Throwback Thirty – Bull Durham (1988)

Throwback Thirty – Bull Durham (1988)

51u8fxjcqal5_star_rating_system_4_stars1 Another week down and another 30 year-old film to discuss. I’d not seen Bull Durham before because, quite frankly, when something is described as a mixture of romantic-comedy and sports film then I’ll just assume it’s not for me. I don’t have the best history with sports film because I really can’t give a shit about sports. Sure when the Summer Olympics is on I might watch a few of the more exciting events but I can honestly think of better things to do with my time. I’m of the opinion that if you like a sport that much then you’d be better off playing it than sitting in front of a TV watching it. But I’m also the kind of person who finds board games to be edge of your seat excitement. So, I don’t exactly go out of my way to watch a sports film unless there’s another reason to enjoy it. Sure, when I was younger, I was obsessed with the film Little Giants but that was only because it came in a 3 film VHS set along with Richie Rich and Dennis. Still, just like my beloved Mighty Ducks trilogy, it’s an incredibly silly film that happens to be about sport. Not exactly up there. The closest I’ve come is The Damned United; a film that I only watched because I’m completely in love with Michael Sheen and his face. Ask me anything about football and I’d draw a blank. So, I couldn’t exactly say I was looking forward to Bull Durham but I also figured that it was about time that I watched it.

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Tuesday’s Reviews – Christmas Inheritance (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – Christmas Inheritance (2017)

There’s a thing with Christmas movies that mean the expectations regarding quality shift. I mean there’s got to be a reason so many people love the film Love Actually when it is, clearly, the worst thing ever made. I mean it’s a horrible mix of plots that are offensive and irritating and really not very romantic. I have a complicated enough relationship with Richard Curtis without this affront being played a million times every December. But there is a genre of Christmas films that really scrape the bottom of the barrel. The kind of unoriginal TV movies that are churned out in amazing quantities by the likes of Hallmark. And, apparently, Netflix have been trying to get in on the act. Last week I reviewed the film that the Christmas film of 2017: Netflix’s original A Christmas Prince. I watched it and, to my surprise, didn’t totally hate it. I mean I mostly did but I still found some festive pleasure watching it. Still, I was happily done with the “genre” until I was shown the trailer for Netflix’s second big holiday production: Christmas Inheritance. I’m starting to worry about the inevitable increase in the number of recommendations I’ll get from the age 12-14 film category because of these films. Ah, what the heck, my recommendations are already pretty fucked up thanks to all of the 90s gross-out comedies that I’ve watched.
Whilst it might seem that A Christmas Prince and Christmas Inheritance have a lot in common that simply isn’t true. Both feature a female as their protagonist but these protagonists are very different. One is a terrible journalist whilst the other is a terrible CEO. Oh my god, so different! In the latest film, Ellie (Eliza Taylor) is the daughter to the CEO of a fairly twee and family orientated gift company. She expects to take over from her father, Jim, some day but she is more preoccupied with partying to care about the traditions that her father and his business partner started so many years ago. In order to push Ellie into learning more about the company’s values, Jim sends her to the small town where everything all started. She has to go undercover and with only $100 to her name. Yeah, it doesn’t really make sense but it is the only thing that drives this film forward so I’ll go with it. Unluckily for Ellie, Snow Falls is in the middle of nowhere with no amenities and very few ways to contact the outside world. Can she get over her New York ways and prove she deserves to run the company?

Of course, this wouldn’t be a Christmas film without the added touch of romance. Whilst Ellie is engaged to an obvious wrong-un from New York, she finds herself drawn to literally the first (and seemingly only) young man she meets in town. He runs the inn owned by her father business partner and has no time for her big city bullshit. Until he finally starts to see the kind heart that she hides underneath, of course. This is standard rom-com fair: high maintenance girl sent out to hicksville and getting her hands dirty before falling in love with the local dishy Samaritan. But this is different because… it’s Christmas? Obviously, he eventually finds out she’s been lying about who she is and, suffering from his own inner demons, our flannel wearing hero turns his back on the rich young thing.

I’ll be honest with you, I thought after my reaction to A Christmas Prince that I would react more favourably to this film. I didn’t. Just like their previous offering, Netflix’s new film is a mash-up of so many romantic-comedies that have come before it. This time it manages to be as unfunny, inexplicable and unoriginal as A Christmas Prince whilst also giving us a heavy dose of its patronising attitude towards simple rural folk. There is always going to be problem with the conceit of a young rich girl going back to her roots: it always has to imply that there is something so twee and magical about small town living. It forces us to believe that these folks are so backwards that their good nature and kind hearts are an unusual thing. It’s fucking annoying. Snow Falls is the manic pixie dream girl of small towns. An unrealistic place that manages to show the main character who she is and who she needs to be thanks to its endless parade of outdated stereotype characters.

I also found Christmas Inheritance’s inevitability much more annoying. I kind of accepted that A Christmas Prince was going to be exactly the kind of film I thought it was going to be and found it funny to second-guess the plot. Here it seems much less acceptable. Maybe it’s because this film tries to ground itself closer to reality or because it takes itself more seriously? I don’t know. What I do know is that I was much angrier when I was shouting the future plot strands at the screen this time around. In reality, Christmas Inheritance is no worse a film than A Christmas Prince but, if you were to really push me, I’d definitely pick the latter to watch. But it’s entirely possible I never got over my childhood dream to become a princess one day and it’s affecting my life’s choices.

Tuesday’s Reviews – A Christmas Prince (2017)

Tuesday’s Reviews – A Christmas Prince (2017)

You gotta love Netflix. I mean the platform has revolutionised how we all consume television and film. It’s made our lives all so much easier for such a small price. I’m waiting for the day they get their own version of the cinema where you can pay to watch current film releases from the comfort of you own home for a small fee. But until that day Netflix is on hand to provide its own original programming. Let’s be honest, what with Stranger Things and everything Marvel related, the site is nailing the television element. Although, they haven’t exactly found their niche when it comes to films. They’ve done some great things and some truly horrendous things. Something that it is more than willing to admit. Yesterday, 11th December, the twitter account tweeted the following:

To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?

You gotta admit that that’s a bold move on behalf of their social media person. Not only are they openly calling their newest Christmas release shit but they’re making it seem as though they use their stats to mock their members. I know that, supposedly, there’s no such thing as bad publicity but this might be one of the exceptions. This tweet didn’t really get me thinking about Netflix and their use of my viewing data. I assumed they’d be doing all sorts of shit with that anyway. No, it got me thinking, just how bad is A Christmas Prince?

If, like me, you’re more obsessed with Buzzfeed than you should be, then you’ll have been seeing stuff about A Christmas Prince for ages now. It’s one of those films that appeared on my Netflix home page and I just ignored it. I mean I bloody love Christmas films but it wasn’t going to be top of my viewing list any time soon. Maybe if you’d taken it back to the 90s/early 2000s and cast Hilary Duff and Chad Michael Murray in the main roles I’d be all over that shit. Now? With that cast? I wasn’t in any rush to see it. But, if I’m being very honest, I did assume I’d watch it. Most probably on Christmas Eve after an awful day at work when I couldn’t focus on anything else.

Anyway, considering the massive hype I’d seen surrounding the film and needing to write something for this blog, I decided it was finally time to sit down and watch it. I mean it’s only about 90 minutes long and it was hardly going to be too taxing for me. It’s classic teen girl romantic comedy. You could take out a checklist and tick everything of because it’s all there: girl struggling to make as a writer; handsome Prince; sick younger sibling; strict mother; bitchy romantic competition; and an evil cousin. It’s also got a Christmas tree in basically every scene just because you can’t ever forget that he’s not just a Prince: he’s a Christmas Prince.

This film is a mash-up of so many shitty romantic comedies. A young wannabe writer gets the chance of a lifetime to write a story on the complicated situation with the royal family of Aldovia (a generic European country where everyone speaks with a British accent and everything is twee and old-fashioned). The King is dead but his heir, Prince Richard, wants to relinquish his hold on the throne. Rumour has it the young prince is too much of a playboy to bother with ruling over his people so our heroine, Amber, must find out what’s going on. Unfortunately, she is mistaken for the tutor brought in to teach Richard’s young sister, Emily, who suffers for spina bifida. Amber decides to keep up with the charade in order to find her story.

I don’t really need to spell out what happens next do I? It’s all so basic and unoriginal that it’s as if Netflix wrote this using a teen romance algorithm. You know that episode of South Park where the kids discover that family guy is written by manatees choosing balls at random? I imagine a similar situation except with Christmas Elves opening crackers or some other festive shit. There’s no real attempt to make this film funny, good, or original. So much of this is frustratingly bad and doesn’t make sense. I don’t understand the motivations of anyone. The mood and character of everyone changes in the blink of an eye to help move the plot along. The main character is an awful manic pixie dream girl type who definitely wouldn’t be trusted to write this kind of story. And, finally, at the end of the film she starts a new blog, writes one post and gets 20,000 views in 3 days. I mean that’s fucking nonsense. 

Except, despite hating so much about this film I didn’t exactly hate it. There’s something addictive about such terrible stuff. I hate everything about the film Mama Mia but have the urge to watch it occasionally. For the past two days, a friend at work and I have been constantly quoting Tommy Wisseau from The Room because it’s so fucking funny. Most bad films (like Geostorm) are so bad that they’re just bad. Occasionally. though, bad film will come along that makes your heart soar because of how bad it is. You almost become proud that it was even made. It’s like rooting for the underdog. This is the film equivalent of Eddie the Eagle or something. You know it’s got no substance but you can’t stop yourself cheering for it… and isn’t that what Christmas is really about? It’s not but who cares?

TBT – Notting Hill (1999)

TBT – Notting Hill (1999)

I’m not going to lie to you guys, my schedule has gone a little awry this week. I didn’t watch anything for today’s post yesterday as I intended so had to quickly find something appropriate whilst browsing Netflix as soon as I got home from work. It’s the end of my working week so I’m pretty tired and just picked the first film that seemed like an easy watch. It certainly doesn’t link to my review of 6 Days from earlier this week. I do prefer it when there seems to be some method to my madness but that definitely isn’t the case. However, I’m a consummate professional so should be able to come up with a logical reason if you’ll give me a moments thought. Ahem. I opened Tuesday’s post talking about how Jamie Bell will always be Billy Elliot in my eyes, which links to the star of today’s film I guess. To me and most people in the world, Hugh Grant is, and forever will be, the bumbling, floppy haired idiot who starred in loads of Richard Curtis romantic comedies. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to take him seriously in anything and have just come to believe that any Hugh Grant film I see will basically just be Notting Hill 2 or something. Which is fine, I guess, as I don’t exactly go rushing out to see Hugh Grant movies any more. This isn’t the 90s for fuck’s sake. However, it is late on a Thursday night and, having to be up early to get shit done tomorrow, Notting Hill seemed like a fairly adequate choice for my viewing pleasure. It’s actually been ages since I saw it.

I pride myself on my dislike of romantic-comedies. It’s not that I think they’re inherently bad films or that I’m too much of cynic to enjoy them. Contrary to popular belief, my heart isn’t made of stone and I’m a sucker for a good love story every now and then. The key word being, of course, a “good” love story. I find most rom-coms that I’ve ever seen to be annoyingly unrealistic and just far too predictable. Every single meet-cute that you see on screen is absolutely absurd and, were they to happen in real life, would in no way lead to anyone falling in love. The romantic-comedy is just a massive cliche based around the basic premise of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy desperately tries to win girl back with massive romantic gesture. It’s up to the individual writer to fill in the remaining time with any number of awful coincidences and stupid misunderstandings that keep the pair apart for as long as possible. After all, we’ve got to amp up that emotional drama level.

As rom-coms go, Notting Hill has a a pretty long running time so there are plenty of chances to keep the two potential lovers from getting together. Is it too long a film? Definitely. Does it matter? To be honest, you don’t really feel the drag too much because this film exists in such a pleasant bubble that you can’t help but get dragged in. The London of Richard Curtis’ Notting Hill is that twee and cutesy version of England where everyone lives by the “Keep calm and carry on” system and, when things get bad, sticks the kettle on and opens some biscuits. This isn’t real London by any stretch of the imagination. The cast of characters is part of that increasingly eccentric breed of British people that exists in Hollywood to cover up the fact that, in reality, British people are just a bunch of dickheads. Notting Hill isn’t just a romantic-comedy; it’s a fucking fairy tale.

The unbelievable narrative sees travel book shop owner Will Thacker (Hugh Grant) meet mega Hollywood starlet Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) when she decides to browse his shop for a book about Turkey (obviously). When he accidentally spills orange juice on her, the actress agrees to go into this perfect strangers house to change and gets about a course of events that sees Will fraudulently claim to be a member of the press, chase Anna across London and, basically, make a huge tit of himself every chance he gets. There’s a lot of guff about real people falling in love with a celebrity and the intrusion of the press but, when it comes down to it, Notting Hill is like any other Curtis rom-com.

However, after watching it again I am annoyed to say that I kind of enjoyed it. I mean it’s as predictable and silly as any film of this genre but there is something quite nice about it. Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts are both good in their roles and you can’t help but want this two attractive bastards to just make it work. Will’s group of weirdo, outcast friends seem like a super nice bunch of people who, despite never being able to exist in real life, add a great layer of humour and heart to the main narrative. The film does experience an obvious dip in quality as it goes along but not so much that it drags along. The opening is funny and kind of heartwarming in its own way and the first press junket scene is still a joy to watch.

Despite a few misguided attempts to make a point about journalism and privacy, this isn’t a serious or clever film. It doesn’t need to be. It’s just the story of a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her. And, despite my hard, hard heart, that’s fucking adorable.

Classic Gothic fiction – where to start?

Classic Gothic fiction – where to start?

I’ve been a huge fan of the literature of the Romantic period since I was 16 years old and I first read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. It was unlike any other poem that I’d ever read and I wanted to read more. I attended Lancaster University as an Undergraduate and was able to immerse myself deeper into that period. Obviously, a University that is so close to the Lake District has a strong connection to Romantic poets so it was easy to indulge my passion. The more I read the more I loved it. I fell in love with Byron and Shelley. I adore Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley. I’ve grown frustrated with young women sighing over Keats and championing Jane Austen as a pioneer for modern feminism. It’s been a long and fulfilling love affair with a period of literature that has such a rich literary and historical significance. Something that I further explored when I studied Romantic Literature and Culture for my Postgraduate degree. Of course, when I told most people the name of my course they assumed I was studying the works of Gilly Cooper or something. Seriously, if I had £1 for the number of times I’ve had to explain it to people then I still wouldn’t be able to pay off my student debts but I’d have a fair few pound coins.

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Tuesday’s Reviews – The Answers by Catherine Lacey

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Answers by Catherine Lacey


For a recent Instagram challenge I was asked to review my favourite September read using only emojis. This proved difficult for various reasons. The first being that I, shamefully, only read 2 books this month and wouldn’t really say I loved either of them enough to name a favourite. Then there was the problem of the actual review. It’s going to be difficult enough to sum up my feelings for Catherine Lacey’s The Answers with words so doing it using tiny digital pictures wasn’t exactly going to turn out great. I’m already working from the disadvantage of being a fucking idiot so trying to dumb down my already dumb opinions was a recipe for disaster. Anyway, I cobbled something together but it’s hardly the most useful review I’ve ever written. Not that I’m sure any of them have ever been any help to anyone but we’ve all got to have a hobby. I never read Catherine Lacey’s debut novel Nobody is Ever Missing but I was drawn to her second novel from the first time I read about it. It featured in my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2017’ list and I spent most of the year lusting after it. I don’t really know what I expected from this novel. Part of me thought it sounded like an episode of Black Mirror and the other thought it might prove to be a bit more chick-lit. Whatever it was going to be, I knew it was going to be better than the truly disappointing One of Us if Lying that was my other September read. There’s very little that could have been worse but I’ve already discussed that.

The Answers has a very promising title. Even Douglas Adams couldn’t provide us with an adequate answer in Hitchhikers Guide. So, in her second novel, could Catherine Lacey really provide us the answer to life, the universe and everything? On the surface her novel is the story of a 30 year old woman with a chequered past and riddled with debt. After escaping from a childhood spent in isolation with a religious fanatic for a father, Mary found freedom in New York but spent beyond her means. It was then that her mysterious illnesses made her life a misery and modern medicine scratch its head in confusion. Unable to find any other way out, Mary turned to holistic healing in the form of PAKing; a strange alternative treatment that not only helped her immensely but added to her already considerable money troubles. In order to fund the necessary therapy Mary answers a vague job advertisement that changes her life.

She is accepted to take part in something called the Girlfriend Experiment or the GX for short. It is the brainchild of superstar actor/director Kurt Sky and a group of scientists interested in studying relationships and love. After experiencing years of romantic indifference and creative despair, Kurt is turning his attention to finding out what makes people tick. Why do human beings have such a deep seated desire to pair off and bond for life? Is it something that holds them back or helps them on their journeys? To find this out, Kurt hires a gaggle of women to perform specific duties in his life. Mary is the emotional girlfriend and is responsible for listening to Kurt’s feelings, fears and secrets. There are separate women acting as the Anger girlfriend, the Maternal girlfriend, the Mundanity girlfriend and a couple of Intimacy girlfriends. Can Kurt understand the human experience by scripting his entire relationship needs through these perfect strangers and will any attachments form along the way?

The Answers follows this basic narrative whilst skipping between perspectives. We start and end with Mary’s first-person narrative but the main portion of the novel flits between third-person perspectives of Mary, Kurt and Ashley (the Anger girlfriend). Lacey uses these differing perspectives to question different aspects of the human psychology and various attitudes to relationships in general. I have to admit that it was jarring at first but the switching narratives ends up working with Lacey’s purpose. The Answers isn’t, strictly speaking, a novel but, for the most part, reads more like a study of humanity. It is a very clever novel that spends more time ruminating over the question of love than it really does on its plot. It is highly intelligent and forces you to think about things in a way you never would have otherwise. It’s an exciting exploration into such a huge aspect of humanity and social constructs that there are times when you really forget you’re reading a piece of fiction.

That’s not to say that it isn’t a decent novel. It is very driven towards character and features a great deal of amazing writing. Lacey has a command of the English language that is both beautiful and fascinating. It is at times highly lyrical and fanciful and at others staunchly scientific and stiff. It is a style that only highlights the various questions and ideas on display. She also creates some interesting characters along the way. Both Mary and Ashley are fascinating and have a lot to say about gender and equality. They are two women who have experienced different forms of abuse in previous relationships and are hiding secrets from the world. They are both running from their pasts but using very different methods. The pair find themselves both drawn to and alienated from Kurt but are tied to him through financial necessity. The Answers raises questions about the place of females in society but it never quite manages to give the answers that its title so proudly suggests it will.

I really liked most of Lacey’s novel. I loved the set up of the narrative and was really drawn into her analysis of the human condition. There is a great deal of deep and wonderful writing on display and I was sure that I was going to love it. However, the ending left me a little cold. It kind of felt like everything got away from her a little and she just didn’t know where to go with it. Everything was set up for something magical but it just, sort of, fizzled out into nothing. But not in that “I’m being clever and saying something important” way. In the “what the fuck do I do now?” kind of way. It’s a shame because Lacey builds towards something important and intelligent throughout most of the novel. She just fails to provide the answers that she promises. Maybe she just wasn’t asking the right questions?

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

Tuesday’s Reviews – The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

This is one of those books that I’d seen all over Instagram but never thought I’d read. Call me a snob if you wish but I’m always a bit wary of books that have been endorsed by Richard and Judy. I mean they don’t have a great track record of picking out the literary greats. It also just seemed like the sort of romantic-comedy kind of shit that I try and avoid. I don’t wish to insult anyone who loves a piece of chick lit but I can’t put up with the cliches and the idealism that is central to the plot. It’s all very dreamy and not very realistic. Still, when happening upon a Kindle deal I bought the eBook and, later, decided to buy a cheap copy of the audiobook. I guess I still didn’t have any real plans to read/listen to it any time soon but it was comforting to know it was there if I ever needed an easy read. Then, without any warning, I became obsessed with Audible so when I finished Norse Mythology last week I was desperate to start another one. I randomly picked this out of the ones I have mostly because it was the shortest but also because I like having a copy of the book to go alongside it. So I still wasn’t exactly going into this full of anticipation and excitement. I was hardly open-minded but I figured it couldn’t possibly be the worst thing I’d ever read. Especially considering some of the shit I had to read at university.

The multiverse theory creates a, literally, endless supply of narrative possibilities. I mean when you accept that there exists an infinite number of parallel universes then you have so much more room to play with. I am, personally, kept awake at night that, in all probability, there is a least one timeline in which Bradley Cooper is a double Oscar winner. It’s a terrifying thought. It is an idea that has fascinated storytellers for years and Laura Barnett is just the latest to utilise the multiple timeline gimmick for her debut novel. She is essentially pulling a Sliding Doors but, ingeniously, amps up the drama by adding a third timeline for shits and giggles.There’s also more than a hint of One Day in there because why borrow something from one well-known source when you can just keep piling allusions on top of it?

The Versions of Us revolves around the lives of Eva and Jim two students who are both attending Cambridge university in the late 1950s. One afternoon Eva is hurriedly making her way to a tutorial to hand in her essay on TS Eliot. It is this moment that causes her future to split off into, in this case, 3 separate timelines. In the first, her bike gets a puncture and Jim is on hand to fix it for her. The pair fall in love, get married and settle into post-university life. In the second, the bike remains in tact, the pair miss their chance and head towards alternative partners. In the final instalment, the pair fall in love until an unforeseen circumstance forces Eva to let her love go. The novel then splits between the 3 strands as their lives move on and the pair age.

Now, I admit that I found the premise kind interesting in the same way that anyone would. As human beings we can’t help but wonder “what if?” We’re always wondering how different our lives would have been if one tiny little detail had changed. So it seemed like an interesting concept and Laura Barnett does quite well at executing it. She picks key moments in her protagonists lives and shows them from the perspective of each timeline. The perspective swaps between Eva and Jim at every change. Barnett juggles her three strands quite well and keeps fairly good control over whats going on.

However, I found the whole switching around thing a huge faff quite early on. I understand why we need to see things from both Eva and Jim’s perspective but the constant switching of voices and timelines just got supremely irritating. The constant jumping also works against the narrative because, although the short chapters are easy to get through, it doesn’t allow much time to get to know anybody. We see such tiny snippets of the characters’ lives that we get bombarded with information without any real room to breathe. The novel ends up feeling unsettled and kind of shallow. We’re just jumping from one brief moment to the next and not really getting a sense of a full life. At least One Day felt slightly less rushed because it was only dealing with 2 lives and not 6.

I think Barnett’s debut is a very confident one and I didn’t really dislike her writing. What I did dislike was the basic concept, which is a problem. It doesn’t feel substantial and just falls into cliches from the opening page. You can guess the kind of problems that will end up filtering into the lives of both Eva and Jim and guess what trajectory their future will take. I also find that the different timelines are all very simplified. I wish there had been greater differences between them all. It’s all very neat for the structure to have characters die at the same time and in the same way in each version but it doesn’t feel very realistic. I needed more difference between the 3. Also, it really relies too heavily on the concept of soul-mates and destiny for my liking. I’ve never been a big believer of one person having that one person who is perfect for them but, despite not giving us any real reason to explain why, The Versions of Us expects us to believe that no matter what Jim and Eva are destined to love each other in one way or another. It feels kind of childish to me.

I also find myself quibbling at certain historical aspects that don’t seem quite right. Some anachronisms that just didn’t sit well with me. Although this kind of feels beside the point, it’s these little details that make the overall feel of this book sloppy. Still, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the stories and I did find it easy to carry on to the next chapter. Although, this could have more to do with the short chapter lengths. I do have to say, after reading a GoodReads review moaning about the ending, that I liked the way the stories all ended abruptly. There shouldn’t be any real ending because that’s not life. I could have done with more detail and greater attention to detail but The Versions of Us is a good read for what it tries to do. Whether it should have tried it subject to debate but the end result isn’t terrible.

TBT – Stardust (2007)

TBT – Stardust (2007)

When it comes to romantic comedies I can’t say that I’m a huge fan. I’m much too cynical and, if we’re being honest, it’s all been done a thousand times before. Boy meets girl. Boy tries to make girl fall in love with him. Stuff happens. Happily ever after. I just never find it an incredibly inspiring to sit down and watch them so I avoid them. However, if ever there was going to be a writer who could change my mind about the whole concept it would be Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is the much loved fantasy, horror, science fiction, anything else you can think of writer who has penned such notable works as The Sandman comic book series as well as numerous novels and short story collections. Stardust is, in a way, Gaiman’s own The Princess Bride  (incidentally, this is one of the few romantic comedies that I genuinely adore). Now, I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m a fan of Neil Gaiman’s writing and I would recommend his books to anyone. His writing is like magic. There’s nobody quite like him. Yet, I’ve never really been a massive fan of any adaptations of his work. Well, that’s not quite true. I like them but I can’t say I love them. I could read and reread Gaiman’s work any number of times but I don’t think I’d ever watch one his films or TV shows more than once. Except maybe Coraline because that was fucking awesome. There’s something that just gets lost in translation and I don’t have that same connection with them. It’s why I never rewatched this film until I needed something to review for today… and it’s why I’m in no real rush to watch it again.

We’re all pretty familiar with swashbuckling romances, right? A handsome young man goes off on an adventure to win his fair maidens heart and must overcome all the obstacles in his way. Stardust follows that basic plot but gives it a decidedly Neil Gaiman spin. The plot, adapted from Gaiman’s original novel, follows Tristan Thorne (Charlie Cox) a resident in a quiet little village called Wall.The village has been named for the stonewall than runs along it that, legend tells, separates merry old England from the magical realm of Stormhold. Tristan has fallen in love with the beautiful but selfish Victoria (Sienna Miller) but is about to lose her to his rival Humphrey. Until, after spotting a shooting star in the sky, Tristan promises to bring his love the fallen star in exchange for her hand. Unfortunately, this means a trip beyond the wall and into the unknown.

It also turns out to be rather difficult as the star has turned into a stubborn and sassy young woman, Yvaine (Claire Danes) and Tristan has a hard time persuading her to come with him. Then you have the added problem of a trio of witches, headed up by the vicious Lamia (Michelle Pfeiffer), who want to track down the girl, eat her heart and receive immortality. Finally, as if that weren’t enough, Yvaine has taken possession of a ruby that belonged to the recently deceased King of Stormhold (Peter O’Toole) who has declared that the first of his make heirs to find the stone will be the next rightful ruler of the land. All parties end up chasing down the hapless pair as they slowly make their way back to Wall before Victoria’s birthday.

That’s the main problem with Stardust really. There is a lot going on and it all gets a bit haphazard on screen. The plot manages to stay fairly faithful to the book but, in a desire to manage this, everything moves quite quickly. It gets pretty confusing and there are some liberties that are taken to ensure that some sort of narrative structure exists. Things don’t naturally fit into place and there are several awkward moments that are intended for the sole purpose of holding things together. It’s a tad messy and could easily have been fixed with a bit of careful editing.

There are plenty of star studded cameos throughout the film with supporting characters popping up to play their small part in Tristan and Yvaine’s epic journey. It is an inspired cast but some of these moments just feel unnecessary or uncomfortable. By far the best and the worst is Robert DeNiro as Captain Shakespeare, the man in charge of an airship that farms lightening. Though he has the reputation of a fearsome pirate, Captain Shakespeare is a campy relic that should have been left in the 70s. As fun as DeNiro is in the role his performance just feels a bit like an outdated relic.

Aside from that we have turns from fantastic British comedians and comedy actors which work in varying degrees. The ghosts of the the Kings dead sons, all of whom have fallen in the family tradition of brother killing brother in the race for succession, just about work as they hang around like Hamlet Snr. and weigh in on their siblings failures. Ricky Gervais’ time on screen just seems like a desperate attempt to let him be the same character he always plays. I could have done without it. Ultimately, it feels as though the sheer number of famous faces is a bit of a gimmick and it just adds to the already complicated nature of the film.

It tries desperately to let the narrative survive but it comes at the expense of good storytelling. There are obvious comparisons to The Princess Bride and the work of Terry Gilliam but Stardust neither has the original of Gilliam nor the heart and soul of Rob Reiner’s great romantic adventure. Stardust is a sweet and perfectly enjoyable film. There are some great moments and, thanks to Pfeiffer and Mark Strong, couple of incredible villains to amp up the tension. However, it loses itself in the scope of what it is trying to achieve. It’s trying to be a bit of every genre it can think of and it tries to flit between drama and comedy without any real thought. It’s silly but neither it’s not quite silly enough. It’s scary but not quite scary enough. It’s romantic but not quite romantic enough… oh, you get the idea. It’s not a bad film. It’s just not a great one either. I mean, it’s not a great sign when the thing I love most about this film is the Take That song that plays over the credits.

Tuesday’s Reviews: The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

Tuesday’s Reviews: The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

I read The Rosie Project about a year ago I think and I did quite like it. I wasn’t sure I would because a girl at work who really doesn’t have the same reading tastes as I do was raving about it. It turned out to be a pretty adorable romantic-comedy. However, I wasn’t exactly sure about it’s representation of Asperger’s. I liked that it showed the potential for love and typical relationships but also felt it was kind of romanticised. In the same way the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope irritatingly draws up this image of a wild and free young woman who will turn a young man’s life upside down, The Rosie Project presented Autism as another thing women should be adding to their lists of desires in a mate; like it was something up there with good sense of humour or ability to put the toilet seat down. I understand that Autism doesn’t mean a person can live a “normal” life but I felt that it was treated more like a quirk than a real issue. Whilst The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time explored the consequences of Asperger’s The Rosie Project just used it as a gimmick. So I never read the sequel. However, I was intrigued enough by Simsion’s writing to be excited by his first non-Don Tilman related novel: The Best of Adam Sharp. It took me a while to get through because I’m easily distracted and useless but I’ve finally done it.

The Best of Adam Sharp introduces us to Adam Sharp, a middle-aged database expert whose real passion is the piano. He has settled into a comfortable but unremarkable relationship with Claire and the pair live quite happily in their childless existence. Until a blast from Adam’s past stirs up some feelings he’d pushed to one side. 20 odd years earlier, Adam was consulting in Australia and, somehow, managed to meet aspiring actress Angelina Brown. They end up having a short-lived but passionate love affair until the pair went their separate ways. Cut to the present day when a single-word email reminds Adam of what he’s been missing all of these years.

I picked this novel up without hesitation because I like the themes the narrative is based around. Looking back into your own past and wondering about how different your life could have been is something everyone without the luxury of youth and limited responsibility can understand. Regret and the idea of lost love are universal themes so it seemed that Simsion would be on safe ground. Surely, if his writing in The Rosie Project was anything to go by, he’d be able to bring some humour and fresh insight into the equation. Which, to be fair, he does. This is an often shrewd and funny look at the life of a middle-aged man who has some big questions to ask himself.

The Best of Adam Sharp is not a quaint and happy little read full of nice and good people. This is a long and drawn out story about people who make morally questionable decisions all the time. The characters here feel more real than the ones we meet in The Rosie Project but you will find yourself loving them less. I’ve seen a lot of GoodReads reviews of this book criticising the awful characters which is super irritating. Real people are dicks. It’s much more interesting to read about these character than the non-existent kind who never do or think anything selfish. They are, in the style the author has created in his previous 2 books, very well written and developed. We learn a fair amount about these characters and what makes them tick. You won’t always agree with them but, at least, you’ll understand them.

My major issue with the novel is the narrative structure and pacing. The first half of the story flits back and forth between Adam’s present life and his past with Angelina in Australia. I’ve never been a fan of these time splits and, here more than ever, it feels kind of grating and unsettling. However, it is in these sections that the narrative itself flies. We learn more about the characters and the mapping out of Adam’s two key relationships is beautifully realised. The way Adam relates his memories to the music he was influenced by at the time presents a fantastic theme throughout the book. What Simsion does remarkably well here is understand the deep impact music, and indeed all culture, has on a person’s life.

The novel reaches decidedly shaky ground during the second half when, after plenty of soul-searching, Adam goes to stay with his ex and her husband in France. The plot here gets decidedly dicey and falls well into what I can only refer to as soap-opera scenarios. These scenes are definitely the weakest of them all and it feels a little laboured and unnecessary at times. However, it leads to a fantastic finale where the themes finally come together and we all get the payoff we deserve. A lot of people who loved The Rosie Project won’t love this book because it isn’t all hearts and flowers. It deals with a lot of “grown-up issues” in a darker and more adult way. It tackles difficult questions about regret, desire and love. It introduces us to a flawed man who needs to find the right balance between the love he hears about in songs and the kind of connection that works in the real world. It’s not perfect but it’s a fantastic read.

TBT – Beauty and the Beast (1991)

TBT – Beauty and the Beast (1991)

I went to the cinema with a friend today and she happened to mention that she’d just seen the remake of Beauty and the Beast. When I asked her what she thought about it her answer was “I really liked it because it’s exactly the same.” Anyone who has read my review from Tuesday will know that, whilst I didn’t hate the film, I didn’t exactly feel blown away by the new film. Especially after we’d been promised such great things by its director, Bill Condon, and its star, Emma Watson. My issue with the film is exactly the reason that people love it so much. The reviews have been great because it is exactly the same as the film they love. The film took no risks and added nothing new to the narrative, except for a wife for Cogsworth and a husband for Mrs Potts. There’s been great feedback from audiences but it’s mostly because it just reminds them how good the original film is. It feels like cheating. Why would you want to watch an imitation when you can still watch the real thing? It’s like tribute bands to real bands that are still touring. Yeah, it’s fine in a pinch but you’d much rather see the real deal. So, for TBT this week, I did.

Beauty and the Beast is getting older now. It’s only 3 years younger than I am and I’m fucking old. However, saying that it’s old does not mean that it is in anyway inferior. You can tell that isn’t because the updated film is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the original animated film. Of course, for all of the nostalgic warmth that Emma Watson and co. may have been able to drum up, there can be no substitute for the real thing. No matter how dodgy the story at the heart of it is deep down. I mean, I know that Coke is really bad for me because of the sugar but that doesn’t mean I’m going to start drinking Diet Coke with it’s shitty tasting sweeteners, does it. There is so much charm within the ’90s animation that just couldn’t be replicated with a cavalcade of CGI household objects.

There’s a reason that Beauty and the Beast was the first animated film to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s possible it could be because 1991 was a shitty year for films but, looking at the evidence, it’s more likely that it was because Beauty and the Beast is a fucking great film. It’s a triumph of animation, voice acting, and soundtrack. Everything comes together perfectly to create a truly magical experience that helped strengthen a new era in terms of Disney’s movies. Emma Watson may be desperately trying to convince us that her version of Belle is a super feminist but, the fact is, Belle kind of broke the Princess mould back in ’91. Yes, the story is all about love but Belle doesn’t spend all of her time mooning over a guy. She craves adventure and bravely steps into dangerous situations to save her family. She’s intelligent, creative and wants to make something of herself. She’s always been inspirational.

But, let’s be honest, the story itself isn’t what made this film so memorable. It’s a story about a girl meeting a guy and the story of how they fall in love. Just like every other Disney film. This film holds up because it is so incredibly well made. When we look back now and remember that, in another timeline, Beauty and the Beast could have been made as a non-musical it seems insane. The soundtrack, created by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken, is pretty flawless. The compositions are rich and memorable, whilst the lyrics are funny, emotional and really clever. It helps that the voice actors give such solid performances. Angela Lansbury’s version of the title song can not be surpassed for the understated simplicity that makes is so romantic. I love Emma Thompson but she lacked something the ’91 version had oodles of.

It’s one of the reasons that ballroom scene is such an iconic moment in film history. The grandness of the animation next to Angela Lansbury’s almost timid performance is quite spectacular. To be honest, the song didn’t need to be something too extravagant because the visuals were so impressive. This was the first Disney film that used any digital assistance in its creation and it remains an impressive feat even to this day. The details on Belle’s dress as she twirls round the ballroom is still some of the best animation I’ve ever seen. The world of Beauty and the Beast is a classic cartooony Disney world but it was a revolutionary step into their golden age. This was film made by the best people that could be found and it has stood the test of time. Call me cynical or biased but it’s not something I expect to be saying about the latest version in 26 years time.