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Friday, 1 January 2021

The Gentlemen (2019) WITH SPOILERS FROM THE START

I can't believe The Gentlemen came out in the UK a year ago today. It seems like a couple of years ago at least, but then, of course, 2020 has redefined 'relative concept' when it comes to time... I've only just got to watching it this week, despite being excited for it when it was coming out.

Though I was looking forward to it, I ended up feeling disappointed in the end at how 'on rails' it is, how procedural (like watching a feature-length Poirot, if Poirot said 'cunt' every fifteen minutes and loved to wave a gun around like Scarface). And that's a good point to discuss; am I tired of procedurality generally, because of detective stories and the like, or did this film feel unconvincing in and of itself? I think it's a bit of both. Certainly the reporter (Fletcher, played by Hugh Grant) here is interesting. He seems to know it all, but the way it is revealed at the end that he was being watched all the time was very 'told not shown' (well, it was both, because it used one of those narrated montages, where we are shown and told, but my point being that it's clunky and on the nose either way), blunt and uninspired. Yeah, a let down really, and not even particularly shocking... And then the loose ends that are tied up in the final moments feel like a very quick tick tick tick on a clipboard - very charmless, perfunctory, and menial, really.

I wasn't overly impressed by the meta-ness of it, either. Fletcher's shtick is revealing the information he knows via a film script that he has written about real events. The idea is that it not only serves the audience as a device for telling the story, but also helps the character, as it's piece of evidence he can use to threaten his contemporaries, and 'shop then in' should he not get the money he wants. I think I'm just bein a stick in the mud, but it felt lazy to me - although some people say that about the narration in American Beauty, y'know, it's all opinions, man. I have to admit it gave good opportunities for comedy (i.e. when Fletcher has to lip-read and translate a tense tête-à-tête between the Machiavellian crime lord Matthew, and ruthlessly ambitious gangster Dry Eye, which involves insertions of ridiculous words into the conversation). Also it highlights a lot of Fletcher's character - someone who thinks they are in control of proceedings, whereas proceedings are really controlling him - so it certainly has some merit.

Another big plot point is Michael (essentially the focal character of the whole film, as the owner of the criminal empire that everyone covets and vies for) being killed within the first five minutes of the film. I was like 'okay, that's been done before, but I'm still intrigued enough to find out the story behind the murder'. Later on, however, we find out that he wasn't really killed; his assassin was shot nearby, and it's the intruder's blood that we see splatter onto Michael, which I mistakenly took for his own, based on the initial camera shot. That was a pretty good twist, and I say this in mind with the characters and how I rooted for them/didn't root for them. I was rooting for Michael. It was good to see him back in the land of the living, as it were, and I don't remember feeling so effortlessly convinced by characters for a long time.

With respect to the characters as a whole, the setups and payoffs were all pretty much spot on. They're all criminals of some nature or other, from drug use to murder to international substance dealing. Apart from a couple of goons, however, the deaths only happen to the insatiably greedy, or one maguffin character (who we don't warm to anyway because of his wise-cracks in a tense situation (not that that means I'm 'happy' he died. His death was an accident, tho, so in terms of 'pay-off' the usual emotional transaction is satisfied. Only 'bad' people should be killed in these stories, unless we are dealing with anti-heroes or whatever...)). Then there are some people who have wrought havoc, and we could wish them comeuppance (i.e. the Toddlers, a group of tracksuit-clad gangsters with a penchant for multimedia stardom), but they are acting in mistaken knowledge that they are helping their friends/ colleagues, so instead they are tied up at the end (metaphorically speaking!) in non-violent ways, which again satisfies the usual 'western' ideas of narrative storytelling. The main 'villain' of the piece, Fletcher, who is a blackmailer, does not quite get away with his greed. He is not an evil person, tho. He is creepy, sure, and disrespectful, but clever, panacheful, and 'a real character', and we can't help but have an admiration for him. In that sense, it is entirely fitting that his 'comeuppance' is left open. Ray (who is Michael's bodyguard/fixer/etc) tracks him down and has him locked in the passenger's seat of a taxi - and that's when the credits roll. We can imagine what we like to happen to him, but not putting a death/torture scene in for his character feels appropriate, because, as I say, he's not 'bad' enough to warrant that. My thinking is that his behaviour would probably warrant a faked death, i.e. Ray would go back to Michael and say 'he's gone', and what he actually did was to give him a small amount of money, tell him to get out the country, and never be heard from again. In fact, when he is proprosing his true-to-life screenplay to one party, Fletcher does talk about leaving an open ending to mamintain the possibility of a sequel (ever the avarist!). In this sense, maybe my guess could be right, because Fletcher could easily come back into the picture later on, and would have leverage on Ray because he went against his boss' wishes, and therefore could enact narrative chaos again. Anyways, that's all speculation, and my main point is just that the tone of the film never slides into grauitous violence, there are reasons for the conflicts, and that just feels satisfying overall.

So some of the film I wasn't impressed with structurally, and as subject matter, we know it's nothing fresh from Ritchie. In that sense I wanted to give it three stars (out of five). However, it was a decent two hours' worth of entertainment, very little flab in the action/dialogue, and I appreciated a good few characterful touches to stop exposition fatigue. I felt so intrigued by the plot, so on-side with the characters, that it wouldn't feel right to score it so averagely. Can I beg you for a half? Three and a half stars, if I may be so weasley as to resort to that, seems about right to me :) It's for sure one you should watch if you're a fan of the genre, or just fancy some entertainment that's not suitable for kids.

Thanks for reading, and I genuinely hope that 2021 is a better year for everyone. Let's help get Covid on the run, use our deepened appreciation of life to help those less fortunate than ourselves, and break some of the cycles that lead to people becoming like characters in a Guy Ritchie film in real life

M

Thursday, 10 September 2020

A Year's Worth

A year ago today, England FC played Kosovo in a Euro Qualifier match, beating them 5-3. And I stopped drinking alcohol. For me, that was a big deal. The drinking thing, that is, not the chaotic and, frankly, unconvincing England display. It was a big deal because alcohol has been a big part of my life, from my work (as a bar person), to how I socialise and spend my leisure time, to being a brewer's son etc etc. However, due to using it as a coping mechanism during a shitty few years in my personal life, it started to become too big a part of my life, and, having tried reducing my intake and struggling, I decided to haul on the anchors completely and stop, for as long as I could. For a year? Forever? I wasn't sure, but I was going to try it and see what happened.

The first two weeks were pretty interesting. After my second day, I'd already been the most sober I'd been in about six months, because, even though I wasn't necessarily drinking lots every day, I was drinking a little bit almost daily. After a week or two, I had this very strange feeling of complete sobriety. I noted at the time that it should be the other way around; I should feel weird/different because I'm drunk, not because I'm sober. It underlined what a friend had been saying to me, that we often use alcohol as armour, to help protect us from our nerves or awkwardness, for example, but there comes a point [when we abuse it] that all that supposed confidence and protection becomes toxic, and our dependency on it increases so that what we can do without it decreases. I still don't know exactly what point I got to, i.e. whether I'd have classed myself as an alcoholic. For me, that would be the point at which I can't hold down a job, or my relationships suffered. But my relationship with myself was certainly suffering, and my bodily health too, so I can't pretend it wasn't affecting me, and was merely 'hard socialising'.

I normally get asked one of two questions when the subject comes up. The least-frequently asked is "Why?" often followed by a slightly awkward, "Was it your decision, or... [the ellipsis meaning 'are you an alcoholic, and/or has a doctor intervened']?" Most people don't have more than two seconds to wait for you to speak before they interrupt me (but you, dear readers, shall feel the full brunt of my ramble!), so I hodge-podged it slightly, giving people various flavours of the following reasons; I have an alcoholic in my close family. This has stimulated me to stop in two ways - firstly that I speak to a lot of service users/providers for people with substance misuse issues, and their knowledge and wisdom made me re-examine my own relationship with booze. Secondly, when this family member was to come out of rehab, they had to come back to an alcohol-free abode, and I found it easy to quit while they were away, so that when they returned, I would a) not have any alcohol in the house, and b) not be tempted to bring any back while they were here. Other reasons include various 'normal' considerations. I have been suffering health-wise for a few years with various mental and physical complaints, and drinking helps none of them (even though I have used it 'to help me sleep', and de-stress, it adversely affects the quality of one's sleep, which then affects how you deal with stress etc). I was hoping to lose weight, too. Stop spending so much money... Y'know, fairly normal stuff. And there were also considerations such as the challenge of it, do I still have willpower, etc. Which I do.

The thing people most often ask is, "Do you feel better for it?" It's asked in various ways, often in a leading way, assuming that I'm absolutely going to say yes, and wax lyrical about a million and one ways I feel great now I'm no longer poisioning myself. Actually, although I wish I could say a resounding 'yes', it's an absolute 'no with a but'. I don't feel much better, if at all. My aches and pains are no longer being numbed, and neither are my moods. I was actually a bit scared at one point, because all my mental issues (of depression etc) loomed larger at me when I was sober, with an edge and strength that hadn't been there for a long time, and I thought about drinking again to make me feel better in the moment.

To balance this, tho, my mental clarity has increased. My speed of analysis, recall, ability to separate emotions and assumptions from 'truth' and whatnot is quicker, so I feel perhaps a little better able to deal with what comes. And this sort of brings me on to what I've learned as a whole - that alcohol isn't the big issue for me. It's events and environments make me want to self-medicate, and I could take all the coping mechanisms out of my life, only to find a new one (human nature?). At the minute, I'm really battling with eating. I've always liked (a lot of) food, but really, I think not long after my mum passed away, and I went back into bar work after an all-too-brief absence, I started really eating, lots of takeaways late at night and stuff like that. Trying to fill a hole, as it were, though the 'problem hole' is not literal, it's emotional and mental. Anyway, my weight is up and down, my inflammation problems, depression, sleep, they're all still bad, still causing me problems, and that's because there are other habits that have, if anything, only increased in severity since I stopped drinking. You can see, then, that 'do I feel better for not drinking' is not a straightforward question to answer. There have been benefits, but my problems are still very much here, and won't go anywhere unless I tackle them at root.

So not drinking has been a fun 'experiment', but even though I've known for ages that I'm obviously not addressing things 'properly', it's only in this past month that I've started thinking that I really need to change things again. This time I need to try and build health into my life (who knows, maybe even get some targeted help for my depression...), with sleep, anxiety management, more of the five paths, etc etc - something that goes beyond merely forgoing things that are not helping.

Anyway, this isn't how I planned this post to go on. I don't know... It feels a bit bland, and not very educational or inspiring... Nothing ever works out how you think, tho. I wonder what a year's worth of alcohol consumption would look like, how big a barrel it would fill? Maybe I'll get the boffins on it, get a figure to you all by next week.

I hope things are well in your world. Well, they're probably not great at the moment, they're tough all round, but I hope at least that you're finding joy in the little things wherever you can. That's as positive as I can be!

Goodbye!

Saturday, 25 July 2020

Actual News!

I got some rather good news while writing this post. It was originally to be titled 'Something of a Roundup', and feature some news and musings of a decent nature, but this latest development has put an even better spin on things.

Initially I was going to say how I'd entered a flash fiction competition run by the folks at 5asideCHESS (in partnership with the Morecambe Fringe) and although I'm deflated to have not been one of the winners, I'm happy to have submitted something, and I believe an anthology is going to be produced, which I should be in (all entrants will be published, unless they don't want to be, so I understand), which is great. I can't put too fine a point on how important it is to keep talking about mental health, and I'm happy 5asideCHESS and Morecambe Fringe have given us this opportunity to express our Covid-19 thoughts through the medium of sort fiction. It's not just a benefit to the writers themselves, but hopefully everyone reading the stories (or listening to/watching them in these videos that I don't seem to be able to link to individually...) will at least be entertained, but hopefully deeper chords will be struck too :)

One thing I didn't enter, that I should have done really, was the 100 Words of Solitude project. I don't regret not submitting too much, because I wasn't 'just being lazy' and putting it off, I had (and have) other pressing things going on in my life, and will just look out for the next opportunity, rather than chastise myself for missing that one. I've really been enjoying the entries I've read over on their site. There were a few standard thoughts and expressions, sure, but mainly there's a wonderful variety of angles they've attacked the brief from, some real dreamy narratives, and some bizarre surreality etc etc, lovely, go check them out :) And keep an eye out for the book they're producing - I'll be hoping to get a copy myself :)

Another part of the original post was going to mention how it's nearly two years since Till Roll was published. That's nuts... To think what I've (not) done with my life in that time... Shameful. But I digress :) I will instead say how happy I am that Till Roll ever came to be (it was, and is, an honour to have worked with Sam Riviere on that), and I've bought a number of titles from If a Leaf Falls Press since then, which have all pushed the boundaries of poetry in such a way that is enjoyable, but serious. As ever, do check out his site and, if you think you're at all bothered about poetry, then you should check out some of his titles (his own, and the ones he's published).

But now, without further ado: BIG NEWS! I found out on Thursday that I had been shortlisted for the Literary Lancashire Award. I can't remember now if LLA came up as a Facebook advert, or whether someone from a local Creative Exchange group shared it back in February, but either way, I thought it sounded good and got to work on a piece using a technique I'd recently been experimenting with, and produced 'Since Error'. I don't want to blather on about it too much (I'm giddy and all that, but I have to remember not to make you, dear reader, suffer my pretentious dissections of craft, as if I've bloody won the Faber and Faber 'None Greater' award for 'absolutely smashing poetry and being a poet'), but yes, it is great to have that boost, and I look forward so much to reading everyone's entries when the collection comes out. I see that the winners have been published in Cake Magzine (buy your digi-copy HERE), but keep your eyes peeled for the collection of winners, runners up, and 'shortlistees' which I'm assured will be out soon. If any of the organisers are reading this; thank you for your time and effort in creating such an opportunity, bringing together and celebrating Lancashire's writing talent :)

Au revoir!

Friday, 10 July 2020

The Joy of Montalbano

Recently, I wanted to visit my literary safe space, just fancied that bit of escapism, y'know, as we all do from time to time. For me, this means Montalbano, Andrea Camilleri's food-loving, age-precipice-fearing inspector. I was willfully wallowing in the comfortable procedural plots, happy to revisit the old friends that Montalbano, his detective friends, his girlfriend, and incidental characters had become. It's far from the kind of 'trash' level that most people mean when they talk about 'trash TV', but, yeah, it comes across as a gritty soap opera almost (speaking of which - must remember to get some more of that gritty soap next time I'm shopping for ablutables).

I enjoyed the book this time, as usual (The Patience of the Spider, or, Il Pazienza del Ragno, the eighth novel of the series). Things don't follow a typical 'solve the crime in time, justice done by the book/letter of the law' kind of thing in the inspector's world, and it's the same that here, the sensitive detective discovers the truth of the matter (who the kidnappers are, in this case), but instead of bringing them to justice (having them tried and put in jail), he makes sure that 'justice' is done (a kind of greater good).

SPOILERS

I'm not really reviewing or criticising this book (for one, I think a review would best be suited for the series as a whole, looking at things a bit more zoomed out, but anyway, that may be a convo for when I've read them all), but I had a few things I wanted to note. The first was the way chapters are realised. I'd not noticed in the previous stories, but there seems to be a tendency for chapters to not do much, other than mark arbitrary progress. Or rather, a chapter ends 'like chapters should' (I mean, in the sense of most conventional literature), in that they end on a pivotal realisation, or in the immediate pre-math of a heavy scene/action, and as we see the page become blank, we think feverishly forward - what's going to happen? A 'cliffhanger', in other words. But the start of the next chapter usually has some whip about it. Perhaps it starts from a new angle, maybe a bit further forward in time (and in this case I'm speaking only about linear time. One could easily jump about temporally, spatially, consciously (i.e. from another character), etc etc), maybe just with an extra bit of scene-setting description, to keep that feeling of 'what's going to happen next?' on a rolling boil. In Montalbano, tho, I notice that the story just keeps going on exactly as it was, sometimes even with a direct response in dialogue to a question posed, for example, at the end of the preceding chapter. In short, the chapter break could just be a bookmark you've placed in at any point, on any page. So I feel the chapter break 'doesn't matter', because everything carries on with the same momentum and feeling as it did before. I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad thing. I suppose it suits the style of the procedural, you know, in that it's 'getting on with it', going forward. And I wouldn't be so arrogant (not on a Friday, anyway) as to suggest that it could be made better when Andrea Camilleri and Stephen Sartarelli are on the team, but yet, I just can't help feel they could have made it more contrived, more artful, and maybe let these moments breathe a little bit. I dunno...

Another thing I thought about this particular book was that it really let a couple of clangers of clues drop. The book, as usual, takes a while to really get going (again, not a negative, because Montalbano's style is usually about being a real sponge, letting these seemingly unconnected tributaries of facts flow into him until he is full of the truth), but I feel that it was about halfway through that we learn more about the guy who turns out to be kidnapper, who lets the inspector know that his property used to be a farm that made wine, and we know by his grand book collection that he is well-read, both of which come into the spotlight when, shortly after, we realise that the girl who has been taken is being held in a wine vat, and the kidnapper chooses very specific, apt words on their notes, indicating a certain level of education. When the reveal came, I was not just not surprised, but deflated somewhat. It's not just an entirely personal reaction, but a logical one, too; if I can work it out (if the clues are that obvious), then how did some of the other officers not see it? It seemed a bit of a poorly grounded contrivance that Montalbano would be the only one to notice it. But having said all this, the actual ending was enjoyable to a degree (bittersweet, like the first Aperol spritz of the evening in a warm, placid piazza), and we have to keep in mind that this Italian detective fiction is not like the Poirot or Marple-esque 'gather all the suspects into a room for tea, scones, and revelations. Place an officer on that door for the inevitable escape attempt by a rich dandy who'd struggle to run his way through a wet paper bag.' It's enough to say that there have been more satisfying conclusions (in the sense of the case itself, not the story) in other episodes.

I know these sound like nit-picks. I could go on about all the things I liked a lot, but ultimately these things are what I like about the series as a whole, hence why they'd be more suited to a dedicated 'retrospective' kind of post (in my mind, anyway. You, my dear, cherished audience, you may disagree. Please tell me if you do. Everyone's entitled to be wrong).

Time for me to go. Until next time, un abbraccio :) Arrivederci amici etc xox

Friday, 5 June 2020

As a Sign of the Changing Tiimes

Today, whilst I was reading, I had to do a double take on a word. What I first read as 'lockdown' was, in fact, 'knockdown'.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Just Checking In, Really

I struggle to believe that it's been nearly a month since I last posted anything on this blog. I had a quiet aim to post once a week, and clearly that's not happened. Things in life have overtaken me somewhat. I don't write this in a 'woe is me' kind of way - I know there are always people worse off - but I suppose I'm trying to come to some understanding of it myself. If this first step is possible (or even when it isn't!), it's always the aim to (probably inadvertently) pass on some kind of wisdom along the way, so here's hoping.

I suppose the last time I wrote anything on here (rather than just linking) was before a fire that happened in my house. I was using an old laptop and the battery in it exploded. First of all, it's worth pointing out that, apart from happening at all, I was very lucky that a) I wasn't seriously hurt (I burnt my foot a bit, but that's all), b) that the damage was very localised (when you consider how quickly whole houses can go up, you know, this hadn't got anywhere near devastation level), c) the fire services were very quick to respond (I wasn't sure if I'd completely put the fire out before I had to leave the room due to smoke, so I was understandably nervous until they arrived). The worst thing about the whole episode was the loss of some of my writing (lots of papers were on my desk, especially newer drafts that I hadn't typed up yet) and, now that I think about it, the shock of it, and the interruption to what I was doing at the time, and the momentum I had built up (I was doing well sorting out possessions in my room, doing more reading and writing etc). As I say, tho, these are very minor concerns relatively, and I count myself extremely fortunate to be able to tell you this like I am.

Daniele Pantano's Mass Graves: City of Now and Maya Angelou's And Still I Rise are two books the cosmos deemed worthy by trial of fire.
I've gone 'a bit mad' (I won't bother unpacking that one, or we'll be here all night...) since then trying to make some eBay money. The constant scrolling through auctions and all that jazz has taken up lots of time and energy (all my choice, yes), and I've eased off that. Because I'm buying and selling (go to my shop for a bargain!) games, that means I've been playing on a few, too, and though I don't see that time as completely wasted (it's been fun, after all), I sometimes feel it is because it doesn't tie in with my, and other people's, definitions of 'productivity' - of which blogging is only a small part ('SMALL!?' I hear you shriek. 'But your blog's contribution to the world is so unfathomably large - how, pray tell, could it ever be described as a 'small part' of anything, unless in a crude, jokey sort of a way?' Well, I say stop being so sarcy).

Jazmin Linklater's Toward Passion According and Zarf: Issue 11 are two more works that have passed through the fire and come out victorious.
These are two selected flash-points in a general 'up and down-ness' that I think we're all going through at the moment (for those of us for whom life is already like that, then it's more pronounced, I think). There have been other frustrations and niggles that have got me down and fucked me up a bit, but c'est la vie. What did I do to help myself? Well, read on...

I have just written a bit of a diary, and felt my head was a little clearer afterwards. These days, my diaries aren't so angsty and dripping with soul torture juices (TM), they tend to be more about what I'm going to do to change (I suppose the seeds of this were sown in Robert Sheppard's focus on poetics as a speculative writerly discourse - when I write poetics, it is often to find a way forward. But anyway, I'm not the guy to broach that subject. And if I was, I'd do it in a post that isn't already huge, unwieldy, and generally rather inane), as this one was. Then I wrote a bit of poetry - first time in too long. Some of the drafts I mentioned before that were damaged in the fire, I made into a new poem by combining the words that were left behind, the ones that survived, and suddenly felt great (yes, probably a bit of mania before another drop, but I'm using it to write this! Strike while the iron's hot, etc. Dunno what you do when the iron's cold. Put it back in the cupboard, I suppose).

"Nature abhors a vacuum, and fire abhors unworthy poetry," says the aphorism as old as time. So it was that some of my work has completely perished. Some of it, however, fought back.
Is that the wisdomful nugget of this post? Writing cures all? Haha, I don't think so. I mean, I think it can help all of us in some way or another, but I think this deeper feeling of contentedness, perhaps (if it even is that...), is due to paying attention to one's own 'higher power', which for me I think is writing. To put that into a soundbite thing, maybe it's a case of you 'getting out of it what you put in'? Other things that I'm doing to combat the shit mental health are growing chilli peppers (thanks for the seeds, Ann!), and I'm working on making an effort to hopefully get my outdoor exercise levels back up to the point they were at before Covid-19 had me looking at people out the window like 'Unwashed doom-bringer! Stay out of my sight, lest you infect my eyes! The eyes are the windows to the soul, and I want my soul to be healthy. Yes, healthy soul, healthy soul... All the outside air is bad for the soul - Devil air, yes it is!' (this said as I rock back and forth on the floor, slowly clawing at my face until it starts to bleed).

And that, I think, is it (I have to legally add "for now" after saying that, because people's Blogtastic-based disappointment translates to a lot of litigation). Let's re-cap; it's all about moving forward. I'm not dwelling on the bad stuff in the past, or the bad stuff now. I am happy that I'm doing good stuff (self-defined), that there are people that I love and that love me, and that life is (at least potentially) rich and wonderful again.

Peace, love, and light, folks :)