Cultural Catch Up

It’s been fairly quiet on here for a while although it’s been far from quiet behind the scenes!

Novel writing

I’ve taken a break from blog tours for the time being as I made the decision to really get cracking on with my crime novel. I am happy to report that I’ve been making good progress so far and am currently past the 30k mark (roughly half way through). This is the first in a series of which I have outlined the first three books. I’ve been getting lots of advice and encouragement from my writer friends which has been very helpful as I’ve been progressing. My deadline for a good rough first draft is by Christmas, so wish me luck!

Reads

Of course, my insomnia means that I have been reading lots too as usual. I’ve enjoyed My Friend Anna: The true story of the fake heiress of New York City by Rachel De Loach Williams and The Furies by Katie Lowe which reminded me of The Craft in the theme it has of witches and 1990’s setting (apart from the fact that it is set in an English school). I’ve also been impressed by the true crime book Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession by Rachel Monroe which examines womens’ relationship to true crime through four key figures.

I’m looking forward to reading the big new releases, The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and the new Philip Pullman book The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust Volume Two as well as the new Hilary Mantel which comes out next year.

Films

As for film, the most recent films I’ve seen are Aladdin Live Action 2019 [DVD], Disney’s The Lion King [DVD] [2019]Us (Blu-ray) [2019] [Region Free] and a brilliant remastered re-release of Notorious [1946] (Alfred Hitchcock) [DVD]

I also saw two NT live performances. One was All About Eve, which was excellent and the other was All My Sons which was incredibly well acted. There are bound to be some new NT live productions coming up this season which will be worth a watch. These productions are great for those of us who live far away from London and I’ve never been disappointed with any that I’ve seen.

TV

I have a to be watched list for TV shows that’s about as long as my arm! Of course, Autumn is dominated by Strictly and that’s no real bad thing in my book, talking of books here is the annual; Official Strictly Come Dancing Annual 2020. I’ve watched Strictly since it began and always like to guess who will win, though it’s very hard to tell at the beginning, of course! I recently watched the last series of Poldark: The Complete Collection – Series 1 to 5 [DVD] [2019], which was a return to form and a dramatic conclusion to a much loved series. I’ve also started to watch Sanditon [DVD] [2019] and have enjoyed what I’ve seen so far. Pose series two starts on BBC in October and I was impressed with series one, so will probably add this to my TBW pile.

During a bout of flu, I did manage to watch the recent Fosse/Verdon series which was excellent and is based on this book: Fosse: The Biography.  I knew a little about Bob Fosse after watching Chicago [DVD] [2003], Cabaret – Special Edition [DVD] and All That Jazz [1979] [DVD]. Fosse/Verdon introduced me to Gwen Verdon who I’d never heard of before and Michelle Williams really brings her to life in this show. The overall story shows just how much Fosse’s legacy was owed to Verdon and explored their volatile relationship and the reasons why they were such complicated and in Fosse’s case self-destructive figures.

So that’s it for the time being, a quick cultural catch up! Let me know if you’ve enjoyed any of the same or would recommend that I read / watch any others I’ve missed.

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.

Contemporary US Fiction for Teens

For this blog post I wanted to share two novels and a film adaptation that I have recently enjoyed that are recent representations of US culture for teens and young adults.

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park is a book about a girl: Eleanor, who lives in a house hold with four other siblings, her mother and abusive dad. She doesn’t own necessities such as a toothbrush or proper clothes so she is often bullied for this. It’s also about a boy: Park, a boy who comes from a loving family but thinks of himself as a disappointment. He stands up for Eleanor and wants to become her boyfriend but as Eleanor’s abusive father won’t let her have a boyfriend they are seeing each other secretly. I am reading this book at the moment and would definitely recommend it!

About the Author: Rainbow Rowell (born February 24, 1973) is an American author of young adult and adult contemporary novels. Her young adult novels Eleanor & Park (2013) Fangirl (2013) and Carry On (2015) have been highly recommended!

The Fault In Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by popular young adult author John Green, is about a sixteen year-old girl called Hazel Grace Lancaster who lives in the USA. She has cancer that has spread to her lungs and believes that her whole life will consist solely of hospital appointments and therapy from then on. One day her mother signs her up for a cancer patient support group, Hazel is mortified and thinks this is the new, worst thing in her life.

At the group she meets a seventeen year-old boy, Augustus Waters (who lost one of his legs to cancer). Augustus is there to support his friend Isaac (whose remaining eye is to be removed due to cancer). Hazel and Augustus immediately bond and decide to swap novels, Hazel recommends to Augustus a book about a girl with cancer whose life is similar to hers written by a Dutch author called Van Houten who disappeared after the novel’s publication. Augustus is horrified to realise that the book that Hazel recommended ended abruptly and decides to try and track down the author’s personal assistant and starts up an on-going conversation via E-mail.

A year later he surprises Hazel with tickets to Amsterdam where he confesses his love for Hazel. Hazel and Augustus meet Van Houten but are disappointed with his selfish behaviour. Augustus also confesses a secret to Hazel which propels the novel to it’s tearful ending! I enjoyed both the book and the film adaptation of the story and would recommend (though not if you need cheering up!).

 

French Set Films

France, a country known widely for its cuisine and fantastic history. I am currently learning French at school. Today I will be letting you know about some of my favourite films that are set in France.

Beauty and the Beast 2017 Film

Firstly, I would like to talk about the new remake of the Disney Classic: Beauty & The Beast [DVD] [2017] Emma Watson, (who also starred as Hermione Granger in The Harry Potter Series) took on the role of Belle in the new Disney film. This is a live CGI animated and live action version of the now classic 1991 animated Disney cartoon. It was very popular and millions of tickets were sold! The film is based in a small, yet beautiful village called Villeneuve in France and it is about treating people equally like the old phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover!” Belle is very keen on reading in the film and perhaps serves as a metaphor for this phrase. Belle is clever and spirited and kind and is less concerned with vanity even though she is naturally pretty herself. She is not interested in the most handsome man in the village; ‘Gaston’ who is vain and arrogant. Belle is also extremely loyal to her father making several sacrifices for him. Even though it seems that she is a prisoner in the Beast’s castle she makes the best of the situation and looks for things to occupy her mind whilst she is there.

Les Miserables 2012 Film

Another of my favourite films set in France is Les Misérables [DVD] [2012] adapted from the Victor Hugo novel of the same name. Although many people think that this story is set in the time of The French Revolution it is actually not! It is set in Paris in between 1815 and 1832 (the time of the June Rebellion). This was a time of great social and economic difficulty; there were poor harvests, food shortages and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera. These difficult conditions exacerbated the revolutionary feeling of the poor in France who then fought the rich for equality. This may be why some people think it is set during the French Revolution. In Les Miserables you see scenes where the rich feast on expensive food, whereas the poor struggle to even buy a loaf of bread! Although originally a book, this was adapted for the stage into a musical in 1985 and has been running ever since (it is the longest running musical in the West End and the second longest running musical in the world!) The film is adapted from the musical keeping most of the songs. I like the way that this story uses music and acting to highlight the difficulties of this turbulent time in French history.

These are two of my favourite films set in France that I have watched so far. I look forward to watching many more in the future!

Halloween Stories for Kids!

Happy Halloween to all those celebrating! I thought I’d write a brief post about my favourite Halloween stories and films that relate to nightmares for our topic this Autumn.

Coraline

One of my favourite films is Coraline (2D Version Only) [DVD] [2009] which is excellent (one year I actually dressed up as Coraline for Halloween!). Coraline (from the novel by Neil Gaiman) is a story about a young girl who is trapped in an endless nightmare from which she cannot escape. Coraline and her parents move into a new apartment and she finds a secret door there which leads to a parallel universe where she has an ‘Other’ Mother and Father who look similar to her parents except that they have sinister shiny black buttons for eyes! The other Mother and Father spend more time with her and make her all her favourite food whereas her real Mother and Father are too busy with their work in the real word to pay Coraline much attention. Her other Mother invites her to spend more time in the other world but only if she has black buttons sewn onto her eyes! Does Coraline escape? You’ll have to watch it to find out!

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas (Special Edition) [1994] [DVD] is an animated classic by Tim Burton is one we have discussed before but it is a great Halloween film which is about Halloween characters that find out about Christmas. Jack Skellington a skeleton from Halloween Land discovers Christmas Land and wants to celebrate it too as he is bored with always celebrating Halloween. His attempts at celebrating Christmas include him taking the part of Santa and delivering Christmas presents that terrify children! All in all, it’s not a good idea but there are some great songs and scary moments that entertain!

Freaky Friday

Freaky Friday [DVD] [2003] is a film about a teenage girl who switches bodies with her mum. There are two versions of this film and Jo remembers the earlier film but the one I’m more familiar with is from 2003. The film is funny and also a quite scary prospect about changing lives with your mother or other family member and not being sure if you would change back!

The Goosebumps Series of Books

I love the Goosebumps series of books about different frightening characters, some of which come to life! My favourite Goosebumps story is probably the Night of the Living Dummy (Goosebumps) because it’s really creepy and builds the suspense well. Goosebumps have been around since the 1990’s (Jo remembers them too and also the ‘Point Horror’ books which were very popular at her secondary school).

These are some of my choices for the nightmares of Halloween! Hope you have a great celebration and as much fun as we will!