Book Review: ‘Til Death by Ed McBain

The 87th Precinct series is fast becoming my favourite series, as Ed McBain cranks out cracking story after cracking story, and this, the ninth installment is another winner.

image

Steve Carella is woken on the day of his sister’s wedding by a nervous phonecall from the man soon to be his brother in law. The young man has received an unusual wedding gift, a black widow spider. He tries to think of it as a gag, but Carella isn’t so sure.

Carella quizzes him and finds out some potential suspects, asking his colleague Meyer at the precinct to chase the lead. He then asks his fellow off duty detectives Bert Kling and Cotton Hawes to come to the wedding to keep an eye out for danger.

The wedding unfolds as Carella, Kling and Hawes look for dangers and investigate guests while Meyer and O’Brien try and track down the prime suspect.

The set up is gold and McBain quickly sets up a handful of potential suspects, and while one quickly emerges as a favourite, he manages to keep enough doubt to make it a gripping read. And as ever it benefits from the writer’s knack for observation, characterisation and humour.

It moves along at a clip due to the shortened time frame and this ensures it never loses the reader’s attention. There are thrills and spills along the way and it builds to a tense, satisfying conclusion.

Verdict: A fast, fun read which sees McBain execute a brilliant idea as a gripping, enjoyable thriller. There’s enough danger and drama to keep you hooked until the end. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Jungle Book

WARNING! Some spoilers ahead.

The 1967 Disney animated film The Jungle Book is a beloved classic and a personal favourite of mine, so Disney’s decision to do a live action remake/reboot/reimiagining was something I approached with some trepidation. How could it match the old film, and how would it treat characters I loved?

Turns out, it would do pretty well on both counts.

image

How close the animated version stuck to Kipling’s book is a mystery to me, but this movie holds true to the older film, while developing and expanding some of the themes and storylines.

Jon Favreau directs a film which is effortlessly charming, involving and gorgeously realised. The plot follows Mowgli (Neel Sethi), a young boy, who having been found in the jungle as an infant by panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley) has been raised amongst a wolf pack.

Despite the love of his adopted mother Raksha (Lupita Nyong’o) he is still an outsider, failing to keep up and aware of his differences. Pack leader Akela (Giancarlo Esposito) has taught him the law of the Jungle, and treats him warmly but disapproves of his inventions which he calls “tricks”.

During a dry season there is a water truce, where none can attack others at the watering hole and this brings Mowgli to the attention of Shere Khan (Idris Elba), a vicious tiger who carries scars from previous encounters with man and who threatens that after the dry season he will kill Mowgli and any who attempt to stop him.

image

The menacing Shere Khan

The wolf pack debates what to do next, and Mowgli volunteers to leave. Bagheera offers to lead him to the “man village” and they set off. Shere Khan encounters them, injuring Bagheera but Mowgli escapes. Angry, Shere Khan visits Akela, who says that their quarrel is over, but the tiger kills him and takes over the turf, saying he will remain until Mowgli returns.

Alone and lost Mowgli encounters more of the jungle residents including the Gigantopithecus (large orangutan like ape) Louis (Christopher Walken) who rules the monkeys within the ruins of a temple and the hypnotising python Kaa (Scarlett Johansson).

He also befriends a lazy, sneaky sloth bear named Baloo (Bill Murray) who encourages him to use his tricks for their gain and whom he lives with for a time. Bagheera arrives and Mowgli argues with both animals, and discovers the news of Akela’s death. Stealing fire from the man village he races to confront Shere Khan. Can he defeat the tiger? And what consequences will his use of fire have?

I loved this movie because Favreau really succeeds in creating characters who stand on their own and is helped by a wonderful voice cast. As the only human on screen for much of the film Neel Sethi does well as Mowgli, but there are a few creaky moments, but as child performances go it’s a good one.

Luckily the voice cast work well with him and also in making their characters come alive. All inhabit their roles well and there are some nice alterations from the cartoon.

Murray’s Baloo is a delight, a slacker who ambles through life and getting some great lines, all aided by Murray’s easy, warm delivery. Baloo is funny, charming and instantly lovable. He is the standout but not alone in his success in bringing a convincing humanity to the animal characters.

image

Mowgli (Sethi) and Baloo (Murray)

Ben Kingsley provides a quiet dignity to Bagheera while stopping the character from being a lecturing killjoy, and he ensures that the panther’s concern and affection for the boy is obvious throughout. As the villain of the piece Idris Elba makes Shere Khan a menacing presence, and his rumbling tones are well suited to the predator.

Nyong’o also impresses with scenes between Raksha and Mowgli having real emotion, and she fills every word with maternal love and protective qualities. When Mowgli decides to leaves it tugs at the heart strings and MWF got rather teary at this point. It lends the movie genuine emotion and adds weight to the story

Possibly the biggest change is King Louis, who goes from the comedic, singing orangutan of the older film to a massive ape who Walken fills with menacing gravitas, turning him into a sort of mob boss figure. The hulking Louis and his army of monkeys are a nice change to the story, and the sequence in the temple is one of the strongest in the film.

image

All the characters are filled with personality and yet the magnificent CGI means they look sensational. There’s very little anthropomorphic adjustment, and yet they convey their emotions clearly.

The effects are sensational and some of the settings are simply magnificent, I’m glad I saw this on the big screen as the junglescapes are beautiful.

There are some solid action sequences and a couple of wince inducing animal conflicts, with the beasts clashing in furious sequences. To anyone with young kids, these could be quite upsetting for them, and there are some scary parts. But for everyone else I wholeheartedly recommend this movie as it is gorgeous to look at and populated with wonderful characters. It’s fantastic family film making from Favreau.

Verdict: An utter delight, Favreau and a sensational voice cast bring the characters to life, in a story that is full of emotion, charm and thrills. It’s very good fun and looks amazing. Magnificent. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Nobody would be that rude. Not even an American!

MWF rewatched Bridget Jones’s Diary today and I’ve resigned myself that later this year I will be seeing the third movie at the cinema. To be honest, as a romcom fan I’m not that bothered, although frankly it tries my patience- two films getting us to root for Bridge and Mark and then you split them up? Not cool.

image

It also stars Patrick Dempsey who, Enchanted aside, is pretty dull on screen.

The first film is quite fun, with some good lines and some almost painfully cringe moments from Renee Zellwegger’s heroine. But there’s one scene that bugs me.

Halfway through Bridget drops in to see her boyfriend Daniel (Hugh Grant, revelling in throwing off his bumbling nice guy schtick) and suspects he’s cheating. She storms to the bedroom, which is empty and leaves but as she does spies a woman’s coat hanging up.

She storms back upstairs to the en suite and there, perched on the edge of the bath is Lana (Lisa Barbuscia), who is clearly designed to be everywoman Bridget’s nightmare – slim and leggy.

image

Okay, so far, I’m with them. Then Lana turns to Daniel and delivers one of the least believable lines in movie history;

I thought you said she was thin?

I’m sorry, you what?

Nobody is that much of a bellend. You’ve just been caught naked in their boyfriend’s bathroom and you decide that’s the time to throw a cheap jibe about weight? Even if you felt no remorse you’d keep quiet, wouldn’t you? Maybe give a “what you gonna do?” shrug. But insult her to her face? It just wouldn’t happen.

It’s a tiny moment but every time I watch the movie it bugs me. One stupid line and I’m out of the movie, disbelief is shattered and I’m thinking that the writers could have taken another run at the scene.

I can’t think of another movie where a single line has popped the bubble so badly for me.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Warning! Spoilers ahead!

I finally got around to seeing this with MWF today and I’m kinda glad I did, having allowed the fanboy hype and critical mauling fade into the background. So, does the big screen meeting of the World’s Finest work or not?

The answer is partially.

image

The plot works decently, even if it does feel like a whole lot is going on. It uses the destruction of the Zod vs Superman (Henry Cavill) smackdown of Man of Steel as a jumping off point for much of the drama, this is good as the smashing of Metropolis was distinctly unlike Superman, so it’s good it had some kind of point.

Debate rages over what Superman should and shouldn’t do and whether he is helping or a threat. He rescues Lois Lane (Amy Adams) from African rebels, but the hired guards kill many and he takes the fall for this and the reprisals, leading the US government to question how he acts.

image

Superman's motives and actions are questioned

While some embrace him as a saviour others are skeptical especially Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who talks to the government about using Kryptonite as a “silver bullet” in case they need to put the Man of Steel down.

Meanwhile, in Gotham Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who witnessed the destruction and saw many if his employees die, returns to his life as Batman after a break and starts his war on crime. He is highly suspicious of Superman, and plagued by a nightmarish dream of a desolate world where Superman reigns.

For his part, Clark is not keen on the violent justice the Bat is dishing out. He wants to write about it in the Planet, but Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) kills the story.

Wayne’s investigations lead him to Luthor, who is shipping in Kryptonite which Batman wants. Also looking into Luthor is a mysterious woman, who wants a file that Lex has on her. She is unable to crack it and gives it to Bruce, who finds out she is Wonder Woman, another superhuman who fought in WWI.

It turns out Luthor has used his government connections to access Zod’s body and ship and is breeding something there, and is also aware of Batman’s identity and orchestrates a showdown. Who will triumph or will they be able to realise what’s going on and unite?

First the good. The questioning of Superman’s role on earth is handled well with fake news broadcasts and rival factions. Given the sheer havoc that rained down in the last movie it makes sense that not everyone is too keen on the Last Son of Krypton, and the way Luthor conspires to smear him is well done and paints Luthor as a genuine threat.

image

Good start, poor ending: Eisenberg as Luthor

The problem is that this ball is dropped as despite Eisenberg’s early success as the slick, egotistical billionaire he lapses into raving look territory halfway through, which is a shame as it would be nice to have a Luthor who manages to be evil while remaining clean on the surface.

Eisenberg’s casting drew some heat, and it’s a flawed portrayal that justifies some of the doubts. Doubts about Ben Affleck’s ability to be the Bat are blown away thanks to a fantastic performance which portrays a darker, more morally ambiguous Batman than we’ve seen before. It owes a debt to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns in particular but this is a Batman who doesn’t shy from killing and is coldly ruthless.

image

Star of the show: Affleck as Batman

There’s a sense if an older, jaded man behind the cowl and a scene where Batman and Alfred (played with a long suffering, dry charm by Jeremy Irons) talk about how all the good guys are gone, and many didn’t stay good. It teases more to come and a murky past, some of which we’ll probably see in Suicide Squad, and Affleck carries it well.

His fear is understandable and his rage utterly human, and he’s a total badass in the role, both as the Bat and Wayne. Those who criticised him will be feeling rather embarrassed now as he owns the film.

That’s not to do Cavill a disservice, he continues to impress as Superman but the character isn’t developed much and others steal the focus. That being said he captures a human side to the Man of Steel and works well with Adams again. The contrast between the two heroes is good and Cavill succeeds with what he’s given.

The third hero involved, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is given a great introduction as she’s shown to be smart, resourceful and strong and her bantering with Affleck is well handled. MWF liked that she was shown in a costume that looked badass without being too slutty. I always worried that Wonder Woman, like Thor, wouldn’t translate to the big screen but Gadot is solid and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her in action.

image

I like that they introduced her but there are a couple of things that make you aware that this movie made in the shadow of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly The Avengers, and clearly DC and Warner Bros. Want their own franchise, but it feels that this is a bit of a rush to get there. Marvel built up over a few movies, this is the second for DC.

Cameos from other Justice League members are fan pleasers, but this feels in places like a stepping stone to get to a bigger movie.

The other thing that’s rushed is Doomsday, a major villain in the comics, who rocks up here. While he’s a real threat here, he’s dispatched with relative ease and it’s a shame they couldn’t have done The Death of Superman as the second or third Justice League movie. It’s a major villain used against three of the team, which is a shame although there are hints of a bigger villain on the way.

Another misstep is the visions Batman has. They’re never explained, apart from a brief glimpse of the future Flash talking to him and it’s not clear if this is a dream or meant to be real. It’s messy and feels needless, why is he having them?

It feels in places like it would have been improved by being stripped back and with Luthor having a better ending.

So while it’s far from perfect it’s not an utter failure, it just feels like they’re trying to fit way too much into one movie and there are lots of gaps and questions left. But for the most part it works as a superhero epic and there are some good performances and it sets up further movies well.

Verdict: A little messy and with a few mistakes, this just about works and is helped by Ben Affleck’s sensational work as Batman and some good action sequences. The conflict is set up well and the conclusion satisfying, but in places it feels less like it’s own film, and more like a means to set up other movies. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Body Image Is A Joke?

A few weeks ago I saw a lot of stuff about American Eagle, a fashion company launching a video for their “Aerie Men” range, which seemed to be following the company’s steps towards using more diverse body types in their advertising and avoiding Photoshop. This was widely celebrated as the body positivity movement has thus far been largely geared towards female bodies.

This campaign, following shortly on the heels of Zach Miko being the first plus size male model signed to IMG was good news. It felt like finally different male bodies would be shown, and this would be an interesting new step towards body acceptance and a weakening of traditional beauty standards.

image

The men of the campaign

Unfortunately it all turned out to be an early April Fools gag and there was no new range for larger men. American Eagle tried to say they were still for body positivity and would stop retouching their models but it still felt like a massive kick in the teeth.

Female body positivity has been a growing and admirable trend, with women arguing that there is no one form of beauty and that all bodies are beautiful. It’s been a long road, with several wins along the way, but still far to go.

The group has benefitted from a large online movement spearheaded by bloggers like Bethany Rutter (Arched Eyebrow) who have shown that style has no size limit and models like Tess Holliday AKA Tess Munster, who is vocal in the “eff your beauty standards” campaign. As detailed in the show Plus Sized Wars (more here)  this can have a massively positive impact on women who finally have people like themselves to look at.

The other key is that plus sized brands treat their customers with respect. Their curves are never a joke, they are not the target of parody, they are shown to be beautiful, glamorous and sexy.

That’s what American Eagle got wrong, they made male body image a joke, suggesting that men don’t need it. That body image issues and positivity is something exclusively for women.

And that is bollocks. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed that 18% of boys surveyed were “highly concerned” about their weight and physique (here). It showed that many young men were worried about losing weight and toning up.

Young men have the same pressures as young women. The images we see in the media are rather narrow and the implication is that the average Joe just isn’t good enough. It could be said that public attack and criticism of larger men lacks the intensity than that geared at female celebrities, but it is still there, and it still has a detrimental effect.

The problem is that men are traditionally less engaged in fashion and stuff than women, so while fashion bloggers have gained a toehold to fight for body diversity among women, a male blogger is unlikely to gain the same following as men are less likely to seek out a body image hero in the same way.

This is a shame, and tied in with the fact that for a guy to say another dude looks good is still considered shaky ground for many. Kelvin Davis, who featured in the Aerie Men campaign and who may have been unaware of the joke, is a blogger and Instagrammer, (his blog is Notoriously Dapper) but he is one of a small group and doesn’t really have the platform that his female counterparts have access to.

But while the men of the world need to raise their voice and push for change in the way that female body confidence campaigners have, some responsibility lies on the brands and the fashion industry. While Zach Miko’s signing is a step in the right direction it could be criticised in the manner some women voiced in Plus Sized Wars, he’s an improvement on the traditional male model but he isn’t exactly representative of the average larger bloke.

image

Zach Miko, who's hiring is a good beginning

Even brands that cater to larger men are guilty of sticking with the stereotypical slim and toned model. Take Jacamo, the online retailer who cater to up to size 5XL, but who use images like this to sell their goods.

image

I mean, the dude looks good in the hoodie but it’s hardly going to help the chubbier customer. Will that suit a larger body type? If I use myself as an example of what a Jacamo customer might look like, it’s not really a good fit is it?

image

Me

The male ideal of body and the body image issues men experience is a real concern and can cause serious problems for individuals. But it is still something that is not discussed or being addressed enough, because of old fashioned ideas of how a man should be and the toxic idea that discussing insecurities and fears is somehow a bad thing.

We need to encourage boys to talk about how they feel and we need to help change our idea of what is attractive. Men come in different shapes and sizes and there is beauty in them all.

It’s something that needs to be properly handled, not turned into a punchline. American Eagle really dropped the ball on this, and it was a very misjudged April Fool.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #2: Pinocchio

When I was a kid we had quite a few Disney movies on VHS, and we’d watch them over and over. But one sat on the shelf, untouched for years. It was Pinocchio and the thick layer of dust on the box stood as a testament to our disinterest in it. And to my mother’s dislike of dusting.

image

I just remember that it bored us all and we never warmed to it, so it sat there, unwatched. But as MWF and I have decided to work through the Classics I actually watched it for the first time in over twenty years.

I could vaguely remember a few parts- the Blue Fairy, Jiminy Cricket, the bit with the whale, something about a donkey and “I’ve Got No Strings”. Beyond that, nothing.

I can see why it bored me and my sisters, because it is incredibly weak. There’s no massively impressive villain or central thread that engrosses you, and the title character is annoying as hell.

Seriously, Pinocchio basically makes his way through the movie making terrible decisions and then whining about the consequences. All the way through he’s supposedly guided by Jiminy Cricket, his conscience, who does very little other than complain about what an idiot his charge is.

image

There are a couple of nice sight gags and moments of invention, but it’s hard going.

The plot is kinda episodic and it doesn’t quite work, he joins a stage show, escapes and decides to get home, is tricked into going to Pleasure Island where he becomes half donkey, escapes, goes home and then rescues Geppetto from a whale, dies and is then brought back as a real boy.

image

The problem is that every sequence feels disconnected and Pinocchio doesn’t grow, he just suddenly decides to find his dad. And like I said, he’s hard to like.

The most likeable character is Figaro, the non talking cat, which says something, and I found my attention wandering. It suffers from deficiencies in what I see as the key Disney ingredients; music, villains, comic relief and emotion. The songs aren’t particularly memorable, aside from “No Strings” none stays with you.

The art is good in some cases, but in others shows it’s age, particularly in the Blue Fairy and the human Pinocchio, who is surprisingly creepier than his puppet incarnation.

image

I think at it’s heart it comes down to the characters, none are developed that deeply and I didn’t find any of them particularly engaging. The villains are lacklustre, the hero irritating and the support shallow. Disney can make some great characters, but none of them are here.

Although it does include a swearword as one of the English accented characters clearly says “arse”.

Under 10 Chris didn’t like it, and neither does Over 30 Chris. An early shout for my least favourite Disney movie.

Disney Score: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Comedy Gig Review: Richard Herring at St. David’s Hall

I’ve been a Richard Herring fan for quite a while now, and seen him perform before but this is the first of his touring shows I’ve gone to see. I bought tickets for MWF and I and we headed to the St. David’s Hall last night.

image

The show’s title is Happy Now? And it sees Herring reflecting on how his life as changed since becoming a husband and father. Herring discusses the nature of happiness and whether it’s possible to be actually, truly happy. And whether being perfectly happy all the time would be a good thing.

It’s a funny, clever show as Herring talks about how happiness is a temporary state and that we actually need the downs to appreciate the highs. It’s a sensible idea and Herring uses the theme to go off on several weird tangents.

I laughed consistently throughout and thoroughly enjoyed, as a fan of Herring’s mix of the silly, crude and actually quite thoughtful I found it worked brilliantly. MWF was less familiar with his style and while she laughed quite a bit wasn’t won over. I think it was Herring’s talk of sex robots that lost her. And she did not appreciate his argument that sleeping with a sex robot doesn’t count as infidelity.

If you like big ideas explored with a bit of vulgarity and snark then this is for you, and there’s enough warmth and self awareness to keep it on track. It’s a very entertaining night at the theatre and on leaving I at least was happy.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Louis Tomlinson and the Baby Drama

I don’t like the term “guilty pleasure”, it often seems to be a cop out for people who don’t want to admit liking something which is considered to be naff (a cheesy movie or uncool band). The closest I have to one is reading the tweets of One Direction fans on Twitter.

image

Whenever there is a One Direction related news story I always check Twitter because it’s guaranteed to be trending as the Directioners are legion and tweet happy. Seriously, all the criticisms of social media of making it too easy and immediate to put your foot in your mouth are proven with Directioners who tweet with a visceral, purely emotional style.

It’s fascinating to read because it’s so gloriously raw and unfiltered. When you’re a teenager, as most 1D fans are, everything takes on more resonance and your emotions are far more intense and varying. I blame the hormones. And the result is manic tweets which can express hatred, love and seeming madness. A lot of fans are normal, even witty, but it’s the nutbars who are so fascinating.

image

A shrine where Harry threw up. What the hell?

It can get ugly and the Directioners issue death threats with the frequency of a comic book villain. But of late it’s taken a weird, surreal turn.

This is because there is a One Direction conspiracy theory. And it is utterly crazy.

The theory seems to be the work of the “Larry Shippers” a subgroup of Direction fans who “ship” (mentally pairing two people together romantically, can be fictional or real people) two of the band members together, Harry and Louis, hence “Larry”.

This is despite both men having had relationships with women and commented that it’s weird and not true, there is still a branch of the One Direction fandom which believes it is a thing and that the boys are being forced to hide their love.

Firstly, I just want to say, and I know I sound old here, but this shipping two boy band members together seems a new thing. I can’t remember girls at school discussing whether Ronan and Keith were secretly dating or fantasising over them together. Maybe they did, but the  fledgling internet didn’t give them an outlet yet.

It seems odd, but allow me to play amateur psychiatrist for a moment.

image

While they may be daydreaming of being with one of the band on some level the fan has realised this is unlikely. However, they want their idol to be happy. But the idea of them with another woman is hard to deal with.

By pairing them together they can have their idols be happy but there’s no woman to be jealous of. It’s a sort of coping mechanism.

Anyway, last year Louis got a girl pregnant and Twitter was awash with Directioners losing it. There was anger and disbelief, and the woman involved, Brianna Jungwirth, got a lot of flak, which wasn’t cool.

The conspiracy theory was that the pregnancy was bogus. Then the baby was born. Then they changed it to that the baby was a fake. And now it’s that Louis isn’t the father of the baby.

The idea is that the band’s management has orchestrated a fake pregnancy in order to cover up the fact that Larry is real. Brianna is, I guess, an actress? And the baby is someone else’s, and all of this is done to cover up the homosexual relationship.

Now, most conspiracy theories are a little nuts, but this one falls down early on because it just doesn’t make sense. Think of all the effort this would take to set up and all the people who might blab. And the reason for it doesn’t work either.

It’s 2016, and 1D are making serious bank. I doubt that if two came out as gay it would hurt their rep that much. Sure, they might take a hit as the anto-gay parents stop their kids listening, and maybe a few fans themselves would bail, but One Direction’s core audience is younger and you’d expect them to be more accepting. Hell, it might even win them a bigger gay audience.

The risk to gain ratio is all off. Faking a pregnancy is tough, and the potential gain from it doesn’t justify it.

The theory has apparently been bubbling away online for a while but it’s blown up recently with Brianna herself commenting on how upsetting reading all the analysis and accusations is (here’s a more detailed look at the theory). I can only imagine how awful it must be to know people are scrutinising your uploads and accusing you of lying.

It even made the front page of a national paper, admittedly The Star but still, it’s bizarre that it got this far.

image

Like all conspiracy theories it holds an odd fascination for me as I can’t quite get my head around why people feel like this and am unconvinced by their “evidence”. Like UFO nuts or flat earthers it’s a glimpse into a subsection of society who have some out there ideas.

But it’s important to remember the real people involved, and this might be hurtful for them. Also, I don’t envy Louis having to sit his son down at some point and explain all this.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: A Life Inside by Erwin James

Despite what the tabloids try and make out, you’d have to be a damn fool to think life in prison is a cushy, easy way to spend a few years. Yes, they’ve changed from the bread and water days of cold cells and violent guards but I’ve never understood why people think this is a bad thing. That’s progress and the whole point of prison should be rehabilitation, taking damaged, criminal people and helping them work out how to live less harmful lives.

A TV in the cell or a softish mattress isn’t going to make not being able to come and you go as you please any easier. It won’t make up for the fact you won’t be with loved ones for key life moments, or that you spend every day surrounded by strangers who may be violent and hostile.

This is what Erwin James talks about in his book, the day to day life on the inside. The little struggles, the routine and effect it has on people, James wrote columns for The Guardian and these are some of his entries from the early ’00s.

James captures the characters in the cells, telling their stories with open compassion, he details the social rules of prison life and the interactions between the prisoners and the system.

image

James’ writing is simple but engaging, with humour and humanity throughout. The entries are brief but he explores his themes with insight, and there is very little self pity. When he details the hardships of prison it is done more to educate the reader rather than to court sympathy.

Due to his life sentence James has seen things change in prison and it’s clear that many are for the best, and it’s hard not to be happy when he gets a transfer to open prison, which while more relaxed poses it’s own challenges.

He is a clever observer of behaviour and the book gives a great insight into what is at times a very difficult life. He offers a fair, kind view of life behind bars and allows the reader a real insight into a world most of us will hopefully never experience.

Verdict: Smart, honest and clever James is a skilled writer and engages the reader with his easy, insightful prose. He’s a likeable guide to prison life and it’s a great look into the life of prisoners. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #1- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

I’m currently watching Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the very first feature length Disney movie and the original Disney princess. I can’t remember when I first saw this movie, it was probably when I was a tot and we watched it on VHS.

image

My sisters and I had most of the Disney movies and a few were on heavy rotation, but this wasn’t one. It wasn’t because we hated it or anything, we just liked others more.

MWF, however, a hardcore Disney fan loves it and ranks it in her top 5. Part of this is because her Nana loved it so it has sentimental reasons too, but also because she loves that the success of the movie is the bedrock for the entire Disney legacy. This is why MWF gets quite miffed when the princess merch leaves Snow out.

Watching it as an adult I’m struck by a couple of things, the first being just how young Snow is. I know a lot of the Disney heroines are young, but few are as childlike as Snow.

She’s undeniably a girl and that’s what makes the Evil Queen’s rage and hatred so evil, she poses the direct opposite to the girlish and naive Snow. Seriously, Snow White is ridiculously nice, she drifts through the movie in this bubble of decency, and events kinda happen around her.

Some people get snooty about the Disney princesses and the example they set for girls, and it has to be said that Snow is a bit of a wet blanket. She never really stands up for herself and she’s prone to fainting, which isn’t that good. And she needs the Dwarfs and the Prince to save her, but I think given the time it was made we can cut it some slack. And Snow does teaches kids two things- be nice and don’t take stuff from strangers. Which are important lessons.

image

Snow, not a feminist icon

Which brings me to the Evil Queen, who is unbelievably Creepy. Some of the sequences with her in are Gothic delights and the creation of the poison apple must have been giving kids nightmares since 1937.

image

Creepy

Also her demise is incredibly macabre, like something from a German expressionist movie.

I guess it’s easy to be judge it and, sure, some of it hasn’t aged well (the songs are weak and unmemorable, “Heigh-Ho” aside). But some of it really stands up, the villain is solid and the art is fantastic

And there’s the dwarfs. They are magnificent even with their simple characterisation, and they are wonderfully entertaining. From the adorable Dopey to the group’s sourpuss Grumpy they all have a certain charm and help make the movie work.

image

Although you do wonder what rejected dwarfs like Tipsy, a drunk, or Burpy would have brought to the table.

It’s cheesy and dated in places, but it’s still quite good fun and looks great. Disney would develop and improve over the years, but the blueprint for their future successes are all on show here.

Disney Score: 3/5.

I’ve just been yelled at by MWF for only giving this 3 and she insists that I bump it up one as it’s her favourite. So, as I don’t want to be clouted we’ll amend the score slightly;

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 840 other followers