The Bees By Laline Paull‎

The Bees By Laline Paull‎

We’re into the third month of the year and I’m still incredibly far behind my Penguinspiration target of 30. Although, I have just got through 2 more and am well on the way with a third so I might actually get there by 2017 or something. Recently, despite all my best efforts, I caved and bought a handful of the Penguin Little Black Classics because they cost 80 fucking pence each. They’re all pretty tiny so I’m hoping I can cheat a little and count them as 1 each. Anyway, as I mentioned, I’ve just finished a couple of books and, with the announcement regarding the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist recently I was overjoyed to discover that one of the books was on it. I’m never this ahead of the times. I feel quite proud. So I thought I’d talk about it.

Nowadays, I do most of my reading on my lunch-break from work, which clearly explains why I’m doing such a tiny fucking amount. As I’m sure my fellow readers will know from first-hand experience, this means I’m constantly being interrupted by people asking me what I’m reading. Whilst this is one of the most irritating things known to mankind, I’m never one to miss the chance to talk about books. When trying to describe Laline Paull’s The Bees I was met with much mocking and it was nothing to do with Nicolas Cage for once. It was because every time I tried to describe it I’d make it sound like a fucking children’s book.
As the title suggests, this is a book about bees: one specific bee really, Flora 717. She is supposedly meaningless sanitation worker; the lowest of the low. However, Flora 717 stands out in more ways than one. She’s bigger than her sisters and is the only worker of her class to be able to talk. One of the mysterious Sage priestesses spots Flora’s potential and sees that she is reassigned to help feed the newborns. It is the first step on a never-seen-before rise through the ranks that leads the poor bee to discover things both great and world-shattering.
Despite the titular bees having an unusual predisposition to communicate in English, Paull’s novel starts off with a very strong and scientific feel about it. I enjoyed the initial pages describing Flora’s birth and introduction to hive life; they didn’t feel too gimmicky or Beatrix Potter-y. Slowly things start to get weirder and the anthropomorphising gets a little more serious. When the bees are described as eating pastries and pitchers of nectar then it started to feel a little silly and harder to justify to my sceptical co-workers.
It’s a tiny but infuriating thing about this book: everything is so close to being perfect. There are just odd little moments or occurrences that just stand out. The supposedly insignificant human embellishments on hive society that stick out like a fucking sore thumb. I’d have been much happier if Paull had stuck to her more factual descriptions. It’s clear that a lot of research went into the novel and it seems fucking stupid to dilute all that with a load of twee descriptions of bees acting like human beings.
These slight misses can be seen throughout the book: with similar lapses being visible in the plot and characterisation. There are so many random events and unusual decisions made just so Flora can get to where she needs to be for the narrative to work. For the first half of the book at least, Flora feels less like a character and more like a vapid narrative tool. Everything is circumstantial and the narrative is annoyingly episodic rather than flowing.
However, Paull’s writing is fucking beautiful regardless of this. The prose envelops your senses in much the same way as the Queen’s Love hypnotises her loyal daughters. The description of Flora’s first few flights in her new role as forager are, frankly, breathtaking. From the second Flora gains her freedom we start to see her fleshing out. The scenes within the Dance Hall where she communicates direction and key foraging spots are full of joy. She finally has purpose and desires.
The second half of the book is almost at odds with the first and becomes more akin to the publisher’s desire to create “Watership Down for the Hunger Games generation”. With her newly found independence from the hive mind kicking in, Flora is able to see beyond the Queen’s Love and uncover a disastrous secret. The Beessuddenly becomes Watership Downmeets fucking John LeCare or some shit.
However, there are still unanswered questions here: the plot still feels fractured and unsure of itself. The political thriller at the centre of Flora’s story is less clear than the spotlight Paull places on social and racial difference. There are so many oddities that are just unexplained: why is Flora so special for fuck’s sake? It leaves the reader a little bewildered and attempts to compensate by mixing them up in too much drama and action to notice.
I don’t wish to give the impression that I disliked The Bees because I didn’t: I fucking loved it. I loved it from the moment I read the plot summary on the dust jacket. As a debut, it paves the way for a strong future and, despite it’s insect-based setting, speaks to its audience on many familiar levels. It’s hardly necessary to point out that the strict class system, scenes of unadulterated violence and the devotion to an almost unseen ruler all reflect real-world totalitarian states. Nor does it seem worthy to waste time commenting on the importance of gender within the narrative, the book has often been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale for good reason.

Despite all of this good stuff, I can’t help but wish it had been better: perhaps shorter, less playful in areas and more defined in terms of plot. It didn’t blight my enjoyment per se but I found my attention drifting through parts and waiting for the action to pick up again. Although, it did increase my fascination for bees: they sound fucking awesome. 
TBT – Leprechaun in the Hood (2000)

TBT – Leprechaun in the Hood (2000)

Recently my inbox has been filled with emails concerning special green-based promotions taking place on various websites. This can only mean one thing: St Patrick’s day is coming up. Yes, that one day of the year when everyone pretends to be Irish so they have an excuse to drink a fuck load is upon us again. The one night where people pretend to love Guinness despite the fact that it’s a fucking meal in a glass. In honour of this special day this TBT is all about one of my favourite franchises of all time: the Leprechaun films. Admittedly, I’ve only seen the 3rd, 4th and 5th of the 6 but I can tell you its part of my bucket list to finish them one day. Hell, we’ve all got to have something to live for.

I remember the first Leprechaun film I ever saw: it was Leprechaun 4: In Space. It’s fair to say I’d been drinking. My 17 year old friends and I were channel-hopping and came across a film that started with a fucking Leprechaun emerging from some dude’s dick. Can you honestly tell me you wouldn’t feel compelled to continue watching it? Anyway, as it turned out, Warwick Davis playing a homicidal Leprechaun was both the worst thing I’d ever seen and the fucking greatest. Especially when for some reason he becomes fucking gigantic.
Needless to say we tracked down other films in the series and, unsurprisingly, I was drawn to the next film in the series: Leprechaun in the Hood. I’m not shy in admitting that it’s my favourite of the ones I’ve seen so far and, I’m fairly comfortable presuming, the entire series. A small amount of research (i.e. a quick look on Wikipedia) showed me that this year is the film’s 15th anniversary. Fucking fate.
As the title suggests, Leprechaun in the Hood puts our favourite Irish killer in the world of hip hop and, to make the point even more obvious, it stars fucking Ice-T. It also stars the guy who went on to play Ensign Travis Mayweather inStar Trek: Enterprise but I can see how that’s a much less interesting fact. We have good old fashioned gangsta rap and a young group of wannabe hoping to fill the world with their respectful lyrics. We’ve got fucking social and musical commentary here, guys.
Unsurprisingly, the plot isn’t really that important to the proceedings as it’s just a random chain of events that allows the Leprechaun to fuck shit up. Our titular villain is looking to get his magic flute back after producer Mac Daddy stole it some years later. The power of the flute has ensure Mac Daddy’s great success over the years by essentially hypnotising his listeners. Unfortunately, our three hopeful rappers get caught up in the violence after they steal the flute and become overnight sensations. That’s pretty much all there is to this film. 90 minutes of bad rapping, Zombie Fly Girls, and Warwick Davis speaking in rhyme. It’s fucking awful but it’s also the best thing you’ll ever fucking see.
For a supposed horror film,Leprechaun in the Hood, is hardly what I’d call scary but none of the best B movies ever are. There is so much to love about this film: the shitty effects, the shitty Irish accent, the shitty rapping, and the shitty acting. Then there’s the script: Leprechaun in the Hoodoffers some of the most unbelievable dialogue I’ve ever heard. For your consideration:

“Look at all these glittering goods – I’ve got more loot than Tiger Woods! 

“I’ll take it from you, homie, you’ll see, cause you know the Leprechaun is the real O.G.”

“A friend with weed is a friend indeed, but a friend with gold is the best I’m told.”  

So you see, there is a great deal of writing skill on show here. It’s fucking amazing. In all honesty, I think the phrase “Chucky on crack” is perhaps the best thing I’ve ever heard. What’s not to like?
So yes, Leprechaun in the Hood isn’t exactly a masterpiece of modern cinema, something highlighted by the fact that it was a straight to video feature. However, it is life changing. It has that great B movie charm where everything is obviously done on shoestring and is so fucking cheap and nasty. It’s politically incorrect, relies on awful stereotypes and manages to be neither intentionally funny or scary. The moments when it’s not trying to be funny are, of course, some of the greatest Leprechaun-based moments of comedy you’ll ever see. So I implore you, once you’re all liquored up on St Paddy’s day, sit down with your friends and experience something beautiful together. I think, ultimately, that’s what the Leprechaun would have wanted.
TBT – The Lego Movie (2014)

TBT – The Lego Movie (2014)

No matter how old I get, I will always love Lego. So much so, that when my family asked what I wanted for my birthday today it took all of my self-control to say anything other than Lego. I have a secret supply to bring out when I’m bored, I’ve been known to obsessively play every Lego video game that’s ever been created and have wasted more hours than I’d care to admit dreamily going through the Lego website wishing I could afford it all. So yeah, I fucking love Lego. However, when I first watched The Lego Movie last year I wasn’t that impressed. Yes, it was funny and really well made and I had that fucking song stuck in my head for months afterwards… I just thought something was missing. So, when I discovered the DVD on offer with free Vitruvius minifig I felt I owed it to myself to give it another try.

The Lego Movieis the creation of duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who have started to garner the reputation as people who can create fucking amazing films out of questionable building blocks. They found great success with their animated feature Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and the surprisingly clever and fucking funny reboot of 21 Jump Street. If anyone was going to create a film out of a much-loved childhood staple that wasn’t as brain meltingly awful as Battleships then these were the guys to ask.
There was always the question of how they were going to tackle the storyline of a film about plastic bricks and, on the surface, The Lego Movie seems fairly boring and clichéd. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is your average Joe who happily goes about his day living within the rules. Working in construction, Emmet literally follows life’s instruction manual. His life is repetitive and unexciting until he finds the prophesied ‘piece of resistance’.
As it turns out, the mystical Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) had a vision that a chosen one would find the piece and stop the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) from destroying the world. Once the piece is within his possession, Emmet finds himself battling against the straight-laced despot and being aided by a renegade group of Master Builders, visionaries who prefer to rip up the fucking rule book and live outside the box.
Thanks to Lego’s recent film and comic book themed sets, the race of Master Builders is punctuated with all too familiar faces, including Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders). Of all of the supporting characters though, it is Lego Batman (Will Arnett) who reigns supreme and has, unsurprisingly to all involved, has gained his very own spin-off film.
The Lego Movieis undoubtedly a riotous affair. The characters dip throughout the multi-dimensional world appearing in worlds that are all too familiar to fans of the titular toy. The most action takes place using the Pirate sets, the Wild West and Space but the film is littered with references to the less recognisable, like Fabuland and Galidor. The detail of the film is breathtaking and there is an abundance of sight gags and in-jokes for the true aficionado.
For a film that is basically just one massive advertisement for Lego, The Lego Moviecertainly doesn’t feel like one long product placement. It has respect for its subject matter and treats it with the correct sense of fun. The plot isn’t exactly the most inspiring despite the fact that the duo do everything they can to invert the tired ‘chosen one’ narrative. However, if we’re honest that’s pretty much what Lego itself is. A collection of bricks that, on their own, are fairly dull bits of plastic that are fucking devastating to stand on. Lego is all about imagination and its potential is infinite.
So yes, the script may not always hit every single target but neither does everything you make out of Lego. The visual gags are incredible and the sheer energy behind every scene is non-stop. It’ll leave you breathless and on the edge of your seat. Although this is a bit of a double-edged sword and there is a moment during the middle where things get a little too chaotic; almost as if you allowed your child to drink a butt-load of coffee and let him loose on a large quantity of blocks. The writers just seem to let their imagination go a little too crazy and there are too many random ideas to keep control of.
Thankfully, you can trust the pair to eventually reign it in and get proceedings back on track. I wasn’t sure about the ending after my first viewing but second time around I found it fucking heart-warming. I think I was initially disappointed at such a convoluted way of explaining all the events but, actually, the ending is the perfect way to tie up all the loose ends.

Of course, The Lego Movie is something that you shouldn’t really put too much thought into I suppose. Like the bricks themselves, it’s all about having fun and being silly. Lord and Miller have written a slightly insane, witty, clever and strangely sassy film that will delight children and adults alike. The animation is stunning and makes standard CGI look like stop-motion. So much thought has gone into the look of this film from the blink and you’ll miss em sight gags and the scratched, scuffed pre-loved feel the blocks and characters all have. Add to that a flawless voice cast with impeccable timing and you have something I feel fucking stupid to have been disappointed in. Hey, I can’t be perfect all the time.  
Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

There are plenty of films that I get excited about but am too embarrassed to admit to. No matter how much I try and hide it, I’ll always have the soul of a 12 year old boy. The bottom line is that swords, guns and explosions are fucking awesome and if your film trailer is full of them then I’m gonna want to see it. It’s led to a lot of misguided film experiences and is the main reason that I don’t completely hate Michael Bay’s Transformersfilms. Upon first seeing the trailer for Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, I knew it was the kind of film I wanted to see but without anyone finding out about it.

Back in 2010, Matthew Vaughan and co-writer Jane Goldman re-imagined the world of superhero movies with Kick-Ass and introduced us all to the profanity spouting Chloe Grace Moretz. It was a fucking superb film that achieved massive success and spawned a less than great sequel. Obviously feeling comfortable adapting Mark Millar’s work, Vaughan and Goldman are back to reinvent the classic spy film by bringing The Secret Serviceto our screens. No matter how fucking amazing Skyfalland the rest of Daniel Craig’s Bond reign has been, there has been something lacking of late. No longer is there any room for the raised eyebrows, timely quips and batshit crazy gadgets. Thankfully, Vaughan has noticed a gap in the market and adapted Millar’s story to fit the bill. Kingsman does for Roger Moore era James Bond what Guy Ritchie did for Sherlock Holmes… only better.
Kingsmanis refreshingly self-aware and is littered with cheeky nods to all aspects of pop culture. Colin Firth’s suave Harry Hart wear Harry Palmer-style glasses, wields an umbrella in a way that John Steed would be proud and casually references 80s classic Trading Places. Of course, it is Bond that prevails over all and Ian Fleming’s much-loved agent is regularly alluded to or mentioned out-right. In an attempt to make amends for a past mistake, Harry takes urban youth, Eggsy, under his wing to turn him into a gentleman and a trained killer. The first part of the film is a delightful mix of My Fair Lady, The Apprentice and The Ipcress File. The moments between the pair are full of chemistry so it’s a massive fucking shame that the plot strives so hard to split them up.
For, whilst Eggsy is taking part in the most stressful job interview ever, Harry’s time is spent trying to find out what internet mogul Richmond Valentine (Samuel L Jackson) is planning. Valentine is a megalomaniac with a keen interest in environmentalism. As classic spy villains go, he isn’t up there with the best but does provide a few memorable moments throughout the proceedings. Ultimately though, he is woefully eclipsed by his blade-legged, assassin side-kick, Gazelle. A powerful opponent who can easily chop you in half with her prosthetics: the paralympics meets Kill Billif you will. Of course, regardless of his ranking in the super-villain hall of fame, Valentine is a pretty good foil for Hart and the rare moments that they appear on screen together are fucking brilliant. I’m never normally sure what I think of Colin Firth but there is no doubt he had the time of his fucking life. There is the now infamous scene set in an extremist Church when Harry, not fully in control of his senses, takes out an entire congregation of angry Christians. Graphic it may be but fun it most certainly is.
That’s the thing about Kingsman, the fact that it was independently funded meant that Vaughn was able to get away with more without fear of censorship. The violence is perhaps over-the-top but is handled in such a cartoony way that it might not matter. For every potentially dubious moment of unnecessary there is the fucking genius scene of henchmen’s heads exploding in time to Land of Hope and Glory. Whatever your thoughts on the violence argument that will always be raging within Hollywood, there is no doubt that Kingsmanis a stylish, brash and incredibly fun film. The only real let-down that I can see is Vaughn’s treatment of the class system. He makes several attempts to openly criticise the upper-classes whilst simultaneously celebrating their lifestyle. Kingsmanplays with a certain tradition of spy thrillers and inadvertently places the men at the centre of that genre on a pedestal. This is understandably at odds with all of Harry’s reassurances to Eggsy that it is the man underneath that counts. Still, it makes little difference in Matthew Vaughn’s joy-filled celebration of a certain style of cinema. You’ll make it through to the credits perfectly happy and, if you’re like me, excited for the next one.
TBT – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)

TBT – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005)

I have a secret shame that has been eating away at me for years. In my first year of university, a depressing 7.5 years ago, a male friend and I hid ourselves away and watched a film so embarrassing we vowed never to speak of it again. Until that point I’d allowed myself to openly mock the narrative as I imagined it to be. It was a source of derision between me and my school friends because we were teenagers and it’s what we did. Having kept the secret deep within for so long, I go through periods where I forget that I’ve even seen the film but then it comes crashing back into my memory. When researching ideas for my next few TBT posts I discovered my dirty secret, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, was celebrating its 10thbirthday. It seemed like fate.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is the 2005 film based on Ann Brashares’ novel of the same name. It follows four teenage friends – Carmen (America Ferrera), Tibby (Amber Tamblyn), Bridget (Blake Lively), and Lena (Alexis Bledel) – who are devastated to discover that they will be spending their summers apart for the first time ever. Lena finds herself destined for Greece and her Grandparents; Bridget will be attending soccer camp (it fucking pains me to Americanise myself but needs must); Carmen is reconnecting with her father; and film-maker Tibby is left at home on her own.
Obviously, not seeing each other for a few weeks is the worst fucking thing to happen to these girls so they spend as much time as possible with each other. On one of their final days together they go shopping and, for some fucking weird reason, these four girls, all different shapes and sizes, decide it’d be fun to try on the same pair of jeans. It’s something I didn’t understand in 2007 and something I understand even less now.
Thankfully, in the magical world of movies, the jeans fit all girls perfectly. In an attempt to feel closer during their soul-destroying absence, the girls buy the jeans and vow to share them over the coming weeks. Just imagine the hassle and the cost of mailing one pair of jeans to all the girls: if you want to feel closer, why not just text each other every day for fuck’s sake?
Well, that’s just not Hollywood now, is it? So the four girls all set out on their different Summer journeys waiting for the chance to wear the same jeans as their friends. I do hope they wash them in between owners. There is the usual mix of teenage girl drama to be had here: there’s a boy, another boy, father/daughter drama and boring summer jobs. The film splits between the four girls’ separate stories in such a way that none of them get the chance to outstay their welcome. It limits the amount of fucking teenage drama you have to sit through.
Although, I have to admit that there is actually a lot more depth to TSTP than I originally thought there would be. Though it may contain certain familiar elements, the film is nowhere near as brain-meltingly bad as the usual guff created for this audience. Each girl gets their chance to experience the world and grow as young people. Despite my ingrained need to mock everything not intended for me, I actually found the film to be annoying sweet and strangely touching.
When the proud Puerto Rican Carmen comes face-to-face with her absentee father’s picture perfect, suburban family, she is forced to face the realisation that he is not as wonderful as she thought he was. She begins to question her identity and her sense of self-awareness. How can she compete with his ready-made family and why should she?
In Greece, Lena comes the closest of the four to teenage melodrama with her own version of Romeo and Julietbut, thankfully, without the double suicide. She meets a lovely Greek boy only to discover some unknown feud running between the two families. Fucking Greeks. Although, they should be thankful as TSTPwould have been fucking priceless marketing for the country. Endless footage of sun-drenched villages, with kindly old people always ready to throw a massive feast should the need arise.
While Lena is stuffing her face with Greek food, Bridget is causing a stir at soccer camp in Mexico. Using the magical pants of the title to seduce her older, camp counsellor. The group should probably have planned ahead and created a sex clause when they came up with their arrangements. I dread to think about the sand issues the next wearer was having. Of course, being a teenage film, this is a worrying area to deal with and, after ‘doing the deed’, Bridget spends much of the rest of her Summer hiding away in shame. Well who needs a fucking healthy attitude towards sex anyway?
Finally, we have the most engaging and also the most infuriating plot of all. Tibby, pulling all kinds of Dawson Leary shit, gets a boring job in a grocery shop so she can make a ridiculously pretentious documentary. Luckily, she meets an enthusiastic, kind and warm-hearted young girl who designates herself as Tibby’s assistant. This young girl, Bailey, shows Tibby that looking at life through a lens isn’t always the best way and, inadvertently, forces her to face up to some of life’s toughest realities.

Now, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantswill never be my favourite film. However, for something I would have once deemed too silly for me to even bother with, I was surprised by how good it actually was. The young actresses playing the main four were all doing great work before this and manage to bring a touching reality to this strange, magical tale. It is, at times, heart-warming and charming whilst still having enough comedy to fulfil its major goal. Despite nearly 8 years of secrecy, I think I’m finally ready to come to terms with the fact that I watched this film. Even if I’m in no real hurry to watch it again.
Her by Harriet Lane

Her by Harriet Lane

At the start of the year, I signed up for Penguin Books’ “Peguinspiration” and decided that I would strive to read a fairly modest seeming 30 books in 2015. As of February I’ve already given up on one novel, completed another a few days ago and started a third. At this rate, I’ll struggle to manage half of the number that I thought I would easily achieve. Maybe it’s the type of books I’m tackling. I loved what I read of A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall but found it fucking tough to get through after a long day at work. The writing was beautiful and the story complex and engaging. However, nobody wants to be faced with a fucking 50 page chapter before they go to bed. So instead, I picked up an altogether trashier sounding thriller that I could get out of the way in a week.

Following the publication of her second novel, Harriet Lane is fast becoming known in the literary world for her clever and exciting domestic thrillers. Her debut, Alys, Always went over well with critics so her follow-up had to deliver along the same lines. Heris the story of two women living very different lives who somehow come together to form an awkward and questionable friendship. The novel presents the narrative from the women’s individual perspectives where each of their views of events is presented side-by-side. I imagine this dual point-of-view format will draw many comparisons to the ever popular Gone Girlbut, as someone who still refuses to finish Flynn’s massively successful novel, I won’t allow myself to fall into such an uninspiring trap.
Emma is the weary mother who gave up her career to raise her young children whilst struggling for money, time and happiness. She is part of a tough marriage with a distant husband and niggling feelings of inadequacy. Nina, on the other hand, is a successful artist who lives a satisfied existence with her older husband and teenage daughter. Nina enjoys the kind of independence and wealth that Emma can only dream of. After Nina comes to her rescue on several occasions, Emma is thrilled to have this sophisticated woman as her new friend.
However, all is not as it may seem on the surface and Nina hides a deep secret in her past that bubbles to the surface when she meets Emma. The pair have met before but only Nina remember this shared history. Throughout their continued acquaintance, Nina becomes more determined that Emma will pay for her past mistakes.
The description of Her did appeal to me but I can’t say I ever had any delusions of greatness before I started reading. I mean call me pretentious but I’m never going to think that a book with a neon cover is going to be a fucking classic. However, despite my ingrained pessimism, I couldn’t stop reading. I’ll say one thing for the fairly gimmicky and trite split perspective, it is an easy way to promote continued reading. I found I was always reading chapters in pairs just so I could find out Nina’s thoughts on events. But then I’ve always been too fucking impatient for my own good.
Unfortunately, the book never really seemed to get going. The ‘big’ reveal about Emma and Nina’s past was so obvious and, frankly, fucking boring that I nearly glossed over it completely. Plus, aside from the narrative’s structure, there was little unusual or different about the story. It was painfully obvious what the major twist and dramatic finale were going to be from the first chapter. It was only it’s unassuming length that stopped Her going the same way as Gone Girland remaining unread for ever-more.
There is no real depth to this novel: both in terms of plot and character development. Lane obviously tries to provide psychological reasons for Nina’s behaviour but it just seems like everything is rushing towards the conclusion of her scheme. The explanation as to why Nina goes to the lengths that she does. As I’ve said in the past, I’m all for a good example of female antagonist but I wish they’d be given as much of a chance to shine as their male counterparts. Nina, like so many women in her position, is eventually explained by that tired old adage “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Fucking Congreve has ruined the literary potential of women for too long!
Without this depth of character, the final events of the book just seem ridiculously over-the-top. At the very least, the ending is a shock but not in the way Lane probably meant. Something that was obviously intended to have some inherent psychological significance just comes out of nowhere.
The narrative unwinds slowly and sedately over the space of a year. Nina’s plan begins as petty acts that only really seem dangerous in the midst the implied threat of worse to come. Taken on their own, however, her terrorism becomes too bogged down in boring domesticity to be taken seriously. Until Lane is in need of a suitable end to her thriller that is. The plot has meandered along for so long that the denouement just feels rushed and desperate. Nina’s scheme escalates in the space of a couple of pages to fucking stupid heights. It’s a fucking absurd ending.
Although, narrative issues aside, Lane’s writing is mostly excellent. The opening pages, where Nina first sees Emma again, are truly wonderful. Her talent lies within her detailed description of the minutiae of everyday life. The way she describes the endless child-related debris that has taken over Emma’s house since the birth of her son. There are moments when the tedious monotony of motherhood becomes a thing of lyrical beauty.
Herwas something I’d had as a recommendation on a certain website for a long time. I’d always been put off by the garish cover but the summary of the plot eventually hooked me in. It was fucking Summer House With Swimming Pool all over again. With Lane’s reputation as a writer in this genre, I was excited by the female revenge story. Unfortunately, though well written and perfectly readable, Her is a thriller that rarely thrills.
TBT – Hitch (2005)

TBT – Hitch (2005)

During the end of last year I was thinking about how I approach this little sideline of mine and decided it was high-time that I started being a bit more reliable. Now that I’ve got a slick new look (thanks to http://www.designerblogs.com) I think I need to start sticking to a posting schedule… well as best I can. I have every intention of getting ahead of myself, planning posts and following a rigid structure but, to quote the great Dr Ian Malcolm, “life finds a way”. Never mind though, for now my intentions are good. As part of my new plan, and suffering from a lack of original ideas, I’m stealing an idea from social media – Throwback Thursday. It’s a fucking simple concept: I review an old film for your pleasure. It’ll be great… or something I abandon quite eagerly after two attempts.

Indulge me readers, think back to Valentine’s Day 2005. What were you doing? If you’re anything like me, you won’t have a fucking clue. However, there is every chance that you were celebrating the day of love by watching a romantic-comedy starring the picture perfect coupling of Will Smith and Eva Mendes. Yes, just over 10 years ago the film Hitchfirst hit cinema screens. A film that was apparently so fucking good it’s been remade with Kevin Hart and retitled The Wedding Ringer.
Well it does possess one of the most run-of-the-mill narratives that you’ve ever seen. The insanely charming Eva Mendes plays journalist Sara Melas who is stubbornly single and cynical. Avoiding romance at all cost, Sara offers advice to her heartbroken friends and throws herself into her work. Wow, why has nobody ever thought to create this kind of character before?! Then we have the man she is destined to meet, Alex Hitchens (Will Smith) or ‘Hitch’ to his friends. The wonderful man that he is, Hitch teaches hopeless men how to pick up attractive women. It’s a pre-Tinder world and awkward geeks needed their guardian angel Will Smith to help them. He tells them how to dress well and act like the perfect man. If ever there was a film that summed up that time when everyone fucking loved Queer Eye,but with a heterosexual twist, then its Hitch.
Hitchtries its best to stay away from the inherent fucking sleaze that’s associated with a man claiming to be a dating guru and helping men schmooze their way into the romantic lives of women who could do better. Hitch’s own promiscuity is glossed over as much as possible and he quickly begins his careful pursuit of Sara, in which the tables are turned and he becomes the kind of awkward man he’s been receiving payment from. Ah bless him. Of course, there is more to Hitchthan the great man himself. We find ourselves with a subplot adding necessary comedy, drama and endless misunderstandings. It also gave birth to a fucking hilarious (wait… I need my sarcasm flag) display of Will Smith and chubby, funny man Kevin James getting their respective grooves on. Nothing funnier than two heterosexual males dancing together and that, my friends, is fucking scientific fact.
Anyway, this parallel plot concerns Hitch’s current client Albert, the fat accountant, who hopes to pursue the much more attractive, sophisticated and wealthy Allegra Cole. Back in 2005, if you needed a humorously awkward, slightly chubby actor then Kevin James was your only man. Thankfully though, James is charming and silly enough to take away some of the fucking self-importance from Will Smith’s brooding bachelor. He adds some much needed heart and a human side to a film that constantly sits on the edge of horribly offensive to every possible social group.

Partly because this romantic-comedy is neither very clever nor very funny. It’s just a very traditional rom-com where you know exactly how everything will turn out in the end. Quite frankly, it doesn’t matter how the narrative is going to get there. Of course, despite all of this Hitch is nothing more or less than a run-of-the-mill romance that is neither truly offensive nor highly memorable. Even Will Smith manages to be less annoying that he has proved to be lately. It’s a fine watch that won’t stay with you very long after watching but that you could sit through happily enough. With a professional production and a cast of mostly charming actors, Hitchprobably wasn’t the worst way to spend your Valentine’s Day back in 2005 but it definitely wasn’t the best. 
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Watching The Hobbit trilogy has felt a bit like Christmas dinner. The first course is absolutely delicious and you come away satisfied and hungry for more. By the time the second one gets under way, you realise you’re getting fuller and could probably made do with some smaller portions. Then comes the dreaded final course. After the first two you’ve had so much fucking food you might burst but then someone brings out the Christmas pudding. You know you don’t need it but you eat your portion anyway and spend the rest of the day, uncomfortably full, half regretting you’re decision. It’s all lovely in itself but together it’s just too much.

Since the release of the first Hobbit film in 2012 I have defended Peter Jackson’s decision to drag the short children’s novel out to make three films. I argued that this relaxed and time consuming process worked well with the style Tolkein played up in his LOTR trilogy. However, upon finally sitting down to watch the final instalment at the beginning of January, I suddenly found myself wavering. Having lived with the Smaug-shaped cliffhanger for 12 months I was excited to finally see the great dragon wreak some havoc. What I got for my year long wait was 10 minutes of confusing CGI smashing and a weird, human bow and arrow. Yes, for all that waiting, Jackson only goes and kills Smaug off even quicker than you can finish your popcorn. What was the fucking point?
There is a lot to enjoy about The Battle of the Five Armiesbut I couldn’t help finding it all a bit unnecessary. I admit that I sat there in a bit of a strop because it had become painfully clear that Jackson was stretching this as thin as possible. So little happens in this film and what does happen is just not interesting enough to cover up that fact. There aren’t as many fun, geeky references for die-hard fans to pick up here and Bilbo becomes much less prevalent in all the chaos. The titular Hobbit who has so far guided us on this journey is thrown into the background as other, less interesting characters, take centre stage.
Having finally ended their journey and watching some other schmuck deal with their annoying dragon, the dwarves have everything they’ve ever wanted. Now they just have to keep hold of it. As it turns out, a fucking massive, unguarded pile of gold and jewels is something everybody is willing to kill for. Having spent the last two films building up the bravery of this ragtag band of brothers, The Five Armies shows them hiding from much of the conflict they have helped create. It’s fucking inspiring stuff.
Meanwhile, a weakened Gandalf is still trapped in Orc-ville desperately waiting to tie-up any remaining lose ends, no matter how unnecessary, with Jackson’s previous trilogy. Now the Necromancer has been unmasked, it’ll take some of the most powerful actors from LOTRto draw him back into that dark corner of Middle Earth. In scenes never before associated with The Hobbit, Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond help him escape by battling the dark forces only for Gandalf can go and situate himself in the middle of another fight he isn’t ready for.
There are obviously several stand-out moments that are incredibly exciting: I’m mainly thinking of the time when, thanks to a little outside help, the 92 year old Christopher Lee kicks orc ass. Part of me feels that that alone makes the film worth it. There are several shining lights within the cast; notably Luke Evans and Evangeline Lily as The Bard and the Jackson original, Tauriel. These two still manage to bring a refreshing and emotional performance in the midst of the tired appearances from Jackson regulars and the floundering of great actors lost in a CGI world.
For someone who created some excellent battle scenes in both The Two Towers and The Return of the King, Jackson has a great deal of difficulty keeping track of his five armies. The main part of this film I taken from such a small section of the book that there was a great deal of potential for greatness. Instead of the well choreographed and exciting battles we’re used to seeing, the Battle of the Five Armies is a complete clusterfuck of fantasy creatures fighting over some gold, complete with Billy Connolly on a boar.
Let’s be honest though, this battle was never really going to work, was it? After all, a massive, confusing battle over evil is one thing but a massive, confusing battle over money is just… confusing. I sat through the hour or so of fighting in this film wondering one thing: why should we care? The various races of Middle Earth coming together to fight for power and wealth? It’s fucking Victorian!
By this point there are just too many characters to keep track of and too many campaigns to follow. Everyone, Jackson included, just gets lost in the fray. For something that doesn’t take up much room in the book, the battle of the five armies truly outgrows its cinematic surroundings and becomes as Falstaffian as a battle is ever likely to get. It’s a shame that such brilliant actors and characters aren’t given enough time to develop. The director really struck gold getting Richard Armitage on board as Thorin but he has never really let the actor stand out. This final instalment was the perfect chance for him to shine but he was relegated to hamming it up as the fucking mad dwarf king. This whole “dragon sickness” plot is pushed a little too close to soap opera territory.
The Battle of the Five Armies isn’t a mitigating disaster but neither is it the film we hoped it would be. Of course, you will read plenty on the internet about the amount of the plot that is either a figment of Jackon’s imagination or out-of sync with Tolkein’s timeline. By this point, that’s just to be expected I’m afraid. It was always going to be a fucking stretch and you’re fighting a losing battle if you do anything but accept things for the way they are. Yes, Thraduil mentions the Ranger Strider despite the fact that Aragorn would only have been a boy at this point. Calm the fuck down. It’s Jackson’s lead up to The Fellowship of the Ring, he had to get a mention of the eventual King in there somewhere. This trilogy is Jackson’s gateway drug to the harder stuff on offer in LOTR. If you must get angry, this is the internet after all, then get angry about how fucking stupid it is to signpost the audience’s way into a story they’ve all seen more times than they can remember. It’s like that moment in Revenge of the Sith when Lucas emphasises the names of Padme’s children as if anyone watching is still fucking surprised.
Like the Star Wars prequels themselves, The Battle of the Five Armiesbecomes a bit of a showcase for all of Jackson’s worst qualities. The battle scenes drag on for fucking years, stories are resolved in whichever way allowed the writers to finish quickest, the romance is completely overblown, and the signposting to his later story is just fucking laughable at this point. Like Revenge of the Sithis for the Star Wars saga, The Five Armies is both the best of the LOTR‘prequels’ and the stupidest. It is as technically astounding as it should be but none of this matters when you’re just watching Jackson continually flogging a dead horse before your very eyes.

I guess I didn’t hate it but it was the first time during these trilogies that I was disappointed with the director’s approach. Non-stop action and tireless entertainment are one thing but I value necessity and validity of existence above all else. Plus, I guess I just find it fucking hard to swallow the “money is evil” message when it comes from the mouth of a man who stretched out a fairly short children’s book into a 9+ hour film going experience.  
The Imitation Game (2014)

The Imitation Game (2014)

I think, by now, I’ve made my feelings about Benedict Cumberbatch pretty fucking clear. However, for those of you not paying attention, I’m more than happy to repeat myself. I love him and his weird alien, ottery face. There is very little that I wouldn’t be happy to sit through just to watch him. Hell, if I sat through the abysmal and disappointing August: Osage County then I could probably sit through any old shit if I had his face for company. It also helps that the story of Alan Turing is one of the few films that genuinely deserves to be made into a film. The man was a fucking war hero but nobody was allowed to know about it. He saved thousands of lives and his work was key in the development of computer science: just think how much we all owe him. Such a great man deserves to be portrayed by a great actor.

The story of Alan Turing can be seen as both a triumph for Britain and part of its shameful history. For years it was kept secret that one of our greatest mathematicians helped crack the enigma code and bring World War II to an early end. Not so secret is the fact that, in 1952, Alan Turing was arrested and charged with gross indecency on account of his homosexuality. After spending a year taking drugs that chemically castrated him, Turing took his own life in 1954. One of the most important men in one of the biggest conflicts this country has been a part of was only provided with a posthumous royal pardon in 2013. You’d be an idiot if you didn’t think all of that was a fucking disgrace.
A sentiment that is clearly shared by the team behind The Imitation Game. This isn’t the first attempt to dramatise Turing’s story but it is by far the best. With a script by Graham Moore that is loosely based on Andrew Hodges book, Alan Turing: The Enigma, the film explores three key timelines in Turing’s life: his miserable time a boarding school; his time in Hut 8 at Bletchley Park; and his post-war conviction. Moore’s script has the difficult task of balancing the more intimate aspects of the story with a massive world conflict. Thankfully, he is more than up to the task and has created a script that is simple and clear enough to explain the intricate details, whether technical or personal. The narrative expertly weaves between these timelines and creates a fucking great biopic/drama/thriller thing.
Norwegian director, Morten Tyldum, has produced a good looking and sleek film here with a cast of fucking amazing actors. However, it is pretty much down to outstanding leading performance by Benedict Cumberbatch that this film resonates so much. The film doesn’t exactly wow but Cumberbatch’s performance is incredible: something I was delighted to see described as his “most Cumberbatchian character yet”. It’s a little like Sherlock Holmes meets Sheldon Cooper but it works. Whilst I can’t speak for the accuracy of the portrayal, the actor fully embraces the role and gives a sympathetic and haunting portrait of Turing. Early in the film, Turing asks a police officer (Rory Kinnear) “Are you paying attention?”. Cumberbatch spends the rest of the film ensuring that you can’t help but do just that.
The Imitation Gameintroduced me to a new sensation – not instantly hating everything Keira Knightley does. Her portrayal of Joan was considered and controlled. Fighting against the sexist attitude of the time, Joan is strong, clever and thoroughly British. If ever there was a role hand-made for Knightley this would probably be it… even if she is just too fucking beautiful. Of course, I do have to agree with those people who are criticising the amount of time given over to their friendship. Joan was, at one time, engaged to Turing but their friendship is presented as much more significant than was probably true.
For a film so concerned with Turing’s homosexuality it does everything it can to hide it. Now I’m not suggesting we need to sex Turing up or anything. I’m not trying to say that audiences were crying out for some of kind of cryptologists after dark smut. If there is a demand then I’m sure Channel 4 can work out some sort of deal for a Russell T Davies late night special. However, it would have been better if there was more than one memorable reference to the fact that Turing liked dudes. It was the fucking point after all.
There has been already been a massive fucking deal made about the inaccuracies within the script and it is safe to say that The Imitation Game takes a bit of a Downton Abbey approach to historical fact. There can be no doubt that parts of the tale have been amped up for Hollywood, particularly with references to Soviet spy John Cairncross, who Turing would never have met, and a crazy sub-plot involving MI6 planting information for the Russians. Then we have the massively coincidental, convenient and super-emotional drama surrounding fellow code-breaker Peter Hilton’s brother being subject of an imminent German attack. Suffice it to say, Peter Hilton had no brother.
However, I don’t think The Imitation Gameever set out to create an in-depth biography documenting Turing’s life. It simply used him as a symbol for a problem that cursed British society for such a long time. In a similar way to 12 Years a Slavelast year, The Imitation Gamereintroduces a modern audience to a not so ancient practice of homophobia that destroyed people’s lives and still infects society today. So yes, the makers do take some liberties with Turing’s life and make him more a a Hollywood hero. He needed the additional conflict and struggle to make his inevitable fall seem even worse.

The Imitation Gameis not a film about cryptanalyst Alan Turing but a film that uses him to on behalf of gay rights. Turing was a man with a great man with a huge amount of potential. Unfortunately, Turing’s successes were kept secret for so many years and his continued greatness was derailed thanks to some misguided laws. It is a story not just about this war hero but about the injustice that he received once his work had saved so many lives: about a man who changed the world and the world that destroyed him.
Birdman (2014)

Birdman (2014)

I have to be honest with you, Michael Keaton is my favourite incarnation of Batman. No offence to Adam West or Christian Bale but there’s something about those two Tim Burton films that just gives me so much joy. Quite simply, I love Michael Keaton and no amount of shitty Christmas films is ever going to stop that. So I couldn’t imagine anything better than hearing Keaton was set to star in a life-mirroring film about the washed-up star of a Superhero franchise. Michael Keaton going all Being John Malkovich on us and get super meta? Jesus, I was excited. I have to admit that I spent a lot the film wondering whether I still would and, despite seeing the now 60+ year old running around in his grungy tighty whities, I probably would. After Edward Norton, of course.

I’ve seen a number of people referring to Birdmanas a superhero film, which seems like dodgy marketing to me. Yes, the fictional alter ego of actor Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) keeps a pretty strong presence throughout the film but those turning up expecting to see the ex-Batman star parading around in a leather jumpsuit are going to be pretty fucking disappointed. The latest film from director Alejandro González Iñárritu has so much more to offer than any of the latest releases from Marvel and DC (and I say that as a life-long fan of grown-ups pretending to hunt super-villains and aliens).
The film actually deals with actor Riggan’s Broadway debut as writer, director and star of an adaptation of the Raymond Carver short story ‘What We Mean When We Talk About Love’. Having never found the kind of fame that he experienced during his Birdman glory days, Riggan is desperate to both prove himself as an actor. Unfortunately, his past continues to haunt his inner thoughts, complete with Christian Bale style gravelly voice, by adding bitchy commentary to every situation. Birdman becomes the voice of Riggan’s fears and self-doubt. When several disasters arise before opening night, the unbalanced actor must avoid falling into complete emotional instability.
The script, written by Iñárritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, is playfully meta and up-to-date with its pop culture references. The script doesn’t pull any punches and ensures that nobody is safe. It plays with Hollywood vanities whilst showing that theatre actors are just as fucked up. Taking equal jabs at high brow and populist culture, the writers make sure that egotistical New York critics don’t get off scot free. The script is unashamedly current and self-aware without ever feeling smug. For the first time, the director of hard-hitting dramas like 21 Grams, Babel and Biutifulwalks the comic path and gets the chance to have a bit of fun.
Something that is made most clear in the technical side of the film. Birdmanhas been created in such a way that it feels like one continuous take. Aided by Emmanuel Lubezki, who’s fucking insane cinematography for Gravitywon him an Oscar last year, Iñárritu puts you at the heart of the story. Through long, careful tracking shots the camera winds its way through busy corridors and narrow stairways, moves in close for private conversations and soars high over New York city. For a film dealing with the competition between film and stage acting, Iñárritu’s use of the camera blurs the lines between the two: offering the sustained intensity of the stage with the intimacy of the cinema. If you’re worried it all sounds a bit too gimmicky, then don’t . It’s fucking mesmerising.
The non-stop and energetic nature that this camera work suggests is only aided by Antonio Sanchez’s fantastic score. His jazzy soundtrack, featuring an abundance of drum and cymbal, adds to the comic tone and offers an edgy and frantic vibe to the action on screen. It holds together the director’s continuous shot effect and gives the actors plenty of room to play with pace. Sanchez has created a very complex and accomplished score that lifts the already fruitful narrative and great performances.
Performances that don’t get much better than Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson. A lot has been made about the connection between Keaton and Thompson and there is no doubt that their similarities add a great deal. You can’t imagine anyone else approaching this role and succeeding in quite the same way. Keaton is on fucking amazing form; he is playful, funny, cutting and has no problem with the verbal intensity of the role. Riggan is at times ridiculous and incomprehensible but Keaton plays everything with a wistfulness and desperation that warms you to him. It is a fucking brilliant performance that will rightly receive attention in award season.
Keaton only gets better when he comes face-to-face with his fantastic co-stars; none more so than Edward Norton as narcissistic stage actor, Mike Shiner. Norton is also facing a fictional version of himself as he portrays Shiner. Confronting the reputation he has for being difficult to work with, Norton fucking kills as the egomaniac brought in the day before the show previews. Thankfully, Norton manages to find the perfect balance between arrogance and sincerity so Shiner still has a shred of humanity beneath all the ego. There are so many moments, in both fiction and reality, when Norton steals the show.
Most often during his quieter scenes with Emma Stone. Stone is a genuinely fantastic performer in all her roles but she brings even more to the part of Riggan’s ex-drug addict daughter, Sam. Successfully ensuring that there is still a lovable edge to the damaged, cynical young woman who is fresh out of rehab. Working as Riggan’s PA, Sam is desperately trying to connect with her father and bring him up-to-date with the current climate of social media and trending topics. Although, it’s Stone’s sizzling chemistry with Norton than really sticks out and the two rooftop scenes they share are some of the best on show.
There is less work for the remaining supporting cast but they still get enough of a time to shine. Top amongst them is the incredible Lindsay Duncan who is fucking unforgettable as the icy, unflinching theatre critic set to destroy Riggan’s last chance. Playing amazingly against type is Zach Galifianakis who presents the voice of reason amongst all the crazy as Riggan’s friend and producer. Amy Ryan, only allowed a short time on screen, plays Riggan’s ex-wife in a calm and collected manner that helps bring out his emotional side. The final two women fair the worst and are all but forgotten. However, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough offer sterling work as the play’s leading ladies.

Birdmanis one of those films that demands your attention. It is made with great care by a bunch of talented people and you can’t help but lap it all up. Of course, there are moments when it kind of feels like a young child playing up in front of an audience; perhaps showing off just a little too much. Also, there are plot-lines that feel too open-ended and unresolved. As though in the rush to create tension and chaos, the writers added one too many things to the pot. The end result is by no means inedible but it’s just a little less satisfying than you thought it might have been. Still, a must-see film if ever there was one.