My Favourite Films #45: The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars was a game changer in many ways, in terms of blockbusters and memorabilia but it’s the second movie in the original trilogy that’s impact is still felt. Countless film series made since has attempted to follow the Empire model with the second movie having a darker, more downbeat ending that leaves the heroes in poor shape before they rally in the third part.

But although often imitated, The Empire Strikes Back has never been matched and is still the stand out movie in the four part Star Wars saga. I fell in love with the first movie, but it paled when I saw this one, and this is where I became a lifelong fan of the series.

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Unlike a lot of movies which include a massive twist, this movie is more than just that big reveal. The moment where the villainous Darth Vader (body by David Prowse, voice by James Earl Jones) reveals that Obi Wan was telling porkies and that he is actually Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) father is one that has slightly lost it’s impact thanks to countless rip offs and gags, but for audiences in 1980 it must have been an absolute stunner.

If I have kids I’m going to show them the Star Wars trilogy at a young age and hopefully ensure that this twist is fresh for them, as it’ll probably make more of an impact.

The reveal sets up the finale brilliantly, but it also contributes to the downbeat ending which made Empire so special. The end of the movie finds our heroes in a bad way, Luke is reeling from the news his enemy is his papa and has lost a hand, Leia (Carrie Fisher) has finally admitted that she loves Han Solo (Harrison Ford), only to see him frozen and taken prisoner.

But the ending doesn’t depress you. Luke has a robot hand and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) sets off to find Han. It leaves the audience hooked- will they be able to rescue their old friend? How will Luke and Vader’s next meeting go? And will the war with the Empire ever be over?

The defeat they suffer works because it delivers on it’s title. If a villain is always vanquished they begin to lose their edge for audiences (see the Daleks), what they got right in this series was that while the Empire had lost the first movie they win this one, and the good guys barely escape. It makes the villains all the more evil, and more of a threat, it’s a smart move.

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Of course, a solid ending isn’t enough and what makes this such a cracker is everything that builds up to it. We find the Rebels on a snowy planet and Han debating leaving as he needs to sort out the bounty hunters on his trail. His decision to leave causes an argument between him and Leia, and suggests that there is a growing attraction there.

Ford and Fisher, who we recently found out were getting it on behind the scenes, have phenomenal chemistry on screen and their bickering, flirty scenes together are among the best in film. The story splits up our group, leaving Leia, Han, Chewie and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) on the run and trying to find a safe place to hole up, while Luke travels to continue his Jedi training.

This is another aspect that would work for first time viewers, the reveal of Yoda (Frank Oz). When Luke seeks out the Jedi Master who taught Obi Wan the audience expects a great warrior and intergalactic badass, the revelation that the little green man is actually the master is a nice subversion of expectations.

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Yoda’s wisdom and training sees Luke develop his skills, and this is an interesting storyline as we see Luke get stronger and discover more about the Force.

This movie improves on the first by adding to the characters and by having a superior script, shown not only in Han and Leia’s flirtations, but throughout. And there are memorable moments throughout- the AT-ATs advancing through the snow, the trippy sequence where Luke faces his fears, the climactic fight.

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I love this movie because it’s great fun, and shows us more of the universe. It also introduces Lando Calrissian, played by Billy Dee Williams, who is pretty damn suave.

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It’s a perfect middle movie for a trilogy, which doesn’t just act as a bridge but serves to up the stakes, grow the story and ensure the audience is even more invested in the characters.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Twelve Grand by Jonathan Rendall

I bought this book because I’d seen a documentary inspired by it, where Rendall was given £12k by Channel 4 and had to gamble it all away. It was quite interesting, and I liked Rendall’s sarcastic, louche presence.

This book sees him get a similar offer from a publishing company, but instead of being a true story this is a work of fiction, albeit with the bets and amount being true.

The hero is a fictionalised version of Rendall, an alcoholic writer who at the start receives bad news from the doctor. He then gets the offer, and while he debates not doing the job, he realises that if he doesn’t win the £12k back he’ll have to write the book he isn’t fussed on.

Rendall jumps between his gambling efforts and his past, stories of school and lost love, which intertwines with the present. He meets his teenage love in a New Orleans strip club as a young journalist, and then at the end tracks her down in Vegas.

It’s a dark, sordid book in some ways. The narrator drinks and smokes throughout, planning to con his publishers and make off with the money. He visists depressing casinos, dive bars and strip clubs, accompanied by unscrupulous friends and shattered strangers.

It’s extremely well written though and I liked that the narrator frequently uses abbreviations and acronyms, and that the more out of it gets the more these slip in. Some sequences are made of short, almost incomprehensible abbreviations, as though based on a drunk’s scrappy notes.

I also liked that given that the book takes place in 1997 there are references to a pre-fall Gary Glitter, and that Princess Diana’s death influences our writer. The national mourning gives the cynical, closed off narrator a chance to weep, a release valve for all the darkness that lurks within.

There’s dark comedy throughout, and through it all there’s something engaging about our narrator, who despite his at times selfish, bleak view of life is likeable enough. Swinging from defeatist gloom to optimistic daydreaming, he is an accurate representation of an addict and gambler. Sure he is in control, and has got the balance, unaware of how close to the brink he teeters.

I really loved it, the sort of dark, enthralling read that makes the underbelly of gambling life both bleak and oddly enticing.

Verdict: Might be too dark and grim for some, but I liked the down and dirty vibe, the striking writing and the narrator. A good read, and a glimpse into addiction, loneliness and regret. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Disney Classics #10: Melody Time

Another compilation movie, which like Make Mine Music uses popular music as the driving force behind many of the sections. And again, the results are a mixed bag.

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These package movies were later cut up and distributed in different ways and the opener “Once Upon a Wintertime” must have appeared on a Christmas video because I’d seen it before. The short is rather quaint, dealing with a young couple who go skating on a frozen pond and there’s a nice touch in having the young lovers followed and copied by a pair of lovestruck bunnies.

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Quaint and sweet

It’s all cutesy stuff, but not without its charms and there’s a little bit of action as tragedy almost befalls them thanks to some thin ice and a waterfall. It’s decent enough, and in the context of this movie one of the high points.

The low comes courtesy of a section called “Trees” which is instantly forgettable. Another duff entry is the story of Johnny Appleseed, who is apparently an American folk hero. Why is hard to see from this offering as the story seems to be that this fella went and grew apples in the West. That’s it. I’m sure the real story has more to it, but here it’s all rather dull.

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Johnny Appleseed, one boring, boring folk tale

Johnny goes West, befriends the critters, plants the trees and these help the westward expansion of America. I don’t want to get too political here, but even for a kids’ movie this dumbs down the pioneer years and we see Native Americans briefly at a festival where they celebrate apples, everyone is happy with the new status quo. Most worryingly is a kind of manifest destiny vibe where Johnny’s guardian angel tells him to go West to help the frontiersmen, as if the whole thing is divinely mandated.

The musical accompaniment is alright, but the story is rather uninvolving. Slightly more entertaining is “Blame it on the Samba” which reunites Donald Duck and Jose Carioca for the third time. This upbeat number is quite fun and the visuals, featuring the cartoon characters interacting with live action organ player Ethel Smith. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be a story or much of a point, and it’s just a nice upbeat part.

Similarly “Bumble Boogie”, which presents a jazzy update of “Flight of the Bumblebee” is quite fun. It’s got a surreal vibe and the marriage of music and visuals is well done, with the musical instruments morphing into flowers and other things which the bee hero navigates his way through.

The remaining two sections have clearer stories and the first of these, “Little Toot” sung by the Andrews Sisters is quite good fun, dealing with a young tugboat who wants to be like his dad but only succeeds in causing trouble before coming good.

The last section, and the one which closes the film, is the story of Western folk legend Pecos Bill and is narrated by Roy Rogers. It’s got some nice moments, mainly from the hyperbolic exploits of the hero, who lassos a tornado and uses lightning to light a cigarette. There’s a goofy spirit to the proceedings and it’s probably the most fun of the sections, and the story is well done. The visuals are reminiscent of the madcap Looney Tunes style and it has an energy which is lacking elsewhere.

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Pecos Bill in action

Again the wilderness period throws up another package film, and this one has more misses than hits. While the art is solid throughout, and the marriage of live action and animation is slicker here, it still feels lacklustre and too much seems to be included to bump up the running time.

I can’t wait to get back to proper feature length stories, oh well, at least the end of the wilderness period is in sight now.

Disney Score: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Disclaimer: I have tried but there are a few spoilers ahead, so be warned.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy movie was a surprising gem of a movie, with James Gunn bringing a smaller, more obscure Marvel team to the big screen and expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the cosmos. It’s among my favourites of the Marvel movies and so this follow up arrives with additional pressure the first didn’t.

Luckily it never allows this pressure to effect it’s performance and while a couple of gags are revisited, this strikes out into fresh territory.

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Having saved the universe Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) discovered his father was not of Earth. This mystery continues to bug him, but he pushes it awau as he leads the Guardians. We find them defeating a gigantic space beast to the backing of ELO’s “Mr Blue Sky”, the action largely in the background as Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the child reincarnation of the team’s living tree, dances about happily.

The team has been hired to stop the monster by the Sovereign, led by High Priestess Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki). The Sovereign, a gold skinned race have bred their people to be the best they can be, and so view their citizens as too precious to risk. Their fee is the handover of Gamora’s (Zoe Saldana) villainous adopted sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) who they plan to hand over to the Nova Corps.

All goes well and they leave. Aboard the ship Peter apologises to Gamora for having flirted with Ayesha, but she brushes this off. Drax (Dave Bautista) advises Peter that he has no chance with Gamora and should instead find someone “pathetic” like he is. Shortly after the Sovereign chase them as on their way out the gruff, gun toting raccoon Rocket  (voiced by Bradley Cooper) stole valuable and powerful batteries from them.

Rocket and Peter argue about who is the better pilot and their struggle for control damages the ship. Luckily, the remote controlled pursuers are destroyed by a mysterious figure who arrives astride his own ship. The Guardians escape but crash land, their ship severely damaged.

Ayesha’s next move is to recruit Yondu (Michael Rooker), the alien who abducted Peter as a child to capture the Guardians. We learn that some of the crew think Yondu is going soft and that his team of Ravagers are outsiders to the other clans, with his old friend Stakar (Sylvester Stallone) who says he is an exile because he broke the code, and traded in children.

The Guardians meet Ego (Kurt Russell), who is Peter’s father and a Celestial, beings with great power who live for millions of years. Ego takes Peter, Gamora and the musclebound Drax to teach Peter more of his past.

Rocket and Baby Groot remain to fix the ship and keep an eye on Nebula. Unfortunately, the Ravagers arrive. Yondu announces he has no intention of handing over the Guardians, as there is more money to be made from taking the batteries and selling them on. The crew view this as proof he is too soft on Peter, and they mutiny. Nebula, released by Baby Groot, intervenes and Yondu and Rocket are imprisoned.

Nebula heads after Gamora for revenge, and Yondu and Rocket learn they will be sold to former enemies. Yondu is also not happy to learn that Peter has gone to Ego’s home world.

Ego’s planet is an idyll where he lives almost alone aside from Mantis (Pom Klementieff), an empath who he treats almost as a pet and who has no social skills due to being alone for so long. Ego reveals he is the planet and that Peter shares his ability to create things, and Ego wants to teach him about his powers and his purpose.

Gamora, however, is suspicious which causes friction between her and Peter. After an argument she storms off alone where Nebula attacks, they fight and then discover something Ego has hidden from them.

Can they trust Ego? Can Yondu and Rocket escape? Will the Sovereign ever stop hunting them?

I loved this movie, which captures the same vibe of the original, with solid action sequences, likeable characters and a funny, clever script. The plot hooks you in because early on the characters win you over, particularly Chris Pratt’s Star-Lord, who’s cocky swagger is still in place but mention of his father in an early scene obviously hits close to home. It’s a great performance with Pratt managing to make the character cool despite his buffoonery and the fact that he often trips himself up.

The rest of the Guardians are solid throughout, and it’s a nice touch bringing Nebula back as her relationship with Gamora is fleshed out slightly. Also, the “unspoken thing” between Star-Lord and Gamora develops nicely, and a lot is gained by underplaying it.

A lot of the publicity for the movie has focused on Baby Groot, and it’s easy to see why as he is straight up adorable and centre stage for some of the funniest moments of the film.

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For me, however, the film’s strongest asset is Michael Rooker as Yondu. Rooker is consistently dependable on screen (Cliffhanger, Mallrats, The Replacement Killers, The Walking Dead, Tombstone), and has far more to do this time round, which is good as he impressed me in the original. Here we learn more of Yondu’s past and it adds to the character, as does the development of his relationship with Star-Lord and Ego. The plot that sees him in exile from the other Ravagers gives him a certain vulnerability, and he’s brought low early on.

His comeback is impressive and one of the strongest parts of the film, and the sequence where he and Rocket escape, and he gets revenge on the crew who mutinied is a masterpiece, one of the most visually impressive, inventive and darkly funny action sequences I’ve seen in years, and worth the ticket price alone. And his “magic arrow” weapon is just badass.

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Rooker’s softening of the character doesn’t mean that Yondu loses anything, and in fact, the character’s slow acceptance of his softer side coincides with the film’s major theme, which is about creating our own families. Yondu and Star-Lord’s father and son vibe, is well handled and Yondu is thereby placed opposite Ego, who slowly reveals a more sinister, cynical nature.

Ego is brilliantly played by the legendary Kurt Russell, who brings an easy charm to his early scenes. His laidback, jokey manner is similar to Star-Lord’s character and their bonding over the music Peter’s late mother loved is gentle and sweet.

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Kurt Russell, legend

Of course, all is not as it seems. Having won over Peter, his facade slips and the invented history he has created is shown to have been romanticised, but the film holds back one more revelation which delivers a gut punch to Peter and the audience, and serves as the turning point for the film.

The action, set on strange new worlds is glorious, the fights have energy and verve, with moments of humour dotted between the blows. The visuals are striking, and there are some nice nods to other Marvel worlds throughout.

But more than just looking great and keeping the laughs flowing, this movie has a strong emotional core. Ego’s shocking statement leaves the audience reeling, but come the end of the movie the other characters and how they work together has you emotionally invested, and breaks your heart. I’m not ashamed to say that during a sequence soundtracked by Cat Stevens I found myself welling up.

Thanos, the villain Marvel have been hyping since the first Avengers movie still lurks in the background, but this serves less as a movie to move the MCU forward, and more a film to move the characters forward. The films pulls the team closer together and the promise at the end that “The Guardians of the Galaxy Will Return” is one I’m very happy about.

A strong contender for the best Marvel film yet, and current frontrunner for film of the year.

Verdict: Builds well on the first movie, adding more to the characters and their relationships. It’s entertaining from start to finish, with superb action, humour and a decent plot. An utter gem. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


My Favourite Films #44: Star Wars

Disclaimer: Before any fans get narked, I know that’s not the full title, but putting it all in would be awfully long and you all know which movie I mean.

I must have seen the Star Wars films as a little kid, but I can’t really remember much from those childhood viewings apart from the chase sequence in Jedi. What I do remember is the 20th anniversary special editions. I was almost twelve and they came out just as I was on the brink of geekdom, it was the perfect time for me to see them again.

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I can remember the music starting, and the opening scrawl and then that amazing opening shot with Leia’s ship emerging on the screen followed by the imposing Star Destroyer, chasing it across the stars. Even years later the sheer scale of that shot works well and on a big screen it was phenomenal.

The whole opening is done supremely well, especially the entrance of Darth Vader (David Prowse, voice by James Earl Jones).


A million lunchboxes and three dodgy prequels later, Vader has lost his edge somewhat, but on that first watch he’s a menacing presence. Striding imperiously over the bodies of the enemy, his raspy breath and dark, cloaked figure is memorable and has become understandably iconic.
The plot is known to many and quite simple, but a simple story executed well is far better than a complicated one that is bungled. Farm boy Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) dreams of adventure and the wider galaxy when he gets a hold of Princess Leia’s (Carrie Fisher) message for help.

He meets old warrior Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) who explains that he was a friend of Luke’s father before Darth Vader killed him. He begins to train Luke in the use of the Force, a cosmic energy force that flows through all things.

They recruit roguish smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and his copilot Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). They head for Alderaan, Leia’s home planet but arrive after it is destroyed by the Empire’s latest weapon the Death Star.

What follows is a story of adventure and heroism as our heroes rescue Leia and deliver the plans for the base. It has a single weak spot and Luke joins the pilots in the attack as the lethal space station closes in on the Rebel base.
It’s hard to look at Star Wars without the cultural baggage that it carries now, without nostalgia and as a movie on its own merits. But this isn’t a review, its a love letter.

I love the world of the movie, I love the bustling energy of the cantina, the scruffiness of Han Solo and his ship the Millennium Falcon. It has a lived in feel that the sterile ships of other sci-fi often lack. They want everything to look cool and shiny, forgetting that people are meant to live there.

I love the characters, from Hamill’s likeable goofiness as the space bumpkin Luke to the bickering droids. I love that Princess Leia takes charge of the guys who are trying, ineptly, to rescue her.

The late, great Carrie Fisher is superb. She makes Leia a strong, confident character who rolls with the bunches and who stands defiant against the forces of the Empire. She runs rings around the swaggering Solo and is an utter delight.

But let’s face it, Han Solo is still the coolest guy in the movie. Harrison Ford brings his easy charm to the role, with a laid back swagger and sarcastic, cynical outlook. But he’s winging it the whole time, surviving on a mix of luck, skill and his comrades.


He’s the old gunslinger who tries to play like he doesn’t care about anything other than money and his own life, but when the chips are down he roars back to make the save.

The action is well done, and while the Vader vs Kenobi fight is hardly a masterpiece of fight choreography it is well performed. Guinness delivers his lines brilliantly, giving depth and power beyond the cliches. He goes into the fight seeming to know that this is the end, but goes to it with dignity, knowing that this isn’t really the end.

The effects have aged in places, but the special edition make over makes up for it, and some of the sequences still hold up. In fact the models and costumes hold up better than most CG will in years to come.

I love the rousing ending, the glorious John Williams score and the ingredients mix to make a film that still fills me with the geeky excitement and love that washed over my twelve year old self.

I love the fun vibe, the dialogue which at times is a little clunky, I love it all.

A pure, simple treat of a movie. It holds up because of the great characters, the simple story of good vs evil and the bags of charm it has. It’s a movie I return to when I want that blast of childish joy, to lose myself in a simpler world with familiar faces.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Would You Rather? Part 3: Singing, Solitude and Snooping

Would you rather find your true love or a suitcase with £5m inside?

Well, as I’ve already met my true love I’m set for that, so the £5m would be a lot more useful.

Would you rather be completely invisible for one day or be able to fly for one day?

If this was a long term thing I would pick flight because I just think that would be cooler, and I think being invisible would be more annoying than people think.

But for one day it might be quite fun to sneak around and see what goes on behind closed doors, and I don’t mean that in a creepy “go into the girls’ showers” way. I think it would be interesting to go snooping in the corridors of power or just see what celebrities do in their own homes.

Basically I’m a nosy bugger.

Would you rather have to read aloud every word you read or sing everything you say out loud?

It has to be the singing, doesn’t it?

As embarrassing as that would be, imagine having to read out every text message you received, or every private letter or email? Not only would you look a bit of a numpty but you’d also potentially embarrass others and create all kinds of dramas.

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So, on this one I’d rather walk around singing everything like a tone deaf Phantom.

Would you rather live a comfortable and peaceful life in a small cabin in the woods or life full of conflict in a mansion in the city? 

Small cabin in the woods. Who wants conflict all the time? Easy one, that.

Would you rather your shirts always be two sizes too big or one size too small?

As an insecure fat man, I would obviously go for the two sizes too big. I hate clothes that cling to me, as they seem to accentuate my belly and other wobbly bits.

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That being said, I was once told by a girl in a club that I’d look better in less baggy clothes. It was a while back after I’d lost some weight and the shirt was hanging off me, but it was an odd backhanded compliment to receive from a stranger.

Would you rather have edible spaghetti hair that regrows every night or sweat maple syrup?

Sweating syrup sounds utterly revolting. You’d be sticky all the time when it got hot, have to change your sheets every day and get chased by bees all the damn time.

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Edible spaghetti hair for me, I think.

Would you rather be lost in a bad part of town or lost in the woods?

Neither seems ideal, but at least a bad part of town has streets and signposts so that I could work my way out. I’d rather that than blindly stumbling through the woods, running into who knows what.

Also, call me soft but even in “bad parts” of town most people are basically alright and if you asked for directions they’d help you out.

In the woods I’d have to try and remember things like what side of the tree moss grows on, or pray to find someone out in the woods.

Disagree? You know what to do. BETEO.


Well Read? Better to Just, Well, Read

The othet day I was reading the paper and there was a list slotted among the articles. Compiled by a website it was a list of books that people lie about having read.

I can see why people lie about what they read, or at least I used to. When I was younger I would worry more about what others thought of me.

As I’ve gotten older it’s been less important to me. I’m not saying I’ve cast off insecurity and self consciousness entirely, but the anxiety of being seen as stupid or uncultured has diminished.

Take the list above, there was a time when I would have stated that I had read 9 of those. But now I’ll fess up. I’ve read 6. And parts of three.

I managed to slog through The Fellowship of the Ring, helped by my decision to skip all the songs, seriously Tolkien was not a great poet. But a few chapters into The Two Towers I decided life was too short and I’d just wait for the movie. I don’t see anything embarrassing about admitting that I find the man’s writing painfully long winded and dull. He saps the energy from action sequences and in a thousand words makes you care less about a character than some can do in a page. 

I was probably too young when I tried to read The Diary of Anne Frank and at some point I’ll have another go, and be kinder on the teenage narrator. 

I was a kid and I found the early stages self absorbed, but I think as someone who grow up to share my opinions online I can see why writing things down helped her (and not want to throw stones in my lovely glass house). And like I said, be more forgiving of a writer who wrote for herself in an immensely difficult time.

The final one I could claim to have read is George Orwell’s  1984. I’ve taken two tilts at it, but never got to the end. It’s undoubtedly clever, filled with great ideas and foresight. But for me it lacks heart, the characters don’t engender warmth and I grew bored. It was a story I cared little for taking place in an interesting and well crafted world, but you need a book to grip you. You need to care, and I didn’t. 

I’ve since become a fan of Orwell’s nonfiction writing but can’t bring myself to rally for a third assault on his most famous work.

Here’s the thing, nobody should feel like they have to lie about what they’ve read. Read what you like. 

I used to read those “100 books you MUST read” lists, and take pride in how many I scored. But I care less for them. 

Too many books I love don’t feature. Ed McBain, World War Z, Roald Dahl, A Song of Ice and Fire, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bernard Cornwell, Terry Pratchett- you don’t see them there.

And they always feature Charles bloody Dickens. Gods, has a writer ever been hyped so much. I struggled through Great Expectations as an A Level English Literature student, a slow torturous read lacking incident or excitement in every rambling, dreary page. It holds an unshakeable place on my list of least favourite books.

I’m convinced that Dickens makes these lists not because those asked genuinely love the books but because they feel they should. His books are regarded as classics, he’s a titan in English literary history, so one of his books at least must be there. And someone will write about them because they want to look cultured.

Balls to that.

You like the books you like. Don’t let some sneering snob make you feel bad because you prefer Dahl to Dickens, Sue Townsend to Tolkien, that you threw Moby Dick aside three chapters in for Bridget Jones. It’s better that you’re enjoying reading, and spending your hard earned on what you want not what you’re told you should be reading.

People complain that we read less, but then they slag off what they read. And why is “classic” status never questioned? 

Never let someone make you feel bad for not having read something. Ask them if they’ve read your favourite book, and tut if they say no. Or arrange a cultural exchange. You both might discover a new book you like.

Incidentally the one book I haven’t read on the list is Jane Eyre, which has filled space on my Kindle for quite some time. Must give it a go sometime.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #9: Fun and Fancy Free

This movie is essentially a double feature of shorter stories, and both parts are pretty decent, if flawed.

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The linking device is Jiminy Cricket (Cliff Edwards), who sets up both stories. Firstly he arrives in a playroom where he plays a record which plays music by Dinah Shore that serves as narration for the first part.

This deals with the story of Bongo, a circus bear who fed up of his “gilded cage” escapes and winds up living in the woods. He struggles to adapt at first but soon finds his feet and falls for Lulubelle.

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Unfortunately, having been raised in the circus he has no idea of bear courtship rituals which apparently involve slapping each other, and he is hurt when Lulubelle strikes him. Lulubelle then gets grabbed by the hulking, bullying Lumpjaw. When Bongo realises his mistake he runs back to Lulubelle and fights off his rival.

I kinda dug this part because the story is quite well done and the action is madcap and fun. There’s also a marvellously surreal sequence as Bongo and Lulubelle fall in love, which is rather trippy. I also like that as with Dumbo the film is pretty hard on how circuses treat animals, which is quite ahead of it’s time. There are a few parts when it drags a little and the song isn’t particularly catchy, but it still mostly works.

Jiminy then finds a invitation to a party and goes to it. Here he arrives at the weirdest party ever. I get that this film comes from a more innocent era, but for a modern viewer it’s kinda weird that a grown man throws a party for a little girl which is only attended by her and his two ventriloquist dummies. I guess that in the context of the film the ventriloquist dummies are meant to be real characters, but it still feels odd. Why not throw in another couple of kids?

Also, ventriloquist dummies are creepy as hell anyway, but one of them in particular, Mortimer, will haunt my dreams.

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What nightmares are made of

The ventriloquist, Edgar Bergen, then narrates the story of “Mickey and the Beanstalk”, with the dummies throwing in gags along the way. Some of these gags actually work, and the dummy Charlie offers sarky commentary and postmodern nods to the story. The story is of course Jack and the Beanstalk but with Mickey in the role, accompanied by Goofy and Donald.

It’s worth mentioning that this movie would be the last feature length outing for Mickey where Walt himself provided the voice.

The story is familiar and told with a few changes, Happy Valley is suffering because the Golden Harp has been stolen, and when they grow the beanstalk they find it in the possession of the giant. It’s an okay story, but it goes on a bit long and sags in the middle.

There are a few moments where it works, such as when Donald, mad with hunger, tries to kill the farm’s cow, which the little girl is appalled by. And Donald is the most entertaining as the barely controlled ball of rage.

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Mickey and Goofy are their usual selves and the story is told well enough. The ending where Willie the Giant is shown to have survived is a cop out and a daft flourish the movie doesn’t need.

The two part structure actually works, with both stories having enough room unlike in the previous episodic movies. But it doesn’t feel like a complete film and the presence of the creepy dummies hurt it a lot in my view.

Disney Score: 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Bampa 

Farmer Giles looked up in the sky, just as a bird pooed in his eye, said Farmer Giles “Thank goodness cows can’t fly”

My grandad died the other week, after a short spell in hospital. He was 86, and when he was admitted it was clear that his time was coming to an end.

The poem at the start is something my Bampa told us when we were kids and in the days after his passing popped into my sister’s head.

Memories are what we are left with when a loved one passes on. Memories which define how we carry on the person inside us.

My grandad and I didn’t always get on. As I grew into a lazy, geeky teen he must have felt that we had little in common. Bampa had worked since he was 14, and was a traditional man in many ways, he could make things, he could fix things, and I suspect he saw me as soft. My long hair annoyed him and he’s often tell me that “two years in the army” would sort me out.

But I know he loved me. And all of his family. He didn’t say it, I don’t think he knew how. He came from a time when men didn’t talk about their feelings, or even admit they had them.

But we knew. It was there in the fact he always asked how we were doing, in the small kind moments and the way he was with us. The pride he had in the achievements of his kids and grandkids. He was never soft, but there was warmth and gentleness there.

He and my Nan were married for over 50 years, and they seem to have spent most of that time bickering. If there is an afterlife they’ve probably started back up again.

I choose to remember Bampa in his house with my Nan. Winking at us as he deliberately wound her up or teased her. Of telling us the same jokes over and over, but his delight in them and the delivery always raising a smile even if you groaned first. 

I remember him telling stories, either of his childhood mischief, no doubt exaggerated, or made up yarns which kept us hooked and begging for a few more minutes before bed. Stories of magic and ghosts, which we lapped up.

I’ll remember him whenever I watch football. 

Remember the wooden goal he built in the garden so we could play, of his coaching in how to pass and head. Of his criticism of divers and talk of how it had been “in his day”, when the ball was heavy and the rules more relaxed. 

His patience when I bounced around on the sofa jabbering away, trying to copy the players I loved. I’ll remember sitting next to him and my Dad at the Vetch when they took me to my first Swansea game. It rained, but I didn’t care. We won and I loved the noise and feeling grown up.

I’ll remember him and it won’t matter that he’d believe and jump on every health far the paper told him. Or that he gave me grief about my long hair.

I’ll remember him for the hero he was to me as a kid, and the man I understood better as an adult. I’ll love him for being my Bampa, and a central figure in countless happy memories.

RIP Bampa.


Would You Rather? Part 2: Ghosts, Ego and Killing Animals

Another batch of would you rather questions

Would you rather live as a regular person in a utopia or live in dystopia but you are the supreme ruler?

In a utopia I imagine that living as a regular person is probably alright, maybe a bit dull, but no major worries. I would have to pick that.

While I can imagine that being supreme ruler would be pretty cool, if it’s a dystopia that means that there are unhappy people out there and you’d have to deal with them trying to kill you. That would suck, and also could you really enjoy knowing that you’d made the majority of people suffer for your power and comfort?

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I don’t want Katniss gunning for me

I don’t think I’d do it, so yeah, I’d be a regular guy in a perfect world.

Would you rather be forced to kill a kitten or a puppy?

Damn, this is a dark one. Do I have to answer?

Are we talking forced as in one of those “unless you kill this animal the world ends” kinda deals? Because in that case I guess it would have to be, and don’t hate me for this, a puppy. What can I say, I’m a cat person,

Would you rather live in a haunted house where the ghosts ignored you and did their own thing or be a ghost in a house living out a pleasant and uneventful week of your life again and again?

Have the ghosts ignore me. I find it hard to imagine anyone picking the other option. Can you imagine having to go over the same week again and again. Having a house with some ghosts would definitely be the better option.

You would have proved that ghosts exist and could charge people to come see them. It has that going for it, while being a ghost yourself means that (a) you’d be stuck in a loop and (b) you would have to die!

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Would you rather be famous for inventing a deadly new weapon or invent something that helps the world but which someone else gets credit for?

You’d have to be a serious egomaniac to go for the weapon option, wouldn’t you? I’d hope that the satisfaction of helping millions of people would be enough without the glory and I’d be happy to.watch the good without getting the credit.

 I’d rather do that than have a name cursed for inventing something that kills people.

Would you rather move to a new city/town every week or never leave the city/town you were born in?

Moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do, so sod that. Especially as I’d be moving where I didn’t know anyone. Nope, as flawed as Swansea is, I would much rather live there than have to pack my stuff up every week. And it has perks- a lot of my friends are local, I could go see the Swans and Ospreys and I know the city quite well.

Would you rather get £5 for every song you sing in public or £50 for every stranger you kiss?

As terrible as my voice is and as much as I hate performing, I would have to become a busker or karaoke regular to make that cash. I’m a happily engaged man so have no desire to kiss strangers anymore, so I’d take the singing as I’d earn more money that way.

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Would you rather live under a sky with no stars at night or under a sky with no clouds during the day?

This is probably the easiest one this time around. I would pick to have no stars. While they’re pretty to look at I just think that clouds are more useful, because of rain and also the British public aren’t ready to live in constant sunshine. We’d live in a constant state of barbecues and lobster coloured workmen.

Would you rather wake up as a new random person every year and be in control of them for a year, or one day a week go into a stranger’s body but have no control?

As appealing as living as someone else might seem, I think constantly shifting every year would be a drag. So, I guess I’d rather just go into someone else for one day a week as an observer. It might be frustrating if they were making bad choices or doing things you disagree with, but it might be interesting to see the world from a fresh angle.

Disagree with my choices? You know what to do. BETEO.