had only grown deeper with each book. I dabbled in both reading and writing fanfiction. I bought merchandise, played the video game, and went to see every film. I signed up to Pottermore immediately. I’m 29 years old now and I still can’t get enough. Harry Potter was my first fandom before I even knew what a fandom was. It’s something that I am so glad to be a part of and am so grateful to my father for buying that book. I’m not trying to be melodramatic but who knows how different my life could have been. I studied literature at university and I’m pretty sure these books pushed me deeper into reading. I have made so many friends over these books and continue to make connections because of them. There’s been times when I’ve kept my love of the series quiet because I feel too old for it now. Or played it down with friends who don’t share the love. Not anymore. As I’ve already said, I’m pretty fucking old now and I’m at an age where I don’t give a shit. I’m a Harry Potter nerd and there’s fuck all wrong with that.

TBT – Big Fish (2003)

films, fucking awesome, fucking sad, fucking sweet, reviews, TBT, Tim Burton

When it comes to my Thursday post I basically just trawl Netflix for a while until I find a film that I really want to watch. It means I’m just rewatching films that I’ve loved for years but I’m okay with that. It’s the best of both worlds I suppose. Although, it does mean that I mostly just end up writing gushing reviews for the films I wholeheartedly adore. I watched this week’s film when it first came out in the cinema nearly 14 years ago and have had a soft spot for it ever since. A friend bought me the book it was based on after we saw it but, if I’m honest, I never finished. For one thing, the author had the same as a boy in my class and it was a bit too weird. Basically because he was a bit weird. Secondly, I think it was a mistake reading it after seeing the film because, due to the changes, the film’s narrative was tighter. I think I lost my way with the book when the vicious dog turned up. I know I know. As a bookish person it should be “the book is always better” but sometimes it has to be okay to prefer the film. Especially when Ewan McGregor and Tim Burton are involved.

Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions is a novel by Daniel Wallace that retells the life of a great storyteller. Throughout the narrative his son tries to get his father to tell him the truth and connect these tall tales with reality. At it’s heart, Big Fish is just the story of a man trying to understand his father before he dies. When it was made into a film it seemed like the perfect story for Tim Burton to tell. Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) has spent his later years retelling the stories of his youth to his son, Will no matter how unbelievable they appeared to be. As he grew up hearing the tales over and over, Will (Billy Crudup), started to see them as more annoying that exciting. Constantly hearing his father’s outrageous stories caused barriers to come between the pair and, upon returning home to say goodbye, Will attempts to find out more about the man behind the myths.

This is the film that Tim Burton was destined to make. Who better but the visionary director to help bring this book to life? Edward Bloom, like Burton, is a natural storyteller who believes real life could do with a bit of help from more magical elements. It is a film that explores the relationship between real life and fantasy and how the two can work together. The narrative speaks to Burton’s sensibilities as a director and allows him to be whimsical, funny and dark but gives him a constant grounding in reality. It gives him every chance to create the kind of visuals he has become known for and the quirkiness he inevitably brings to every project without feeling disjointed. We see small towns that look like something out of Edward Scissor Hands or creepy forests that could easily be used in Sleepy Hollow. He takes Wallace’s already fantastical tale and gives it a proper Tim Burton spin.

Big Fish is a clever film that, in other hands, could easily have fallen apart. So much depends on the representation of Edward and Will that you need a firm hand at the wheel. It was important not to present Edward as a crazy old fool who repeats his fantastical ramblings about events that never happened. The audience needs to love him and see why people love his stories. Thankfully, the film is presented as flashbacks with Ewan McGregor stepping into young Edward’s shoes. McGregor is able to bring as much charm and effortless likeability to the character that it’s impossible not to get swept away with the tall tales Mixed with Albert Finney’s held-back performance as the elder Edward, we see a man who you want to believe no matter how hard it is.

However, Burton is not trying to champion a way of life that relies solely on fictional representations of real events. Finney does showcase the irritable side of Edward’s personality to the extent that you can also understand where Will is coming from. Stories are all well and good when you are a child but, eventually, it would be nice to hear the truth. Crudup plays his part well and gives a subtle approach to the father son rift. However, it is Will’s final moments with his father that really shine out. A lesser actor would have built up the emotional aspects of the scene but Crudup holds back. He allows the final meeting of the minds to speak for itself and lets the story do it’s job. It’s a fantastic performance.

Big Fish is one of those films that can easily divide opinion. To someone it may seem schmaltzy and twee. To me it skirts the two without ever falling into the danger zone. There are some excellent supporting performances from Hollywood greats like Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, and Danny DeVito. Jessica Lange gives a brilliant performance as Edward’s true love, Sandra, who is played by an equally fabulous Alison Lohman in her younger days. It is a truly Tim Burton production with his usual cast of players and his traditional visuals. It is constantly very funny and gut wrenchingly sad. No matter how many times I watch it, that final scene has me in an stream of tears. However, it is a more sophisticated story… or at least a different kind of story. Exploring the relationship between father and son and the acceptance of their little foibles. It is a film that tells us, fact is all very well and good but sometimes it’s better to bend that truth.

TBT – Ghost in the Shell (1995)

anime, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, fucking sad, fucking tragic, Japan, TBT

I’m super late getting this post up today because I basically fell asleep as soon as I got home from work today. I’ve basically been fighting to stay awake since about 5pm and I totally forgot it was Thursday. Still, better late than never, right? After watching the remake of Ghost in the Shell last week it seemed only fair to watch the classic 1995 anime for my TBT post. As we saw with Beauty and the Beast last week, the problem with remaking films that are pretty much perfect is that you just remind people of all the great things about the original. The scenes that the newer version lifted directly from the anime just made me want to watch that instead. I understand that the budget and approach were different but it still felt too similar. It’s not that the new films are bad it’s just that they are too tied to what has come before. It’s the thing that made the Ghostbusters reboot so frustrating: it could have been so great but it was too preoccupied with making references to the first film. We almost need these franchises to do what JJ Abrams did with Star Trek and just start completely from scratch. Reset the clock and try again a different way. The only thing these half-arsed reboots are going to do is make the original films all the more popular.

After all, the 1995 anime based on the Manga series is still regarded as one of the best anime films ever made. Now I won’t admit to being vastly knowledgeable about anime but I’ve seen enough to know that Ghost in the Shell is special. Maybe 2029 seemed a long way off in 1995 but we are now ridiculously close to getting to that point. It is also looking increasing more plausible with the continue advances in technology. James Cameron once called the film “a stunning work of speculative fiction” but I, in 2017, speculative doesn’t just cut it anymore. Terrorism is happening virtually and countries are under threat of hacking. This is a future where data and communication are the lifeblood and must be handled with increased care. Hmmm… familiar.

Thankfully, forces exist to keep this information from falling into the wrong hands. One of those forces, Section 9, is headed up by Major Motoko Kusanagi, who as it happens is actually a human brain inside a robotic body. The Ghost in the Shell of the title. This is a world where human beings are enhancing themselves with technology to improve themselves. Major is able to plug herself into the data-stream using her body and find information with relative ease. Which helps in her search for the illusive hacker The Puppet Master, a terrorist who is able to hack into the ghosts of ordinary citizens to force them to carry out cyber crimes for him.

Over the course of the narrative, Kusanagi delves deeper into the question of what it is to be human. This is a very existential film that spends as much time discussing memory and the human soul as it does kick ass. How can Kusanagi be sure that the ghost that lingers inside her mechanical body is actually really her or just a false version implanted by into it? More than the recent version, the Major is a complex character who fights bad guys and her inner demons. The story doesn’t simplify itself or pander to its audience. It is complicated and asks genuine questions about humanity. The opening sequence shows Kusanagi’s transformation in her new body and is presented as a form a birth. It’s a haunting sequence that proves, in this new world, even reproduction has become a mechanical and not a human process. This is a serious film wrapped up in anime action sequences.

But that’s not to say the action sequences are not important. The animation here is fantastic and there are some incredible chases and fight scenes to see. It is a beautifully crafted film that, even without the budget or the technology of the 2017 film, still manages to offer a veritable feast for the eyes. And, unlike the new film, the 1995 version isn’t afraid to keep things melancholic. Where the Scarlett Johannson version craved emotional resolution, this films offers no comfort. There are serious questions on display here and there are no easy answers. The animation goes even further to isolate Kusanagi and show the ultimate emptiness of the world she inhabits. It’s a fantastic film that, no matter what you think of the new film, everyone should watch.

TBT – Home Alone (1990)

childhood favourite, Christmas, film, fucking awesome, fucking stupid, fucking weird, review, TBT

I slept terribly last night. I was at work for 7 this morning so was awake before half 5. However, no matter how hard I tried, I found myself still wide awake at 1 am. So today I’ve been like a fucking zombie trying not to let exhaustion get to me. It also meant that, despite my plan to come home and write this post as soon as possible, I spent my time napping. So, in a moment of complete honesty, I’m not going to put my normal review hat on for this post. Of course, it doesn’t really matter I suppose. Any Christmas film that I could discuss for TBT are ones that everyone knows. So, instead, I want to discuss several points that have been bugging me about Home Alone over the years. I, like everyone else around my age, loved this film growing up and I’ll still watch it every year. I mean it is a remarkably funny festive film that, despite the absurdity of the premise, a terrible script and more than a few cringey stops in schmaltz town, is an essential Christmas watch. Let’s be hoenst, we love this film because of nostalgia. It reminds us of being children who all wanted to be the situation that Kevin found himself. But, we’re not kids anymore. With every year that passes, I find myself worrying more and more about what I’m watching. So I want to address some points.

  • Why are Kevin’s family such massive dicks?

Even before you consider the fact that they left their child at home whilst they flew to Paris, the McCallister’s are an awful family. I mean, sure, Kevin is a whiney brat but they all verbally abuse him and leave him in the attic. Why? Because someone else ate all his cheese pizza. Buzz was being a huge knob and nobody even challenges him. No, it’s all the 8 year old’s fault. I mean his awful uncle straight up calls him a “jerk” because he accidentally got covered in Pepsi that Kevin’s dad dropped. What we see of the McCallister’s in the beginning of the film isn’t usual family banter. The kind of gentle ribbing that you can get away with when you really love someone. It’s straight up bullying. I’m not surprised Kevin wanted his family to disappear. 

  • How the hell does nobody notice he’s missing?
Yes, we see the scene where Kevin’s dad accidentally throws away his boarding pass (still not entirely sure how he couldn’t tell what he was picking up) but that still doesn’t explain how, in the time between them leaving the house to them getting on the plane, nobody in the whole massive group managed to see that Kevin was missing. I mean it’s fucking obvious no matter how late you are. These parents are incompetent. 
  • Why, after a frantic mother informed them a child was home alone, do the police just accept that everything’s okay?
This is the biggest dick move in the entire movie. A mother has called the police from France to explain that her son is alone in the house and the police officer who attends the scene leaves after two minutes. He barely even checks the house. He knows the kid is 8 but still believes he’d answer the door to him. It’s insane. How does someone so fucking stupid become a police officer? Why isn’t he a little more worried about a child being alone in a house? 
  • Why are the Wet Bandits so interested in the McCallister’s house?
Okay, so the house is big but it’s not as if it’s full of priceless antiques and shit. The McCallisters clearly have a shitload of money if they’re able to afford the house and fly that many people to Paris at Christmas. But, it’s also not as if the house is made up to look that great. Nobody is showcasing any fancy jewels or whatever. It’s just a big house. That is weirdly full of mannequins and potted plants. I’d hardly call it a thief’s dream score. 
  • Why does Kevin’s neighbour willingly act so fucking shifty?
I get that the guy is probably sick of his neighbours spreading awful rumours about him killing his family but that doesn’t mean he needs to act like a he did it. It’s as if he purposefully goes out of his way to freak Kevin out. Everything he does is super weird and exactly the kind of thing that a killer would do.
  • Do we not need to worry that Kevin is actually mentally unhinged?
Kevin is a worrying child and it probably has something to do with his years of neglect and familial abuse. He shows signs of being a sociopath in the wake of the spilt milk incident and, as he spends more time on his own, shows signs of a dwindling mental state. He talks to himself all the fucking time without any concern. He quickly turns to a life of crime. He takes pleasure in terrorising people. He scares the poor pizza delivery boy to death for not reason but amusement. Then, he takes everyday household items and turns them into super effective weapons. I mean, outside of the non-violent film world, Kevin could have killed the burglars. Yes, they’re bad guys but they hadn’t done anything to warrant that kind of physical and emotional scarring. He’s clearly had violent tendencies for a while now. Someone needs to send Kevin to see a doctor before he murders his family in their beds.
  • Seriously, was Harry going to eat his fucking fingers?
Still, it’s not as if the thieves don’t also have a nasty side. When Harry and Marv finally catch Kevin, Harry threatens to eat Kevin’s fingers. That’s fucked up. They went from being petty criminals to being fucking cannibals in the space of a few minutes. Not cool. 

Tuesday’s Reviews: The BFG (2016)

childhood favourite, films, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, review, Roald Dahl, Steven Spielberg

Conditions aren’t exactly ideal for writing at the moment. My back is aching again and I just can’t get comfortable. I’ve changed position about a million times whilst getting to this point in the sentence. My computer is irritating me and annoying noises every few seconds. And it’s nearly 11 o’clock and I’m feeling a bit under pressure to finish. Still, we all know by now that I like a challenge. I can and will write something before midnight. Now that we’re done with exposition, you may remember that a few months ago I reread The BFG before I watched the film. I managed to read it before Spielberg’s film came out but never actually came through on the second part of the plan. This Summer ended up being a bit of a blur that revolved around work and my sister’s wedding. So the film came and went without me realising. However, it was finally released on Monday so I decided it was time I finally sat down and got on with it.

There’s a certain whimsical charm that comes with any Roald Dhal story that has proven to be difficult to capture on screen. Whether it’s an English thing that Hollywood always fails to understand or if it’s a magic that can only come out in words, I don’t know. However, the films that have come out of Dahl’s works so far have been good but never seemed to be able to translate the whole story. Although, every trailer for Steven Spielberg’s The BFG seemed to suggest that, finally, someone had got it right. Spielberg hasn’t really made a successful kids film for a good few years and has never been able to recapture the greatness that made ET such a firm classic.

Still, what better film to recreate that magic than The BFG? A story that picks us up from the grime of London and puts us right into the heart of Giant Country. We accompany the BFG to his home after he kidnaps a young girl from a orphanage. It’s not as dark as it seems, of course, because the giant is only taking her in case she blabs about the existence of his kind. Thankfully, Sophie’s captor is a Big Friendly Giant who, unlike the other residents of Giant Country, has made a vow to never eat a “human bean”. Instead, he captures and mixes dreams to put into the minds of sleeping families with the help of his special dream trumpet. Unfortunately, the BFG if lonely and must contend with the constant bullying of the much larger and more violent giants. They are merciless in their treatment of the BFG that Sophie decides that it is time to put a stop to it. In order to get their plan to work, the pair must ask for the help of the Queen of England… naturally.

The BFG is a simple tale that, for the purposes of this film, has been augmented with extra action sequences, special set pieces, and additional backstory to ensure it fits a the run time for a feature film. Whilst non of these moments feel particularly necessary, they hardly take anything away. There are a few times when you might wish scenes were shorter but, all in all, the film flows nicely towards its epic final act set inside Buckingham Palace. It is these scenes that provide a lot of the really memorable moments. The breakfast scene is such a visual and comedic treat that you’ll be whizzpopping with sheer joy.

It helps that the casting is so perfect. Mark Rylance plays the titular dream-catching giant and does so wonderfully. Rylance embraces the language of the BFG and manages to relay the many misheard words and mixed up phrases in a poetic way. His motion-capture performance will have even those with the hardest hearts smiling though sheer joy. It also ensures that Spielberg proves, that after the uninspiring Adventures of Tin-Tin, he can work with CGI and not really fuck it up. There is as much human emotion and presence on that screen as if Rylance had been there in person. It really is delightful and ensures that, even in the slower sections, the audience will stick with the character.

Alongside the BFG is his little friend, Sophie, who is played beautifully by 12 year old Ruby Barnhill. In both looks and screen presence, Ruby reminds me of Mara Wilson when she brought Matilda to life in Danny DeVito’s adaptation. Sophie is an emotionally vulnerable and lonely child but is full of confidence and big ideas. Barnhill and Rylance come together in the film’s quieter moments to create an emotional centre that shows action and noise aren’t the only things needed to keep a children’s film moving. Their conversations are so funny and enjoyable to watch that it’s almost a shame when we need to move onto the big set piece at the end of the film.

The BFG won’t be the kind of film that everyone will love. It moves at it’s own pace and will indulge itself in the conversations between the orphan child and her new friend instead of wowing its audience with special effects and action. It is a film that is unashamedly nice, which many may think is a mistake. Yes, it is twee and it does push the ideas of magic and fun to the forefront in an incredibly unsubtle way. But so what? Watching this film made me feel fantastic. It was a lovely experience and the kind you can only get from something so pure-hearted and well-meaning. It takes a lovely story of an unlikely friendship and makes it something so real and believable. Anyone who could have watched this film and not forgiven it’s few sins is someone that is beyond hope. After all, as Dahl himself said, “those who don’t believe in magic will never find it” and, unfortunately for them, there is magic flowing out of The BFG.

TBT – Finding Nemo (2003)

animation, childhood favourite, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, Pixar, TBT

The thing I never get about grown-up Disney fans is the obsession with the Princesses. As a 28 year old who has a room filled with toys and a wardrobe full of clothes covered in pop culture references, I worry about all of the people that walk around covered in garish depictions of the royal women of Disney. I don’t really think I’ve ever been as enamoured with the Princess ones as I have with the animal ones. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White are all well and good but I didn’t give a shit about finding Prince Charming pr having the big fancy wedding. I loved The Fox and the Hound and 101 Dalmatians because I really love dogs. I didn’t want to be Aurora: I wanted to be Simba. I guess, when it comes down to it, animated films are better suited to non-human characters because it is able to give a voice to those without a voice. I realise that live action films about animals do exist but there is something so creepy about it. I mean Babe is a great film but talk about the uncanny.

When it comes to animated features there are few studios that have capture an audience’s imagination like Pixar. Everyone has their favourite Pixar film and, in my experience at least, that usually comes down to one of two choices The first is Wall-E, an adorable film about a waste-collecting robot, or Finding Nemo. “Which is my favourite of the two?”, I hear you cry. No doubt about it Finding Nemo. I may have been a little older than Pixar’s main target audience when it came out 13 years ago but that didn’t stop me absolutely adoring this film. It’s utterly fantastic. With the release of its sequel last month I was given the perfect chance to revisit the classic children’s film.

Now I’m not for one second going to sit here and pretend that I even need to sit here and convince you all that this film is worth a watch. We all know it to be true. Instead I’m just going to quietly gush about just how great this film is. Not least because it takes us into the depths of the ocean. Now a film about a bunch of fish may not have seemed like the most engaging topic back in 2003 but now we know differently. The characters may be cold-blooded but their story certainly warmed our hearts. We have sat on the edge of our seat as Marlin, a widowed clownfish, overcame his deep-seated neuroses to save his only son. We have fallen in love with the positivity of Dory, the blue tang suffering from memory loss but who just “keeps on swimming”. We cheered as Nemo, Marlin’s son born with a deformed fin, managed to help his friends escape to freedom. This film has everything.

It also has the perfect voice cast who perfectly work with their character’s animation. Each actor helps create a very real and deep character that it is impossible not to engage with. Albert Brooks is ideal as the worrisome Marlin who, after the death of his wife, lives in fear of the ocean’s hidden monsters. Ellen DeGeneres is perhaps the only person with enough charm and energy to play the well-meaning and inspiring Dory. With supporting roles from actors like Willem Defoe, Geoffrey Rush, and Allison Janney, Finding Nemo is perhaps, in my opinion anyway, one of the best cast animated films ever made.

On top of that it’s also a fucking visual spectacle. If, for some unknown reason, the cast and the narrative don’t have you engrossed then the sheer scale of the backdrop will. We are taken on a watery journey through coral reefs to the ocean deep and into the aquarium in the middle of a dentist’s office. The skill that was involved in not just creating the backdrop but in making the underwater scenes feel authentic is just awe-inspiring. There was a fucking insane amount of research put into creating a realistic underwater setting the ensure every detail felt real. Everything is perfect; from the lighting, physical properties, movement, colour, reflections and so on. I could watch Finding Nemo on repeat and not pay attention to anything but the visuals and I’d still be raving about how great it is.

There’s no real mystery as to why Finding Nemo is so often hailed as Pixar’s best. It features a story that is funny, emotional and just scary enough for both children and adults alike. The characters are often more human than the people seen in their other offerings and you certainly care about them more. The animation is just breathtaking. I can’t recommend this film enough and I can’t wait to see it again and again.

TBT – Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

films, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, Joss Whedon, Shakespeare, TBT

So this week is all about Shakespeare and I’m still on a bit of a fan high. After reviewing Macbeth on Tuesday I wanted to follow it up with another great adaptation of one of his plays. My first instinct was to turn to one of the greatest adaptations of one of his greatest plays. I’m talking about The Lion King, of course. But we all know that right. Nobody’s gonna care what this dickhead thinks about one of the greatest Disney films of all time. I’d also have spent the entire time talking about how much I love it rather than doing anything useful. To acknowledge the anniversary of his death last year, I made a list of my favourite Shakespeare adaptations for people who don’t like Shakespeare. I remember really wanting to write a top 10 list of my favourite adaptations but couldn’t decide on anything other than the top 2. The first being the BBCs epic The Hollow Crown. The second is one probably my favourite straight Shakespeare adaptations of all time. So, in honour of the 400th anniversary, that seems like a great place to start. As it is also the play that inspired the name of this blog it seems like fucking fate has handed us a great opportunity.

Back in 2012, right after he’d finished filming The Avengers. director Joss Whedon gathered some friends at his house and filmed an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Whedon and his friends had always gathered at his house for Shakespeare readings but it wasn’t until his “break” between filming and post-production of his Marvel blockbuster that their pastime became a full-length film. The story is transported to a modern time and the characters walk around his California home wearing suits and pretty dresses. It’s not the most comfortable setting for a comedy set at the end of a massive war but Whedon makes it work for him.

The whole film is beautifully shot around his home and presented in black and white. Normally, I’d be ready to moan about this as an unnecessary ploy to stand out but it actually adds to the charm of Much Ado. It makes the modern setting feel less modern so it almost makes it easier to accept the weird scenarios that take place on screen. Rather than being for pure aesthetic value, it helps to tie together the contemporary setting with the archaic language. It also works with the classic feel that the comedy has. It’s all sort of slapstick and screw-ball in the grand tradition of black and white Hollywood. It’s an absolute breath of fresh air.

Which is good considering the play has a dark streak to it. In the midst of the romantic entanglements there is lots of plotting and the attempt to besmirch an innocent young woman’s virtue. This is a seemingly harmless play that, towards the end, really packs a punch. Newly returned from war, Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick, stop off at the home of Leonato to celebrate their victory. Claudio has fallen in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero and, with Don Pedro’s help, their engagement is arranged. At the same time, Hero’s cousin Beatrice has sworn off love and given up all thoughts of marriage. She enjoys exchanging witty banter with the self-proclaimed bachelor Benedick, who in Whedon’s modern version she has a romantic history with. The gathered company decide the only solution is to bring the pair together.

Whilst this merriment is taking place, Don John, Don Pedro’s bastard brother, is working hard to destroy the happiness that surrounds him. He hopes to tear apart the close friendship between his brother and Claudio by making the young love believe Don Pedro has a desire for Hero too. It culminates with the rumour that Hero was unfaithful the night before the wedding. She is cast out by her father and fiancée and talk of death and murder is heard around Leonato’s home. Of course, being a comedy  it is no surprise that the plot is eventually revealed and the couple magically overcome the previous events.

Whedon stays incredibly faithful to the script which could have made it difficult for him. However, it all works incredibly well. The few changes that he has made to the play all work for the better. The gender switch of Conrade is particularly well executed and the updated Dogberry and Verges are funnier than I think they’ve ever been. The cast and their director all have a great understanding of the lines they are speaking and embrace the wit that underlies much of the language. Sex is always simmering away below the surface and, for his adaptation, Whedon isn’t afraid to bring it into the forefront. It’s handled delicately and works brilliantly.

Thanks to the amazing cast that Whedon managed to bring together. A cast that is mostly made up of actors he has worked with before for his work for television and film. Even more recent collaborator, Clark Gregg, who had only met Whedon for the first time on The Avengers was given a role when Anthony Head was unavailable. However, the people that steal the show are, quite rightly, Beatrice and Benedick themselves. Played by Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, the pair just light up the screen and offer a great deal of comedy. Both actors excel at the physical comedy that their role demands whilst also being able to keep up with the incredible word place that fills Shakespeare’s play. Watching the pair battle it out is mesmerising. Being able to see the love and desire hidden behind their anger is fantastic and their blindness to it is utterly captivating.

As a pay, Much Ado About Nothing, is full of the same old random shit that Shakespeare is famous for. There is plenty of unnecessary masks, evil plotting, fake deaths and crazy reveals to make any audience feel slightly wary of the sanity of any of the characters. It’s bizarre but there is something charming about the story. Considering Claudio and Hero are the main love story, it is always Beatrice and Benedick that come out on top. There’s is the most realistic and charming love story in any of the Bard’s plays. Something that Whedon and his cast understand more than anything. This adaptation is beautiful, funny and oozing with charm. I could never tire of it.

TBT – The Flint Street Nativity (1999)

Christmas, fucking awesome, fucking funny, TBT

On Monday I admitted to acting quite like a child. It’s true. I still love all of the TV shows I grew up watching and the music I listened to as a teenager. I’m not sure that I’ll ever reach a point where I don’t need my parents to help me deal with banking and medical issues. A co-worker recently took the piss out of me when I admitted to owning my very own set of replica Pokemon gym badges. Apparently it makes me a little weird, childish and ridiculous. If you ask me it makes me super cool and someone to be jealous of. However, I can’t deny that I’m hardly the most comfortable of adults and, outside of my job, will do anything I can to pretend I’m still a kid. Who needs that shit? I’ll just stuff my fingers in my ears and pretend it’s not happening.

Let’s be honest though, it’s fun pretending to be a kid. There’s a reason we all get nostalgic about our preteen days. We weren’t jaded by the world and we hardly had anything to worry about. Revisiting those days would be glorious. It’s also wonderful seeing other people acting like children. What’s better than seeing someone who is normally so professional and uptight playing with a child’s toy?

The Flint Street Nativity was first broadcast on ITV way back in 1999 and since that day I’ve fucking loved it. The film features a cast of big-ish names in British comedy playing school children in the midst of putting on their Christmas nativity. Actors like Stephen Tompkinson, Mark Addy, Jane Horrocks and John Thomson revert to their youth in an oversized set before revamping themselves as their child’s parent. These brief end scenes give us a real glimpse into who the children are and how similar they are to their family.

The scenes of the actual nativity are fairly standard stuff and the script is littered with brief interludes of Christmas carols to get you into the spirit.  It’s the moments behind the scenes that really lift the whole thing though. Watching the children prepare to take to the stage and interact with each other is brilliant. We experience the usual stresses associated with any children’s performance and you’ll find it easily summons up all the memories you had as a child. It’s all here: the jealousy at not being cast as Mary; the power play between groups of friends; daring your classmates to break the rules; wanting to show off to Mum and Dad; and the desperate need to try to fit in with everyone else.

Watching it now the pop-culture and sports references are fairly dated but it still stands up. There are some hilarious moments as well as a great insight into the world of school plays. Tim Firth used stories told to him by friends and family who work in schools to create the narrative. It has obviously been exaggerated for comic effect but it still feels so fucking familiar. It’s fantastic. The script is constantly funny and the performances are great. Even though you know the tricks that have been employed to make these well-known faces seem smaller, you can easily find yourself believing that they are children making their stage debut.

This came out on television so fucking long ago that we had it recorded on VHS. That video had a lot of wear and tear. My sisters and I would watch it on repeat and then rewind our favourite bits until the ribbon was worn down. This didn’t make my list of essential Christmas viewing because I wasn’t sure it would really count. It’s a very niche selection that many people won’t have heard of. Whilst it found more fame as a stage production, I don’t think this version has ever been repeated on TV and can’t believe it’s been seen outside of the UK. However, I love watching this every year. It features a whole host of comic talent and manages to avoid the awful child actor issue that many school-based Christmas films fall fowl of.

TBT – X-Men (2000)

anniversary, comic book, fucking awesome, Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, TBT, X-Men
Last week when I was blissfully celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest teen movies of all time, one of the greatest comic book movies of all time was also celebrating a milestone birthday. On July 14thX-Men, Bryan Singer‘s first step into the murky world of mutants, turned 15 years old. With Days of Future Past coming out last year and X-Men Apocalypse less than a year away, Singer really is still a force to be reckoned with in the world of superhero movies. Now I won’t lie to you, X-Men isn’t the best: it has been overshadowed by Singer’s second outing and, perhaps, by Days of Future Past itself.However, Singer brought together a fucking amazing cast and introduced Professor X’s squad of mutant heroes to the big screen. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but there is no doubt that it is a film that deserves to be recognised.

Before he made X-Men Bryan Singer admits to not being a fan of comic books. Instead he was interested in making the film more human and pick up on the social ramifications of the introduction of mutants to the world. Since it’s release 15 years ago, Singer has continued to stick his toe into the waters of superheroes and, after a brief stop at the abysmal Superman Returns, has come back to take his rightful place at the head of the good ship X.
The strength in Singer’s first film comes mostly from the amazing cast that he brought together to bring to life the people that filled so many of our childhoods. Most notably were veteran actors Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. They have so much fun with their characters but, in the way they have with every role, never bring anything less than their A game. Without wanting to get too deep in hyperbole, these two were born to play Charles Xavier and Magneto. I love McEvoy and Fassbender as much as the next person but they’ll always be the understudies.
Although admittedly, the pair aren’t exactly given a lot to do. For this is, first and foremost, Wolverine‘s film. Yes, this was the film that turned Hugh Jackman from some Australian actor into a bona fide God in the geek world. Wolverine is angry, funny and fucking hard. Jackman became Wolverine and over the years I’ve become more and more worried that he’s lost his grip on reality. Seriously, have you seen how fucking huge he was in Days of Future Past? Someone needs to stop him.
The list of great actors is seemingly endless with the likes of Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, and Famke Janssen. However, none of them really get much to get their teeth into; Halle Berry in particular gets short shrift as Storm who is relegated to a portable wind machine instead of the badass she is in the comics. So X-Men does have a problem with it’s massive cast and a lot of the characters remain underdeveloped.
Well aside from Paquin’s Rogue who is a central part of the narrative. Magneto, a metal manipulator who resides in the pro-Mutant/anti-Human camp, sets out to create a mutant world by turning all of human kind into the freaks they fear. The narrative is pretty simple and, after a short introduction to Magneto and some other key players, it basically gets straight to the point. There is a bit of guff that could probably have been lost here and there but Singer’s film is actually pretty lean. It’s over far too quickly for my tastes.
You could, as Roget Ebert did back in the day, argue that the conclusion isn’t quite as dramatic as it ought to be. There is something of an anti-climax but it does the job. X-Menset out to introduce us these new characters. Whilst it doesn’t do it as well as it could, it is still a highly enjoyable film. You won’t be disappointed: just eager for more. What he maybe lacks in an explosive finale, Singer more than makes up for with quality. The production design is great, the special effects were impressive at the time, and there were some truly satisfying set-pieces to enjoy. X-Men, as a first step into this new world, was a strong and important film. I defy anyone to watch it and come out truly hating it.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

dystopia, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, George Miller, review, Tom Hardy

mad_max_fury_road_whv_keyartIt’s been 30 years since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome was released and the continuation of the franchise has been brewing for a fucking long time. George Miller first had the idea for a fourth instalment in 1998 but it has taken 17 years for that seed to grow into the bat-shit crazy tree that is Mad Max: Fury Road. With Tom Hardy taking over from Mel Gibson, Fury Road has more in common with the second film than the third. During the final moments of The Road Warrior, our hero is pursued by a violent gang whilst driving an oil tanker to safety. In his update, Miller has stretched that concept to a full-length film and if that sounds like a flimsy premise then fear not.

Fury Road is high-octane, non-stopping action from the first scene to the very end and its fucking spectacular. What is lacks in dialogue and intricate narrative, it more than makes up for with dazzling stunts and awe-inspiring visuals. The chaos is continual and during the first half hour or so there isn’t even time to draw breath. The film is one long chase sequence that feels more like a silent movie than the post-apocalyptic blockbuster we’re used to these days.

Tom Hardy is the almost silent, brooding Mad who is chased by the ghosts of his past. Taken prisoner by Warlord Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, who played Toecutter in the original film) and his War Boys. During one of his many escape attempts, Max is fated to become entangled with fellow rebel and escapee, Furiosa (Charlize Theron). Employed to lead raids and transport commodities like fuel and bullets, the warrior has finally had enough of Joe’s tyranny and agrees to transport his harem of young, beautiful women to safety, whilst being chased by a whole host of supercharged and heavily armed vehicles.

Tom Hardy is commanding in the title role and brings about a brooding intensity that works well. He slowly and uncomfortably eases into the role of action hero but, for the most part, is pretty impassive. The problem is, Max isn’t really the film’s lead; that honour can only be given to Charlize Theron as the tough, resilient and memorable Furiosa. It is her inner drive that fuels the film not Max’s. With plenty of possible connections to Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley in Alien, Theron is on top-form here. Without the words to back it up, the actress shows everything she need with a simple look.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that women define Fury Road in way that the genre isn’t really used to yet. Furiosa is a women who certainly doesn’t let her sex define her but she does embrace it. She has hope that future generations can have a better future and does what she must to protect that. This is a film oozing with messages and images of female empowerment as women are inherently the ones who keep hope alive. Amongst all of the testosterone filled, macho nonsense we see from Joe and his War Boys, Fury Road is actually an enlightened answer to the genre norms. It is something that has caused quite a stir with some hardcore action junkies.

Which is utter bollocks for a number of reasons but mainly because the action is never pushed aside to make way for a debate about gender. This film offers spectacular pacing, sound design, editing and music are all miles better than one could hope for with a film of this type. The first chase sequence is one of the best action sequences in film history and that’s just Miller’s warm-up. Just when you think the team have pulled off the greatest stunt of all time something better will come along almost instantly. It is a film that keeps on pushing itself further until it eventually runs out of time.

Fury Road is also one of the most visually stunning films you could ever hope to meet. The design is so detailed and intricate that it demands multiple viewings to take it all in. From the simple colour change between orange during the day and blue at night to the grotesque bodies Miller delights in parading in front us, Fury Road is fucking beautiful, man. The CGI backdrop is like a fucking painting with its whirlwinds and dust storms providing the perfect canvas for the relentless car-chase. And Miller makes use of it too. He creates the tension he needs through overhead shots and wide-angles that define the dimensions of the action on screen. We can see exactly how far away the pursuit vehicles are and how quickly they’ll catchup. It’s fucking terrifying.

As a director who’s work has inspired so many contemporary filmmakers, Miller has taken a step to show that, whilst he is still working from the same sheet as before, he is never one to rest on his laurels. There is no sense of repetition from his earlier films as Miller has once again redefined his futuristic landscape. Miller has taken the action template that he helped to create and has updated it. Whilst the credits were rolling in the cinema after my viewing, a teenage boy sat next me to lamented that the film was a cliché that relied too heavily on explosions and deaths. Yes, there are dozens of car crashes, explosions and dead bodies in Fury Road but there is never any sense of repetition.

Mad Max: Fury Road is the kind of film that Michael Bay and his followers wish they could produce. What seems like nothing more than explosion porn is a sophisticated film that deserves to be celebrated. We may walk out of the cinema knowing almost as much about the society we were introduced to as we did going in but it’s fine. This shouldn’t, in any way, be seen as a lack of substance: Miller is a shrewd director who knows that stopping for long soliloquies of exposition wouldn’t work. The landscape we are viewing is a harsh one where its inhabitants must use their energy for survival rather than idle chit-chat. The stripped to bones plot and dialogue is as much of an indicator of the world we have accelerated into as anything shown on screen. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film full of split-second decisions where every bullet, every drop of water and every single moment counts. Mad Max: Fury Road is a film that has no time for bullshit of any kind; it’s the fucking real deal.