Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate… to creativity?

Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate… to creativity?

Last night I attended Jay Rayner’s (the Observer’s food critic) discussion My Dining Hell at the Ilkley Literature Festival. It was a really good night and I can happily attest that he is as funny in person as he is in writing. The talk discussed our perverse obsession with negative reviews and that fucking awful compulsion we all have to take enjoyment from other people’s tales of woe. You know, that same mentality that drives you to stare at a car-crash or laugh when people fall over. As a not-so-secret bitch at heart, I’m always guilty of having a chuckle when someone does something embarrassing in public despite the fact I’m really fucking clumsy. Humanity has moved to a point where we get bored hearing about people’s happiness but can’t get enough of their misfortunes. Basically we’re all just terrible people.

You have to admit, there’s something comforting about being filled with murderous rage. Sharing tales of personal misfortune can bond people in a way that sharing good news just can’t. I don’t give a shit about how happy you are with your partner. I want to know how crappy your job is. Whether right or wrong, as a species we love to hate things. It’s the reason why I invested in a copy of Mama Mia. That film has to be one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I can think of no redeeming features for it but that doesn’t stop me having a secret desire to watch it every now and then. It’s my film-based brush with masochism. I get a great deal of pleasure from subjecting myself to a film I truly detest. Fucking 50 Shades of Grey? Pah!

Deep down we’re all still just animals at heart. We share that love of conflict that is so rife in the animal kingdom even if we try our hardest to suppress it. Conflict comes down to power and the way we view ourselves. We take pleasure in negative reviews and awful films because we can feel better about ourselves in the process. Bad reviews let us bask in the warmth of someone else’s humiliation or unpleasant experience. One of my favourite film critics is Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian. He is a really talented writer and always manages to put his point across in an elegant manner. He’s a constant source of inspiration and incredible jealousy. His review of Savages, Oliver Stone’s 2012 crime thriller, is one of the best pieces of criticism I’ve ever read. It’s a vicious and unflinching attack that never lets up. It was a fucking joy to read. You see, you don’t remember the good reviews. There’s nothing really memorable about a critic telling you that an actor’s performance was good or a narrative was complex. Why would you remember the lyrical way in which someone praised the cinematography or the original score? No, it’s the hate-filled attacks that stick with you. All of us must have our favourite damning review from the inimitable Roger Ebert (it’s so hard to chose but mine would be a toss up between Godzilla or Armageddon). We love to see these people stick it to the man.

However, there must be more to it than that. From a purely creative point of view, negativity just has more potential than positivity. In terms of reviewing, writing about something you hate is always much better than writing about something you love. As someone who would describe themselves as a writer (probably only in my own head though), I’ve had much more fun writing about films and books that I’ve absolutely hated than about the films I love. Coming up with analogies to describe how fucking angry something made you is the gift that just keeps on giving. You can only take love so far before you sound over-effusive. There’s nothing worse than reading a writer’s endless, gushing praise for something; it can sound childish and, even worse, false. Maybe we’ve just become so jaded that we can’t believe anything that sounds too good to be true. If a writer is overly positive about something they’re reviewing then I’m sure there will be an endless stream of people shouting about foul play. Of course, on the opposite side, there is every chance that really hating something can turn into a petty tirade of hyperbole that can’t be taken seriously. However, we all have to be honest, reading reviews isn’t really about getting that one person’s opinion about something; it’s about the writing. Hearing a grown adult have a fucking tantrum over a meal, book or film they’ve consumed recently is one of the most entertaining things you can do with your spare time. 

Maybe my out-of-control cynicism is getting the better of me again but there are so many more options with hate. When I love something I just let my myself get carried away. You’ve probably experienced some of my seemingly never-ending analyses of films I’ve loved. I just never fucking stop. Going on and on about every tiny detail that I enjoyed. Reliving the plot scene by scene. I hate some of my past reviews because of it. Hate just seems to keep me more focused. Maybe that should be a source of concern for me? It’s just easier to get your thoughts together and provide a coherent argument about something you didn’t like. It’s the reason I so rarely wrote my University essays on my favourite works. It’s easier to find things to say about something you aren’t emotionally invested in. Now I realise that I’m starting to sound like Emperor Palpatine here but, when it comes to my writing, my hatred really has made me powerful. Although, it’s not something I’d recommend embracing in all walks of life of course. Let’s never forget what Master Yoda taught us.

TBT – Mr Mom (1983)

TBT – Mr Mom (1983)

Unfortunately, I’ve managed to contract the plague this week and have spent much of my day off feeling like shit and wallowing in self pity. Unable to focus on anything greater than trawling through Netflix looking for TBT ideas, I stumbled across some classic 1980s Michael Keaton. It should be well documented by now that I have a great love of Mr Keaton; particularly during the 80s. You know, when he was a young comic actor making slapstick comedies rather than depressing us with his attempts at feel-good Christmas films. The will 80s always be one of my favourite eras of cinema, despite the fact that most things look horribly dated by this point. This is mostly thanks to the time spent in my teenage years watching every John Hughes film I could and wishing I was Ally Sheedy. So it seems only natural that I’d love a film that combines the writing prowess of Hughes and the comic timing of Keaton. Right?

Mr Mom is one of those films that really hasn’t stood the test of time. It stands out against the kind of film that John Hughes has become so well known for. It is the kind of shitty half-baked concept you’d expect to see in a run-of-the-mill sitcom: man gets laid off from his job and is forced to stay at home with the kids whilst his wife returns to work in his place. All those classic gender stereotypes are present and correct as Jack Butler (Keaton) must get his head around laundry, shopping and housekeeping. Oh, men!

All the while his wife, Caroline (Terri Garr) must head to the cutthroat world of advertising with little expertise and no real qualifications for the job. All it takes for her to succeed and get an instant promotion is a pretty face and a housewife’s knowledge of the world. If jobs were that easy to get in the 80s I don’t see what everyone was always fucking whining about.

Of course, despite it’s overplayed and dreary concept, there could have been a lot of comic potential, especially with a leading man such as Keaton, in Mr Mom‘s set-up. Instead of all the naturally funny home-based capers that could have be relied on to raise a smile, Hughes instead goes down the zany route. We have a group of repair men and women who turn up at various points, Jack’s amorous neighbour, Caroline’s lusty boss, a psycho vacuum cleaner and the househusband’s soap opera fantasies. It just seems too desperate to bring the funny.

There is too much going on that distracts from Keaton himself. Despite a host of problems, Keaton’s performance is strong and, had he been given stronger material, this could have been another 1980s comedy classic. Instead, the script just clutches at straws and relies on big visual gags or wacky throwaway gags that go nowhere in particular.

There are plenty of things to enjoy about Mr Mom but, when you consider who wrote it, there can be no denying that it could have been better. There are some good performances but the material is just kind of underwhelming. In terms of entertainment it’s fine but nothing to get worked up about. According to its Wikipedia page, Mr Mom is now considered one of the best films of 1983. Well, if that’s the case, 1983 was obviously a fucking shitty year for film.

With great power comes short attention span.

With great power comes short attention span.

I know most of my Doctor Whorelated posts mainly seem to revolve around my hatred of Steven Moffat for turning a beloved show into a steaming pile of shit. However, I’m about to turn this around. We’re only three episodes into this latest series but I can honestly say it’s my favouritesince Moffat took over. Peter Capaldi’s first season was pretty good but I didn’t think he got the opportunity to be as great as he could be. There was a major highlight towards the end of the series when the Danny Pink love story (yeah, more like love bore-y ) ended and Missy proved that a female version of a male character is actually the best fucking idea ever. Does anyone know if Helen Mirren is still up for playing the Doctor? I think it’s time.

Although, Capaldi is doing a fucking great job so far. I loved his entrance in the premiere and sonic sunglasses is by far the greatest idea I’ve ever seen. Even Clara is less annoying this season now she’s not in the middle of the worlds most ridiculous love triangle. I also can’t fault her wardrobe… boy that girl knows the best outfits to wear when trying to save the universe. You know what, I couldn’t even fault the Dalek heavy opener. Far from being the desperate display their last appearance had been, I actually found it pretty enjoyable. Steven Moffat, I doff my cap to you sir. Let me just finish eating my words.

However, I’m still me and I do have one minor issue with this series. It’s the fucking double part episodes. I know it harks back to the original series where stories were constantly split into multiple episodes. I also understand that the concept is to create episodes with more scope and have a greater potential for drama. The narratives have seen a major improvement by simply doubling in size and I have no doubt it’s played a major part in my growing love of the show. Just look at the first two episodes; Missy wouldn’t have got a look in had this been a normal stand alone episode. She was the best thing about the entire fucking thing. So I’m a big fan of the concept at work here.
That doesn’t change the fact that I’m one of those people who has become so used to the Netflix way of life that I find it difficult having to wait. My attention span is so fucking small these days than in the 7 days between episodes I’ve probably forgotten everything that happened. I watch such a small amount of real television these days that I’ve almost forgotten that you generally have to wait a week between installments. It’s like being in the fucking Stone Age.
As much as I hate it, the ability to marathon series in a matter of days has slowly started to ruin my life. I demand instant gratification from all my entertainment outlets. These days if I have to wait more than a couple of seconds before the next episode then I’m probably not going to give a shit. I partly blame my work-induced exhaustion but there can little doubt that my viewing habits are slowly going down the pan. The only shows I religiously watch these days are Don’t Tell the Bride, Bake Off and Made in Chelsea (although even that obsession has been dwindling in recent years).
Watching less TV would obviously be a good thing if I were actually doing something productive with my time. I’m not though. I’m not even catching up on all of the great shows I’ve still not seen. I would rather rewatch an endless stream of episodes I’ve already seen than discover a new and exciting show. The amount of times I’ve meant to start Orange is the New Blackonly to decide that watching Red Dwarffor the hundredth time is a much better option. I’ve still not seen Breaking Bad for fuck’s sake and I stopped watching House of Cardstowards the end of the second season. I’ve become such a lazy watcher. If any amount of effort or concentration is required then I’m out.
This general attitude is also having an adverse affect on my reading habits. The amount I’ve read in the past few months is pretty shameful and it’s because I’m finding more solace in YouTube and Netflix. At my current post-work energy levels, I’m just finding the idea of picking up a book and concentrating on the narrative is just too much. To be fair, before my promotion, I never really read a lot at home anyway but it has taken away my key reading time: my lunch break. I’ve got an ever increasing TBR list and an ever diminishing amount of time to read. If this is adult life, then I don’t want it. I’ll relive as many of my cripplingly embarrassing teenage escapades as I need to if it gives me more fucking time to read.
So, to return to the original point. I’m loving that Steven Moffat has managed to prove me wrong. Doctor Whois genuinely thrilling to watch and, so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised with each episode. However, I wish he could stop reminding me of my short attention span and immense laziness with his double episodes… the dick.
TBT – What Maisie Knew (2013)

TBT – What Maisie Knew (2013)

Recently one of my closest work friends left the business and I was put in charge of his leaving collection. This is mostly down to the fact that I’m fucking awesome at buying people presents. I’d love to be modest here but it’s the cold hard truth that I always find the perfect gift for any occasion. It’s a blessing and a curse. Once again, when the time came to present him with my offerings it went down incredibly well. Considering that much of our interaction at work came down to quoting Alan Partridge I knew what I had to do. Amongst other random shit, I managed to track down an Alan Partridge blazer badge, Alan’s big plate, some Kiss My Face brand soap and a chocolate orange with superficial damage to the box. Turns out there’s a lot of great shit out there for any fan of Steve Coogan’s most successful character.

The big curse of creating a character like Alan Partridge is that trying to do anything else is always going to be tricky. I admit that whenever I see Steve Coogan’s name associated with a film I always get a bit suspicious. I loved The Trip as much as the next person but I’m always disappointed when there’s a lack of Partridge-esque behaviour. Especially when he’s trying really hard to be a serious actor. There was nothing wrong with him in Philomenabut it just felt weird that he wasn’t being silly.
I also find it questionable when he’s cast as a Casanova because I just can’t see him as desirable. In the 2013 adaptation ofHenry James’ What Maisie Knew, Coogan plays a failing art dealer who marries his much younger nanny after his first marriage breaks down. Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s adaptation transports the novel to modern day New York City. Beale’s ex-wife is the dramatic and narcissistic rock star Susanna (Julianna Moore) and, as they take solace during their impending divorce, both neglect their young daughter Maisie (Onata Aprile). The story focuses on Maisie and her struggle to create some kind of family base.
What Maisie Knewis made thanks to it’s young star. The camera focuses on Maisie for the most of the narrative and Aprile is outstanding in the role. Maisie, at only 6 years old, is already world-weary thanks to her self-centred parents who treat her as something to hold over their ex. The film doesn’t quite get into the lessons Maisie learns about love and family in as much detail as the novel but it does paint a truthful and often uncomfortable portrait of modern family life.
With her parents ignoring her, it is down to Maisie’s new step-parents to take control of her well-being. Beale and Susanna both marry young and kind people (Alexander Skarsgård and Joanna Venderham) who love Maisie more than her biological family ever have. Skarsgård in particular has awesome chemistry with Aprile. In one sequence where Maisie and Lincoln, a bartender, have fun in the city I swear my uterus exploded it was so fucking adorable.
What Maisie Knewis an acidic portrait of a bitter divorce and modern life. It’s not quite as dark and bleak as the novel but it does well in it’s updated setting. The characters, whilst over-the-top and often grating, work perfectly within James’ original idea. There are some fantastic performances but many of the adult actors get lost within their one-note performance. Julianne Moore is a whirlwind but never really gets beyond the dysfunctional and egotistical rock star. It’s a disappointing turn from such a wonderful performance; though still not as shitty as The Lost World.

What Maisie Knewis beautifully shot and handled with great care by McGehee and Siegel. It often verges on the edge of, and occasionally well into, cloying sentiment. It is a successful adaptation that flourishes in its new setting. However, no matter how cute its lead actor may be, there is no escaping the sense that something was missing. That it just wasn’t as great as it could have been. 
My Little Monotony or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate my Bookshelf

My Little Monotony or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Hate my Bookshelf

Something happened to me whilst I was reading Haruki Murakami’s first novel Hear the Wind Sing recently. I was over halfway through the story when I suddenly realised that I was picturing the main female character as a traditional Hollywood beauty. You know the sort, blonde, thin aloof: in other words every single Sienna Miller character. I was on a train at the time and was so freaked out by my personal discovery that I stopped reading for the rest of the journey. Then, thanks to my endless neuroses, I then spent the rest of the day partly ashamed and partly annoyed with myself. It seemed disrespectful and narrow-minded that my brain was subconsciously changing the Japanese setting to a more familiar Western backdrop. What did it say about me as a reader and a person that I couldn’t even imagine the novel as its writer had intended?

Of course, this could just be an inevitable side-effect of translating works in other languages. Whether we like it or not, Murakami’s original text had to have been somewhat Anglicised when it was rewritten in English. It has always been an argument that you lose something important from the original novel when you read a translation. It all comes down to the languages you are switching between, the social differences of the countries involved, and the individual context of the person translating. Every translation will bring something different and every translated novel will be read in a different way. 
So perhaps the process of writing Murakami’s first two novels in English for the first time meant that they lost most of their Japanese heritage? Of course, Murakami isn’t exactly what you call overtly Japanese when it comes to his writing. He is heavily influenced by Western writers and is still critisised in Japanese literary circles for his writing not reflecting the Japanese style enough. Maybe translation just tips the balance even further to the West’s favour? Is translating an already vaguely Western novel about Japan into English just a recipe for disaster? Could I have read the novel any differently than I did?
However, I refused to believe that this was the only reason behind my inability to process the events as the writer had intended. I love Murakami’s work and have read enough of his books by this point to understand what’s going on. Looking back, I don’t think I had this problem when reading the likes of 1Q84 or Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Although, how can I be sure? I admit that I’m not the most well-traveled of people and I grew up in a town that doesn’t exactly scream diversity. Is the reason that I imagine the characters the way I did simply a consequence of my inability to understand anything outside of my own culture?
I guess, in some ways, it’s natural when you don’t have prior understanding of a situation or idea to transplant it into a setting that you’re comfortable with. It’s not like I know a great deal about Japanese culture, geography or social practices. My brain simply took the narrative and presented it in a visual that I would understand. Yes, it’s not ideal but did it really hurt my overall impression of the novel? It’s not as if Murakami was writing a deep social critique of Japan. As a story mainly about individual characters and relationships surely it could easily have been transposed into any setting? 
Analysing my little problem in this way did very little to comfort me though; it simply added to a fear that I’ve been facing for some time. I’m always worried that I’m not diverse enough with my choice of reading material. Yes, I’ve the done the literary student thing and read the big names in foreign literature: Nabokov, Dostoyevsky, Voltaire, Hugo, Zweig. Hell, I was a student of Romanticism so I’ve read enough writing from Revolutionary era France to last a lifetime. But it’s never felt like enough. 
I’m horrible at accidentally falling into the same routine of masses of white, male authors. It’s not something I do purposefully but it’s a worrying trend within my bookshelves. Saying that, I’ve always felt comfortable with the amount of female writers that I pick up. Considering how much I bleat on to my clueless colleagues about women’s rights, I’d be a pretty poor excuse for a raging feminist if I didn’t. Undoubtedly though, there is as little ethnic diversity on those shelves as there is in the sleepy Yorkshire communities nearby. 
I guess part of that comes down to fear. Will I be able to fully appreciate the work with my personal history? Will the novel be the same in it’s translated form? I wouldn’t want to do the author a disservice when I wasn’t able to fully appreciate their work because of a little difference in background. Of course, it’s easier to pick up a novel by a white, male author because you know what to expect. It’s nothing to do with an inferred superiority but just a familiarity, 
That’s the problem. Reading lists in English classes are filled with male writers from all centuries with a few lucky women dotted around the place. As a nation, we are incredibly proud of our literary heritage and, in most cases, quite rightly. I’m not suggesting you strike Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell and Golding from the syllabus. I just think we need to start championing more diverse writers. You know, like the Man Booker prize is mostly failing to do. 
Or maybe, once again, this all comes down to me as a person? Am I so clueless about my inability to embrace other cultures that I’m willing to make all this shit up to justify my actions? Is this actually a problem for anyone else? This isn’t the right thing for an overly neurotic individual like myself should be thinking about before bed. I’m never going to be able to sleep tonight as this rate. 
TBT – Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

TBT – Muriel’s Wedding (1994)

Everywhere I look it seems as though people are getting engaged. Apparently, we live in an age where women of all ages and marital statuses have a fucking Pinterest wedding board. Am I missing something? I don’t see the fuss. I’m sure when I was younger I did the whole pretend wedding thing but now I just think it’s a little bit unnecessary. A lot of money for one day? My heart-rate has gone up just fucking thinking about it. I must be one of a minority that sees Don’t Tell the Bride as the preferable way to organise your big day. No shopping for flowers, venues or the dress: fucking ideal. Hell, I’ll wear PJs if need be. 

Of course stereotypically, as a girl, I should be dreaming about weddings. There is still the overriding idea that the female of the species are obssessed with parading their love in front of family and friends by taking a fucking walk. Obviously, the film industry hasn’t helped matters with its endless supply of bridezillas telling men that all women go insane during wedding planning. I mean just look at Kate fucking Hudson giving her gender a bad reputation in the shitty and desperate “comedy” Bride Wars.

Then you have the crazy singletons who are so fucking desperate to get hitched that they make up fiances in their head and try on wedding dresses for their fake big day. When it comes to gender politics, weddings in films really aren’t helping our cause. Of course, one of the more memorable of these women is Muriel Heslop from P.J Hogan’s Muriel’s Wedding. It was the role that threw Toni Collette into the spotlight and added to the stream of quirky but dark comedies that Australia was producing in the 80s and 90s. 

Muriel is a 22 year old school-drop out who’s only claim to fame in a secretarial degree her father had to bribe someone for. She is looked down on by her ‘friends’ who eventually just admit enough is enough and drop her entirely. Feeling pathetic and alone, Muriel follows the girls on their Hibiscus Island holiday after stealing her family’s wealth. Thankfully, she meets another ex-schoolmate Rhonda Epinstalk (Rachel Griffiths) and the pair form an alliance against Muriel’s bitchy old friends.

The two bond over their love of ABBA and manage to win the island resort’s talent competition by dressing up as Agnetha and Anni Frid and miming the words to Waterloo. Unable to face her father’s disappointment and anger, Muriel follows Rhonda to Sydney and reinvents herself. A whole new world of work, friendship and dating is opened up to her and her dream wedding looks possible for the first time ever.

Although, the film is far from a feel-good story about a girl who leaves her sleepy town and finds herself and love along the way. Muriel comes from a family of losers and layabouts. She and her siblings are constantly berated by their father. He is a philanderer and psychologically abuses his family thanks to his regrets about not winning an election years before.

Muriel has come to hate herself and lies to everyone she meets so she can become the person she feels she should be. She is a deeply unhappy person who pins her future happiness on having the perfect wedding. However, deep down, Muriel is just a lost young woman who is trying to survive in a harsh society. The film may derive humour from her missteps but Hogan has a great deal of affection for his misfit protagonist.

Muriel’s Wedding is at times funny, heartfelt and hopeful; the rest of the time it is merciless, depressing and uncomfortable. There is a certain amount of jarring between the two extremes but Hogan manages to hold the reins and finds a pretty good balance. The film isn’t always successful and has enough missteps to keep up with its heroine. However, there is the ocassional glimmer of brilliance within the broad comedy and harsh social critique. Thanks to a winning turn from Toni Collette, Muriel’s Wedding does turn out to be a memory you’ll treasure forever.

Top 5 Literary Husbands

Top 5 Literary Husbands

So I had every intention of writing a great and meaningful post for this week. However, my older sister royally fucked that up by getting engaged yesterday. I mean I’m happy and everything but I had to spend valuable writing time drinking champagne instead. So now it’s half 11 on Monday night and I’ve only just started writing something. It’s fucking ridiculous. I’m pretty much back to square one. That can only mean one thing: it’s time for a lazy blog post. With marriage now on my radar, I’ve decided it’s time to compile my top 5 list of male literary characters I’d be okay to settle down with. God knows it’s about time I give this some thought. Pretty much every YA-focused book vlogger I’ve ever watched seems to be editing this list on a weekly, if not daily, basis. To be fair, they’re lists mostly contain awful YA pretty boys I’ve never heard of or the awful men who wear breeches in classic novels. When will people learn, Mr Rochester and Heathcliffe are fucking creeps: not the kind of people you should aspire to marry. Anyway, just as some people don’t feel comfortable until they have their zombie apocalypse plan in place (yawn), I’m not sure I’ll be able to sleep until I sort this fucking list out. So without further ado…

Number 5: Charlie Weasley (Harry Potter)
Okay, Charlie may not be the most obvious Weasley to chose as your future spouse because we really don’t know much about him. He is the family member we learn least about and only really meet once. However, he works with fucking dragons. Anyone who can honestly say they’d prefer to marry the guy who runs a joke shop or the one who has a ponytail and works in a bank really hasn’t thought it through. Fucking. Dragons. Charlie would be the most exciting husband in the wizarding world.

Number 4: Jorah Mormont (A Song of Ice and Fire)
I have to be honest and say, this is a bit of a cheat. I probably wouldn’t actually go near the Jorah Mormont that graces the pages of George RR Martin’s novels. He’s kind of old, hairy and is something of a creep himself. Really not the greatest catch. Plus, according to Dany, he’s nothing too special to look at. So why does he get pride of place on my list? Iain fucking Glenn. Despite being nearly twice my age, the man’s a babe.

Number 3: Rob Felming (High Fidelity)
Now I’m sure I’ve mentioned before just how much I love High Fidelity. I really do: it’s a fucking great read. Rob isn’t the greatest of characters for most of the narrative but he’s a changed man by the end. That’s the Rob I’d marry. The man who has realised how messed up he was and was willing to change. After all, without the fairly selfish beginnings, Rob has a lot of things going for him. He owns a record shop, which would be awesome, and would constantly make you interesting mix-tapes to listen to. I’m stuck in a rut in terms of my music tastes so I need all the help I can get.

Number 2: Boromir (The Lord of the Rings)
I know Aragorn would be everyone’s ideal choice but he’s a bit too madly in love for my liking. Boromir gets pretty short shrift because of that whole ‘trying to steal the ring of power and save Gondor’ thing. However, he’s actually a pretty great guy if you can just get over that. He’s brave, one of the greatest warriors Gondor has ever seen and he really fucking cares about his people. That’s why the ring could seduce him so easily. Plus, he made up for it in the end by saving Merry and Pippin. Plus, dat Sean Bean doe.

Number 1: Oliver Wood (Harry Potter)
Another slight cheat here really. Ever since I first watched the first Harry Potter film I was obsessed with Oliver Wood. Sean Biggerstaff was one of the most beautiful people my 13 year old self had ever seen. I loved him and, embarassingly, I used to email pictures of him to one of my schoolfriends to prove how gorgeous he was. So fucking cringey: I was super Tumblr before it even existed. Anyway, thinking about it now though he’s probably make a good choice. He has the potential to become a Quidditch star so would have a pretty steady income. He’s driven, athletic and tenacious. Having returned to fight in the Battle of Hogwarts you know he’s as brave as any Gryffindor. He’s also Scottish according to the films, which I find never really hurts.

TBT – America’s Sweethearts (2001)

TBT – America’s Sweethearts (2001)

My review of Station Elevendiscussed my relationship with YA and the fact that I always come back for more knowing that, more often than not, I’m going to fucking hate it. I’ve pretty much accepted at this point that I’m an oft disappointed fool who’s stubbornness will always be my undoing. It’s a character trait that moves beyond the world of shitty books for teenagers/adults that never want to grow up. It’s just as easy for me to lie to myself that the work of certain directors or actors that I know have a tendency to be fucking awful will actually turn out to be awesome. The most notable offenders are Woody Allen and the man I’m going to talk about today, John Cusack. Now I’ve been in love with John Cusack since I first saw Say Anything so I have this ridiculous notion that everything he stars in will be amazing. Unfortunately, this hypothesis is absolute bullshit.

I can’t even remember the names of all of the John Cusack films I’ve sat through and questioned the strength of my affection for him. His performance in a couple of 80s teen movie and High Fidelity surely can’t be enough to justify the likes of 2012 and The Raven. It’s sad but Cusack is at this worst when given the role of romantic lead, which you think would be ideal for the guy who left a generation of young women waiting in their bedrooms hoping to hear Peter Gabriel wafting from a boombox below.
Watching Serendipity caused my brain to slowly melt out of my ears with it’s fucking banality and schmaltz. However, it is perhaps the irritatingly timid America’s Sweethearts that I have the biggest issue with. Written by Billy Crystal, Peter Tolan and Donna Roth, America’s Sweethearts is like the dipshit younger brother of Hollywood classic Singing in the Rain. The off-screen romance between A-listers Lee Philips and Gwen Harrison has turned to shit and their most recent rom-com is on the verge of tanking. In order to claw back success, a desperate studio executive (Stanley Tucci) must rely on his recently fired publicist (Crystal) to create a campaign nobody can ignore.
Their divorce has left Gwen and Lee emotionally scarred; something that makes it difficult to get them in a room together but provides a shit-ton of material to keep a whole host of journalists happy. Whilst the studio is attempting to suggest that the pair are about to reunite, Lee finds himself falling in love with Gwen’s put-upon but lovable sister Kiki (Julia Roberts). The story that unfolds is neither an adorably cute, hilariously funny or sharply satirical. It has elements of each but is so unsure of what it’s trying to be that it ends up feeling like a fucking waste.
Crystal and co attempt to take a few pot-shots at the film industry but their attempts would only see them receiving the worthless participation rosette at school sports day. There are a few moments at the beginning that suggest the curtain will be pulled back but as the narrative goes on the script gets confused and all focus is lost. The comedy just isn’t clever enough and the romance tries to be too earnest. There are loads of moments when the film forgets it’s supposed to be making you life and tries to portray its message as insightful.
It doesn’t help that characters are so fucking badly written. The main characters are paint-by-numbers staples and get very little to work with. Julia Roberts and John Cusack just fall into tired old traps because the writing gives them nothing. Catherine Zeta Jones does well at portraying the heartless Gwen but falters whenever she is forced to show the actresses human side. Billy Crystal’s publicist once again can’t quite decide whether is has a heart of gold or prefers the ruthless pursuit of cash. The actors never have a chance to find their groove because their characters change their minds about who they are more than the guy in that fucking Katy Perry song.
The solely comedy, screwball characters fair slightly better but it’s middling at best. Christopher Walken’s portrayal of the mysterious director Hal Weidmann is the closest we get to proper Hollywood critique and he manages to provide a few decent moments. Hank Azaria, on the other end of the scale, is nothing but obnoxious and uncomfortable viewing as Gwen’s new Latin love, Hector.

America’s Sweethearts is a film with a major identity crisis that opens well but just moves closer and closer to its inevitable breakdown. It makes painful viewing at times and I felt fucking bad trying to get enjoyment out of it. Some things are so pathetic and confused that you are morally obligated not to get enjoyment from them. I didn’t want to laugh at America’s Sweethearts: I wanted to recommend a good therapist for it. I guess all of this confusion and chopping and changing would be okay if the ending was as strong as the opening. Surprise, surprise: it’s fucking not. The inevitable takes so long to happen that all satisfaction is lost and there is no comeuppance for the people who’s downfall we have been craving for so long. No good can come from watching this film. 
Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

I’ve hardly been hiding the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of YA fiction. Call me crazy but as a fucking adult I tend to prefer fiction that actually tries to challenge me. However, as I’m also the kind of fucking pathetic individual who is always swayed by popular opinion, I can’t seem to stop giving it a go when a book proves popular enough. Back in 2014, George RR Martin, you’ve probably heard of him, gave Station Eleven his seal of approval so I figured ‘why the fuck not’. Then, unsurprisingly, the book sat at the bottom of my TBR pile looking beautiful whilst I couldn’t give a shit about opening it’s pages. Until the day when my increasing guilt proved too much and I gave in. I’d just read a supposedly ‘revolutionary’ YA novel that was the biggest load of shit I’d ever read. It’s safe to say my hopes about this one weren’t high.

Emily St John Mandel’s fourth novel starts in dramatic fashion with the death of an actor, Arthur Leander, whilst on stage playing King Lear. There is barely enough time to process the tragic event before the world finds itself in the midst of a global crisis. A severe strain of flu, the Georgia flu, is quickly spreading throughout the human world and those infected are beyond medical help. Within weeks about 99% of humanity has been wiped out and the rest are left alone in the wilderness.
Mandel’s narrative leaps between the events preceding the pandemic right up to the 20thyear after humanity fell and, even in death, Arthur is constantly hovering over the action. The modern day chapters give us insight into the actor’s life before his final performance; mainly focusing on his troubled marriages and desire to discover who he really is. We meet his oldest friend, Clark, and some of his past loves, most importantly Miranda, an art school graduate who has been working on the ‘Dr Eleven’ comic book for some years. The section of the narrative revolving around Arthur’s history is truly engaging and Mandel shows great insight into human nature and relationships.
Arthur is kept relevant even 20 years after the flu decimates humanity thanks to actress, Kirsten Raymonde, who was part of the infamous King Lear production at the age of 8. She remembers little of her past life but obsessively searches for any mention of Arthur that survived the destruction of society. Now in her late 20s, Kirsten is part of the Traveling Symphony, a group of actors and musicians who travel around the country performing Shakespeare. The Symphony’s motto is an obscure quote from Star Trekthat tells us “Survival is insufficient” and they do what they can to ensure art thrives in the desolate landscape that has arisen.
That is what Mandel’s novel is all about when it comes down to it. Choosing to avoid the usual traps of post-apocalyptic literature, she ignores the years directly following the crisis and picks up years down the line. The scenes of chaos, looting and violence that one would normally see are replaced with images of humans trying to regain their civilization. Mandel’s novel isn’t one of desperation and despair but one of hope. The idea that human decency can survive and civilization will endure if life remains.
It’s an approach that has gained Mandel a lot of respect and is undeniably refreshing in a sea of dystopian fiction. However, I can’t help but feel that there is something naïve about her approach. As someone who is about as jaded as you can be with this fucking genre, I appreciate that Mandel wanted to avoid copying every other YA author out there but there is something weird about the complete lack of danger within her created society. What was obviously meant to be a message of hope that humanity, and with it art, can survive even the bleakest times just feels fucking childish.
Obviously, danger and violence are implied within the novel but it is as hidden as Mandel can manage. Kirsten was supposedly too traumatised during the year directly after the flu hit to remember anything about it. This seems like a fucking huge cop out to me: after all, what is the good of showing hope winning out in the end if there is no real sense of hopelessness? It’s the same over-simplified, fairy tale world of YA fiction that we have seen so many times before. Let’s not be afraid to shake things up and show teenagers how shitty humanity can be.
We live in a world where violence is the answer to everything and it can rear it’s ugly head with only the slightest provocation. There is something incredibly flawed in Mandel’s assumption that there would be such a small amount of tension and danger within the 1% of humanity that survived the ‘plague’. Maybe I’m just cynical but the message of ‘things will be okay as long as people keep performing Shakespeare’ is kind of laughable. I have hope that humanity would win out in the end but not in Mandel’s rose-tinted manner.
However, Station Eleven was still a joy to read because Mandel, despite her overly positive approach, is an incredibly talented writer. Her prose is fucking beautiful and she manages to create a dream-like atmosphere that counters its post-apocalyptic brothers and sisters. The novel is refreshing thanks to its stunning visuals and extremely light in tone. Although, for a book that has been billed as part mystery, Mandel leaves so many fucking signposts all over the place that the end reveals aren’t a shock to anybody. Still the journey there is pleasant enough: it’s the kind of book you can easily get lost in.
And not just because of all of the narrative strands Mandel is tying together. To be fair, Mandel handles all of the interweaving storylines with great skill. It’s just a shame that it can’t quite make up for the overlying sense of improbability that surrounds everything. It’s all so fucking coincidental and you need to suspend nearly all of your disbelief. The fact that all of the narratives come back to Arthur even after everything (for instance, that Kirsten forgets her entire family but remembers a man who had such a small impact on her life) is a teeny bit convoluted. All the links are just fucking too in-your-face to seem realistic.
I was excited by the thought of an original post-apocalyptic novel but found Station Elevenstill wasn’t quite what I was hoping for. There were too many fucking cop-outs and simplifications for my liking. As much as I want an escape from the norm, I’m just too old-fashioned and prefer my dystopians to be fucking horrible. Enough of this, ‘everything works out if we keep art alive’ hippy bullshit.
TBT – Life After Beth (2014)

TBT – Life After Beth (2014)

My last post, a much longer rant than I had anticipated, concerned the realms of creepy love. It’s a worrying fact about society today that normal love stories are no longer enough to satisfy an audience’s needs. It needs to be unusual and extremely over-the-top. It’s an explanation for why the humble rom-com that kept Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in work for most of the 80s now only exists within hybrids with other genres. As time goes on these will only get fucking weirder but, for now, the supernatural romantic love story still seems to be exciting the type of pathetic people who think the latest popular YA sensation is the most romantic fucking story ever written. Hollywood knows where to place its bets and love stories featuring sexy versions of horror movies staples have been ten a penny in recent years. For the most part I’m okay with it if I can avoid it but, I have to admit, I’m a little about the potential popularity of the zombie romantic comedy (or zom-rom-com). I mean it seems to me that the moment young people start fantasising about having sex with dead people we could have a major fucking problem on our hands.

I realise that, as someone who has already admitted to being jaded with the current amount of zombie focused content filtering out of our entertainment industry, this review was never going to be glowing. However, zombie-based comedy is not a new thing. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead was one of the earlier and strongest additions to the genre and pretty much ruined anyone else’s chances of beating it. Their film came out 10 whole years before Life After Beth so my naive heart still believed it could make a difference. I loved the premise and, as someone who desperately wants to be Aubrey Plaza, was fairly excited to see how the cast dealt with it.

The story begins with the death of Beth Slocum, a young girl bitten by a snake whilst hiking. Obviously the tragic events comes as a huge shock to her parents, Geenie and Maury, (Molly Shannon and John C. Reilly) and her boyfriend, Zach Orfman (Dane DeHaan). Zach finds comfort in visiting the mourning family until they mysteriously start to avoid him. Turns out Beth came back from the dead and her mental parents have taken to hiding their little miracle in the attic. Zach, upon discovering his undead former love, realises that he now has the chance to make amends for the shitty relationship they had before that pesky death business put a damper on things.

Of course, in the early stages the relationship is at its necrophilic best with Beth picking up where she left off. She is seemingly the same person she was but slightly more rotten skin. Much quicker than he discovers how fucking weird it is to be having sex with a zombie, Zach realises that death has had a a much greater effect on his girlfriend that it initially appeared. Beth is now super strong, quick to anger and only subdued when listening to endless hours of Smooth Jazz. Not exactly his ideal women then.

Life After Beth could have been a fucking great film if it had stayed within the domestic territory of ‘boy meets girl, boy loses girl to snake bite, girls comes back from the dead, boy happily starts sleeping with girl again’. That would have been the perfect blend of simple and funny that would have allowed the strong cast to do good work. Instead, Jeff Baena attempts to evolve this narrative into a much bigger/shitter zombie apocalypse story and manages to lose control of it all. He leaves too much unexplained and shows too little of the scale of the problem to create enough drama.

It’s a huge fucking disappointing that Life After Beth fell into such a familiar pattern because it seemed to be a fresh approach to an undeniably over-saturated genre. The cast do a great job with the material they are given and could have done much better with a stronger premise. John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon are fucking great as Beth’s overprotective and incredibly crazy parents. Dane DeHaan, not your typical rom-com lead, is sensible enough to play the grieving Zach with the right level of creepy so you can understand his actions whilst never being fully on board with them.

Of course, Aubrey Plaza is the star of the show and manages to pull a shitty concept into something vaguely watchable. She does great work as the happy-go-luck, just back from the dead Beth and as the fully fledged Zombie psycho strapped to an oven Beth. She has most of the movies funniest and most memorable moments. I’d hate to have seen what a fucking huge pile of shit this would have been without her. Especially when you consider Baena’s half-hearted introduction of the women also vying for Zach’s affection, Erica (Anna Kendrick). Kendrick has about five minutes of being nice and pretty and is basically forgotten until the films final act. It’s just another distraction that we could have done without and is fucking disrespectful to an actress as reliable as Kendrick.

Life After Beth‘s problems arise from the fact that it’s not a complete idea. The script basically came from an idea that would have produced a good-length YouTube sketch that was stretched into a 90 minute film. It proves that there might still be room to work within the zombie genre but warns anyone willing to take the risk that its going to be more difficult than they’d think. Film makers have become fucking lazy because, when it comes to zombies, we’ve seen it all before. All we need is one strong and original idea and the undead film industry could really come back to life.