Book Review: World War Z

24 Jan
World War Z cover (Sergey Galyonkin)

Image: Sergey Galyonkin 

Title: World War Z (An Oral History of the Zombie War)

Author: Max Brooks

I definitely got out of my comfort zone with this book. I’m not a fan of horror in general, and zombies in particular are at the top of my ‘Things Julie Doesn’t Read About’ list. But my housemate convinced me that World War Z was not your average zombie novel and I was certainly pleasantly surprised. Continue reading

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TV Review: Bad Education (BBC Three)

19 Sep

Image: New Statesman

Since the disappointing third series of Outnumbered, I’ve been searching for a new British comedy to sink my teeth into. Not searching very hard perhaps, distracted by trying to catch up on seven seasons of How I Met Your Mother, but searching all the same. So when Bad Education, Jack Whitehall’s latest comedic endeavour, appeared in my iPlayer recommendations, I decided to give it a shot.

Despite Whitehall being the star of the show, as posh and clueless history teacher Alfie Wickers, it is the supporting cast who really shine. His class, including flirtatious Chantelle (Nikki Runeckles) who spends her time dropping not-so-subtle hints about age gaps in relationships, outrageously camp Steven who attempts to come out during sex education class and wonders why no-one is surprised, and Joe (Ethan Lawrence) who constantly finds himself being talked into Alfie’s hare-brained schemes. Whilst they steal the show, Alfie moons after the boring Miss Gulliver (Sarah Solemani) and indulges in horesplay with Fraser (Matthew Horne), the school’s headmaster, who is so uncool that it’s actually painful to watch. The star of the teachers is terrifying deputy Miss Pickwell (Michelle Gomez), one of whose star moments involves taking her class to an abattoir on a school trip.

Some of Bad Education‘s jokes do fall flat, but those are the ones which are pushed too forcefully upon the audience. Those which were introduced a little more subtly, such as the wall display featuring Anne Boleyn and Princess Diana under the heading ‘Hot Babes Through The Ages’, did succeed in raising a laugh. In fact, the three episodes of Bad Education which I watched raised enough laughs that I will be watching until the end of the series. It’s not a patch on Outnumbered, but it’s enjoyable all the same.

All six episodes of Bad Education are available on iPlayer. Episode 1 expires on September 26.

The Dawn of a New Era

15 Sep

Image: Flickr (NS Newsflash)

As some of you may know, I’m starting an MA Journalism course at Kingston University next week, in the hope that it will lead to the real journalism job that I’ve been lusting after for as long as I can remember. In celebration of this, I’ve started a new blog, in which I’ll talk about journalism in general, and my MA journey in particular. I’ll be continuing to post reviews and creative writing here, but I’d be eternally grateful if you’d hop over to Destination Fleet Street and take a look at my new project!

TV Review: Parade’s End (BBC Two)

12 Sep

Image: Independent

I’ll start this with a disclaimer. I may be the only woman in England not to have fallen head-over-heels in love with Benedict Cumberbatch. This is not to say that I don’t like the man, nor that I find him untalented. I just don’t see the appeal. However, this did not keep me from enjoying the first episode of Parade’s End, BBC Two’s new five-part miniseries, in which the aforementioned actor stars as Christopher Tietjens.

Parade’s End, which has been airing on Friday nights since 24th August, launches us headfirst into the Edwardian era and into the Tietjens’ tumultuous marriage. In an early scene, Christopher Tietjens (Benedict Cumberbatch) sits at the breakfast table making corrections in the Encyclopaedia Britannica and bemoaning the state of society as his wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall) bemoans the fact that she is married to him. “If I killed him no jury would convict!” She proclaims, throwing a plate across the room for emphasis. Her dialogue is peppered with such deliciously catty lines and despite knowing that I ought to hate her for her shocking treatment of her husband, I just can’t bring myself to.

It is Christopher to whom I find it difficult to warm. Although Cumberbatch does a stellar job with the character, Christopher is far too stuffy and set in his ways, more content to be known as a cuckold than to divorce Sylvia (for her part, she is happy to remain with him, having become accustomed to the lifestyle which comes with having a husband). His budding romance with young suffragette Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens) also seems a little forced, although perhaps it will heat up as the series progresses.

This is a programme which demands your full attention; I first attempted to watch it on the train and found myself hopelessly confused, particularly in the opening sequence. But after a second viewing, uninterrupted by train announcements, everything slotted into place. For its rich details, stunning backdrops, and fast-paced dialogue, Parade’s End is certainly worth a watch.

Parade’s End is available on BBC iPlayer until Friday 28th September. 

TV Recap/Review: Private Practice Season 5 Episode 22 (Gone, Baby, Gone)

27 Jun

I’ve been falling steadily out of love with Private Practice this season, but I have been sticking it out, and given that the finale didn’t so much tug on my heartstrings as yank them out of my chest, I decided to recap it. I may recap the rest of the season at a later date, but this is going up first as I was practically writing it in my head whilst watching.

Gone, Baby, Gone features love triangles, court cases, impassioned speeches, and a lot of tears. And at the centre of it all…

Amelia gives birth

This was the cause of most, if not all, of the tears. At first she is determined to stick it out alone, refusing even to let Jake touch her in her determination to stay strong. I shed my first tear of the night as she tells him to take the baby away before he could cry, before remembering that brainless babies can’t cry. “Take him before he squeaks,” she says, and I let out a squeak of my own.

Outside of her hospital room, the rest of the doctors argue about her plan to donate her baby’s organs. Jake and Addison are supportive, but Sam is vehemently against the idea  and Charlotte is struggling, saying that she has to let the lawyers decide because she sees it as murder.  Addison is tasked with talking Sam around, but he isn’t interested, drawing parallels between the situation and their failed relationship. It’s Amelia who manages to persuade him, telling him about all the children that she’ll be able to save. “What I’m asking you to do is unimaginable,” she says. “But it’s also everything those other mothers can ever imagine. I’m his mom and I’m asking you to do this. If I can get there, why can’t you?”

Charlotte has a revelation of her own as she sits with Addison, both of them afraid to go into Amelia’s room, and both of them reflecting on everything that’s happened this year. “This past year you and I both became mothers without ever giving birth.” Addison muses. “She’s going to give birth and not get to be a mother.” This reminds me why I love the rare moments that these two characters share, and Charlotte why she has to help her friend. She agrees to fight the lawyers over the organ donation issue, and ultimately ignores their decision, allowing Jake to harvest the organs. Something tells me the hospital could be facing a lawsuit next season…

As Amelia enters the final stage of labour, Addison finally plucks up the courage to enter the room. She ignores Amelia’s attempts to throw her out, and holds her as she gives birth. Amelia goes back on her previous decision, choosing to hold the baby. “He’s the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen.” She says. He squeaks. I sob.

But the tears aren’t over yet, as the baby goes into respiratory distress, and for a moment it seems like Amelia’s going to change her mind about the organ donation. But no, she decides to give my heartstrings a little more of a battering by letting him go, telling him his father’s waiting for him. She then speaks to Sheldon civilly for the first time all episode, and the pair reconcile. It’s almost a happy ending, right?

Elsewhere, another child was playing with my already fragile emotions…

Mason

Having seemed to have turned a corner in the last episode, Mason is sullen and silent again at the beginning of this one, due to a Mother’s Day event at school. Cooper catches Charlotte watching him sleep, and she tells him how much she loves him and how sad she is not to be able to take away his pain. “You take away my pain,” he tells her, and I remember why they’re my favourite couple on the show. Later, having spent the evening at the hospital, Mason is looking at the babies in the NICU with Charlotte whilst she tries to explain what happened to Amelia’s. It’s touching (and possibly a little weird) to begin with, but then he suggests that he start calling her “momma” and I dissolve once more. To think that I don’t often cry at television! I’m blaming my hormones!

There were a few storylines that didn’t make me cry though. They were…

Love and Prison

Pete spends most of the episode behind bars, whilst Violet grows increasingly frustrated at his refusal to act even a little contrite. Eventually, after a few choice words from Cooper about missing his son growing up, he  does apologise and iss granted bail, even expressing fears for the future. Unfortunately, it may be too little too late.

The Jake-Addison-Sam love triangle also comes to a head tonight, as she arrives home after some comfort sex with Jake to find Sam waiting to confess his love to her. Despite her attempts to get rid of him (Jake’s on his way with takeout), he’s determined to let her know that he’s now all in. He wants her, he wants Henry, and if the ring is anything to go by, he wants marriage. Henry just wants to chew on his toy monkey. Personally, I think that the kid’s got the right idea.

Theatre Review: Fawlty Towers

25 Jun

I originally wrote this review for Durham Theatre Review, but due to technical problems it was never uploaded onto their site.  Undeterred, I decided to put it on here instead, in the hope that if any of you happen to be in the North East, and see that Ooook! Productions are putting on a play, you might go and see it! (And I don’t like my writing being hidden away either. Hey, I never said I was perfect…)

***

Fawlty Towers, once voted Greatest British Television Programme, is an ambitious project for any director to take on. But Michael Nower, producer Harriet Allen, and the rest of Ooook! Productions did an admirable job in bringing it to the Assembly Rooms stage, providing the promised ‘evening of exquisite hilarity.’

For the performance two episodes from the first series of Fawlty Towers were chosen, ‘Gourmet Night’ and ‘The Germans’. In the first half hour, hotel owner Basil Fawlty (Neil Robinson) attempted to put on a gourmet night, but spent most of the evening running across town to his friend’s restaurant after his chef passed out drunk. But it is after the interval that the cast really got into their stride as they acted out ‘The Germans’, the most famous of all the Fawlty Towers episodes, in which a concussed Basil tried (and failed) not to insult a group of German guests.

It is Neil Robinson who had the largest shoes to fill, and it is he who stood out most of the cast members, dominating the stage with his movements and facial expressions as well as the delivery of his lines. Nick Jennings (as Manuel) and Claire Bonello (as Polly Sherman) succeeded in capturing the essence of their characters, and Georgia Cassarino managed to make Sybil Fawlty’s laugh even more grating than I remembered it to be. With the help of heavy stage make-up to age his face, Alex Morgan made a convincing and hilarious Major, and despite having few lines to say, Abigail Hooper and Hannah Ryan adopted wonderful old lady walks to play Miss Gatsby and Miss Tibbs. There were also several supporting cast members who were required to play multiple characters, all of whom performed well and contributed to the humour of the production. There were a few minor slip-ups with lines being fluffed, but these were quickly recovered from, and may not even have been noticeable to those not scrutinising the performance in order to review it.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this production was the set. The Assembly Rooms stage was transformed into a hotel, complete with reception desk, kitchen, dining area and bar, and even a car below the stage in the first act. This did admittedly make the stage feel a little crowded at times, especially when action was taking place in both the kitchen and the dining area simultaneously, but this problem relates more to the size of the stage than anything else.

The tech team had also pulled out all the stops, lowering subtitles from the ceiling for the Germans’ first scene, and creating a remarkably convincing kitchen fire during the second half, complete with smoke wafting into the front rows of the audience. The scene changes were sometimes a little slow and the interval certainly seemed overly long given that the play itself was only an hour long, but hopefully timings will be tightened up in the next performances.

First night hiccups detracted a little from the quality of this production, and the attitude in the box office was slightly frenzied, with no tickets or programmes to give out. But many of these kinks will undoubtedly be ironed out in the next two nights’ showings, and the amount of laughter and applause throughout the evening is testament to how much the audience enjoyed the show despite the problems. Fans of the original Fawlty Towers, and anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned British humour ought not to miss out on this!

 

#DiceGames: Day One

4 Jun

 Prompt: a moustached giraffe, ice skates, the Isle of Man.

(Disclaimer: This is my first foray back into flash fiction since exams, essays, and generally trying not to fail my degree took over my life. Be gentle with me!)


‘Welcome to the beautiful Isle of Man,’ the sign proclaims in peeling yellow letters, the first thing I see as I  step off the ferry. I blink at it, bemused. What am I doing here? And is that…a giraffe?

I close my eyes briefly, trying to clear my foggy head, but when I open them it is all still there: the sign, the fairground in the distance, the giraffe. Still bemused, I make my way over to it, only to nearly fall over in shock when it greets me with a cheery “Good day, madam!”

I am speechless, taking in the sight of this talking giraffe, which upon closer inspection is wearing a suit, a top hat, and a monocle, and sporting a rather fetching handlebar moustache. The mouth underneath that moustache is looking decidedly irritated actually, and soon the giraffe speaks again.

“Good day, madam!” He repeats, the cheer sounding a little more forced. “My name is Gareth, and I will be your tour guide for the duration of your stay on the beautiful Isle of Man!”

I can’t help it. As soon as I open my mouth, a snort of laughter escapes.”Gareth?” I splutter incredulously.

Gareth sighs. “I didn’t choose it, you understand? If I had, I would have been named something much more respectable, like Horace. But no, giraffes have to have names which begin with the  letter ‘g’ and so Gareth I became.”

I’m dying to point out that Horace is no better a name than Gareth, but I keep quiet, figuring that I’ve caused enough offence for one day. Besides, Gareth is already talking again, outlining the day’s itinerary. It sounds jam-packed. And more than a little crazy.

“And then in the evening…” he’s saying now. “…we can go ice-skating! Do you like ice-skating? I love it!”

I’m just trying to envisage what an ice-skating giraffe would look like when another strange thing happens (as if I hadn’t had enough of those already today). It’s as if all of the colour begins to drain from the world, and in the distance a voice is calling my name.

“Jenny!” It repeats insistently. “Jenny, can you open your eyes for me?”

Baffled at this, for I’m sure that my eyes are already open, I am nonetheless able to obey, and see a figure standing over me, dressed in what looks like a pair of baggy green pyjamas.

“I’m Dr. Phillips.” She says soothingly. “I know that you might be a little groggy from the anaesthesia, but I want you to know that the operation was a complete success.”

“Where’s Gareth?” I croak out, my hold on reality still tenuous at best.

“Gareth?” The doctor’s brow creases in confusion and I realise my mistake. “There isn’t a Gareth here. I can call him for you if you like? Or Susan’s outside, I can get her to come in?”

I shake my head weakly, allowing sleep to pull me back under. If I’m lucky, I might be back on the Isle of Man in time for the ice-skating.