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


Literary Pop: My Shit Life So Far

Author: Frankie Boyle
Nationality: British (Scottish!)
Year: 2009

So having concluded January’s theme of “published in 2015” with the ordeal that was A Brief History of Seven Killings, I was faced with the decision of what to do for February.  Being interested as I am in many areas of popular culture, I settled on “entertainment biographies” to give me a little more insight into some of the figures who rule our screens.  I happily already had a store of these to delve right into, with the intention of alternating male and female personalities (soon to become difficult).

shit lifeThe first book of the month turned out to be Frankie Boyle’s My Shit Life so Far.  My mother bought this for me for a present many years ago, convinced as she is that I’m a big fan of stand-up comedy.  I started reading it at the time, but for whatever reason I stopped about half-way through and promptly forgot everything I’d read so I thought it best to start again from the beginning this time.  After fighting to the end of Seven Killings I was after a much easier read to rest my poor brain, and this was an ultimately successful mission.  Frankie Boyle, for those of you who don’t know him, is an oft-controversial comedian best known for his appearances on topical panel show “Mock the Week” and his expletive-laden rants against political correctness, the nanny state, etc. etc. (hence My Shit Life So Far).  He announced his departure from the show which made him a household name the day after the publication of this book in 2009 and has since faded into relative obscurity; such is life.

As it turns out I’m finishing this review a long time after I read the book.  I guess I’ve been busy.  Anyway, it’s pretty much a chronicle of Boyle’s life up until joining “Mock the Week”, from his moderately-poor Glasgow upbringing through the early stages of his stand-up comedy career at dingy bars and on strange tours.  It also discusses his use, abuse and subsequent disavowal of alcohol and other illicit substances along the way.  I might be forgetting some of the content but I suspect there wasn’t an awful lot more to it.

Frankie Boyle – Where is he now?

It’s worth a read if you know who Frankie Boyle is, if you’re a person who reads autobiographies, and if you’ve got a couple of days to spare.  I put it in my work’s book-swap box when I finished it at the beginning of February and it’s still there.  But hey, I’ve read worse.  Go figure.


My rating: 6/10

Film Pop: Burke and Hare

Year:  2010
Director:  John Landis
Stars:  Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher

This past weekend I wasted the vast majority of my time playing games, and dedicated very little of it to my pop quest.  I also started a new job today and will have far less time to play with than I’ve been used to.  I did however manage to squeeze in (over two days) Burke and Hare, this “historical” “comedy”, with a surprisingly star-filled cast.  It’s not a film I own, but I was relatively interested in watching it; my girlfriend was in agreement, so that was settled.  Simon Pegg’s a funny guy, and Andy Serkis is… er… sometimes recorded moving.

Usually with less face.
Usually with less face.

The film, framed by the narration of Angus the Hangman (Bill Bailey) is an interpretation of the tale of the titular Williams Burke and Hare (Pegg and Serkis respectively).  When a client dies in their lodging-house, they sell the body to Dr Robert Knox (Tom Wilkinson) and realise that there is a desperate shortage of fresh bodies for medical experimentation, and therefore money to be made.  Of course they can’t rely on old men continuing to leave bodies lying around, so the two turn to procuring their corpses by… other means. Meanwhile ex-prostitute Ginny (Fisher) comes up with a plan to propel herself into stardom by producing an all-bah1female performance of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, because Scotland.  She is however short of the startup cash, until she meets Burke, a man looking for sex love and a way to spend his new-found blood money.  Burke invests in this unsurprisingly-successful show, while Hare and his wife Lucky (Jessica Hynes) decide to invent the funeral parlour, because logic.  However, the titular duo are unable to keep their nefarious activities under wraps, and are caught, along with their respective female partners, by lawman Captain McLintock (Ronnie Corbett) and chucked in jail.  The establishment, wishing to avoid the indignity of a trial, offer them a deal:  if one confesses, the rest will go free.  Burke heroically gives himself up, because love sex.

To be frank, this film wasn’t very good.  It was a little funny at times, but this was overshadowed by the wild historical inaccuracies, which involved shoehorning in as many historical medical figures as possible and going as far as to add on a “this is what happened to the characters” scene at the end containing roughly no true information.  The general plot bears almost no resemblance to historical events, and is really “Burke and Hare” in little more than name and broad premise.  It’s also difficult to identify with any of the characters when the “heroes” are creepy murder-perverts (Andy Serkis?  Ew). The performances are decent but nothing special (I assume Fisher was cast due to the colour of her hair), and it’s not hard to see why the film only made back less than half of its £10m budget at the box office.

My Rating:  5/10

Film Pop: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues

Year: 2013
Director: Adam McKay
Stars:  Will Ferrell, Steve Carell, Paul Rudd etc.

2004’s Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is widely regarded as one of the most popular comedy films of the last ten years, and so when in 2012 a long-awaited sequel was finally announced, there was a lot of excitement surrounding its release.  This ultimately came about in December 2013, and on the weekend, in a much-appreciated trip to the cinema, I went with my girlfriend to see Anchorman 2:  The Legend Continues.  We’re both fans of the original, and while there was a little apprehension (on my part at least) that it would be unworthy it was the anticipation of a good laugh that was the overriding feeling.  Spoiler alert:  we weren’t disappointed.

legendcont1Anchorman 2 finds Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his wife, Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) as a successful anchor-couple for a high-profile news network in New York City, until Veronica is offered the nightly news alone and Ron fired by outgoing news legend Mack Tannen (Harrison Ford).  Ron, unable to accept his wife’s success, abandons her and his young son before spiralling into depression and alcoholism in his native San Diego.  He is offered a chance to join the revolutionary 24-hour news channel, which he accepts having rounded up his old news team of suave reporter Brian Fantana (Rudd), ignorant sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner) and unique weatherman Brick Tamland (Carell).  At the new network, Ron and his team are handed the graveyard slot by boss Linda (Meagan Good) and strike up a rivalry with classy anchor Jack Lime (James Marsden) while Ron tries to win back his wife from new “psychic” boyfriend Gary (Greg Kinnear).  The team devise an ingenious plan to boost ratings with popular stories about cats, cars and America while Brick strikes up a relationship with fellow oddball Chani (Kristen Wiig).  At the height of his popularity, Ron alienates his friends before becoming blind and moving to a lighthouse where he reconnects with his wife and son before regaining his sight and returning to news.  While on his way to his son’s piano recital, proving his worth as a father, Ron and the team are caught up in an epic newsteam battle including reporters from ESPN (Will Smith et al), CBC (Jim Carrey, Marion Cotillard et al), the BBC (Sacha Baron Cohen et al), the History Channel (Liam Neeson et al), Entertainment Tonight (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler et al) and MTV News (Kanye West et al).  Ron is rescued by his old San Diego rival Wes Mantooth (Vince Vaughn), with a little help from Gary’s psychic powers and Brick’s gun from the future.  The film ends, but not before Brick and Chani marry and Ron is saved from a shark by his faithful dog Baxter.

Man’s best friend… Shark’s worst enemy

So in the end my fears were almost totally unfounded, and The Legend Continues was a very funny watch.  The original cast remain dependably amusing (with a special mention to Steve Carell) while new additions such as Kristen Wiig and Greg Kinnear provide their fair share of laughs.  Although of course some of the plot is a little questionable, the outrageous nature of some of the humour as well as a ridiculous, unexpected series of cameos towards the end more than make up for this.  It’s not winning any serious awards, but it’s a seriously funny film if you like the kind of base humour characterised by the first film (and most Will Ferrell movies, to be honest).  It’s an entirely worthy sequel to 2004’s blockbuster, and it’s a whole lot of fun.

My Rating:  7.5/10

Film Pop: You’ve Got Mail

Year: 1998
Director: Nora Ephron
Stars: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Greg Kinnear

Oh, the ‘90s.  A time of Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan and an internet connection that came through the phone line.  That’s right, kids:  dial-up.

The draw of Ryan and Nora Ephron, with whom he’d teamed up for 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle, was obviously strong enough to  bring Hanks back to a light-hearted role following more serious award-winning performances in Philadelphia, Forrest Gump and Apollo 13 in the meantime.  You’ve Got Mail is a movie I saw for the first time about a year ago, and had no apprehensions regarding watching it again.

Despite this film and its very apprehensive handling of the internet coming across as overwhelmingly (and delightfully) ‘90s (E-mail? What kind of loser uses that?), it’s actually an interpretation of Miklós László’s 1937 play Parfumerie, which was adapted twice previously in the ‘40s, combined with a number of elements from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (which itself features significantly in the plot).

ygm dvdRyan stars as Kathleen Kelly, the owner of “The Shop Around the Corner”, a small, independent book shop in New York City.  Although in a relationship with neurotic journalist Frank (Kinnear), Kathleen is in daily correspondence with a mystery man via that internet thing (because it’s apparently not cheating if you don’t know their name).  Meanwhile, Joe Fox (Hanks) is an executive of Fox Books, a giant bookstore chain about to open a new outlet just around the corner from The Shop Around the Corner.  Romantically attached to a fellow executive, Fox is similarly engaged in online intimacy with a girl, about whom he knows nothing.  You can probably see where this is going.  Kathleen and Joe enter a feud in real life while inadvertently advising each other online on how to deal with their respective rivals in person.  They soon agree to meet up, but when Fox discovers the identity of his confidant he stands her up, instantly changing their relationship from one of intimacy to deception and manipulation.  He uses his new found position of power to get to know the real Kathleen, naturally leading up to the ultimate reveal in the hope that he has done enough to win her over.

It’s a highly enjoyable film, as Ephron’s offerings tend to be.  The famous relationship between Hanks and Ryan, in its third and final cinematic outing, is as warm as ever even though the two characters have been put in a position where they’re obliged to hate each other.  The relationship between the two makes the movie, but it’s also very well written both in terms of story and adaptation.

ygm dog
Which two did you think I was talking about?

I’m a big Tom Hanks fan, and so while this isn’t exactly one of my favourites of his, that’s no real criticism.  It’s also interesting for me to notice that You’ve Got Mail basically seems to mark the end of Meg Ryan’s peak, while Hanks has of course continued to impress (although perhaps never quite living up to the standards of his golden decade).

Overall of course this film was hardly groundbreaking, but nobody ever suggested it was meant to be.  It’s a sweet, funny film about two people who are probably destined for each other if only they can stop the world getting in the way.  This is a tried and tested formula, and when you add the personnel we’re blessed with here then success is inevitable.

My rating: 7.5/10

52 Weeks, 52 Years, 52 Pops: McLintock! (#1)

Year: 1963
Director: Andrew V. McLaglen
Stars: John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers

Since it’s my first new year since beginning my blog, I’ve decided to embrace the opportunity to start a review series. In an entirely unoriginal development, I’ve gone for the simple gimmick of a new year every week. This means that every Tuesday (hopefully) I’ll put up a new review from a consecutive year, beginning 51 years ago in 1963 and finishing up with 2014 in the last week of the year. I’m going to aim for the pattern of film, album, film, book, because I like patterns.

It was originally quite a shock to me to realise that going back 52 years only got me to the early ‘60s; I had got the idea in my head that this was going to give me the opportunity to look a little farther back than I usually do, but 1963 is entirely within my usual realm. In fact if anything it will have the opposite effect by making me read more modern books than I’ve been acquainting myself with recently.

Before having a look around to see if any of 1963’s cinematic offerings particularly caught my eye, I thought I ought to look in my mobile DVD collection just to check if there was anything suitable there, and I was surprised to be offered a solution: McLintock! (their exclamation, certainly not mine). I bought this on a whim some time last year, almost entirely because, as the sticker still on the front reminded me, it only cost 25p (making it one of the cheapest films in my collection). Surely anything could live up to that?

MV5BMTc4OTYwODIwM15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDU3MDk4__V1__SX640_SY720_It says a lot about my enjoyment of this film that I only watched it yesterday and I’ve forgotten most of it today. McLintock(!) is a “comedy western”; the tale of the titular rancher GW (Wayne), battling his recently-returned estranged wife Katherine (O’Hara) for the custody of his also-recently-returned daughter (Powers), while daughter Becky falls in love with Dev (Patrick Wayne), son of McLintock(!)’s recently-hired widow cook Louise (Yvonne de Carlo). GW, apparently of a belligerent personality, also gets himself involved in scuffles between the government and the local Comanche Indians, generally not afraid to get in the way of a fist (or swing his own). In the end for some reason McLintock(!) delivers his wife a public paddling, which not only did she apparently deserve for not liking him, but seems to have been successful in making her like him again.

It’s safe to say I wasn’t particularly impressed by this film, and I’m a little disappointed that it’s destined to be the beginning of my maiden series of reviews. Aside from the mostly boring plot, the picture quality was barely VHS standard while a nice manageable 90 minute film (according to the DVD case) for some reason kept running for over 2 hours (I’ve made it clear before I don’t like it when boxes lie to me). It marks my first ever John Wayne film, and maybe it’s not a good example but I won’t be rushing back in a hurry. To be fair I’ve never really gotten on all that well with (true) Westerns, and a film like this only goes to reaffirm that belief. I’ll keep trying, but I don’t have high hopes.

My rating: 5/10

Literary Pop: Pride and Prejudice

Author: Jane Austen
Nationality: English
Year: 1813

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Since my movie reviews have become much scarcer now I’m on something of a literary mission, it only seems right to drop in a book review where appropriate. I’m still a little rusty at these, especially when the novel is something as iconic as Pride and Prejudice, but I can only get better through practice (I reckon). Book reviews are apparently a thing kids do at school regularly but I’m sure that I never did more than one or two in my lifetime so I apologise if I don’t seem to know what I’m talking about. I first picked up Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago and ended up putting it down again barely a chapter in; there was something about the writing style that I just couldn’t come to terms with. On the strong recommendation of my Austen-loving girlfriend I gave it another go and quickly became accustomed to the delicate, humorous prose.

Pride and PrejudiceFor those of you who don’t know (i.e. me, this time last week), Pride and Prejudice is (broadly speaking) the tale of young Elizabeth Bennet, who can perfectly judge someone within an instant, and her acquaintances with the noble Mr. Darcy, who knows himself to be better than everyone else. The two may be destined for each other, but only if they can break free from the chains of the titular vices. Elizabeth’s Hertfordshire household consists of her rational father, irrational mother, and four sisters: Jane, the admirable and optimistic eldest, closest friend to 21-year-old Eliza (the second-born), then Mary, the boring, inconsequential middle child. Bringing up the rear are Kitty and Lydia, the troublesome younger duo who take after their mother The majority of the narrative is concerned with the various friendships, courtships and marriages of the Bennet girls (except of course Mary) and their neighbours, strongly encouraged by Mrs. Bennet when her daughters are the beneficiaries and opposed when not. Potential suitors include Misters Bingley, Wickham and Collins, each with their own benefits and drawbacks; it soon becomes clear that some people have vastly different reasons for marriage than others. Regardless, it’s safe to say that the novel comes to a satisfying conclusion as far as the vast majority of characters are concerned, although in many ways the end feels more like a new beginning.

Having been encouraged to give Pride and Prejudice another try, I’m definitely glad that I did. The relatively large number of important characters means that it takes a little time to settle in, and as this was my first (and definitely not my last) Austen the writing style was a little unusual to me but soon became humorous and agreeable. It’s undeniably intelligent, and very different from most anything I’ve read before. I definitely need to give a few more of her novels a go, as well as the BBC miniseries of this one that I’ve heard so much about (although Colin Firth as Darcy doesn’t seem to quite fit in my head). The book was oddly alien to me to begin with, but I soon began to appreciate its very obvious Britishness. We’ve got a lot of things to be proud of on this little island, and literature, including apparently Miss Austen, is a big one.

My Rating: 8.5/10