When I first heard about Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie novel Murder on the Orient Express I was super excited. I mean why wouldn’t I be? I adore Agatha Christie, love Hercule Poirot, and will watch anything starring the legend that is Kenny B. Then I saw the first picture of him as the Belgian detective and my excitement started to wane somewhat. That fucking moustache man! It looked like it had to been drawn on his face with soft-serve ice cream. I’m all for new interpretations of familiar characters but David Suchet’s moustache is a classic. So slick and proud. I agree that Poirot’s moustache needs to be an impressive statement but I don’t think he’d have made the statement that Branagh appears to be making. Still, it wasn’t enough to put me off wanting to see it. What put me off more was the casting of Johnny Depp. I realise we’ll never know the true story of what happened with him and Amber Heard but I still think Hollywood have brushed it aside too quickly. I think it’s bullshit that such a highly paid actor can be accused of abusing his wife yet still land high profile work in this and the Fantastic Beasts franchise. I’m all for inncocent until proven guilty but Johnny Depp is proper suss. I’d have preferred him to get a bit of down time after the accusations… just to let him know he’s not infallible. So I wasn’t really in a rush to see it anyway but then I heard cavalcade of negative reviews. Although, I knew I couldn’t resist the lure of Kenny B for ever though.
It’s nearly the end of 2017 and, as is customary at this time, I am looking back over my literary year. I can’t say that I’ve read a great deal this year but, having never set a reading goal for myself, I consider every book finished to be a victory in itself. 2017 has been a year of great reading slumps and hard slogs through difficult books. If we’re talking stats, I finished 26 book at this point but, fingers crossed, I’ll get another one out of the way before midnight on December 31st. I managed to read 4 of the 17 books on my Most Anticipated Books of 2017 list. I own less than I did from my 2016 list at this point but, more importantly, I actually one more of them. I guess that’s a step in the right direction. Anyway, as I was looking back over the past 12 months, I was faced with an Instagram prompt that demanded I pick my top 5 books of the year. It wasn’t as tough as I expected. I’ve read a lot of good books this year but only a handful of great ones. Almost exactly 10 as it turns out. What a happy, happy coincidence.
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders : I have to admit that the order of these books is subject to change at any time. I’ve changed my mind even in the few hours between posting a photo of my top 5 to Instagram and starting this post. However, one thing that is never going to change is my number 1. Lincoln in the Bardo is a reading experience unlike any other that I’ve ever had. It’s well written, original and absolutely captivating. There is real emotion at its very core but, thanks to the large cast of characters, has enough light-hearted moments to keep it moving. I loved this book from start to finish and I am really glad that I didn’t listen to my gut and ignore it. Although, if I’m being honest, this book was made for me because of the audiobook. I really do think it’s the definitive way to approach this tale. You get more of a sense of the characters and it really comes to life. I know some people who weren’t happy about the outcome of the Man Booker 2017 but I will always think this was a worthy winner.
- First Love by Gwendoline Riley : When I reviewed this book on my blog way back in the first half of the year, I admitted that it had faults. There are some things about the narrative and its scope that just didn’t work for me. However, Gwendoline Riley’s writing is absolutely beautiful. I was stunned from the first word. It’s a tough read about characters that you’ll never really like but the language is something you can’t miss. I nearly read this book cover to cover on a train ride to London. There hasn’t been another book all year that has been so easy to get through.
- Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman : Another book that I “read” as an audiobook but there is something about hearing Neil Gaiman speaking these tales that make them click. These retellings of the classic Norse myths don’t necessarily flow as easily as a Neil Gaiman original but he manages to bring his own sense of charm to the well-known stories. These are a fabulous thing to dip in and out of. He really captures the spirit of the original tales whilst adding a cheeky modern interpretation to some aspects. It’s got things that lovers of both Gaiman and his subject matter will enjoy.
- Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead : Part of me feels unoriginal by putting this in my top 5 considering it’s one of the books of 2017. However, I can’t deny that this is a powerful and incredible read. I don’t think its a flawless read, as I pointed out in my review here on the blog, but Colson Whitehead is a great writer. His unique take on this important aspect of American history is as captivating as it is tragic. I still think he could have taken it a bit further but his ability to create characters that you believe in and care about is astounding. Out of all of my top 5, this is probably the one I’d be least likely to reread but I’m very glad I finally read it.
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie : This is only as far down the list because it was a rereading and it didn’t seem fair placing it higher. I’m a huge Christie fan and this novel really is one of the best pieces of crime fiction ever written. She crafted such an intricate and surprising narrative within these pages that means it is still entertaining when you know who the killer is. She creates memorable and interesting characters. This is a must read for fans and newbies alike.
- The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet : One of the books from my Most Anticipated List that actually made the cut. I’m so happy! Despite the fact that this novel took me so fucking long to finish I absolutely adored it. This is the book that almost changed my top 5 after my Instagram post. However, this is such a niche and difficult book that I felt it had to sit just outside the greatest of the year. It’s an incredibly original and well-crafted book that expertly mixed historical fact with fiction. It’s funnier than a book on semiotics really has any right to be. It’s also a dense and fairly intense read. Before I read it, I kinda wanted it to be Roland Barthes meets The Da Vinci Code. Upon reading it, I found it too closely resembled the former at times and often felt like I was sitting back in my second year Literary Criticism seminar. Still, if you have the inclination and are interested in French philosophers and critics, then I’d say give it a go.
- The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker : Another book on the list has made it into the top 10. Hooray! I did really like this book but, as I mentioned in my review, I had some issues with it. It was Kayla Rae Whitaker’s debut novel and, at times, it felt really obvious. It was an interesting study of two women’s friendship and their passion for the art. The characterisation was incredible and I really like Whitaker’s gritty style of writing. However, there was far too much going on and I just lost it at times. The narrative was crammed to the rafters and it became difficult to engage. I also found the lengthy descriptions of animated sequences, though integral to the plot, rather awkward. The visual nature of the one medium mixing with the descriptive nature of the other didn’t sit well with me. However, this book was exciting enough that I’ll pick up her next book.
- New Cemetery by Simon Armitage : The only book of poetry that made it onto the list. I have a difficult and complex relationship with Simon Armitage. Part of me finds him really irritating for a reason I can neither explain nor really understand. The other part appreciates the way he can weave words together. This small collection really was beautiful. If it hadn’t been for the heft price tag, it probably would have been higher on the list. What can I say? I’m trying to be frugal over here.
- Autumn by Ali Smith : Don’t really want to say too much about this because I plan on posting my proper review on Wednesday. I only finished this read a couple of days ago but I really enjoyed it. Ali Smith is a wonderfully readable writer, which sounds way worse than it should. She elevates her simple narrative with stunning language and interesting narrative structure. It’s a really deceptive book. It’s high literature posing as lower literature (again that choice of words has all sorts of resonances that I didn’t intend). Unlike the person I saw on Instagram complaining about it, I don’t think it deserved to win the Man Booker but Ali Smith deserves to be recognised for the fucking great talent that she is. My blog isn’t exactly the best place to start but it’s something.
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad : Once again, this is a position not for the book itself but for the audiobook. Not that I have anything against Heart of Darkness. I love it, which is why I was so eager to “read” the story again. It’s a fantastic tale of obsession and the human spirit that deserves its place in literary history. It still wouldn’t have made it into my top 10, however, if it hadn’t been for the Kenneth Branagh Audible exclusive performance. I love Kenny B and his interpretation of this text was amazing. I mean aside from his dodgy female voice at the end.
So, you may have noticed that last week I failed to upload my weekly rundown. That was because I was in Scotland this time last week with my family. Sunday 20th August was a very special day so we booked a few days in a cottage in South West Scotland. It’s the part of the country that my grandfather was originally from so we’ve been on more than a few holidays there. It’s safe to say it’s a special part of the world for us so it was the perfect place to celebrate. The Sunday marked the 40th anniversary of my parents’ marriage and a year since my older sister got married. Whilst it may still freak me out that my sister picked the same day to get married, it was a nice coincidence that both big occasions fell on the same day. So as you can imagine it was a busy weekend and, by the time I got back on Monday, I was far too exhausted to post anything. However, what I lacked in blog updates I had more than made up for in reading. I found my groove again on holiday and have been steadily making my through my books. I guess finding myself in a cottage with no internet access and no computer really forced me to get back to basics. I’m pleased to say that I’ve, kind of, kept up with it since I’ve been back but, I have to admit, the lure of TV and internet shopping have distracted me somewhat.
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet
- It by Stephen King
This was one of those books that I just bought on a whim when I was at the supermarket the other day and it was because of the cover. I normally hate film tie-in covers (as I’ve bitched about on Instagram earlier this month) but the cover that accompanies the new adaptation of this Stephen King classic is so well done. It’s very simple and there are just two great pops of colour. I couldn’t resist it.
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
- One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
- Netflix Binges: Veep, Black Books
- Saving Private Ryan
- Despicable Me 3
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.
So last week I released my list of books that I’m most looking forward to (probably not) reading this year. So I decided, as it’s that time of the month when I need to create a list of 10 random things, that it was only fair that I put down on e-paper the films that I’m most excited to see this year. It turns out that was really fucking hard. There are a lot of great films coming out and I’m super excited about all of them. Even really surprising ones. I mean, had you asked me this time last year, that I’d be quite looking forward to seeing Michael Keaton star in the story of the founder of McDonalds I’d have thought you were mad. Now, however, I think it looks pretty good. I mean I love Keaton and it stars the internet’s favourite man’s man Nick Offerman. Plus, there was a point when I didn’t think I wanted to see The Social Network but that turned out better than expect. I also, even more shockingly, became fairly interested in the Justice League film. I’m still not ecstatic about the release because the last two films in DC’s arsenal were utter dogshit. I think it’s basically just down to Jason Momoa though. And Batfleck. But, before I get distracted by sexy superheroes, I should present the list… with more than enough sexy superheroes.
Ten: War for the Planet of the Apes
I really enjoyed 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and I loved Rise of the Planet of the Apes back in 2011. The rebooted franchise has created some fantastic pequels so I’m incredibly keen to see what’s coming next.
Nine: Blade Runner 2049
Of course I’m excited about the prospect of Harrison Ford returning to the role of Rick Deckard but there is still a part of me that worries. It’s been a long time. Still, everything we’ve seen so far looks good and gives a positive feeling. Plus, director Denis Villeneuve directed last year’s Arrival which everyone seemed to fucking love. So it’s probably in safe hands.
Eight: Murder on the Orient Express
Probably not going to be top of too many people’s lists but I think I’m going to enjoy this one. It’s Kenneth Branagh directing himself and a shitload of really famous actors to retell the classic Hercule Poirot tale. Yes, we all know who did it but that’s not the point. It’s about watching our favourite Belgian detective work out those “leetle grey cells” to figure it out. And, at this point, I think I’d allow Branagh to play anybody.
Seven: Alien: Covenant
I know it received mixed reviews but I kinda liked Prometheus. I mean it was a bit of a fucking mess but, for the most part, I think it was a decent film. I get why people were upset though. It was billed as the epic prequel to one of the best films ever made but it didn’t even feature the titular alien creature. So, this year’s follow up should make amends for that if the poster is anything to go by. Really, this could be a retelling of the first Alien film and this would fair better than Prometheus. Plus, you know, Michael Fassbender is fucking weird in this role.
Six: Logan Lucky
I’m kinda getting sick of Steven Soderbergh telling us he’s retiring and then making another film. Or at least I would be sick of it if it wasn’t for the idea of another Soderbergh film. It’s been 4 years since he made the announcement and now he’s back making a comedy about a robbery duing a NASCAR race. It’s got an interesting and star-studded line-up. What we know about the plot sounds kinda ropey but it’s fucking Soderbergh. How can you ignore it?
Five: Thor: Ragnorak
I know Thor isn’t everyone’s favourite part of the MCU but I’m a massive fan of his first film. I think the second was kind of dodgy but I still have faith in this series. The huge-armed Norse God is back for his third film and, for anyone that knows anything about Norse mythology will know, Ragnorok can only mean trouble. Thankfully, Thor is helped by his pal the Hulk and Marvel’s newest sign-up Doctor Strange. We’ve lost the unnecessary and bland Jane but I’m sure nobody, Natalie Portman included, is crying about that.
Four: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy was a sort of surprisingly huge hit when it came out 3 years ago. It introduced us to the ragtag bunch of people who accidentally get caught up in trying to save the world. Their second film promises much of the things that made the first one great so obviously I’m excited. But, as we’ve learnt by now, Marvel sequels don’t have the greatest track record. I mean, to date, only 1 follow-up manages to equal/improve on the first film: The Winter Soldier. At the worst we have Iron Man 2 (happily improved upon with Iron Man 3) but the rest were all just kind of meh. So, I do have a fear that Guardians 2 will just try and replay all of it’s greatest hits without offering up any new material. As much as I love him, I need more than just “I am Groot” but said in a baby voice now.
Three: Spider-Man: Homecoming
If Civil War taught us anything it was that a Marvel controlled Spider-Man film could be the best thing ever. Then the trailer for Homecoming was released and it definitely backed up the claim. Tom Holland looks set to steal Andrew Garfield’s crown as best portrayal of the web-slinger. Still, this is the 3 time in about 15 years that this franchise has been rebooted and it’s the 3 different actor to lend his face to the role. I’m not sure it was necessary and, more worryingly, I feel that Marvel are pushing Tony Stark too much. Maybe his role will work in the film as a whole but, from what we’ve seen so far, this could very easily become the Iron Man show. And that would be an injustice.
Two: Star Wars Episode 8
Well, duh! Rogue One was the best Star Wars film to be released since the originals and it got me incredibly excited for what’s coming next. The Force Awakens did a great job of bringing us back into the world but left so many things unanswered. This is the time to find out. Plus, it’s directed by Rian Johnson who also did Brick and Looper so we’re in pretty safe hands.
There was really no other choice for the number 1 spot. Logan is a key film this year for so many reasons. Mostly because, after 17 years, Hugh Jackman is finally saying goodbye to the character. It’s so weird to think that he’s been playing the guy for so long. He basically is Wolverine at this point. I can’t imagine anyone else having taken the character this far if Jackman hadn’t got the role. Add to that the fact that it’s the character’s first film to receive an R-rating. Last year’s Deadpool showed us that it’s no bad thing to make comic book movies just for adults so it feels right that Jackman should get to show us what Logan can really do for this final time. The comic book Wolverine was always an incredibly violent character and that’s not really been able to come across in any of the others. We need to see him really letting his anger out. I’m so fucking pumped for this film.
I had every intention to follow up my ‘5 films for people who don’t like Shakespeare’ list with my own top 5 adaptations of his plays. It was a fucking huge undertaking and I couldn’t make my mind up on a a final list. I kept flitting between the good ones and my guilty pleasures. I’m such a fickle human being that I’m never entirely comfortable making a definitive statement of favouritism about a subject. The top two were easy (The Hollow Crown and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing respectively) but the others changed every time I opened the draft post. Possibly because, when it comes down to it, I’ll always prefer to indulge in Shakespeare performed on a stage. I expect something different from a cinematic production to a theatrical one: the scope is much bigger and it’s easier to push the boundaries more. That’s probably why my Shakespeare-related film history has more of a She’s The Man feel than a Kenny B’s Hamlet to it. Although, I tell a lie: there was another film that continued to keep its place on my list. It’s one of my faves even if it wasn’t critically beloved. It’s about time it receives some decent attention so have given it pride of place as my latest TBT.