Autodidact: self-taught

Sep
01
2015

Housebound

by V. L. Craven

HB POSTER FINAL_BLEED_3

Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) has difficulty living her life within the confines of the law. She’s been sent to various rehab clinics to no avail so, upon being caught once again colouring outside the lines, she’s sentenced to eight months house detention…at her mother’s (Rima Te Wiata).

As she’d left years ago without a glance back, this wasn’t her idea of a good time.

But back she goes and with an ankle monitor attached by security contractor Amos (Glen-Paul Waru). He shows her the distance outside she can walk (not nearly far enough) and explains any attempt to remove it will trigger an alarm.

That evening Kylie is listening to a radio show and hears her mother call in and talk about the ghost she saw in their house years ago along with all the other weird things that have happened over time.

Kylie may look like Lydia Deets but she most certainly isn’t in touch with the Otherworldly and doesn’t believe a word of it. This only furthers her belief that her mother and stepfather are the most boring humans on the face of creation.

But then, things start happening and Kylie begins to think perhaps her mother may be on to something. Luckily, Amos is an amateur ghost hunter and even has equipment to help look for disgruntled spirits.

Whilst the spirits are being prodded for information, our protagonist pokes about in the corporeal world and turns up unsettling information of her own. So which is it–reality or the otherworldly making her life a nightmare?

One of the gross bits

One of the gross bits

The plot is inventive–I didn’t know where it was going. The writing was witty–there was a part I was laughing about a couple days later. And the cast was excellent. Everything was really well-done. It was also occasionally gross. See above.

Housebound is the sort of film that can be watched repeatedly; I highly recommend this one.

5/5

Aug
25
2015

Nightcrawler

by V. L. Craven

Nightcrawler

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is out very late one night, doing something less than legal when he sees the aftermath of a fiery car wreck. Two men (one is Bill Paxton) are filming the carnage and rescue efforts to sell to the news. Bloom is fascinated by this and gets a camera and a police scanner.

He begins going to crime scenes (competing with Paxton) and selling regularly to one station in particular, dealing primarily with the morning news director Nina (Rene Russo).

But getting the most interesting shots and the best stories sometimes means doing little things the police frown upon. Like tampering with evidence…withholding evidence…putting innocent lives at stake to be in place when a story breaks.

Louis Bloom has no problem with any of those things, though. He’s found his calling. And nothing is going to stand in his way.

Looking a little Patrick Bateman-esque here. Fitting, really.

Looking a little Patrick Bateman-esque here. Fitting, really.

Nightcrawler is unlike anything I’ve seen–I didn’t know where it was going. The writing and acting and directing were superb.

Gyllenhaal was excellent. Louis Bloom relates to other humans in an unusual way–detached and almost Asperger-like, but with sociopathological undertones. He is a malicious, bizarre, but believable guy.

I highly recommend this one. 5/5

Aug
18
2015

The Kings of Summer

by V. L. Craven

Kings of Summer

Parents can be infuriating and lame. In Joe Toy’s case (Nick Robinson) his father (Nick Offerman) is infuriating. In Patrick Keenan’s case (Gabriel Basso) his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are lame.

Really lame. So incredibly lame.

So one summer, after one too many crazy-making moments in both of their households, the boys decide to build their own house in a clearing in the woods. A place they can be men–away from the tyranny of parents. They’ve acquired a third somehow, Biaggio (Moises Arias) who is happy to help them out in any way and is…a bit creepy. But he’s all right, really.

Once built, they move in permanently–not telling their parents where they’re going, which prompts much fretting and police involvement.

The boys learn about themselves. The parents… well, some of them learn about themselves.

kings of summer pipe dance

Biaggio learns to dance on a pipe whilst his friends bang on it with big sticks. It ain’t easy.

The Kings of Summer manages to be heart-warming without making me want to die or vomit, which is saying something. Usually I’m allergic to that sort of thing. But it’s funny and unusual (if utterly unlikely) and there were moments of truth.

Nick Offerman as Suburban Dad Just Trying to Be a Good Father was a different role for him but felt real.

Seeing Megan Mullally play a ‘lame’ mom rather than a wacky, naked, swearing, drunk person was confusing. She nailed the character, though. It was uncomfortably accurate.

The boys performances were all excellent, as well. Arias was a particular stand out as the eccentric, vaguely disturbed Biaggio.

Something about it reminded me of Stand By Me. Perhaps that it’s one of the few coming-of-age films I actually enjoyed. Or about a bunch of boys in the woods? I don’t know. I just kept thinking of Stand By Me.

Oh, and watch all the way to the end of the credits. There’s a little bit at the very end.

4/5

Aug
11
2015

Grace and Frankie

by V. L. Craven

Grace and Frankie

Grace Hanson (Jane Fonda) and Frankie Bergstein (Lily Tomlin) have been married to their husbands, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston), for forty years.

The husbands in question have been partners in the same law firm for that length of time, as well, and the women are ready for them to retire. They hope the men in their lives are going to announce their retirement (finally) at the fancy schmancy dinner they’ve invited them out to.

Or they could announce they both want divorces because they’d like to marry one another…because they’ve been having an affair for the previous twenty years.

That’s the other thing that could happen.

Like Transparent , Grace and Frankie is about what happens when an older person decides to start living their life honestly. The fallout, as it were, in regard to their family–their spouses, kids, lifelong friends, etc.

There are some very honest moments. There are also some rather contrived moments. Overall, though, the show is entertaining. It’s certainly nice to see people over 40 dealing with life (and technology) and sex and dating in a realistic way. More of that, please.

Netflix is on a roll with excellent shows. Last week I reviewed one and now this. (I promise I’ll return to films soon.) And they already have Orange is the New Black and I understand House of Cards is rather all right–no I haven’t seen it, give me a break.

Grace and Frankie can be a little uneven at times–the dialogue can go from laugh out loud funny to bad sitcom–but the cast makes it worth the watch.

4/5

Aug
04
2015

Wet Hot American Summer

by V. L. Craven

Wet Hot American Summer Film

At the weekend I watched all of the Netflix series Wet Hot American Summer, but it’d been awhile since I’d seen the film and so rewatched that first.

It’s a spoof of the teen sex comedies of the early eighties and captures every trope beautifully. It’s also just… bizarre and hilarious.

The actions of the film take place on the final day of camp when the slack counselors are doing their level best to not counsel any of the campers, choosing to try to have sex with whomever they have their eye on for the final (or first) time.

The day is ridiculously long and the number of things that occur are impossible, but the cast (a mashup of SNL and The State with Christopher Meloni, Elizabeth Banks and David Hyde Pierce for good measure) play it with the perfect amount of seriousness and self awareness. These people inhabit a cartoon world and we accept it because they accept it.

The film was released in 2001 and people didn’t get it. The budget was $1.8 million and the box office was a little under $300.000. Ouch.

Still, it became a cult hit because it’s a riot. Which brings me to

Wet Hot American Summer TV

Fourteen years later Netflix has released a TV show–eight episodes–that take place eight weeks prior to the film.

All eight episodes take place eight weeks prior to the film–on the first day of camp.

The first day of camp is also insanely long, but this time it seems a bit less nutso, as several episodes follow certain characters on their separate journeys.

It also explains certain things that are established parts of the universe of the film–like the talking soup can.

Incredibly, they got the entire cast back together–more than a few of whom have gone on to be rather well-known. So it must have been a fun time they wanted to re-live. They certainly looked like they were having a blast.

The TV show brings in Jon Hamm and he and Christopher Meloni have a scene together that made my day (and probably made theirs, too).

Generally, I dislike goofball comedy. I don’t get it and think it’s juvenile. (I know, I’m a curmudgeon.) But this bunch of doofuses paired with the script were great. I was constantly laughing out loud and saying, ‘What is WRONG with these people?’

It’s a great time if you like weirdness or implausibility.

My only question is this: If all of this happened on the FIRST day and then we’ve seen the FINAL day, which really seemed to pick up where the first day ended… Was every day in between really long re-set days, where you end up where you started each day until the last day of camp?

I suppose I do have one other question: how is it that half the cast looks exactly the same fifteen years later and the other half actually looks fifteen years older? Talk about ouch.

One more question because it’s my site and I can ask as many as I’d like: Do they have a warehouse of 80s crap for these sorts of things? The cars and clothes and those braided bracelets and the giant boomboxes. It was so authentic and…painfully accurate.

The film is a 4/5 the TV show is 5/5. You can watch all of it in a day, though and laugh and laugh, which I recommend.

Jul
28
2015

Suburban Gothic

by V. L. Craven

Suburban Gothic

Raymond (Matthew Gray Gubler) has intelligence and fashion sense and an expensive degree from business school.

What Raymond does not have is a job. Therefore, he has to move back to the small town from which he hauled ass directly after high school. And back into his childhood home. Oh, joy.

His mother still loves him, her little boy, and his father, Donald, (Ray Wise, ever hilarious and awful) is the same racist homophobe he ever was.

Dear old dad is having work done in the yard and the people doing the work just happen to unearth an old coffin, which they open, as you do.

Then things go badwrong.

Raymond has always had a bit of a seeing-spirits-problem, which went away when he moved away. But now that he’s back, the spirits are a-plaguing him again. (He doesn’t know about the coffin at first.)

Unearthed spirits aren’t his only issue, though. The living are giving him difficulty, as well. They were the reason he got the hell out of there in the first place. Luckily, just before his old tormentors from high school can pick up where they left off, he befriends a fellow former fat kid, Becca (Kat Dennings) and they become buddies.

And that’s just as well, because he’s going to need all the help he can get when it comes time to fight the malevolent entity rearing it’s disembodied head.

Kat Dennings looks more like Lydia Deets in this film than Bewbs O'Klok up there.

Kat Dennings looks more like Lydia Deets in this film than Bewbs O’Klok up there.

I watched this film because I wanted to see Dr Spencer Reid swear–I’d seen a gifset on Tumblr of him calling someone an asshole and just had to see it in context. It was worth it. He drops the ‘f’ bomb a lot, too.

‘Quirky’ is the first word that comes to mind. It’s the next three words, as well. Suburban Gothic was released in 2015 but the special effects were…special. So I’m thinking they were an intentional homage to 60s horror flicks.

The script had some genuinely laugh out loud funny lines. Ray Wise was hysterical as the All American bigot. He nailed it. I have the feeling some of his lines came from things someone’s (Richard Bates Jr or Mark Bruner’s) actual father said and they were so over-the-top they just had to put them in.

I don’t know from fixing a curse, but the filmmakers really captured the special hell that is returning to your tiny, small-minded hometown. Except when I go back to mine I don’t pair up with a fellow outcast and have wacky adventures. I just deal with whatever unholy purpose has drawn me there and get the hell back to civilisation as quickly as possible.

As a comedy it succeeds. As horror, it’s not scary in the least, but most 60s horror films aren’t all that frightening today, either. YMMV, but I’d give this one a 4/5.

If you’re not interested in either of the leads you’ll probably think I’ve overrated it by a star.

Jul
26
2015

The Book of Speculation

by V. L. Craven

book-of-speculation

Simon Watson’s family has a dark secret–the women in his family are mermaids who keep drowning on July 23.

They’re women who hold their breath for a long time underwater in travelling sideshows (billed as mermaids) and, eventually, they all commit suicide by drowning themselves on July 23. His mother, her mother.  Her mother and back and back.

Simon didn’t know about the previous generations until he was given a book by an antiquarian bookseller who felt the younger man should have it, somehow.

The book is some sort of log of a travelling sideshow from the 1800s and it marks the coming of their mermaid and her complicated relationship with the tarot reader, which sets off a chain of events that will change hundreds, if not thousands of lives.

The thing is, Simon has a sister, Enola.

Enola can hold her breath for an extraordinarily long time and she travels with a carnival, reading the tarot.

Enola’s been acting very strange lately. And July 23 is only a few days away.

Interwoven with their story–every other chapter–is about that original sideshow, when the curse that has been drowning women who shouldn’t be able to drown was set in motion.

Both stories are vibrantly told and compelling; it’s not one of those cases where the reader is rushing through one set of chapters to get to the story-line they really care about.

The novel is about magic and family history and being bound to others by more than blood. It’s also beautiful and, at times, painful.

The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler’s first novel and, as a reader, I’m thrilled because it’s wonderful. As a writer, I hate her just a little.

And I can’t wait to see what she does next. 5/5

[I received a free copy of this to review through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, but it’d be one of my top books of the year anyway.]

Jul
21
2015

Higher Learning

by V. L. Craven

Higher Learning

Malik (Omar Epps) is a young, black, incoming freshman track star. A little cocky–all right, more than a little.

Kristen (Kristy Swanson) is a white, naive freshman with no clue who she is or what she wants.

Remy (Michael Rappaport) is also white and a freshman but he’s odd. A loner. He can’t seem to fit in anywhere.

Out of their hometowns for the first time in their lives–and for some of them, having to deal with people who aren’t the same race, for the first time as well–they scramble to make sense of the new world they’re meant to fit in to.

Malik ends up with a group of guys led by Ice Cube (another guy in the group is Busta Rhymes). Some of their scenes are excellent examples of the way racism is alive and well (the film is twenty years old, but it remains accurate) on campuses. Malik also begins romancing Deja (Tyra Banks).

Kristen starts off hanging out with two friends from back home but after a traumatic experience she finds solace and solidarity with Taryn (Jennifer Connelly).

Then there’s Remy. Remy’s the sort of person the average human gets the urge to inch away from so of course the campus skinheads think he’s just swell and the feeling is mutual.

All of these characters; stories collide in one way or another and no one comes out untouched by the repercussions.

One of the professors is played by Laurence Fishburne and, in case I need to say it, he’s amazing.

John Singleton knows how to handle an ensemble cast and tell several stories at once whilst making a larger point.

I was reminded of this film after watching Dear White People last week. Mostly because the average film about American university life is about parties and hooking up and other things I could not care less about. Just in case you were wondering why this one seemed to be getting dragged out of the mothballs.

Do yourself a favour and watch this one. 5/5

Jul
17
2015

The School for Supervillains

by V. L. Craven

School for Supervillains

Mandrake DeVille is the daughter (sort of–she was grown in a lab) of two of the most nefarious villains to ever villain. [lightning crash]

Much is expected of her. Perhaps she will even, one day, finally topple that blasted Superhero Guild once and for all! [insert maniacal laughter here]

In order to prepare her for her life of dastardly deeds, she must attend the most prestigious of all evil schools, of course. Which is St Luthor’s School of Supervillains. [dun dun DUUNN]

The best villains send their progeny there from all over the universe–one of Mandrake’s peers isn’t from this solar system–so you know this school is top-hole. I mean, you’re not going to send your child a few thousand light years and then choose the second best school, amirite?

So little Miss DeVille is being set up to rule the world…erm, the Underworld.

There’s a minor snag, however.

She doesn’t want to be evil. She wants to be a superhero.

(Sometimes, as a parent, you just never know where you’re going to go wrong. You try to instil malevolent hatred for the whole of humanity and beyond and still, they will decide to fight for good. What can you do?)

Unfortunately for Mandrake and her tender appendages, the adults (and her peers) generally take the opinion that ‘the only good superhero is a dead superhero’, so she must keep her wishes to herself. And the mind-readers around her. Did I mention there are mind-readers? There are mind-readers. And all sorts of other inventive types and creatures.

Will she find a sympathetic ear? Will she work out whom to trust before it’s too late? Or will the Master (the head of her school) and her chief rivals Caligula (yeah, I did a spit-take, too) and Livia work out what she’s up to first?

The School for Supervillains is suitable for ages 9 and up. At 71 pages, it can be read in a sitting if a grown up is helping. It’s the sort of book I would have read more than once as a child. Though I probably would have wondered why she didn’t want to remain a bad guy, but that’s beside the point.

I’m giving this 4/5 because I wanted it to be longer. More story!

Something that’s especially fun about it is that it was done through Fiction Express , where one chapter was released per week and then readers voted one what would happen next. So the story was guided by the readers. I’ll be interviewing Louie Stowell in the coming weeks and we’ll discuss what that experience was like so stay tuned!

[I received a free copy of this in exchange for an honest review.]

Jul
14
2015

Dear White People

by V. L. Craven

Dear White People

Winchester is an ivy-league university with a minority number of minorities. One recent Halloween a very white dorm sent out invitations to their very racist themed party.

Dear White People is the ‘re-enactment’ of the five week lead up to that party.

Okay, it’s all fiction, but barely. We’ve seen the photos of the racist costumes–the black-face and brown-face; the Native American headdresses and sombreros. As though white is a blank canvas of normal humanity and everyone else is putting on a costume every day and pretending to be ethnic.

The invitation in the film is a near-verbatim copy of an actual invitation to a 2010 party at the University of California, San Diego. The party in the film is based on an actual event, as well, though it didn’t turn into a riot. And over the closing credits are photographs of real life university students doing the same things satirized in the film. (That must have been an uncomfortable day on the set. Hoo boy.)

The supposed ‘re-enactment’ starts with Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams) at the beginning of his sophomore year. He’s been moved from house to house (people live in large, gorgeous houses rather than prison-cell-like dorms at Winchester) as he doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. Uncomfortable with his sexuality–he doesn’t like labels–and unsure what to do with his hair (he tells fellow black students he’s growing it out and they laugh and say it’s gaining sentience) he doesn’t know what he wants or who he is. He doesn’t even have a major anymore.

Then there’s Sam White (Tessa Thompson) revolutionary media arts major with a radio show called Dear White People. She wants people to pay attention. She wants to make a difference. But Sam has her own struggles with race to deal with.

Next up is Coco Conners (Teyonah Parris). She wants people to pay attention, too. To her. She wants to be famous. So when a producer shows up at the university looking for a certain sort of person she tries to get his attention by being provocative.

And finally we have Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P Bell). His father is the Dean and he has aspirations for law school and, eventually, his own firm one day. He’s currently head of the house he lives in and is one of those All-American types. He’s Barack Obama, basically.

He has a white girlfriend, though, and that goes over just as well as you’d expect with his cohort. His girlfriend is the sister of the son of the President of Winchester. Who is also the man who beat out his father for that position. The long-term political fallout of this cause all kinds of problems.

Dear White People is funny as hell–there are exchanges and one-liners galore. But it also holds a mirror up to our society and shows how much further we have to go in terms of racial equality. It is accurate and perceptive while being witty.

This one is a must-see. Watch it. 5/5

We all know this guy, right? We know him and we hate him. Don't be this guy.

We all know this guy, right? We know him and we hate him. Don’t be this guy.

Jul
10
2015

The Picture of Dorian Gray

by V. L. Craven

Picture of Dorian Gray

Dorian Gray is a beautiful young man unaware of his beauty and what it brings him. He has become the muse of a painter, Basil Hallward, who is obsessed with him.

One day whilst Gray is in Hallward’s studio being painted, one of the artist’s friends, Lord Henry, stops by. He’s immediately taken with the young man and begins espousing his hedonistic philosophy. He makes Dorian aware of the fleeting nature of beauty–especially his own.

After they return inside Hallward has finished the painting and proclaimed it his finest yet. Dorian realises he’ll never be as young or as beautiful as he is in the picture and makes a Faustian oath before it. It takes some time before the consequences of that oath become apparent, but once it does he begins to become fascinated and horrified at the implications.

Lord Henry’s words have begun to work their dark magic upon him, though, and he goes in search of new experiences, corrupting others along the way.

This is in the 1890s so reputations are easily ruined, mind. But people also believe that sin is worn on the face and Dorian Gray is beautiful. He’s one of those people who remains blemish-free and so must his soul be.

Sin will out, though, as they say.

Lippincott Dorian Gray

I read the Penguin Classics Clothbound edition, which has all sorts of notes and other useful information. It’s also beautifully bound and has a sewn-in bookmark. I do recommend the series.

There’s not much to say in terms of critical review. Everyone else has already said everything of intellectual import.

It’s excellent–the sort of classic that makes modern writing seem drab (as opposed to the sort of classic that works brilliantly as a soporific).

It turned out that all the quotes I’d thought Wilde had said at parties and people had written down were actually said by his character Lord Henry. And indeed, the novel is hilarious, as well as thought-provoking.

The fact that I thought Lord Henry was Wilde’s stand-in was apt, as the author himself said: ‘Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry is what the world thinks me: Dorian is what I would like to be — in other ages, perhaps.’

The Picture of Dorian Gray highlights the hypocrisy of the age, which was more pronounced at the time, though it’s still so today. The people shouting most loudly about other people’s perversions are generally the ones doing the worst behind closed doors.

And it’s good to know beauty and money can still put people’s minds to rest about corruption. That certainly hasn’t changed in the last 120 years.

Though, hey, gay people can get married now rather than being sent down for hard labour for two years. So… progress?

This is a must read for fans of excellent writing, Gothic literature, the Faust legend, social commentary. Just read it. 5/5

Jul
07
2015

American Horror Story: An Ode

by V. L. Craven
Jessica Lange laying down some truth for the baby witches.

Jessica Lange laying down some truth for the baby witches.

I’ll be taking my first trip to New Orleans in September and, in preparation, decided to rewatch my favourite show set there: American Horror Story: Coven.

Now. I love the entire AHS series. Murder House was mind-blowing because I didn’t know what to expect and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. And Jessica Lange.

Asylum was outstanding because I’ve always liked creepy asylums and I’ve had a thing about sadistic nuns as long as I can recall. And Jessica Lange.

Then Coven came along and ruined the rest of the run of the show because nothing will live up to it. Witches are my favourite supernatural thing. And Jessica Lange.

And holy hell, can we discuss Frances Conroy in each of these series? Just amazing.

I cannot tell you how pleased I was upon receiving this result from this test :

Also disturbingly accurate. REDHEADS FOREVEEEEEEER

Also disturbingly accurate. REDHEADS FOREVEEEEEEER

Coven of course, also introduced Kathy Bates, be still my dark heart , as a regular and Angela mofoin Bassett.

Freak Show, yeah yeah, it was whatever. I liked the musical numbers. Freaks and sideshows have held only a passing interest for me so meh. I enjoyed learning more about Pepper and Edward Mordake was a real person so that character was fun. It was okay.

But it came after this. And after this... Well.

But it came after this. And after this… Well.

In terms of the show overall, though, the entire ensemble is incredible.

Lily Rabe is versatile as can be and I hope she’s in more of this next series than the one episode of Freak Show. Evan Peters somehow manages to look completely different in every series and Sarah Paulson is as solid of an actor as you could want–holding her own against some true giants. No more Lange, unfortunately, but with Bates on board and, hopefully, the rest of the regular crew, the ship will keep sailing.

(And they always bring on boggling guest stars. Patti LuPone?! Patti LaBelle?! STEVIE NICKS! omgomg)

Rewatching Coven has been a treat. They always have clues to the theme of the next series in the first episodes of the current one–the first episode of Coven has the phrase ‘freak show’. The fifth series is supposed to be ‘Hotel’.

And of course there’s a guide to the filming locations in the show so I can see some of the places from the episodes when in NOLA. Madame LaLaurie’s house is already on my list, as is the cemetery. Well…several cemeteries, this is me we’re talking about.

'Have you accepted Baphomet as your lord and saviour?'

‘Have you accepted Baphomet as your lord and saviour?’

The dialogue always sounds like a bunch of bitchy gay men sniping at one another. It was the same with Murphy’s show Popular, which was cancelled too soon. It’s a hallmark of his shows to have teenage girls saying things more suited to a bunch of queens in the back room at the Chubb Clubb. I love it.

But I digress.

They had Ryan Murphy on The Writers’ Room  between Asylum and Coven. It was an excellent episode worth watching if you can find it. He said he’d never do a series about vampires (thank you, Ryan!) When they asked what the final one would be about he said (jokingly) AHS: Mime. Then we learned that Jessica Lange trained with Marcel Marceau.

So maybe she’ll come back for that final series.

Jun
30
2015

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

by V. L. Craven

How to Lose Friends

Sidney Young (Simon Pegg) is an English journalist with a cynical view of … everything, but particularly celebrity. He has a small publication that’s on the verge of imploding and desperately wants to break into the big time of professional celebrity stalking/mocking. He wants to be a

After a truly ridiculous turn of events involving a pig and Clint Eastwood, young Mr Young is invited to work for the man whose party he crashed, Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), in New York. Mr Harding, you see, owns several magazines.

Sidney has caught his big break. He’s in. He’s going to be someone. But first, he has to make an utter tit of himself. Multiple times. I mean, this is an Englishman in America being played by Simon Pegg.

But he’s still in…sorta. His sense of humour is all weird British and he doesn’t dress properly and … Oh, dear. Sidney wants to take the piss out of celebrities, as God intended, but the people he desperately wants to write for want him to kiss simply all the celebrity backside, as journalists do in the States. Loads of things change when you cross the ocean.

So things begin to falter pretty early on. He does make friends with a colleague (Kristin Dunst) who helps him as much as she can help a person determined to shoot themselves in the foot. Another rather ruthless colleague (Danny Huston) teaches Sidney a few invaluable lessons, as well.

And then there’s the vapid celebrity he’s deeply smitten with, played by Megan Fox. She’s hilarious. No kidding. Her publicist is played by Gillian Anderson and do you need to know any more than that? It’s Gillian Anderson. She makes everything better.

There are some fantastic cameos: James Corden, Katherine Parkinson and her IT Crowd co-star Chris O’Dowd, Thandie Newton and others. Miriam Margolyes plays Sidney’s Polish landlady in New York and Diana Kent is an actress desperately trying to make a comeback. Sidney’s father is played by Bill Paterson.

It’s one of those films where every few minutes you’re saying, ‘That guy!’ and then running to IMDB.

How to Lose Friends and Influence People offers some not-surprising but still depressing information about how publicity and journalism (especially in regard to celebrities) works in the States. And it’s based on a true story . The ‘real’ Sidney Young (whose name is Toby Young) worked at Vanity Fair for five years. The one in the film… well. Five years would have been a miracle for that guy.

Knowing it was based on reality to some degree helped. Otherwise it would have been a very funny but somewhat predictable film. Instead, I was sat watching it wondering what was derived from what and who the real life counterparts were to some people. [The Jeff Bridges character was clearly based on Graydon Carter .]

Overall it was a good time. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments, an excellent cast and Simon Pegg doing his thing. 4/5

Jun
16
2015

Fresh Meat

by V. L. Craven
I had to use this photo of the series 2 cast because it has Jack Whitehall looking like a doofus.

I had to use this photo of the series 2 cast because it has Jack Whitehall looking like a doofus.

Fresh Meat follows the exploits of a group of awkward students as they awkwardly make their awkward way through uni in Manchester. None of them got into halls (the dorms) so they’re sharing a house. It’s a mish-mash of personalities. Let the good times roll.

The main cast:

Josie: (Kimberley Nixon) Bubbly, Welsh, naive and seemingly kind. People really aren’t what they appear sometimes. All of these people put on fronts to appear to be cooler than they are to their peers, but this one… Wow.

Oregon: (Charlotte Ritchie) A literature swot who makes poor life choices in terms of married professors and, you know, sleeping with them. Particularly when their wife is also in the English department.

Vod: (Zawe Ashton) Far more interested in drinking and drugging than studying, Vod, also isn’t a big fan of the Establishment. Go anarchy!

Howard: (Greg McHugh) Scottish, socially inept but kind, Howard is older than the others, as he changed courses from philosophy to geology. If this show were made a few years ago this character would be played by Nick Frost.

Kingsley: (Joe Thomas) Bog-standard English guy. Awkward in the typical way. Just wants to be a good person and get a nice girlfriend. That doesn’t mean he’s not a tit sometimes.

And J.P.: (Jack Whitehall) Complete posh-o who’s in Manchester because he couldn’t get into a ‘proper university’. This was Whitehall’s acting debut and though his character is absolutely dreadful, he’s still my favourite. He’s condescending and arrogant, but also a loser with women and can be genuinely kind.

There is not one cast photo where he's not pulling a face. This man.

There is not one cast photo where he’s not pulling a face. This man.

There are currently three series with a fourth being filmed this year. Each year there are recurring characters that are more or less successful, but it’s the main cast that makes the show.

A standout character from the second and third series (and hopefully the fourth) was Sabine, a Dutch PhD student. She’s very straightforward and doesn’t particularly care for the kids because she sees them for the self-absorbed not-yet-fully-formed humans they are. There’s a hilarious scene in a pub where the British group are asking her how she talks/bonds/gets off with people if she doesn’t drink. I mean…that’s the only way British people can loosen up enough to be social.

It is NOT perfectly natural, you weirdo!

The show was created by Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain, the people behind Peep Show. Robert Webb was in series one and two as Kingsley, Howard and JP’s geology lecturer. (And I felt it right in the age bone when I realised that Peep Show is twelve years old. It’s nearly a teenager.)

If you enjoy shows like, well, Peep Show, The Inbetweeners and Bad Education–ensemble casts of disparate people getting themselves into and out of trouble and being awkward in the process–you’ll enjoy this one. 5/5

Jun
09
2015

Penny Dreadful

by V. L. Craven

Penny Dreadful

Dorian Gray, Victor Frankenstein and Abraham van Helsing walk into a pub in Victorian England. Everyone’s got consumption and there’s an ancient evil or three afoot.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Penny Dreadful is a Gothic drama, fantasy nightmare concoction.

Don’t get me wrong–it’s great fun. Just difficult to categorize.

There’s the main character Vanessa Ives (Eva Green, who should win all the awards) who has a bit of a possession problem. As in, she’s been possessed by … something. Who knows. But it’s a hell of a thing. Then there’s Mr Gray and Dr Frankenstein (his projects have been going swimmingly by the time we meet him) and Sir Malcolm Murray played by Timothy Dalton.

Sir Malcolm is one of those explorers the Victorians were drowning in at the the time. He’s on a quest to find his kidnapped daughter, Mina. Yes, that Mina. Harker. The Dracula one. We’re hitting all the Gothic greatest hits.

There’s the obligatory prostitute with a heart of gold with harsh backstory (Billie Piper) and an American gunslinger from the Wild West played by Josh Hartnett.

The plot can be a little…meandering at times in a Dickensian sort of way. The show is more about characters, though, and the casting is superb. As are the costumes and sets and everything else.

Though the overall plot tends to take its own path, each episode rips right along, generally, and one never knows what’s going to happen or who it’s going to happen to.

There was one episode in the first series that was slow and it featured Anna Chancellor. They managed to make an episode with Her Gloriousness drag. That alone is noteworthy. (The episode had a load of useful but dull exposition and she played Eva Green’s mother–a role she also played in the quite excellent The Dreamers.)

Basically, there are vampires, werewolves, Frankenstein’s monster (played brilliantly by Rory Kinnear)…and tuberculosis but that makes it sound like Buffy with consumption. I loved Buffy, but… Ugh. This is hard . Do you like American Horror Story? Do you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Do you like corsets and velvet? You’ll like this. Probably. I’m giving it 4/5.

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