30 Books For My 30th – Number 26

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dscn7347Dear William Shakespeare,

I think the first time I can remember studying you in any depth was in year 8. So I would have been about 12/13 years old if my maths is any good. We were focusing on Macbeth and, in particular, the witches speech. We had to come up with our own version or something. I’m not entirely sure what the point of studying you at that time was but I was definitely drawn in by the whole witch and magic vibe that you were giving off. So, you could say, I’ve loved you from the beginning. And it’s a love that has continued with every new play I have discovered and with every play that I have revisited. With every sonnet I’ve analysed. With every play I’ve watched or film adaptation I’ve seen. I wouldn’t go so far as to compare it to Romeo and Juliet’s because we all know how stupid that whole relationship was but I’d happily compare it to Nerissa and Gratiano (one of the most underappreciated but most adorable romances in your plays).

And I could go on and on about why I loved you and what you mean to me. I could tell you which my favourite plays are. Question why I still find myself having to reassure people who you aren’t too difficult or the language is too hard to understand. I could thank you for the many ways in which you’ve changed our language or our culture. How you’ve remained relevant for such a long time and remain one of the key figures in English literature. I could revisit some of the times I’ve watched you on stage. Name drop Michael Sheen again and talk about how great an experience it was to watch him play Hamlet on stage. How watching Tom Hiddleston play Coriolanus whilst sitting next to a non-Shakespearean friend was both an uplifting and totally anxiety-filled experience. I could go on and on about how wonderful you are. But I won’t.

Instead, because I might not get this chance again, I want to ask you a question. What’s with all the cross-dressing, dude? I mean, was it really that funny to have so many of your characters dress up in someone else’s clothes and be mistaken for someone else? Was it really worth the cheap laughs to have The Merchant of Venice end on a pointless case of women dressing as men again? It undervalues the rest of the narrative to have that scene at the end where the two women trick their new husbands into giving them their rings. I was with you when Portia was using the disguise to school a bunch of men even if it does raise some questions. It was still a power move. But then the thing about the rings? Unnecessary. Portia is one of the most irritating women in you plays and it’s because she plays that stupid game. And don’t even get me started on Rosalind.

Was the taste in humour so unsophisticated in your day that all it took was one women to dress up as a man to create the best comedy of all time? Imagine what your audiences would have though of Mrs Brown’s Boys. They’d bloody love it. But I’m happy that you found something that worked for you. And, maybe, you were making some bold statement about gender and women. Maybe you were allowing these women to take a significant part in their stories that they would have been unable to do dressed as a man. Maybe. Or maybe it was simply to give the poor young man pretending to be Portia a chance to play a boy for once? Either way. I’m worried about you, man.
Exit, pursued by a bear.

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Monday Rundown – That’s What She Read

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So, eagle-eyed readers out there will realise that I’m a day late with my weekly rundown. That’s because I only got back from London today. I’ve had a lovely but busy weekend visiting my friend so decided to leave this until tonight. The weekend has been great. I watched a terribly Christmas classic in Jingle All the Way on Saturday night but balanced it out by watching A Muppet Christmas Carol immediately after. I listened to some poetry, visited the design museum and went round an incredibly patronising exhibition about the North. As two Northerners we couldn’t help but cringe about the awful way the Somerset House exhibition portrayed Northerners. It was totally misjudged in tone and, really, only helped strengthen unhelpful stereotypes about the North/South divide. But I don’t want to get into that right now. On with the rundown.

Weekly Blog Posts

  • TUESDAY’S REVIEWS – Jim and Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)

I’ve been waiting for this documentary to come to Netflix for so long and, when it finally did, I couldn’t wait any longer to watch it. Was it worth it? Find out in my review here.

  • BOOK POST – The Guilty Reader Tag

Amazing! I finally have something to say for this section of my rundown. It’s not very inspiring but this tag might give you a little bit of insight into who I am as a person. Find out for yourself here.

  • TBT – Man on the Moon (1999)

I couldn’t not watch Jim and Andy and then miss the chance to (re)watch the original film. Did the behind the scenes view have an impact on my viewing? Find out in my TBT post here.

Recently Finished

  • Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
It took god knows how long to get there but I finally have. I’ve got a fairly busy week but I’m hoping to post my review of this book on Wednesday. Check back later to find out if I manage it or not.

Currently Reading
  • Autumn by Ali Smith

When the winner of the Man Booker prize was announced I was really pleased because I loved Lincoln in the Bardo. However, that wasn’t the reaction of everyone. Some random on Instagram was poo pooing the winning book and saying this book by Ali Smith was the only deserving winner. In the name of fairness (and not because I’m really petty) I decided to see for myself. I started it on the train to London and it’s better than I was expecting. I didn’t get very far though. We’ll have to see.

Recently Purchased 
  • Cheap book haul

So I bought a couple of new books when I found them on offer on Amazon for Cyber Monday and I also snagged a few new Vintage Penguins. Amazing result.

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – I bizarrely don’t seem to have a copy of this book anymore so I couldn’t resist the gorgeous new (I think) hardback edition from Harper Collins. Plus, it was also only £4. Genius.
  • Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood – Another cheap buy and one that I’ve wanted for ages. Although, I’ve have a few of these Shakespeare rewritings on my shelf for a while and never got anywhere with them. The Tempest really isn’t my favourite play but this sounds really good. And if anyone can make it interesting then it’s Atwood, right?
  • Vintage Penguins – I bought a few more of these than I needed to but I can never resist a beautiful vintage penguin.
    • Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    • Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
    • My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
    • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
    • The Nuremberg Trials by R.W. Cooper
Recently Watched 
  • Netflix Binges: QI, Compete to Eat
I’ve not really watched a lot this week. I guess it helps that my days off have both involved me being really busy. I was either preparing for my weekend away or travelling to London. I did manage to watch a bit more QI, which is always a lovely way to pass the time. Then I binged watched Compete to Eat: a ridiculous cooking show where two chefs head to cabins in the Canadian wilderness and try to cook a 3 course meal with whatever they find in the cupboards. I love a good cooking show but this definitely isn’t one. I watched it whilst I was packing and only got the end so it wouldn’t show up on the ‘Continue’ section of my Netflix home page.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

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So I’ve only got one more day left of my holiday before I’m back at work for 6 straight days. I’m not sure I’m ready for it but I guess I have to start earning my keep again. In the last week I’ve not done as much as I wanted to but I’ve actually been quite good at getting ahead in terms of Instagram. It means I should be able to cope with the rest of this month without worrying about lighting and stuff. I won’t have many opportunities after I go back to work to get pictures taken until after dark so I’ve been planning ahead. It means some of my ideas have been a bit ropy but some of them are turning out pretty well. Now I just need to get ahead with posts and reviews so I don’t have to worry when I’m away later in the month. Turns out that after all these years, organisation is actually really useful. If only I’d thought of this sooner.

Just Finished

  • Camp Nightmare by R.L Stine

This week I hadn’t done any reading of The Plague so I decided it was time to do something else. It’s not that it’s a bad book but it just requires more attention than I have at the moment. So last night I decided to pick up this classic from my childhood and I got through it in a matter of hours. It wasn’t exactly a great read 20 years on but I enjoyed the feeling of actually completing a book. It’s hopefully inspired me to keep the pace up.

Currently Reading

  • The Plague by Albert Camus
I’m thinking of retiring this book because it’s been over a month since I started it and I feel like I’m getting nowhere. I don’t want to stop it because picking it up again later will likely be a nightmare but I want to read more than I currently am. Maybe I’ll put it on a brief hiatus and come back to it in a few days? Once I’ve read some easier stuff maybe I’ll have got back into the rhythm?

Recently Purchased
  • The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire
This week has seen me embark on an adventure to read more poetry. I love poetry but, since finishing university, I have’t exactly kept up with it. I never really know how to aproach it as a past time. Do you read the book cover to cover or dip in and out when you fancy it? Which poems do you start with? It’s all so confusing. This collection has been on my radar for a while and it finally seemed like the time to buy it. It’s a collection of modern poetry that rocked the world and was highly praised by TS Eliot. When it comes to Modern poets, outside of Eliot, I’m pretty clueless. That’s the price of focusing on Romanticism folks. Still, this seems like a good place to start.   
  • Penguins Poems for Love by Laura Barber (ed.)
Its nearly Valentines day and, when I was caught up in the sentiments of the holiday, I fell in love with this book of love poetry. It’s beautiful. I probably already own books containing the poems here but it’s always useful to have a collection of romantic poems at hand. Just in case.  
  • By Heart 101: Poems To Remember by Ted Hughes (ed.)
Another collection of well known poetry that I mainly purchased in the hope that it would help with my memory for poetry. I used to be really good at remembering lines of poems but now I feel like I’ve got too much to concentrate on. My memory is focusing on other things and has no time for poetry. So I wanted to see if this books would actually help me. As well as being a collection of great poems, Ted Hughes offers instructions on how to best remember poetry in his introduction. Let’s see if it works. 
  • Shakespeare’s Love Sonnets by William Shakespeare
I have not been able to resist beautiful copies of love poems this week. I already own countless copies of Shakespeare’s Sonnets but this one is absolutely gorgeous. The poems come accompanied by illustrations by Caitlin Keegan. I love it already.
  • The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
I haven’t seen the movie Carol yet. I’m planning on watching it in the coming few days so I can write a Tuesday post about it. When I was purchasing the film I decided it was about time that I read the story it was based on. Originally published under a pseudonym, this is a completely different type of story to the Ripley novels that Highsmith is best known for. I’m excited to read this. 

Recently Watched
  • Alien
After watching Jackie for my Tuesday review I decided to revisit this sci-fi classic in my quest to honour John Hurt’s death. Needless to say it was fucking amazing. You can read more great thoughts like this here.

  • 24
I’m currently about halfway through season 3 and it’s been great going back. Season 1 was too familiar to really enjoy and Season 2 is still super shit but it feels kind of relevant these days. Season 3 is my favourite series. Mainly because I fucking love Chloe but it’s also the series I’ve watched the most times. I think the narrative works best for this series. The whole structure feels less awkward. It doesn’t feel like the writers are purposefully stalling for time but actually telling a coherent story. The other seasons sometimes tend to push the subplots too far in order to fill the 24 episodes. Just look at basically all of Kim’s stories and you’ll see what I mean.

Belated Top 10 Wen-sday: Top 10 Literary Couples

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Valentines Day is coming up and love is in the air. People are obsessed. I’ve been seeing chocolate hearts, soppy cards, and stuffed animals for bloody ages now. I’m getting sick of it but decided I couldn’t really avoid it. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of Instagram challenges, which has been fine but there are times when I really have to think about certain prompts. The most recent one I struggled with was “Favourite Literary Couple”. When it comes to traditional views on literary love I tend to buck the trends. I hate Romeo and Juliet. Heathcliffe and Cathy are a disaster. Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester is a creepy relationship. Gatsby and Daisy are in no way relationship goals. And the less said about The Fault in our Fucking Stars the better. So I struggled to find a literary couple that I actually was rooting for. It was pretty difficult, So what was the next logical step? To force myself to come up with 9 more. Obviously.


Ten: Rob and Laura – High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

I know I come back to High Fidelity so often but it is one of my favourite novels. So sue me. Still, I have to admit that I had to stretch my parameters a little for this one. I mean Rob’s initial relationship with Laura isn’t great and he acts like a complete dick towards her. It’s no wonder she leaves him considering how much he takes her for granted. However, the beauty of the relationship is that Rob is able to learn that Laura really is the ideal woman for him. He overcomes his demons and learns to accept commitment. At the end of the novel, Rob and Laura are ready for a real relationship.

Nine: Westley and Buttercup – The Princess Bride by William Goldman

I have my doubts about this one because it’s too much of a fairytale romance. Still, there can be no denying that the story of Buttercup and the stable boy is lovely. The lengths that Westley goes to in order to rescue his love are just something you can’t ignore. And “as you wish”? Well, I still consider those to be some of the most romantic words ever uttered in fiction. Westley’s love is so selfless. He says I love you by doing what he thinks Buttercup wants. And then, later in the novel, Buttercup reiterates Westley’s sentiments with her own speech. These two are focused on each other solely. It’s hard not to get swept up in the romance of it all.

Eight: Mr Hoppy and Mrs Silver – Esiotrot by Roald Dahl

Esiotrot probably isn’t a very well known Dahl story but it is one I’m kind of obsessed with. When I was younger I loved the mutliple tortoises because I was a kid. Now, I’m obsessed with the depth of Mr Hoppy’s love for his neighbour. He secretly buys loads of different sized tortoises on order to make her happy. It’s an incredibly weird love story but it’s an utterly adorable one. Who needs hearts and flowers when you’ve got magically a growing pet?

 Seven: Eowyn and Faramir – The Lord of the Rings by George RR Tolkien

When most people think of Lord of the Rings they’ll probably think of Aragorn and Arwen as the best love story. However, I’ve never been a fan of book Arwen. She’s weak, feeble and basically non-existent. The only thing we really ever learn about her is that she’s pretty. So it’s difficult to really believe or care about the depth of their love. However, Eowyn is a completely different story. Eowyn is an independent and strong woman who manages to help defeat the fucking Witch King. She’s amazing. So it’s great to see her settle down with a man who really deserves and appreciates her. The brief moments we see of them together are just glorious. A well-deserved happy ending for the two of them.

 Six: Khal Drogo and Daenerys – ASOIAF by George RR Martin

Okay, so this couple get off to a rapey start. I get it. I’m not trying to suggest that they’re perfect. However, Drogo and Dany quickly became a power couple who truly loved each other. When Dany started to take control of her relationship and become her own version of a Khaleesie this pair became almost unstoppable. She loved him and he adored her. It was perfect. He was going to give her the Iron Throne and she became the fearless and loving leader he needed her to be. Drogo’s death was definitely one of the most heartbreaking thing George RR Martin has ever done. This couple would have been the greatest leaders that Westeros had ever seen.

Five: Beatrice and Benedick – Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing is my favourite Shakespeare play. I’ve probably mentioned that numerous times. It’s mainly because Beatrice is the only Shakespearean leading lady that I can actually stand. She’s clever, powerful, and doesn’t give a shit about finding true love. Until her friends and family convince her otherwise. Yes, she and Benedick bicker but that’s all part of the fun. They have a real fiery passion and, when they come to realise that they actually love each other, then they are a perfect match. That passion and fire is turned on each other and they make a loving couple. It’s the classic Freudian thing of being mean to those you love most but it’s still a great story. These two are equals.

Four: Don and Rosie – The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

I wasn’t sure about including these two on my list. I mean this book was adorable and everything but I felt it was a little too twee in relation to Don’s autistic traits. It seemed to be romanticising the condition and making the whole thing seem a bit too much like a fairy tale. However, there is something fantastic about seeing this relationship come about on the page. From their first meeting when Don decides that Rosie isn’t a viable candidate for ‘the Wife Project’ to his eventual realisation that she’s the only viable candidate.

Three: Remus and Tonks – Harry Potter by JK Rowling

Remus and Tonks got short shrift in the Harry Potter films. Their relationship is glossed over so much that it barely registers. I mean their son is mentioned once and he was supposed to be the mirror for Harry himself. It’s a disgrace. Still, in the books, their romance is a subplot that hangs around from Order of the Phoenix onwards. They have their problems at the start but eventually come to really care for each other. In the end, Lupin wants to keep Tonks safe but she doesn’t want him going in to battle without her. Their death is tragic but, in a sordid way, kind of romantic. They fight and die together. They’re two very good people who lay down their lives so their son can have a better life. That’s not just relationship goals; it’s parenting goals.

Two: Ned and Catelyn – ASOIAF by George RR Martin 

 When the Instagram challenge of “best fictional couple” came up recently these two were my first thought. I know Cat was supposed to marry Ned’s elder brother Brandon but, after he died, the pair managed to make the best of a bad situation. They were loving parents to their 5 children and they really cared for each other. Cat loved Ned’s quiet, stately, and moral ways and Ned loved her strength and determination. She even allowed Ned to bring his, supposed, bastard child into their family home and allowed him to be raised alongside her children. Yes, she had a certain amount of resentment towards Jon but you’ve got to give her props for not just chucking him out or having him killed or something. She clearly loved him enough to give him his way. It’s just a shame that we only see them together for such a short time in the books. If only Ned had gone back to Winterfell before confronting Cersei. The trusting old fool. They also happen to the best couple in the whole series. The only loving and stable relationship in all of Westeros.

One: Molly and Arthur – Harry Potter by JK Rowling

I can’t believe I forgot about these two when I did my post. I mean if there was one marriage in the whole of literary history that screams relationship goals then it’s this one. Molly and Arthur are not only fantastic on their own but together they have such a loving and happy relationship. It’s not a mad or crazy passion but it’s comfortable and real. They have a normal and loving marriage where they argue and disagree but, ultimately, they care for each other and their children. I think literature is too often littered with unrealistic romantic expectations. Everything is so hyperbolic and extreme. People falling in love in difficult circumstances and overcoming the odds to be together. It’s not for me. I just want people who are happy with each other. Where the relationships are easy and safe. They can rely on each other and things work with a little effort. Molly and Arthur are the most realistic representation of love that I’ve possibly ever read… if you ignore the magic and shit.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

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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 – William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (1996)

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There are a couple of reasons why a lot of the girls I know around my age are obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio. Those two reasons are: Titanic and Romeo and Juliet. These films really pushed DiCaprio into spotlight as the romantic hero and the pin-up of the late 90s. We all remember his curtained blonde hair, beautiful blue eyes, and youthful grin from our youth and still sigh at his perfection. Even now, 20 years later, DiCaprio is perfect but, I’m happy to say, his hair has improved somewhat. When I was at university I was part of a group of literature students who fondly remembered Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of the tale of two star-crossed lovers as being their first memorable experience with Shakespeare. It took the words of the Bard and made them cool and sexy. And it cemented DiCaprio as our ideal man. Now that I’m a partially matured adult, I find I appreciate about Shakespeare in a more traditional manner but in my younger days the idea of Shakespeare with guns was too good to ignore. Now that the film has celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release, it felt like the perfect time to revisit this classic.

The second that Baz Luhrmann’s big screen adaptation of Romeo and Juliet opens the audience may be confused about what they’re watching. The opening of the film could easily be mistaken for an episode of Cops or something. This isn’t the fair Verona that we’re used to but a Verona Beach deep in the middle of gang warfare. The names of Montague and Capulet adorn the sides of huge buildings that sit side by side and the streets are full of gunfire. Yes, we have no romantic heroes wielding their rapier’s here but driving muscle cars and firing bullets at anyone who looks at them funny. This wasn’t the first time that Shakespeare had been modernised by Hollywood but it was one of the biggest and loudest.

Thanks to the direction of Baz Luhrmann who, as we all know by now, likes to make a fucking huge spectacle. It’s the reason I wasn’t a massive fan of The Great Gatsby but is something that kind of worked for him here. It’s no wonder that Luhrmann would be the one to give this play the Hollywood treatment. I mean he’d be jizzing all over the idea of teenagers dying because their love was so strong. Lurhmann is so annoyingly steadfast in his belief that love is all you need that the film becomes more sincere that I believe it needs to be. But, as we established in Tuesday’s review, I’m massively cynical.

However, I guess in order to make this film popular then you have to push the idea that these two randy teenagers are actually madly and deeply in love. And he manages that. Well he manages that with a huge amount of help from the two lead actors. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes were both young actors who found their start in television roles. On screen they manage to deliver Shakespeare’s prose with much more understanding and sophistication than the more recent film. The pair have great chemistry and manage to carry the story beautifully.

Although, this play isn’t just about the main characters and the supporting cast all do pretty good work. Although, the pick of the bunch are certainly Harold Perrineau as Mercutio and Pete Postlethwaite as Friar Laurence. These two elevate the film to a higher standard and bring a new dimension to these well-known characters. I have to say that, watching this again as I near 30, I find the film a bit too gimmicky and over-played for my liking. What was refreshing and edgy in the 90s now just feels like too much of a relic. This was Shakespeare for the MTV age but, if I’m being honest, it feels different in the time of social media.

Although, what Luhrmann has managed to do within all of the spectacle and hype is keep the story that is at the heart of this play. The story of Romeo and Juliet will only succeed because of one thing: the two leads. Thankfully, the two talents at the heart of this adaptation are shrewd and talented enough to understand what they’re trying to achieve. Despite all of the distractions and jump cuts, we still focus on the love that is at the heart of the film. Within all of the chaos and the nonsense, we still have the poetry and majesty of Shakespeare’s words. And, frankly, that’s what matters. That’s what makes this film as watchable today as it was 20 years ago.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Romeo and Juliet (2013)

bullshit, film, films, fucking awful, fucking beautiful, love, meh, review, Shakespeare, teenagers

I know this isn’t really a recent film but, with the 20th anniversary of the 1996 Romeo and Juliet last month, I decided, in order to compare and contrast, that it was time to watch the most recent film adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most annoying plays. I know people generally love it because it’s about true love and shit but I just find it boring and really stupid. I mean people build these two teenagers up because they are so desperately in love with each other but they’re actually just idiots. Firstly, they know each other for about 2 seconds before they tie the knot and secondly they both die for really unnecessary reasons. It’s supposed to be the greatest love story ever told but isn’t it actually just the greatest story about horny teenagers ever told? I mean Romeo was madly in love with another girl literally seconds before he first saw Juliet. I don’t think we can trust anything he says about his feelings. Call me cynical if you wish but the idea that “true love” is so unconquerable that you must bow to its every whim is just a hyperbolic idea. Why does all love have to be so fucking insane that it leads to untold anguish and death? Surely the greatest love story ever told is one where two people fall in love over a prolonged period and become so comfortable and happy that they spend their lives together? Isn’t that what we should be striving for as a society? Not a crazy ride full of sword fights, feuding, and the death of two young people? Anyway, this turned into a massive rant so it’s best I just get onto the review.

When you think about it screenwriter Julian Fellowes is exactly the kind of person who would be super into Romeo and Juliet. The creator of Downton Abbey, the weirdly beloved period drama about rich people having rich people, is clearly going to love the tale of two young rich kids who end up dying. It’s basically an episode of Downton Abbey set in Verona. Which perhaps explains why so much effort has been put into the look of the film. This is a production that is focused on style and lavish backdrops have been created so the lovers can happily frolic in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The costumes are fairly astounding and the picturesque settings are just breathtaking. It adds to the authenticity of the production and ensures that the film remains beautiful throughout. However, there is little beyond the visual that really makes this film worth seeing.

If you ask me, there is little to get too excited about by Romeo and Juliet anyway. The characters always seemed like stubborn and irritating teenagers anyway but, in the hands of Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld, it is even harder to feel sympathetic towards their plight. Steinfeld was only 15 years old when the film was being made and she seems to struggle from the off to get to the substance of the lines she’s quoting. Steinfeld isn’t a terrible performer, as we have seen in True Grit, but she is merely saying lines instead of exploring the feelings and consequences lying behind Juliet’s words. ConsideringRomeo and Juliet contains some great quotes, it is disappointing that the language isn’t celebrated better.  Douglas Booth, who was around 20 during production, is as handsome as you would want for the title role and seems to have a greater understanding of his character. However, he as the drama and emotions ramp up, he fails to rise to the challenge and becomes rather monotone and flat. Neither actor really creates much of an idea of the supposedly astonishing love that their words insist exists between them.

So we are faced with a film about Romeo and Juliet where the audience finds is difficult to care about either of the star-crossed lovers. When we don’t care about the doomed relationship what else is there about this story? Thankfully, there are some shining stars amongst the cast. The rest of the younger cast fair better than the main characters but they still seem to be at odds with Shakespeare’s tale. They are each starring in their own play and, when they come together, it doesn’t always gel. It is up to the senior cast members to provide the needed talent for the audience. It is Paul Giamatti who steals the show and manages to bring a credibility to normally caricatured Friar Laurence. Then Damian Lewis, Natascha McElhone, and Lesley Manville, as Juliet’s parents and nurse, all bring depth and emotion to their characters despite limited chances to do so. I can’t help but feel this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet would have excelled had it’s attention been elsewhere.

Director Carlo Carlei has placed his actors in some beautiful backdrops but doesn’t always manage to get the story across on screen. The pictures themselves are gorgeous but there is nothing about the direction that sets the audience’s passions alight. It’s all rather rudimentary and flat. The kind of shots that want to be arty and impressive but just become mindless. It’s as is the film-makers believed the film would just make itself but found the reality was less simplistic. Julian Fellowe’s script has taken the play and hacked it to pieces. It’s so oversimplified that any magic that the Bard’s script could have created is destroyed. It’s not enough to simply make a well-known love story in a pretty way. Romeo and Juliet just goes to show that there is more to adapting Shakespeare than pretty faces and good costumes.

SUNDAY RUNDOWN – THAT’S WHAT SHE READ

book haul, books, currently reading, Jesse Eisenberg, Joss Whedon, Shakespeare
This week has been pretty heavy work wise. I made a significant decision about my future there and am freaking out a little bit. I’m sure it’ll all work well but massive changes are always unnerving. We’ve also been hit with a huge case of flu and everyone has been off ill. Subsequently, everyone else has been super busy to make up for it. I’ve been feeling myself getting ill as the week went on so I’ve had no energy to read on an evening. I’m definitely going to get ill over my two days off though so it’ll give me a good excuse to spend all day in bed reading. In other news, after shopping last week, my sister and I have decided on a bridesmaid’s dress. Neither of the ones we bought last week but a pretty nice option. I’m just happy the awkward fashion parades are over. Walking up and down and having pictures taken of myself is just hell. God knows how I’m going to cope at this bloody wedding. I must remember to take a book.

Currently Reading
  • Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro
So close to finishing this but getting through it so slowly. Still loving it though. The writing is great and the relationships are so well written. 
Recently Purchased
  • Pop Sonnets: Shakespearean Spins on Your Favourite Songs by Erik Didriksen
Still afflcited by the current Shakespeare madness so I had to buy another book relating to the great Bard. Of course, how anyone could not want a book in which popular songs are given a Shakespearean twist is beyond me. This really is my kind of book. It’s silly, really unnecessary and I’ll definitely regret buying it in a few months time. Until then, I’m sure it will give me utter joy. 
  • Bream Gives Me Hiccups: And Other Stories by Jesse Eisenberg
Not sure why I bought this but it probably has something to do with Instagram. I have a bit of a soft spot for Jesse Eisenberg despite his reputation for being a bit of a dick. This is probably why I reacted to the news that he was turning his hand to novel writing in a much more supportive manner than I did when fucking James Franco tried to become a literary star. For some reason, I feel like his humour will be more on the same level as my own and I’m currently all about short story collections. I really hope this is as good as I want it to be.
  • Twisted River by Siobhan MacDonald (Kindle edition)
This is an example of another Instagram photo that manipulating me into buying another book. First heard about this on Peguin’s Instagram account and decided, as the ebook was super cheap, to buy it. It sounds like every other shitty thriller that I buy and then instantly hate. However, it’s a pattern I obviously keep falling into for some subconscious reason. Clearly, I’m just more comfortable being disappointed in a book than by loving something. 

Recently Watched
  • Much Ado About Nothing
Loved the excuse of watching this for my TBT post this week. It really is my favourite Shakespeare adaptation of all time. It’s so lovely and the performances are great. Alexis Denisof is so funny and Amy Acker plays Beatrice beautifully. All I wanted to do after rewatching was to rewatch it again. 

TBT – Much Ado About Nothing (2012)

films, fucking awesome, fucking beautiful, Joss Whedon, Shakespeare, TBT

So this week is all about Shakespeare and I’m still on a bit of a fan high. After reviewing Macbeth on Tuesday I wanted to follow it up with another great adaptation of one of his plays. My first instinct was to turn to one of the greatest adaptations of one of his greatest plays. I’m talking about The Lion King, of course. But we all know that right. Nobody’s gonna care what this dickhead thinks about one of the greatest Disney films of all time. I’d also have spent the entire time talking about how much I love it rather than doing anything useful. To acknowledge the anniversary of his death last year, I made a list of my favourite Shakespeare adaptations for people who don’t like Shakespeare. I remember really wanting to write a top 10 list of my favourite adaptations but couldn’t decide on anything other than the top 2. The first being the BBCs epic The Hollow Crown. The second is one probably my favourite straight Shakespeare adaptations of all time. So, in honour of the 400th anniversary, that seems like a great place to start. As it is also the play that inspired the name of this blog it seems like fucking fate has handed us a great opportunity.

Back in 2012, right after he’d finished filming The Avengers. director Joss Whedon gathered some friends at his house and filmed an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. Whedon and his friends had always gathered at his house for Shakespeare readings but it wasn’t until his “break” between filming and post-production of his Marvel blockbuster that their pastime became a full-length film. The story is transported to a modern time and the characters walk around his California home wearing suits and pretty dresses. It’s not the most comfortable setting for a comedy set at the end of a massive war but Whedon makes it work for him.

The whole film is beautifully shot around his home and presented in black and white. Normally, I’d be ready to moan about this as an unnecessary ploy to stand out but it actually adds to the charm of Much Ado. It makes the modern setting feel less modern so it almost makes it easier to accept the weird scenarios that take place on screen. Rather than being for pure aesthetic value, it helps to tie together the contemporary setting with the archaic language. It also works with the classic feel that the comedy has. It’s all sort of slapstick and screw-ball in the grand tradition of black and white Hollywood. It’s an absolute breath of fresh air.

Which is good considering the play has a dark streak to it. In the midst of the romantic entanglements there is lots of plotting and the attempt to besmirch an innocent young woman’s virtue. This is a seemingly harmless play that, towards the end, really packs a punch. Newly returned from war, Don Pedro, Claudio and Benedick, stop off at the home of Leonato to celebrate their victory. Claudio has fallen in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero and, with Don Pedro’s help, their engagement is arranged. At the same time, Hero’s cousin Beatrice has sworn off love and given up all thoughts of marriage. She enjoys exchanging witty banter with the self-proclaimed bachelor Benedick, who in Whedon’s modern version she has a romantic history with. The gathered company decide the only solution is to bring the pair together.

Whilst this merriment is taking place, Don John, Don Pedro’s bastard brother, is working hard to destroy the happiness that surrounds him. He hopes to tear apart the close friendship between his brother and Claudio by making the young love believe Don Pedro has a desire for Hero too. It culminates with the rumour that Hero was unfaithful the night before the wedding. She is cast out by her father and fiancée and talk of death and murder is heard around Leonato’s home. Of course, being a comedy  it is no surprise that the plot is eventually revealed and the couple magically overcome the previous events.

Whedon stays incredibly faithful to the script which could have made it difficult for him. However, it all works incredibly well. The few changes that he has made to the play all work for the better. The gender switch of Conrade is particularly well executed and the updated Dogberry and Verges are funnier than I think they’ve ever been. The cast and their director all have a great understanding of the lines they are speaking and embrace the wit that underlies much of the language. Sex is always simmering away below the surface and, for his adaptation, Whedon isn’t afraid to bring it into the forefront. It’s handled delicately and works brilliantly.

Thanks to the amazing cast that Whedon managed to bring together. A cast that is mostly made up of actors he has worked with before for his work for television and film. Even more recent collaborator, Clark Gregg, who had only met Whedon for the first time on The Avengers was given a role when Anthony Head was unavailable. However, the people that steal the show are, quite rightly, Beatrice and Benedick themselves. Played by Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof, the pair just light up the screen and offer a great deal of comedy. Both actors excel at the physical comedy that their role demands whilst also being able to keep up with the incredible word place that fills Shakespeare’s play. Watching the pair battle it out is mesmerising. Being able to see the love and desire hidden behind their anger is fantastic and their blindness to it is utterly captivating.

As a pay, Much Ado About Nothing, is full of the same old random shit that Shakespeare is famous for. There is plenty of unnecessary masks, evil plotting, fake deaths and crazy reveals to make any audience feel slightly wary of the sanity of any of the characters. It’s bizarre but there is something charming about the story. Considering Claudio and Hero are the main love story, it is always Beatrice and Benedick that come out on top. There’s is the most realistic and charming love story in any of the Bard’s plays. Something that Whedon and his cast understand more than anything. This adaptation is beautiful, funny and oozing with charm. I could never tire of it.

Tuesday’s Reviews – Macbeth (2015)

anniversary, films, Michael Fassbender, review, Shakespeare

April 23rd is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and the literary world is, quite rightly, embracing the bard completely. As he’s already one of things we in the UK are most proud of, Shakespeare fever has reached critical levels and its difficult not to get swept along in the tide. The bookshop I have to pass on my way to work has a fantastic display showcasing the William’s own works and every book they stock that relates to him. It’s making me want to spend all my money and, as you may have read on Sunday, already has caused a few unplanned purchases. So I decided to take this further and spend the week running up to the big day celebrating all things Shakespeare. Starting by watching a film I’ve wanted to watch for ages. Well, there couldn’t possibly be a better time.
I think Macbeth was the first Shakespeare play that I ever really studied. I was in Year 8 I think so about 12/13. Now I’m not saying it was in depth analysis but we studied the 3 witches scene in pretty good detail. I think it was a good decision because I was introduced to the Bard at a young age and with a scene that was pretty interesting and exciting. Had we started with Romeo and Juliet or King Lear then I definitely would have had negative connotations of his plays when I properly started studying his work. I’ll always remember reciting those lines in class and really loving the dark and weird situation. I enjoyed studying it and will always remember that feeling of wanting to study him. Now I’ve gone through university and my love of Shakespeare has grown.

I’ve also been shown that a lot of his plays are incredibly lame in comparison. After reading many of the dire comedies and romances I’ve come to really appreciate Macbeth even more. It’s not necessarily the best play but it does have a lot of stuff to enjoy. Macbeth isn’t the greatest dramatic character but his story provides a great deal of interesting stuff. We have witches, ghosts, murder and war. Who wants A Midsummer Night’s Dream when you have all that? A fucking idiot that’s what. So when I found out that Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard were to play the husband and wife at the heart of the play I couldn’t wait to see it. Even if I was slightly worried on the accent front.

By this point most people are familiar with the story behind the play. It is the story of a man driven to extremes by his ambition for power and the need to hold on to that power. Macbeth (Michael Fassbender) is the heroic warrior who, along with his friend Banquo (Paddy Considine) meet with three strange women who tell them prophesies about their future. Macbeth is given the promise of the throne whilst Banquo is told he will be the father of kings. This brief meeting kick-starts a series of murderous events. When his wife (Marion Cotillard) hears of the prophesy she convinces Macbeth to kill King Duncan (David Thewlis) to inherit the crown. The guilt and shame of the act along with the paranoia about losing his title leads the couple down a dark path where more blood is shed.

Above all else, Macbeth is a visually stunning film. Shot in the highlands, Kurzel embraces the raw and muddy setting with help from cinematographer Adam Arkapaw.  Director Justin Kurzel has brought a distinctive style to the Bard’s supernatural tragedy and the whole thing ends up feeling a little like a Scandi-drama set amongst the rolling hills of the highlands. It’s all very dark and brooding. In fact I don’t think I’ve seen such a serious adaptation of the play. The batttle sequences are beautifully shot and edited and, thanks to some delicately used slow motion, are incredibly dramatic. It’s a very big and cinematic adaptation of the play and will always be able to draw you in with its aesthetics.

In terms of the script, Macbeth offers a very simplified version of Shakespeare’s originals. There is a lot of editing that is bound to infuriate purists and scholars. Less emphasis is placed on the characters interacting than on the backdrop, which is not necessarily a bad thing in this case. Kurzel prefers to stay away from dialogue heavy scenes and instead focus on the characters at hand. Rather than complicate the narrative any more than it needs to be, there has been some attempt to find the human element of the play. It is an exploration of the characters of Lord and Lady Macbeth and the grief that is weighing them both down.

The film opens, against Shakespeare’s own vision, with the funeral of the pairs young child. It is this, Kurzel tries to drive home to us, that inspires much of the action that follows. What we see, he tries to tell us, is not two people blinded by the promise of power but a couple are trying to fill the huge void in their lives. Their eventual descent into despair and madness is given a more human layer than many adaptations that have gone before. Something that is only helped by the incredibly performances from the two leads. Fassbender is exquisite as the warrior Macbeth and, when he later succumbs to despair, offers a delicate and quiet performance of a man who is a shadow of former self. Although, this is, without question, Marion Cotillard’s film. She is both quiet and intense with makes her seem even more dangerous. Cotillard has the ability to offer an insane amount of drama with only a look that she brings something menacing but damaged to the role.

Macbeth is by no means the most faithful adaptation nor does it help reinvent the text in a dramatic way. However, it is worth a viewing thanks to the beautiful visuals alone. Not relying on the text as much as most adaptations would but preferring to present awe inspiring scenes that show just as much as the missing words could. Kurzel’s approach is hardly likely to create much new debate about the play but his attempt to humanise the pair at the forefront is a breath of fresh air. No longer are we witnessing the decent of two shameless and evil people. We can feel empathy for these characters. Despite the deplorable things they do.