Monthly Archives: January 2018

TV Review – Blackadder

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14-Blackadder

I absolutely adore Blackadder. I’ve seen the odd episode here or there over the years, but I’ve never really sat and deliberately watched the series from start to finish.

Well not quite the start. I did watch Series One years ago and I hated it, to the point I’m not willing to try it again.

However, don’t judge Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third or Blackadder Goes Forth by the first series, as series two to four are very different, and most importantly they are absolutely hilarious.

My husband keeps asking me which is my favourite episode, and I honestly can’t pick one, as there isn’t a dud among them to help make the rest stand out as better and therefore a favourite.

Each series is set in a different period of British History. Blackadder II is set in Elizabethan England with Miranda Richardson doing a fabulously macabre turn as Elizabeth I. Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson also establish their roles as Blackadder and Baldrick wonderfully.

Whoever thought to team Richard Curtis and Ben Elton together to write Blackadder, it was a good plan, a cunning one even, because what they established in series two, they built upon in Blackadder the Third.

hugh laurie as the prince regent

The third series Blackadder is the man servant for Prince George, the Prince Regent during the reign of Mad Kind George III. The power dynamic has shifted for Blackadder, but that only makes his wit more sharp, and his intolerant of fools even more comical.

And Hugh Laurie, well what can I say; most people know him because of House. British folks knew him as a comedy actor first though (mainly working with Stephen Fry). His portrayal of the Prince Regent is one of the reasons why Britain already loved him before he became one of America’s sweethearts. He is a lovable fool in this series.

And he carries that on in Blackadder Goes Forth, with Stephen Fry and Tim Mcinnerny re-joining the cast from series two. Series four is a completely different set up, because rather than being set in a place of power, it is set in the trenches of World War One.

And somehow the show creators and actors made one of the most horrific periods of history side-splittingly funny.

Blackadder-Goes-Forth-main

I said above that I can’t pick a favourite episode, but I do have a favourite series, and if you don’t see any of the others, Blackadder Goes Forth is a must-see. They refer back to jokes and characters from previous series, but you don’t need to know them to find them funny.

And if you are looking for something seasonal, at Christmas you can watch Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, which is their twist on A Christmas Carol. On New Year’s Eve there is Blackadder Back and Forth, which was a special created for the new millennium.

If you call yourself a fan of comedy and you’ve never seen the genius that is Blackadder, then are you really a fan of comedy? Try it!

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Film Review: The Post

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There was quite a bit of hype surrounding this film; the times we live in and the need we have for making our governments accountable; the times we live in when women have stopped tolerating being seen as unequal; the performances by the actors, especially Meryl Streep, are being nominated for awards. The hype of it being a Steven Spielberg film with a John Williams soundtrack. There is nothing small about the expectations people have of this film.

And it delivers.

The other film which has a lot of hype at the moment is ‘Darkest Hour‘. I heavily criticised it for being a film depicting historical events and not having any tension, which just made it boring to watch. ‘The Post’ is a similar premise; it is a film that depicts historical events, except what Spielberg did was make an entertaining film, as well as a film about real-life people and the remarkable things they did.

I have no idea how historically accurate ‘The Post’ is, as while I am familiar with the events in the film, I’ve never studied post-WW2 American History in any sort of depth. However, like I said in my review of ‘Darkest Hour’, some creative license does need to be wielded when making historical films. If if isn’t accurate, and that annoys you, then please remember that the events in the film are just as relevant today and because it is an entertaining film, making people aware of it and be inspired by it is just as important as accuracy.

And it is vastly better than ‘Darkest Hour’. The plot moved forward, and each scene made you want to see the next one until you reached the conclusion. The main characters were fleshed out enough to suit the purpose of the film, and not a single speaking role was superfluous. The cinematography was understated but it suited the film, and personally I loved seeing how pages of a newspaper were constructed using moveable type. It showed just how laborious putting a newspaper together really was before digital technology made it easier.

The thing I loved the most about the film though is when Sarah Paulson’s character, Tony Bradlee, is talking about Katherine Graham making the decision to publish. I can’t find the exact quote, but it is something along the lines of ‘if people keep telling you that you have no value, then you do eventually start to believe them.’ It was one woman defending another woman at a time when women were deemed unsuitable to have and wield power. Hopefully it will surface on the internet in full at some point, but it was by far my favourite scene.

I highly recommend this film. You don’t need to know anything about the history of the events to understand the importance of the messages within it; governments need to be accountable and women have the right to be equal.

Film Review: Darkest Hour

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Spoilers

There were a few reasons I wanted to see this film. The Crown has made me more interested in this period of history and how it is portrayed on screen. And on that account I did enjoy the film; my review from here though doesn’t get much more positive. Which is a shame because based on the trailer it seemed like it was going to be a good film.

There was another reason I wanted to see it though; I’d heard good things about Gary Oldman’s performance and given I want Timothée Chalamet to win awards, I wanted to make a comparison. I don’t normally go and see a film purely because it is awards season, but I have invested a lot emotionally in Call me by your Name. I wanted to prepare myself properly for why he isn’t winning, because for a better performance I will accept him losing.

And apparently Gary Oldman is winning all these awards for mimicking someone who was real in a lacklustre film, while Chalamet did something a great deal more difficult. He brought to life a character that had only existed before in Aciman’s book, and did so in a film that matched his brilliance overall. There is no denying Oldman’s performance is very good, but the rest of the film is lacking the same sort of excellency. Of recent portrayals of Winston Churchill I’m going to say that I preferred John Lithgow’s performance in The Crown because of the simple truth; I wasn’t bored watching him.

Churchill came to power the first time during one of the most interesting times in British history, when we were facing the odds and potentially facing annihilation, and the film they decided to make about it contained absolutely no tension what so ever. It is a film about political manoeuvring and it doesn’t work. I’m reminded of what many people say about Titanic; well you know it’s going to sink at the end so what’s the point in seeing the film. Cameron though made it about the characters and with ‘will they won’t they’ tension. Darkest Hour though just felt like a waste of my time because I knew how it was going to end.

There are certainly some very good scenes; the one near the end of the film when Churchill is conversing with some people on the Underground is by far the very best in the entire film, but there were moments when my mind was wandering because I just wasn’t gripped enough to pay attention. Kristen Scott Thomas is certainly to be commended for putting up with portraying a character that brought nothing to the plot, and existed only because Clementine Spencer-Churchill did exist in real life, but she was completely unnecessary for the film.

I always try and give constructive criticism; I always try and say how I think it could have been done better, but in this case the problem is entirely to do with the fact they decided to tell the wrong story. I am very much with Viscount Halifax by the end; Churchill mobilised the English Language, without having yet achieved anything to justify the support he is demanding. There were no stakes, because Dunkirk was a success and I knew it was going to be, and annoyingly the film ended before it succeeded, meaning all the praise Churchill is getting at the end is purely based on his ability as an orator.

Even more annoyingly several prominent characters in the film just suddenly decide to support him without any development as to why they change their minds, when they had been pretty vocal beforehand as to why they were so against him. Chamberlain to an extend was there for the ‘We will fight on the beaches’ speech in parliament, but why did King George suddenly change his mind?

All I can suggest is that they needed more tension, and they needed better character development then it might have worked better. I know that it is based on real life events, but some creative license would have made it a better film. And it is the historian within me saying that, not the writer, because as a historian I have to defend myself against the ‘history is boring’ argument a lot, and boring historical films don’t help.

And this is all disappointing really, because I had been looking forward to seeing this film and unless I’ve missed something, I just don’t understand the hype. All I can hope is that Chalamet gets the chance in the future to win awards, because in my opinion he deserves one this year, but I’m thinking it is less and less likely he’s going to get one for portraying Elio. *sighs*

Film Review- Molly’s Game

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molly's game

I am a massive fan of Aaron Sorkin, at least as the creator of West Wing and Newsroom. I’m not a big fan of The Social Network, even though it is technically a great film with a wonderful script.

I wanted to see Molly’s Game though not just because Sorkin penned it, but because the protagonist was a strong female who navigated in very powerful male circles. She also fought to keep her integrity intact, even though she was the first to admit she was not squeaky clean.

Jessica Chastain is just brilliant as Molly Bloom, and did real justice in portraying the real Molly. And Idris Elba, as always, was wonderful as her lawyer, giving a very impassioned speech near the end in her defense.

I absolutely loved the film. Admittedly at first I wasn’t all that keen on the heavy use of voiceover, but Sorkin always has a lot of story to tell. While at times I struggled to see the relevance of what was being said, it does all become relevant in the end.

You have to concentrate to keep up though as the speech is fast paced, and very typical of Sorkin. However thankfully but you don’t need to understand poker to enjoy it and all the characters have a satisfying resolution at the end, so even though you have to absorb a lot of information it is worth it as there are no loose ends.

Highly recommended if you are a Sorkin fan, or just looking for a smart film to watch.

Film Review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

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I will admit I am really not sure what made me want to see this film so badly, but I have been looking forward to seeing it ever since I first heard about it, and even more so when I saw a trailer.

And I wasn’t disappointed.

The idea is pretty simple; a mother whose daughter was murdered uses billboards at the side of the road to ask the police why they haven’t solved her daughter’s case yet. Simple yet brilliant.

This is a film about what anger does to people. It is raw and unrestrained, and touching because it is real. It is about a film where extraordinary circumstances either bring out the best or the worse in people.

The majority of the characters show their best side, and over the course of the film they help the protagonist Mildred, and the antagonist Dixon reach a point where they are able to accept their feelings. You can sympathise with all the characters; I don’t even like Mildred all that much, but I do understand her, and that level of realism in her character and all the others makes this film stand out.

This isn’t the sort of film I normally go to see, but I’m really glad I did because it highlights just how awful life is for those left behind after crimes go unsolved. Martin McDonagh’s script is brilliant; there are twists you don’t see coming and resolution even if it isn’t the resolution you might want.

Everyone does a great turn but Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are especially brilliant. It has already won awards as it came out in the US a lot earlier than here in the UK, and they are totally deserved.

I don’t remember stopping…

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Life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately; a festive holiday of writing my novel, seeing family and friends, before returning to work and just barely having time to stop and ponder for even a second on what to blog about because of the post holiday rush (and panic).

I don’t remember stopping…except I do remember whenever I have sort of stopped I’ve been knitting or crocheting, not blogging. And this has been going on for a while now. Many of my recent posts, except Star Wars, I wrote at the beginning of December and scheduled. Blogging has fallen to the wayside.

However, I’m not worried too much about it, even though I’ve felt the desire tonight to blog about the fact I’ve not been blogging. I have had this urge before; to seemingly try and justify something I know I don’t need to explain.

For once I really want to, because for the first time I’ve not been blogging for a positive reason rather than a negative one. I have bounced back from being ill last year, and at the moment feeling normal is driving me to achieve in many areas of my life. And I love it.

I’ve got home from seeing a great film (Molly’s Game), and I have another to look forward to on Saturday (Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri). I have a pile of books I can’t wait to read (I haven’t got time to list them!). My writing is going better than ever, and I even have some plans to add to my writing blogs again this year rather than just doing reviews.

Normal blogging service will resume shortly and I will try not to revel too much when it does that the hardest decision I have to make at the moment is which great book to choose next (but only from the pile I already have – in theory).

New Year’s Resolutions – Book Tag 2018

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It wouldn’t be the New Year if I didn’t do the New Year’s Resolutions Book Tag. I adore preparing this tag, and reflecting on what I have read and what I want to read. Here’s what I loved in 2018

Get in shape – name a book that doesn’t quite fit on your shelf correctly

The White Book by Han Kang – I just don’t know where to put it. It isn’t that the shape is awkward, I just don’t know how to categorize it.

Eat healthy – name a book you feel was good for you to read

Cheer-Up Love by Susan Calman, because it reminded me that I am not alone in having depression and somehow she made talking about the topic funny.

Forces of Nature by Prof Brian Cox and Andrew Cohen as it reminded me that despite the impression I was left with at school, I can and do understand science.

Read more – name a book you keep telling yourself to read but haven’t yet

So in 2016 and 2017 I have said 1984 by George Orwell. I still haven’t read it; however I have bought a new copy as my husband’s copy is delicate and wouldn’t survive my handbag, so this year might be the year. Maybe.

Quit smoking – name a book you kept going back to even though you had finished it

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. I finally found poetry that makes me cry and I adore it. The Sun and her Flowers, her second collection, is also amazing.

Save more money – name a book you got for a really good price

Tom Hank’s Uncommon Type – I was going to wait for it to come out in paperback, but I managed to get the hardback at a reasonable price from a supermarket.

Be more organized – how do you organize your bookshelf?

Not very well; it’s something I need to work on.

Be punctual – shortest time and longest time it took you to read a book

Call me by your name by Andre Aciman lasted about four hours. They were exquisite hours.

I’ve been dipping in and out of  The Book of Human Emotions by Tiffany-Watt Smith for a few months now, and I’m only half-way through the alphabet.

Also I’m still reading Vermeer’s Hat in sporadic intervals. That’s a one that has been on the go for over a year now.

Go out more – what book isolated you from reality?

I have a couple of contenders for this one. Call me by your name, in conjunction with the film and soundtrack has devoured me.

However, I think the winner might be Love from Boy – I remember reading this outside in the hot spring sun, and it was as if I was in Dar es Salaam.

Be unique – what was your favourite book of 2017?

I’m not going to lie, I’ve had a rough year, and one of many low points for me was the backlash fans had against the new series of Sherlock. I wrote about this in ‘My Many Selves as a Geeky Fan.’

Therefore I think that discovering Mark Gatiss as a novelist has been a highlight and something positive for me to reflect upon in relation to one of my favourite writers and actors. I adored Lucifer Box; so this year it isn’t a single book, but three: The Vesuvius Club, The Devil in Amber and Black Butterfly.

Be more personal – what book are you most looking forward to this year?

The novelisation of the new Star Wars film, and once it gets released in paperback, Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. I have Norwegian Wood waiting in the wings to keep me going in the meanwhile.

Really, resolutions – which book do you promise to read during the year?

Less a specific book, and more I have a lot of non-fiction books that I’ve acquired over the year and need to read.

I also really need to read some more Kazuo Ishiguro, and I have to go back to Benedict Jacka at some point.