Would You Rather? Part 7: Art, Space and Tacos

…would you rather live in the wilderness far from civilization or live on the streets of a big city as a homeless person?

Homeless in a big city. I think in a city I could get by a bit better, I’m not really built for wilderness survival, whereas in a city I could probably scavenge food and get by.

Also, the loneliness living in the wilderness would get to me after a while. At least as a homeless person there’s some interaction with other people.

…be the first person to explore a new planet or be the person to find the cure for a deadly disease?

As cool as it would to boldly go where no man has gone before, finding a cure would probably be far more important and help more people.

…unlimited sushi or unlimited tacos for life?

Tacos would be more filling, surely? And I think it would take longer to get sick of them than it would of sushi.

….live in a world where all conspiracy theories are true or a world where none of the leaders know what they’re doing?

This is quite a tough one. Most conspiracy theories reveal a dark, callous secret force at work and that would suck.

But at the same time, wouldn’t a world of utterly incompetent rulers be worse? Their mistakes would probably leave us at greater risk.

…not be able to see any colours or have mild but constant tinnitus (ringing in the ears)?

If the tinnitus was really mild that would have to be preferable. I mean, aside from the inconvenience can you imagine going through life never seeing the colours in great art works, or films? Sod that, if I get to keep colours I’d put up with the ringing.

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…all dogs try and attack you when they see you or all birds attack you when they see you?

Dogs. I think there are more birds about and they seem to be everywhere. Also it has to be easier fighting off a dog than a dive bombing bird.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Twenty Tales from the War Zone by John Simpson

Like a lot of Brits, a lot of the major news stories of my life were delivered through my TV by John Simpson, the BBC’s foreign correspondent who always seemed to be in the most dangerous places. While he was often shown hunkering down as bullets and bombs flew, or engaged in a tense interview with a dictator, away from the news he seemed a affable, funny man. This book is a mix of both sides.

Each chapter is either based around a place or person, and it reads like a newer verse of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” dealing with the major stories of the last 40 years or so. The Troubles in Belfast, rebellion in Iran and Czechoslovakia, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, interviews with Gadaffi and Bin Laden and the fall of the Berlin Wall all appear.

They are quick accounts, but utterly fascinating all the same, with Simpson capturing the tension and peril, but also with little glimpses of wry humour and excitement. He enjoys the absurdity of sneaking into Afghanistan in a burqa or of meeting an old university friend at MI6 HQ. There’s an enthusiasm and focus on getting a story that runs throughout the book, and is obviously the driving force that made him go towards situations most would rather run from.

The tone shifts but the book flows well, and it works, capturing the scope of emotions he has experienced in his career. Simpson handles all of these well enough and his writing is involving.

This is a quick read, but it is a satisfying one. I will definitely check out the other books that Simpson has written.

Verdict: A good taster of Simpson’s stories and experiences as a reporter, the no frills writing is engaging and entertaining throughout. It’s an interesting glimpse of a life spent around historical momenta. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Dispatches from the Sofa by Frank Skinner

Frank Skinner is guaranteed a place in my heart because of “Three Lions” the anthemic song he wrote for the Euro ’96 championship. It’s one of those songs which is tied to my childhood and wrapped in emotions so tightly that even at 80 it’ll probably still stir the memory and feeling of being 11 and in love with football.

But even without this I think I’d be a Skinner fan. He’s just an incredibly funny and affable presence, I listened to his podcast for years and only my iPod dying stopped that. What I love about him is his ability to mix intelligence and silliness, his delight in cheesy puns and daft gags, and the fact that he can be crude but always with a slight wink to the audience.

This book, largely made up of his newspaper columns shows the same kind of mix. Taken from 2009-2011 the subjects are slightly dated, but the humour remains on point and Skinner is still on the mark about many things. Even when I disagreed with some of his ideas, they were still put forward well and with humour.

It’s a good book to dip in and out of and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I hope they do more collections as Skinner’s writing is well worth keeping going with.

Verdict: Witty throughout, Skinner has some good ideas and funny anecdotes and the columns make great reads for when you have five minutes to spare. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Deep Fried Oreos

That title right there is the answer to any “how’s the diet going” questions you might have. 

I’ve always found that question to come off as a little dickish. Sarcastically spoken to a chubster enjoying a treat or in obvious acknowledgment that it can’t be going well or they would have noticed the pounds falling away. 

(Holy Failure, Batman, that’s some awful meme making!)

Don’t ask your fat friend. If it is going well or badly they will tell you. If they don’t, they probably don’t want to talk about it.

Anyway.

On Wednesday MWF and I ordered a takeaway. MWF was between night shifts and I’m lazy, and it was far too hot to he cooking. So, we hit JustEat and searched for some grub.

We decided to go for Vic’s Fish and Chips, home of some amazing homemade onion rings. If you’re in the Barry area check them out they are lush.

One item I’d noticed on the menu were Oreos that had been deep fried and as it was pay day I indulged my curiosity.

Yummy.

I was worried they would be greasy but the batter was crisp and dry, and tasted nice and inside the gooey cookie was delicious. It was kinda like a doughnut, I guess but smaller and not as sickly. MWF had one and I snagged the other two. Would definitely have them again as they are pretty damn tasty.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Midnight by Chris Philbrook

Back to the zombies with the third instalment of Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series. As with the others this is told largely in the diaries of Adrian, an ex soldier holed up at a private school as the dead rise.

The second book ended with Adrian discovering that he wasn’t alone and welcoming people into his home. There’s also a threat from another group of survivors. Over the course of this book this feud comes to a head and other survivors are encountered.

It’s a quality read with the story developing nicely and there being a few nice twists and turns along the way. Adrian is also a great character with fragility, humour and fear creeping into his foul mouthed diaries. The action is quite gripping and while the diary format robs some of the tension, it still works as Philbrook is smart to use gaps between entries and short, angry or upset entries to give the impression things have gone wrong and put the reader on edge.

Philbrook also has rounded Adrian out and ensures the reader is engaged and invested in what happens to him.

There are also inserted chapters that take place elsewhere, which gives us different perspectives and fills in the gaps that Adrian can’t. One of these explains the cause of the zombie apocalypse and this is done well, different from other zombies stories. It also gives Philbrook routes to follow and feels fresh. This increases the creepy factor and creates an unsettling vibe and leaves more questions unansweed.

Looking forward to going back to Adrian’s world soon.

Verdict: The series goes from strength to strength. This part expands the world the story takes place in and ups the stakes. New characters and a few nice twists keep it fresh and hooked me in throughout. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Film Review: Wonder Woman

So far the DC extended universe (DCEU) has been playing catch up with Marvel who have built up their shared universe since 2008’s Iron Man. It’s easy to see why DC want to get in on the same kind of thing but unfortunately it’s all felt rather rushed. The first film worked on it’s own, but Man of Steel still had some flaws and the follow up, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice was hit and miss, and saw Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman thrown in the mix in a way which seemed a bit rushed. The less said about  Suicide Squad the better. 

So, having already met Wonder Woman what we have here is a flashback, an origin movie which takes us back to the First World War. Not that the war has had any impact on Themyscria, the idyllic, hidden island of the Amazons. Here, Princess Diana learns of the Amazons’ purpose, to guide mankind to peace and oppose the corrupting force of Ares, the God of War.

Diana wants to learn to fight, but her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) opposes this, as Ares is seemingly defeated and she has fears that Diana’s training and increasing strength will draw the attention of the war god if he is still out there. But Diana’s aunt, General Antiope (Robin Wright) is more cautious and secretly trains her niece, who becomes a skilled fighter but appears to have odd powers and enhanced strength.

After years of isolation the first man visits the island as Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands in the sea off the island attempting to flee with stolen plans of a new deadly German weapon. Diana rescues him but the Germans arrive and there is a short battle which leaves all the Germans and a few of the Amazons dead. Steve is taken prisoner and bound with the lasso of truth reveals his misssion, Diana believing that the villainous General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) is Ares in an attempt to continue the war.

In defiance of her mother’s wishes, Diana steals the godkiller sword and she leaves with Steve to the world of man. There they deliver the plans and are forbidden to attack Ludendorff as it may damage the delicate armistice talks. 

Diana is outraged when Steve agrees not to get involved, accusing him of lying to her, but he reveals he plans a secret mission, gathering old allies and receiving assistance from Sir Patrick Morgan (David Thewlis), a politician attempting to sort out a peace but determined not to lose more lives or allow Ludendorff to find a weapon to extend the war.

Can Diana stop Ludendorff? Is he actually Ares? What will she think of man’s world and is she ready for the horrors of the front?

This movie’s major strength is Gadot, who not only looks the part as a strong warrior woman but who also captures the character’s journey very well. She excels in the action sequences and shows Diana’s steely determination throughout, while also doing well with the script’s more humourous aspects. She also shows Diana’s confusion and wonder at the things she encounters and the “fish out of water” vibe works well.

As Diana progresses she becomes disillusioned with mankind and the war, and the film is clever in avoiding merely blaming Ares for mankind’s conflict. When Ares faces Diana he talks about how the darkness was inside man and he just guides them to better weapons, hoping to destroy them and have the world return to the paradise it once was. 

The war is hell aspect of the film is decent and a good angle, but the handling is poor. The horrors of war are shown in an oddly bloodless way, and while there are hints that both sides do wrong this does paint the Germans as the bad guys in a way which simplifies the complex reasons for WWI and the fact that neither side really held a moral highground.

Also, it’s hard to say that war is bad when the film delights in the Amazons’ fighting. The battle on the beach between Amazons and Germans is filled with slow motion, which is overused throughout. The Amazons’ skills are presented as cool and admirable, but it’s still basically war. And it feels odd that we get a sombre moment of a dying Amazon as though this is some great tragedy, when they have literally just killed half a dozen soldiers with arrows. It feels fumbled and half done.

That being said, the action sequences are, slow mo aside, quite well done, especially a sequence where Diana charges across no man’s land under heavy fire to save civilians. It’s a solid sequence and visually striking.

But in a way the problem here is that Diana is too strong, too powerful. There are only one and a half characters who can really go toe-to-toe with her and aside from these fights the rest of the battles feel one sided and lacking peril. It’s a similar issue that DC face with Superman, their heroes being too pumped up and often without decent foes.

But for the most part the movie works, landing more hits than misses and entertaining throughout. It’s definitely the funniest of the DCEU movies and a good background for the charcter, even if it doesn’t move anything forward. In fact it adds more questions, like what the hell has Diana been doing between 1918 and throwing down in BvS: DoJ?

Special mention should also go to Chris Pine who does good work here. He shares good chemistry with Gadot, and his Steve Trevor is a likeable character. Heroic without being too clean cut, Steve is a good counterpoint to Diana. Both see the horrors but Diana’s fresh eyes make her willing to deviate from their mission in a way his more jaded view is less inclined to do. And he acknowledges that people can be bad, whereas it takes a while for Diana to dismiss the idea that it is all down to Ares.

I’m definitely interested in seeing more of the character and it bodes well for the DCEU going forward as this is definitely the strongest entry since Man of Steel and left me excited for Justice League.

Verdict: Has it’s flaws but generally works quite well. Gadot is good as the lead and the script manages a decent balance in tone. Stumbles in places but manages to stride out with pride. 7.5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #13: Alice in Wonderland

I’m going to be upfront with you, I’ve never been overly fussed with Lewis Carroll’s creation and none of the versions I’ve seen have won me over. I think it’s because there’s a sense of self conscious, deliberate, quirky weirdness to the whole thing. It’s clearly a matter of taste as this is one of MWF’s favourite Disney movies, whereas in the Page house it was one of the ones which got taken off the shelf less often.

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For the unfamiliar, the story follows a young girl named Alice (Kathryn Beaumont) who winds up in a weird place called wonderland filled with unusual characters and creatures, where the rules of logic and sense don’t apply. The plot is kinda hard to nail down as it’s less of an overall story and more just a series of episodes as Alice goes along bumping into different characters.

It’s not without any charm and some of the visuals are quite striking and interesting in their psychedelic weirdness. There are some nice little touches along the way such as how the different flowers are portrayed and the whole size-shifting aspect is used rather well. I also like the croquet sequence with the Queen of Hearts, who falls somewhere between unpredictably scary and ridiculous, which seems the best way to approach the character.

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The “Very Merry Unbirthday” song is quite catchy, and the weirdness plays better in animated form, because at least you can’t see the actors trying their damndest to be “mad” (yes, I am talking to you, Mr. Depp). But some of it still feels like it’s trying to hard and some aspects like the Dodo don’t work for me. It feels like too many ideas were being thrown around and a lot more could have been dumped to make the film flow better.

It’s not a terrible movie at any rate, but with Alice being a bit annoying and it all feeling rather fragmented, it’s not the most satisfying either. I mean, it uses the “it was all a dream” ending that we were told to avoid at GCSE!

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Mrs F, my old English teacher probably hates this ending.

That being said, it’s probably my favourite film version of the story.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Would You Rather? Part 6: Spam, Porridge and Glass Houses

…would you rather go to jail for 4 years for something you didn’t do or get away with something horrible but spend the rest of your life in fear of being caught?

This is a pretty tough one, because I have no desire to go to prison. I don’t think it’s the kind of situation I would thrive in. That being said four years isn’t that long, relatively speaking and compared to spending the rest of my life feeling (a) guilty for my horrible crime and (b) constantly afraid, would be far more stressful.

So, strangely I think I would have to go with the prison for a crime I didn’t commit. At least I’d have something in common with the A-Team then.

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…be transported 500 years into the past or the future?

This is a pretty tricky one. While 1517 would be grim as hell, at least you kinda know what you’re getting and you’d be more advanced than them, knowledge wise. I mean, sure that might lead them to burning you as a witch or something, but it beats the alternative.

Who knows what kind of almighty mess 2517 is going to be? And you’d be 500 years behind them, they’d view you as some sort of backwards fool. Nope, in this case, I’d go back.

…be free from junk mail or be free from spam?

Spam. Junk mail is a pain, obviously, but it’s less frequent, I get junk mail once, twice a month at most, but spam is a daily thing. Also, as far as I know, junk mail can’t install a virus in your house or drain your bank accounts.

…live in a house with see through walls in the middle of a city or the same house but in the forests far away?

Obviously in the forest. Sure, you’d be miles away from everywhere, but the chances of getting looked at are less. I’m guessing the question means all the walls are see through, so there would be no privacy anywhere.

I’d rather not live my whole life like some kind of strange art exhibit, and that’s before we even get into the territory of the bathroom and the bedroom. Nope, I’d rather not shower in front of a whole city, thank you.

…wake up every morning to find a random animal appendage has replaced your non dominant arm or swap your bottom half permanently for an animal of your choosing?

This is brilliantly bizarre.

While the animal appendages might be quite interesting and a good talking point, some of them would probably be massively useless/inconvenient. So, I’m probably looking at going half animal. I think a centaur would be too impractical and take up too much room.

So, maybe a faun? With goat legs? Or maybe kangaroo legs, because then I could get some impressive jumps in. Although it might make me look like second string Spidey villain the Kangaroo.

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….spend the rest of your life with a sailboat as your home or an RV as your home?

RV. It’s just more practical isn’t it? You can go more places, with a sailboat you’re stuck on the coast all the time.

…be unable to move when it rains or unable to stop moving when the sun shines?

I think the obvious one is be unable to stop moving when it’s sunny. Isn’t it?

I mean, paralysis whenever it rains seems more of an inconvenience, especially as I live in Wales where it rains a lot of the time. Also, at least some kind of weird, twitchy dance movement would be embarrassing, but imagine freezing up in the middle of town when a shower starts.

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Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Good Immigrant by Nikesh Shukla (Editor)

As a white British man my life is largely unaffected by race. I am the default, the traditional and the assumed. When people ask where I come from “Neath” will suffice, perhaps with more clarification for those not familiar with Wales (“Neath, it’s just by Swansea”), but that’s where it ends. A few of the writers in this collection of essays, and a friend, get more questions “No, where are you from, originially”. Their race differentiates them, and makes some view them as not entirely British. Which is bollocks of course, race and nationality not being the same thing.

Of course, I know that Britain has a diverse population, with Brits who have family history from all over the world. And I know that race is still a very big deal and effects people’s lives everyday. But these are superficial observations, and thankfully this book provided me with a more diverse, nuanced look at what life is like for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Brits.

The contributors discuss their family histories, the way they feel about how their culture is represented (or isn’t), how attitudes towards race effect their lives and our society. Issues like stereotyping, Western beauty standards, cultural appropriation and more are on show and the book is continually enlightening.

I learnt more about Cyprus and it’s history, something I previously knew about in vague terms, gleaned from half remembered news reports and the tactical voting of Eurovision. I had to reflect on how I am guilty of viewing my white experience as being the norm or universal British experience. 

It gave me pause when one contributor, Darren Chetty, discussed how few children’s stories feature diverse characters and how that effects the audience who don’t see themselves represented, to the point they don’t think stories about people like them are valid.

There are pieces that amused and others that moved me, with the different voices ensuring a variety of tones and styles. Of course, as with all collections, there are some you connect with more and favourites. 

It’s a book I found easy to read, dipping in and out over a few days, even if it raised difficult questions. How often do I stereotype people? What would I do if I witnessed someone being racially abused? Why is race still so divisive and can Britain improve how we integrate and deal with the complexities of a multicultural society?

It’s a book I strongly recommend, it’s always good to have a look at life from someone else’s perspective, and it prompts discussion that we need to have. The writers are a good mix of the serious and more light hearted in terms of tone, but every one is interesting and well worth a read.

Verdict: A very interesting book about an important subject, this gives the reader lots to think about and includes some fantastic writers. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #48: Scott Pilgrim vs the World

Years ago a friend of mine recommended I check out Brian Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim comics. I was told they were fun and essentially about a Canadian version of me. I read the series and loved it, although I realised that being compared to Scott wasn’t a compliment. When Edgar Wright (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) was announced to direct a big screen version I was pretty stoked.

Luckily the movie turned out to be a belter, not least because it bravely decided to keep the title character, played by Michael Cera, a bit of a douchebag. He’s dim, self absorbed and sort of obnoxious. It’s a nice change for Cera who while still in his geeky comfort zone at least branches out from the essentially nice guys he normally plays.

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The plot sees Scott fall for mysterious new girl in town Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) despite already dating Knives Chau (Ellen Wong). Ramona turns out to have seven evil exes, and in order to claim her hand he must defeat them. This is because despite being a geeky bass player, Scott has some mad fighting skills which helps him in the OTT, video game inspired fight sequences.

Wright shoots it brilliantly with a fast, fun pacing and visual flair, there are nods to computer games, on screen sound effects in the style of the ’66 Batman series (RIP Adam West) and a plethora of sight gags and quality one liners.

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The supporting cast is brilliant across the board, particularly Chris Evans and Brandon Routh who play two of the exes. Routh plays the douchey guy who stole Scott’s ex and boasts psychic powers due to his veganism, one of many delightfully daft touches in a movie which is seriously fun.

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The Evil Exes

There are also minor roles for Audrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick and Kieran Culkin.

Cera is fantastic, with the self absorbed Scott slowly realising where he’s gone wrong and finally standing up to the final ex, Gideon (Jason Schwartzman). The fight scene sees him lose, but in a nice touch he can cash in the “extra life” he picked up earlier in the movie, and allows him another attempt, where he realises he isn’t fighting for love but his own self respect.

And in the end he realises that he has to make amends for all the stupid, selfish things he did and become a better person.

The movie is a geeky delight, and full of charm. It also cements Wright as a seriously talented director making me regret that we never got his version of Ant Man, and looking forward to Baby Driver.

A fun filled, fast flowing film which captivates me on every rewatch.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.