Tuesday 29 April 2014

April mix.

I'm trying out some new stuff here on the old bloggy blog (sorry, won't do that again) and one thing I've decided to give a go is a monthly mixtape of songs I've listened to over the month or songs that remind me of certain things I've done that month. I don't know, let's just try it out together and see if it's got legs.

So, without further ado, April's mix.

Track list

I Will Survive - Cake
Lola - The Kinks
Wake Me Up - Aloe Blacc
Time After Time - Mark Williams & Tara Morice
Electric Feel - Katy Perry
Come Together/Royals - The Beatles & Lorde
Grace Kelly - Mika
You Sound Good to Me - Lucy Hale

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Friday 25 April 2014

Films I've watched recently. (Part two)

You can find part one of this post here. Read that one first and then come back or read this one first and then check out part one, it doesn't really matter, the only thing you might possibly miss out on is the (not even slightly) thrilling suspense of whether or not I will love the movie version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert as much as I loved the musical. I think you can probably already guess the answer to that judging by the kinds of films on this list but hey, it never hurts to hedge your bets.

Honestly, I don't even know what I'm saying anymore, I'm just going to get on with talking about the rest of the films now.

The Birdcage dir. Mike Nichols

Armand, the owner of popular cabaret club The Birdcage, and his partner Albert, the club's star drag performer, agree to pretend to be straight for an evening so that Armand's son Val can make a good impression on his fiancée's right-wing parents. Of course nothing goes as planned.

In many ways The Birdcage, based on the French film La Cage aux Folles, is a traditional farce. It's hilarious, for a start, and the humour mostly lies in a series of things going spectacularly wrong and in Armand's wonderful one liners. However, there are also some incredibly sweet moments and at its heart this is really a film about family. There is a moment in which Armand tells Val not to talk to him for a while, I'm sure you could hear my heart shatter from the other side of the world, and that's just one example of many times in which the seriousness of what Val is asking of his parents peeks through the humour to betray just how hurt Armand and Albert really are by the request.

Really, as funny as I found the film, my favourite parts were definitely these more subtle, tender moments between characters. The Birdcage is a beautifully balanced film; a farce in the truest sense of the word, with a tender message weaved throughout.

Somewhere dir. Sofia Coppola

Famous actor Johnny Marco looks after his eleven year old daughter Cleo for a few days before she heads off to summer camp. That's kind of it.

Sofia Coppola has this amazing talent. She can make a film in which nothing much happens, in which nothing much is said, in which none of the characters really do very much at all, and somehow she can make me totally feel it. Usually you would expect a film about a film star to be fast paced but Coppola makes it slow, and that feels right. I feel the change in Johnny by the end of the film and I totally buy it, I see it happening throughout, but even if I tried I wouldn't be able to pinpoint an exact moment in which it happens because, just like life, it happens gradually. I don't know how she does it. In anyone else's hands this film would have bored me stupid but in hers, I really enjoyed it, and by the end I had a dopey big grin all over my dopey big face.

Strictly Ballroom dir. Baz Luhrmann

Scott should be on his way to winning the Australian Pan Pacific Ballroom Championships this year but it won't happen unless he stops dancing his own steps. Everyone in his life wants him to stick to the moves approved by the Ballroom Confederation, except for Fran, a total beginner who wants to dance with Scott, his way, at the competition, even if it means they might not win.

In my last post I mentioned how much I love Wes Anderson but there is one director I love more and that is Mr. Baz Luhrmann. I've seen Strictly Ballroom more times than I can count and it's probably my favourite film ever, or at least in the top three. Every time I watch it I fall more in love. If you're a fan of any of Luhrmann's other films then this is a must see. It's his first film and, in my opinion, still his best.

The Baz Luhrmann trademark style is already in evidence here, even if the budget is nowhere near that of Moulin Rouge! or The Great Gatsby, but there's also a great sense of humour, which at times almost borders on surreal, that somehow grounds this film a little less in the clouds than the others. Strictly Ballroom is wickedly funny and it pokes fun at the world of ballroom dancing in a very fond and knowing way, which is utterly endearing. What I find really special about it though is how hopeful the film really is. Also Scott's dad, Scott's dad is great.

Strictly Ballroom is a proper feel-good film and honestly, I could talk about it all day. It's probably better if you just watch it though. I promise you'll love it.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert dir. Stephan Elliott

Ah, the moment no one has been waiting for. Yes, I finally caved and watched The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Do you feel the suspense? Are you super excited to finally find out what I thought of this film? Have you already guessed that since the rest of this list has been dominated by films about drag queens and films set in Australia and that I haven't had a bad word to say about any of them that I probably loved this film too??

Tick, Bernadette, and Adam leave Sydney in a beat up old bus called Priscilla to travel across the Australian outback to Alice Springs, where they have been contracted to perform a drag act at a local hotel. What Bernadette and Adam don't know is that the woman who has hired them happens to be Tick's wife and that's not the only secret that Tick's been keeping.

Obviously I loved this movie, let's just get that out there straight away. All three of the main actors are amazing, it's set in Australia, there's a fantastic soundtrack, it's funny, it's sweet, it's heartbreaking at times, it's pretty much got everything I love in a film. As soon as it ended I wanted to watch it again. I'm pretty sure that after just one viewing The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is going straight into my top ten movies of all time. But I think I'd better watch it a few more times just to be on the safe side.

So there you are, the thrilling conclusion. Let me know if you've seen any of these films or if I've convinced you to give any of them a try. I hope you've enjoyed my somewhat disjointed reviews. I realise they're not the most coherent but honestly, sometimes I find it easier to write about a film if I hated than if I loved it and luckily for me, maybe unluckily for you, I loved all of these films!

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Tuesday 22 April 2014

Films I've watched recently. (Part one)

Sometimes I forget how much I love films. I get so distracted by how much I adore TV shows and books that I kind of forget what amazing storytelling can happen in just two neat hours (or I guess three and a half if you're Peter Jackson). 

Last year I gave myself the goal of reading 50 books in a year and passed that with 14 extra. This year I'm challenging myself to watch 100 films*, which feels a little daunting but I'm pretty confident that it's manageable, and I mean, what else am I doing with my time?

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I had a real film watching binge and I thought it'd be fun to share a few of my thoughts about each film with you, so without further ado, some cheating.

The Grand Budapest Hotel dir. Wes Anderson

Okay so I didn't watch this one with the others in that week but I couldn't write a post about films I've seen recently without mentioning this, and who made the rule that this was all about one week of films anyway?? That's right. No one.

I'm sure it won't surprise you to learn that I am totally mad about Wes Anderson's films, I mean who isn't these days? No one I want to be friends with, that's for sure. (I am mostly joking. Mostly.)

The Grand Budapest Hotel tells the story of Gustave and Zero, the hotel's concierge and lobby boy respectively, and the adventures that befall them after Gustave inherits a beautiful and famous painting from a wealthy patron of the hotel. The story is told in three layers, with different aspect ratios utilised to distinguish between these different layers and time periods. Every frame is beautiful, but then, it is Wes, so what else would you expect?

In my opinion this is Anderson's most adventurous and funniest film yet. Everything is so precisely composed and timed, even the laughs, which actually makes them even funnier, and the whole caper is a delight from start to finish. I would recommend this film to anyone in a heartbeat but I think if you've never seen any of Wes Anderson's films then it might benefit you to watch one of his others first, if only so that you know a little of what to expect and can be appropriately blown away by how accomplished this newest offering is. 

Muriel's Wedding dir. P.J. Hogan

Okay, this is where the film binging really starts and I think I should just start off by confessing to the real reason for my even watching all of these films. As those of you who follow me on instagram or twitter probably know (shameless plugging: check) I saw Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the theatre a couple of mondays ago and loved it. I then spent the remainder of that week trying to fight my desire to watch the film for the first time, fearing that it wouldn't live up to the spectacle of the musical. Obviously I eventually gave in because I am week but you're going to have to wait for part two of this post to find out if my fears were justified or not. (Am I actually teasing my next post right now? It's almost like I'm an actual blogger or something.)

Muriel dreams of her wedding day a lot, listening to ABBA alone in her bedroom. She's sure that everything will change once she has that special day but the only problem is that she's never even had a boyfriend before. Then she runs into Rhonda, who she hasn't seen since school, and runs away to Sydney with her father's money, and Muriel's life really does start to change.

Muriel's Wedding actually reminded me a little of some of my favourite John Hughes films. Maybe it's just because it's the early nineties but I think it has something more to do with the near perfect balance between the lighthearted humour and the darker side of the drama in Muriel's story. Muriel's Wedding is seriously funny at times, but there's also a lot more to it that I wasn't expecting, which made for a pleasant surprise. And of course I enjoyed all the ABBA songs on the soundtrack. I can only hope that one day my life will be as good as Dancing Queen. (You'll get that reference when you watch the film, I promise.)

Billy Elliot dir. Stephen Daldry

Surely everyone knows the story of Billy Elliot by now? A working class boy from a mining family in the North of England discovers a love of ballet in the midst of Thatcher's rule and the miners' strikes of the 1980s. It is a beautifully British film, and British films are really where my true heart lies - don't tell all the other films.

The last time I watched Billy Elliot was years ago when it first came out on video cassette. That's right, video cassette. We still have the video somewhere I think, although I'm not entirely sure if any of our video players still work...

Anyway, I was a kid myself when I last watched this film so when I decided to watch it again I had no idea just what an emotional story it really is. I cried. I mean, I cry at films a lot, but I really cried. I thought every single part of Billy's story and that of his whole family was handled with such care and honesty. The way that Daldry shows the problems of the time in such a real way, as the foreground of the adults' lives but the backdrop of the children's, is just perfect. 

This scene in which Billy and his friend Debbie walk past a line of riot officers, Debbie trailing her stick across their shields as though they're just another part of the wall, is just a perfect example of what I mean. The political changes that plague Billy's father and brother are the background radiation of Billy's life and although he is aware of them, his dancing is still the foreground of his story. It's an amazing juxtaposition.

Kinky Boots dir. Julian Jarrold

Charlie inherits his father's shoe factory, only to discover that it's failing. By chance, Charlie meets drag queen Lola (nice shout out to The Kinks, Jarrold, that's one of my favourite songs too) and gets an idea for a new line of boots. Together with his ex-employee, Lauren, Charlie convinces Lola to help him design his new line of women's boots for men and save the company. And it's based on a true story!

Another wonderful British film. They may not be as glamorous as Hollywood but our films have heart by the truck load, and this is no different. It may not be a perfect film and there may have been times when I wanted to beat Charlie round the head for being so useless but I know, I know, it's all a story telling device, and maybe we wouldn't believe the character if he wasn't an arse sometimes. Gosh it's annoying though.

But aside from making me want to knock some sense into Charlie, this is a film with real soul and a heart of gold, and why did no one tell me that Chiwetel Ejiofor was in it?? Lola is a fantastic character, wonderfully portrayed by the script and by Ejiofor, and there's a whole cast of great supporting characters who really give life to the film. And Charlie's fiancé... well I guess she's necessary to the story. Kind of.

Well that's it for now! I don't want to overwhelm you so you'll just have to wait a few days for part two and the next four films. Have you seen any of these films? If you have then let me know what you thought of them in the comments! If you haven't seen any of them then I'd definitely recommend all of them, if I didn't already make that abundantly clear with my gushing about them all. Let me know if you have any recommendations for me as well, I'd love to hear them!

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*I am including re-watches but only once. So, for example, I've already watched both Catching Fire and Brave twice this year but they each only count for one. There isn't really any reason for that rule but I guess I have to have at least one, right?

Thursday 10 April 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo and My Bed-Desk

This month I'm doing Camp NaNoWriMo. Well, I'm trying to. I tried to do regular NaNoWriMo last November and ended up writing around 12,000 words out of the 50,000 word goal. Camp NaNoWriMo however lets you set your own word goal and 40,000 words sounded a lot more doable to me right now than 50,000. Of course we are now ten days in and I am currently around 6,000 words short of the amount I should have written by now, but let's not worry about that.

The novel I'm working on this month is a contemporary YA romance, and I'm not entirely sure if I'll ever finish it but having a definite word goal and deadline is definitely helping me get back into the routine of writing every day (well, nearly every day), which is something I haven't done for a long time.

Another thing that I've been trying out this month is the bed-desk. When I was at university I wrote all of my essays and creative pieces at my desk or on my bedroom floor, but the desk I have now is a lot smaller than the one I had at university and sitting on the floor every day gets pretty tiring, so I'm trying out OpenEllbey's bed-desk idea. I think making the writing feel a little less formal is probably helping me to get the idea out, but I'm not sure yet whether I'll ever be able to completely sway from my real desk.

Hopefully by the end of this month I'll be able to tell you that I've written 40,000 words!

Do you/could you work from your bed, or are you the sort of person who needs a real desk to feel legit? Have you ever tried anything like Camp NaNoWriMo? How did you do? How are you doing if you're doing it now? Are these too many questions? Okay, I'm done. I've got writing to do!

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Thursday 3 April 2014

February & March book reviews

It's been a busy couple of months here. Well, March was busy anyway, I'm not entirely sure what I was doing in February to be honest. Anyway I may not have had time for many books over the past couple of months but the ones I did read were all fantastic.

1. Talking Heads by Alan Bennett.

100 years ago when I was doing my Performing Arts A Level I performed a section of one of the monologues from this collection as part of our final showcase. I was accused, by the examiners, of not understanding Alan Bennett's style, which is totally ridiculous. Not that I'm still bitter or anything.

Talking Heads is a collection of 13 monologues (all 12 originally filmed for the BBC plus 1 earlier monologue not technically part of the series) mostly written for female actors. Bennett shares a few of his own thoughts about the monologues in a few introductory essays in the book, which are definitely worth reading, but, of course, the monologues themselves are the highlight. I, like many other theatre loving Englishmen, adore Alan Bennett's work and basically I think every single one of the monologues in this collection is perfect. 5/5 stars.

2. Every Day by David Levithan.

The premise of Every Day hooked me the moment I first heard it. The narrator, A, is a form of consciousness who every morning wakes up in someone else's borrowed body. The story sees A fall in love and try desperately to make a somewhat normal life despite the fact that they have no way of knowing where or who they'll wake up tomorrow. David Levithan's writing is beautiful, as always, and the story is so unique and unlike anything I've read before. I definitely, definitely recommend it, even if YA isn't your usual jam. 5/5 stars.

3. Just One Day by Gayle Forman

I knew that I was going to love this before I even picked it up. Why? Because Paris, that's why. A large chunk of the story takes place in Paris over just one day (there's the title) with Allyson and Willem, a boy Allyson meets while in London on a very organised trip. The Paris in this story is probably a little different to the Paris that you're used to reading about but it is, after all, Paris and therefore beautiful. How many more times do you think I can say the word Paris in this review? Anyway, I won't spoil the rest of the story but the changes that Allyson goes through as a result of her one day in Paris were, in my opinion, incredibly well handled and realistic, and the whole book just filled me with a desperate desire to visit all of Europe. 5/5 stars.

4. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier.

My mum must have bought me this book almost ten years ago and it has sat unread on my bookshelf ever since. I wish I had read it sooner, because it is such a great read, but I'm also not sure I would have fully appreciated it had I read it back then when I had absolutely no knowledge of cultural appropriation or the issues that surround it. Born Confused tells the story of Dimple Lala and her struggle to find her place in both the American culture of her friends and the Indian culture of her family, while her notions of both cultures constantly change around her. Aside from those issues I have already mentioned Born Confused also tackles LGBTQ issues and family issues in a way that doesn't feel at all condescending or false. Dimple also has fantastic parents, which is something that YA often lacks, and I'd probably recommend the book based on them alone. 4/5 stars.

5. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford.

I had never heard of Nancy Mitford until a friend of mine recommended that I watch the TV movie of the sequel to The Pursuit of Love, Love In a Cold Climate, and when looking for it online I found both that book and this, it's predecessor. I bought them both, planning to read them quickly and then watch the film, but that hasn't quite happened yet. It took me a little while to get into The Pursuit of Love, Mitford's satirical look at the fictional Radletts of Alconleigh, but that might just be because for all of my years of studying English literature, literary satire still goes straight over my head at times. Once I did get into it though I very much enjoyed it, particularly Linda's exploits with her polar opposite husbands and Parisian lover. Oh, there it is, Paris again. 3/5 Stars.

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