Continuing in my recent spate of reading children’s books, I’ve just finished the book that was awarded the Costa Children’s Book Award last year. I bought it on the same Amazon spree that finally saw me grab a copy of Tin and, after it was recommended to me, I couldn’t resist. It sounded like a much less violent version of Lord of the Flies and, despite the fact that the violence is the whole point of William Golding’s book, that did sound quite interesting. I would have finished the book much quicker than I actually did had it not been for a particularly difficult week at work that saw me falling asleep mid-chapter a few nights in a row. Still, it didn’t exactly take months so I can feel okay about it I guess.
With less than a week until the Oscars, my quest to watch all of the Best Picture nominations is getting quite tense. I’ve got three more to go and I’m not really super keen to watch either of them. I managed to watch two in quick succession last week so, if I’m clever with my time, I should be okay. It’s just a shame that the film I’m talking about today marks the end of the list of films I really wanted to see. The Darkest Hour is something I’ve been excited about for months. Combining my love of history and Gary Oldman; what could be better? When the first pictures of Oldman in his full Winston Churchill costume came out months ago, everyone was apparently amazed by the transformation. The picture was placed on the front of newspapers along with the tantalising caption of “we bet you’ll never guess who this really is” or something. I didn’t get the uproar. I mean anyone that looked at the photo should instantly be able to see Gary Oldman’s eyes staring back at them. Don’t get me wrong, the transformation was incredibly but it’s quite clearly the actor underneath all of that makeup. I admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for Oldman so I might be more familiar with his face than many people. It meant that whenever I saw photos from the set of The Darkest Hour I only ever saw Oldman and not one of the greatest Prime Minster’s the UK has ever seen.
Sunday night was the annual BAFTA film awards and it was the usual mixture of glitz, glamour, and massively unnecessary shade. Now, obviously, as a sane young woman I am a massive fan of the whole Times Up and #metoo movement. However, there was a lot of over-the-top bitchiness that appears to have come out of the ceremony. The first, regarding the Kate Middleton’s dress is insane. Surely, as a royal, she wouldn’t have been allowed to make any outright statement by wearing a black dress. She did, however, get pretty damn close to the colour women were wearing in solidarity to the movement, so I think we know where she stands. Number 2, Salma Hayek. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I read about her introduction to the Best Actor category and I’m still dumbfounded by it. I don’t really see what her point was. She went in knowing she was going to present an award to a man yet decided to make a pointless and ineffective protest about men whilst doing it. It wasn’t a powerful message and, if anything, damaged the movement by making it seem like women are standing up against men in general. It adds to all the talk of “witch hunts” and, quite frankly, was a dick move in relation to the winner. Gary Oldman deserved his moment to win an award that was and always has been gender specific. Natalie Portman had a great point at the Golden Globes when she bitched about the all male Best Director category; Salma Hayek looked like a fucking idiot to be protesting a man winning a male only award.
This has been a tough weekend work wise if I’m honest. It’s been super stressful so I’ve been avoiding reading. Well, I’ve managed to do some reading but it’s not been great. I still haven’t finished War Horse which I started this week with the intention of finishing before I saw the stage version. Even though I didn’t manage that I absolutely adored the play. I mean, I was in floods of tears but it was exquisite. So well realised and mesmerising but, also, so good at capturing the real consequences of war. It was so much more meaningful and powerful than Steven Spielberg’s film version. He completely lost his way with that film and I spent most of my time laughing. I really hated that film and, if you’re interested, you can hear more of my rants in my review from 2012 here.
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.
In 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.
When I first came up with my Throwback Thirty idea there were a handful of movies that I was super excited about. This week’s film is one of the most exciting. I have always loved a good B movie and, despite my avoidance of traditional horror stuff, will always have time for a worthy comedy horror film… especially one starring aliens that look like clowns. I know a lot of people who are freaked out by clowns but I’ve never seen it. Maybe it helped that I never accidentally watched IT when I was a kid but I’ve never really been fussed either way about clowns. I did work with a guy who was absolutely terrified by them. I admit, we all kind of abused the situation and I was, at times, guilty of humming circus music whenever he was around. It genuinely used to freak him out because he was that scared. Yes, it was a dick move but, in my defence, it was really funny too. So I’d imagine that he’d never seen the 1988 classic Killer Klowns From Outer Space because that would be mental. Like the girl who was in the year below me at uni who was afraid of balloons and, during out college’s end of year party, freaked out during the balloon drop. I’d grabbed a balloon and she forced me to pop it. I was fucking livid! Mate, if you get so freaked out by balloons then why turn up to a place where you know there’ll be shit loads of them???? Not that I’m still bitter 10 years on or anything…
I’ve been blogging since September 2011 and I’ve been on Instagram since December 2014. I don’t think it’s too big-headed to say that I’ve improved in both areas since then even if I’m still a bit shit at sticking to my schedules occasionally. In the last 7 years, I’ve managed to keep my online persona fairly secret and it’s only recently that people in my life started to find out about it. It kind of feels like I’m a superhero and everyone has suddenly seen through my secret identity. It’s weird to have it out there even though it’s still only a select group of people who know. It’s one thing to write for strangers (or nobody) but the idea of someone I see on a daily basis reading it… still can’t deal with that. I only bring this up because one of my work friends was so impressed with my Instagram following that she started talking about how much money I could make. I was super quick to shoot her down on this idea because I’m still a small fish in a fucking huge pond. Although, after spending years trying but never quite succeeding as much as I wanted to, I can’t deny that things are starting to change for the better. In the last few weeks I’ve been lucky enough to be approached by authors to get involved in marketing their books. You’ll be aware that earlier this month I was involved in the cover reveal of the upcoming Above the Stars book and I was also sent an advanced copy of Your Creative Career by Anna Sabino to share on Instagram. I realise that I still have some way to go before the big gun publishers would even think about approaching me but, as someone who is interested in getting into the marketing world, this is a fairly big deal. In keeping with this, two weeks ago I was given the opportunity to review the 2015 debut novel of writer Nesly Clerge. I said yes, because I’m not really in a position to turn these chances down, but I wasn’t sure this novel was going to be for me.
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 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 has brushed it aside too quickly. I’d have preferred him to get a bit of downtime 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 a cavalcade of negative reviews. Although, I knew I couldn’t resist the lure of Kenny B forever though.
Last night I attended Jay Rayner’s (the Observer’s food critic) discussion My Dining Hell at the Ilkley Literature Festival. It was a really good night and I can happily attest that he is as funny in person as he is in writing. The talk discussed our perverse obsession with negative reviews and that fucking awful compulsion we all have to take enjoyment from other people’s tales of woe. You know, that same mentality that drives you to stare at a car-crash or laugh when people fall over. As a not-so-secret bitch at heart, I’m always guilty of having a chuckle when someone does something embarrassing in public despite the fact I’m really fucking clumsy. Humanity has moved to a point where we get bored hearing about people’s happiness but can’t get enough of their misfortunes. Basically we’re all just terrible people.
You have to admit, there’s something comforting about being filled with murderous rage. Sharing tales of personal misfortune can bond people in a way that sharing good news just can’t. I don’t give a shit about how happy you are with your partner. I want to know how crappy your job is. Whether right or wrong, as a species we love to hate things. It’s the reason why I invested in a copy of Mama Mia. That film has to be one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I can think of no redeeming features for it but that doesn’t stop me having a secret desire to watch it every now and then. It’s my film-based brush with masochism. I get a great deal of pleasure from subjecting myself to a film I truly detest. Fucking 50 Shades of Grey? Pah!
Deep down we’re all still just animals at heart. We share that love of conflict that is so rife in the animal kingdom even if we try our hardest to suppress it. Conflict comes down to power and the way we view ourselves. We take pleasure in negative reviews and awful films because we can feel better about ourselves in the process. Bad reviews let us bask in the warmth of someone else’s humiliation or unpleasant experience. One of my favourite film critics is Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian. He is a really talented writer and always manages to put his point across in an elegant manner. He’s a constant source of inspiration and incredible jealousy. His review of Savages, Oliver Stone’s 2012 crime thriller, is one of the best pieces of criticism I’ve ever read. It’s a vicious and unflinching attack that never lets up. It was a fucking joy to read. You see, you don’t remember the good reviews. There’s nothing really memorable about a critic telling you that an actor’s performance was good or a narrative was complex. Why would you remember the lyrical way in which someone praised the cinematography or the original score? No, it’s the hate-filled attacks that stick with you. All of us must have our favourite damning review from the inimitable Roger Ebert (it’s so hard to chose but mine would be a toss up between Godzilla or Armageddon). We love to see these people stick it to the man.
However, there must be more to it than that. From a purely creative point of view, negativity just has more potential than positivity. In terms of reviewing, writing about something you hate is always much better than writing about something you love. As someone who would describe themselves as a writer (probably only in my own head though), I’ve had much more fun writing about films and books that I’ve absolutely hated than about the films I love. Coming up with analogies to describe how fucking angry something made you is the gift that just keeps on giving. You can only take love so far before you sound over-effusive. There’s nothing worse than reading a writer’s endless, gushing praise for something; it can sound childish and, even worse, false. Maybe we’ve just become so jaded that we can’t believe anything that sounds too good to be true. If a writer is overly positive about something they’re reviewing then I’m sure there will be an endless stream of people shouting about foul play. Of course, on the opposite side, there is every chance that really hating something can turn into a petty tirade of hyperbole that can’t be taken seriously. However, we all have to be honest, reading reviews isn’t really about getting that one person’s opinion about something; it’s about the writing. Hearing a grown adult have a fucking tantrum over a meal, book or film they’ve consumed recently is one of the most entertaining things you can do with your spare time.
Maybe my out-of-control cynicism is getting the better of me again but there are so many more options with hate. When I love something I just let my myself get carried away. You’ve probably experienced some of my seemingly never-ending analyses of films I’ve loved. I just never fucking stop. Going on and on about every tiny detail that I enjoyed. Reliving the plot scene by scene. I hate some of my past reviews because of it. Hate just seems to keep me more focused. Maybe that should be a source of concern for me? It’s just easier to get your thoughts together and provide a coherent argument about something you didn’t like. It’s the reason I so rarely wrote my University essays on my favourite works. It’s easier to find things to say about something you aren’t emotionally invested in. Now I realise that I’m starting to sound like Emperor Palpatine here but, when it comes to my writing, my hatred really has made me powerful. Although, it’s not something I’d recommend embracing in all walks of life of course. Let’s never forget what Master Yoda taught us.