2020: The Year of the Novel

I am officially declaring 2020 the year of the novel – come what may. By the 31st of December 2020 my novel will have been rejected / accepted by a publisher and on its way to some form of publication, even if I have to do it myself. Come what may. No more writing courses, no more “How to” books; I shall live by the words of the Greek philosopher Epictetus, which went something along the lines of ‘Writers write. So, if you want to be a writer, then write.’

I would like to thank K.W. Weiland, whose article on finding creativity in the new year has buoyed me on and injected a new sense of inspiration and muchness that I can only hope will stay with me past January. (https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/find-writing-inspiration/) I, like her, was a child with an insatiable imagination. But unlike her, I don’t feel mine has dried up as I’ve gotten older. I still create storylines in my head when I wash the dishes, I still converse with characters on road trips, and I still daydream myself into impossible scenarios. I guess my problem is, they stay in my head and never make it to the page.

She begins her list of tips with finding the best time of the day to write. Oh, how this pains me. You see, I am a night owl by nature, my soul wants to type into the early hours of the morning. But since rejoining the workforce in the latter stages of last year I have been forced to fake being a ‘morning person’. I wake up at 5:30 every morning. So, I have to go to bed at 9:30 every night to avoid falling asleep at my desk. Be a night owl on the weekends you might say? Well I would attempt that except I am currently trying to shake a sleeping disorder by rectifying my circadian rhythm, which requires me to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day – even on weekends. Write in the evenings when you get home you might say? After a full day at the office I can barely write my own name, never mind work on a novel. Plus, I want to spend time with hubby, and our cats, and the couch. And so, I am forced to carve out a time during the workday when things are slow – which is never predictable. Me, the incessant planner, gets anxious just thinking about it.

And so we move on to tip two: “Find time for “Pointless’ Creativity”. Wait now, I’m already struggling to find time for the pointy creativity. But fortunately, this is something I don’t really struggle with. It’s all about separating “work” writing from “fun” writing. As I don’t do much writing for work, most of my writing qualifies as “fun”. And as soon as it starts to feel like work, I have a gazillion other ideas I can bounce around in just for fun. One of her suggestions that I refuse to get on board with is journaling. It’s just not happening. I have managed to avoid it thus far in my life, no way it’s getting me now. I will talk to my subconscious, I will go for a ‘walk’ with my characters, but I will not journal.

At last we arrive at tip number 3 and I think it’s one I need for my life in general – not just for my writing: “Make time each day to fill your well.” The argument goes that we cannot sustain a high level of creativity without nurturing our whole body and soul. She argues that if you are stressed, unhealthy or unhappy, it will become that much harder to foster a nurturing space for your creativity. So how do you nurture your creative space? These are just are just a few examples: Don’t put junk in your body; read; rest; and exercise. Sounds simple enough right? It’s basically a list of New Year’s Resolutions – and we all know how I feel about those.

I guess ultimately at the crux of it all there are no real rules for creativity. The words could be flowing like the Jukskei during a thunderstorm, when a project comes in and you have to set your novel aside, creative juices be damned. You might set aside an entire weekend for just you and your keyboard but end up staring at a blank screen for two days. The point is, don’t throw in the towel. Keep conversing with your characters, keep dreaming up scenarios and keep coming up with impossible storylines. I have a finished manuscript and I am going to edit the crap out of it this year. Come what may. Why not join me in a creative project of your own?

The Importance of Being Single

If there’s one thing my mother has taught me it’s that single does not mean lonely and that being in a relationship does not mean happy. In this age of social media, people can often pity you for being single, but what they need to realise is that being single is more than just a status. Sometimes “I’m single” really means, “I refuse to settle for less”, or “I’m working on me right now”. We look at couples on social media and forget that we’re seeing a highlights reel, and are not privy to the behind the scenes footage. This often makes us feel undue pressure to get into a relationship we’re not ready for. Don’t let friends, family or societal pressure rush you into a relationship. And especially don’t let feelings of loneliness rush you into a relationship. The worst thing in life is not being alone; it’s being with someone who makes you feel alone.

Every romantic movie and song on the radio says you need somebody to complete you, but only self-love will complete you. Everyone wants to find “the one” but what if YOU are the one. Don’t wait for somebody to come along and make you happy – this is a guaranteed way to end up sad. If you’re unhappy, a relationship isn’t going to change this – in fact, it will amplify it. You have to make you happy.

When you’re single is the best time to become the sort of person that you want to attract: someone to grow with, someone you can be yourself around, someone you can have fun doing nothing with, someone who can be your best friend. Because it’s not a lack of love but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy relationships. But first, you have to be a friend to yourself.

However, this does not mean that while you are on your journey you are unworthy of love. Someone can still love you while you are learning to love yourself and in fact help you on your path. Don’t think that just because you are not skipping and jumping, the hills are alive with the sound of music happy that you are undeserving of love. Just as long as you feel whole and are not relying on that other person for validation, you are ready to love and be loved.

So the next time someone tries to console you and your singleness, shoulders back, head high, and wear it with honour and pride.

TV Series Review – Luther S5

Warning: Contains EXTREME spoilers. Reader’s discretion is advised.

So, for me Luther was not just the TV event of the Christmas break but the event of the Christmas break. Afterall, we’ve only been waiting three years since season four ended (which really only counted as a two-part special if we’re honest with ourselves). We got our first glimpse of that red tie and that jacket way back in June when Idris Elba announced via Twitter that they were filming. Release date set for “later this year”. I got so excited I got heart palpitations. This is nothing unusual for me and TV series, but still notable. Idris and the BBC then spent the next SIX MONTHS lying to us, its loyal viewers, about the release date, releasing snippets and trailers all saying “later this year”, when in fact it premiered on the 1st of January 2019. This is why I have trust issues.

Anyway, back to the review. Another short season of only four episodes, the BBC’s saving grace was that they would be screened on consecutive nights. Four glorious nights of Luther, back-to-back. Episode one was quintessential Luther – exactly what my soul needed. It even opened with him chasing down a perp in the characteristic beat-up Volvo (why does our risk-taking maverick still insist on driving a car with an impeccable safety record?!). He got out and did the Luther Walk, which is somehow just as fast as the Baddie Run. They exchanged quips, he took him back to the station where Schenk and Benny were waiting and it felt like coming home. Then we were introduced to the real Baddie of the season, a Baddie so Bad you’ll only find them in Luther. And the real world. Which is what makes them so terrifying. I won’t go into detail on Jeremy, mostly because I don’t want to, but I think he is by far the worst (and by worst, I mean best) killer the creators have brought to fruition. He was absolutely terrifying. As was his wife, played superbly by Hermione Norris, meaning Cold Feet will never be the same again.

As all this was going on, Luther was dragged into a side story involving George Cornelius, the gangster he handcuffed to a radiator in season four when he was trying to find out what happened to Alice. And thus began what I believe was ultimately season five’s downfall – the incongruent parallel storylines. Episode one ended with a cheer as Alice was back, one of my favourite characters in anything ever. (Unfortunately, soon to become one of my least favourite characters in anything ever). The tension built over the next two episodes as Luther simultaneously tried to catch a killer (half-heartedly it must be said), appease Cornelius, and try to stop Alice from killing everyone (the usual).

Let’s get down to the nitty gritty of what didn’t work. There is absolutely no way Alice would have been able to kill Cornelius’s son in the way in which she did. First of all, even with her stupid wig on, someone would have recognised her. Secondly, even if they hadn’t recognised her, Cornelius’s men wouldn’t simply have taken her word for it that she was a ‘welcome home present’ – they would have checked with Cornelius first. Lastly, even if they hadn’t checked with Cornelius, there is absolutely no way his body would have gone undiscovered until the next morning – someone would have checked on him during the night. Not such a big deal, but annoying at the very least.

Luther’s treatment of DI Halliday was completely out of character. In fact, the show’s treatment of DI Halliday was completely out of character. She was almost a caricature of a young black female detective. She is given absolutely no personality or individual character traits beyond that. Luther just barks orders at her, with no explanation, often making her do things that have nothing to do with the case at hand, saying he’ll explain later but never doing so. Or he simply pulls rank. He treats her as a skivvy and puts her in uncomfortable situations. Personally, I felt this made Luther look like a sexist arsehole. But I don’t think Luther is a sexist arsehole. It was completely out of sync with how he has treated people, and woman in particular, in previous seasons. It just didn’t make sense. Her whole character didn’t make sense. She was extremely intelligent and made breakthrough discoveries on the case, yet was never shown any acknowledgement of any kind. I don’t think this was intentional by the writers, but I do think it was weird. As for the decision to have Alice kill her, I think that was unnecessary and was done purely for the shock factor. Which was achieved. I will admit it. I was shocked.

Finally, Alice. Oh Alice. How to completely fuck up a character in five minutes. Tut tut writers, tut tut. First of all, she comes out of nowhere and shoots Halliday in the head without hesitation. Psychopath. Then she confesses her undying love for Luther and gets annoyed with his inability to love her back. Um… but she’s a psychopath. She’s incapable of love. She only cares about herself. You’ve spent four seasons telling us this. She just shot an innocent person in the head at close range without a care in the world and now you want us to believe she’s capable of love. Huh? Then she falls off the scaffolding, Luther dives to save her – season one flashbacks – instead of letting him help her back up onto the ledge, she stabs his hand and falls to her death. Um… Alice has always been about self-preservation first, before anything else. She would rather go to jail than die. So, what’s she doing falling to her death? You have just tried to un-psychopath her in the time it took from Halliday’s murder to get to the top of the building site – all of five minutes. And in attempting to do so, you destroyed everything that was so awesome about Alice’s character – that she was a psychopath, but an extremely likeable one.

Oh, and in the meantime, I forgot to mention, you’ve left the most evil serial killer you ever created ALONE handcuffed to a radiator. ALONE. You left him ALONE. ALONE. Are you out of your minds?

It’s hard to put a verdict on this one. It’s Luther, so even if it’s crap, it’s still gonna be at least an 8/10. Episodes 1-3 were outstanding but episode 4 just became an absolute farce. There were things wrong that have never been wrong with Luther before. The thing that always made Luther special was the balance between his personal life, his police work and his weird relationship with Alice. In this season, there was absolutely no balance in sight. I think there was too much story for four episodes and they tried to cram too much into the last 15 minutes. Overall, there was just too much story. Luther himself was all over the place and I felt all over the place with him too at times. It was definitely the weakest season there has been and I can’t see where they’ll go from here. I’ve heard rumblings of a movie. I hope it’s not true. I don’t think it would translate onto the big screen. I might have to re-watch it and re-visit my review, but for now I’m choosing to pretend there are only four seasons of Luther.

Book Review – The Floating Theatre by Martha Conway

Title: The Floating Theatre

Author: Martha Conway

Category / Box Ticked: A book by a female author

I love a character driven novel. There’s something special about knowing you’re going to miss the presence of a fictional character in your life the moment you close the book. And boy am I going to miss May Bedloe. With the book set in 1838, she was undoubtedly on the Asperger’s spectrum ahead of her time. Honest to a fault, unable to understand sarcasm or social cues, and more comfortable in her own company than surrounded by others, I quickly found myself on her side. A talented seamstress, she finds herself a job on the famous Floating Theatre, a flatboat that makes its way down the Ohio River, stopping to perform at towns along the way. She soon manages to make herself indispensable to the troupe and in spite of herself, finds that she comes to care a great deal for her new working family.

However, it’s 1838, and the Ohio River is the natural division between the ‘free’ North, where slavery is outlawed and the South or ‘slave states’. With the Floating Theatre stopping on both sides of the river, tensions will mount and people will be forced to choose sides. Because as we know from our own experience, both past and present, when a topic of such prejudice is involved, one cannot truly remain neutral. And what’s more, a character from May’s past will use the ruse of a debt to be repaid to exploit her position on the boat, compelling her to become involved in the underground Abolitionist movement of transporting slaves from one side of the river to the other, endangering everyone who has become dear to her.  

The book is wrought with tension, although I wouldn’t call it a thriller. It’s an easy and very pleasant read. The characters absolutely bring it to life, whether you love them or hate them – apart from May, you’ll probably hate them. Life on the boat and the Ohio River are so beautifully detailed they had me wanting to delve into the history books to learn more about the era. The descriptions of slavery are accurate and enough to raise your blood pressure, without being overly sentimental and manipulative of your emotions – which I find books like this often tend to be. So, praise must go to the author for her restraint in this regard. It would be much easier to write paragraph after paragraph on the evils of slavery and have the reader in tears than to use the subtlety she did and rather get the reader thinking.

Overall, a thoroughly enjoyable book to start the year, picked for it’s beautiful cover and intriguing title, it certainly lived up to the promise.

Rating: 4/5

When you’re starting out with this challenge it’s really hard to know which box to tick because you’re not sure what else you’re going to be reading. I was really hoping there would be an ‘historical fiction’ category, but alas, no. So, I’m going with a broad category out the gate and hoping it doesn’t come back to bite me.

A Failing Education System

It’s not often I’ll post on consecutive days, except for when world events get me riled and I need to rant. The 2018 matric results were released today. Usually these aren’t of much interest to me. Yes, I am one of your typical “It was much harder to pass in my day”, “Can you believe how easy these exams are?”, “The pass mark is disgracefully low!” people, but beyond that I don’t interact much with that demographic and so it doesn’t really affect my life. However, for the past five years I have been sponsoring my domestic worker’s son’s education and this year he wrote matric, so today, the results were of huge significance to me. Treading as lightly as I can on my white privilege, we have a very uncharacteristic relationship with our domestic worker. I’m about to say a whole bunch of stuff you’ve heard white people say about their domestic workers before, only I genuinely mean them. I love Betty like another mother. I love her son Bongani like a little brother. Our home is their home. Betty has been to our wedding, we have been to her home and met most of her extended family. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for her.

Bongani went to a school in the township that he lives in. I tried to move him to a better school closer to where we live but his English wasn’t good enough to do English as his home language. I sent him to Saturday school for extra English, Maths Literacy, Geography and Computer lessons. I sent him books to read and movies to watch to try and improve his English. It did improve markedly, but not to a point where he could transition to studying English as his home language. His education at school was sporadic. Teachers would come and go. He would be taught in isiZulu but tested in English. He would run out of stationery and out-grow his uniform but be too proud to ask me for a new supply – I had to learn to pre-empt him. His marks were erratic. He would get 60% for a subject one term and fail the next, with no explanation. This continued throughout his schooling. On paper, he failed grade 11, yet in January 2018 he was starting matric.

At the beginning of matric he told me he could no longer go to Saturday school because he had to attend his regular school on Saturdays to get through the syllabus. He couldn’t come to me for extra help during the school holidays because he would be attending classes then too. My heart ached for this poor boy whose childhood it seemed was over. The first term report card arrived and he had failed again. He just scraped through terms two and three. In grade 8 he had spoken excitedly about becoming a teacher, which required university entrance. In more recent years he had tailored his ambitions to possibly pursuing a trade – something where he could start at the bottom and work his way up, perhaps attending a Technikon while he worked. But now we were staring down the barrel of a matric rewrite.

So, imagine my utter astonishment this morning when I typed his examination number into the system and flashing back at me it said “Bachelor Degree Pass”.

Can someone please explain to me how someone went from failing, scraping through, to a Bachelor. Degree. Pass? To get a Bachelor Degree Pass you must:

  • Obtain at least 40% for your Home Language.
  • Obtain at least 50% for four other High Credit subjects.
  • Obtain at least 30% for two other subjects.

I know Bongani worked extremely hard, I have no doubt about this. I am quite confident he achieved points one and three. But the marks he would have needed to achieve point two seemed almost unobtainable.

I know this is the point at which I make enemies but it needs to be said: a university education is not a right, it is a privilege and leading young people to believe it is a right does them a disservice and sets them up for failure. I was lucky enough, privileged enough to go to university, and I know how difficult it is. I know that Bongani would not cope. His level of English is not good enough to cope with lectures. If he were studying a BEd he would struggle to handle the workload and the course content. Inevitably he would fail and be forced to drop out. He would lose years of his life and take a massive blow to his self-esteem. None of this is Bongani’s fault. He has been failed by an education system that did not adequately prepare him for tertiary education and a school system that has somehow made him eligible for something he will not be able to cope with.

I can already hear the cries of racism ringing through the air, but this has nothing to do with race. This useless, corrupt system is colour blind. I have no doubt it is failing children of all colours, creeds and languages the country over. Sending them to university with dreams in their hearts and stars in their eyes to fail at courses that they are not equipped for because their high school education did not prepare them for it. It is a lovely notion that everyone is entitled to tertiary education, but tertiary need not necessitate university. It can include colleges, trade schools and Technikons. So please, if you got your results today and you got that Bachelor Degree Pass out of nowhere. By all means go bonkers and celebrate. But then please take a moment before deciding on your next move. Become a statistic for the right reasons.

New Year New Blog

So, it would appear the WordPress powers that be punished me for not blogging enough last year, and shut me down, almost forcing me to start a new blog. I guess that would make one of my new year’s resolutions be to blog more, but if you’re at all familiar with me or my work, you’ll know my feelings on new year’s resolutions and my belief and that they are an evitable path to failure. Generally speaking, they are just grand, vague empty promises you make to yourself about the better person you’re going to become in the new year. But the problem is, you have no idea how to become that person. You’ve identified the destination, but you have no road map for how to get there.   

2018 was by no means an easy year for me. Perhaps marginally better than 2017, I only had one hospital stay, but just as many doctors’ visits. I went through shoulder rehab, fell off the shoulder rehab wagon, and then climbed back on the wagon late in the year. I went through a serious bout of seasonal depression, found out my inner child was still really angry about a lot of stuff and I lost my last remaining grandparent. However, I also went on an amazing holiday to a Greek Island. I saw Ed Sheeran live. I welcomed a nephew into this world and I saw my beloved Seahawks kick some serious ass live, with my Big Bruv. Hubby and I went on an incredible trip to the Kruger and watched an unforgettable lunar eclipse together. And even though I no longer have grandparents, for most of my life I had the best grandparents, and that’s more than most people ever get.

I know undoubtedly that part of what made 2018 marginally easier was that I had a road map. No more vague destinations in mind, but clearly defined landing points. Perhaps not exact GPS coordinates, but definitely instructions on how to get there. I also learnt (and am still learning) that change is a skill that requires practice. You can’t change overnight, it requires deliberate and consistent action in the right way and the right order, over time. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. As you would build on any skill, if you want to make a change, you have to practice getting better at making changes.

I still need to lose a significant amount of weight. I still need to get fitter and healthier. I still need to read and write more. However, I am currently following a healthy eating plan and have cut down significantly on my junk food intake (no small feat for me). I am exercising every day – almost miraculous considering where I was in the middle of the year. I have done a full edit of my first draft of the first novel I ever completed and plan to continue working on it in the new year, and I am ready to tackle the 52-book reading challenge this year. I have a schedule of when I write and I already know most of the books I will be reading to fulfil each category of the book challenge. See. Roadmap.

These sound a lot like resolutions and I guess they are, although I prefer to call them goals as they are long-term changes in mindset and not whimsical, vague ideas of transformation. To anyone looking to make genuine resolutions for 2019 I would recommend picking low hanging fruit. Pick something small, simple, and repeatable that you’re guaranteed to succeed at. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just matters that you succeed with it. This will help you to practice change. Master change first and then up the ante on what you’re trying to change.

My commitments for the year are as follows:

  • Treat days on Wednesdays and Sundays only.
  • Follow exercise programme from biokineticist.
  • Work on novel every day.
  • Work on blog Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • Read an average of one book per week.

I plan to post throughout the year on my goals and their progress. Please follow me on my journey – I welcome encouragement – and share yours with me. A prosperous 2019 to you and yours!

Film Review: The Post

Movie Poster Long

The lack of discussion around The Post winning best picture is a real sign of how much The Academy has changed over recent years. On paper (no pun intended) The Post is an Oscars dream, a shoo-in. Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep in one movie, directed by Steven Spielberg, centred around the journalistic uncovering of a governmental scandal spanning four US presidents. And even though it’s set in the 1970s, it still covers issues that are extremely relevant today – freedom of the press and women in the work place. So why is it only nominated for two awards? (Best picture and best actress for Streep). Movie critic Dave Schilling believes that last year’s ceremony which saw Moonlight take home the best picture statuette marked a departure from the traditional “Oscar bait” of the past, opening the way for new, previously marginalised genres. You don’t need the big names anymore, the big budgets and the big, provocative storylines to get the nod anymore. Noted.

The Big Three

Of the nine nominated films that I’ve watched over this two-week condensed period, The Post was comparatively enjoyable to watch. No arty farty melodrama, no overblown action sequences, no cryptic undertones – just wonderful actors playing out a simple story. My tired brain welcomed it blissfully! The story begins with Daniel Ellsberg, a disgruntled American military analyst who has become jaded with the depths of his government’s efforts to cover up the truth about the futility of the war efforts in Vietnam. He takes action by copying top-secret documents that would become known as the Pentagon Papers. At first the New York Times publishes explosive expose stories based on the leaked documents but are then hit with a court injunction. Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee is eager to take up the cause, but it isn’t as simple as all that.

NYT Story

The Washington Post is owned by Katherine Graham, left to her by her late husband, and owned by her father before that. In a state of financial difficulty, she has taken the company public and cannot risk any “catastrophic incidents”, say, like being held in contempt of court. Determined to remain competitive, Bradlee has managed to track down Ellsberg and get a copy of the Pentagon Papers but the decision of whether or not to publish, and whether or not to risk the entire future of the paper rests with Graham alone. She wants to protect her family’s legacy and fight for her own place in the paper’s future, but she also wants to fight for the freedom of the press and the belief that America’s democratic ideals are being held upright.

Face to Face

As one might expect, there are a few history vs Hollywood inaccuracies in this one. The main one being that once the New York Times broke the story and were punished, The Post were well aware of the legal repercussions they were facing should they continue to publish. Thus, it was the Times and not the Post that took the risk. Current journalists at The New York Times feel Spielberg gives the Washington Post too much credit for breaking the story. Lastly, and you don’t get to type this often, Nixon is unfairly cast as the villain of this piece. His administration was not even mentioned in the Pentagon Papers and so anything he did was to protect previous presidents’ reputations and to set a precedence for protecting future state secrets. All this aside, the public still had a right to know what was in those papers though. He never banned Washington Post reporters from the White House as the movie depicts. However, adding the completely unrelated Watergate event to the end of the movie really consolidates that Nixon was a bad, bad man anyway!

Meryl vs Katherine

The Post is very watchable and ten years ago may have been an Oscar contender. But the bar has just risen since then, as evident by how few categories it is nominated in. Even Meryl Streep’s nomination seems a token gesture. With this being her 21st nomination and only three wins, I’m actually starting to get embarrassed for her. She is a phenomenal actress, but they really don’t have to nominate her just for appearing in a film. This year we rather could have had Jessica Chastain for Molly’s Game. It’s not like she’s going to win. Frances McDormand has had her name etched on that baby since festival season opened. But anyway, it gave me a nice way to wind down this evening and it will provide something to vote for, for those in the Academy with more traditional taste.

Rating: 2.5/5

Nominations

Film Review: Call Me By Your Name

Untitled-design-57

Call Me By Your Name is another film on the Oscar watch list that I was not keen to watch. In fact, in this case, I would go so far as to say I was morally opposed to watching it. After all, the premise of the film; a seventeen-year-old boy has a summer-time love affair with a twenty-four-year old man in 1980s Northern Italy; seems a little at odds with all of the activist movements going on in Hollywood at the moment, and indeed around the world. Now, passionate fans of the film, of which there are many, will immediately shout me down with: “It is a consensual relationship!”, “Elio is very mature for a seventeen-year-old!”, “His parents are supportive of the relationship!”, “But the film is so transcendent and sensual, it is a coming of age tale, it is not perverse or predatory at all”. Yet these same fans who proclaim Elio is mature beyond his years, intelligent and sophisticated, gush over his adorable innocence when it comes to matters of the heart. Aren’t we now entering dangerous territory when an older man enters the fray?

Elio

But all that aside, I promised myself I would give it a chance. After all, I was perfectly capable of enjoying Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita for its literary merits even if its controversial subject matter didn’t sit well with me. And for heaven’s sake, my all-time favourite female protagonist Buffy the Vampire Slayer is dating a 242-year-old vampire at the age of sixteen. That opens all sorts of doors that I have never cared to explore, but they’re there. I gave Daniel Day Lewis a fair shot, I can give this movie a fair shot.

First of all, it’s beautiful. “Somewhere in Northern Italy” as the opening credits set the scene, should get an acting credit because it’s probably the most enchanting part of the movie. Our young protagonist Elio (played by Timothee Chalamet) lives here in his family’s 17th century villa with his mom and dad, who is an eminent professor specialising in Greco-Roman culture. (I got this from IMDB. I’m assuming the person who wrote it got it from the book upon which the movie is based, authored by Andre Aciman, as this is all a bit vague in the movie, he just seems to look at statues a lot). Elio passes his time reading, translating music, playing various instruments, riding his bicycle, swimming in rivers, and generally moseying around without a shirt on. Then Oliver (played by Armie Hammer) arrives on the scene. Apparently, he is a 24-year-old American college graduate student working on his doctorate and is the annual summer intern tasked with helping Elio’s father. Again, I’m assuming you get this from the novel or are left to guess who he is because his appearance is never really explained in such explicit terms. I only really knew who he was because of the reviews I had read, otherwise I would probably still be confused. As an aside, I hope it was an unpaid internship as he spends most of his time playing volleyball, riding his bicycle, wooing the local women and swimming, and very little time helping the professor.

At first Elio is unphased by his arrival, but soon becomes hyper aware of his presence. At first, he tries to channel all of his sexual energy into his relationship with a local girl, Marzia, but he can only deny his connection with Oliver for so long. Now credit to the defenders of the moral fibre of the film, Oliver does not pray on Elio and does in fact do all he can to hold him off and even during their relationship he is very careful to protect him and his feelings. They do share an undeniable, special connection – although the chemistry between the two actors doesn’t exactly sizzle onscreen – but I wasn’t really wooed by the whole “call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine” bit. Which I guess is maybe the whole point of the movie?

Almost Kiss

To be honest, I wasn’t really wooed by any of it. Except Italy. Italy was very, very pretty. And Chalamet shows definite potential as a big-time actor of the future, but I need to see him play something other than a pouty teenager before I commit fully. Other than that, I was bored senseless from beginning to end. It was like watching the travel channel, focused on one peach farm in Northern Italy for two hours. As petulant teenagers go, Elio made Lady Bird look like the dream child. Your parents give you unlimited freedom, they own a mansion in Italy that you holiday in every summer, winter and Easter; cheer up kid! Speaking of which, his relationship with his parents was beyond unrealistic; No teenager is that close to their parents, regardless of circumstances, it’s ridiculous to expect us to buy that.

Lamest Movie Parents Ever

The only shining moment for me is when his dad has “the talk” with him after Oliver leaves and has these words of wisdom to share: “To make yourself feel nothing so as not to feel anything, what a waste. Our hearts and our bodies are given to us only once, and before you know it, your heart’s worn out. And as for your body, there comes a point when nobody looks at it, much less wants to come near it. Right now, there’s sorrow, pain; don’t kill it. Keep it with the joy you felt.” Two minutes and fifty-two seconds of joy in two hours and twelve minutes of pain.

I tried, I honestly did. I guess this is just a perfect example of different strokes for different folks. I honestly don’t see how anyone garnered any kind of enjoyment from watching this film. And if it wins best picture tonight I might just break my TV.

Rating: 1/5

Film Review: Darkest Hour

Movie Poster Long

If you don’t already know about my love for history and all things World War II please refer to my review of Dunkirk and my ode to Mrs Gold, my gem of a high school history teacher. Everyone deserved a Mrs Gold. Darkest Hour is a wonderful companion to Dunkirk. Although it is not about the evacuation of the troops stranded on the beaches in France, it does cover what was happening politically in London while the battle was being fought in Christopher Nolan’s land, sea and air visual masterpiece (even if it was somewhat lacking in storyline). Darkest Hour kicks-off straight into action with the resignation of Neville Chamberlain and the appointment of Winston Churchill as the new Prime Minister. He was no one’s first choice. Both Chamberlain and King George VI wanted Lord Halifax, but he turned down the position, feeling Churchill would be a more suitable war leader, and likely feeling as though he could take over if Churchill failed. There is no doubt they were handing over a country in a complete shambles.


Addressing Parliament Large

Almost immediately Churchill is under pressure with almost the entire British Expeditionary Force in danger of being wiped out or taken prisoner in Dunkirk. Furthermore, the British forces will suffer major material losses on the ground even if they can evacuate, having to leave behind tanks, huge supplies of ammunition, guns, motorcycles and cars. They have a small force of 4000 men stationed at Calais, that Churchill immediately decides to put into action to try and buy the men in Dunkirk more time. While he desperately tries to come up with a miracle to rescue the 300 000 men stranded on the beaches in France, even calling in a favour to American President FDR whose hands are tied by peace treaties, pressure mounts on him to engage in peace negotiations with Hitler, using Italian president Mussolini as a mediator.

Dunkirk

The film is wonderfully orchestrated, largely filmed in the War Room, you almost feel the claustrophobia. Although we the audience have the value of hindsight I found myself yelling at Lord Halifax, who was really pushing the issue of peace talks. How naïve can a person be? Had they learned nothing from Czechoslovakia, and then Poland, followed by Denmark, Norway, Luxembourg, Belgium, The Netherlands, and now France. Did he honestly believe that Hitler, in a position of such strategic strength would give them terms that left them with any amount of sovereignty? He would have had the Swastika flying over Buckingham Palace before the sun rose. And as usual, Churchill seemed to be the only one to realise this. As he yells as them: “When will the lesson be learnt? When will the lesson be learnt? How many more dictators must be wooed, appeased, given privileges; before we learn? You cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth!”

With no support in the War Room, Churchill turns to the people. Ditching his usual taxi ride, he decides to take the London Underground for the first time in his life and he engages with his constituents. He gauges their opinions on how they would feel about surrendering to the Germans. The decision is unanimous. They would rather fight in the streets, to the death, with broomsticks if they had to, than surrender. Next, he goes to the Outer Cabinet and other members of Parliament. They also fully support him, should the worst come to the worst and the Germans invade, they will defend their small island rather than surrender. Later, when Churchill addresses the whole of Parliament with his infamous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech, he even gets Chamberlain’s support and all thoughts of peace negotiations are forgotten. With the help of civilian vessels, such as fishermen’s boats, yachts and pleasure cruisers, 338,226 men escaped Dunkirk, including 139,997 French, Polish, and Belgian troops. Churchill gets his Dunkirk miracle.

Ending

When it comes to History vs Hollywood, the embellishments are pretty easy to spot. Although I was pleasantly surprised to find out that he did have a very close relationship with his wife Clementine, especially as Kristin Scott Thomas’s performance was excellent. The majority of Lily James’s character Elizabeth Layton’s storyline was fictional as she only became Churchill’s secretary in May 1941. She also did not have a brother who died in France. Churchill was however well-known for being hard on his staff, so that part is accurate. The late-night phone call to President Roosevelt is also fictional as that phone line did not exist until 1943. However, Churchill did write a letter to FDR on the 15th of May asking for help. Churchill had been corresponding with Roosevelt since he had become First Lord of the Admiralty in September 1939. The late-night visit from King George VI is also pure Hollywood; while Churchill and the King did grow to become close friends, it took a lot longer than a few short weeks. Similarly, Churchill’s ride on the London Underground is pure fiction. While Churchill did often disappear, and it is believed he went to mingle with the people of London, it is beyond extremely unlikely he would have ventured on such a journey at such a perilous time.

Clementine

As Gary Oldman said in an interview with Film 4, Winston Churchill knew all about branding before anyone even knew what the word meant. The distinctive Victorian era suits, the bow ties, the top hats, the cane, the cigar. Even the gait of his walk and the distinctive way he had of speaking. Televisions were not widely available in homes yet and photographs in newspapers only provided minimal insight. He needed to create an image, and that he did. He made sure that even if he arrived in the remotest village in the outskirts of his little island, the people would be in no doubt that they were in the presence of Winston Churchill. Even to this day, people the world over can coax up an image of Winston Churchill, probably somewhat resembling a bulldog, in a tuxedo of sorts, wearing a top hat, smoking a cigar. They probably have no idea what Teresa May looks like.

V for Victory

When I saw the trailer for Darkest Hour I was blown away. I was like, “Holy crap, they’ve risen him from the dead!” The make-up and prosthetics seemed unimaginable. It was like looking at Winston Churchill. It was like listening to Winston Churchill. I have loved Gary Oldman for a good many years. I praised jeepers when he was cast as Sirius Black in the Harry Potter series. I was livid when he lost out on the Oscar for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to an actor no one had ever heard of and has never heard of since – as so often happens. I was excited. This was his year. Everyone was saying it. The bookies will give you virtually nothing. He has the Oscar in the bag. They might as well give it to him now. But the trailer is only two minutes and twenty-one seconds long. The movie is two hours and five minutes long.

It absolutely breaks my heart to type this but… I have seen Helen Mirren be the Queen. I have seen Daniel Day Lewis be Abraham Lincoln. I have seen Joaquin Phoenix be Johnny Cash. It wasn’t long before the magic wore off and I was very aware that I was watching a man in a fat suit and prosthetics pretend to be Winston Churchill. And I was hearing Gary Oldman’s voice, not Winston Churchill’s. And it was very distracting. He was brilliant, don’t get me wrong. But he wasn’t Winston Churchill. Too many great actors have won Oscars because they are great actors and they deserve to have that golden statue on their mantelpiece and I fear Gary Oldman is about to become one of them. I watched Phantom Thread and Darkest Hour on the same day. You only have to read my review of Phantom Thread to know I am not Daniel Day Lewis’s biggest fan, but if I am honest, he put in the better performance this year. He already has three Oscars, he doesn’t need another one. Like I said, it breaks my heart. I want Gary Oldman to be an Oscar Winner. Just not like this.

I don’t really know what else to say. It was a good movie. A good telling of a pivotal moment in history that ultimately shaped our world. If Halifax had taken over goodness only knows what we would be looking at today. It was a little bit too Hollywood here and there. The costumes were amazing. The make-up broke new ground. Gary Oldman was superb. If he hadn’t been playing such an iconic man… But he was.

Rating: 3/5

themanyfacesofgary-oldman

 

Film Reviews: Phantom Thread

When I began my quest to watch and review all of the Oscar nominated movies before the awards ceremony back on the 17th of February I honestly did not anticipate sitting at my laptop the night before the ceremony typing furiously, with four reviews still unwritten and two movies yet to even be watched. What can I say; I got cocky. I didn’t factor in my immensely hectic TV series watching schedule. I didn’t anticipate getting addicted to The Handmaid’s Tale (A late bloomer, I know). And I forgot that the Six Nations was starting. (Go Ireland!) I reviewed a movie that was nominated for best adapted screenplay and nothing else and doesn’t even stand a chance to win that, (no regrets, Logan was a well spent 2hours and 17minutes). I would probably feel better if I, Tonya was nominated for more than three awards, not necessarily because it deserves it, but just because of the amount of time I put into the review. I probably should have used that time to watch another movie.

Phantom-thread-poster

When I started this process, I had already decided I would NOT be watching Phantom Thread. They had me at Daniel Day Lewis. I have never been a fan of “method acting” even if that’s what it took for my beloved Leonardo Di Caprio to FINALLY win his Oscar in The Revenant, but Daniel Day Lewis takes it to a whole other level of creepy! When playing Christy Brown who suffered from cerebral palsy in 1989’s My Left Foot, he refused to leave his wheelchair for the duration of filming, had to be carried around set and insisted that his meals be spoon-fed to him. Three years later for The Last of the Mohicans he learnt how to track, hunt, and skin animals and would only eat food he had killed. When filming Gangs of New York he caught pneumonia because he refused to wear a warm coat because it wasn’t in keeping with the times. The only movie I enjoyed him in was The Boxer, which, being about Northern Ireland, I feel more obligated to love than anything. And for that role his obsession was to spend eighteen months learning to box, which as the movie is about boxing, seems reasonable. Obviously his technique works. He’s got the little gold statues to prove it. Although he seems to be losing his hair.

Daniel Day Lewis

In Phantom Thread he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned dressmaker in 1950s London, who designs exquisite, once-off gowns for royalty, movie stars, socialites, and heiresses. He works closely with his sister Cyril, who runs a tight ship at The House of Woodcock, handling the business side of things and even managing his personal life for him. Women come and go through his life, providing inspiration and companionship, but when their time is up, Cyril must do the dirty work. His life is his work, often all-consuming and overwhelming and so he often retreats to their country home to recuperate. It is on one of these trips that he encounters Alma, a waitress at a local café, who immediately captivates him. He is attracted to her physicality – she is the perfect canvass for him, and her initial doe-eyed infatuation creates a false perception of submissiveness. She seems perfect.

Meet Cute

Reynolds has spent time and effort constructing his life just the way he wants it. After all, when someone is a genius and has been told as much their whole life they have grown accustomed to getting their own way. When Alma doesn’t slide as smoothly into the role he has written for her as he had hoped an interesting battle unfolds. For a while we almost fall into a romantic comedy of sorts, with the darkness of knowing that sometimes someone will just never love you the way you want them to.

And then comes the kicker that will ultimately determine whether you love or hate this film (or possibly get up and walk out). I have always said that you can never judge anyone else’s relationship because you don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. What works for two people might not work for anyone else, but as long as it works for them, that’s all that matters. This film really puts that theory to the test. Because what if what works is a little bit twisted? What if the only way to make your relationship work is to be vulnerable, or to force your partner to be vulnerable? To put them completely at your mercy and then bring them back from the brink. It’s odd. Some might say psychotic. But if it works, then who are we to judge?

Creating the Dress

This movie surprised me in the most wonderful way possible. Yes, Daniel Day Lewis was annoying and creepy, but he also made me laugh out loud a few times. He was superb, I won’t attempt to take that away from him. Reynolds Woodcock was not a real person, so he drew on many famous characters from the world of fashion for inspiration. And in preparation for the role the most bizarre thing he did was re-create a Cristóbal Balenciaga sheath dress inspired by a school uniform. I can cope with that. Co-star Vicky Krieps, who plays Alma, admitted that she found it difficult on set because he always remains in character, but eventually she dealt with it by remaining in character herself and socialising with him between takes like that.

Reynolds and Alma

In a year of strong female performances, Vicky Krieps was another real treat. Alma was flippin kickass (Perhaps the psychotic streak aside, as a disclaimer). There are times when Reynolds acts as nothing short of an ungrateful, petulant toddler, trying to justify himself with his ‘brilliance’, but she’s having none of it. Reynold’s sister Cyril, played by the nominated Lesley Manville, also puts in an immaculate performance of a woman of steel. At one point it’s almost as if the two of them team up trying to stage-manage this drama queen that they both love but at the same time want to strangle.

Three of Them

The only thing this movie needs is a new trailer. The trailer makes it looks seem really dark and intense and melodramatic, which is what put me off. In reality, it’s nothing like that. It’s actually quite airy and there are some moments of perfect humour. And of all the movies I’ve seen in as long as I can remember, it’s the most honest depiction of a real relationship that I’ve seen onscreen. (Once again, perhaps psychotic streak aside, but each to their own). It’s about what happens after the butterflies calm down and you have to begin to navigate that territory of joining two lives into one. It’s about the compromise that goes into that. And what works for some, is psychotic to others.

Rating: 4/5

Never Cursed