1. Watch. Read. Listen.

Films

My Neighbor Totoro
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

I haven’t been watching many films at all recently for some reason, but I did finally get round to watching this one which I’ve been meaning to see for months. By possibly the most proliferate and recognizable of all anime directors, Hayao Miyazaki, who also directed the anime classics Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro is an adventurous, whimsical and beautifully told film about two young sisters, Mei and Satsuki, who move into a new home with their father as their mother is ill and resides at a nearby hospital. After meeting a magical woodland creature (part-bear, part-cat, part-rabbit?) called Totoro, he helps them through their sad and complex emotions regarding their mother’s ill health by becoming a positive outlet. (I thought it was so clever that it’s not only left unclear whether Totoro is a figment of the girls’ imagination or real, but barely even questioned. It gives the movie subjectivity and allows it to be non-judgemental to either interpretation – a child may watch it and believe in the mythical woodland creatures, whereas an adult may watch it and perceive Totoro more metaphorically.)

Exploring themes such as childhood, kindness, attachment and family, its a narrative which pulls on your heartstrings. What I love the most about this film is its ability to capture the characters’ sense of childlike wonder in such an endearing, insightful and non-patronizing way. I felt so nostalgic throughout; it truly made me miss the mindset I had at the young characters’ ages, where everything could be magical. In terms of exploring what it is and what it feels like to be a kid, it’s probably one of the best depictions of that I’ve ever seen, and is visually one of the best films I’ve ever seen – the cinematography is stunning. People of all ages can appreciate My Neighbour Totoro. Whereas in this country it has somewhat of a cult following, in Japan the film has been sewn into their culture, and rightly so – it’s just lovely.

6/7

Don’t Breathe
Directed by Fede Alvarez

I heard about this film in 2016 and always thought the storyline was very interesting. For a modern-day horror film (which is, in my opinion, currently one of the most money-hungry genres in the industry), you can tell watching it that it wasn’t made purely to attract audiences and create profit. It’s actually a good, even insightful film. Don’t Breathe is about a group of three fairly amateur burglars who decide to rob a blind man’s house after discovering that he acquired a large sum of money as a pay-off by his daughter’s rich killer (they were in a car accident). Despite knowing that the man is an ex-soldier, they, or at least two of them, view it as a easy job because of the fact that he is blind. But it’s a horror film, so naturally things don’t go so smoothly. The Man, who would have typically been the victim in the situation, soon becomes more problematic than the other 3 characters, especially when we discover who is hiding in his basement.

Although Don’t Breathe deals with the topic of blindness sensitively, because The Blind Man is the villain, his visual impairment is used more for its fear-factor than as a subject to be explored. The film uses the incongruity of blindness and villainousness to its advantage, and in that respect allows us as spectators to feel much more intimidated by the blind character, who is incredibly quick-thinking, merciless and has impeccable hearing, all of which more than compensate for him not being able to see. As I said, for a modern day horror, not bad at all.

4.5/7

Hush
Directed by Mike Flanagan

Both Hush and Don’t Breathe are based around characters who have sensory impairments, and like the previous film, Hush demonstrates how the character’s loss of one of her senses can actually heighten the others and doesn’t remotely add to her sense of victimhood. But because the deaf person in this case is the protagonist/’hero’ rather than the villain, this film comes at it from a different angle. When a young woman called Maddie (who lives in a remote detached house in the woods – go figure) comes under attack by a masked man who has just killed her friend and clearly wants to kill her too, we quickly learn not to underestimate her, not just as a deaf person but simply as a person.

Between potential killer and potential kill-ee(?), it becomes a game of wits and speed, with either character switching between having the upper hand. She stabs him with a hammer, he shoots her in the leg; he crushes her fingers, she stabs him with a knife. Overall, I’d say I enjoyed this horror slightly more than the previous one as it was a bit more artistic and a bit less conventional. With the lack of dialogue and use of sound, it really tries to put the spectator in Maddie’s mind, giving you a sense of what it might feel like to be deaf, especially the fear you’d experience in such a high pressure situation. I’d definitely recommend watching this if you’re someone who likes their horror a touch psychological.

5/7

TV Shows

RuPaul’s Drag Race

“RuPaul’s Drag Race! Start your engines! RuPaul’s Drag Race! May the best woman win!”
I may or may not have (definitely the latter) become a tad obsessed with this show… It’s my new guilty pleasure, comprised of 2% guilt and 98% pleasure. In a reality show like no other, except American’s Next Top Model, 12-14 men-dressed-as-women must battle it out through run-ways, comedic challenges and general sassiness in a bid to see who will become AMERICA’S NEXT DRAG SUPERSTAR! Need I say more? Whilst I do not always agree with the judges’ comments and the man/woman(?) who takes the title in the end, it is impossible not to love a good fashion faux pas and a 2ft tall wig. If you enjoy catchphrases, puns, sass, drama and questioning your own sexuality, this is the show for you! My only qualms with it is having to watch men strut down a runway with better legs than I’ll ever have (*sigh*).

5.5/7

Better Call Saul

Breaking Bad is my all-time favourite show; to say I am a huge fan would be an understatement. I can – and have – talked about Breaking Bad for hours on end, so when I saw they were making a spin-off in 2015, a part of me was scared they were going to ruin the reputation of my beloved BB, because most spin-offs are underwhelming to say the least. Better Call Saul is therefore the exception to the rule (why would I expect anything less from Vince Gilligan?). I think a lot of people loved the character of Saul, and so the idea of having a TV series dedicated to the back story of such an intriguing character was really smart. The series is therefore all about the pre-Walter White years, when Saul Goodman (“S’all good, man!”) was Jimmy McGill, a less established but only slightly less shady lawyer. It also, geniously, shows us Saul in the aftermath of the Walter White years, an emotionally repressed and worn-down old-ish man working at a Cinnabon in Omaha. Though it switches between the ‘before’ and ‘after’ of this timeline it’s created, the show mainly deals with the ‘before’, specifically Jimmy’s strained relationship with his pompous brother, also a lawyer. It is mainly through this relationship that we begin to understand why Jimmy became Saul in the first place.

Yes, it doesn’t compare to BB, but it’s still nothing short of brilliant. The acting; the cinematography; the symbolism; the scripts, they’re all objectively great. What the show lacks, I think, is a tad more momentum and exhilaration in the narrative – I will admit that it can be a little slow at times. But hey, good things come to those who wait. Go watch.

6/7

You Me Her

I’m surprised this series hasn’t had a bit more publicity. Polygamy is a topic which is being openly discussed more and more in popular culture and on social media, and this comedy-drama series clearly intends to shine more light on the controversial subject. It is about a seemingly heteronormative married couple in their late 30s who, despite still loving each other deeply, seem to have lost their sexual spark and, as a result, are going to couples therapy. Enter Izzy, an undeniably sexy and intelligent 25-year-old bisexual grad student who also happens to be an escort. What starts as a formal arrangement blossoms into deep mutual feelings, and the couple must decide whether to go down the ‘road less travelled’. Although it’s light-hearted on the surface, I like that the show seems to be making a point about other people’s reactions and judgements towards what should be a personal choice, even to the extent where your job and your friendships are on the line. (I found myself thinking, ‘Mind your own business!’ so many times.)

My problem with this show is that everything happens over such a short time span which makes it a lot less believable. And because I feel like the creator of the show is trying to stamp out stigmas and stereotypes about polygamy, they might have unintentionally added fuel to the fire. By having it take place in less than a month, the fact that it may appear as though the characters aren’t really in love but just lust could actually add to negative stigma. But overall, as someone who perhaps wouldn’t be opposed to trialling a polygamous situation, I found this series pretty interesting, and also very funny.

5/7

Books

‘1984’ by George Orwell

Bloody hell, I fucking love this book. It is probably the best book I’ve ever read. I love all things dark and dystopian. As someone who regards themselves as, let’s just say, not the biggest fan of the human race, anything cautiously prophetic and misanthropic interests me greatly so it’s no surprise that the premise of 1984 appealed to me as much as it did. I’m vex at myself for not having read this novel years ago.

1984, for those who have not read it (why the hell not?) is set in a cruel, dystopian world whereby surveillance is 24/7; people live their lives with no privacy and no free speech, the extent to which even their thoughts are scarcely their own. Within an incredibly class-divided, hierarchical and totalitarian society, the way that they must feel, act, look; the things that they must say are all dictated to them by those at the top of the hierarchy, ‘The Party’. People are not merely expected to obey, but to also possess a militant and all-consuming love and deference towards Big Brother, an omniscient, omnipotent, always watchful leader. It is the ultimate act of brain-washing and mental submission. Even a parent’s own children, having been born into this society and therefore knowing no different, are essentially just spies, ready to rat out their parents to The Party from something as minor as a dubious facial expression.

Winston Smith is a man with an estranged wife and family who works for the ‘Ministry of Truth’. After troublesomely buying a secret diary, he becomes overwhelmed with a desire to overthrow Big Brother, which sets off an ultimately devastating chain of events. Winston starts a clandestine affair with a younger woman called Julia, someone who arguably despises the The Party even more than him, but the little hope they dare to feel quickly, we soon learn, was always gullibility. (DUN DUN DUN!) Nonetheless, as a reader we share both Winston’s paranoid and his naivety, as well as sympathizing with his desire for lust, desire for change and somehow still, his desire for survival. 1984 is full of paradoxes, irony and contradictions; it thoroughly demands you to question the capabilities of humankind. Alongside us, the book itself questions the idea of authority and government; it questions the idea of intelligence, love and fortitude; it questions the overarching idea of what it means to be a human being. And, of course, it’s all quite shockingly relevant.

Fun Fact: Soon after Donald Trump was elected President, sales of 1984 (a novel now 68 years old) shot up. Not a coincidence if you ask me.

10/7

‘Lord Of The Flies’ by William Golding

Gotta admit, what with this book being such a classic and referenced so much in literary and popular culture, I was a tad disappointed with Lord Of The Flies. I’m someone who believes that one of the most important factors in any type of storytelling – whether it be a film, a TV show or a novel – is characterisation, and sadly, that’s what this book lacked in my opinion. With perhaps the exception of Piggy, who even then felt a bit too much like a stereotype, I never felt I got to know the characters as much as I would have liked. The book is also immensely description-heavy. Whereby I often felt bogged down with the description, skim-reading paragraph after paragraph about a rock, if you’re someone who likes elaborate and detailed description, particularly of the physical surroundings, you’ll enjoy this novel much more than I did.

The reason why I still rated this book fairly well is because, like 1984, I do absolutely adore the premise. At the time in which it was published, it was revolutionary. In fact, I think Lord Of The Flies was the first of its kind, the original catalyst for this now-classic ‘trapped-on-a-desert-island’ trope, and in that sense I do appreciate that it is highly influential. I also did thoroughly enjoy reading it at parts, when it was more dialogue based, as I loved the dynamic between Ralph, Piggy and Jack. But again, being thoroughly interested in psychology, I would’ve loved for Golding to have delved a bit deeper into the psyches of the children and the underlying primitivism of humankind – it almost felt like the author had come up with a brilliant idea that he didn’t really know how to execute. Even the ending felt cut short. What this book lacks, I think, is elaboration, but it’s most definitely still worth a read.

4/7

Music

No Other Way – Jack Johnson
Baby – Devendra Banhart
Pink Moon – Nick Drake 
Feels Like I Only Go Backwards – Memory Tapes –
 Tame Impala
Carnival – Parks, Squares and Alleys
Nara – alt-J
Paul – Big Thief
Amy – Ryan Adams
These Days – Nico
Human – Rag’n’Bone Man
Slow Talkers – Kurt Vile 
Digging Deep – Oddisee
Walking Spanish – Tom Waits
Automatic – ROMANS
Reflections After Jane – The Clientele
Young – Frankie Cosmos
Charon – Keaton Henson
No Name #1 – Elliott Smith
Hold On – Toots & The Maytals
Blessings – Chance The Rapper

Song Of The Week

Love On The Weekend – John Mayer