It’s a jungle out there, too, Gemma


Last week the new series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here started. I tuned in because I’d finished a long day at work and wanted to not have to think too much. Also, I kinda got hooked last year as my flatmates watched it.
For those not following the big news of week one was that one of the celebrities walked after only a couple of days. Gemma Collins, star of The Only Way is Essex decided that enough was enough and quit.
This of course earned her instant ridicule. Some of this is understandable, ITV aren’t stupid enough to put the celebs in any real danger and while life in their camp was kinda grim most manage to tough it out for a bit longer (although Gemma’s exit isn’t the quickest in the show’s history apparently).
So Gemma kinda deserved to be called a wimp and a quitter.
The problem is that most of the comments I’ve seen have nothing to say about this and it’s mainly people making jokes about Gemma being overweight. (“looks like 4 days is the longest she can go without a burger” and similar witticisms abounded on Twitter)
Nobody, least of all Miss Collins, who runs a plus size clothing shop and fashion line, is disputing that she’s on the larger side, but that doesn’t mean that this is fair game.
Not everybody is going to like her, or find her attractive, and that’s fair enough, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Many feel she was annoying/silly in the jungle and you can call her on that, but you don’t need to attack her for her weight.
Because the thing is, it’s not just about Gemma, it’s a wider issue. This is about the general attitude towards overweight people and “fat shaming”. And it’s not just random Twitter trolls, the Huffington Post, which is usually pretty good, posted on Facebook to link to their gallery of I’m a Celeb’s bikini shots, saying that Gemma wouldn’t make it in now, the tone implying she never had a chance anyway. Personally I like curvier girls (like MWG), and think Huffington Post were out of order to jump on the bandwagon.
The thing is, when you make fat jokes about Gemma Collins, or any other larger celebrity, you’re essentially telling everyone out there that being fat means being ugly and deserving ridicule. Gemma is big by celeb standards, but in reality she’s not that big. There are plenty of people out there who are the same size or bigger, and these kind of comments will effect them and how they view themselves.
Body image is a serious problem for lots of people, and mocking Gemma for her size will just add to that for some people.
Make fun of her freakouts and being a bit wimpy, but leave her weight out if it. Because that’s just not nice and could impact on other people negatively.
Fat shaking is cruel and unnecessary, and the idea this will help overweight. People try and shift it is ludicrous. Take it from a fat man who used to jog, running out in public, huffing and puffing was hard. Sure it helped and I felt. Better for it, but to start meant overcoming my insecurities and fearing ridicule from people I passed.
So please, don’t do it because it may seem like a joke to you, but it can seriously mess with other people’s heads.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Everyday Awkwardness: Hello? Do I know you?

I recently made my triumphant return to the world of customer service call centres, and it’s a rollercoaster that only goes up, my friends.

Two of my coworkers who went through training with me are Muslim girls who wear the veil that only shows their eyes. I think it’s called niqab (if that’s inaccurate, let me know).

niqab

I know a couple of people who have issues with the niqab, their objections coming from places of ignorance and/or prejudice. One of the problems is that the whole face is covered, which people have an issue with because you can’t identify the individual, which is kinda understandable, but we’d also have to ban most Halloween costumes, all masks and those morph suits.

morphsuit

Personally I’m against banning them, as they did in France because it just feels like an infringement on people’s religious freedom. A woman wearing a veil doesn’t harm anyone, and making it illegal for her to do so just seems wrong and intolerant to me.

The second is this assumption that any woman who wears one is the victim of this horrible, oppressive religion and forced into it. I’m not saying that this is never the case, but to assume that all Islamic women who wear a veil is a bit patronizing, some women may have made the choice themselves as part of their faith.

Anyway, I’ve never really had a problem with it, live and let live, I say, and as long as it’s the woman’s choice, she can wear what she likes.

But there is one thing that I do have a problem with and that’s the increased awkwardness. Due to the veil, I can’t recognize these two young women, unless they talk to me, which is fine, apart from the fact that I work in a call centre, meaning that I can’t actually hear something.

The other day I was sat at my computer, turning back and forth in my chair as a customer droned on and on in my ear. Approaching me was a woman in a niqab, clearly about to go on break.

As she got nearer I realized I faced a dilemma, to say “Hi” or not to say “Hi”, that was the question.

If it was one of the girls I knew and I said “Hello”, then all was dandy.

If it wasn’t one of the girls I knew and I said “Hello” it would be a little awkward but I could pass it off as being friendly.

If it wasn’t one of the girls, and I said nothing, again all was dandy.

If it was one of the girls and I didn’t say anything, then that would be rude.

Four options, two fine, one potentially awkward and one rather rude and definitely awkward.

I settled instead for what I hoped was a friendly smile.

The problem with my friendly smile is that I don’t know what I look like when I do it, or rather I do, but I don’t know how I look to other people. Does it look friendly and relaxed? Or does it look creepy?

creepy

Would the little smile make them uncomfortable? To a stranger it might seem a bit weird, but it might even seem creepy to one of the girls I do know, because I don’t know them well. Too late, I’d smiled and prayed to the gods of social interaction that it hadn’t looked creepy.

It left me wondering how people can identify their friends when they wear niqabs. Unless your friend is unusually tall, short, small or large, then it’s going to be hard to tell women in niqabs apart. I understand that the all black look is for modesty and so as not to draw attention, but perhaps nametags might work, and cut down on potential awkwardness.

It’s possible that I’m overthinking this. Hell, it’s probable that I am, but it still made me feel awkward.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #31: The Princess Bride

There are movies that make us cry, there are movies that make us think about deeper issues like the nature of man and the afterlife, and then there are some movies that are just incredibly good fun. And sometimes these are the best kinds of movies, the movies where regardless of how many times you’ve seen them they still succeed in putting a big dumb grin on your face. One of the best examples of this is The Princess Bride.

princess bride

Everything about this movie works, but the strongest aspect is William Goldman’s sensational script. How does our story of princesses, sword fights and miracles begin? It starts with a child coughing. The kid in question (played by Fred Savage) is off sick and his grandad (Peter Falk) arrives to read him a story, a story that his father read to him and that he himself read to the kid’s father. The story he reads, is the film’s major plot.

This is a great opening to the flick and the device of Falk’s narration throughout is magnificent, adding extra humour to the proceedings as he and his grandson argue about the story and he stops to reassure his audience during a tense moment (“She doesn’t die at this time”). It also means that the story’s more adult moments of conversation reflect the grandfather’s perspective.

Falk and Savage

Falk and Savage

The story being told deals with a young woman named Buttercup (Robin Wright), who’s a little spoilt and bosses around a local farm boy, Westley (Cary Elwes), who always does what he’s told and replies with “as you wish”. Over time she realizes that Westley loves her and in time comes to love him too, however, he has to leave to make his fortune, but his ship is attacked by the Dread Pirate Roberts and he’s believed to have died, sending Buttercup to despair and vowing never to love again.

Years later Buttercup is due to marry Prince Humperdink (Chris Sarandon), as it is his right to chose a bride from any of his subjects, despite her not loving him. Shortly before the wedding she is kidnapped by Vizzini (Wallace Shawn), a criminal aided by the hulking Fezzik (Andre the Giant) and a Spanish swordsman, Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin). They plan to frame the neighbouring kingdom for the kidnapping, thus instigating a war.

Soon they are pursued by a mysterious figure, the Man in Black, who bests Inigo in a sword fight, one of the film’s standout scenes. It begins with the MiB climbing up a cliff face and Inigo calling down to them, and they engage in polite conversation. Inigo helps him climb to the top and allows him to rest, asking if he has six fingers. Westley shows him his hand and Inigo tells his story.

As a young boy, his father, a great sword maker made a sword for a six-fingered man, who then tried to get out of paying and killed him. Eleven year old Inigo attempted to avenge his father but was beaten and left with scars on his face, he then dedicated his life to learning swordfighting and finding the six fingered man to get his revenge. He even reveals that he has planned what he will say on that day: “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father, prepare to die.”

The two duel in the choreographed, acrobatic style of old Errol Flynn or Burt Lancaster movies, and finally, the MiB renders him unconscious. The sequence is hugely entertaining, not simply because of Patinkin’s flamboyant performance as Inigo but also because of the gentle mocking of old adventure stories and practices.

Patinkin as the flamboyant Inigo Montoya

Patinkin as the flamboyant Inigo Montoya

The exaggerated politeness and sense of decency between the men culminating in the final exchange:

Inigo: You seem a decent fellow, I hate to kill you.
Man in Black: You seem a decent fellow, I hate to die.

Next he overcomes Fezzik in hand-to-hand combat and finally outsmarts the egotistical Vizzini. He reveals himself to be the Dread Pirate Roberts and takes Buttercup prisoner himself. She tells him of Westley and he berates her for betraying the memory of her love by marrying another, angrily she shoves him down a cliff at which point he yells “As you wish” and she realizes that it is Westley.

Reunited Westley explains that Roberts spared him and he served on his crew, before Roberts revealed the truth: the Dread Pirate Roberts doesn’t really exist and is merely a moniker passed along to trade on the notoriety, in time Westley was given the name. He announces his plan to take Buttercup and for them to flee, although they are pursued and cornered by Humperdink’s men.

Buttercup gives up so that Westley is spared, but Humperdink, who’s actually planned the whole thing turns Westley over to Count Rugen (Christopher Guest), the six fingered man who Inigo seeks. Westley is tortured and Buttercup reconsiders, with the Prince stating he will send his fastest ships to find Westley, and should they find him in 10 days the wedding will be cancelled. It is then revealed that he plans to kill Buttercup himself and accuse the other kingdom of doing so.

Fezzik is reunited with Inigo, who has fallen off the wagon and together they discover the six fingered works for the Prince. They go to rescue Westley, who’s anguished screams they hear and discover him nearly dead, and the only person who can save him is Miracle Max (Billy Crystal). They revive Westley, but he is semi-paralyzed but the three assault the castle.

Humperdink rushes through the marriage to Buttercup and sends her to his chambers. Inigo faces Rugen, but Rugen throws a knife, stabbing the Spaniard in the stomach. As he slumps to the floor, he apologizes to his father for failing and Rugen mocks him. However, when Rugen attempts to stab him Inigo manages to deflect the blows and repeats his practiced phrase.

Severely injured but powered by what Rugen calls his “overdeveloped sense of revenge”, he fights his opponent back, repeating his speech like a mantra until finally he overcomes Rugen. I recently saw an interview where Patinkin explained that when preparing for this scene he thought of his own father who had died of cancer and imagined himself speaking to the cancer which killed him. The interview is pretty moving, and changed how I view the scene, lending extra resonance to what is already a great moment as Inigo has him on the ropes:

Inigo: Offer me money!
Rugen: Yes!
Inigo: Power, too, promise me that.
Rugen: All that I have and more. Please.
Inigo: Offer me everything I ask for.
Rugen: Anything you want!
Inigo: (stabbing Rugen, quietly) I want my father back, you son of a bitch!

Westley then bluffs, causing the cowardly Humperdink to surrender and he, Buttercup, Fezzik and Inigo ride off together. With Inigo at a loss as to what to do now he has avenged his father Westley asks him if he’s ever considered piracy.

The grandfather leaves his grandson, who asks if he’ll come back and read it again.

I love this movie, because it’s unbelievably good fun. The dialogue is loaded with quotable lines and clever gags, which is what you’d expect from the man who wrote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and there are countless great lines along the way (“Life is pain, Highness, anyone who says differently is selling something”, “You use that word a lot, I do not think it means what you think it means”, “Is this a kissing book?”) and the performances are top notch too.

Cary Elwes does the old school derring-do supremely well and also handles the humourous aspects wonderfully. He gets some of the best lines in the movie and has the look of an old school matinee idol, which helps him carry it off, as well as the smarts to poke fun at himself.

Westley (Elwes) protects Buttercup (Wright)

Westley (Elwes) protects Buttercup (Wright)

Patinkin almost steals the show as the flamboyant Montoya, Shaw is funny as the criminal mastermind who’s not quite as clever as he thinks and as the villains, Guest and Sarandon, are delightfully evil and cowardly.

And Andre the Giant is likable and oozes goofy charm as Fezzik.

The 8th Wonder of the World: Andre the Giant

The 8th Wonder of the World: Andre the Giant

Sword fights, giants, magic and true love, this movie has it all and it’s lots of fun, relishing and mocking old fashioned fairytales and adventures at the same time to produce a film that I never tire of watching and which I recommend strongly to anyone. An utter gem of a movie.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Something is rotten in the state of Florida

Sometimes it must suck being a cop. I think a lot of folks probably join the service because they buy into that “protect and serve” line you get in movies, and probably dream of catching serial killers, running down muggers and generally doing some hero type stuff.

So it must have been tough for Fort Lauderdale cops to roll up and bust a 90 year old man for feeding the homeless.

Abbot being busted

Abbot being busted

Yes, that’s right, in parts of Florida feeding the homeless is against the law. The 90 year old in question is was Arnold Abbott, who runs a Christian homeless charity, Love Thy Neighbor (sic). Apparently the city had passed a new law about homeless feeding, as a “public health and safety measure” and to show they were serious the boys in blue were sent to grab Abbott and two associates.

The three charity volunteers now face up to 60 days in prison and $500 fines.

The new rules insist that there can only be one homeless feeding location per city block and they must be at least 500 feet from residential areas, which suggests that this law has more to do with people not wanting to have to see or acknowledge the presence of the homeless.

It would be bad enough if Fort Lauderdale was an anomaly, the one callous city in the whole of the US, but since January 2013, 21 different cities have enacted similar laws.

Frankly this is a depressing trend and is essentially criminalizing helping some of society’s most vulnerable people. Some of these programmes are the only way that some of these people get food, and by taking this away from them their health is being put at risk.

It’s not a solution to homelessness, unless the plan is to starve them to death or force them to leave town, which is probably hard for them to do, being homeless and all. In fact you’re basically pushing them into a corner which could cause some to go to greater lengths to get food, or make them have to beg more, which might not be a great thing in Fort Lauderdale, as Florida had the 2nd highest rate of attacks on homeless people in 2013.

These attacks on the homeless are symptomatic of the lack of empathy and charity that people have for them, and the local government has compounded this by appearing to want to push homeless people away from the general public and going after the people who do try and help them.

It’s a terrible state of affairs, and one of the most callous laws I’ve ever heard of, essentially punishing the most vulnerable and needy in society and those who try and help them.

I hope that the ludicrous charges against Abbot and his fellow volunteers is dropped, and that the law is repealed. The policy makers in Fort Lauderdale and those other cities should be ashamed of themselves and instead of persecuting the homeless people should be trying to help them.

Doing so is the right thing to do, and would help everyone more than the current legislation will.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Beat the Devil by Mishka Shubaly

I recently signed up for Kindle Unlimited, which lets you rent books for a time on your Kindle device. It’s a pretty boss idea, even if the selection is limited, however, one of the side effects is that I’m just diving in and checking out books I may not otherwise have stumbled on, which is a good thing.

For example, I found this book, which turned out to be a bit of a gem. The memoir follows Mishka Shubaly’s time trying to make it as a rock musician. He describes how from a young age he was hooked on rock ‘n’ roll and the glamour of being a travelling musician.

beat the devil

What follows is a fascinating account of Shubaly’s time in various bands and his battle with addiction. Along the way bands implode, relationships crash and burn and Shubaly disappears deeper into drug and booze induced madness and depression.

At times it’s painfully upfront, Shubaly discussing his own flaws and failings, recounting terrible comedowns that followed shambolic gigs in front of small, often apathetic crowds. There’s a real visceral quality to his writing and it never shies away from the filth and lunacy on display, and at the end, the now sober Shubaly reflects that he was responsible for many of the failures his rock and roll dream suffered.

It’s interesting to see the story of bands that never quite made it, who put out records and gigged for a bit but never really caught fire, and Shubaly acknowledges that for all the hard work, sacrifice and time put into following the dream there’s very little to show for it, a couple of EPs and some old gig posters. What hurts more is that as part of New York’s rock scene he sees his peers go on to bigger, better things, for example, the Strokes, who opened for his band exploding while his falls apart.

Shubaly captures the desperation and crazy world of this low level touring, the bickering that would tear bands apart and his own descent into depression and self loathing. It’s not for the faint of heart but it’s magnificently written, in an easy going, honest manner, and finding Shubaly clean, sober and having set aside his painful rock dreams is the kind of happy ending life doesn’t always give you.

Verdict: A fascinating account of rock’s lower levels, capturing the author’s downward spiral but still keeping you on side, largely because Shubaly is open and candid about his mistakes. A great quick read, and I’ll check out more of Shubaly’s stuff. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


American Apparel’s BIG mistake

Until recently all I knew about American Apparel is that they make underwear, and that’s only because it’s in some annoying, cheesy song. Having found out more about them recently I can say that I am not a fan.

This has nothing to do with their clothes, and more to do with their attitudes towards some of their customers. Specifically their treatment and attitude towards larger women.

Firstly, April Flores, a plus-size model, was looking for clothes and told by an employee of the company that they didn’t make larger sizes as “that’s not our demographic”.

Flores

Flores

It appears that AA’s demographic is a bit exclusionary, with most of their clothes only going as big as size 8/12 (1o/12 UK), which is a little odd as the average size for an American woman is 14 (16UK).

This year however, AA decided to try and amend this by hosting an online search for their first plus sized model. If this was an attempt to win people over, it backfired in a big way.

They started off badly with a patronizing and almost insulting launch, which stressed the word “Big” in “Next Big Thing”. It got worse.

They wanted models to “fill out” the clothes designed for people “who need a little extra wiggle room”, calling on women to send in pictures of “you and your junk”.

The fact that this was actually run on the website shows the kind of attitude towards larger ladies and it didn’t go unnoticed. One of the entrants to the competition was Nancy Upton, and she wasn’t happy, feeling that the whole tone seemed to be “Hey, come on, fatties, we want you to play too”.

Upton felt that the plan was clearly to use one model to make out they covered that demographic, and try and generate good publicity, which definitely didn’t work out for them. Upton looked the part, but her submissions were a little bit different.

nancy upton 1

Upton’s entry, which was mock-sexy featured her eating food or acting in a gluttinous manner, as though unable to put food down for a minute. It was a funny idea and as word spread online Upton took a commanding lead in the competition.

When the polls closed she was the clear winner. At this point American Apparel found themselves in a tricky spot. Upton, a size 12, had won, but had mocked the competition and the company.

nancy upton 2

They handled it badly, telling Upton she would not be representing them as she had attempted to discredit their “positive intentions” and that they’d chose somebody who better exemplified “beauty inside and out, and whom we will be proud to have representing our company.”

Personally, I think they should have just chosen Upton and worked with her, and other women to try and change the company’s tone and attitude towards larger women. That might have been their chance to actually come out looking good, whether they deserve to or not is another story.

However, they’ve actually looked rather stupid throughout. It feels as though they approached this cynically in the matter, as Upton suspected, and actually just drew more heat on themselves for the daft way they did the whole thing. It does seem as though they still don’t value curvier women as customers, which is not cool, and is something that still needs addressing and won’t be fixed by a model hunt.

They’ve since invited Upton to look at their factory and see how the company works, with Upton insisting she gets to write about it. Whether this will pay off for AA remains to be seen.

Either way, they need to sort it out and start catering to, and respecting, women of all shapes and sizes.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Leashes not lashes

I doubt it needed to be said but Iran really doesn’t sound like a fun place to live. This is a country with extremely strict laws which curtail the rights and freedom of it’s people and still uses physical punishments like lashes and executions. These are two things I am definitely against.

Earlier this year there was a case of a woman being executed because she murdered a man alleged to have attacked her, I was pleased to see that a lot of folks got up in arms over it, but couldn’t help feel that for many the reason to argue against it was either (a) her gender or (b) her apparent motive. If the lady in question was attacked and killed this fellow while acting in self defence, I agree that should have changed the ruling of her guilt, but whatever a killer’s gender or reasoning, capital punishment feels wrong to me.

That however, is not what this blog is about. This is about another news story coming from Iran, and also dealing with excessive punishments. Recently hardline members of parliament in the country have submitted a bill proposing a punishment of 74 lashes.

Being whipped 74 times seems excessive for any crime but it’s particularly shocking to discover that this plan is being suggested as a punishment for people who play, pet or walk dogs in public.

I understand that in Islamic culture dogs are regarded as unclean, and are kept by many only as working animals, not pets. I must admit that my grasp on Islam is shaky at best and so if anything I write in this blog is incorrect, I apologize and am always keen to receive polite corrections.

The subject is open for debate as some Islamic scholars like Malik ibn Anas deviated from this view and some feel it actually has roots in pre-Islamic traditions. Others feel that while dogs are ritually unclean they should still be treated with kindness.

But that’s all irrelevant.

I think everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs and so long as their beliefs and/or practices don’t harm others then it’s a case of live and let live. For people of the Jewish or Islamic faiths eating pig meat is not allowed, as someone who doesn’t conform to that view, I feel that I should be allowed to eat bacon sandwiches, but also be expected to take into account the beliefs of others and not just serve up a hog roast before checking with everyone.

It’s about respect and acceptance. You have to accept that not everyone in this world is going to think like you, or feel the same way about things. Nobody appreciates being told what to think and how to behave, but far too many people are quick to tell others how to.

I like dogs. I want a dog. I think that dogs are perfectly fine.

Miniature English Bulldogs Picture

However, if I knew a Muslim I’d tell them I had a dog at home before they visited, and ask if they’d prefer me to keep it in another room while they were there, just as I’d ask if it was okay to take the dog over to their place first, and not just show up with the dog in tow.

I’m not going to give someone a hard time for not liking dogs. I’m not going to force someone to pet or play with it. Doing that would be seriously uncool.

Clearly there are folks in Iran who don’t mind having dogs. That is there choice. Some people who live near them may disagree, and that is there choice.

But it just seems horribly unfair to punish someone for doing something you see as wrong but which doesn’t actually hurt anybody.

So what if Barry down the way is stroking his dog in the street? Does it really “harm the Islamic culture” as the bill suggests? Is that pat on the head really going to bring a centuries old culture and tradition crashing down around you?

Sure, Barry should ask if he can bring his dog round to your house, and he should clean up after the dog, and he should respect other people’s views on dogs, but they should also respect his viewpoint too. If Barry wants a dog, let him have one, as long as he treats it right and keeps it under control is it really a problem to anyone else?

The whole bill seems to be a depressing example of trying to force your views on the population and is saddled with a frankly ridiculous punishment. 74 lashes for playing with a dog? A crime that literally hurts nobody. If the dog is unclean then surely the only impure person is the owner, and as long as they cleanse themselves after it’s a case of no harm, no foul.

I hope that the law doesn’t get passed, especially as dog ownership is increasing in the country among urban middle and upper classes.

There are far more important things that the Iranian government should be dealing with, and forcing everyone to follow a religious law they may not believe in is utterly wrong. The world don’t move to the beat of just one drum, and that’s fine. Forcing someone to follow Islam in Iran is just as wrong as stopping people from observing their faith in the West.

There are 7 billion people on this world, and we should worry less about what everyone else is up to and more about how we’re living ourselves, and how we feel about that. Unless what they are doing is causing hurt or distress to others, let them get on with it, just as you’d want to left alone yourself.

Story.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #28, 29 and 30: The Toy Story trilogy

There are very few truly excellent trilogies, all too often there’s one part that lets it down, or in The Matrix’s case two, and sometimes they just stick on a fourth part which stops it being a trilogy. In my mind there are just five trilogies that pull it off properly, these being- Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy, the Evil Dead trilogy which works because all three parts are different, Christopher Nolan’s Bat-Movies, the original trio of Star Wars movies and these three movies, the Toy Story trilogy.

tsposters

There’s word that a fourth is coming, but I may just have to do a Jurassic Park and mentally erase it from my mind, because these three movies work perfectly as a trio.

The first movie came out in 1995 and was pretty ground breaking, a feature length CG animation movie which saw the arrival of Pixar, who would become one of the animation powerhouses. Even at nearly 20 years old the animation of this movie still holds up and looks wonderful, sure, the sequels improved, but this still hasn’t dated in the way that some of Disney’s 80s animation has or ‘90s visual effects have.

It’s all based on a fantastically cool high concept, which is sure to appeal to kids everywhere, what if your toys were really alive? But it’s far more than just a neat idea.

The movie follows Woody (voiced by Tom Hanks), the favourite toy of a young boy, Andy. Things are pretty cool for Woody until Andy receives a Buzz Lightyear toy (voiced by Tim Allen), who slowly starts to replace him. Unlike Woody and the others, Buzz is unaware he is actually a toy, believing himself to be a real space ranger.

Ultimately they become friends and have to work together, Buzz realizes he’s a toy, but Woody helps him understand that this is a wonderful thing and that he can bring joy to Andy’s life.

toy story fly

The sequels build on the friendship and introduce new characters as well as continuing to deal with issues surrounding love, friendship and the fears of being abandoned, forgotten or replaced. There’s too much plot to go into here, but the second movie sees Woody get damaged and worry about being cast aside, which is shown in a truly unsettling nightmare sequence. Stolen by a toy collector his faith wavers, before Buzz rescues him and he remembers being loved by Andy and seeing him grow up is what he wants.

toy story 2 rescue

In the third movie Andy is growing up and going to college and the toys fear he’s discarding them. Only Woody keeps the faith but at the end he has to realize that it’s time to let go, for Andy to go off and grow up and for him to stay with the other toys and bring fun to the life of a new child, Bonnie.

toy story 3 happy

Each movie is magnificently written, crammed full with wonderful humour, thrilling stories and exploring the characters so that they become rounded, relatable and loved by the audience. The humour is pitched just right, with plenty of silly gags for the kids but clever, witty ones aimed at the parents.

There are sight gags, references to other films, quips and slapstick, but the film succeeds because it gets you engaged with the characters. Woody, helped by Tom Hanks’ fantastic voice work, is the most likable character for older viewers- noble, heroic, but with a sarcastic streak. He’s really who the movies follow most closely and it’s his fears that are the subject for each flick.

In the third movie he’s the true believer who stays loyal to Andy and that’s what makes his final decision all the more touching. He still loves Andy, and is honoured to have watched him grow, but knows the time has come to move on and help make Bonnie’s childhood fun.

It’s an ending that works on lots of different levels, with parents being able to view Woody’s decision to let go as mirroring the way they’ll have to step back a little as their kids grow up. While for small children it is Woody saying goodbye and they can imagine having to put away their own toys for good. As for folks in my age group, who grew up with the movies, its realizing that we may have to grow up too and missing our childhoods.

toy story 3 sad

It’s saying something these three animated movies each include at least one moment that jerks the tear ducts. In the first there’s the moment when Buzz finally realizes he’s a toy, and is devastated, but rallies to fly, and soundtracked by Randy Newman leaps for the window only to fall. It’s a magnificent scene that I’ve found more touching on repeat viewings.

Of course, it’s nothing compared to the musical knockout “When She Loved Me”, where Jessie the Cowgirl sings about her old owner and we see her being set aside as the girl grew up. If you can stay cool and collected throughout that then you’re a damned robot or something.

But the third movie is a rollercoaster of emotion. The farewell at the end will have you choked up, but the real emotional gutshot comes earlier. As the group of toys are slowly being swept towards the incinerator they scrabble against the avalanche of rubbish, fighting to escape and then in a painfully quiet moment Jessie stops and extends a hand to Bullseye to reassure him, and all the toys link hands, with Woody being the last to stop fighting. Linked together in a chain they advance towards the flames, together and accepting of their fate. Just thinking about it has choked me up again and Kevin Smith’s description of it as “Schindler’s List with toys” seems more than just a glib, throwaway line. In that moment you’re utterly destroyed as a viewer.

We watched it in my flat last year, and as with all movies there was a smattering of jokes throughout, but during this scene one of the guys who hadn’t seen the flick before cut off an attempted gag, sitting forward and utterly gripped by the drama on screen.

It’s one thing to make a good film about toys, it’s another to make one that puts the audience through the emotional wringer and can reduce people to tears. Pixar managed to pull that off three times, and that’s why it’s a great trilogy, if not the best.

I grew up with these films, and they mark different stages in my life, but I think whatever your age when you first see them, these movies will have an effect and will go on to be regarded as classics of not just animated film, but film in general. Simply sensational.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Mugger by Ed McBain

Halfway through this book I realized I’d read it before a few years back and kinda remembered how it finished, not that it’s a massive stretch anyway. That’s not a criticism though, because I kept on reading because it was hugely entertaining.

McBain’s writing is extremely pulpy and this a fantastic page turner. I blazed through it in a couple of days and it was a great read for my breaks at work because I could zip through it quite easily.

the mugger

The plot follows various cops operating out of the 87th precinct in a fictional city. A mysterious mugger known only as Clifford, has been striking across the area, hitting women to ensure their silence and with rare flair bowing and thanking his victims. Detective Hal Willis is investigating, and enlists Eileen Burke, a female detective to serve as bait in a sting operation.

Meanwhile, patrolman Bert Kling is recovering having been shot and is approached by an old school friend who wants him to talk to his sister-in-law, a teenager who’s been acting oddly. Kling talks to the girl but gets no luck.

The girl is then murdered, seemingly by Clifford in a mugging gone wrong. Willis is still after Clifford, while Kling, at the request of his friend’s wife, investigates further, trying to work out whether the mysterious man in her life was Clifford and if so why she was killed. The situation gets murkier when it’s revealed that the girl was pregnant at the time of her murder.

I really dug this book, which is written with a real pulpy/noir vibe, full of fast paced dialogue and tough guy heroes it’s a gripping thriller and McBain’s writing is also quite clever and funny in places, sure, some of the mystery is easy to see coming but it’s still a fast paced, enjoyable read and further installments of the 87th Precinct series have already been added to my Kindle thanks to their new Unlimited deal (which is alright, if limited in what you can get).

Verdict: A gripping, pulpy yarn with a nice eye for character and some tough, gritty writing. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Doctor Who Series 8 Review

WARNING! SPOILERS AHOY!

This Saturday the eighth (since the relaunch) series of Doctor Who wrapped up, bringing to a close the first series with Doctor Capaldi as the twelfth (I’m sure it’s thirteenth) incarnation of the Doctor, and the end of Clara Oswald’s (Jenna Coleman) time as his companion.

Capaldi and Coleman in promo art for the series

Capaldi and Coleman in promo art for the series

Right off the bat, I have to say that I’m not a massive Doctor Who fan. Since the revamp I’ve watched it off and on, missing the end of David Tennant’s run and the start of Matt Smith’s. The problem is that while I appreciate some of the show’s themes and appreciate the Doctor’s style (non-violent for the most part) the show fails to hook me fully, I think because the Doctor can come across as smug and a know-all, and also because sometimes I just wish he’d hit someone.

So why am I reviewing this series? Well, for one thing, I watched the whole thing, mainly because MWG is a fan. It all kicked off in Victorian London with  an episode where the new Doctor was rather discombobulated and raving. This didn’t fill me with confidence, and left me fearing we were still in the “zany” territory that Tennant and Smith had got bogged down in at times.

There was a tantalizing mystery about the ending, and the suggestion that Capaldi’s Doctor might be a bit different. Thankfully he did, turning out to be bit of a grumpy git with a nice line in sarcasm and a more pronounced temper.

I wasn’t confident before the second episode, as they’d teased the Daleks, and I hate the Daleks. Here’s the thing with the Daleks, back in the day they were kind of creepy and utterly iconic. They were ruthless and had those bizarre screechy voices, for the generation older than mine they were the stuff of childhood nightmares. So what went wrong?

What went wrong is that they’re all played out. They pop up at least once a series and get dealt with, usually in a a single episode. The Doctor has defeated them so many times, and so quickly, that their threat has diminished and at this stage they’re starting to stop being a major villain and something more like Team Rocket.

team rocket

The episode had a Fantastic Voyage vibe with the Doctor joining a mission to save Rusty, a seemingly good Dalek who had switched sides in a war in the future. This was handled fairly well and forced the Doctor to confront his own hatred of the Daleks. It was pretty good fun, actually.

Next up was Robot of Sherwood, arguably the best episode of the series as the Doctor took Clara back in time to prove that Robin Hood was merely a legend, only to meet the man himself (Tom Riley). The Sheriff (Ben Miller) was also knocking about and in league with some aliens. It was a great episode as the bantering and posturing Hood clashed instantly with the Doctor and the two bickered to entertaining effect. It also showed that Hood’s devil-may-care attitude was largely a front, which was a nice touch and had Clara have to take charge..

Clara and Robin (Coleman and Riley)

Clara and Robin (Coleman and Riley)

Mark Gatiss’ writing made it the funniest and most entertaining episode and the high point for the whole series.

Next up was Listen, which epitomized what I dislike most about the show, poor execution. It all kicked off with the Doctor seeking a creature that hid, and talking about how you talk when you’re alone, see things in the corner of your eye and how there’s a recurring dream of a beastie under the bed that grabs you when you get out. It was a fantastic set up and there were some nice touches, such as bringing in a descendant of Clara’s love interest Danny Pink, Orson a time travel explorer (both played by Samuel Anderson). But in the end it all got ruined by a daft bit of looping it back to the Doctor’s past and killed what seemed to be genuinely creepy idea.

Listen: A creepy concept wasted

Listen: A creepy concept wasted

Time Heist did the same thing, a neat idea, but with a flawed payoff. The Caretaker was a step in the right direction with the Doctor taking up residence at Clara’s school to try and stop an alien and Danny finding out the truth about her time traveling adventures. It also continued the Doctor’s dislike of soldiers and had him clash with Danny, who regarded him as a pompous, aristocratic “officer” type.

The episode was fun and while the monster was a bit daft looking it worked well, mainly because it was anchored by the characters. Unfortunately the ball would be dropped again with Kill The Moon, which featured an Alien rip off monster and one of the dumbest “twists” yet. Just awful.

Lots more fun was Mummy on the Orient Express, which featured an invisible killer mummy aboard an interstellar train. It was a goofy idea but done rather well, the trip meant to be Clara’s last adventure after Danny objected to it. It was well done and featured Frank Skinner as the train’s engineer. I’m a fan of Skinner’s and he’s a massive Whovian, so it was nice to see him get to appear in the show he loves.

Frank Skinner

Frank Skinner

Flatline was dopey, with 2D monsters killing people, including a parade of rather one-note characters. The only nice touchwas a shrunken TARDIS which the Doctor had to move around by sticking a hand out, like Thing from The Addams Family. In The Forest of the Night saw the world completely overgrown and Danny and Clara having to guide their school trip to safety. The Doctor has to look after a kid who hears voices and it all built to a painfully sentimental conclusion.

The final two parter started with Danny getting run over and a distraught Clara trying to force the Doctor into going back to save him. When the Doctor refuses Clara betrays him, tossing the TARDIS keys into a volcano, but it turns out the Doctor’s played her. Hurt by her betrayal he nonetheless agrees to go into the afterlife, where they find a weird business run by Missy (Michelle Gomez), meanwhile Danny meets Seb (Chris Addison), who had earlier been shown to other deceased characters. The dead are stored in a big dome.

Unfortunately, the big Missy is the Master reveal was easy to see coming and the arrival of the Cybermen was disappointing. It has to be said that Gomez was hugely watchable as the demented villain and her plan, to hand the Doctor an army was pretty cool, forcing him to do something he hates and putting power into his hands which would probably corrupt him. It was all done very well, and the idea of the Cybermen recruiting the dead meant they had a distinct advantage.

The episode also drew on one of the series strongest aspects, the relationship between Clara and Danny, which the writers had done a good job in slowly building. Danny was a likable character and while his soldier past was cliche, the character worked and their relationship was rather sweet. With Danny coming back in Cyberman form he had to endure Clara bigging up the Doctor as the most reliable man she’d ever known and asked her to switch him to a full Cyberman.

The climax of Missy’s plan was dealt with in a smart way, with the Doctor rejecting the responsibility and realizing that he couldn’t do it, giving command over to Danny, who led the Cybermen to stop the plan. The Doctor then elected to kill Missy himself, ensuring that Clara would keep her hands clean. But luckily another character intervened.

The denouement saw the parting of the ways between Clara and the Doctor, and was wonderfully done, with both lying to the other, telling them what they needed to hear to move on and be happy.

I’m sad to see Clara go, I thought she was one of the stronger companions they’ve had and I dug that she was extremely head strong and would often take charge and tell the Doctor what to do. Her relationship with the new Doctor lacked any flirty subtext and it was nice to just see him having a friend to help him through.

So essentially, as with all previous series I found this to be a bit of a mixed bag. I liked Capaldi’s work as the Doctor and the fact they’ve made him gruffer and a step away from the kids TV presenter style Tennant and Smith used, and I continued to like Clara as a character, and felt they worked well together. The character work was done rather well, especially the growing Clara and Danny relationship.

But there were flaws too. Some of the episodes bottled good ideas, far too many of the supporting players were unremarkable and there’s still far too much cheesy stuff going on. I know it’s essentially a kid’s show, but some of the endings were just a little too neat.

There were good ideas on display, but all too often the end result fell short. I’m keen to see what they do now in terms of a companion, and kinda hope they just give him a bloke he can be mates with and I think Capaldi will do well, but I still can’t say I’m a fan, it still doesn’t quite hook me completely.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


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