Literary Pop: Is it Just Me?

Author: Miranda Hart
Nationality: British
Year: 2012

The next book in my month of entertainment autobiographies was Is it Just Me? by Miranda Hart.  Miranda is an actress and comedienne I’ve got plenty of time for – I’ve never really seen her self-titled sitcom, but her increasingly-fleeting appearances in BBC’s “Call the Midwife” are always appreciated in our household. I picked this up in a charity shop a couple of years ago (Oxfam in Banbury I believe – if only I could remember other things as well as I do book purchases) and I’d been looking forward to reading it ever since.  Oh, how sweet anticipation is often crushed by miserable reality.

Is it Just Me
Is it Just Me who couldn’t stand this book?

So as it turns out, Is it Just Me? Is not an autobiography.  I repeat, not an autobiography.  The book is in fact a series of discussions of various aspects of life, such as love, family and growing up, in Miranda’s quirky style – as in, “Is it just me who thinks x about y?”  The book mainly takes the format of conversations with the reader in addition to numerous interruptions from Miranda’s “younger self”.  Through witty anecdotes, Miranda presents her thoughts on how the world might be a better place.

What a disappointment!  Maybe it’s a decent book but it was really not what I wanted and was therefore a big let-down.  The interludes from “young Miranda” were incredibly annoying and the anecdotes seemed, frankly, like something out of a sitcom – I would be surprised if a single one were true.  Heck, maybe Hart has led an unbelievably embarrassing life, but I doubt it.  The worst thing of all was that I learned practically nothing about Miranda’s life.  Instead of finishing a book and feeling smarter/culturally enriched/well-informed, I pretty much felt duped.  It won’t really change my opinion of Miranda as a person or an actress/comedienne – it was fully in keeping with her persona, and as I say might be a happy read if you know what you’re expecting.  But still.  Not for me.

 

My rating: 4/10

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Music Pop: Push and Shove

Artist: No Doubt
Year: 2012
Example Song:  Settle Down

I was a little too young to appreciate No Doubt when they were first active, but several years ago I became familiar with them (although I had been well aware of Gwen Stefani for a while by then).  Since then, they’ve grown steadily into one of my favourite bands, and so when in 2012, after a recording hiatus of over ten years, they released their long-awaited sixth studio effort I was very keen to hear their new material.  The album had been in the pipeline for a few years before release, after Stefani’s solo albums in 2004 and 2006.  The title, Push and Shove, was announced early in 2012 and the first single of the same name in July before the full record the next month.

Push_and_Shove_-_No_Doubt_album_cover“Settle Down”, the single preceding the album, is in fact the first song on the record.  It’s a powerful song, making it clear that No Doubt are back with a bang.  It’s a very strong start to the album, which I always worry about, but the following song (and second single) “Looking Hot” is almost as good.  Both songs are very upbeat and rocky pop and remind me more of Gwen’s solo work than early No Doubt, but then “One More Summer” is much slower and “Push and Shove”, featuring Busy Signal and Major Lazer, incorporates heavy reggae influences that are characteristic of the group.  “Easy” is laid-back but good, and “Gravity” is a more moving song that sounds full of emotion. “Undercover” and “Undone” are two decent songs although unspectacular, and then “Sparkle” is a poignant, rueful ode to a breakup (not unlike Stefani’s “Cool” from Love.Angel.Music.Baby.). It’s followed by “Heaven”, a much more optimistic track, and the album finishes off with “Dreaming the Same Dream”, which is a good enough song to end the record.  There’s quite a lot of bonus material on the deluxe edition, but I want to give a special mention to the rendition of Adam and the Ants’ “Stand and Deliver” (recorded in 2009), which suits the band perfectly.

Push and Shove is a great album, although it took me a while to get accustomed to it (but everything does), and it unfortunately drops off a little towards the end.  The sound is also quite different from what No Doubt originally released; it almost leans closer to Gwen Stefani’s solo work stylistically.  This might well be deliberate on the band’s part because they’re all significantly older than they were and this seems much more polished and contemplative than their earlier, more youthful and exuberant work.  This shouldn’t be taken as a negative, because I don’t think it would be good to see a bunch of musicians in their forties act like young rebels; it’s good to see that No Doubt are above that.  They didn’t reunite to recreate the old days – they did it because they’re a bunch of great friends who enjoy making music together, and Push and Shove proves that they’ve still got the magic.

My Rating:  8/10

Film Pop: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
IMDb

One word: Epic

Of course this film deserves more than a single word in summary, but if I had to give one word, it would be Epic.  Epic, however, should not necessarily be taken as positively as it suggests.

I should start by saying that although the book is one I read a number of times as a child and certainly enjoyed, it’s been a number of years since my eyes graced its pages (or should that be the other way round?).  I slip therefore between analysing the film on its faithfulness to the book, about which I may well be mistaken, the inevitable comparisons with the LOTR film trilogy, and on its own merit.  It’s hard as such to come at this film objectively, but I’ll try.

To begin with, I’m not sure I’ll ever be convinced of the necessity of three films (beginning with 2 ½ hours in the cinematic edition alone!) when the original trilogy (I feel like I’m talking about Star Wars now) was far longer in the books and gets essentially the same treatment movie-wise.  I feel like at least half an hour could have been portioned over to the extended edition without losing much in the way of plot (did I really have to see a mountain have a boxing match with itself for five minutes?).  And yet Bilbo’s stalling of the trolls, one of the more intelligent and funny scenes in the book is chopped down to almost nothing to squeeze in an unnecessarily long troll/dwarf skirmish.  Some of the homages to the first three films are at best overt and at worst ludicrous.  A scene in which Thorin and the Dwarves engage the Goblin army under Azog on the verges of Moria is basically the Last Alliance scene from Fellowship recast, right down to the pivotal Isildur/Sauron confrontation.

Some of the casting and characterisation of the film made me feel uneasy in a way that I can’t explain.  When Martin Freeman was cast as Bilbo I thought he sounded perfect.  And yet he, along with a number of the Dwarves, don’t make the transition from British sitcom actor to Hollywood blockbuster star all too smoothly.  Not that they don’t play their roles well.  It just seems a little amateurish at times.  A number of the original cast (Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Christopher (freaking) Lee) weren’t young ten years ago, and I can’t put my finger on it but there’s definitely something wrong with Gandalf.  And nobody likes Frodo.

But don’t let this criticism disguise my enjoyment of the film.  I was smiling much of the way through the film, laughing often, and in awe most of the time.  However, I got the overwhelming impression that the filmmakers made the film into more of an action-packed blockbuster to reel in those caught by the hook of the LOTR trilogy, where the book (at least in my memory) is far more subtle and intelligent.  So although it wasn’t entirely what I wanted (but should have expected) from the film, I stand by my one word summary:

Epic.

My Rating: 7.5/10