Tag Archives: Critique

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


The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: A review

1 Apr


“The Circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it…It is simply there, when yesterday it was not” 

So reads the blurb on the back cover of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

I was intrigued. I turned to the front cover and was still unsure. I opened the book and skimmed through several paragraphs. I turned to the cover again. I was swayed by the Edwardian/Victorian feel of the image used and decided this was a book worth reading.

So, I sat down and read it. I enjoyed the imagery, the introduction of many characters, the game/challenge or competition that was set up. The premise of the novel is that two young children, Marco Alisdair and his counterpart Celia Bowen, are chosen to be trained, mentored and taught how to be inventive with the use of magic. As readers. we are drawn into a whimsical world of fantasy, magic and beautiful illusions. We share the same thoughts as the performers, followers of the Circus known as “rêveurs”, who all dress in black but are distinguishable with a dash of a red item like a red scarf, rose, umbrella or handkerchief and other speculators who do not quite know how the magic of the circus exists.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect.  The initial objective appeared to be that Marco and Celia, with their respective mentors, experience and training in their own separate arenas and not knowing of one another for years, would eventually meet and it would culminate in an explosive end game. However, that was not meant to be…

It seemed to lull me into a false sense of security: with the unexpected death of two of the characters, I thought the novel would become a murder mystery. However, as the story unravelled, it appeared to change direction and the language appeared to be stilted and more contemporary in style. It seemed as if Erin Morgenstern was rushed by her agent to try and end the novel or find some sort of resolution. Two thirds of the novel flowed really well, the style of writing, the plots and sub-plots, the use of a diverse range of colourful and interesting characters and the dream like quality of each circus tent. Even having “followers” of the circus appeared to be a social statement on our perspective or views on the world of “celebrity”. That was all read in good faith. Then, when I was hoping or expecting a great climax, a love connection is made between Marco and Celia. The Night Circus becomes their way of symbolising their love, devotion and commitment to one another without having to be in each other’s company. That’s when I thought the novel became a little twee and saccharine in content and substance.

There are elements, characters and scenes which don’t really add anything to the narrative but are stitched together to carry it along.

I liked the overall reading experience of the novel, the manner in which scenes are created or depicted, the way it captured my imagination  and the writing style. But I was left feeling disappointed with the eventual culmination of the tale, the resolution of the two main characters. and the  ending of The Night Circus.

Saying that, I would still keep it in my book collection.

The Learned Kat

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


Facebook and the Jeremy Kyle Generation

6 Mar

Joining the virtual community has it’s ups and downs. Choosing social networking sites has its own lovers and haters. When I first heard about the social phenomena known as Facebook, I didn’t want to know as it just didn’t interest me at all. All I ever heard was people rating it and saying how marvellous it was to talk to people online and share interests, photos, keep in touch with people and so on. There were also those who said it was a complete waste of time and would rather meet people face to face or hold a good old fashion social gathering or communicate with people on the phone. It’s better that way so you can read peoples body language, facial expressions and listen to their tone of voice. I listened to both sides of the arguments and tended to agree.

Because everyone was talking about it, good or bad, for better or worse, I decided to become a member of Facebook. That was back in August 2007. God, even just writing that date down has made me realise how long I’ve been addicted, if that word can be used to here, to the online community! It was with great trepidation that I typed in my name and created an account. After a bit of research and waiting around, waiting for something great to happen, I suppose, I added  several friends. Then, a couple of months later, I “shared” my first item, an article about new technological clocks and watches that I hoped my brother (and others) would find interesting. Then, I received my first message. Like anything unfamiliar, you allow time to get used to it. So, my only connection with Facebook was a gradual process. I had an account but I was not active  on it for months on end. It took me about two years, would you believe!? to use the account properly and really start to communicate. I really thought I was making headway! I thought I was hip, trendy and flowing with modern culture and technology. I was quite happy sharing photos, conversing with friends, commenting here and there, passing on jokes, updating my status with regular observations or thoughts.

Then, something strange happened. Facebook had gained notoriety on British TV.


“It was Facebook that did it!” the woman screamed. I looked up and it was a woman on the Jeremy Kyle Show. She was blaming the breakdown of her relationship with her ex-boyfriend on Facebook. “What do you mean?” asked a perturbed Jeremy Kyle. He obviously hadn’t joined the social revolution like the rest of us. The woman explained how she had found him speaking to other girls, sharing personal and private photos, making comments about her behind her back, ridiculing and poking fun of her appearance, weight, habits and behaviour. The boyfriend came out and denied all the allegations. “There’s nothing going on!” There followed a spat and it dawned on Jeremy that the manner in which the estranged couple spoke was no different to how the comments were made on Facebook. The ex-boyfriend thanked Jeremy for his understanding and said that that was exactly what he was trying to explain to his girlfriend. “But it was all written down!” she sobbed. There was some more discussion and a reconciliation of some sorts. Now, I’m not a fan of Jeremy Kyle, but when you are flicking channels, sometimes you can’t but help getting drawn in. With many of Jeremy Kyles’ participants’, we know that they are of a certain class, status and social background (I’m not a social snob by the way) But the point being that over a period of time, it was becoming evident to Jeremy and us, the viewers at home and in the audience, that Facebook appeared to be the bane of peoples lives. There were arguments, petty squabbles, bullying, stories of stalking, accusations thrown, physical brawls and other horrendous issues were making themselves present. People on the show appeared to have their family, relationships and friendships lives broken, dictated to and destroyed all because of items or comments made or misconstrued  on Facebook. They would never admit to the fact that in most cases, the majority of the issues were lying dormant or unresolved for years long before Facebook came along. A lot of the stories came about because comments, articles or items posted were misconstrued or insensitively placed  and ridiculed. Sometimes there was deliberation behind what they did, or malicious or vindictive intent. Other times, it was a mistake or a spur of the moment decision made in haste. Overall after a number of years, after a number of debates, altercations, confrontations over the use of Facebook,  Jeremy finally became exasperated by it all and said he was glad he did not bother with Facebook and preferred to talk to people face to face, to talk through any feelings or misunderstandings and was glad to have a close network of friends and a very loving family, people whom he could trust and know would support him.

I agreed with his sentiments as I was beginning to feel jaded by what people were sharing on the site. What started off as light conversation, as a way and means to keep in touch, would soon become a minefield of social etiquette. Do I “like” a comment or not? If I didn’t, did that mean the person wouldn’t speak to me again? Do I comment on what someone has written ort not? If I wrote something humorous, would that make me insensitive? And the questions that worked there way around my thoughts just wore on and on. Eventually, I just became a “skim reader” of status updates and only commented where I saw fit or felt I needed to share something of value, importance or interest. For me, Facebook wasn’t just about sharing things like a cat photo or mundane items like what you’ve had for breakfast, or going out. It was about life events, telling or informing me that my friends, people who I knew, were doing something exciting, inspiring or magnificent even. Tell me something that I don’t know. And the poems or “inspirational” pieces that have been liked and shared thousand of times irritate and annoy me. They are like the junk mail through the letterbox or the spam in the emails. The majority of items shared, we’ve all done it. It’s commonplace the world over.

Anyway. Bear with me, my rant is nearly over! Several months ago, I had joined a community page called The Bearwood Page, with the emphasis being “For people who live, work and use the many facilities in Bearwood, to share ideas for and celebrate Bearwood”. I enjoyed the community spirit and at last, I thought could join an open forum which was passionate, positive about the locality and was obliging to accept posts which celebrated creativity, diversity and ways to improve my community and help others. I read status updates, posted my own items such as poems or photos of my cakes, provided information about businesses, tried to be helpful and thoughtful in my queries and criticisms.

Then, I noted that one or two individuals would provide information or answer queries in a relatively acceptable manner. Sometimes it was useful, other times it was deemed to be “harmless banter”. I took it at face value at first because I didn’t know the people and I didn’t wish to offend, be hurtful in my comments or say something that might be misconstrued. I accepted comments for being there or just skimmed through them. Then, I noticed that if someone posted a query or had something positive to say, there was always someone who would disagree. I understood and appreciated that. But things began to change when I asked the group just to “like or dislike” things about Bearwood. It started off with good intentions, a great exercise I thought to stop the negative attitudes on the page. But it soon lost direction when people started to comment on other things. “AAAAARRRGGGHH!” I shouted at some point. “I just want a LIST! you know, like a SHOPPING LIST!!? Is that so difficult!??” but people were quick to respond and took the thread onto a completely different tangent. So, I kept calm, and moved on…

Three days ago, a random person, new to the area, posted a query on The Bearwood Page. It was just a general question about what groups could she join without it being affiliated to the local Council. She received three relatively useful comment or signposts. Leave it at that, I thought. But then, someone posted a comment and didn’t necessarily mean anything nasty by it. However, this comment was picked up and scrutinised by others; within hours, in fact over a period of two days, the thread was lost to almost 400 comments which were critical, negative, sarcastic, rude, offensive, derogatory, childish, worthless, subjective and had no bearing whatsoever to the original question. Now, the people using the page, I thought or assume, tend to be white, middle -class, educated, professional people. I would think or hoped they would conduct themselves better than that. I mean, if they were at work, would they be so open in their views or opinions? I think not. Hiding behind the façade of a latop at home provides a safe haven to say what they like.  They are probably the same people who would mock, scoff or laugh at the people on Jeremy Kyle shows or turn their noses up at what is presented on daytime TV with disdain and disgust. Like Jeremy Kyle, Moderators debated whether or not they should intervene. After all, the wife of one of the Moderators partners was being attacked on Facebook and he, in turn, would naturally want to protect and support her. The other Moderator thought it best to leave the online community forum as it is. Let them make fools of themselves, he said. Now, if responses or comment to a question or status update has no bearing on the post, why bother to comment? They used to say if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. People you don’t know take liberties and there are certain things that we should be wary or mindful of…Facebook is the Jeremy Kyle Show of the social networks. Forums, Groups and Pages  start off with good intentions but soon degenerates into a farcical, sometimes cruel event without any backup, support or identity. Some issues are resolved easily, others leave a bitter taste in the mouth or leave one angry. This latest incident has made me wonder, is it all worth it? The amount of people who are taken in by the merits of Facebook, have or having experienced anguish, had their health affected, a drain on their mental well being  and physical hurt has been astounding over the years and more recently in this Bearwood Page debacle.

On some websites, like Youtube, comments can start off relating to the music video and can turn into a spiteful, vicious and personal attack on others. In some instances, comments can be disabled so as not to offend. 

They say that about 90% of communication is nonverbal. Can we keep it that way or are we as a society, social beings, losing that connection, losing the power to understand nuances, subtexts, humour, reading facial expressions, sensing something is good/bad, as we seem to rely so heavily now on social networks and online forums and discussions. We appear to becoming so insular, I am reminded of the characters on the ship in Wall-e, an animated CGI film, seated comfortably and not taking notice of the changes taking place around us. At the same time, I also think that no matter what class, social background we come from, education we receive or intellect we perceive we have,  we might not show or demonstrate it physically on television like those individuals on the Jeremy Kyle Show, but we appear to be doing that same thing  in the written word and through the use of online forums. With 1 billion users, is Facebook really a social phenomena or are we taken in by a gimmick, manipulated like those on reality TV? What do we gain by using Facebook on a regular basis?

The Power of the Written Word. Be careful how you use it!

The Learned Kat

Mama: A Review

3 Mar

Two young sisters, a short sighted Victoria aged 3 and Lilly, aged 1 are taken from their home by their dad who is clearly distraught, upset and angry. He bundles them into a car and over the radio news, we learn that the dad, Jeffrey. has murdered his wife  and is trying to get away. We follow them as they drive through snow and icy roads. The car crashes in the woods and they find their way to what appears to be a a secluded cabin. However, there seems to be something evil lurking inside…

Five years later, the girls are discovered in a feral state, are medically assessed and with the aid of Dr Dreyfuss, who specialises in child psychology/psychiatry, are placed in the care of their painter/artist uncle Lucas and his rock chick girlfriend Annabel, much to the chagrin of the aunt, Jeanie, the sister of the childrens’ deceased mum. However, the prospect of looking after Lucas’ nieces proves to be challenging and brings its own sinister secrets and daunting experiences.

Victoria has progressed and can communicate quite well, whereas Lilly is still relatively insular, with an animalistic nature and is drawn to the as yet unseen character known as Mama. As time progresses, Victoria is quite happy to accept the blurred vision of Mama  but gradually begins to take comfort in the real love and affection which Annabel provides. One day,  Victoria decides to keep her spectacles on and face the being which has haunted their young lives. It is at that moment that we, as the audience also share the clarity of the vision and Mama is revealed in her true nature. It’s a screamer of a scene.

Haunted by nightmares, the two adult protagonists begin to unravel the story of Mama and it reveals a historical story of madness, mental asylums and death.

All the child actresses are absolutely adorable, endearing and carry the film effortlessly. As the story unfolds, one is drawn into their world as much as the adult one. Their dialogue is short, concise and conveys messages, feelings and emotions in a simplistic manner. An incredible achievement for such young talent. It remains to be seen if they transform into successful stars and establish themselves over the years, as we know from tabloid press and interviews, making that transition from child star to bona fide adult star is a struggle for many.

From the visionary director Guillermo del Toro who gave the world surreal fantasy/drama Pan’s Labryinth, comes another tale of love & death, courage, sacrifice, jealousy, motherhood,  the role of a mother, and touches of the age old nature/nurture debate.  ‘Mama’ is an engrossing piece of fiction that explores the duality of a parent’s role – to protect children from harm and the possible repercussions of what would be if a parent is to become so overtly protective that the parent becomes jealous, insecure and obsessive. Words that spring to mind are learning to let go; standing up for what you believe in, and what appears to be the ultimate sacrifice = to allow a loved one to go in order to survive.

Mama seems to  draw on the edge-of-the-seat psychology of ‘The Shining’, the fixation and obsession of ‘The Hand That Rocks The Cradle’, the spine-chilling tingles of ‘The Exorcist’ and shades of ‘The Poltergeist’. Yes, we may have seen it all before – the doctor finding and going into cabin in the  woods and Jeanie investigating forms of abuse in the family home provide predictable endings for these two characters – but Mama has re-packaged the thrills and shock surprises for a modern generation of cinema-goers.

As clichés go, it’s a nail biting, edge of the seat horror/thriller with a fantastical ending which would have you crying and calling out for Mama!


The Learned Kat

Song for Marion: A Review

26 Feb

‘Song for Marion’ was a film that I was waiting to watch since I first saw it advertised. And, I must say, it was well worth it.
Devoted couple Arthur (Terence Stamp) and Marion (Vanessa Redgrave) live in a small bungalow, where Arthur cares for his ailing wife. Marion is a member of a choral group made up of elderly people and looks forward to her regular singing sessions at the local community social centre. Marion is optimistic, outgoing and well liked.
Arthur, however, is quite reticent or insular, grumpy, stubborn and refuses to be drawn into the same arena which Marion enjoys so much. They have one son, James (Christopher Ecclestone) who is close to his mother but there appears to be a void between father and son.

Like a number of films before it, and no doubt there will be many more to follow, the premise of this film is based upon the idea that Elizabeth, the choir leader, played amiably by the versatile Gemma Arterton, informs the group that she is going to enter ‘The OAPz’ (the ‘z’ is added to give it more street cred, and also a nod to a singing/dancing group of pensioners who entered Britain’s Got Talent a few years ago) into a choral singing competition. So the “oldies” throw themselves into rehearsing and performing for their one special night. It is only when Marion is informed she has a couple of months to live that we realise she is dying of cancer and things begin to change.

A scene where her fellow amateur singers gather together outside Marions’ bedroom window and sing in the rain leads to a minor disagreement between Arthur and Marion. Arthur shouts at the singing crowd and tells them to “bugger off!” and Marion asks him to apologise, which he refuses to do. So she refuses to speak to him until he does. The scene is both humourous and typically quirky of British eccentricities.
The two stars share scenes like a well worn old pair of shoes, and come across as a very familiar, doting and loving couple.

With Marion passing away, Elizabeth takes it upon herself to offer Arthur the opportunity to say what he feels and be true to himself. At first, he is reluctant to change but decides to open up and seeks solace or refuge at the social club, to continue the good work of Marion. At the same time, he tries to reach out to his son and make amends for being so distant. The son closes the door on him…

Vanessa Redgraves portrayal of a dedicated, loyal, dying wife anchoring the bonds between the strained relationship of father and son and singing Cyndi Laupers “True Colours” was sensitively handled. One of the grand dames of screen and theatre presented Marion without any schmaltz or the feeling that we’ve seen it all before. And Terence Stamp singing his ‘Song’ for Marion, hence the title of the film, at the end was a real heartbreaker. He sang it with aplomb and such powerful emotions came through. Not a dry eye in the house on screen as well as off, I would say.

“Song for Marion” is a well written, well directed tender, simple yet touching story which engages the audience and is likely to bring a tear to the eye for anyone who has loved and lost, experienced grief and bereavement or is a fan of sentiment and family humour. Some parts of the script were deliberately construed to set the viewers emotions in a certain direction, soft hearts with a slightly cynical edge. I certainly had my tissues handy and I’m sure others in the auditorium were feeling as if they’d gone through a bittersweet chapter too.

What sets this film apart from other films of similar ilk is the understated and sturdy performances of the stellar cast, although the supporting actors like Ann Reid and the extras were superficial to requirements. Setting it in a social club in one of the many towns in the UK community adds realism and attention to detail. I think the British audience would be able to relate to it more than our overseas friends but the core of the tale will strike a chord with many.

Yet another heart-warming, charming tale in how to deal with the elderly, dying and death. It’s about time we saw more films dealing with the elderly and real issues that we need to face up to and manage. Some people would say it was corny, but if this is corn, I like it sweet with a pinch of salt. More please!

The Learned Kat