SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, currently reading, New Year, rewriting, Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling, Shakespeare

It’s finally 2017 and, like everyone else in the world, I’m hoping this year will see me get my fucking act together. Although, I am well aware that I suck at keeping to resolutions and then feel shitty when I break them. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve vowed to stop eating chocolate for the year and then, a mere 8 hours into the new year, have been found stuffing my face on left over Christmas chocolate. So this year I’m trying to take some pressure off by not stopping myself doing things but encouraging myself to do stuff. Like read more, drink more water, and get more sleep. It’s my hope that turning resolutions into positives instead of negatives that I’ll be more likely to do them. Plus, they’re super vague so I don’t need to keep to any rigid promises.

Just Finished

  • The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utpoia by Bryan Talbot and Mary Talbot (Kindle edition)

This was my final read of 2016 and another book to cross off my Most Anticipated Fiction of 2016 list. As my Kindle is only a Kindle Paperwhite I don’t have a colour display so the graphic novel wasn’t quite as good as it could have been but, having since seen it on my PC, I can say the artwork is incredible. It’s a great story based on the life of the French Revolutionary Louise Michel. It’s an incredibly story and, though obviously simplified, presented in a digestible and engaging manner. Part of me wishes there could have been more detail and context but I would certainly recommend it. 


Currently Reading

  • Losing It by Emma Rathbone
I fucking hate this book. There is nothing positive I have to say about it so far except that it’s an easy read. The only reason I haven’t given up is because it’s one from my 2016 list. The characters are awful and have no depth to them. The story is the most superficial bullshit I’ve ever read. It’s like an episode of Sex and the City but with less substance. I mean that show was at least trying, and failing, to promote feminism. This is just confirming the notion that not having sex as soon as possible is a crazy and debilitating move. There’s no balanced argument here. It feels like it was written by someone from Cosmopolitan. It’d be fucking toxic for young women to read.

Recently Purchased
  • What haven’t I bought this month
This has been quite a heavy book buying month so I’ve decided to just shove it all in one section to avoid a huge list of stuff. They’re mainly books from my 2016 list but there are a few oddities that I’ve either wanted to read for a while or that just took my fancy.

  1. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
    • A book I’ve wanted to read since January. It sounds like a glorious reworking of a problematic Shakespeare play.
  2. The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia by Mary and Bryan Talbot (Kindle edition)
    • See above.
  3. American Gods by Neil Gaiman (Kindle edition)
    • Already own a copy of this but it’s a massive hardback. I wanted to reread it before the series but feel a Kindle edition is easier to read.
  4. Nod by Adrian Barnes (Kindle edition and audible audiobook)
    • Bought on a whim but sounds pretty cool. Only a handful of people are able to sleep and those that do start having weird dreams. The others only have a few weeks before their bodies start to die.
  5. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami (Kindle edition)
    • Something I’ve had in my peripheral vision for a while but only just bought it. It’s the love story between a woman and her ex-teacher, 30 years her senior. It sounds cute.
  6. The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Kindle edition and audible audiobook)
    • This is one of those books people have been talking about forever so I decided, when it was on offer in the Kindle store, that it was time to get on board. 
  7. Mr Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt 
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  8. Eleven Hours by Pamela Erens
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  9. The Fat Artist and Other Stories by Benjamin Hale
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  10. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  11. Jonathan Unleashed by Meg Rosoff (Kindle edition)
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
  12. I Am No One by Patrick Flanery (Kindle edition)
    • Another one to cross off my 2016 list.
See I told you it was a lot. I’ve managed to find quite a few cheap copies of books I’ve wanted to read all year so I’ll hopefully cross them off my list soon. 

Recently Watched
  • The Nice Guys
I needed something to write about on Tuesday. I’ve only heard good things about this so it sounded ideal. See you soon.  

TBT – Hook (1991)

childhood favourite, films, J M Barrie, meh, Peter Pan, review, rewriting, Robin Williams, Steven Spielberg, TBT

My twin sister and I really loved Hook when we were younger. It’s a really good children’s film that we found utterly hilarious. I mean, if I’m honest, it was mainly down to the fat kid and his weird dancing but it’s something. We rewatched that film as often as we could and I’m certain we would quote along with it. We must have really worn out the ribbon on the VHS copy we owned. Jesus, that statement makes me feel fucking old. Something else that made me feel old was finding out that Hook turns 25 this week. Has anyone else seen that picture of the Lost Boys as they are now? God dammit, those Lost Boys really grew up. Still, it provided the perfect chance to talk about it for TBT. I always enjoy the chance to revisits a classic from my childhood. The fact that it also marks the 2nd anniversary of Robin William’s death is just fate.

Hook is based on JM Barrie’s Peter Pan but, instead of telling the story of the boy who refused to grow up, Hook poses the question of what would become of Peter when he became a man. It’s not a retelling as such but a re-purposing I suppose. We get reintroduced to all the characters we love but not as we remember them. Wendy (Maggie Smith) is now well into her 80s and a great-grandmother. Peter (Robin Williams), now a hotshot lawyer, is married to her granddaughter, Moira (Caroline Goodall), and has two children of his own, Jack and Maggie. When Peter returns to the house where he first met Wendy he finds himself reacquainted with an old foe who has a long-standing grudge. Captain James Hook (Dustin Hoffman), wishing to finally rid the world of Pan, kidnaps his children and challenges him to a duel. Can Peter remember the boy he used to be or will he lose his children to his greatest nemesis?

As re-tellings go, Hook is hardy the most inspiring. It’s an incredibly long film considering you’re told the same thing about three times over. The exposition is over-complicated and reiterated so many times you’ll get déjà vu about your déjà vu. It also fails to do anything remarkably new with Barrie’s original tale. Who exactly is this film trying to appeal to? The kids out there who empathise with a lawyer on the edge of mid-life crisis or the mid-life crisis suffering lawyers out there who yearn to fly and fight pirates? It’s a weird idea for a film and you can’t help but wonder why Spielberg didn’t just re-imagine Peter Pan for a new generation? As it happens, Hook brings about a lot more questions than it answers and there’s a disturbing level of creepiness hanging over the whole thing. I mean it’s uncomfortable that Wendy and Peter had a weird romantic thing and now he’s married to her granddaughter. Then there’s the fact that a middle-aged Peter rightly brings about questions of the fact that there’s a load of unsupervised children living on an island and fighting pirates. When you introduce real adults into Neverland it all starts to lose a bit of the magic that made it do great when you were kids.

Watching Hook again as an adult is a weird thing. Part of me can understand why Spielberg hates this film so much but the other part just delights in everything that happens on screen. Hook is by no means the best kids film Spielberg has ever made but it makes up for its lack of finesse with fun. Spielberg clearly just doesn’t give a shit about anything he’s doing so it’s all just a bit of a mess. The big budget had meant a grand and spectacular scale but there is some amount of warmth and heart lost in the vastness. It’s all a bit paltry. However, the whole point of the story is to remind people not to lose their sense of fun. As a supposed grown-up its hard not to get swept away in Peter’s journey to rediscover his youth. It’s the ultimate fable about letting go of everything that made you great as a child when you get swept away in the world of work and family. We could all do with being a bit more like Peter.

It helps that Peter is played by the marvellous Robin Williams who utterly embraces the idea of recaptured youth. I know everyone has their favourite Williams role and, like most, I think the Genie in Aladdin is definitely up there. However, his performance in Hook is just as engaging because he has it all. Not only does he excel as the ultimate child all grown up but he is incredible as the father desperate to save his children. You can hardly call it his best dramatic role ever but its a performance that turns this potentially underwhelming concept into something I will love forever. After all, who can honestly say that there heart doesn’t leap when Peter finally starts to fly? Or when the Lost Boys realise that beneath the flab and the suit is the boy that they once followed so loyally? Hook is a bit of rough diamond. Yes, it could do with some polishing but, if you’re honest, it has enough charm that it doesn’t really matter.

Maleficent (2014)

Angelina Jolie, CGI, Disney, fairy tale, meh, review, rewriting, witch, women

Wicked has an awful lot to answer for these days. The novel that created a back-story for the Wicked Witch of the West and went on to become a runaway success as a stage show has started something of a trend in Hollywood. After last year’s disappointing Oz: the Great and Powerful attempted to explain the origin of the great wizard, Disney have set another much loved family film in their sights. Their big live-action blockbuster Maleficentis the long-awaited rewriting of Sleeping Beauty (1959) from the perspective of the terrifying and terrible witch whose spell sent Aurora to her rest. 

It’s been 55 years since Disney first introduced audiences to the villainous Maleficent in their animated adaptation of Sleeping Beauty and apparently they have decided it was time to rewrite history. In their big live-action blockbuster, the company are willing to let us into the untold story of the fairy who quite probably dominated the nightmares of young children the world over. After all, until Frozen came out last year and blurred the lines, the distinction between good and evil was always crystal clear in the studio’s offerings. Maleficentcontinues the trend by recreating one of the ultimate forces for evil as a much more ambiguous being.
We first meet the titular fairy as a young girl (Ella Purnell) whose main concern is keeping the magical inhabitants of her home happy and safe from the humans who are intent on regaining their land. Unfortunately, Maleficent meets a boy and… well you can guess the rest.  Quickly Mal is swearing vengeance in a scene played out pretty identically to the original film. The new King’s (Sharlto Copely) first born daughter will, on her 16thbirthday, prick her finger and fall into an eternal sleep.
Aurora (Elle Fanning) is sent into hiding to be watched by three good fairies (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) but in the film’s big twist it is actually Maleficent herself who must protect the child to ensure she survives to the age at which the curse will strike. Quite frankly, the plot from this point is stupid, lazy and dull. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for the underlying feminist message at the core of Maleficentbut I have to admit that it feels pretty outrageous to take this character and make her a mothering presence in Aurora’s life.
I mean this is a character whose name literally means she is capable of producing evil and she is only ever seen doing one bad deed. This is not the original story being told from a different viewpoint this is a different and much less interesting tale. I can only assume that the main character’s name was bestowed upon her as some sort of ironic nickname (you know like really tall people called Tiny and stuff) because the fairy we see on screen is anything but malevolent.
She is, however, magnificent. This marks Angelina Jolie’s first appearance on screen in about four years and she cuts a striking figure thanks to her fetish horns, huge wings and Lady Gaga inspired cheekbones. Jolie is the perfect actress to bring Maleficent to life but the script doesn’t give her anywhere to take the character. No matter what you may have thought about his reimagining of Alice in Wonderland back in 2011, it’s easy to see that this actress, in this costume would have been better off in the strange and darker hands of Tim Burton. The script places its main character in a spectator role and gives her no spark, humour or intensity to make her anywhere near as memorable her animated predecessor. Quite frankly, it is only because the supporting characters are even less inspiring that Maleficent doesn’t disappear completely within her own film.
I understand what Linda Woolverton is attempting to do with the script and the character but there is just little to get excited about. Something that is most probably indebted to the likes of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is just a horrible imitation (and I didn’t even really enjoy reading TBC at uni). The narrative is patchy and full of contradictions and plot-holes. Woolverton also places too much importance on unnecessary references to the original story. If she were so intent on rewriting the tale as a whole then why bother shoehorning in Prince Phillip (Brenton Thwaites) for a whole four minutes or whatever?
I also can’t help but feel that certain clichés just weaken the intended feminist message at its heart. I mean if you wanted to highlight the importance and strength of female relationships then why have every event hinge on the title character getting her heartbroken? I realise “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” but the image of a powerful woman threatening a child because a boy didn’t love her enough isn’t something I feel too comfortable with.
As someone who was really looking forward to this, I found almost everything about the film was disappointing. The cast just don’t have the energy or material to give the audience anything at all. Elle Fanning is horribly forgettable and Sharlto Copely has an insufferably terrible Scottish accent. There is the brief respite in the interaction between the good fairies but you will still have the unshakeable feeling that in the hands of better filmmakers even this could have been more joyous.
That’s not to say there is no fun to be found in Maleficent. Director Robert Stromberg is better known thanks to his production design on Alice in Wonderland and Oz: the Great and Powerful. This is his first time in the director’s chair and you can tell. Part of the reason the production doesn’t seem as slick as it could have is because Stromberg appears to be creating it from the viewpoint of a production designer. The magical world he has created is incredibly detailed and offers the same disappointing lifelessness that caused problems in Oz. There is so much going on visually that is feels as though you are sat starring into the sun and waiting for your eyes to adjust. I can’t say I was a complete fan of Stromberg’s reliance on CGI to create some wonder in his story, especially when it came as the expense of his characters and narrative. Even the positive themes that Copely is ultimately trying to convey are pushed to one side in order to sneak in another human/fairy showdown.
Stromberg owes an awful lot to Angelina Jolie for making this film such a success. It her resilience and sheer determination that ensure this otherwise flaccid representation of a well-known character is even the slightest bit memorable:  if only her role had been given even half the amount of planning as her costume had. If Maleficentis supposed to be the truth behind the lies at the heart of Sleeping Beauty then I for one would much prefer to continue living in ignorance.