The Assassination of Gianni Versace Review – ACS Season 2

I’ve recently just finished watching the series American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace.’

I have to say that this for me, was the best television production that I’ve seen this year.

There was nothing that stood out as jarring or that you thought; ‘it would have been so good apart from XYZ.’ Like its predecessor, the OJ trial, it followed some of the same themes such as celebrity and fame, but was I felt even more ambitious.

The writing was astounding. It was written by Tom Rob Smith, (author of bestselling novel Child 44 (Child 44 Trilogy 1) and based on the non-fiction book Vulgar Favours: NOW A MAJOR BBC TV SERIES about the Hunt for Andrew Cunanan, The Man Who Killed Gianni Versace It told the tragic story of Andrew Cunanan played by Darren Criss (who is tipped for an Emmy for his amazing performance).

The narrative of the story was told in reverse order except for the first and last episodes. This was a brave thing to do and made it interesting for the viewer, as you initially saw a murder victim, then learnt more about them and their lives in each subsequent episode.

The real-life story is complex and strange, Andrew Cunanan was a psychopath and in the initial episodes you have very little sympathy for the man, after all he did murder five men. However, what was so clever about the writing and Darren Criss’s portrayal, was that, by the final episode, it felt like a Greek tragedy. Here was this man, who could have had a good, happy life, but his upbringing was so messed up that he didn’t really have much of a chance, though he still should not have chosen to murder, that’s for sure.

The directing and broader casting was excellent also, even though Gianni Versace’s name was in the title of the book, the story did not largely focus on the man and his family (apart from their use as a framing device) and expertly, as a direct comparison to Andrew’s life along the way, especially in the final scenes of the last episode which was very powerful.

I felt that Greek tragedy was a good analogy to use for the piece because of the symbolism, Versace’s villa in Miami looked very grand and had neo-classical references throughout in the décor. Versace was also shot on the steps of his villa, echoing the assassination of Julius Caesar on the steps of the Senate.

Music was used to great effect in the series with a sweeping orchestral tune of Adagio in G Minor in the opening scenes, which made you feel that you were watching a theatre tableau or the beginning of a grand opera rather than a TV series.

The lighting used should also be mentioned, as neon pink, purple and blue lighting was used to great effect in the series. This was to do two things I think, to show that the piece was ‘retro nineties’ and the pink neon represented to me Miami and the pink neon flamingos that we associate with the motel signs there. I also read a piece recently that talked about bisexual lighting being neon purple lighting used on screen, am not sure if that was the intention here as Andrew was most definitely homosexual. Whatever, the lighting added a surrealistic tone to the piece, it made it feel dream like and perhaps was also a nod to the nineties play  Angels in America: Millennium Approaches & Perestroika (NHB Modern Plays) which shared some similar themes with this show.

The story really did a good job of giving a voice to the victims of Andrew’s crimes. They were not made to look as just victims, in fact they were often very kind and generous to Andrew and often felt sorry for him, but he completely took advantage of them. The series did touch on the US AIDS epidemic, as people were still dying in droves at the time and it did highlight the difference between the rich and the poor, in that if you were rich you could afford all of the drug treatments necessary, but if you were poor, you suffered badly.

Overall, I can’t recommend this series highly enough, it really was a superb piece of television in all areas, so if you can, go watch it! You can buy the first episode here: Man Who Would Be Vogue, The

Zombie Abbey Review

 Zombie Abbey Available Here

I was invited by Entangled Publishing to review Zombie Abbey and be part of their blog tour. I was initially attracted to this book because to me, it had obvious connotations of both Pride and Prejudice and Downton Abbey which can only be a good thing surely? I am also a massive fan of the literary mash-up with Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, being among my favourites, so I thought, why not give this a go? Also Baratz-Logsted was also once a bookseller, as was I, so I have an instant affinity with her and fellow booksellers!

Zombie Abbey by Lauren Baratz-Logsted is set in 1920 at Porthampton Abbey. This is an upper-class household (headed by Lord and Lady Clarke) with three daughters who need to make good marriages in order to fulfil the wishes of their father. Lady Katherine is the eldest at seventeen and this weekend is host to three would-be suitors but she really has eyes (though she denies it) for stable boy Will Harvey. Grace Clarke, aged sixteen, is perhaps the most likable sister though she is not as brave at first at her sisters. Elizabeth (Lizzy) Clarke, aged fifteen, is the youngest sister and the cheekiest and least responsible. Interestingly, Baratz-Logsted includes the information that girls of an upper-class family such as the Clarkes were expected to marry in order. The first daughter was expected to bring an heir into the family, the second was expected to marry a man in the British Navy and the third daughter was expected to marry a clergyman. All of this sounds very Jane Austen and actually goes some way to explaining the preponderance of naval men, clergymen and the like in her stories.

This scenario seems quite typical, until the peasants start to revolt or be revolting in the literal sense. The stable boy Will Harvey’s uncle ‘Ezra,’ is the first casualty to rise again as a zombie. The Clarke family are informed of this, but the idea is at first squashed by Dr Zebulon Webb who believes that Jessamine, Ezra’s wife has hallucinated the whole event in a state of hysterical grief. Will however believes her. Fanny Rogers the housemaid, also thinks that something is not right and at first, thinks that vampires are responsible. A nice reference to Bram Stoker’s Dracula is made here, which was only published a couple of decades before.

The setting of 1920 is interesting because the characters at times refer to WWI and the effect that it has had on them, notably this can be seen in the character of Daniel Murray, the handsome Second Footman. Daniel Murray at times seems (to our enjoyment) to hold his service over that of some of the upper-class men who have managed to escape active duty. He served underage, at the age of fourteen, which was sadly not uncommon amongst soldiers, but is truly shocking when thought of in a modern context, it seems almost unbelievable.

The contempt that the upper classes have for the servants is smashed, once people start turning into zombies and they are forced to work together to conquer the evil that has invaded their home!

Overall, this is a fun read and would appeal to lovers of classical literature, mash-ups and horror. Why not follow the blog tour here.

The Shape Of Water Review

I haven’t reviewed a film on here for a while and admit that I haven’t been to the cinema for a while also. That’s partly because I haven’t thought that there were many decent films on and also because the turnaround time between a film being released at a cinema and then being released on DVD or on demand has greatly decreased. When I was a child you used to have to wait a year or so before films were released for at home viewing now that time has decreased to as little as three or sometimes two months only! However, some friends of mine were keen to see The Shape of Water and after having watched the trailer I thought, this could be something special and was so glad that I accepted the invitation.

The Shape of Water directed by Guillermo Del Toro is a 1962 set piece. As soon as the titles roll you realise that what you are about to see is something completely different. Del Toro transports you into a magical green tinted world that has undercurrents of water running through it. It tells the story of Elisa, a cleaner at a secret government laboratory in Cold War era Baltimore. Elisa is mute and lonely, only having the company of her neighbour Giles a closeted gay man for company. Elisa’s best friend at work is fellow cleaner Zelda, an African American woman. All of these three figures are outcasts (or Others) in 1960s society. Elisa’s world changes when the laboratory receives a new specimen, a river creature from the Amazon. It is brought to the laboratory by Colonel Strickland an Alpha-male who is brutal to the creature. He tortures the creature by using an electric cattle prod which makes it bleed. Elisa sees this happen to the creature and forms a bond with it. She secretly visits the creature, gaining its trust and bringing it boiled eggs to eat. They form a very close relationship and when Elisa learns that the creature is to be vivisected on General Hoyt’s orders, she forms a plan to save it from harm. I will refrain from saying anymore about the plot except that you need to watch the film to see what happens next!

The acting is sublime, Sally Hawkins is a revelation in such a difficult and demanding role as she uses sign language and impassioned gestures (lots of acting through her eyes) to convey what she means. The cinematography used is also stunning, in some ways it reminded me of In The Mood for Love (probably the 1960s look of the piece). The general themes that I noticed were of loneliness, the underdog (or Other) versus the mainstream, the power of love, and utilitarianism versus creativity. The music used was also great and the original score had a very watery sounding feel to it also.

A running symbol throughout the piece was of the use of ‘green’ as a colour. This evoked an underwater feel to the piece and was of course the colour of the creature. But we also saw green in the uniform of the cleaners at the laboratory, the jelly on Gile’s illustration, the colour of Strickland’s car, the Key Lime Pie and more. All in all, I would definitely recommend that you get to see this film as soon as you can, let yourself be transported into a watery world and enjoy The Shape of Water.

New Book Releases for 2018!

2018 looks set to be a great year for publishing with an eclectic new range of books to appear. This year we also start to see a gradual move away from the predominance of the Psychological Thriller / Domestic Noir genre (though there are still plenty of these to be released) but we also see a return to publishers looking for more light-hearted fiction. Something quirky is seen as a good bet, probably due to the huge successes of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: Debut Bestseller and Costa First Novel Book Award winner 2017 The Trouble with Goats and Sheep Interestingly, there is set to be a renewed focus on Ghost stories this year. This may be due to the success of books from 2017 such as The Silent Companions: A ghost story

Crime fiction is set to be ever popular in 2018. Kicking off proceedings is the excellent Elly Griffith’s The Dark Angel: The Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries 10  (and which I’ve read, and is really good!) and the first standalone story that Elly has written in the psychological thriller genre called The Stranger Diaries (we have to wait till November for that one though!). Another favourite writer of mine Keigo Higashino brings out the English translation of Newcomer: A Mystery his latest in the Detective Kaga series after Malice. Kaga was my favourite of the detective characters of Higashino’s that I’ve read so far, so I’m particularly looking forward to this which will be released again in November. Seventeen: the new novel from the bestselling Japanese sensation Hideo Yokoyama is released in March and is excellent! It tells the story of a conflicted man and the worst plane crash in Japanese history of which I previously knew nothing about!

In the Domestic Noir genre new releases to look out for include:  the Hitchcokian The Woman in the Window: The most exciting debut thriller of the year  by A.J. Finn, Lullaby the French set nanny thriller by Leila Slimani,  Fear: The most original thriller of 2018 a stalker inbued thriller based on real life experiences  by Dirk Kurbjuweit and the terrifying sounding Thirteen: The serial killer isn’t on trial. He’s on the juryby Steve Cavanagh.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock  is set to be one of the big release of the year and is a book I’m currently reading, it narrates the story of a shipping merchant who is given a mermaid in Georgian England, a quirky historical fiction novel that is set to do well. Also, this may be the year of the ‘Mermaid’ with mermaid films set to be released in 2018 so perhaps mermaids will replace unicorns as pop culture icons which will promote this book even further. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a Young Adult novel in the Fantasy genre released in February that is set to be big and will no doubt crossover and be read by adult readers too.

Melmoth a gothic fiction story by Sarah Perry will be released in November also and will no doubt be huge after the success of The Essex Serpent. Out in March another Gothic thriller set in 1950s Morocco is Tangerine by Christine Mangan, a book that has been compared to the best of Daphne Du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith and is one definitely on my to be read pile. A more modern set literary thriller is New York set during the time of Hurricane Sandy, Neon in Daylight by Hermione Hoby.

There is set to be an increase in releases of Feminist fiction and non-fiction which is nice to see after a university lecturer once said to me, if you want to go into Feminist Studies, you’ll never get published! And Now We Have Everything: On Motherhood Before I Was Ready by Meaghan O Connell, Sharp: The Women Who Made an Art of Having an Opinion by Michelle Dean are two non-fiction books worth checking out. In Feminist fiction we see releases by Meg Wolitzer The Female Persuasion Peach(a truly, uniquely narrated book) by Emma Glass, Circe by Madeline Miller, The Merry Spinster: Tales of everyday horror by Malorie Ortberg and Red Clocks by Leni Zumas which is a dystopian story in the vein of A Handmaid’s Tale.

Another theme that we saw last year with the release of The Good Immigrant is an increasing focus on the stories of racial and international inequality. Due a resurgence of nationalism and a world that feels ever more divided it is good to see publishing highlight this and bring us books such as This Will Be My Undoing: Living at the Intersection of Black, Female, and Feminist in (White) America by Morgan Jenkins, The Line Becomes A River by Francisco Cantu (an electrifying read about a Hispanic US border agent working along the Mexican border), new releases  Freshwater  by Awaeke Emezi and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones creatively explore these multicultural issues in a changing world. Another one I’m looking forward to, is the always excellent Zadie Smith who examines this issue and others in her new book: Feel Free: Essays

Phew! Though this list seems long, I have only scratched the surface of all the new releases this year. I will revisit this halfway through the year in June and give an update. In the meantime: ‘Happy Reading!’

Cultural Round Up 2017-18!

2017 has come to an end so in this blog post I’m going to sum up everything that I have done this past year!

At the start of the year I began to teach myself to play some instruments: piano, ukulele and guitar. Starting in February until May I entered a competition for young songwriters with two of my friends and we came in the top ten so we had the opportunity to perform in london and had our single released on iTunes, Spotify etc. In April I took part in a Maths challenge and was awarded a Bronze award! Then in May I also got to go on a trip to France where we braided wheat, learnt to make goats cheese and experienced a French market. In July I was in a dance show, a summer concert, with many music pieces from movies, and a drama show based on Alice in Wonderland.

During my school summer holidays I took part in a Disney summer school with Glee and dance pieces from Aladdin, Mary Poppins and Beauty and the Beast. During the five day course I had the opportunity to see Aladdin on the west end where I really enjoyed all the music and bright coloured costumes and set design.

A week later I went to Huddersfield in the north of England to visit my Aunt and Uncle, there I was able to visit the Yorkshire moors and experience the unique wildlife of northern England. I also got to experience city life in Leeds. I even got to visit the little shops in The Shambles in York and the largest railway museum in Britain, The National Railway Museum! I also delved into British history at The Castle Museum in York.

Later in the summer holidays I went to London. I went to the Science Museum. It was brilliant to discover the history of science and how it is developing at an increasing rate everyday! I also enjoyed visiting the natural history museum and seeing how we and other creatures have evolved over the years!

When I returned back at school it was full of rehearsals as I had a Shakespeare showcase in late October and seven performances of Cinderella coming up in late November! And I also had a carol concert in December!

I have recently started learning German in school and I cannot wait to go to Germany for a music tour in July 2018! My friends and I are also making plans for the Young Songwriters competition again this year! I have a day trip to go to Pineapple Studios in London to do singing, dancing and acting! I am also carrying on with my singing lessons I began in September. I am going to enter a poetry competition in January. I am also going to do The Junior Maths Challenge 2018. So I cannot wait to see what happens in 2018!

Ed – It seems that you have a really fun filled 2018 coming up Grace!