Book Review: I Can Make You Hate by Charlie Brooker

I’ve long been a fan of Charlie Brooker, who previously wrote a beautifully scathing television column for The Guardian. And have read a few of his collections before, and this captures the end of his Screen Burn column.

The pieces cover 2009-12 and so it’s a little out of date, although it is quite nice to look back at various controversies, news stories and events with hindsight. Brooker attacks a variety of topics with his usual jet black humour and surreal, grotesque hyperbole. It had me laughing out loud and smiling repeatedly, and I found that Brooker is on the money quite frequently. 

There are times when he goes for lazy gags, but it’s evident he knows this himself. And they are off set when he takes unique views on topics and shows real insight.

What is most interesting is Brooker’s frank assessment of his own role, his own writing style and his changing character. Brooker addresses the fact he is mellowing, that he can’t muster the same anger for trivial reality TV. There’s even a sense of guilt over previous punching down. Some might regard this as going soft or even some form of “selling out” but it makes sense. It shows a maturing writer, and his open acknowledgment of this makes sense. The shift isn’t glaring as Brooker can still fire himself up and throw barbs, but the targets have changed.

It’s a very entertaining read and one you can dip in and out of.

Verdict: Sarky, dark and biting, Brooker is an entertaining and fiery writer. But these are not just rants they are tempered with insight, awareness and humour. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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“Fear of the Fat Man”

Something I wrote a while ago but posted on Medium because I thought that would be more of a thing. As is, I barely check it and have only written like 4 articles on there. Anyway, here you go:

“Fear of the Fat Man” @nutupdate https://medium.com/@nutupdate/fear-of-the-fat-man-2b4ea247e1ed

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Unfinished Business: A sort of review of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach

The movie adaptation of this book became a massive success due to the “grey pound”, a cast of familiar faces and exotic locations won over viewers.

So, what of the book?

Well, I got it because MWF spotted a bunch of surprise books and picked it for me. 

I took it on a night shift and got cracking. The book differs from the film it seems, and I suspect is bleaker. We’re introduced to a selection of lonely, lost old timers who decide to go across to India for their retirement.

The problem is that it makes for dreary reading. One of the coffin dodging protagonists is a disgusting old man, and he is joined by a racist and a tragic old lady.

I slogged a hundred pages in but frankly at this point decided to cut my losses as I didn’t really care what happened. Possibly because if they did find a “happily ever after” it would probably only be a few more years.

Moggach adds black humour to proceedings which did yield a few smiles, but largely it was just far too bleak. And while she tried to make me sympathise with characters by explaining their background it broke the “show don’t tell” and often times the reasons didn’t excuse their actions. 

Dismal.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


In defence of Prince Charles

Right, to lay out my position on the Royals. I’m pretty much neutral. I won’t be bending the knee anytime soon, but I’m not calling for us to wheel out the guillotine. I think they seem nice enough people, if odd, and do some good work for the country, through charity and tourism, but I just think the millions we spend on them could be put to better use somewher else.

One thing I don’t get is the rabid enthusiasm and obsession some people have with them. They’re just another group of celebrities, so why all the fuss?

And speaking of fuss…

This month marks 20 years since the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. As such the press has been going nuts about it, catering to a seemingly bottomless reserve of national obsession and voyeurism.

There are TV shows, magazines, newspaper features and the re-emergence of various parasitic people who have exploited their connection with Diana for fame or wealth.

While some seems to have been handled with delicacy, particularly an interview with her sons on ITV. However, depressingly an old, familiar story is being told, that of Diana as a near saint and the villain of the piece being played by her ex, Prince Charles.

I’m not going to say that Chuck was guilt free in their trainwreck marriage, but it seems like there was fault on both sides and other factors at work. Charles’ relationship with Camilla has been tainted for some by the fact that it was going on behind Di’a back. But more on that later.

As all this stuff gets raked up over and over the more tactful at least think how it effects William and Harry, but as his failed marriage is disected once again nobody gives a damn about Charles’ feelings. Or if they do it’s in stupid ways:

In answer, no. No, he won’t. Because I’m assuming he’s not a massive bellend and appreciates that his sons will miss their mum, and that their love for her doesn’t mean they don’t love him.

One of the most controversial things in this prolonged and ugly time of “tribute” was the Channel 4 documentary. This featured tapes of Diana talking candidly about her marriage and divorce, possibly because she felt it was private.

So complete is Diana’s ascension to secular saint status that everything she said was received as gospel. 

Look, we’ve all had mates who have gone through break ups. They come over and they get it all off their chest. You offer sympathy, you take their side but you take it with a pinch of a salt. You’re getting one, highly biased, version of events. It’s heavily edited highlights.

Of course, your buddy’s ex can fight their corner and this is the part that sucks for Charles. He can’t.

First of all, he’s been raised to be King. A King doesn’t go running his mouth to the press, he has to keep his personal feelings hidden, maintain a regal persona.

Secondly, even if he could he’d be bad mouthing the dead and the public would go nuts over it.

And most importantly, Charles probably doesn’t want to go and drag Diana’s name through the mud. Because he knows that it would hurt his boys.

Which means he has to keep quiet as he is turned into the villain. The hatred of Charles has ebbed and flowed over the years, but with the 20th anniversary madness it’s all been stirred up again.

Recent polls have shown that people want William to be King next, showing a startling lack of knowledge of how monarchies work. You don’t pick. It’s whoever is next in line and that is Charles.

If you want a daft, old fashioned system you have to follow the rules or else it may as well just be an open public vote for the next monarch. And if the field is open we could have someone more fun than William.

Charles and Diana probably should never have married. But they did, and it went wrong. As with many things it’s not a black and white situation.

The thing is that I find silly is that people regard Charles’ divorce as grounds for him being unsuitable for the big chair. This is stupid because (a) other monarchs have got divorced and (b) it’s 2017. Attitudes towards divorce have changed, thankfully and there are no other jobs where having divorced would cost you the gig.

I’ve always felt in a perfect world Charlie would have just married Camilla right away and Diana could have had a longer, more peaceful life away from the press.

I find it hard to understand why anyone begrudges Charles for having gone on to find happiness with Camilla and remarry. They seem to have real affection and connection, and it seems unfair that she should get blasted along with him for that. 

Charles and Camilla loving life. Of course they are, they’re with Brian Blessed!

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Riff-Raff, Rebels and Rock Gods by Garry Bushell

I knew of Garry Bushell before as a slightly laddish TV critic, but with this book covering his time as a rock journalist during the late 70s and early 80s I decided to check it out as it featured some bands I like. I also like tales of old time rock and roll stars who weren’t as neutered and bland as the current crop.

After the punk boom died down the musical landscape seems to have been a varied place with punk continuing but morphing into subgenres like Oi! as well as a resurgence of ska indluenced bands with the 2 Tone acts. There was also the birth of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWoBHM, for acronym fans). 

As a journalist for Sounds magazine, Bushell would go out and join bands on the road and interview them. It seems to have been a time for debauchery, excess and, in many cases, violence. His introduction sees him call it the best years of his life and yet the first two pieces, which see him touring India with Hanoi Rocks and in Berlin with The Exploited, are filled with griping and complaining.

He’s far happier while joining ZZ Top in Vegas and there are some fun tales later on, but enjoyment of the book hinges on how much you warm to Bushell, who is a frustrating guide on these trips. While showing great enthusiasm and a knack for inventive similes, Bushell can be extremely blokey in places and the attitudes towards homosexuality will appear backwards to many modern readers.

The rock stars here are a mixed bunch appearing as a mix daft posers, barely more than thugs, drunk disasters and the occasional nice guy (hello, Ozzy Osbourne). The bands are a mix too with big, familiar names like Ozzy, ZZ Top, The Specials and Iron Maiden rubbing shoulders with bands who faded out (Hanoi Rocks, Angelic Upstarts and Judge Dread). It’s interesting to hear about acts you know, but there’s something more fascinating about the bands who didn’t make it. And one of the most entertaining sections sees Bushell joining the Angelic Upstarts for a gig in a prison. The anti-authority aggression they bring is well received by the cons although the chaplain, tricked by their name is shocked.
It’s an interesting read, but at times irritating. It does however capture a lost era, not only of music and music journalism, but of the political and social landscape.

Verdict: Entertaining enough but Bushell isn’t always a likeable writer. The stories are entertaining and there is a lot of humour on show, but much is rather juvenile. An interesting glance back at rock’s past in an unsettled era. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Princess and the Queen by George R. R. Martin

Currently loving the Game of Thrones TV show and still annoyed by the long, long wait for The Winds of Winter to be released and continue the series (it’s been almost 4 years since I finished last part) I needed my George R. R. Martin itch scratching so chose this short novel.

Set 200 years before The Song of Ice and Fire series this details the war between different factions of the Targaryen clan. When King Viserys dies the question of who is next causes a rift. Many feel Princess Rhaenyra, his oldest child should be next but Queen Alicent argues it should be his son Prince Aegon, as the oldest male heir.

The Princess and the Queen are old rivals, with the Queen fearing for the safety of her kids if the Princess takes the throne. What follows is a retelling of the war in the form of a history recorded by a fictional character.

While it lacks the great characterisation of Martin’s writing it still makes for a good read, a gripping tale of war, treachery and dragons. It keeps the writer’s knack for creating a complicated, textured world and not shying away from bloody, brutal violence.

Also on show here are some dragon on dragon fights and the whole thing is a cracking read. Quick, involving and entertaining it provides more background of the world of Westeros and the characters introduced are vivid and interesting.

Verdict: The history format means that the variety of perspectives found in the Ice and Fire books are lacking, but this short trip to the same world is an involving read nonetheless. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Film Review: Dunkirk

See this film now.

From the opening scene where a handful of British soldiers make their way through deserted streets as Nazi propaganda about their being surrounded flutters down until the end this is a thoroughly gripping movie. I wouldn’t necessarily say entertaining as it left my nerves in shreds.

Christopher Nolan in the directing chair films it magnificently, and there are some amazing shots, particularly our first sight of the vast beach where the British soldiers have lined up, looking pathetically vulnerable stood out in the open.

The movie shuffles the time sequence, but while the first threw me the shifts are handled well and it’s easy to keep track of where everyone is. The film follows several characters throughout the day.

Tommy, played by Fionn Whitehead is one of the soldiers we see at the beginning. And we follow his attempts to get off the beach. Posing as a stretcher bearer, hiding on the pier and at one point soaking himself to appear as one of the men from a sunken vessel, Tommy is determined to get home and there is a desperation to his actions which feels all too understandable.

Tommy meets other soldiers along the way including Alex (Harry Styles) and we see their attempts to survive against the odds. 

At the end of the pier is navy Commander Bolton (Kenneth Branagh) and army Colonel Winnant (James D’Arcy)  are the men trying to sort out the evacuation. The pier can only take one boat at a time and the beach is too shallow for larger boats. With 400,000 men on the beach and Winston Churchill aiming for 30,000 to be evacuated they face a tough choice.  Their only hope is the small boats requisitioned by the government to help the evacuation.

One of these is the small pleasure yacht owned by Mark Rylance’s Dawson, who along with his son Peter  (Tom Glynn-Carney) and their hand George (Barry Keoghan). They head for France but en route find a shell shocked soldier played by Cillian Murphy, the sole survivor of a U Boat attack who is understandably shaken by the experience and urges them to turn around for home.

Above them they watch as a three man Spitfire squad attempt to defend the beach and retreating ships from the Luftwaffe. Farrier (Tom Hardy) does his best but with a damaged fuel gauge has no idea how long he can stay in the fight.

The action then cuts between the different characters as their paths cross, events seen from different perspectives. 

The whole movie is almost unbearably tense, from Farrier having to try and work out how much fuel he has left before he heads for home to the soldiers on the pier who can do little more than wait and hope the next German bomb doesn’t have their name on. The feeling of claustrophobia and being trapped, even on the vast, wind swept beach is palpable throughout. The isolation of the men, even with home seemingly so close, is frustrating for the men and the audience, and a reminder of how close to Britain the land war got.

Most terrifying is the fact that even off the beach safety isn’t guaranteed. Scenes of men trapped in small, confined spaces rapidly filling with water are genuinely terrifying.

Several points during the film I found myself gripping the arm rests of the Odeon seats, or MWF’s arm. And in violation of the Wittertainment Code of Conduct I caught myself muttering “No” at several moments.

When the small boats finally arrive, and the relief and joy of the soldiers explodes I found myself openly crying. It was a combination of the relief and reaction of the men, and the respect for this real, genuine act of heroism by ordinary people.

For a war film the refreshing thing here is the lack of big showy heroics. For many there is only a fight for survival and some questionable acts along the way. But there are heroes.

Tom Hardy, even with his face covered with a mask manages to convey Farrier’s inner conflict. He must decide whether to stay longer to help even if it means he might not be able to fly home.

Kenneth Branagh’s naval officer exudes a quiet decency and heroism, a dedication to his job and duty to get the men to safety. Even im the face of danger he manages to keep his cool and even jokes with his army colleague over the other’s lack of sea knowledge.

But possibly the greatest hero here is Dawson played by Mark Rylance with simple nobility. Not only does he set out to help others but there is compassion in the way he handles Murphy’s shattered survivor.

When George asks if the soldier is a coward due to his behaviour Dawson replies that he is “not himself” before adding “he may never be himself again”. It’s a small moment that acknowledges the mental effects of war and hints at Dawson’s own experiences prior to this. 

This is an exceedingly well crafted war film with a cast which does great across the board, from old hands like Rylance and Branagh to the newcomers Styles and Whitehead. The dialogue, while sparse for much of the film, provides brief insigjt into the characters and the tense, relentless pace means that you’re locked in from start to finish. 

It manages to capture the big and small moments, while shying away from being overly sentimental or gung ho. The tone is handled well throughout and I was genuinely moved by the film. 

Verdict: An instant classic, Nolan delivers a masterpiece of war cinema. The ensemble cast do their jobs brilliantly across the board and the action sequences are amazing. 10/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Book Review: Strange Places, Questionable People by John Simpson

Having enjoyed his short book about his adventures as a news reporter I decided to check this book out, a longer more detailed account of John Simpson’s life and career. 

While a lot of the same ground is covered, there are plenty of fresh tales to tell, and Simpson’s globetrotting to some of the world’s most dangerous places. There are near misses, tense moments and adventures spanning from the mid sixties to the late nineties. As well as this Simpson talks about his childhood and personal life, but the majority of the book is about his career as a BBC journalist. 

Simpson writes with candour and humour, discussing his odd drive to head into danger and to ignore the potential risks. This drive meant he was a skilled journalist and placed himself at the heart of global situations.

There are times when he seems a tad pompous, and politically I didn’t always agree with him, but Simpson is largely a clever, compassionate and, in places, humourous writer. He has a knack for capturing smaller stories among the chaos and a good sense of character, sketching in the figures and giving his honest opinion on those he meets.

It’s an interesting read which shows the horror of war and the changing world. Simpson has some interesting stories and gives insight into how the media works.

Verdict: A massively interesting and entertaining read which spans a massive section of modern history. Simpson is a talented writer and really pulls the reader into the story while avoiding sensationalism. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Disney Classics #17: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I remember reading the book this is based on in school, I think because the English department decided it would get them an easy day or two as they took us all to see the live action version. They could have saved themselves the hassle of a shepherding us on to buses and making sure none of us wandered off in Swansea by just sticking this on for a couple of lessons, as this is definitely the superior version.

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The story starts with narration from Pongo (Rod Taylor), who laments the bachelor life he finds dull and decides to find partners for himself and his “pet” Roger (Ben Wright). From the window he spies Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her human companion Anita (Lisa Davis), and rushes out to win her over. This sequence is quite well done, with Pongo looking out the window at the passing canines and dismissing them for various reasons, which match with their owners, going along with the notion of owners looking like their dogs.

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After a short time Roger and Anita marry, and Perdita announces she is expecting puppies. The joy is slightly marred by the arrival of Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), an old schoolmate of Anita’s who is obsessed with furs, and delights in the pattern of the dogs’ coats. When Perdita delivers fifteen puppies, Cruella offers to buy them all, but Roger refuses.

Cruella De Vil is a great villain, a gaunt figure surrounded in noxious cigarette smoke. From her entrance at the wheel of a careening car, she is a dynamic, captivating presence and over the course of the movie she becomes increasingly dishevelled and unhinged as her mania takes over. The film’s most memorable song is the theme tune that Roger creates for her, detailing her wicked nature.

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Shortly after while the parents and their owners are out, two goons Jasper and Horace (J. Pat O’Malley and Frederick Worlock, respectively) trick their way into the house and steal the puppies. With the human police having no leads the dogs take the lead (unintentional pun) and get the word out through “the twilight bark” a method of relaying messages across the country.

One of the cool things about this sequence is that there’s a nice little easter egg for observant viewers, with several characters from Lady and the Tramp having little cameos.

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The chain yields results and the puppies, along with many others, are discovered. The message is sent back and Pongo and Perdita rush to the rescue.

The rest of the film is an enjoyable adventure, with the courageous canines saving the puppies and then trying to avoid capture as they escape through the snow. The whole thing is quite pacy and there are a few tense moments as they try to escape. The action is slapstick in places, but it works far better in cartoon form, and watching it back I was impressed, with the movie holding up quite well.

It could do with a few more songs, and the goons are a little too bumbling for my tastes, but these minor quibbles aside this is a good adventure which has a certain charm.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Empty Hours by Ed McBain

Next up from the out of order omnibus I bought is this book, actually a collection of three separate stories involving the men of the 87th Precinct. All are loaded with McBain’s usual hard boiled, fast flowing dialogue and knack for character.

While each story is shorter than the normal adventures, each is a well executed crime story, with an interesting, gripping case at the heart.

The book also works in that it gives McBain an opportunity to tell slightly different stories, and to bring other detectives forward. The lead of the series thus far has been Steve Carella, who is the lead detective in the majority of cases. The other detectives play their parts, but Carella is the major hero.

Here, Carella is the lead in the title story, where he uses a victim’s cheque book to piece together the woman’s life. There’s a neat twist in the story and as in many of their cases it hinges on a small detail dropped in early on.


In the second case, J, Carella is a supporting player. When a rabbi is killed during passover it leaves the squad’s joker Meyer reflecting on his own faith and place in his community. Meyer has before been on the sidelines offering quips and humour, but here the jokes are less frequent as he faces antisemitism and fanatacism. It works extremely well and there is some clever wrong footing on display. 

Carella is absent entirely in the third, Storm, where Cotton Hawes is embroiled in a murder investigation while on a ski trip. The story strips him of allies and forensic techniques, and relies on Hawes’ instincts and questioning.

It’s a thrilling read and the ending shows McBain’s writing at its best, bringing intelligence and something approaching poetry to a genre tale.

Verdict: Three great short stories which show McBain’s skill and each hooks the reader. Easy to plough through and entertaining on every page. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.