Film Review – White House Down

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I will admit I was pleasantly surprised by this film. I missed both ‘White House Down’ and ‘Olympus has Fallen’ when they came out in the cinema. Also, because of the remarkable similarity of plot, I will admit, I had no idea which film was which from the trailers, nor which would be better to watch. I assumed that because ‘London has Fallen’ arrived later on that Olympus was the better of the initial two films of this trend.

Yes, I know, carry on reading after you’ve wiped away your tears of laughter at the thought that the quality of a film was a reason Hollywood decided to make a sequel. I was wrong on that one. ‘Has Fallen’ might be a franchise, but ‘White House Down’ is certainly the better of the two films.

Admittedly if what you want is a bit of action, some explosions and someone outside the White House assuming POTUS is dead and taking over, then either film will do. However, if you also want a bit of plausibility and plot, and to watch a brilliant turn by Joey King, then I would definitely recommend ‘White House Down’.

The writing is what has made ‘White House Down’ the more watchable of the two, because I had to pay attention to know what was going on. There were unexpected twists in the plot, and I found the motivations of the antagonists believable. What I also liked was that the drive of the protagonist, played by Channing Tatum wasn’t raw patriotism. He wanted to prove himself, and protect his daughter who looked up to him.

Definitely worth a watch if you’re after something that isn’t too demanding and you want to see some action.

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Film Review – The Party

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Some Spoilers

Most unfortunately for The Party, it is a film that is on the cusp of being brilliant, but because it doesn’t quite make it, I can’t even say it is good. There are certainly elements of it I did enjoy, but I’m in no rush to see the film again.

I’d been attracted to see it because I like Kirsten Scott Thomas and Cillian Murphy. Their performances didn’t disappoint, and all of the actors were great. The black and white filming, with some fantastic lighting and well-chosen camera angles can also be commended as a brilliant example of good direction.

However, I’d mostly been intrigued by the idea of a dinner party, with shock revelation after shock revelation, and it is most unfortunately because of the plot that the film fell flat with me.

The only thing I found shocking was the thought that this film could be described as such when the twists were so obvious. The opening scene, which is in fact also the last scene, ruined the entire film for me, because once a few details of the plot had been revealed, I could have written the end down, put it in a sealed envelope, and waited to be proved right. I won’t say what the plot is, in case you are still interested in going, but if you pay attention, you could easily make an educated guess.

The film is also just too short. At 71 minutes, it didn’t feel rushed, but I certainly feel as if they just had a couple of more minutes of screen time, to fit in a few more sentences of dialogue  the emotional transitions of some of the characters would have been less jarred and would have worked better.

But they didn’t, and some of the characters seemed to just go on journeys and had twists of feelings which didn’t make sense, and because it didn’t it just irritated me instead.

I came away from watching this film annoyed because of a cardinal sin; the filmmakers wanted me to assume this is how people really are and how people really interact with each other. They wanted me to make leaps and assume feelings without giving me the justification to play along.

The film also was full of so many cliched characters, I do recall rolling my eyes; the banker who does cocaine; the gender studies professor who is of course a lesbian; her wife who is more into misandry than feminism; the husband of the powerful politician who has people whispering behind his back about whether his masculinity can cope with his wife outdoing him. Ugh! Using one or two is fine, but everything about this film felt as if it had all been done before.

And it is such a shame that this is how I feel because like I say it is just on the cusp of being really good, it just doesn’t quite get there.

Film Review – Call me by Your Name

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There are two ways a film can make me cry; it is either an instant effect during the film, or there is a delayed effect when I find myself crying later on. The first happens every now and then. The second is a lot rarer, and the one I much prefer, despite the strange panicked looks you do get from members of the public who are uncertain and unprepared for having to deal with a lone woman sat on public transport crying silently for seemingly no reason what so ever.

I must have seemed composed enough though as no-one asked what was wrong, but I wish they had because I was absolutely bursting to express that I had been touched in the very depths of my heart by a masterpiece. Call Me By Your Name cannot be described by any lesser adjective.

It is not a work of instant emotional gratification but a piece with slow and diligent persistence that will carry on wrapping itself around your heart long after you have finished watching it. For me truly beautiful things don’t need to make their brilliance obvious from the very first glance. Time will either erode beauty or strengthen it, and in this case, time will only ever made this film better.

That is why I cried. It didn’t upset me, though I do suggest watching it with tissues. For me the emotion comes because a film about love has been finally been made. It isn’t some slightly hyped up romantic comedy, where it is painfully obvious at times you are watching two actors get paid to do a job, with a plot that leads to the end and the idea that they will indeed live happily ever after.

This film slowly unpicks the of barriers people set up around themselves when they feel that sort of love which wrenches your heart, makes places hurt you didn’t know you had, leaves you yearning, frustrated, frightened and utterly helpless. It’s more awful when you think it’s unrequited and even more awful when you find out it isn’t, but you get closer any way, even when you know the bittersweet truth.

Love cannot have a happy ending…but it is worth it all the same.

I haven’t read the book by Andre Aciman, so I can’t comment on whether it is an adaptation which has respected its source material, but I can say that the hot Italian summer perfectly sets the scene. Things that go unspoken tell the story just as well as the words that are said. The quick switches between languages is so natural, most of the time I didn’t notice, and I only really did in a scene that had my sides aching I laughed so much.

But it will always be the utterly tender performances by both Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer will draw me back to this film again and again to watch Elio and Olivier’s enduring yet fleeting love affair.

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TV Review – Westworld

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Westworld is just awesome. Review done!

Alright, yes maybe I should talk about it a bit more than that. I’ve recently re-watched season one of Westworld. I have to admit it is one of those shows that is better the second time around, because you have a better understanding of what on earth is going on.

To help with understanding it even better, I recommend only watching one episode a day. Delayed gratification massively improves watching this show. It gives you a chance to absorb the plot, absorb the character development, and organise in your head what you think is going on. Then come the next episode you’re better prepared for the glut of new information.

I absolutely love Westworld because it is one of the few shows that makes me have to sit and concentrate. Normally, unless a plot has a twist that isn’t foreshadowed, I can figure out the ending. Westworld I had to watch to find out the ending and I was never once bored.

Let’s start with what I love the most; it is a combination of western and science fiction. The last time I watched a show with that combination was Firefly, a TV show ahead of its time and my all-time favourite. The other similarity I enjoyed being reminded of was Bicentennial Man, because like that film this is a journey of synthetic beings becoming more than what they were built to be. 

And then there is the element of repetition for the residents of Sweetwater. It isn’t a time loop as such, but I do love time loops, and this is a much more sinister variation on that idea, with brilliant music acting as the finishing touch.

Westworld took these elements, and just takes it to a completely new level. When I first watched it, and saw the cast list I just knew that this was something special, because the ensemble attracted to take part in this project is just outstanding.

And I know why they wanted to be involved? Because all they will have had is the writing to base their decision on when they joined up. The production, the direction, the cinematography etc. cannot be faulted. It is one of the highest quality TV productions I’ve seen.

The writing though is what is key to making it all work. The concept is interesting and complex; the plot while not straightforward makes you want more; not a single word of dialogue is wasted; the character development, especially Dolores’ makes you want to know what happens next, which makes resisting binge watching difficult.

The level of complexity is what makes the show so compelling, because like with the Westworld park itself, the layers of story are so subtle, it makes it feel real. It makes it feel like every time the can of paint falls to the floor, it feels like it is genuine and real, and possible. The reactions are grounded in reality, not in fantasy which is in truth what Westworld is all about.

It is a fantasy, you’re just not meant to know it.

It is truly immersive, and I couldn’t pay a TV show or a film a higher compliment.

 

The Strange Thing about Stress

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I’ve suffered from depression before, and as many of my readers will know, I’m quite candid about discussing it. Many of my problems with depression stem from grief and a lack of self-esteem.

Depression caused by stress though is a beast of a different nature. Something to fight with a different arsenal of weapons and defences that I hadn’t equipped myself with because I’ve usually been able to handle stress. Not this time; I found my devil, and all I can say is how thankful I am of the people who had my back when I was struggling to watch it for myself.  

As hard as it is to grieve for someone, somehow fighting depression caused by stress is worse, quite possibly because there isn’t a tangible source of pain. None of the people I have grieved for would want me to be in pain, and focusing on good memories helps you to overcome your loss, at least it does for me.

Stress though is entirely in your own head. Stress takes everything you love away from you, and leaves you only with the thing stressing you out in the the first place, which is the strange thing about it. I would have thought you would run from it rather than everything else first. Apparently not. After a while your physical health is destroyed, and as I discovered the next step is just being left with not even the thing stressing you out. 

Quite possibly the best thing that happened was the ration part of my mind finally saying ‘Enough you stubborn moron; I’m not going to let you try to keep doing this anymore’, and it just stopped letting me do anything at all. It shut down, and only started to take notice again when I tempted it with something I love doing.

Writing stories. Escapism yes, but we all need a bit of that, and for me that is the best form it takes, and it was a massive part of my healing process in the last couple of months.

I’m thankfully not stressed anymore, and little by little everything I love is starting to come back. Turns out on having a quick look, I haven’t blogged since June, and the last thing I did blog was a review about a book that had disappointed me. 

I’d read other books at that time though, including Mark Gatiss’s final Lucifer Box book, which I could have blogged to complete the trilogy of reviews. But I didn’t. My blog, twitter, Pinterest; they all fell away because my brain told me that they were not important because I had to focus on my job, when in truth I use them as part of my mental well-being and my work-life balance.

Writing a blog is a release of thoughts from my head; twitter a way that I check in with the wider world, and Pinterest? Yeah well I will admit that last one is more for finding puppy photos and pretty examples of crochet than for more serious and insightful moments, but that is important too.

And that is what I have learn from having come out of the other end of being stressed – no matter how silly something is, if it is is important for a person’s mental well being, then it isn’t silly. However that wasn’t what my brain was telling me; I can tell from looking at the glut of book reviews I did in the spring that I could sense something was wrong, because I was almost obsessively clinging to books. 

Reading for pleasure falling away from my routine has always been one of the first signs for me that depression is coming around for a visit. I’m wondering if I was trying to brick up the door with books to stop it getting in? Perhaps, it didn’t work, and I didn’t recognise the warning sign at the time, because obsession is not something that is healthy for me to let happen.

I have always believed myself to be quite a strong person, and it has certainly been quite a blow in learning that I can’t cope with everything. I am a moronically stubborn sometimes, but I have come out the other side of this stronger and with a greater understanding of how to focus on what is important to me.

Hence this blog post, because my blog is important to me, and in the coming weeks I am going to be returning gently to blogging, with a better balance than I had before. Thank you everyone who my stats tell me have been reading my posts in my absence. It is much appreciated. 

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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I enjoy Neil Gaiman’s books and I love the Norse Legends, so I thought that this book was would a great little read. However, I will admit I was left feeling a bit flat.

There is a little bit of context in my reaction, it isn’t just the book. My reading has slowed down in recent weeks as my own writing has been pretty dominant. Also, I bought the book in hardback, which was a massive mistake as I was discouraged from reading it simply because it wouldn’t fit in my handbag. So not the greatest context in which to try and read the book.

However, my biggest problem is very much centered on the fact that I much preferred Joanne Harris’ ‘The Gospel of Loki‘. I simply couldn’t put that book down. There was a central character to get behind, protagonists and antagonists to root for (Loki fell into both categories simultaneously). The plot was intricately woven together and there was pace that kept you turning the page.

I felt flat with Gaiman’s interpretation because there was no central character to get behind, and the characters themselves felt really two dimensional. I know that in Norse mythology the characters themselves probably aren’t that fully formed but I had thought that in a re-interpretation by Gaiman, the characters would have got fleshed out.

Instead there was a just a series of characters in a series of disconnected myths and legends that Gaiman had interpreted. I didn’t feel much incentive to read the next story, and coupled with my hardback mistake I struggled to motivate myself to read the book. And I was disappointed by this because I know this is a passion of Gaiman’s, and I just thought he would do a better job.

I try not to make massive comparisons between books on similar topics, but in this case I can’t help it. I would recommend Harris over Gaiman on this one. The former is just more entertaining.

 

Book Review – Vinland by George Mackay Brown

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I lost my heart to Orkney years ago. I think at first it was the tranquility and the silence. Then it was realising the silence (compared to a city I mean) isn’t as quiet as I first thought; the birds, the wind and the waves are the sounds of Orkney, and I grew to love it even more. That was my first trip; on the second trip I got engaged at the Ring of Brodgar, so what was already a special place for me became even more so for us.

The second best thing to being there, is reading about Orkney through the words of Orcadian writer George Mackay Brown. ‘Vinland’ might make its way onto my list of all-time favourite books. It is utterly stunning to read and I want more. I’m not familiar with Mackay Brown’s poetry, and the only other book I’ve read by him was ‘Beside the Ocean of Time’, which I will have to pull off the shelf again, but after reading ‘Vinland’ not only did I want the story to go on and on, I also want to see what else he wrote.

This the reaction I want when I finish reading a book. If I put off reading the last few pages because I don’t want the tale to ever end, it is for me the sign of a perfect book. The book is set in the Medieval Scandinavian world, including Orkney, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, and Ireland, as well as North America. The title ‘Vinland’ is a little bit misleading, as only part of it is set in North America, when Leif Ericson tried to settle a colony there, however the dream of Vinland is carried on throughout the protagonist’s life.

The book charts the life of Ranald Sigmundson, a boy who goes to sea with his father, and ends up with Leif Ericson in Vinland. He returns home to Orkney, and evens goes to war in Ireland. I’m particularly fond of this period in history, and while I certainly don’t know as much about the Scandinavian World as I think I should, I had briefly studied the Vinland Sagas as a student, in what I would say is one of the best modules I ever had the privilege of undertaking. This book brought this world to life.

History can seem at times to be a bit cold and a bit distant, and the further back in time you go, the less evidence there is to help you reconstruct the past. The reason I enjoyed this book so much is because of the people. The political and religious turmoil certainly made the plot intriguing, but it is the characters, mainly Ranald, that makes the book so evocative. I’m sure that there is more metaphorical meaning within the work than what I have interpreted for you here, and I’m sure many of you would enjoy the book for those reasons.

For me I loved it because I didn’t just escape into a book, I also got the chance to escape into a period of history that I adore.

I remember picking up the copy of ‘Vinland’ in a lovely little bookshop in Stromness where Mackay Brown lived in Orkney. These days I’m keen on having context and a bit of life woven into the tapestry of my experience with a book. While I am planning on going back, I don’t think I can wait to go back to Orkney to get more books by him though; I think yearning for them badly enough to order them will have to be experience enough.