Book Review – Tin by Pádraig Kenny

Book Review – Tin by Pádraig Kenny

IMG_42355_star_rating_system_4_stars1 My Instagram is mostly made up of me following the prompts of certain photo challenges so I am encouraged to post a wrap-up at the end of every month. This is a chance to show people the great pile of books that you’ve managed to consume throughout the previous four weeks. The only problem is, my piles never end up being that impressive. I have every intention to read loads each month but, depending on how dejected work leaves me, I don’t always manage it. I love being a part of the Bookstagram community and, despite how little my friends understand the appeal, I enjoy taking photos each day. The only problem I find with the whole endeavour is the underlying competitive spirit. No matter how ridiculous, I always feel guilty when I see how much other people are achieving in their spare time. It’s a feeling that makes me want to give up on complicated books and just read easier/shorter things. Which is perhaps one of the reasons that I became so obsessed with my last read after I first heard about it. It came to my attention through an email from Waterstone’s where it had been named children’s book of the year. It looked and sounded so good that I stopped reading the wonderful Amiable With Big Teeth in order to get through it. Considering I’ve had Claude McKay’s newly discovered novel on my TBR for about a year now, it kind of feels wrong to be reading a book written for kids but, to be honest, I’ve not been this desperate to read anything for ages.

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Tuesday’s Reviews – Lady Bird (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Lady Bird (2017)

lady_bird_poster5_star_rating_system_5_starsIn my attempt to watch all of the films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscar I think I’m going to run into a slight problem. Every new film I watch is going to become my new favourite. I thought Dunkirk would always be at the top because it was, almost, flawless. Then I watched The Shape of Water and instantly fell in love with it. I couldn’t imagine wanting any other film to win in March. Until I watched my third. You know that thing where you think you’re emotionally stable until you watch a film and start having a slight breakdown? That was my experience with Lady Bird. Then I made the mistake of Googling Saoirse Ronan’s age and became even more of a wreck. How can people so young be so talented and successful? It’s just not fair! I’ll admit that 3 weeks before my 30th birthday probably wasn’t the best time to be watching a film about an adolescent with their whole life before them. Nobody needs to be looking back on their achievements (or lack of) at a time like this. Luckily for me the supremely wonderful Greta Gerwig is slightly older than me so I was spared another break-down post-Googling her. I genuinely don’t know what I’d have done.

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Tuesday’s Reviews – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)


Thanks to my impromptu holiday over Christmas I didn’t get to upload my review of Star Wars Episode 8 on time. It’s been about 10 days since I saw the film and I’ve loads of time to acquaint myself with the general reactions to the film. The critical stuff has, mostly, been very positive with people praising Rian Johnson for taking some risks whilst also remaining faithful to the original trilogy. However, as you’d expect from the Star Wars franchise, the fanboys be pissed. Even before I’d seen the film I’d glanced at an article claiming fans were starting a petition to get the film removed from the canon. I mean, for fuck’s sake guys. This is why we can’t have nice things. Fans were up in arms about the film because it was too different from the previous films. First they complain that The Force Awakens is too similar to A New Hope and now The Last Jedi is too different. Well, how the fuck is anyone supposed to make a film within those parameters? Before I went to see the film, a girl I work with complained that it was underwhelming. She’s also the person who described Rogue One as the worst Star Wars film of all time. She typifies the view of the old fanboys who can’t see a Star Wars film that is centred around the Skywalker family. There’s more to the force and this universe than Luke Skywalker and, I for one, am ready to find out more. I can’t promise that my hatred of the reactions out there won’t have an influence on my review but it’s not like it’s going to be a problem. I’m not influencing anyone to change their mind about this film. It’s far too divisive.

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Tuesday’s Reviews – Dunkirk (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Dunkirk (2017)


So, I guess I have to start off today’s post by apologising for a lack of Rundown this week. I’ve been away this weekend for a big family celebration. August 20th 2017 was the 40th anniversary of my parent’s marriage and my older sister’s 1st anniversary. To celebrate the entire clan made their way to a lovely cottage in Scotland. The rest of my family managed to get the Friday off work but I had to travel up after I finished my shift. It meant the latter half of my week was pretty intense. It was my intention to either get ahead with my Sunday post or do it on Monday, when I got back. Neither of those things came to fruition and I decided it was better to just not do one. Which is a shame because I’ve actually done some fucking reading this week. Anyway, I’m back now and ready to get on with my regularly scheduled uploads. Starting with a review I wanted to write in reaction to this weekend. My twin sister’s boyfriend made the very bold statement that Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk wasn’t worth watching. An opinion that goes against everything that everyone has ever said about it. So, because I’m really stubborn and love proving people wrong, I decided it was time I watched it myself. Because I refuse to believe something that looks that good could ever be described as much worse than Saving Private Ryan.

When you talk about World War II on the big screen there will be very few people who won’t reference the opening scene of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, and for good reason. It is still one of the most iconic opening sequences in film history. Spielberg places his audience in the midst of a very bloody, dramatic and, ultimately, realistic depiction of American soldiers landing on Omaha Beach in 1944. It’s awful but shows the true cost of the conflict. After that, well, things get more Hollywood and it turns into a kind of ridiculous narrative littered with sequences of war porn that will keep any young boy on the edge of his seat. You can see why people love it but, when it comes to realistic portrayal of WWII, it’s safe to say that Spielberg kind of loses his way.

There’s a danger that every Hollywood depiction of any major historical conflict will eventually forgo accuracy in favour of excitement and action. I can see why; for one thing we want to celebrate the sacrifice that young men made for our future as well as satisfying the modern film audience. Well, that’s where Dunkirk makes itself stand out. For starters the film is based around an important military defeat. French, British and Belgian troops were trapped by German soldiers and we forced to evacuate. It was only luck and some bad German strategy that so many men were able to be saved. Nolan never intended to write a film about the great victories of WWII but, instead, to create a realistic interpretation of what happened on and around that beach. We don’t know who his characters are or where they came from because, ultimately, that doesn’t matter. All that matters is this moment. Will they survive or be blown to pieces by German fighter pilots?
Dunkirk isn’t anything like Saving Private Ryan. It doesn’t create an overly sentimental narrative that provides plenty of opportunity for heroic acts and men laying down their lives for others. It shows a bunch of scared young men who would do anything in their power to get home. It doesn’t use any real trickery, besides a fantastic score by Hans Zimmer and some sensational visuals, to really bring home the horror. Nolan does everything within his power to confuse your senses and splits the narrative into three distinctive parts. The story is told from land, air and sea and, thanks to the editing, time becomes a rather meaningless and fluid concept. I won’t pretend that the split isn’t a little frustrating and awkward. However, I can appreciate the overriding impact that it has on the film. It all adds to the chaos that Nolan is trying to create and, for the people involved, time would have become meaningless anyway. When you’re potentially seconds away from death with nowhere to hide what does it matter?
For a war film, Dunkirk is a fairly static film. It’s a deceivingly slow and quiet film that creates a real sense of tension, chaos and horror. It lacks much in the way of dialogue but shows you, first-hand, the kind of scenes that will have taken place in 1940. It’s a claustrophobic experience that places you in the very heart of the story. When bombs start dropping you find yourself there not just watching, horrified, from the sidelines. The image that came so prominently out of the trailers was the sweeping shot of a bunch of soldiers crammed into the mole, a pier-like structure that is being used to get men onto awaiting ships. When a German bomber flies overhead the men below are penned in like fish in a barrel. It’s an impressive and haunting visual that really sets the tone for the rest of the film.
Dunkirk works so well because of the images that have been created on screen but it is carried along by the stunning performances on display. The ensemble is, quite frankly, amazing and, though it scares the shit out of me to write it, even Harry Styles himself proves to be pretty watchable. Thee isn’t really anyone who puts a foot wrong here. It’s all sensation, from Tom Hardy’s resolute and ever so slightly gung-ho pilot, Farrier to Mark Rylance’s quiet but steely sailor who is one of the civilians caught up in the rescue mission. Dear old Kenny B oversees all the action with a broody intensity as he closely watches the skies for a glimpse of enemy planes. You meet these people so fleetingly and get no real sense of their characters before they are plunged into danger and chaos. Nolan and his cast have done an amazing job of creating that feeling of being anonymous in a crowd. No single person matters more than anyone else and everyone becomes an equal in the scramble to rescue as many soldiers as possible. It doesn’t even matter that you might not remember who everyone is. That’s the point. It’s the reality of war.
However, despite all of this horrible reality, Dunkirk doesn’t fall into the trap that films like Saving Private Ryan do. It chooses to avoid the R rated violence in favour of a different message. The Dunkirk evacuations were a failure in terms of British military efforts but, at its heart, it is a real underdog story. This is the story of survival and the British spirit that allowed it to happen. What Dunkirk chooses to show instead of bloodshed is the connection between military men and the normal civilians who put themselves in danger to rescue them. I fail to believe there can be a dry eye in the house when the fleet of civilians boats float towards the beach to the sound of rapturous applause from the awaiting men. This film doesn’t attempt to glorify violence or war. Instead it shows the important of people coming together. The strength that can be found in unlikely places. We don’t really see any German forces in this film and, save for a brief reference at the end, we hear nothing from Winston Churchill himself. Dunkirk isn’t really a war film: it is a film of survival and the human spirit. And, no matter what my sister’s boyfriend says, I think its perfect.
Tuesday’s Reviews – Okja (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Okja (2017)

Since Netflix started making original films there have been more than a few duds. The online streaming site is really good at certain things, like Marvel TV series, documentaries and original sitcoms, but the majority of the original films that I’ve watched have been underwhelming: The Circle was fucking awful; Mascots was fun but nothing to really get excited about; The Fundamentals of Caring was sweet but unambitious; and Special Correspondents was the worst Ricky Gervais film I’ve ever see and that’s saying something. So it was really refreshing that one of its recent releases, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, was competing for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes festival. Refreshing for about 30 seconds, obviously, because, as we all know, the shit really hit the fan soon after. Okja‘s inclusion in the list of Palme d’Or candidates created much controversy when the judging panel suggested that the film’s release on Netflix meant it shouldn’t be eligible. When the film was opened to the press it received boos from the audience and suffered from technical issues. Still, this did nothing for the film’s reputation and, in its official opening, the film got a standing ovation from the audience. Everything was looking good for Okja being a rare Netflix hit.

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Tuesday’s Reviews: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Tuesday’s Reviews: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

When I was preparing my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2017′ list, I kept seeing loads of people eagerly awaiting the release of George Saunders’ first novel. I didn’t add the book to my list, though, because I wasn’t sure I’d be interested. I enjoy history but I don’t know a great deal about the intricacies of American history. Only the bits that have been directly tied up with British history really. I mean I know the basics but I can’t tell you a great deal about Abraham Lincoln apart from, you know, the Civil War and slavery thing. So a novel that delved into an untold story of his private life really didn’t seem as though it was for me. Until I discovered the audiobook, anyway. I was interested as soon as I read the name Nick Offerman but it just kept getting better. I mean pretty much everyone is in this bloody audiobook. It’s amazing. So I used one of my credits to buy the thing and I’m really glad I did. I’ve still never seen a copy of the actual book so this will review be entirely based on the audiobook. However, I’d encourage anyone to get it for sheer entertainment value. If you’ve read the book or not.
On the surface, Lincoln in the Bardo sounds like an incredibly simple and narrow narrative idea. It takes place over the course of one night: precisely the night of the 22nd of February 1862. Only 2 days earlier, Willie Lincoln, the 11 year old son of President Abraham Lincoln, had died of typhoid fever and is now interred in a crypt in the Georgetown cemetery. With his wife having taken to her bed in grief, Lincoln makes a final visit to his beloved son’s final resting place. It comes from a tale that was printed in newspapers at the time, that Lincoln would occasionally sneak away from the White House in order to hold the body of his dead son. Saunders was intrigued by the idea and has spent years researching in order to tell the tale. All so simple but sad so far, right? Well, Saunders has found a way to take this story of grief and present it in an innovative way.

You see, the mysterious Bardo of the title is a Tibetan words that roughly translates to “transitional state” and is a term used to describe the state of existence between life and rebirth. It refers to the Buddhist idea that before someone is reborn on Earth their consciousness will experience many things that will prepare them for what’s to come. Within the confines of the George Saunders’ novel, the Bardo is the state that Willie Lincoln found himself in 2 days after his death. It is a kind of purgatory where souls must wait until they accept their fate and are ready to move on. Within the realm between life and death we meet a whole cast of characters who are waiting for their chance to tell their story. Lincoln in the Bardo is less of a traditional novel than it is a play. The narrative is set out as a mix between dialogue and snippets of contextual information, which is why I think listening to the audiobook may be a superior experience.

You see, as we wait in the Bardo we are introduced to a great deal of characters who we spend a different amount of time with. All are firm believers that their fate is temporary and that, within time, their bodies will heal and they will go about with their lives. We are led through the environment by three main figures: a middle-aged printer who died just before he was able to consummate his marriage to his much younger wife; a young gay man who had second thoughts just after he slit his wrists following an argument with his lover; and an elderly priest who, alone, understands where he is. As the story moves on we meet many more players in the tale including a husband and wife, a woman who can’t let go of her daughters, and an old Scrooge-type who is constantly worrying about his various properties. Hearing the stories of their lives and death forms a large part of the book and I suspect this proves to be a lot less confusing and immersive when they all, literally, have their own voices.

The spirits within the Bardo may not have any idea of what they really are but they all come together to aid young Willie. As they are all keen to point out, no child should be made to suffer the trials that await him there but the young lad is keen to remain in case his father needs him. The wandering souls unite to help the boy move on and find peace. They must show him that Lincoln would not want to imagine his son suffering unnecessarily. They do this, primarily, by attempting to ‘speak’ to the man himself and, as a result, experience his grief first-hand. It is not just a grief for the death of his much-loved son but for the many young men who have been killed in the on-going Civil War. There is a reason why Saunders’ has chosen Lincoln to head the tale when you could have easily pulled on the heartstrings with any old father figure.

The polyphonic narrative of Lincoln in the Bardo is interspersed with snippets of historical sources, both real and fake, that provide context to the time. We hear things on a political front, a social level and within the personal confines of the White House itself. Altogether, they build a portrait of the mind of man who was trying to hold his country together whilst living through his own personal tragedy. This is a novel not just about grief but about duty. How a person must balance their public and private selves; how someone must decide between their will or their duties. Lincoln has many decisions to make. He must decide whether to keep visiting his son’s body or let him go. He must decide how to keep fighting a war that is going to cause the deaths of so many more sons. When Willie was ill, the President was forced to keep up his public duties despite being worried for the boy.

This is an incredibly sentimental novel anyway but these added depths make it an even stronger one. It champions hope and resolve even in the face of uncertainty and pain. It is an idea that is becoming more relevant as the days go on. He may have come up with this idea way before anyone could have comprehended Trump being in the White House but this novel really comes to encapsulate the damage that has been caused on the American spirit. It is a fantastic book. Although, I’m not sure I’d necessarily have thought so if I hadn’t heard it as a performance. There was something about listening to the spirits and the snippets of historical references out-loud that made them stronger. It manages to undercut a lot of the increased sentimentality that starts to seep out with an emphasis on the comedic elements. This may be Saunders’ first novel but it demands to be treated as a play. If you’ve been struggling with this then get yourself to Audible.

TBT – Big Fish (2003)

TBT – Big Fish (2003)

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 – Attack of the Clones (2002)

TBT – Attack of the Clones (2002)

I know that it’s a very subjective thing but I think we mostly all agree that, when it comes to Star Wars films, the second ever film in the franchise is the best. I know over the years I’ve changed my mind on the matter many times and can still switch whenever I’m a bit hungry or my mood changes slightly. However, The Empire Strikes Back, ended up being a far better film than A New Hope and it was certainly not surpassed by Return of the Jedi. If you were to ask me, Empire is up there with a limited number of sequels that were better than the original film. This fact may have given fans a glimmer of hope after the disappointing prequel The Phantom Menace by suggesting that lightening could strike twice. We all madly hoped that Attack of the Clones would show us how great Star Wars could be with lashings of CGI and plenty of stupid characters to keep the kids entertained. Unfortunately, it did the opposite and managed to make the first film look like fucking Shakespeare. Just as we can pretty much all agree that the original sequel is the best film in the franchise, I think we all know that the worst is the prequel sequel. So, in honour of this great day, I decided to re-watch it and rip it to shreds.

As you may remember, back in 2015 I wrote a blog post in which I defended the prequels and offered several examples that I believe were genuinely good about them. There are a fair few good things about Revenge of the Sith and some aspects of The Phantom Menace that really worked well. The only things I could think of for Attack of the Clones? The Jedi battle on Geonosis and Obi Wan’s face. Now Ewan McGregor’s face has got me to watch many questionable films over the years and definitely will do again. His casting was the best thing about the prequel films and has caused me to re-watch specific scenes in all of the prequels way too many times. He’s bloody beautiful and super talented despite the god awful lines he’s continually forced to spout. Still, there is only so much that his good looks can cover up.

For the most part, Attack of the Clones is just a long and slow continuation of Anakin’s story where very little happens until the final half hour or so. The tale picks up 10 years after the end of Phantom and Anakin is still Obi Wan’s padawan. He is cocky and still unable to control his emotions. Even if you weren’t aware of the future events in his story, it’s super obvious that he shouldn’t have been allowed into the Jedi order and I spend most of the film wondering why people didn’t realise the outcome sooner. I mean he just comes across as a fucking creep the entire time and looks as though he could kill at any minute. It’s insane that Yoda let him just wander around the galaxy freely carrying a weapon.

Unlike it’s counterpart for the original films, The Empire Strikes Back, there is no dramatic and exciting opening to this film. Instead of a great battle on Hoth, we have an introduction to space politics and a really boring assassination plot. A plot which only serves the purpose of messily putting  Anakin and Padme together to allow them to fall in love. Which is basically all this film cares about. It pushes the romance angle way more than it should, especially because it’s two stars have absolutely no chemistry. Hayden Christensen is incredibly wooden and unemotional throughout his 2 Star Wars films but when he is attempting to woo Natalie Portman there is just nothing there. It doesn’t help that the lines are the worst kind of cliches imaginable but you can’t really tell from the on-screen talent that these two characters are falling in love. It just kind of sneaks up on you and doesn’t make sense. Remember how, the more you think about it, the love story in Beauty and the Beast is super questionable and weird. This one makes that look like fucking relationship goals. It’s just not good.

Thankfully, there is Obi Wan’s side-plot to keep people interested but even that veers off into dull territory from time to time. We see some new worlds and meet some interesting new characters but it isn’t until way down the line that the excitement really kicks in. He goes on a rather tame Space tour and follows bounty hunter Jango Fett to Geonosis. It’s not much to write home about. Until he, and in a painfully laboured way, Anakin and Padme get captured by Separatists and forced to fight in a massive death arena. It is here that the fucking awesome Jedi battle I mentioned as the main positive takes place. It’s a great sequence that really, for the first time in the franchise, shows us the real scope of the Jedi Order. We see why they are considered the Space Police of the whole Galaxy and understand why they were remembered as great warriors.

Still, that’s only 1 scene. We have to wade through an immense amount of shit to get there. We all wanted to love Attack of the Clones and, if it’s sequel brother was anything to go by, it should have been great. Instead it featured and some really boring narrative points and some of the worst writing in cinematic history. The lead couple never really gels enough to sell the only part of the film that George Lucas gives a fuck about and there just isn’t enough of Obi Wan’s face. This film, even more than Phantom, is just a mess of CGI backdrops and awful cartoon characters for the kids. There are moments when I start to feel embarrassed for the people involved in making it. I mean the scene between Obi Wan and Dex the Diner owner is just pure children’s cartoon. Then there’s the moment that could fit in any B movie or soap opera when the director attempts to trick us into thinking Padme is about to be melted. Or, finally, the laughable moment when Christopher Lee’s Count Dooku is speeding along on a CGI space scooter. Who the fuck signed off on that visual? Lee looks super uncomfortable and the end result looks so shitty.

Ultimately though, the problem with Attack of the Clones is that nobody really gave a shit about it. It was just a placeholder. It didn’t matter to the story and was just the inevitable 3rd movie to let the whole double trilogy thing come to life. Phantom was about introducing us to Anakin and explaining how he became a Jedi. Revenge would show us the moment Anakin became Darth Vader. Attack? Nobody really knew what that needed to be about so it was just about nothing really. It was let down by lack of plot and sense of direction. It’s aimless so there is nothing it can do to make up for any shortfalls. If it weren’t for a couple of great moments and some decent acting from the likes of Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lee and Samuel L Jackson then it would have completely crumbled. Also, CGI Yoda is the fucking bomb!

Tuesday’s Reviews – First Love by Gwendoline Riley

Tuesday’s Reviews – First Love by Gwendoline Riley

I’ve not read any of Gwendoline Riley’s previous four books and, really, only picked up her most recent one because it was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. It sounded so amazing that I couldn’t resist. I bought this one and The Power as soon as the list was up because I’ll do anything a bunch of literary prize judges tell me to. I’ve been in a bit of reading slump lately so as soon as I finished The Best of Adam Sharp I decided to try and to read Riley’s novel. It’s pretty short and something I’ve been keen to read. Thankfully, this weekend I was in London visiting a friend so I had a train journey to fill with reading. I managed to finish it by the second day. My friend works in publishing so is as obsessed (if not more) with books as I am. So she’s always interested to hear what I’m reading. The trouble with First Love is that I find it so hard to explain what’s going on. I managed to garble out a nonsensical plot summary that really didn’t do the book justice so, when I’d finished it, I decided it was worth another go. Therefore, my Tuesday review this week is either going to be great or just a terrible mistake. We’ll see.

First Love is at it’s simplest a character study. It tells the story of a 30-something female writer, Neve, and her marriage to her older husband, Edwyn. At times the marriage is full of the typically nauseating couple-isms like pet names and affectionate cuddles. However, there is a deep tension waiting just below the surface threatening to bubble over at any second. For every time Edwyn calls Neve “Mrs Pusskins” there will be a cavalcade of insults where she is described as a “fishwife shrew”. It is an uncomfortable marriage that comes out of Neve’s desire to love and need to feel loved. She has spent her life trying to fake independence but is always looking for that relationship to make her feel complete. The steps in her life had lead her to Edwyn who, for all intents and purposes, hates women. Neve knows the relationship is toxic and the novel is her attempt at self-reflection. However, like in real life cases, this self-reflection never quite runs deep enough to self-realisation and an ultimate call to change something.

Instead, the novel spends its time weaving in and out of Neve’s past and present relationships. Her marriage to Edwyn is interspersed with tales of her abusive father and the American musician who would never commit. Her father, who’s death still haunts Neve, found comfort in simultaneously showering his daughter with affection and contempt following her mother’s decision to leave her violent marriage years earlier. Whatever control he delights in taking over the women in his life, Neve’s father has no self control, as evidenced by his death: the man ate himself into an early grave. It is a relationship that has shaped Neve’s adult life and is still holding court over her marriage to Edwyn. It is not exactly difficult to see that her relationship with her husband and her father are linked; it’s something that Edwyn himself is all to keen to remind her of whenever he feels the need.

First Love isn’t the happily-ever-after tale of a young woman who finally finds happiness. Little is written of her first meeting with Edwyn and the growth of their affection for each other. The first snippet we see is her moving her boxes into his pokey flat so it is difficult to understand why she puts up with chaos. This is a narrative that just keeps getting worse and more uncomfortable as it moves on. However, as it descends deeper into a realm of despair most people would be unable to imagine, the novel also gets even more brilliant and engrossing.

There is some light to be found, thankfully, and it mostly comes courtesy of Neve’s self-absorbed mother. There are some fantastic moments in the book where her stream of consciousness monologues take over everything. She’s a fantastic character who, since leaving her abusive husband, has failed to find either herself or a man worthy of her affection. She ties herself to men who don’t have a strong interest in her but she forces her way into their lives one way or another. She lives the kind of happy and solitary existence that is, surely, only served with a side of chronic depression. Whilst the moments the mother and daughter spend together cannot be described as positive, there is something about their sheer absurdity that brings a certain relief to the, otherwise, relentless dim existence of our narrator.

Having not read any of her previous work I’m no expert on her style but if First Love is anything to go by then I’d be a huge fan. It is a bleak work, that cannot be denied, but there Riley is able to pick the perfect words to make everything seem poetic and beautiful in its own right. The prose is, frankly, gorgeous and some of the best writing I’ve read in a really long time. You can’t escape the idea that words have been carefully picked so as to get the exact response that Riley had wanted. There is an effortlessness within the writing that only comes with great care, attention and skill. What is the quote from that Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem? The oxymoronic phrase “so casually coifed”. Riley’s writing can only be described as “so casually coifed” and it’s fantastic. I may only have picked this up because of the Women’s Prize but I’ll never regret having done it.

TBT – Ghost in the Shell (1995)

TBT – Ghost in the Shell (1995)

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.