Friday, 24 April 2009

The Monumental Day...or not so much

Today was the day, the defining moment in a student's university experience, the moment all of your time of (sometimes questionable) learning has lead up: The Dissertation. After a year of deciding on a topic, going through hours of research, trying to form some sort of comprehensive argument, and trying to get my head round how to reference all of these witty quotations I'd come across - today was the day I finally handed it in.

Now, I know larger and larger proportions of society are going and getting themselves one of these degree thingies at the moment, but with the amount of stress, worry and sleepless nights some of my housemates and I went through over these projects, it was like we were the first people ever to do them. And we're the fairly organised ones that have given them in early, who knows about these others that have been rumored to be living in the campus library now; their skin pale and oily, rings around their eyes, and shaking hands from an overload of caffeine having only just started to research their topic a couple of weeks before the due date. 

No, I wasn't one of these people, I could have stretched out working on it until Monday, but the truth is I'm so sick of the sight of the thing that I just wanted it out of my life. And did that bring me relief? Well, not really. Firstly, I'm still worrying about the damn thing even after I've given it in - is there anything else I should have done? Why don't I have as many references as other people? Secondly, the feeling of being free from this weight that has been pulling at the back of my mind for so long is a little unsettling - I sat watching some celebratory daytime tv earlier feeling like a naughty schoolgirl - surely I should be doing something else? And thirdly, even though I was organised enough to give it in early, the very thought of doing so made me forget all of my things for my afternoon seminar, which put an extra 40 minutes of very speedy walking time home and back to campus, and quite frankly, rather than going out to party I'd rather collapse in bed!

So much for Britain's youth of today being manic and out of control, I'll be asleep by 11!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Turn Up For The Books!

Well, this blog was not only intended to be a string of review ramblings, but also about the experiences of a student graduating into a seriously messed up work place. I haven't had anything to report, as despite sending my CV to lotsss of job listings on various graduate job sites I hadn't heard a peep. Until now. This morning, in fact about ten minutes ago whilst I was leisurely browsing through my junk emails, I got a phone call in response to one of said applications. As excited as I was that someone had finally got back to me, it was unfortunately regarding the position I knew least video games. I have been asked to attend an interview next week, so will of course be scouring the web for as many interview tips, do's and don'ts, and all the rest of it - but I doubt there will be tips for feigning an interest in video games. What to do?

Well, I guess, like most people do at some point in interviews, I'll just lie. And, like most people who lie in interviews, the interviewer who is used to people lying and catching them out, will catch me out. Pessimistic? 

And then, my other dilemma, what if they actually offer me the job? It is minimum graduate salary but if I accept it would probably mean I have to live in London...and after rent and graduate loan payments have been taken out of my salary, I'll have about £5 left to play with. And then, what if they offer me the job, I accept, and a couple of weeks later I get a response from a prospective DREAM job - right now I'm not even sure what that would be - but I can't accept it because I'm already busy moulding my hands into claws from playing video games all day? (Will I even get to play the video games?)

I think I liked it better when no one got back to me...

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Meg Rosoff, 'How I Live Now'

This is another delight I found in the depths of my reading list - I must remember to thank my tutor for guiding me towards so many great books! The book was intended for teenagers and young adults, but I have to say it is so powerful and relevant that it would engross someone whose adolescence is just a distant memory. Rosoff does a great job of writing as a fifteen year old girl, Daisy, who has been sent from New York to live with her Aunt and cousins in the English countryside. 
You are instantly drawn to Daisy, she is honest to the reader, but painfully secretive to those around her - particularly her father and her questionably evil stepmother, 'Davina the Diabolical'. Daisy's honesty is both funny, she has 'one of the best Oh Yeah, This Is So Much What I Usually Do kind of faces', but also desperately sad. She lacks the closeness of a mother figure, due to her own mother's death when she was in labour, and has such low self esteem that she has convinced herself she is unimportant and unattractive. Her pain is exhibited in her anorexia, which she explains and describes in such a way that the reader is both educated in why someone would develop the disorder, and warned - it is not glamorized, and Daisy is never praised for being so thin - refreshingly veering away from the ridiculous size zero celebrity culture. 
Rosoff's writing about the love between Daisy and Edmond, her cousin, conjures a nostalgia for one's first love; the excitement, the secrecy, the intensity of it all. This boiling pot of hormones and teenage issues is then thrown into the horrific chaos of war, a war where these children fight to survive without the help of, and in fact against, adults. It is in this extreme test of character and endurance that Daisy proves she is not as insignificant and invisible as she had thought. It is an often horrendous coming-of-age journey she must complete in order to overcome her insecurities, her disorder, and realise that love is all that matters.
A blunt, beautiful insight into what someone can achieve, when they would be the last to have believed it.

Meg Rosoff, 'How I Live Now' - 4/5

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Knowing (me, knowing you, ah-haaaaaaa. No, not really.)

I ventured out to the cinema last night, parted with my hard-earned, I mean, loaned cash, and settled into the semi-comfy seats with a big bag of Starburst (bought at the Co-op up the road, half the price of cinema Starburst!) I had only seen the odd television commercial for this film, 'Knowing', so gathered that it starred Nicholas Cage, who somehow had a bit of paper that predicted major disasters (funnily enough, emphasis was only put on the American disasters.) It looked quite intriguing. And it was, throughout the majority of the film I was engrossed, the tension in some parts had even me clutching on to my boyfriend's hand (luckily for him there were no nail indents, it would have had to be scarier for that!)
I won't give away what happens, but unfortunately the film's ending very quickly undid everything it had built up to and made it into, quite frankly, a bit of a joke. And what made it even worse was the fact that most of the people I was with could guess the unlikely outcome of the film before it happened...not the gasp-worthy twist I imagine the creator's were going for.
In fairness, there was a lot that was good about the film; the performance of the young Lucinda Embry; a young girl who made the piece of paper containing the dates of the future disasters was eerie, as was the moment the drunken John Koestler (Cage) reveals what the numbers mean. People's memory of the hideous events that are mentioned is enough to send a shiver down one's spine. 
The special effects are excellent; the two disasters that John witnesses - a plane crash and subway disaster - are horrific, there are hysterical screams, people running around aflame, corpses everywhere. It brings home the haunting sadness of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. If this had concluded to some way of John being able to stop the last disaster, or coming to any sort of realistic conclusion that fits with the stark realism the film had adhered until the end, I could say that it was well worth watching. But, as it is, all I can say is that is worth watching...just as long as you leave before the last twenty minutes or so...

Knowing - 3/5

Tuesday, 14 April 2009


This is one of those films I never got round to seeing when it was out at the cinema; I saw the previews, Angelina Jolie screaming 'It's not my son', wearing a hat, etc etc. I thought it looked interesting, but it didn't make me go 'wow', I didn't feel the need to drag along one of my cinema buddies to come and see it with me, there was other stuff on that looked more fun. However, after watching the dvd last night, I really regret missing it - the film was superb and would have been brilliant on the big screen.
What is perhaps the most interesting and most appalling aspect to the film is that it is quite closely based on real events that occurred in 1928 Los Angeles in the 'Wineville Chicken Coop' kidnap and murder case. It follows Christine Collins (Jolie) and her fight to be heard when her son Walter is kidnapped from home, and the police return her the wrong boy. Female inequality, police corruption, and terrifying miscarriages of justice ensue; Collins is only taken seriously when a young boy comes forward to inform the police about the slaughter of several young children, one of which was Walter Collins.
I think what put me off seeing this film when it was released was Angelina Jolie being in the lead role - to this point I had only seen her in boyish, aggressive roles - like in Tomb Raider, Girl Interrupted, Mr and Mrs Smith - not terrible films, but her characters in them were never particularly 'nice'. In short, I judged the film because I had decided I didn't like her. Well, if I had a hat right now, I would have to eat it, because her performance was outstanding. Unlike the boisterous, outspoken roles said to have been close to the actress herself, here Jolie was timid, polite, likeable, with great strength within in her stemming from a mother's determination to find her son. She commanded respect. With the help of an always brilliant yet intimidating John Malkovich, and ray of hope; Michael Kelly, and of course, expert direction from the legendary Clint Eastwood, the film came to an emotionally draining, fascinating, and haunting conclusion.

I was engrossed from start to finish.

Changeling - 5/5

Monday, 13 April 2009

Bloc Party at Kensington Olympia

Oops, been a bit slack on the old blogging front recently, but, in my defence, it was Easter! However, I did spend my Easter Sunday evening doing something a little more exciting than usual - as the title suggests, I went to see Bloc Party. Now, for those like my mother, and several other people over the age of 25 who replied to the statement 'I'm going to see Bloc Party' with 'Oh, what's that?' perhaps I should give an introduction. Bloc Party are a British four piece band consisting of Kele Okereke, Russell Lissack, Gordon Moakes and Matt Tong, who were formed at the Reading Festival in 1999, but only settled on the name Bloc Party in 2003. They have recently released their third album 'Intimacy', which the tour is in aid of. I was lucky enough to see them on their last night in England before going on tour overseas in Kensington Olympia; a venue I had only ever known as a daytime exhibition centre, but I have to say I really liked it.
Now, for the performance. I had been wanting to see Bloc Party perform live for some time now, their tracks like 'Helicopter' have been a frequent delight on night's out, and I bought their album 'A Weekend in the City' last year and absolutely treasure it. So it is safe to say they had a lot of expectations to live up to, and luckily they exceeded them.
Unlike a lot of bands with a new album to plug, Bloc Party did not just stick to the new stuff - while what I've heard of it has been great, it's just not the same when you can't sing along to the words yet. In fact, in addition to all the songs that had been released as singles, they managed to fit in a lot of album tracks from their earlier two albums, such as 'Blue Light' from their first album 'Silent Alarm' and 'Song for Clay' from 'Weekend in the City' (Amazing!)
The front man, Kele Okereke, showcased his distinctive vocal talent beautifully, the whole band worked together so well live that every song was not only as good as the recorded version, but better - which is as it always should be. Okereke chatted to the crowd, saying how nice it was for him to be home again in London, even though he wouldn't be back again for a while, and - to really get into the Easter spirit - he reappeared for the second half of the performance in a full white, fluffy rabbit suit. It was very becoming.
The band's finale was most definitely that, ending the excitable and sweaty evening with their hit 'Flux', which was released in November 2007. It was the song many members of the audience (including my friends and I) had been looking forward to, and it was introduced by Okereke, 'Now, I know we've hit you guys with a lot of energetic songs tonight, but I hope you've kept something in reserve for this last song...It's kind of a big deal.' And he was right. The atmosphere was electric, and there was not one head in the sea of people around me that was not madly bouncing around with a huge smile plastered across it.
Everyone left that evening sweaty and happy, despite the nightmare of Easter public transport they had to face getting home.

Bloc Party - 5/5

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Ali Smith, 'Hotel World'

As with 'A Handful of Dust', this novel was thrust to my attention by my creative writing lecturer ('how do you lecture about creative writing?' I hear you ask, well, it's interesting) as part of my reading list - the books that were put on there all handled setting/characterisation/structure/narration in a different way, for inspiration. And this text was the only one on the list, in fact the only book I have ever read, that moved me to tears. 

Smith's writing is impeccable; the novel is split into five sections, with a different woman in charge of each one - each has her own quirks, own habits of speech, own devastating aspects of their past or future. By the end of their chapter, each character feels like your friend, and then you realise you still know hardly anything about them at all and everything is still a delicious mystery.

'Hotel World' floats around the story of a young girl who came to an accidental and horrific end whilst working in a hotel, and the sometimes random people who were directly and indirectly involved with her. The part that made me cry was that belonging to the dead girl's younger sister after she has been left sisterless in a home still reeling from the tragedy. Her narrative, at first, is very difficult to read, in the continuous, rapid, breathless monologue of a troubled teenage girl. Sentences last forever, thoughts bleed into each other, she says 'like' a lot. She has so much to say, so many thoughts she wants to write and so many about her sister she wants to block out. Her grief  and the things it makes her do, which she realises are 'mad', are completely relatable for anyone who has experienced loss, and the honesty with which she talks about it grabs you round the throat. Granted, when I read her section I was very sleep deprived and hungover, but I maintain that it was moving enough to wrench at my stomach from being in the happiest of moods.

Without giving everything away, some other aspects are also worth mentioning. We hear from the dead girl herself, Sarah, who describes some very thought provoking experiences one may have after death; choosing who to appear to, forgetting things about when you were alive because you're not that person any more. There is both a comfort and distress in it. 

I am planning to re-read this book whenever I have time to, as I think it would be even better second time around - there is so much packed in to every sentence that I am sure to have missed things.

I would recommend this read to anyone, it hits you - not just like a breath of fresh air, but like a slap in the face, a startling, brilliant slap in the face. You need it sometimes.

Ali Smith, 'Hotel World' - 5/5

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Paul Blart: Mall Flop

At the weekend I had the misfortune of having to not only miss the glorious sunshine and bustle of my local highstreet in favour of sitting in a dark room with my Dad and brother (we tend to argue if our quality family time is spent conversing), but that during my time in this dark room I was exposed to the sloppy cinematic disaster that is 'Paul Blart: Mall Cop'.

Kevin James, the guy who nearly stole the show from Will Smith in 'Hitch' is Paul Blart, and he is by far the only vaguely good thing about the film; his exaggerated action scenes and pretty amazing facial expressions carry it. Other than that, however, it is poorly scripted and revolves around the idea that fat people are funny, so lets make a movie where a fat guy has to run a lot. And that's being generous about it's level of sophistication. Now, I'm not being a movie snob, I like ridiculous films, they please my simple sense of humour; I'm openly a fan of 'Wayne's World', but this film just didn't hit the spot. I don't know if it is just that I'm getting cynical in my old age, but all I could think as I watched was that the only thought and feeling that had been put into this film was how to make some quick, easy money. The writers must have known it was never going to be a classic, neither the director, or Kevin James. This is probably my biggest problem with this film; if someone is going to add to modern culture - be it literature, film, theatre or art - their work should say something, do something for the society it is released into, they are all forms of art, and any film should be as painstakingly crafted as an artist's sculpture would be. But, for now, it is all about the money.
Paul Blart: Mall Cop - 1/5

Monday, 6 April 2009

First post...the post that hurts the most

Only avid Mighty Boosh fans will appreciate that title, but I couldn't resist!

So, time to get this blog-show on the road and start posting! I've decided it is probably best to do a review whilse it is still fresh in my head, that being Evelyn Waugh's 'A Handful of Dust'.

Not that it is necessarily a bad thing, but this book took some real concentration to get to grips with; firstly - I should probably have been aware of this already - but the fact that 'Evelyn' is in fact a man, which I'm gave a different perspective to the text than if I had continued to think a woman had written it. And then, the opening pages were about as welcoming to outsiders as the society portrayed in the pages within, but - once you're in - the satiric world Waugh creates is fascinating and unforgivingly detached.

You are thrust into a world of cold, immoral people, where appearance is everything, indulgence the way of life, and gossip is rife. As satire is Waugh's speciality, there is a mixture of disgust and humour in relation to how the English upper class think and behave; females are put at fault in particular. The once peaceful life of Tony and Brenda Last, living on their apparently distastefully decorated estate, is disrupted into chaos after the introduction of the somewhat gormless Mr Beaver - disliked by everyone in his and the Last's social circles. This affair brings delight to acquaintances as it fuels their need for gossip; there is no sense that it is deceitful or wrong. Even Brenda who appears as the dutiful, yet disillusioned, wife, does not display any sense of remorse but instead tries to set Tony up with an extra-marital relationship of his own. Tony is one of the few characters who seems to have a 'normal' set of values; he will not commit adultery because he loves Brenda, he does not want to attend the exclusive parties in London, or spend time with the materialistic and vacuous people who will be there. When his honest wishes of living with his family in the inherited estate that he loves are set against Brenda's confused and empty want of excitement, parties, and luxury, the ridiculous nature of materialism is starkly highlighted.

What Waugh does excellently is characterisation; each person has their own quirks in their speech and habits, such as 'The Shameless Blonde' and her need to play 'patience' whenever she has a spare minute, Mrs Beaver's relation of every situation to what furniture and decoration she could provide for it. Little John Last is perhaps the most endearing, as he copies the bad language of his working class horse trainer, Ben, and repeats it in the worst situations. He also has a charm for taking everything literally, which is refreshing in such a twisted society where there is no honesty and nothing is quite as it seems.

So, one is drifting through this fake world of scandal and hypocrisy, when there is suddenly a burst of rather odd action, following young John's death. Divorce, staged affairs, and a random trip following Tony to Dutch Guana follows, twisting the novel on its head and completely changing its focus. While, as a reader, you cannot complain that the novel is predictable, you are definitely left pining for some sort of resolution. But then, perhaps that is the point Waugh is trying to convey; even in this most civilized of societies people think they have created, there is not really any order, and any power one thinks they have over the course of their lives is merely an illusion constructed by this society.

I suppose what I'm saying, is that it is most definitely an interesting read, but I can definitely understand the contraversy surrounding Waugh - some say he is a literary genius and some find his work ridiculous. Admittedly in the boring position of sitting on the fence, I tend to swing between the two; in this work, anyway, it is as though he has surges of brilliance - like John's death, which then seem to lapse into the mediocre.

If I come across another of his books I will definitely give it a read, and hopefully it will help make up my mind.

As this is a review of sorts, how about a rating?

Evelyn Waugh, 'A Handful of Dust' - 3/5