Saturday, 18 August 2018

Top 3 Films to see this Summer

Watching films is not typically associated with summer. Unfortunately, images of summer evenings, spent watching the sun go down, friends round a barbecue, are more wishful thinking than a reality. And so, when the typical British summer begins to pour from the sky, we find ourselves running to any indoor entertainment we can find, including the cinema. Here's my top 3 picks for cinema trips this summer. 

3. The Festival

Image sourced from here.

Not for anyone who is easily offended - or below a certain age - this is the funniest film to make it to my list. The producers have made no secret of its connections to the inbetweeners, starring one of its lead actors and sharing the immature, crude vibe of the old series. In fact, the opening scene of the film features two inbetweeners actors, with the lead actor appearing to play the same character in both.

The good news is, the strangely familiar set-up is utterly hilarious and, therefore, perfectly okay. It seems somehow acceptable to market what is, essentially, the same film twice if the film is funny enough.

And this is not just funny: in a typically inbetweeners fashion, it is downright crude, outrageous, butt-wrenchingly disgusting and, somehow, brilliant. It is as shocking as it is obvious, as ridiculous as it is accurate and for that, it is well worth a watch. 

2. Mamma Mia 2

Image sourced from here.

On a more universal, and certainly more polite level, is the much awaited sequel to the original hit, Mamma Mia, based on and including the songs of ABBA. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again tells the story of Donna, from the day she leaves university to the day she christens Sophie.

Flitting between Donna's early life and Sophie's present day, the all-star cast tell a tale of love, adventure and heart-break that cuts the heart a little deeper than its predecessor.

My only real criticism of the film is the use of Cher whose role could, frankly, have been played by anyone. Her scenes did feel a little twee and unnecessary.

This was more than made up for by the sheer comedy of the film, with some stonking one-liners that left me with face-ache from all the laughing. 

If you loved the first film, love to laugh or just enjoy a sing-song, this is definitely a film for you.

1. Christopher Robin

Image sourced from here.

Taking it's place at the top of my list is Disney's Christopher Robin, by far my favourite film of the year so far. Based on A.A.Milne's original tales, the film presents Christopher Robin all grown up. Having more or less forgotten about his old friends from the 100 Acre Wood, Christopher is as alarmed as he is delighted to be greeted by none other than Winnie-the-Pooh.

Many have attempted to analyse Winnie-the-Pooh, identifying different traits in each character, interpreting the philosophy behind his famous phrases and determining ulterior motives and messages behind the writing. But all this is really rather unnecessary, for, one of the true pieces of magic behind Winnie-the-Pooh is his ability to make audiences of all ages and degrees of cynicism simply smile. 

My smile did not fade at any point from the second the film started and continued for much of the evening after it. As such, it is well worth a watch. 

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Review Day Tuesday - Not Working

Not Working - Lisa Owens

Very few people ever truly know where they're going in life and the gentle warmth of having it all together is a privilege that touches very few. Claire Flannery is searching for the next big thing in her life, having quit her job, fallen out with her mother and spent her fair share of days doing just about nothing. 

Not Working follows Claire's journey to 'find herself', sharing her highs, lows and observations of the nonsensical, unfair and sometimes, down-right ridiculous world in which she lives.

Image sourced from here.

This is not a book or author that I was familiar with prior to purchase: it sat on a table of other 'recommended reads' in my local Waterstones and, unusually, it was the only text in the selection that didn't sound dull, dull, dull. 

I am always a little tentative when it comes to reading books written in the first person: although they have the potential to be beautifully deep and engaging, they are, more often than not, clumsily written and tiring to follow. Not Working, thankfully, slotted neatly into the former of these two possibilities. 

Interestingly, Not Working is relatively absent of any plot. Nothing particularly major happens and, having finished the book two weeks ago, I find myself struggling to remember exactly what happened, how it began or how it ended. The narrative voice is a character lost in herself, over-whelmed by life and, as such, her life becomes increasingly tedious.

Despite this lack of developing tension, crises or narrative climax, the book had me deeply engaged and thoroughly amused throughout. The narrator's frank, blunt tone is disturbingly honest and, in places, hilarious. Owens' true skill lies in her ability to notice the most subtle details in the most mundane of situations, turning everyday scenes into stories in their own right. As such, Not Working is a beautiful observation of life itself and for that, it is truly worthy of any reader's time. 

Fancy a read? Click here.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Top 5 Positive Places on the Internet

Sometimes, blogging feels like everything is 'all about me' and, given that my life is really, very uninteresting, that seems rather a shame. I spend an unhealthy amount of time online and, as such, have become familiar with as many quiet stars as I have internet-greats. And so, to end our week on a high, here are my top five positive places to be on the big, wide web: 

In Music We Trust

Image sourced from here.

At the top of my list is a company run by Aiden Hatfield, a musician with a passion for talking about mental health. In Music We Trust retails merchandise from this website, donating a whopping 50% of its profits to mental health charity, Mind. Hatfield's own twitter page is the home of positivity, reassurance and love and for that reason, the website and twitter page are well worth a look. 

Click here to find out more. 

The Blurt Foundation

Image sourced from here.

The Blurt Foundation is a social enterprise dedicated to getting people talking about depression, sharing knowledge, understanding and resources. The website offers a range of resources to promote awareness of the mental health condition. In addition to this, they sell BuddyBoxes, parcels of comfort and metaphorical hugs to support those who need it most. And over on their social media, they are busy starting grander social conversations, including initiating projects such as the 365 days of self-care. A truly positive place to be. 

Click here to find out more. 

The Aspie World
Image sourced from here.

Run by Daniel M. Jones, The Aspie World is an award-winning youtube channel used to share knowledge and experiences of life as someone with Asperger's, ADHD and other mental health conditions. I was first introduced to the channel only recently when Jones delivered a talk at an Autism event and his passion for proving that people with Autism spectrum conditions can do anything is second to none. Whilst the subject matter might sound a little niche, the channel discusses topics of relevance to everyone, of any age and, as such, has made it onto my list. 

Click here to find out more. 

Image sourced from here.

Happiful Magazine is available as a free e-download or paid-for, print magazine and compiles some of the most positive articles available in mainstream media. Offering advice on health, relationships and dealing with mental health, the magazine aims to change society, one, positive conversation at a time. It is as contemporary as it is freeing and an interesting read for a sunny evening. 

Click here to find out more. 

The Curly Hair Project

Image sourced from here.

Having only recently reviewed Alis Rowe's book, it is perhaps no surprise that her social enterprise, aiming to support people with Autism spectrum conditions, has made it on to this list. By far one of the most damaging things in society is ignorance and it is this that The Curly Hair Project seeks to dispel, offering training and support for those who know someone with or have autism themselves. Further to this, Rowe's cartoons and media works go some way to supporting people's understanding of how people with autism might think, helping to explain why they behave as they do. The honesty with which this is done makes for a positive place in which people with autism can feel truly understood. 

Click here to find out more. 

Disclaimer: I am not sponsored by any of the sites mentioned in this post. All views are my own.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

The Shy Artist

To be shy is to act nervously before an audience. Such behaviour can take many forms, from the clinging of a young child to their mother to the reserved, quiet self-enclosure of a timid adult. Over time, I have found there to be another presentation of this feeling: the shy artist.

Even the most stereotypical artists somehow succeed in differing from each other, some being outrageously loud and colourful whilst others exist in states of sorry recluse, the only evidence of their existence being the occasional release of an artistic masterpiece. One way or another, artists tend to be rather extreme people and, therefore, manage to draw at least some attention to themselves.

The nature of their work is to be heard, seen and felt: for others to step into those small pieces of their mind and explore. And yet, very few artists create for the sake of others. An author whose sole purpose is to land on the Times Bestseller List is as unlikely to do so as a painter whose only goal is to win the Turner prize. Art is individual, personal and, more than anything, private. It is at its most beautiful when it is meaningful and meaning comes from something far deeper than the heart. 

Thus, many of the most enchanting pieces we know and love were not created to be seen. Painters, writers, dancers, musicians: they all produce work not to please others but to satisfy their own needs. As such, when it comes to the actual point of sharing one's work, many are overwhelmed with a sense of dread like nothing else.

I have been writing since I was young enough to hold a pencil. I have written down stories since my very first year at school and I have invested years of my time into writing novels. Most of that work is, by anyone's standards, really rather awful but some, just some, might actually be worth reading. Upon scanning through it myself, there are rare instances where I do not cringe at the phrasing or the many cliches; there are passages that, despite having written them myself, make me nervous or excited to continue reading. There are chapters - books, even - that I genuinely believe might not be awful. And it is those pages that I simply cannot bring myself to share.

There is something incredibly vulnerable about placing your very soul on show, for anyone who wishes to poke and prod. Years of work can be laughed to shit in seconds, our deepest feelings belittled and our hopes of actually being good at something trampled. The more we believe in a piece, the worse this becomes as the greater the expectation, the greater the fall. The pieces that I believe to be worth something retain that worth for as long as I allow them to: it is only when I give others the opportunity to defile them that I raise myself to the firing line. 

The guns blaze even closer when performing. Write a piece, publish it, kiss it goodbye:I need never meet the readers or hear what they have to say but performing, that is an entirely different ball game. From the second your shoe brushes the tip of the stage, something begins to happen: your energy and that of your audience collide and it is only at the very end of the performance, when you concentration slips, that you are able to determine what has been created as a consequence. Sometimes, the atmosphere is electric, the audience feeding your every note, understanding everything you are saying and sending their own feelings back at you. On other occasions, you are not so lucky: an aggrieved audience offers little or no response and you have been physically drained of your energy. 

Art is hard. It is a disturbing cocktail of excitement, fear and vulnerability that lights a spark and burns the heart simultaneously. Knowledge, or perhaps experience, of this fuels a shyness that prevents many from ever sharing their work for, no matter how good you believe it to be, the second you are asked to expose it, every, subtle flaw amplifies. Fear of rejection, dismissal or, simply, embarrassment cause us to cling to our work like a child to their mother, safety in contact. 

I would like to think that, one day, I might perhaps make something that even I believe is worthy of sharing. But, just for now, I remain uncharacteristically shy. 

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Review Day Tuesday - Recovery: Freedom from Addictions

Recovery: Freedom from Addictions - Russell Brand

Addiction is not a singular entity, reserved solely for alcohol or drugs: it is a complex mental state that, one way or another, haunts more people than anyone would care to realise. From drugs to sex, conflict to love, Brand addresses addiction as a whole in his book about overcoming our obsessive behaviours, once and for all. 

Supported by reflections on his own experiences, Brand explains and applies the twelve-step process to overcoming addiction, not just in its present state, but as a mind-set that requires permanent alteration. Using a language more accessible to the unknowing reader, he summarises each step of the self-treatment process, acknowledging its difficulties and advising how to move on from them. 

Image sourced from here.

I think it appropriate to begin by saying that this did not turn out to be the book that I thought it was. Whilst I was aware that it concerned specific areas of mental-health, previous knowledge of the author, coupled with experiences of reading other books on a similar topic, meant that I expected something of a satirical, auto-biographical discussion of mental health.

What I instead encountered was something really quite serious. Although each stage of the process was given a simpler, more comedic name, the actual content of each chapter was less amusing and more brutally honest, outlining some of the darkest and most honest truths behind our behaviours.

In some places, it made for uncomfortable reading, both because of the situations it described and because of the ways in which it provokes self-acknowledgement on the reader's part.

And that, really, is why this is such an excellent read. It is intense, technical and, in some parts, exhausting but it is equally challenging, honest and intelligent. It is nothing I expected and yet, something far more worthy of a reader's time. 

Brand identifies the very darkest secrets of the human mind and challenges them to a level unlike anything I have previously read and, for that, Recovery: Freedom from Addictions, is something really, rather wonderful.

Fancy a read? Click here.