Monday, 3 August 2015

Orange is the New Black (2010) Book/TV Show Review

Sitting through the first ever episode of OITNB I was so convinced that I was going to hate this series that I gave up watching and played on my phone to pass the time. The opening hour of the TV show is filled with raunchy sex scenes to try and entice the viewer to keep watching. For me it was a cheap tactic instead of just making a great TV show. In fact the rest of the series was literally nothing like the pilot and it turned out to be one of the best and funniest TV series I've ever watched. Mostly because it has the widest range of the most complex and interesting and enjoyable characters.


I was surprised to learn, then, that the book includes little to no sex at all, considering the amount that has been shown throughout OITNB's three series. It has mentions of "gay for the stay" women who are short-term lesbians to pass the time which I thought was clever and funny. In fact the original book version that the TV series is based on rarely dips into the issues fully explored within the series, and that's one of its biggest downfalls, along with the lack of humour. The book is humorous at times, but not enough to evoke a full blown belly laugh. More like a chuckle every so often at a funny comment. It makes it funnier because the book is more based in real life and it's hard to imagine the events really occurring. 


This is one of the few exceptions to my rule of preferring to read the book before the TV show/movie. This time around it really helped to know the characters and to be able to put a name to a face because there are so many names that otherwise it would be hard to keep up. Also interesting was being able to read the source material for all of the much-loved characters of the series. If I hadn't known them, I wouldn't have cared much at all for the poorly described characters briefly touched upon in the book. For most of the women their crimes are secret and Piper Kerman never finds out why exactly they have been locked up. The focus is on Piper herself, her struggles and her ups and downs, naturally as it is her book. The TV show is more widely dispersed between character's backgrounds and with time being divided, especially in the third series, quite equally between Piper and her fellow inmates. It is so much more involving to have the flashbacks in the TV series that show why they are locked up, their backgrounds, their crimes, their families. You get to know every single inmate, every single officer, and care for each of them. In the TV series no one is written about enough to know much more than the very basics for moving the plot on. The blanks are filled in by what you know from watching the series. 

Also, Crazy Eyes is only a very, very minor character! WTF! 


However on a more positive note the book is well paced, intriguing, and interesting. The TV series deviates from the plot so it's not exactly the same. I was keen to find out whether Piper and Nora get together, whether she stays with Larry, what people were really like in the original story. It's a good, easy read that doesn't require much thought or concentration. It is kind of watching TV and I can see how easily it was considered as an adaptation. It works well, better even, seeing the prison life played out visually. However it's good to read about how a real, normal woman survived a year in prison. I tend to think of criminals stereotypically, not helped by other shows/books. This one breaks those character cliches and stereotypes and shows real women struggling with their prison lives and to fit in with other inmates. 


The book is even tamer than the show, with barely anything negative happening to Piper at all. There are ups and downs but they are more like small bumps in the road than the mountains I would have expected from twelve months locked inside of a low security prison. It's filled with real life facts and statistics about prison and particularly incarcerated females in America. Real-life Piper now works within a foundation helping women in prison and so it's hard not to read the book as a kind of preachy text with obvious goals and I think as such it probably manipulates the truth to suit her purpose of teaching the reader about the injustices that occur within American prisons. 


A good book with intriguing insights into female prison life, but not as good as the TV show.

6.5/10

Sunday, 2 August 2015

1000 Views! Thank You!

Wow! Thank you!




Today I logged on to Blogger to see my blog post "Internet Trolls" had hit 1000 views! While this might not seem a lot in comparison to the thousands of hits other articles might have, this is big news for me when the next biggest views on one of my blog posts is just over 100 for "The Truth About Homesickness". I'm glad the blog posts that are receiving the most attention are the ones where I've tried to portray my opinion about issues I find important.




I write my articles for myself but with the idea in mind it could be interesting for someone else to read my view point and either agree or disagree and to potentially open up channels of communicating or discussing issues/films/books/music whatever it might be. So far the comments have been basically empty but maybe one day there will be some kind of open discussions going on through this blog. 

I don't mind telling you honestly that most of my blog posts get less than 20 views each so this is really great feeling for me. It's nice to write something and to put it in the public domain for inspection, dissection and judgement but it's also amazing to know that at least some of the stuff I'm writing is actually being read. 



So just a little post to say thank you if you read my blog because it is appreciated. I hope you keep reading and enjoy.

Jess x

The Girl on the Train (2015) Book Review - No Spoilers

No Spoilers! 



Not since Gone Girl has a mystery book been so widely hyped. Rightly so, too, as this book actually deserves every good review and advertisement screaming its praises that seems to have been floating around for the last few months. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was actually released in January but its prominence in the literary world and its popularity has experienced a kind of snowball effect, and now it is being made into a film directed by Tate Taylor, according to IMDb he's only been a director for around three films, one being The Help and the others being relatively small. Apparently it will also star Emily Blunt as TGOTT's main narrator, an overweight, unreliable, alcoholic, compulsive liar. Sounds just like Emily Blunt, doesn't it?



It's hard not to picture this novel as a film when you're reading it though, it's fast paced with loads of settings and different view points, and there are plenty of creative opportunities for the drunken flash backs, blackouts, memories, sober flashbacks and piecing together the night in question. The characters all seem equally as guilty throughout and it really is impossible to pin down who could be the murderer. Each character has hidden depths that the novel slowly delves into and uncovers, and they are all connected in a web of lies, deceit and intrigue that unravels until the very final pages when all is revealed.

I actually thought this book was really well paced for how slowly things were revealed. It builds tension to the point where skipping to the last page to find out everything is ridiculously tempting. Characters who seem the guiltiest are sometimes the most innocent, and the most innocent characters have unexpected, hidden secrets seemingly linking them to the crime. 



My only problem was that when seeing the story from Rachel's POV is that she dwells too much on repetitive issues every single chapter. There are full paragraphs of "should I do this? Should I do that?" or alternatively "what happened that night? Who is he/she? What did I do?" The repetitiveness of it is a bit grating after a while but because of the mystery you keep ploughing through for answers regardless of the occasionally low standard of writing. Also the conclusion of the story, while satisfying, seemed a bit cliché. The criminal, after a whole novel of believable and relatable characters, suddenly changes their personality completely after being exposed to become a stereotypical baddie.



Otherwise in The Girl on the Train, the mystery was well executed, the tension built expertly, the story satisfyingly concluded, the characters realistic and intriguing, the story well paced. I would recommend this even to people not well acquainted with mystery novels.

4.5/5

Saturday, 1 August 2015

To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) Book Review

About 6 or 7 years ago when I was doing my GCSEs I was forced to read this book for my exams. I hated it. I thought it was boring, slow-paced, seemingly written in riddles, big deals were made out of nothing, the writing was too long winded and we all made fun of Tom Robinson behind our teacher's back, pretending to be a T-Rex with shortened arms. About the only quote I took away from the book was "yessum" which we sqwuarked out repeatedly each lesson like stupid parrots.




How I wish I could go back and smack some sense into my fifteen-year-old self. If I'd sat down and properly read the book from start to end I probably would have enjoyed it more. If it hadn't been a forced requirement of English Literature GCSE to read it, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Any book assigned by school, college or university instantly loses its appeal before you even crack the spine. So TKAM was studied but not enjoyed. Read but not understood. Circumstances meant that at the time I couldn't properly appreciate this amazing novel. 



Before I begin, anyone complaining about spoilers, this book is FIFTY FIVE YEARS OLD. And has, like, two movie adaptions. Not my bad.

Anyway.

I opened the book on Wednesday and despite working and you know, life, I closed the finished book on Friday night. For the snatched hours in those two days I was transported into Southern America in the 1930's. I thought it was written then and I couldn't believe that this book was actually written in the 60's. Everything is so vividly written it's impossible not to get sucked immediately into the story. From one of the first pages where "ladies bathed before noon, after their three o'clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft tea-cakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum" you can picture everything; the people, the oppressive heat, the buildings, the smell and feel of Maycomb. The novel is written conversationally from Scout as an adult reflecting back on three years of her childhood where she grows to understand morals, injustice, racism, rape, inequality, all of which are subtly and implicitly alluded to for an adult mind to understand through the innocent eyes of an unknowing child. What I thought at fifteen were riddles of irrelevancy I know understand are expertly written passages containing information to be interpreted and picked apart by the reader, to take from it what they will. There are so many times where it is imperative to read between the lines that you become a part of the story and take a viewpoint whether you want to or not.

The characters become real through Harper Lee's story, whether from their opinions, actions or dialogue. The speech is heavily accented with a southern drawl that's comprehensible, endearing and adds to the unavoidable sense that the novel is based on real events. It's hard to explain how well thought-out and intricately planned every aspect of the novel is. 



Scout, the narrator, is a loveable tomboy who defies everyone's Southern way of thinking that she should be more ladylike. She fights, speaks her mind, fiercely defends anyone she loves and because of all that you will for her to stay exactly the way she is.

Her brother Jem is much like a young Atticus, learning who he wants to be and how to achieve it. His moral compass is mostly set well apart from times when his young age holds back his mind from logical adult thinking, as hard as he tries. 

Atticus is by far my favourite character in the novel. He is plain good. Uncorruptable, generous, thoughtful, calm, intelligent, proud, stubborn, a great father, smart, likeable... He is a "goodie" that can be believed in without having to use cliche or stereotypes.

Tom Robinson is a tragically doomed character who makes the fatal error of being too nice, as a black man, to a white woman. His intentions are clearly innocent and the injustice of his death is affecting in a way most characters in books who aren't the main character usually falls flat of.

Calpurnia is like a stand in mother for the children with her tough love. Scout's eventual understanding of her double life is an interesting and complex chapter of the book full of morality, thoughtfulness and the struggles of defining race and the boundaries at the time between black and white people.

Miss Maudie is a mischievous older woman who acts like a kind of grandmother to Scout, guiding her to understand her father and the town. She speaks her mind, like Scout, and her moments of shutting up the gossiping, air-headed women feel like a small victory.

Boo Radley is an enigma throughout most of the novel. He is, in a way, Scout and Jem's obsession but also their guardian angel. He leaves them presents, he cares for them like they were his own children, and crops up at random points throughout the novel to do good deeds for the children. In the end it is for them that he comes out of his reclusive state to save their lives, risking his privacy and going against his natural extreme shyness. He is loveable and flawed, like most characters in the novel.

Atticus not only teaches the children lessons about life, but the reader too. A lot of the lessons are about thoughtfulness, acceptance, patience, and how to be a better person in general. For example he tells Scout, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from is point of view [...] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." I think this is something we could all benefit from if we thought of it more often. 



Of course from the title there is Atticus' immortal words, "Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingird." Obviously after an initial reading we know that the mockingbird is a metaphor for Tom Robinson and later Boo Radley. They are both so purely good. Tom's death is needless and a show of the injustice that was a side effect of racism back then and still today. The novel's themes and probes into racism, equality and closed-mindedness is one that is still highly relevant in modern society. Just think of all the incidents in America with police killing black/white men and the difference in reaction/empathy/justice just because of skin colour.



After Mrs Dubose passes away, Atticus teaches the children about the true meaning of bravery. This also later links to the Tom Robinson court case. He says, "son, I told you that if you hadn't lost your head I'd have made you go read to her. I wanted you to see something about her - I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew." This quote captures so beautifully the different struggles of the characters and how in real life we never really know what problems people have behind closed doors that we might not know about. Harper Lee really knows how to word issues that are normally so hard to define and give meaning to, but she frames the story around the need for compassion and empathy for others. 

All in all this book wonderfully captures the energy and feeling of childhood, surrounding very adult themes and issues. It was enthralling, captivating, beautifully and vividly written, and when the novel ends you feel like you know the characters like real people. Amazing book, now my second favourite ever. I cannot wait to read Go Set a Watchmen and I've heard it complements its predecessor well. 



This book is perfection. 

10/10

Paper Towns (2015) Film Review



Being a fan of John Green, hearing that Paper Towns was being adapted into a movie was big news. The Fault in Our Stars had been an amazing book and film, equally as amazing and moving and re-watch/readable. Nothing could or should have been changed about TFIOS that would have improved it. It made you laugh in parts, cry in others, and knew exactly how to manipulate your emotions so it really was a rollercoaster. 



I got to see Paper Towns tonight at an advance screening that I was so glad to have found to save an extra three weeks of waiting to see this highly anticipated (on my behalf) film that has been publicised so well. Especially now, thanks to Cara and her awkward interview which appears to have gone somewhat viral. Definitely a big help as the film nears its UK release date but I'm sure it was just a crazy, unexpected incident....

I'll start by saying Paper Towns has its merits but on no level was it near TFIOS. I know it's unfair to compare films because they aren't all that similar apart from a general love story and an unexpected ending. Paper Towns was enjoyable, a really good film with an amazing soundtrack that I've been playing for weeks before seeing the film and probably for weeks from now, but it didn't particularly move me. I laughed in places but even the ending didn't even have me with a lump in my throat. Bear in mind that the Google advert once made me cry. It's not that hard. The ending of the book, in my opinion, could have been massively improved. John Green doesn't like stereotypical happy endings, fine, but at least have SOME kind of emotion. With no sadness and no happiness it end up feeling a bit "meh". The film tried it's hardest to deviate from that and actually improved it somewhat but the feeling that something was missing was hard to shake. 



Nat Wolff as Q was perfect. His constant nice-guy smile, shyness and likability was perfect for the character. He's the kind of average seeming guy that Q is supposed to be. Really great casting.

Radar and Ben were well cast but I think Ben's character could have been fuller. He was funny but his character especially was left a bit shallow considering the amount of screen time he had.

Cara Delevingne as Margo was badly cast in my opinion. She overacted every single scene. She was a decent Margo but she wasn't the book's Margo at all. The book's Margo is supposed to be kind of average, like most girls, because she's a real girl and it's just Q's love/obsession of her that makes her appear perfect to him and we see through his eyes. Cara Delevingne is a supermodel with very few flaws and not really the "average" kind of girl. It's not Q making her out to be that beautiful/amazing/pretty because of his love, she just really is. Besides that, her performance was just too over-the-top for me.



*SPOILERS*

The biggest disappointment for me was the revenge night. WHERE WAS SEAWORLD?!?!!? The best part of the revenge night, they didn't even include!!! The best chapter(s) of the book, with the best laughs and the tension of sneaking in to Seaworld, and the emotion, and the will-they-won't-they reduced to a few stupid pranks and a slow dance in the tower. I was SO disappointed. I really thought that seeing it played out in a movie would be a million times better, they had such quality material to work with and play with, and it was funny but I expected so much more. I kept waiting for the big moment they broke in and how exciting it would be, and it just didn't happen. In the beginning when Margo asks Q to break into Seaworld with her and he says no, I thought that was an allusion to later in the movie when there would be a big "moment" where he would realise she was worth breaking into Seaworld for and they would have an amazing, revelation-filled time. Nope.



The road trip was pretty good, but shortened massively. The cow scene had people gasping and gripping their seats. When the three boys chat about high school I felt that it was really relatable for anyone who has left or who is leaving school and seemed really natural and real. This links to the end when Q realises his miracle was his friends all along, not "just a girl". The extra moments added to the film about his friendships with Radar and Ben added a new depth that helped shift the book's meh ending to one of hope and it gave the whole road trip real purpose. After the book finishes you're left feeling a bit like, "well what was the whole point in that?!?!" In the film it's nice because the purpose was actually a final event for them all to remember their best friendships by, to bring them closer as buddies and realise some truths to take with them to college.




Overall the film was pretty good, mostly well acted, no bland or boring bits, and the soundtrack was amazing. I probably won't rewatch it any time soon though and was left feeling a bit let down after expecting a lot more from the adaptation.

6/10

IMDb:  7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes: 5.5/10



Saturday, 18 July 2015

My thoughts on Gay Pride/Women's Day etc...

Though this blog title makes this post sound like it's going to be really negative, I promise it's not.

Today is Newcastle Gay Pride 2015 and thousands of people, gay, straight, pansexual etc., are flocking to wear rainbow colours, party, celebrate and have a good time. And here's my first point. Straight people will be attending to celebrate and show public acceptance of  being gay and that's really amazing. Especially considering even twenty, thirty years ago that just couldn't have happened and being homosexual was shunned and denied. But now we get to embrace all sexualities and choose the kind of love we want, and have a day to celebrate it.

However my problem lies in the fact that only homosexuality is being celebrated. I'm not saying that in a closed-minded grandparent kind of way where it's like, 'why must they flaunt it why is there no straight day back in my day...' Because that kind of closed-minded thinking is why it's taken so long for (most of) society to be as accepting as it is today and for prejudice to still be scarily prevalent among all generations of people.

My thinking is not that we shouldn't celebrate gayness, but that all sexualities should come together one day a year to celebrate all types of love. No one chooses to be straight or gay or any other sexuality, and just because heterosexuality is more socially accepted doesn't mean it shouldn't be celebrated too. In fact I would go so far to say that a Straight Pride day would in fact be transgressive and counter-productive, because it isolates anyone who isn't straight. Though Gay Pride has straight people too their sexualities aren't also being celebrated. Loving any kind of human being is an act in itself which should be celebrated by all. I would really enjoy seeing Sexuality Pride (maybe something a bit catchier) becoming popular, and everyone no matter what their preference partying together and being a bit more inclusive to any human who wishes to celebrate loving people. That sounds really hippie-ish but I really believe it. 

This brings me to my second point. Women's Day. Because I'm a woman I feel I can speak more openly about this topic without seeming subversive to the causes these days are trying to promote. I realise that of the two genders, women have been the most oppressed and still are to this day. However having a Women's Day will not solve this. The only people it seems to invite to celebrate being a woman is obviously... Women. It's so polarising. It's like, "men, get you're own day. This is ours!" In my opinion polarising whoever you are seeking to gain equality to isn't the right way of achieving your goal. Again, no one chooses their gender but it does tend to define you if you let it. Glass ceilings, fashion, segregated toilets, maternity/paternity leave etc. males also get discriminated, possibly not as much as women I have to say, but still there are  problems with identifying as a member of either, both or neither gender. Having a Gender Day (again let's think of a better name...) would be so much better. The whole of humanity celebrating the primary difference that separates two halves of Earth's popularity. Oh and guess what? Gender Day means whether you're transsexual, genderfluid, whatever you want to be, you get to celebrate that too!

We would all get to celebrate the fundamental differences that we all possess that not just make us unique but also connect and relate us to those who ALSO have those differences! 

Anyone that can call themselves a supporter of all of the following has a name. If you believe in equality for all races, sexualities, genders, don't use names like feminist etc. the word is HUMANIST. You believe all humans have the same worth. And though everyone is entitled to their opinion if yours is that anyone is worth less than anyone else, then your opinion is WRONG.

Just to throw some others into the mix: Black History Month. Like Morgan Freeman said, how can you fit the whole of black history into one month? More to the point, WHY should you? Celebrating your race/sexuality/gender whatever it is that makes you different, should be something that happens every day. Ideally we should be accepting of all differences - but that would be in a perfect world. Until that time can we all not just be accepting of ourselves and everyone else instead of picking one thing and saying "okay this is the difference we'll celebrate today and no one else should join in." What we should be doing is saying "okay we're all different why don't we all accept those differences and those of others." 

So let's work on some catchier names and start celebrating complete and total equality. 

Humanists unite!

Friday, 17 July 2015

Knock Knock (2015) Film Review

Keanu Reeves. What have you done?

There's just no explanation for his career nosediving at the moment. One minute (well, like two decades ago) he's starring in The Matrix, one of the best sci-fi films ever, the next he's starring in piles of turd like John Wick and Knock Knock. WTF?



John Wick was laughable, stupid, poorly thought out, zero characterisation, illogical, conventional, predictable. And yet it had a bit of action and it was so bad it was funny, so it wasn't too bad. Knock Knock, on the other hand, is the worst film I have EVER subjected my brain to. Ever. In my whole life. It was even worse than the hour and a half of nothingness which was Open Water. (Remember - that film where those two idiots went on some risky half-price deep sea diving session and got left behind and then the sharks try and eat them for a bit and you think they're going to be saved and then they both die so the whole thing was pointless anyway and not like 127 Hours where at least it gave you a bit of optimism and hope to remember it by? No? And BTW before you complain about spoilers that film is over 11 years old and if you haven't seen it now you never will. And you never should.)



This film seems to not be able to decide whether it is tongue in cheek or completely serious. It fades in and out of both, leaving you confused on how to take the film. If it had been just a bit more ridiculous and out there it could have been hilarious. But it took itself too seriously right up until the very last scene when it left you thinking - was I supposed to laugh through this?

The first half is basically any middle-aged man's wildest fantasies come true. But it literally takes half the film to introduce characters and setting and for a bit of flirting. Exposition should not be half of the film. It is so slow paced I considered leaving the cinema, which I have never done. Then things actually begin to happen and you kind of wish it would just go back to nothing happening because there are so many *facepalm* moments it's hard to keep track. Then it's all about karma, bitch. But you feel nothing for Keanu's character so it's hard to care what happens to him. I kind of wish more had happened to him for a bit of excitement or mystery but nope. Convenient visitors happen instead.



Keanu plays his character well, but who can take him seriously as a dad? He, like, smiles and everything. It's weird. It's cringey. The two women who play his tormentors are a bit over the top at times, and some of the torture techniques are downright stupid, but they are believable as psychos. When the credits rolled I suddenly understood why he had starred in this hyper-sexual film. He was only the executive producer! Now it all makes sense. I used to love Eli Roth films (Hostel series, Cabin Fever). When I was of a single digit age. Now I'm older and I have standards I know that his films are generally to be avoided. His only achievement was being "The Bear Jew" in Inglorious Basterds. And that was a long time ago now. (As a side note - did we all realise that Cabin Fever is getting a reboot this year? Of all the films that deserve a remake, this is not one of them.)

I honestly would not recommend this film to my worst enemy. The crappest film I have ever seen and I wish I could get my cinema fee back so I could buy this DVD just to use it as my own torture technique. It would be better than any actually used in the film anyway.




TL;DR: Complete heap of turd. Keanu has sold out.

My rating - 0/10.
IMDb - 6.5/10 (Did they see the same film as me?)
Rotten Tomatoes - 4.4/10

PS. *SPOILER* If someone threatening to kill you says "you must stay in the house!" you do not stay in the house. You do not then, five minutes later when they are actively seeking you, try to leave the house. You do not then immediately trip over THE WORLD'S BIGGEST RANDOM TROLLEY OR WHATEVER WAS OUTSIDE THAT HE TRIPPED ON HOW DIDN'T HE SEE IT THEY WERE GOING TO KILL HIM WHY WASN'T HE LESS CLUMSY IN THIS SITUATION?!?!!?!

Ted 2 (2015) Film Review

We saw this over a week after its release date and yet even still the cinema was completely packed! Not a spare seat was to be had, which is pretty impressive, considering the whole room of around one hundred adults were all sitting, waiting expectantly to see a film about a bear with a more interesting life than all of us put together.





Ted (the first) was funny but not too memorable. I think this film, surprisingly for a sequel, is even more hilarious than its predecessor! It's witty, smart, topical, unexpected. Particularly funny, without ruining it, were the comedy club scene, the F. Scott Fitzgerald piece. Just having the characters bounce off each other with their jokes and random conversations, so natural it seemed real, were the funniest parts. 

All the things we no longer expect from a comedy. Just when you think comedies have run out of ideas, a teddy bear sues America for its human rights. After seeing the advert I wasn't sure how they'd stretch that idea out over a feature film length of time but they managed. Some of the plot was tediously relevant, some was crazy but forgiveable because of its entertainment factor. Seth MacFarlane, with all his gags about drugs, must have been on some himself to write this mental film.




Mark Wahlberg's character in the first half is so cut up over his divorce to Mila Kunis' character from the first film that actually he's a wet drip and rarely amusing until he gets into it a bit and they stop focusing in on their cover up for whatever reason Mila didn't want to rejoin the cast. Amanda Seyfried plays a totally different character as a drug-obsessed lawyer but it was strange and kind of jarring hearing her swear and watching her take hits from a bong when normally she plays sweet or PG-rated characters. She played the character well, but I think a funnier actress could have brought the role much more life. However the Lord of the Rings references made to her made me laugh so hard it hurt. Obviously Seth MacFarlane did an amazing job as Ted, without so much as one flat joke. Liam Neeson's five minutes of fame in the film were so random, weird and crazy but fun none-the-less.





Plot aside, the film did what it was supposed to. It had us laughing pretty much constantly from start to finish, with belly laughs aplenty. Belly laughs are the true measure of a good comedy, anything can have you chuckling but only a true funny film can have you with tears in your eyes. You leave in a better mood than you arrived, and what else can you ask for?

Obviously it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea with its slapstick, rude, crude jokes but it definitely was mine. It'll never be a firm favourite but it's one of the funniest films I've seen this year.

My rating: 8/10

IMDb rating: 6.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes rating: 4.6/10

True Detective (2014) TV Series 1 Review

True Detective series one managed to stay under the radar for quite a while. It didn't plague our TVs, mainly during adverts time for Sky Atlantic, really until series two, when Colin Ferrell and Rachel McAdams' faces were plastered everywhere. 



Me and my friends decided to watch series one on a whim. I hadn't heard if it was good or bad, knew nothing of what it was about or how well it had been received. All we knew was it was quite probably going to be about two detectives played by Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. I love both of these actors and I know in recent times they only star in roles of films that I have really enjoyed.

Woody - The Hunger Games series, Zombieland, Seven Pounds (that one that flopped with Will Smith but was really good) and No Country for Old Men (amazing book). Apparently Woody was also in Friends With Benefits??

Matthew - Interstellar and The Wolf of Wall Street, where he began gaining a reputation as being a real, serious actor at last.

(Let's not talk of their career beginnings. I'm looking at you, Matthew, with those awful romcoms like Failure to Launch with Sarah Jessica Parker, How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days, and Sahara. But 
everyone's got to put dinner on the table somehow, I suppose.)



Anyway, based on the credentials of the show's two lead males, it looked good. So we tried, three times, to watch it, but each time we ended up getting bored around 10 minutes in, talking over the top of it, getting confused, and giving up. This didn't bode well. The fourth time, we decided to not talk and really concentrate.

The first episode is good, but not great. The characters are interesting, the plot is set up, and the flashbacks and present timelines intersecting is a really intriguing way of telling the story, because we were all asking, "Where is this going to go? What have the characters done? Who exactly are the real detectives?" For most of the series, there are more questions than answers. The series builds and builds throughout, each episode better than the last, right up until the last two episodes. The ending, for me, fell massively flat. 

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

So we are given a fascinating, intricate plot that keeps you guessing all the time about who could be the ultimate murderer. From episode one, I was convinced either Woody, Marty, or Matthew, Rust, or both were the murderers. I imagined this web of lies, involving the police as was suggested by Matthew all along, with a huge ending revealing everyone who appeared so innocent actually being a part of the ring of murders. The episodes grew in tension and we couldn't turn it off, dying to find out more and the mystery growing deeper and darker.




Woody, Marty, is a character who seems so nice and innocent on the surface, but is really a cheat, abusive to his family, a drunk, and a liar. Matthew, Rust, is a reserved, intelligent, philosophical character who I think we're supposed to dislike but who was my favourite throughout. I loved the long soliloquies where he would talk and teach about some philosophical idea like life being a circle. Because Rust only hurts himself with drugs and drink I didn't think he would be the murderer. Because Marty hurts his family and lost control of his emotions when he shot those men at the covered up drug shoot out I thought it was him. Rust said whoever the killer was had done it before and I thought that was hinting to Marty. Nope.

The last two episodes were confusing. They added irrelevant questions and confusing details that seemed to make no sense and come out of thin air to move the plot along. Then there was the big reveal. Who have they been chasing this whole time? 

Only a conventional, fat, red neck character who was like any The Hills Have Eyes or House of Wax stereotypical evil man who is psychotic, inbred, disgusting, fat, unhygenic, in a hillbilly house that's vile. What the hell, True Detective? It promised a perpetrator worthy of the high quality the series had delivered so far, and then they drop this bombshell that actually it was the dude we briefly met that is really tediously attached to the schools, not involved with the police, not involved with anyone just himself and his sister/wife. All the build up, mystery and intrigue were completely let down. The big reveal was just the guy sitting on his little lawnmower muttering to himself and that's how you find out it was him. Right.




Marty and Rust, to catch the killer, have to run through this weird labyrinthine underground hideout where he hid all the bodies. Which got me thinking. If this dude is smart enough to kill and hide them never to be found in his Batman cave thing, then why the hell does he put the very first murdered girl on a damn hill with reindeer antlers and devil gates or whatever those sticks are, for the police to find?! Especially decorating her up with easy clues to connect him with her? Idiot.

So we're in the cave. The guy's there doing this weird voice-throwing thing that has Rust tripping balls seeing skies open in the roof. Then Rust is stabbed, Marty saves him, for Rust to then save him in return. So many mega convenient  deus ex machina that just have you rolling your eyes wishing for the end. Then the end comes, by way of an emotional conversation followed by a philosophical conversation that seems like it should be relevant but tries to hard to be #deep. Such a good series ruined by its rushed, sub-par ending. I would think twice about recommending this just because of the disappointment every viewer will inevitably feel.



The first six episodes - 9.5/10
The final two episodes - 4/10
Overall - 7


TL;DR: Watch it for the bromance, but don't get too attached to the storyline.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

The DUFF (2015) Review (Spoilers...?)

If you've ever seen cult classic The Breakfast Club, you'll remember the iconic scene at the end when the recluse/outcast stereotype character, Allison, is given a make over by Claire, the popular girl stereotype, and then suddenly Andrew, the jock, falls in love with her. Because he wouldn't have if she'd stayed just the way she was. Personally I think she looks better pre-make over. But that's not Hollywood. Like most Disney films, the girl has to change somehow in order to get the guy. I thought this was, by now, a rule that was made to be broken. 


How awful is the photoshopping on this poster? What have they done to Whitman's head/face?!



Not in The DUFF. Considering the film's main message is about breaking stereotypes and labels etc. etc. it is highly invested in labelling every single character with some kind of slightly mean label. And then says, "but don't do this IRL guys!" 

The reason I don't explicitly state there's spoilers is because about five minutes into the film I'd already guessed the whole plot. This is seriously cookie-cutter type storytelling that hasn't really tried to try anything new. The "twist" - I use that term loosely - is predictable and thrown in your face at every possible moment then given a big reveal at the end like a five year old couldn't have seen it coming a mile off.  

Our protagonist, Bianca, is much like Allison from The Breakfast Club. But without the compulsive lying. She finds out from her jock neighbour (can you guess what happens between them yet?) Wes that she is a DUFF - a Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Which makes you wonder, really, what they see in each other. He is an emotionally redundant airhead and she is an emotionally redundant misery. In their bonding scene at the mall I particularly liked the personality transplant the writers randomly gave Bianca, who doesn't like dancing, attention or being outgoing in any way who then suddenly becomes aggressively confident, dry humping a mannequin and being totally inappropriate in front of her neighbour and not-quite-friend Wes. Also interesting is Wes' knowledge of thongs and bras. Find me a high school aged boy who wouldn't crawl out of an underwear section cringing for his life and begging for mercy and I'll find you an original character in this film. It's impossible. 







All the characters are stereotypical, barely believable, barely likeable, shallow and lacklustre. Her mother is a robot. Her two fickle friends are irritating beyond belief with their "cool girl" personas. Why the hell are the three of them friends when she is a geeky recluse that likes horror films, her friend likes Buddhism and fashion, and her other friend is a footballing hacker? Never mind that the three of them barely even spend time together and the one night her two friends cancel their dates she bails on them to have sex with her new boyfriend, what interests do they share to bond them together? 





The last line about how it's not about getting the guy but rejecting labels is stupid when the whole plot of the film is about the girl getting the guy. With an uplifting message for teenagers as a moral to keep the film from feeling too shallow. The plot unfolds exactly the way you expect it to. It is funny in places, but not to raise more than a chuckle. No one in the cinema was hysterical with laughter or anything. It was a reasonably humorous, entertaining film that teenagers might enjoy but will probably think is a bit too stupid for them. It underestimates the intelligence of its intended audience. Or anyone at all, really.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

How Facebook Has Ruined The University Experience

Back in the day people regarded university as a life-changing experience where the person would never be the same again, make forever friends and learn many life lessons along the way. 

I would argue that nowadays things have changed, and not for the better.





When most people move to university, they already have an established group of friends that they've probably had for years. By the time you're eighteen you will all have the same kind of sense of humour, tonnes of shared memories, and the same kind of interests and hobbies. As a teenager groups of friends mould together and shape each other in ways that adult friends don't. Because everyone is trying to find their identity, bits and pieces from the people you're close to all merge together in each person. 

In university some people might go and have the goal of making a whole new group of friends, either to replace or add to the ones they already have. Some people might just want to make friends so they don't spend their three years alone. Some people go without having a solid group of friends and wanting to find some like they perceive everyone else to have.

However I think the popularity of Facebook and the commonality of unlimited texts and huge amounts of minutes on mobile phones makes it harder than ever to do this. If you're one of those people who went/is going to university to make a group of new friends then don't feel bad if you end up either not making any or just a few that you'll actually speak to after graduation. More than likely these people will be some of your house mates. Some of the people you'll end up disliking the most will be some of your house mates. But most people are still heavily in contact with their friends because it's so easy to, and they are unwilling to let these people go. Understandably.





These years-old friends know and like you for who you really are, and to keep up with each other's lives you just need to log in to Facebook, message about what's going on, and get a reply almost instantly. If you wanted to, you could literally talk all day to your friend at home through texts, calls, and Facebook. There's not really many excuses to not talk to your friends from home. And while your head and heart are at home you can't really put yourself fully to the challenge of making new friends and memories. Why would you want to put the effort in to make new friends when your old and established friends are just a click away?

Another way Facebook has ruined the university experience is through comparing yourself to others too much. There is no privacy anymore. While you're feeling down and homesick and like you're alone in the world, binge watching some TV show by yourself, and you log into Facebook, all you see is the best of everyone else's lives. No one posts their homesickness or their bad days. It's all partying, going out for food, having a great time, making memories... All the things you want to be doing all the time. By comparing yourself to the edited online versions of other people you're only doing yourself a disservice. Real life is not like Facebook life. 



So why don't we all try putting down our phones for a while, making an effort with other people who are probably feeling exactly the same as us, and stop judging ourselves and our lives compared to the best parts of others'. 

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Home (2015) Film Review

I went to see this film tonight and I've got to say the adverts show the best bits. I was underwhelmed. The storyline was predictable and pretty much every single joke fell flat. It was cringe-worthy and predictable and nothing we haven't seen before.





Tip, voiced by Rihanna, and Oh, voiced by Jim Parsons, are so distracting. All you can hear is Rihanna and Sheldon (from Big Bang Theory). Their voices are far too distinctive to sustain main characters through an animated film. It just didn't work. They were well acted, and surprisingly especially Rihanna was believable as teenage Tip. Tip's mum Lucy, voiced by Jennifer Lopez, is much more subtle and believable.

The film was totally nonsensical and followed no rules of physics or logic in order for the plot to keep flowing. Such as when the Boovs see Oh and Tip and instead of immediatley doing something about the one last human they point their weapons at Oh... But they don't even recognise him in the first place. For children this might go unnoticed but for anyone else it's distracting and seems poorly thought out. The final scenes lack the emotional impact and seem bland and obvious. However the soundtrack is great, it's got some really good songs on. The Rihanna tunes are a bit jarring particularly when Tip's character puts one on, it takes you out of the film and reminds you - if you needed reminding - that Tip has Rihanna's voice. A strange choice in my opinion.





Tip is an interesting character, breaking the norm set by the Disney characters of having white, stick-thin, weak, damsel-in-distress, wishy washy girls. Tip is from Barbados (probably in part to explain Rihanna's non-American accent) and is black, curvy, outspoken, quick tempered, strong and brave character Disney should aspire to have more of. I hope this trend only gets more popular and continues to expand to all different races, religions, shapes, sizes, genders, personalities, etc. It's good to show that women can be a wide variety of things and don't have to fit one specific mould. Let's have some more outspoken, independent characters for children to look up to!

All in all it was an entertaining film but not funny or particularly emotional but worth a watch if you've got kids to keep busy and 90 minutes spare.


Thursday, 26 March 2015

Germanwings Plane Crash - The Facts and Questions Remaining

I've been reading about this story almost obsessively since the news broke. It's just so tragic and awful, and you can't help but put yourself in the victims' position. What if you were in that plane as it went down with your friends or family? 

Close-ups of debris
Source

On the Sky News site there's pictures and names of some of the victims on board and it's heart breaking to know that they had to go through this through no choice of their own. Just from this sample of the 144 passengers and 6 flight attendants, there were two babies on board, two opera singers (husband and wife) after a performance in Spain, a mother and son celebrating his new job, a young female student, a 50 year old father who is leaving behind two children and a wife, a male English student from Hull, sixteen exchange students from the same school (so friends), a married man...

144 people is just unbelievable. I remember reading about this on Reddit and someone had looked at the flight path and descent and had said it was unnatural - in speed and the time taken - for it to go down the way it had. No distress call was sent from the plane. But it was still assumed at that time to be an accident. 

Now we know the co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, a twenty eight year old man who had only come out of training in 2013, intentionally crashed the plane. Recordings from the plane crashing indicate he was breathing and therefore conscious, but not only that but breathing calmly. He waited until the pilot left (presumably for a toilet break) and sent the plane in a downwards trajectory he knew would end in the death of all on board. He had to crash in a certain way to not trigger the plane's automatic systems that would have kicked in if the plane was descending too fast - eg. a hijack attempt. There are regulations in place that state there have to be two people in the cockpit but the pilot did not get a flight attendant to sit in the cockpit while he went. Why? Is it so commonplace for that regulation to be broken that no one bothers with it anymore? Were the flight attendants busy? We probably won't ever know for sure.

Then from the recordings we know the pilot tried to break back into the cockpit after realising he had purposefully been locked out. He would have known the plane was going down, and he would have also known that because of the post-9/11 regulations the door has to be sturdy enough to be grenade proof along with several other security procedures that all work on the basis that the two people in the cockpit are not the ones that are doing the hijacking. There is an outside unlocking system that, for security reasons, not much is known about. It is said to take five minutes for the unlocking system to work so the pilot could have re-entered but one Redditor estimated that in the eight minutes it took to descend - two minutes to go to the toilet and return, one minute for the realisation something wasn't right to set in, five minutes for the door to unlock - it would have already been too late to do anything about the crash. 

Apparently the passengers started screaming only in the last few moments, so they didn't know until then that the plane was crashing, but I don't understand how that is true. I wish it was, but when the pilot has been locked out and is desperately trying to get in the cockpit in front of all the passengers to stop the plane from crashing into to Alps, along with the fact - through the windows and that horrible sea-sickness feeling you get - the passengers can see and feel the plane going down too fast, I think they must have known well before that. 

What confuses and sickens me the most is Lubitz. He sat in the cockpit and locked the pilot out, and carefully drove the plane into the ground so automatic systems wouldn't work and even in the final few moments his breathing was calm. We know that much. But if you think about it, he was sat in a position with front facing windows. He had the prime viewing of the mountains getting closer and closer, and his breathing remained calm. In his last few moments alive, knowing his voice was being recorded, he never apologised, told anyone he loved them, said goodbye, revealed his motivation, anything. He knew that with his death he was leaving behind hundreds of friends and families, and the whole world at large, so many questions to deal with, as well as the implications this crash now has.

All aviation companies now have a dilemma to face. When 9/11 happened new security measures were taken to protect the cockpit and make it impenetrable to outsiders attempting to hijack the plane. Now this has happened, there's going to have to be a choice who is trusted more to not deliberately bring a plane down - the pilots or the passengers. One Redditor stated that, with this incident included, ten planes have been intentionally crashed because of pilots, but just four because of passenger hijackers. This statistic would imply pilots are more likely to be a danger, but there will have to be a balance struck to get the optimum security procedures in place. Regulations will have to stop being ignored through complacency. Psychological checks will have to be regularly taken. There are many ways to prevent something like this happening again, but the main issue standing in the way of that will be money. 

Hopefully when further investigations take place regarding Lubitz's background we will have an idea of his intentions. Was it terrorism? Was it a suicide that also implicated 150 people? Was it a psychotic break? We might never know. But for the families' sakes, I hope we get some clarity soon about why so many people had to die. RIP to all of the victims on board that plane.



The Reddit thread regarding the crash.

The BBC News article regarding the crash.

The Fault In Our Stars (2014) Film Review SPOILERS!

I read this book during summer last year and I loved it. I ugly cried when the twist was revealed that actually Hazel wasn't going to die, Augustus was. That John Green made Augustus believable, losing his confidence, happiness and courage near to the end of his death, was all the worse. It felt like someone you knew really dying. 






When I went to see the film in the cinema last August (a week before my friends and I went to Amsterdam, which was a bit surreal) it was different, because instead of being inside of Hazel's mind you're now just a viewer of her life. There's less of a connection to her and sometimes her actions can seem selfish, which is normal for a teenager anyway, but in the book they were explained much better. Plus, everything seems more romantic written down. In film it can sometimes seem a bit cheesy. However I really liked the way the texts were visualised in the film, as hand-drawn bubbles sometimes with fireworks exploding out of them to give a sense of Hazel's excitement.






BEFORE GOOGLING TFIOS:

I rewatched this film last night and it isn't just a one-watch-wonder. It stands the test of repeat viewings. The Fault in Our Stars is amazing. It makes you laugh in parts (egg-throwing scene), smile (when Augustus and Hazel are falling in love and so cute together), cry (just about the whole last third of the film). The director knows exactly how to play the viewer and manipulate their emotions, which is actually a good thing. Most of the dialogue is directly from the novel so it still retains some authenticity of being Green's own words and his expertly crafted teenage first love story is so perfect it doesn't need changing much at all. Augustus' metaphor - the unlit cigarette - is too obvious for me. It's the kind of thing that is normally used in a literary way, but not stated so explicitly. Even in the book it seemed a bit unbelievable for a teenager to bother doing that. And it's weird Hazel is okay (aw) with it, because he's still essentially plowing money into the big corporations giving people cancer. However the film as a whole is whirlwind ride of first love, teenage angst, emotion, all ramped up by the instability of their diseases. The park scenes, from when they are both relatively healthy to when they know he hasn't got much time left, are beautiful. The trip to Amsterdam is picturesque and full of energy and adventure. Though a lot cleaner and less populated with dudes smoking weed while they ride their bikes than I remember. 







The actors give the performances of their lives, Ansel Elgort (Augustus) is spectacular and in particular the petrol station scene. The struggle not to cry in front of my friends watching him cry was real. Shailene Woodley (Hazel) is - as always - amazing and you forget its her, but sometimes her laughter was so forced it was a bit jarring. Nat Wolff (Isaac) is such a natural, hilarious performance and the eulogy scene where he says he doesn't want to see a world without Augustus Waters is the most heart-wrenching in the whole film, for me. Unfortunately it took a while of getting used to the two main characters because in between watches of The Fault in Our Stars I watched Divergent. (See my review here.) Big mistake - it wasn't worth it, and it's really weird seeing Woodley and Engort transition from brother and sister to boyfriend and girlfriend. They were made to play lovers rather than family, though, their chemistry seems so natural.

In the final third where tissues are a must, waiting for Augustus to die is awful. Every scene is tense, wondering if that's going to be the day. The film doesn't romanticise his illness, neither does the book, and they both deserve some credit for that for the viewers who have been effected by a terminal disease of whatever kind. The final scene of Hazel reading Augustus' final letter is so emotional, and the perfect way to end the film. Unlike the book it doesn't leave you wondering what happens to Augustus' family and friends because you know that, eventually, they'll all be alright. 






AFTER GOOGLING TFIS:

Rotten Tomatoes - 8/10 - impressive considering this is made up of critics' opinions. The general consensus is "Wise, funny, and heartbreaking without resorting to exploitation, The Fault In Our Stars does right by its bestselling source material." which I would also agree with.

IMDb: 8/10 - Seems about right. The film has its faults (ha) but overall it's a pretty amazing watch.
- According to this, the film made 10x its budget. 
- The title originates from a Shakespeare quote, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves..." and although its a different play, TFIS has a very Romeo and Juliet feel about the story. Just less depressing. And over a longer span than 5 days. And they aren't 13.
- The bench they sit on when Augustus reveals his news was stolen. (By superfans?)



Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Internet Trolls

Recently I've noticed trolling on Twitter and various Facebook pages to be getting worse, in my opinion. People are beginning to insult people who have recently died, people of a certain gender, race, religion, class, culture, anything. People who are successful are shot down through jealousy and people who aren't are made to feel even worse through self-centredness. 

It's all just so wrong.




Compassion and empathy seem to be slowly fading. I love Reddit and there's a subreddit supposedly for women to vent/talk freely, but the top comments are increasingly from angry, misogynistic males who try and promote anti-women messages, in a female forum. Some trolling is so stupid it doesn't even make sense. But if there's an audience for it, and some form of recognition, then it will continue to happen. 

To link this a bit to feminism, I recently listened to a podcast called “#545: This American Life” and it said women are statistically more likely to be trolled on the internet, or stalked on it. Does this mean that the internet is seen to be “male territory”? It’s a complicated question because it would seem true. Gaming, online or otherwise, can be seen as male territory with females seen as invasive, alien and largely in the minority with stereotypes regarding female gamers being terrible outdated and wrong. If this stereotype has any kind of basis it can only be from there being such a stigma attached to gaming for women that they either didn’t play, or played genderless as I know a lot of girls/women do. End of random tangent.




Anyway, back to "This American Life", a woman named Wendy West featured to tell her story about being trolled on Twitter. A guy took the time to research all about her life, and found out her father had recently died. He made a fake Twitter account as her dead dad and wrote some really awful things about West. It caused Wendy a lot of emotional pain to see something that awful, and eventually ended up in a phone call with him that starts off awkward and ends up with closure for them both. He admitted he did it because she was a strong, opinionated woman and that threatened him as a man because he felt powerless and wanted her to feel his pain too.

I have a feeling that’s where a lot of trolls are coming from. They aren’t happy with something to do with themselves and take it out on other people who seem to be getting what they wish they had. Whether that’s public attention, success of any kind, popularity, it tends to be through jealousy that hatred really springs to life. It’s hard to be happy for people if you feel your beneath them on some level.

I get it, and I have a feeling it’s something to do with social media. When every day we are bombarded with statuses, tweets, photos, etc. it’s easy to become desensitised to good news. (There are people who post about the bad in their lives, but to generalise, it’s usually for attention, especially when it’s something normally extremely private like a break up or a bad day at work. Stuff you’d normally just share with your best friend or partner.) When someone posts about their promotion, pregnancy, engagement, amazing holiday, happy family get together, it’s easy to get jealous and wish that for yourself. That’s normal. What’s not helpful is when that jealousy develops into hate, of the person or yourself, and a troll feels the need to post it online.




So, like old school bullies back when there wasn't online harassment, we all understand that trolls have deep emotional/psychological/self-esteem issues that they try and push onto someone else happier than them. Social media isn't the reason FOR the bullying, but it's a platform to have it heard. People who have something mean to say are going to find a way to say it, but the anonymity of the internet is perfect for their purposes. It’s sad that not everyone can be as content with their lives as everyone else. But everyone has a choice. We have all experienced jealousy or resentment but how many people have gone on to post online about that? What used to be a private thing has been made publically acceptable because people nowadays are able to hide behind a keyboard. Trolls choose to post things online and that’s something to be pitied on one hand but also it angers me. How bad must your own life be to take the time of day to spout hate to those undeserving of it? Instead of wasting energy trying to bring someone else down to your level, why not direct your energies bettering yourself?



In 2012 some of you might remember the case of Amanda Todd who took her own life because of trolls and it send shockwaves around the internet, especially when the hate campaign against Amanda Todd continued well after her death, however some people seemed to realise what they said online actually effected the victim in real life. Her Youtube video detailing the abuse she'd received such as being beaten up by a girl, used for sex by a boy, moving school several times and having intimate pictures shared online and used as a tool of blackmail. In 2014 a Dutch suspect was named, and paedophilia was yet another thing Amanda, unknowingly, had to endure. Such a sad and avoidable story.