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Fifty Shades of Grey: A Gay Perspective

13 Apr

I decided to read Fifty Shades of Grey not because I wanted to, but because I wanted to find out for myself what all the fuss was about. And I think that’s what the majority of people have done. They are buying into it because the publicity machine has gone into overdrive and we are intrigued by gossip and juicy details. Just have to look at the bookshelves full of celebrity gossip magazines which pry into people’s homes and lives to know that is what satisfies the general public.
WE are morbidly inquisitive and concern ourselves with things that don’t really bother us. But at the same time, we make feeble attempts to be detached and reserved in our opinions. Such is the nature of the British public anyway.

But I digress. I bought Fifty Shades in a charity shop several months ago. At the time, I seemed to have been in a period of reading a number of trilogies – The Lord Of The Rings, His Dark Materials, The Millennium Trilogy. So I thought, why not read this for a bit of light relief? (pardon the innuendo)

I read the first one. Nothing really happens except Anastasia or “Ana” Steele, a shy, academic 22 year old virgin is attracted to Mr Christian Grey, a 28 year old handsome and incredibly “hot” multimillionaire or billionaire even? who wears sweatpants, jeans or pants “off his hips in that way” whatever that means and they have sex or a mild form of BDSM. He cocks his head, she bites her lips, she says Oh My! Holy Crap! Oh Shit and other such eloquent words a number of times. It’s all very repetitive and TAME. She’s a virgin for goodness sakes and doesn’t know anything different. He’s a control freak and seems to take advantage of her no matter what. Even when she wants “to talk”. HE distracts her with his advances and “her inner goddess” unfurls, purrs and demures. How on earth does she know about her inner goddess when she doesn’t appear to know anything about love, sex, romance or life in general when she is such a bookworm? But then, she also has a more disapproving character in her mind that makes her think twice about what she is doing. However, her “inner goddess” always seems to win and they have the most incredible hot, sexy and amazing sex which always end in mind blowing, earth shattering climaxes. He always makes her come first! Such a gentleman!

Then, it just goes on and on. He buys her expensive gifts, takes her on a helicopter named Charlie Tango, they wine and dine in top restaurants, buys her food and orders her to “Eat” or “Drink” or “Sleep” and she acts like a petulant teenager. He finds it alluring and a massive turn on when she challenges him and in between they declare their undying love for one another in nearly every other paragraph or page.

After Book 1 establishes their great sex life, Book 2 “Fifty Shades of Grey – Darker” provides more insight into the mysterious “Mr Grey” and more one dimensional characters and events. We find out a little bit more about his family and Ana is still trying to come to terms with her rich boyfriends’ lifestyle. For two supposedly intelligent, academic and ambitious young people, their use of language is very simple, they swear a lot and don’t really say much. Oh! And there are numerous emails exchanged that are more annoying to read than allow the reader more insight or excitement. Like two silly teenagers exchanging texts, the emails don’t hold any information of importance or which allow the story to move forward. Just more flirtations between Ana and Mr Grey.

EL James tries to create an enigmatic character in Mr Grey but he fails on all accounts. He’s just boring and we don’t even receive a description of his penis or the size of it. All we know is that he is an arrogant, power crazed, control freak who likes to be Dom with his Subs. He has a mysterious past which does not amount to anything amazing, horrifying or shocking. In this trilogy, cliché after cliché abound and with several “major or traumatic experiences” including the appearance of one of his “ex subs with a gun” scenarios, it just doesn’t flow well at all.

But wait! Book 3 ” Fifty Shades of Grey – Freed” is even worse. Why on earth I bothered with it, god only knows. After a whirlwind romance and three months of out-of-this-world type sex, they discover they really love one another. They even get married and have 2 kids! YES! Really! In between all that, if Ana decides she’s had enough or makes way to leave, Mr ‘I’m so proud me I don’t want to speak to anybody’, breaks down in tears and she does likewise. Oh, she is SOO in love her head is spinning and she doesn’t know what to do. Her former boss who tried to seduce her earlier on ( and she found him creepy) attempts to blackmail her but she shoots him as she attempts to rescue her sister in law. He ends up in hospital, she ends up in hospital, her step dad ends up in hospital. Mr Greys ex is also in hospital but let’s keep all that quiet for now…
Considering how divisive the gun laws are lately, Ana is acquiring a taste for danger and adventure, but she knows how to use a gun and mentions several times to Christian, that she would prefer it if he had a gun. This appears to be a bit of a paradox for Christian, who, who despite his needs and whims for excitement and “kinky fuckery”, is anti-guns.

There are several attempts to inject some tension, drama and tragedy but the threads don’t really flow and we are left bewildered and confused. The two main protagonists tend to contradict themselves. One minute they declare there undying love for one another, consumed with passion, love and lust. But when Mrs Grey declares to Mr Grey that he is pregnant – bearing in mind at that point they are married – he shouts something along the lines of “we’ve known each other for five fucking minutes. I wanted to show you the world and now…Fuck. Diapers and vomit and shit!” Oh My. She doesn’t actually say “Oh My!” at that point but I thought I’d throw it in as she might as well have said it, she says it so often…That’s indicative of the type of language used throughout this tale of poor virgin meeting big shot yet oh-so-sexy Mr Grey.

This trilogy is similar to Dan Browns Da Vinci Code and The Blair Witch Project. It’s not the novel, film or the writing that is great. The stories aren’t even memorable to be honest. What they have behind them is great PR machines. They are in over drive and we have fallen for it hook, line and sinker.

Fifty Shades of Grey is as dull as dishwater and I think, a crime against literature. No wonder it’s finding it’s way into the charity shops in the last few months. The fad and fuss is nearly over. I thought is it one of the worst trilogies I’ve ever read or THE worst. I’ve decided it’s the WORST one ever! It just irritated the hell out of me and I can’t wait to get it out of my house and into the charity shop. I may just even give it to my friend who said she would like to read it. I know she wouldn’t but she’ll keep it on her bookshelf to make her seem more “current and topical”. It may make its way into the discount stores or bargain basements and in a few years, we’ll be asking what was all that out!? We’d forget about it because they’d be another Fifty Shades of book out there that’ll be making headways. But next time, I’ll make sure I’m definitely not at that gravy boat to all things Grey in more ways than one!

The Learned Kat

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Oz The Great and Powerful

12 Mar

 

I’m a huge fan of The Wizard of Oz (1939). As a child, I read most of the Oz books, and over the years, have watched Judy Garlands’ Dorothy time and time again. 

From the technicolour  trailers, I thought and assumed this is one production I must watch. After the complete hash job of ‘Return To Oz’ in 1985, the “unofficial sequel” to the 1939 production, I thought they could not or would not attempt to make another attempt to return to Oz, so to speak.

However, this version was touted as a “prequel”. Naturally, being an avid fan, I expected great and powerful things. We arrived at the cinema and handed our tickets to the attendant. “Just follow the yellow brick road” he said. I thought he was being sarcastic until I looked down and saw a vinyl yellow road taped down onto the hardwearing industrial carpet. It led us to the IMAX screen. We’d never been in there before. We had to have a different type of 3D glasses to the ones I had brought in especially for the occasion. We settled down and watched the large images in front of us.

Sam Raimi, who brought us ‘Drag Me to Hell’ and the ‘Spiderman‘ trilogy , created his version of how a mere mortal, Oscar Diggs, played by James Franco, a small time Kansas con-man/magician with an eye for the ladies, came to be the wonderful wizard of Oz.

Taking inspiration from the original classic, this version also starts in black and white. The scene is set and we catch a glimpse into the world of late 19th century entertainment with a menagerie of circus acts which includes contortionists, strong men, hoopla and clowns. I couldn’t help but feel that it was “too staged” for my likings. In comparison to The Artist, which was shot completely in monochrome and silence which added to the feeling that one was watching a silent movie from that era or transported back in time , the use of black and white here was too clinical. It appeared to lack depth and had a touch of a modern day soap opera. A little bit hammy and lacking in chemistry between the character actors.

As Oscar is a bit of a “player”, he toys with the emotions of a naïve, attractive woman and as a token or gesture of their relationship, he hands her a wooden music box with a sad tale of how it belonged to his grandmother. The young woman is infatuated with him but her real boyfriend or husband finds out and threatens to kill Oscar, who in turn, attempts to escape in a hot air balloon.  He does this with glee, but once again, with reference to the original, is soon trapped in a tornado and is hurtled into the middle of the storm. He prays to be kept alive and promises that if he does survive, he will be a changed man.

Like Dorothy, who moved from the bleak black and white room and through the doors into the wonderful technicolour world of Oz, Oscar is also transported in similar fashion. He is shifted from a crouching position in the basket of the balloon and only when he puts his head above the parapet, does the colour glow into his cheeks and we are seduced by the colourful offerings in this new land of Oz.

Oscar, or Oz, as he refers to himself, is befriended by a young witch named Theodora. She initially believes him to be the saviour of Oz, but he informs her otherwise. They develop a close friendship and he seduces her with his charm. However, any romantic notions Theodora has towards Oscar are short lived when her sister Evanora, informs her that Oscar also attempted to seduce her and brings out a wooden music box.

Theodora becomes upset and cries.  As I watched this scene I thought “Tears that arise from a breaking heart burn and sear the pain”. The tears literally burn her face. As Theodora feels humiliated by the taunts and words of her sister, she becomes more enraged and embittered. Her sister then encourages her to eat an apple in order to seek revenge. This scene appeared to be a rehash of the scene in Disneys’ Snow White, when the evil witch, disguised as an old beggar woman beguiles and preys on the vulnerable and gullible young heroine. Once bitten, Theodora realises  the identity of the true evil witch and the one who wants to rule Oz. She begins to change and turns green with envy. The term “hell hath no fury…” came to mind and it was good to see the morphing of a “good girl gone bad”. Thanks, Rihanna!

It is then that the mood of the film begins to change from a fairly light story into a more darker and sinister tale which again is typical of Disney.

Relying more heavily on being action driven rather than plotlines, Oz The Great and Powerful is a visual feast of delights, an Avatar for the younger children.  There were times when I thought this production was typical of Disney studios. There were scenes when Oscar would walk down the yellow brick road and I almost imagined or expected him to burst into song like “Zip a dee doo dah” . Then, when Oscar is enraptured by the beauty of the land, there were scenes which reminded me of the talking flowers in Alice in Wonderland. Introducing new characters like China Girl and Finley the monkey, voiced by Joey King and Zach Braff respectively,  allowed the film to develop themes of family, friendship, companionship and a bit of humour.  Like the monkey in Aladdin and the Gingerbread Man in Shrek, they added the “Aaah!” factor.

James Franco shows what a versatile actor he is with the simultaneous release of this film and with the release of Spring Breakers in which he plays an off the wall drugs dealing character. Michelle Williams as Glinda the Good Witch was too mature and didn’t really bounce with goodness or charm. Rachel Weisz  looked as if she relished the role of playing the evil witch  Evanora and Mila Kunis as her sister Theodora made the role her own.  I could believe in her portrayal of the Wicked Witch as she demonstrated consistency and, I assume in her research, added cackles and mannerisms to her character which are definitely in line with the Wicked Witch in Oz that we know and love/hate over the decades.

The inclusion of black actors, especially a character named Knuck, played by Tony Cox, made this production and the dialogue feel “too modern”. It was good to see that it was trying to appeal to a wider audience but at times, it felt it lacked the sentiment, whimsical charms of the original but was a more superior and value for money production better than “Return to Oz”.

The Learned Kat

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht

11 Mar

This book was recommended by my local book club, the Bearwood Bookworms. I wasn’t too sure about the choice made as we’d only finished reading The Leopard (Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa) and someone had mentioned The White Tiger (Aravind Adiga).

There seemed to have been a big cat/feline theme going on…

I requested a copy from my local library and when I got home, I started to read it:

A young female doctor goes in search of her late grandfathers’ last resting place and his personal belongings. She describes her relationship with her grandfather, who was also a doctor, and the associated memories of him. This is interspersed with him telling her stories of his youth and his subsequent meetings with “the deathless man”.

The tiger of the novel is a relatively tamed species, which is kept in a zoo that the young doctor frequently visited with her granddad. manages to escape from a bombed zoo and in its attempt for survival, prowls the land in search of food and shelter. It is in one village that the tiger is seen, and “hunters” are dispatched to kill it. Unbeknownst to the local villagers, a deaf-mute woman, who also happens to be an “Outsider” finds a way to feed and care for the tiger. This leads to speculation, alienation and fabrication.

The story is interwoven with characters from different eras, but at the same time, the themes of desperation, survival, dying/death, fear and quality of life remains. There is uncertainty, trying to draw out fact from fiction, the question of cultural identity and the role of compassion and humanity in times of destruction.

I wouldn’t say he was a central character, but because he appears several times as a “constant”  throughout the novel, the “deathless man” has to have a mention as a very clever literary device. To me, the deathless man is symbolic of what the old doctor had known for most of his life: death which is known and unknown. For most of his young life, the doctor had either seen, heard or witnessed death. It was his experiences that drew him to try and help people and keep them alive. But it was also his knowledge of observing the signs and symptoms of death,  dying and the search for salvation that seemed to allow him to have pleasant conversations with the deathless man. Having the figure of the deathless man in the stories seemed to make the doctor, although sceptical and angry at the initial meeting, begin to develop  a relationship of some sorts over the years. Sporadic meetings allowed the doctor to question why the deathless man would come to him and what he gained from his visits. I think the deathless man represented the doctors own conscience, as he would look around during the war years and would question the futility of it all. It was at these times that the deathless man would appear and they would either argue or wrestle with what may be the consciousness.

The deathless man offers hope and preparation, not fear and uncertainty. He is a quietly strong, confident and practical being. In his own way, like the doctor, he offers salvation, resolution and peace. Maybe because the doctor has seen so much death in his time, that is why he would not accept it in a “lifeform!” It makes it more tangible and “real”. It is there, waiting and ready for everyone no matter what the circumstances.

Relationships are explored, either superficial or deep, loss and love are prominent in the telling of the search for the grandfather. Friendship, support and understanding are also key issues which Tea Obrecht explores with passion and instinct.

Having won the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011, I can now fully understand and appreciate why. The author draws you into a story within a story. Descriptive, seamless and enchanting, Obrecht relates the horrors of modern day wars with the wars of yesteryear. It was similar to The Book Thief ( Markus Zusak) and The Diary of Anne Frank but told through the style of The Arabian Nights. Full of sadness, melancholia, dark humour and shocking endings for some of the characters, it combined fables and folklore within communities bombarded by war, death, segregation, religion, superstition, fear and possibly ignorance.

My initial uncertainty was unfounded. It was an engrossing, page turner and at the end, I was overcome with the desire or wish to see this novel turned into a film. Every bookshelf ought to have a copy.

The Learned Kat

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

19 Dec

Having watched Peter Jacksons’ Lord Of The Rings trilogy on DVD a few years ago, I was keen on watching  The Hobbit or the prequel to the whole LOTR saga.

Martin Freeman was well cast as Bilbo Baggins, and really captured the essence of the character I had visualised in my own mind – a humble, modest, reluctant adventurer, who, at the beginning, is torn between remaining in his home County or seeking new thrills and adventures at the suggestion of Gandolph.

Ian Mckellan reprises his role as Gandolph, but in comparison to the LOTR trilogy, this time he appears to play him with less intensity and mystique and there is a slight campness to his role, almost like a watered down panto dame.

The roles of the dwarves is “padded out” and some scenes or lines are provided so that the audience becomes more familiar with their characters. The first half of the film just seemed to plod along, and time was given to create character development and a comparison to how things were and how things became  since the King of the Dwarves was thwarted during an earlier battle.  And it was the battle scenes which really bolstered the film and gave it the impression that we were watching something epic. Otherwise it seemed like a  slow burning drama. However, the pace soon picked up with the appearance of  a much less “sinister” and more humane Gollum in the dark caves. The scene in which Bilbo first meets him added some humour with riddles and expressions which brought titters and chuckles in the auditorium and I almost felt sorry for the sad, pitiful and lonely creature with his teary, large blue eyes and wide mouth full of nine teeth, ready to gnaw into any flesh he found. That. for me, was the “standout” scene.

Cate Blanchett as Galadriel makes what appeared to me, an unnecessary cameo appearance, as her character does not even appear in the novel. Christopher Lee makes a brief return as Saruman The White or the Head of the Order of Wizards but comes across as more of a rambling old man rather than a powerful and authoritative figure.

The CGI effects in creating the Trolls, Orcs, Wargs and Goblins provided a real sense of evil, menace and creatures that lived in a Kingdom of darkness and cruelty.

Cinematography and visuals were simply stunning and once again, using the fantastic landscape of New Zealand really was truly breathtaking in parts.

However, in comparison to the LOTR trilogy, The Hobbit was a more “lightweight” adventure, many scenes of Middle Earth looked whimsical and colourful but I assume that is deliberate in this instalment as there are another two planned and they may become “darker” in the storytelling.

Overall, rather than it being a snooze fest as I initially thought it would be, it turned into quite an enjoyable saga with several doses of  adrenalin rush. I look forward to seeing the next instalment but would I be in a rush to watch it at the cinema or wait for it to be available on DVD? Time will tell…

The Learned Kat

Bram Stokers Dracula

13 Dec

I’ve always been an avid fan of Dracula movies, ever since I was a child. I have watched many versions, from those which starred Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee to Leslie Nielson and Marc Warren. Funnily enough though, I have no interest whatsoever to watch True Blood, Vampire Diaries or the global phenomenon that is Twilight.

You might think that with this fascination, I would’ve read the novel already. But no, it’s only taken me all these years to actually read the book from cover to cover and I must say, I had mixed feelings about it. As I have watched so many film versions, I was expecting it to be a darker tale with a  lot more blood guts and gore. But instead, what I read, was a relatively camp, theatrical story. I didn’t even realise that the novel was written in journal/diary form and taken from the different perspectives of the main characters involved!

The first part was quite lightweight and I was quite impatient to read how Dracula was to be introduced. When he did appear, the first sighting at Whitby, he was almost an illusion. It was very “romantic” in a sense, and the sense of gothic-horror was foreboding. I enjoyed reading about the young Miss Lucy and the several proposals. I liked the strength of Mina Harker and how she appeared to have intuition and foresight, I empathised with her husband Jonathan who felt entrapped in Draculas castle. I wasn’t keen on the many descriptions about the man eating flies and spiders and understand why some directors would choose to edit him out in the film versions. I don’t really think it added to the plot.

What did surprise me, however, is that although Dracula and his ship is first sighted at Whitby, the majority of the drama or where he is based, is London. So that in itself was disappointing. Another thing which irked me slightly is that when Van Helsing arrived, I felt the story became somewhat disjointed and his speech was almost like riddles (or maybe that was due to the fact Bram was trying to capture the speech and mannerisms of a foreign man?)

Draculas three “Muses” alluded to some form of eroticism, glamour and  fantasy. They appeared and disappeared like exposed women in a harem. Only to be staked to death at the end…

In  effect, we only see or know Dracula exists because several of the main characters mention him in their journals. More than one witness and we know he is “real”. Dracula doesn’t really do anything more than just appear and disappear like a bad villain in a Victorian pantomine. He might as well be twirling his moustache and swishing his cloak about…It comes as no surprise that the author had a fairly theatrical background.

In comparison to todays more grahic novels, Dracula as a piece of literature is quite tame. The manner in which Van Helsin et al planned, plotted and spoke about Dracula, other characters, events and incidents  left me feeling bemused. They would have deep, meaningful conversations and the next sentence will be about what to have for breakfast!

It really was a case of light and shade in the telling of the drama. From being secretive, providing molonogues, shock, shame. love. betrayal, passion, hatred, death…Touching on themes such as Womens Rights, immigration, superstition and spirituality/religion, Dracuala the novel had it all! but I suppose when it was written, it entranced and enchanted the readers…  and since then, it has done the same, including me, and no doubt, will continue to do so for millions of readers today and for many years to come.

The Learned Kat