Why The Walking Dead is my new favourite TV show and why Glenn is the perfect zombie apocalypse boyfriend

At the beginning of last year, I binged on all the available episodes of The Walking Dead – from the pilot right up until the mid-season finale of season five. I can’t remember exactly how long it took me to get through them all, but I’m going to take a guess at a month and a half at the most. I had heard good things about the series, but didn’t know much about it – just that it was about zombies, and that guy who was secretly in love with Keira Knightley in Love Actually played the main character. I also didn’t know how quickly I would get hooked on it. The good thing about discovering it five seasons in was that I had 59 episodes to watch as quickly as I wanted to, before I had to slow down to watching it once a week with the rest of the world.

A year later, and I’m still just as hooked, excitedly waiting for the second half of season six to start in a couple of weeks. But an even surer sign that The Walking Dead is now my new favourite TV show is that later this month I’m going to a convention dedicated to the show – a Walker Stalker Con, where I’ll get my photo taken with Daryl Dixon. At the start of last year, I hadn’t even heard of Daryl Dixon, and now I’ve shelled out quite a bit of money in order to get a photo with the actor who plays him, Norman Reedus. And just the other week, I was genuinely sad that the other actor I had booked a photo with, Steven Yeun, had cancelled his appearance at the event. The reason? Steven Yeun plays Glenn Rhee, and Glenn is quite simply the perfect zombie apocalypse boyfriend. But more about that later.

So I mentioned that one of the things I knew about The Walking Dead was that it was show about zombies, and that’s completely true (except no one calls them zombies, it’s walkers). But the more I watched it, the more I realised that it is actually about so much more than these walkers. The six seasons have brought together and broken apart a diverse group of survivors, the majority of whom were complete strangers when they first met. And yet they become more than just friends, or just fellow survivors – they become a family. The characters were thrust into the zombie apocalypse, and for the most part we don’t know anything about their lives before the dead started walking again. Instead, it is what is happening to them right now that matters, not what jobs they had, or if they had been to university, or even what family they had before. It is all about survival, and sticking together, and that means caring for people in a way that they probably couldn’t have managed before the end of the world as they knew it happened. The relationships between each of them matter, and when someone dies, it makes it all the more painful.

For me, the overriding theme of the whole series is what it takes to survive – who would you become, and what would you do, if it meant you and your family could live another day. Over the six seasons, the core group increase and decrease in size on a regular basis, but this key idea remains. They are forced to adapt in order to survive, and they are now skilled at dealing with threats from walkers. Of course, it is not just the walkers that threaten their lives – in fact, people have proven themselves to be just as dangerous. The undead become predictable, but the living? Who knows how far someone will go in order to keep themselves and the ones they love safe. The situation that the programme has created for these characters reveal what people are truly like, and what they are willing to do to survive. We see this group at the extremes – from being on the run, constantly moving and seeking out shelter, to having security and stability, somewhere they can even call home. But as they discover, the tiny pieces of comfort that they do find in these places and in each other can be ripped away from them at a moments notice, forcing them to move on and ask themselves once again how far they would go to restore that comfort.

Now I may love this show, but it is by no means perfect. Season by season, it is constantly changing, and that isn’t always a good thing. Show-runners come and go every couple of seasons, and that obviously has an effect on the overall pace and tone of the show, as well as the character arcs. I haven’t read any of the comics that the show is based on, so I don’t have a clue as to how closely it is sticking to the comic storylines, but there are definitely group of episodes and storylines that I haven’t enjoyed quite as much as others. The show breaks the group up into smaller groups of characters occasionally, and this has varying degrees of success, and storylines can be moving in one direction, and then suddenly change pace and move in the opposite direction. This can be infuriating sometimes, but when the show gets it right, it can make for really exciting television. Is it consistently the best show out there? No. Just like in a zombie apocalypse, you really can’t get too comfortable.

The cast is also obviously changing regularly – the writers and producers have always said that no character is safe on the show, and I think that in order to keep the audience on their toes, that has to be proven true. There is a small group of characters who have been around since the first season – Rick, Carl, Glenn, Carol and Daryl – and to kill off any of them would definitely show that no one is safe, and certainly provide a jolt that is sometimes much needed. Whether the writers and producers actually go through with it remains to be seen. As to which characters I would like to see getting the chop, that is a completely different matter. The audience are obviously meant to care about each of the survivors, or at least find them interesting enough to follow their story, and as with many other things about this show, my feelings about them change regularly – I can go from supporting them completely to being frustrated at their actions to severely disliking them (apart from Glenn, of course. He will always have my heart, but more about that later).

Rick is the character who we were introduced to this walker-filled world with, and it is ultimately his story of survival, along with his son Carl’s, that is being told. He’s the leader of the group, and is constantly making decisions for the good of his family. Whether they are actually the right decisions, or even if he is in the right state of mind to be making those decisions, can be a bit unclear. Sometimes, I think the guy might just need to have a nap. In general though, I’m on Rick’s side, something that if I’m honest I’ve struggled to do with Carl. I found his character to be very annoying in the early seasons (seriously, just stay where you’re supposed to be, Carl!), but then again I’ve not really warmed to any of the children and teenagers on the show. Ok, it’s the zombie apocalypse and your childhood is pretty much over, but my god they can be annoying. Saying that, I have found myself warming to Carl a lot more in the first half of season six, and I can actually find myself supporting and caring about the character. He still has the potential to do something stupid and change that opinion, but to be fair, so too does Rick. I think out of all of the characters, Carol has changed the most, pretty much becoming the biggest badass on the show. The woman can be truly terrifying at times, and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything she does, I find her completely watchable, and I think episodes can suffer when she’s not in them.

I think it would be very fair to say that you never really know what you are going to get with each episode of this show, and I love that about it. It is a complete mix of action, horror, humour, sadness and joy. It can be terrifying, tense, and occasionally boring or just plain weird. It’s not perfect, but then maybe I don’t want it to be. Despite the ups and downs, the inconsistencies and frustrations I have with it, The Walking Dead has captured my heart. And my favourite television show would not be complete without my favourite character to support, cheer for and fear for their life, and for me that is Glenn Rhee.

The very first episode of the show ended with Rick stuck in a tank in downtown Atlanta, surrounded by walkers, and a voice speaking to him over the radio: ‘Hey you! Dumbass! Yeah, you in the tank. Cozy in there?’ The voice is Glenn’s, and in the next episode the former pizza delivery boy saves Rick, and shows that he can be brave, funny, smart and heroic all at the same time. He ends the episode driving a red sports car, alarm blaring, and then proceeds to get told off for making too much noise. We don’t know much about Glenn’s life before the zombie apocalypse, but like so many of the others, he is quick to find his place in the new family of survivors. He would do anything for these people, as he has proved time and time again, and this world may have turned him into a fully-fledged warrior, but he is determined to still be that funny and lovable guy we first met in season one. We see hints of his humour, and his complete love of his wife Maggie, who he would do anything for. Despite landing in so many tight spots, Glenn has survived this far, and despite the horror of the world around him, he has never given up on looking for a better future.

Glenn might be my clear favourite, but I feel I have to mention Daryl Dixon, who comes a close second. Like Glenn, Daryl has proved countless times that he would risk his life for his new family, and he has grown up a lot from the angry (and quite frankly hilarious) character we first met in season one. And while he does have the whole dirty redneck with a heart of gold, impressive biceps, motorcycle and crossbow thing going on, Glenn had already won me over. For me, he is the heart of The Walking Dead, and the perfect zombie apocalypse boyfriend. If the dead ever do start to walk, I know whose side I’ll be running to.

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Still a comic book film geek…

I first wrote about being a comic book film geek almost three years ago. I was probably still only starting to get into the genre then, and if I’m honest, a little bit surprised that I was finding these types of films so enjoyable. Saying that, I still haven’t read a comic book, and don’t expect to, so the love of comic book films hasn’t led to reading the original source material. But it has made me keep up-to-date with the latest news on the forthcoming films, and I try to see each new film the first weekend that it’s released. And in one very special case, I even went to a double bill screening of the first Thor film followed by the midnight showing of Thor: The Dark World. Like I said, it was a special case…

These films have also been the topic of some individual blog posts. I’ve written about The Dark Knight Rises and Avengers Assemble, both films that I loved, and I hope my enthusiasm for them came across in the posts. The Dark Knight Rises was an epic and fitting conclusion to a trilogy of Batman films by Christopher Nolan that quite simply raised the bar in terms of what could be done with a superhero film. Joss Whedon, with Avengers Assemble, managed to pull off the near impossible, bringing together a bunch of superheroes in a witty and action-packed way, that frankly should not have worked. It ended Phase One of Marvel’s cinematic universe, but was really only the beginning in terms of their future plans for these characters.

Despite Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy ending, it was clearly never going to be very long until a new Batman film would be released. Nolan may have left an opening for a potential continuation of the story at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, but the new film will be leaving Nolan’s story untouched, and will put the character up against another familiar face, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Personally, I like that they’re not trying to make more out of the Nolan trilogy, and that it isn’t going to be another origin story, or even pitting Batman against a known villain. Instead, the guy he’ll be going up against, at least in terms of what the title is suggesting, is Henry Cavill’s Superman, first seen in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.

My original blog post mentioned that Superman had never been one of my favourite superheroes, and Man of Steel didn’t really change that thinking. Yes, I enjoyed the film and thought Cavill did a good job, but there wasn’t a wow moment for me. Christopher Nolan is listed as a producer, and I think his influence can be seen in the film, especially in the first half. Showing us the origin story of Superman’s arrival on earth and coming to terms with his powers, the film was a darker and grittier version of the known tale, but perhaps in doing so, it lost some of the potential for humour. There were certainly moments that got some laughs, but in my opinion not enough. In some respect maybe it went too far in its attempt to be a darker version of the story, and the ending in particular was very violent and destructive. Saying that, there were a lot of positives about it (I thought Amy Adams was great as Lois Lane) and it is definitely taking Superman in the right direction. Now bring on Ben Affleck’s Batman…

Along with Superman, Spiderman was another one of those superheroes that I struggled to care about that much. I still haven’t seen any of the original trilogy of films all the way through, and the bits and pieces that I have seen I thought were just alright. In my original blog post, I said that I wasn’t a huge fan of Tobey Maguire, and that had a lot to do with my disinterest in the character, but having seen both films after the reboot with Andrew Garfield, I think I finally get it. First off, I’m a fan of Garfield, and even more of a fan of Emma Stone, who plays Gwen Stacey. She’s just adorable, funny, and quirky, and I could watch her in anything. Her and Garfield are so good together on screen, and they made me care about these characters. There was also the right mix of humour with the action – I don’t think I’ve giggled so much throughout a superhero film since the first Iron Man film.

Having said that, both Amazing Spider-Man films aren’t perfect. The main villain in each (Curt Conners/The Lizard in the first and Max Dillon/Electro in the second) wasn’t the highlight of the film, and I think for a superhero film to really stand out, the villain has to be one of the best bits of the film. What made The Amazing Spider-Man 2 more interesting than the first was the introduction of Harry Osborn/Green Goblin, played by Dane Dehaan. His villain may have played a lesser role to Jamie Foxx’s Electro in some respect to the story, and definitely in the advertising of the film, but was far more interesting and attention grabbing, and gives huge potential for the next film. Dehaan played the character with an underlying danger, bristling in some moments, before finally letting the anger erupt when the Green Goblin took over. There was a great contrast between how Garfield and Dehaan played their characters, with Peter Parker’s excitable, bouncing style coming up against the more controlled, almost steely Harry Osborn. I wont spoil the ending of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it makes for a very interesting showdown between these two characters in the next film.

Along with Avengers Assemble, X-Men: First Class is definitely one of my favourite superhero films so far. If that film was about how Charles and Eric met, became friends and then how that friendship fell apart, then X-Men: Days of Future Past showed us what that falling out resulted in. The film also gave us something that was missing from First Class, and that was Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine. Ok, so we got a hilarious cameo from him in the first film, but Days of Future Past puts him dead centre, sent by the older Charles and Eric into the past to bring the younger Charles and Eric together to save the mutant race. Bringing the old cast back from the original trilogy of X-Men films and jumping between time periods, it could have been a case of too many characters and too confusing a story line, but the film manages to avoid that. Yes, you do need to pay attention and have some understanding of what happened in all previous films, but once you get your head around what is happening when, and to who and why, you have a thoroughly entertaining film. Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy seemed more comfortable in their roles as the younger Eric and Charles, with McAvoy showing the depth of depression Charles had sunk to after Eric had left him at the end of First Class, and well, Fassbender just plays mischievous so well. What was perhaps so surprising was that despite all these returning characters, it was a completely new character to the film franchise that almost stole the show. Quicksilver, played by Evan Peters, had one of best set pieces of the film, and left you wanting more. Hopefully X-Men: Apocalypse will give us that, and continue this excellent run of X-Men films.

With the near impossible made possible with Avengers Assemble, and the closing of Phase One of the Marvel universe of the big screen, it was time to start Phase Two by going back to the individual stories of Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Without each other as back up, the next three films needed to remind us why we care about these characters individually. Each film was different, but all of them moved both their individual story forward as well as having some impact on the wider Marvel universe. What I liked most about them was how personal each was to each character. With the Avengers being assembled, it was all about the team, and what each character could bring to that team. But in Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, it was about their own experiences of being part of this team, and how they were coping with what happened in the battle of New York in Avengers Assemble. The three films took them back to where they lived and felt safest, and attacked them there. They made it all about whom and what they trusted, and challenged that trust. These films were all about hurting them where it was most personal.

Iron Man will always be the superhero film that really got me excited about this genre, which made Iron Man 2 all the more disappointing. Yes, it was still a good film, but was definitely lacking the spark of the first on. The excitement, the humour, the undeniable charm of Tony Stark – it was all kind of missing. The villain was disappointing, and Tony Stark himself was, dare I say it, annoying and a bit unlikeable. So thank goodness for Iron Man 3. It gave us everything it needed to – we were shown what happened to Tony after the events with the other Avengers, how he was coping with the aftermath, and most importantly, his relationship with Pepper Potts as well as that with the Iron Man suit. Put simply, we cared about him again. Add to that the fact that the humour was back in bucket-loads – unexpected, laugh out loud humour, from a sidekick in the form of a small child, to a villain that was most surprising. It’s unclear how many more Iron Man films Robert Downey Jr will do, if any. If Iron Man 3 is his last individual film as Tony Stark, it’s probably been his best, and gives him a fitting conclusion to his story.

Thor: The Dark World probably had the most direct link to the events in Avengers Assemble, and that link is Thor’s younger brother, the God of Mischief and Lies. Ah, the Loki influence. I think it’s partly Joss Whedon’s fault, as well as obviously Tom Hiddleston’s. Who would have known that Loki would steal the show from the brave, strong, heroic God of Thunder, who the film is named after? There were definite glimmers of it in the first Thor film, but it was in Avengers Assemble where is really took off. Firstly, the character needed Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow and Hawkeye to team up just to stop him from world domination. Secondly, it was the way he went about his attempt at world domination – the sharp humour, the wicked smirking, the devilish charm. And dressed in leather and metal to boot. Avengers Assemble was one of the best comic book superhero films, and Hiddleston’s Loki was the best bit in it – a perfect example of how to get the villain right.

With that in mind, how do you then handle such a character in the sequel to a film centring on his brother? First thing you do is give him more screen time. It was widely reported that more scenes were added for Loki because of his popularity in Avengers Assemble. And it wasn’t like there wasn’t a story to tell. Regardless of his popularity, the film needed to deal with his punishment for the battle of New York, and his somewhat strained relationship with his brother. But it couldn’t all be about Loki, and it certainly wasn’t. We saw that Thor had returned to Asgard a hero, and looked on with admiration and pride by his parents. But it was his relationship with Jane that was the main focus, and it was her turn to be a fish out of water in his world (though the film didn’t miss out on putting Thor back on Earth, which is always going to result in laughs). With Asgard and the other realms under attack, and Jane in the centre of it, the film certainly made it personal for Thor. Throw in an uneasy alliance with Loki, and you couldn’t really get more personal. With more of a focus away from the events on Earth, the film had a different feel to it than the first one, but it still managed to keep the humour, though the main villain, Malekith the Dark Elf, was disappointing and rather one-dimensional. If Iron Man 3 gave us a resolved ending, Thor: The Dark World just gave us more unanswered questions and teasers.

The third and final individual film is Captain America: The Winter Soldier. While the first film had to do the job of explaining how Steve Rogers became Captain America, fought the Nazis, froze in the ice and woke up 70 years later, the sequel could really get to grips with how Steve is adjusting not only to events after Avengers Assemble but the 21st century as a whole (‘the internet is so helpful!’). It also manages to make him much more of a rounded character. Working with Nick Fury, Black Widow and the rest of SHIELD, Steve’s figuring out exactly who he can and can’t trust, and this challenges his somewhat old-fashioned views of the world. Just when Steve thinks he’s getting a hang of his present surroundings, he gets a blast from the past in the form of Sebastian Stan’s Bucky Barnes. Last seen falling to his death from a train in the 1940s, he reappears as the titular Winter Soldier, a brainwashed assassin complete with heavy black makeup and a metal arm, who has no idea who Steve is. This ramps up the personal, but the film also manages to shake up the Marvel cinematic universe overall, with an attack on SHIELD and a big twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming. There’s definitely an element of a spy thriller throughout the film, which works really well with the story, and it is possibly my favourite of all the individual films to date.

Looking back over these comic book films, as well as ahead to the films slated for future release, what is abundantly clear is that the worlds within them are just getting bigger and more diverse on screen. Marvel’s Phase Two isn’t slowing down at all, with a trip into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy up next. While I may have had some reservations with superheroes in space before (Green Lantern, anyone?), and despite not knowing anything about the characters or story, I am well and truly excited for this film, thanks to some hilarious and intriguing trailers. Marvel may not have had the guts to do a film like Guardians, or the forthcoming Ant-Man, without the success of the Avengers, both individually and assembled, and it shows just how massive this genre is. More characters are being introduced, films are set on completely different planets and worlds, and there’s even time travelling elements thrown in, all seemingly without the worry that the audience will be put-off or confused by it all. The success of Avengers Assemble and bringing together a number of different superheroes in one film has no doubt been an influence for future films. Not only is there a second Avengers film slated for release next year, with new characters and no doubt a bigger expectation, DC Comics have also announced plans for a number of team-up films. While Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will include Wonder Woman, Aqua Man and Lex Luther, there is now talk of a planned Justice League film following on from that. With so much original material to dip into, and the apparent growing confidence of studios, the future of comic book films is seemingly boundless. Now is a very exciting time to be a comic book film geek, and I am embracing it completely.

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Steve McQueen – a modern auteur?

Honestly, I have come so close to giving up on this blog. It’s been far too long since I’ve posted anything, but this is me officially kicking myself into gear. It has helped that I’ve been a lot more inspired to write recently, and about films in particular. I’ve been going to an evening class on Modern American Auteurs for the past few weeks, and in the class we’ve looked at a number of directors that are widely thought of as an auteur – someone who has a recognisable style and ownership of their films. I’ve done evening classes before, but none of them have captured my attention as much as this one has. To put it another way, this is the first one where I’ve actually written the voluntary essay that’s been set. The class has made me realise just how many films exist that I want to see. I come out of the class each week thinking of films I need to see – you should see my Lovefilm list, it’s huge. It’s also made me want to work in some capacity in the film industry, or at least study and learn more about it. I have honestly never been this excited about films. I feel I need to do something with this excitement, and writing about films is one way to start doing just that.

The timing of the class could not have been better, with it coinciding with the run-up to the Oscars. I haven’t seen nearly as many of the films that were nominated that I wanted to, but I saw a few of the ones that dominated the awards. American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity – there wasn’t one that I didn’t enjoy, for different reasons. It might be that I’m going to end up writing about each of them at some point for this blog, but for that voluntary essay that I wrote for the class, I chose to focus on the director of 12 Years a Slave, Steve McQueen. When discussing directors in the class, our tutor has been highlighting why they are viewed as auteurs, and she has encouraged us to question if other directors are auteurs. Is there a checklist, as it were, of things that a director has to abide by to be one? Does a good director make an auteur, or can a bad director also be one? And do they have to be widely thought of as an auteur to be one? With this in mind, here’s what I wrote about why I think Steve McQueen is a modern auteur…

Last Sunday evening, Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture at the Oscars. Despite fierce competition from Gravity, the film was generally thought to be a worthy winner of the award. The film is only McQueen’s third, yet the British director has most definitely made a name for himself as a filmmaker. But is he just a director, or can he be thought of in the same way as Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese and Wes Anderson? Is Steve McQueen a modern auteur?

As well as 12 Years a Slave, McQueen has also directed Hunger (2008), about Bobby Sands and the increasingly desperate protests in a Northern Ireland prison during the height of the Troubles, and Shame (2011), about a man in modern day New York trying to cope with his sex addiction. All three films are on the surface very different – they are about different topics, they take place during different time periods and in different places, and yet there are elements that tie them together. All three stories are based on subjects that are quite difficult to talk about, and for a director, probably not easy choices to make films about. Despite this, McQueen has managed to put his stamp on all three films. Last year at the Oscars, Quentin Tarantino won Best Original Screenplay for Django Unchained, and like 12 Years a Slave, it deals with the topic of slavery in the Southern states of America. But this is all that the films have in common. Tarantino, himself widely acknowledged as an auteur, made a film that is louder and brasher than McQueen’s, with more elaborate costumes, visuals and music. It is a thoroughly enjoyable film, but it is a Tarantino film, and because of that, I wasn’t surprised by how he told the story. I was no less surprised by McQueen’s film, as he has approached the story in much the same way that he did in Hunger and Shame. His films don’t have any gimmicks about them. The costumes, sound and images are true to the time and place, and don’t distract the audience from the raw story that is being told. McQueen has found his own way of telling these stories.

A recurring feature of McQueen’s films is his focus on the visual, and this perhaps isn’t surprising due to his background as a visual artist. A lot of his art pieces didn’t involve any sound or dialogue, so it was vital for the images to tell the whole story. In his films, McQueen uses camera shots very cleverly to focus his audience. The camera lingers on the images longer than you might expect them to, and this reveals not only the amount of detail in each scene, but also heightens the power of the images themselves. In Shame, McQueen uses one long tracking shot of Brandon running through the streets of New York, and in Hunger, the camera stays still while Bobby Sands and a priest sit side on to it, facing one another. We aren’t distracted by any break in the shot, and our attention is focused solely on the characters and what they are saying or doing. This is done slightly differently in 12 Years a Slave, but the effect is even more powerful. Solomon is hanging by his neck from a tree, and is trying desperately to keep at least one toe on the ground. The man who put him there has left the scene, but this doesn’t mean that the scene ends. The camera stays still, focused on Solomon and his struggles, and around him life continues. The other slaves and the plantation workers go about their business, and don’t make any moves to assist Solomon. McQueen’s intent is clear – this is what happened to slaves, and it is excruciating for us to watch.

Another way that McQueen uses visual images in his films is through focusing on the body, and how it can be transformed. Hunger was about politics, and how the human body can be used to make a political statement. We saw up close how Bobby’s body changed as he continued on his hunger strike. In Shame, we witness Brandon succumbing to his sex addiction, how he used both his own body as well as those of others to satisfy his urges. McQueen may not have shown as much violence towards slaves as he could have in 12 Years a Slave, but when he did show it, it was brutal and shocking.

With this importance of the visual in McQueen’s storytelling, it probably comes as no surprise that he has worked with the same cinematographer (Sean Bobbitt) and editor (Joe Walker) in all three films. Like many other auteurs, McQueen has built relationships with his crew over a number of films, and they clearly understand how he works as a director, and what he is looking for in each shot. McQueen has also built up a working relationship with Michael Fassbender, who has acted in all three films. In Hunger and Shame, he took on the lead roles of Bobby and Brandon respectively, and in 12 Years a Slave he played Epps, the plantation owner who Solomon is owned by. Each role requires Fassbender to give McQueen everything he has – these aren’t characters that he can hold back with. Hunger was one of Fassbender’s first films, and despite him appearing in big blockbusters and superhero franchises, he has returned to work with the director. Both the actor and director have acknowledged their working relationship, and what it comes down to. Fassbender has said that ‘Steve and I have a really good understanding. We are on the same page, we see things in the same light and we want to take risks and stretch boundaries’ (http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/entertainment/news/fassbender-mcqueen-changed-my-life-30056986.html), and McQueen himself agreed that ‘It’s an understanding. I don’t question it; that’s the funny thing. I think we both don’t question it. I think we have something and we just get on with it’ (http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2013/11/steve-mcqueen-michael-fassbender). It will be interesting to see whether they continue to work with one another in the future, and how their future careers are shaped by these films they have worked on together.

By looking at the way that McQueen directs his films, and the relationship he has built up with cast and crew, I think that a valid argument can be made for him to be thought of as an auteur. He has only made 3 films, but he has developed such a recognisable style, originating from his visual art, that makes him undeniably the author of this work. His future films may again be very different in subject, time and place, but so strong is his creative input into his films, that they will undoubtedly be thought of as the work of an auteur.

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The Cornetto Trilogy

It’s always a bit odd when you go back to where you grew up. I’ve lived in Oxfordshire for over 4 years now, and even though I travel back to Bishopbriggs, my hometown just outside Glasgow, to see my parents and friends every 3 or 4 months, there is a definite sense of things not quite being the same as it was when I lived there. It’s hard to pin down what exactly has changed, and if neither my parents nor my friends lived there, I probably wouldn’t go back at all. I still call it home, but that’s more to do with the people than the place. When I do go back, I can always spot what has changed. Sometimes its really obvious things, like when I went back and my old school had been knocked down. Completely demolished. A big part of growing up was attending that school, I’m still close to my friends I made there, and a lot of what I do now began there. And now it doesn’t even exist anymore. Some changes are smaller. There’s a pub in the town centre that always seems to be struggling, and practically every time I go back it’s called something different. New name, new owners, always trying to reinvent itself and yet not quite managing to become an integral part of the town.

Pubs (see how I did that…) are the focus of The World’s End, the latest and final instalment in the brilliantly titled Cornetto Trilogy. Directed by Edgar Wright, co-written by Wright and Simon Pegg, and starring Pegg and Nick Frost, the film follows on from the hilarious Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Pubs are key to all three of the films – they are a safe and secure place to hide from zombies, they are the perfect backdrop for a shoot-out, and of course, what better place to reunite and catch up with old friends? The World’s End tells the story of Gary King and his four friends that he brings together after 20 years to take on the Golden Mile in their hometown of Newton Haven. Twelve pubs, and a pint in each one, a challenge that they failed to complete when they were 18 years old. By the looks of things, Gary still thinks and acts like he is that age. To him, the world around him hasn’t changed, and he still thinks he is the most popular guy in town. His world is still Newton Haven, and so it’s no surprise that he wants to take his friends back to where he was top dog and relive the best time of his life. But while Gary’s life may not have gone beyond that night, his four friends have all grown up, moved on, and are less than enthused at the prospect of returning to their home town. But despite their reluctance, they once again join Gary on the fateful Golden Mile.

As the pub crawl progresses, the distance between Gary and his friends becomes more apparent. It’s that sense that a lot has changed, and yet at the same time some things haven’t changed at all, and a big part of it is working out if you are actually still friends. We can sense the tension between Gary and Andrew (played by Nick Frost) in particular, and it’s another great double act of Pegg and Frost. Each time they have played against one another, previously in Shaun and Fuzz, there has been a different dynamic to their relationship, and yet it is just as funny and true to life. As well as having to deal with one another, their place in the town itself has altered. Walking from pub to pub, the five men pass a group of teenagers and give them a look of understanding, feeling a sense of holding a similar position. Instead of acknowledging it, the boys walk on, not seeing the middle-aged men in the same way that they view themselves. Newton Haven has changed, and just when we recognise that feeling from our own visits home, Gary and his friends discover what has actually happened: it’s not them that have changed, it’s the town. And it’s something a bit bigger than a few more Starbucks and Wetherspoon’s opening up – it’s been taken over by alien robots. The irony is lovely, turning that odd sensation you recognise into something definite, threatening, and well, alien. The guys have two options, get out of the town or keep drinking. And it’s no surprise that Gary is adamant that they do the latter.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about what happens to the characters once they discover the truth about Newton Haven, but I found it to be a hilarious joy of a film. And yet alongside the humour, there is also a darker element to it. The film tells us something about growing up and romanticising our youth, and also about the need to move on. There is nothing wrong with nostalgia, and remembering past adventures, as long as you are looking forward at the same time.  Gary is stuck in the past, and that’s definitely not where you want to be. The film also says a lot about addiction. It’s clear Gary has lived with his addiction to alcohol his whole life, and getting his friends to go on a pub crawl is a way for him to justify it. All Gary can think about, even when he knows that the town is full of alien robots, is finishing the pub crawl. He has to literally fight his way to the last pub, and getting there is the only thing that has any real meaning to him. By doing that, Gary has succeeded. And if that means the end of the world, then so be it.

Although each of the films in the Cornetto Trilogy are standalone, there is a lot more that links them together than ice cream and fence jokes. All three stories have the idea of conforming running through them. Whether it’s Shaun versus the zombies, Nicholas Angel versus the NWA or Gary King versus alien robots, it’s all about the individual against the collective. It’s about fighting for what you want (even if it is just a pint of beer), what you believe in (such as you shouldn’t murder someone just to win a village competition) and what you don’t want to lose (your girlfriend, for instance). And it’s also about staying individual, and not just becoming one of a crowd (or a zombie) just because everyone else is. The characters placed in this struggle may be completely out of their depth, but they deal with the struggle in the only way they know how.

There are clever uses of foreshadowing throughout all three films. In Shaun of the Dead, Ed pretty much sums up their encounter with zombies when he’s trying to cheer Shaun up after he’s been dumped by Liz. Only Ed is describing a day of drinking. In Hot Fuzz, Danny excitedly asks Nicholas Angel if he has ever found himself in high speed chases or shooting while jumping through the air, much to Nicholas’ annoyance and determination to show Danny that that isn’t what police work is about. And yet by the end of the film both of them are doing those exact things. Finally, in The World’s End, it’s used to a greater extent in two different ways. The film starts with Gary telling us about the first attempt at the Golden Mile, and when we see the second attempt, there are some definite similarities, despite the introduction of alien robots. There are also the cleverly-titled pub names, each of which provide a clue as to what will happen in that very pub.

What is also apparent in the films is the idea of familiar versus the unfamiliar. It’s clear where the characters feel safe, and where they feel uncomfortable and untrusting. What’s interesting is that in Hot Fuzz, Nicholas Angel feels much more at home fighting crime in London. When he’s sent to Sanford, winner of the best village award numerous times, he feels uneasy, and that’s before we know that the NWA are murdering the locals. He is constantly told how safe and good the village is, yet Nicholas is always wary of the peace. In the other two films the pub is seem as the safe place. With Shaun and Ed, it’s the ideal place to hide out from zombies, and for Gary, it’s where he can feed his addiction.

Each of the films may be an homage to a genre film (horror, action, sci-fi), but the genre is used as a way of looking at relationships, with friends, girlfriends and parents. They are full of normal situations, but with extreme elements thrown in. And despite the amount of comedy that is used to show how people deal with these situations, there is a darkness to all three films. As well as Gary’s alcohol addiction, there is the fact that Shaun has to shoot his mum once she’s been turned into a zombie, and Nicholas has to fight off the NWA that has become so hell bent on winning a best village competition that they have resorted to murder. All in all, not really that light-hearted, but when written in the right way, has the potential to be very, very funny.

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‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

One of the bestselling books of 2012 was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and I only had to read the blurb to see that it was exactly the kind of story that would have me gripped. Actually, gripped is an understatement. I think after the first chapter I was hooked, and I probably read the whole book over the course of a weekend. The outline is simple: it’s Amy and Nick Dunne’s 5th wedding anniversary, but instead of celebrating, Nick returns home to find signs of a struggle and Amy nowhere to be found. Was she abducted? Murdered? And by who? In order to answer these questions, the author weaves a story of manipulation, deceit and martial breakdown, and poses the question: how well do you really know someone?

The story is told from both Amy and Nick’s point of view, with each of them taking it in turn to narrate a chapter, although starting at different places in time. Nick’s narrative begins the day Amy goes missing and continues from that point onwards. Amy, on the other hand, starts her story when she first meets Nick, through diary entries. This allows us to view their relationship at different stages, and it has clearly changed. Both of them appeared to be blissfully in love when they were first married and happily living in New York City. However, after both losing their jobs, they move to Missouri where Nick grew up to help look after his parents. Their relationship changes from this point on, but what is interesting is the wildly different takes on each other’s behaviour. As the chapters alternate from one narrator to another, it was obvious that something didn’t add up. There wasn’t just one unreliable narrator, but two, and there was definitely something wrong with the picture that was being presented when both viewpoints were put together. I found myself waiting for something to happen that would explain just what was going on in this relationship.

I don’t want to say too much (if anything) about the twist in this novel, as it would spoil it. What I will say is that even though I was expecting something to happen, I wasn’t expecting that. It made me change my views about Nick and Amy, and made me question everything. And that’s not to say that I wasn’t questioning myself before. Not long after Amy goes missing, it is clear that the police view Nick as a suspect, and he does not do himself any favours with trying to convince us of his innocence. Again without trying to give too much away, it becomes obvious that he is hiding something, and he even tells us that he is lying to the police. What he doesn’t say is what he is lying about or why he is doing it. I spent a lot of time trying to work out if I thought Nick was guilty or not. And that is without actually liking the character. In fact, I didn’t like either Nick or Amy. He comes across as pathetic, and she is manipulative, and that isn’t just in each other’s narratives. But despite this, I couldn’t help but be drawn into their world and their marriage, and it was fascinating trying to work out what was actually going on.

In terms of the ending of the book, I didn’t feel completely satisfied with it, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. But at the same time, I’m not actually sure what I expected in terms of a resolution for these characters. Nothing was really going to be as satisfying as the process you go through when the story unravels. This book is more about shedding the layers of these characters and their situation, than it is about getting to a finishing point. It is about lies and marriage, of loving someone and questioning what they are thinking. What you need as soon as you finish this book is to have someone next to you who has read it as well, so you can discuss it at length. My own copy is slowly making its way around the office, and I don’t want it back anytime soon.

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All Adventurous Women Do – a review of ‘Girls’

Hands up, I’ll admit it: I watch a lot of rubbish on television. But one programme I’ve recently become hooked on, and that is definitely not rubbish, is ‘Girls’. Created, written, directed and starring Lena Dunham, it follows 4 twentysomething girls living and working in New York. Hannah, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna are continually making mistakes as they struggle with jobs, sex, boyfriends and each other. But while this could easily be just another programme about the lives of a group of friends, ‘Girls’ manages to give us something a bit different. For the first time, for me at least, it shows what it feels like to be in your mid-20s. It puts the painfully awkward situations that these girls go through in front of me, and through laughing and cringing at them, makes me relate it to how I also feel as a twentysomething girl.

The show isn’t without its flaws, and while the fact that the 4 main characters are all white, middle-class and university-educated has been scrutinised and criticised, I did not find this to be a problem. I do not for one second think that Lena Dunham created this series and these characters with the intention of representing every young woman, in every situation. She has written about what she knows, and while the events and situations themselves will not be something that everyone can say, yes, I also did exactly that, what it can do is make us think about a time when something (and a lot of the time a completely different thing) made us feel like that. As her character Hannah says in the very first episode, she is ‘a voice of a generation’. Each of the four girls has different character traits, and while we may see bits of ourselves in some of them, one of the brilliant things about the show is that we want to see how they deal with different things, even if we don’t even like the girls themselves all of the time. (Personally, I think I’m a little bit Hannah, and a little bit Marnie).

The situations, problems and relationships that the programme deals with are the things that feel like the most important things in the world, at that time. In terms of the job you have, is it what you thought you would be doing after university? When we are first introduced to Hannah, her parents announce that they are no longer going to support her financially. She is now in a position where she has to find a paying job, when all she really wants to do is write. There is this brilliant thing going on with her that she thinks she is entitled to be doing what she wants. And that is such a big part of getting a job after studying and thinking about your career for so long. What if it isn’t the start to your career, what do you do then? Another massive part of the series is about sex and boyfriends. It shows us why we want a boyfriend, but at the same time, why we don’t want one. And when you do have a boyfriend, of questioning whether he’s really what you want. Hannah has an interesting relationship with Adam, and they are continually trying to work out what they mean to each other, and one of my favourite moments is when she says to him: ‘I don’t even want a boyfriend. I just want someone who wants to hang out all the time, and thinks I’m the best person in the world, and wants to have sex with only me’. It sums it up perfectly.

So many people I know who are my age, and even younger, are thinking about marriage, buying houses, having babies, and sometimes it can be a little frightening to wonder if I should be thinking about those things to. Because right now I’m not thinking about those things. Instead, I’m worrying that I’m not far enough in my career right now, or if I am dating the right guy, and it’s really refreshing to see characters who think like that too. I’m not saying that ‘Girls’ is the first programme to do this, nor will it be the last, but right now it’s showing me exactly what I need to see. And for that, Lena Dunham, thank you.

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2013 – a year of adventure

I’m not usually one for making New Year’s resolutions. When I’ve tried to make them in previous years, they are either quickly broken or forgotten about. But this year will be different. I’ve decided that in 2013 I’m going to have an adventure. Next year, in 2014, I’ll turn 30, so what better time than now to have as much fun as possible?

By adventure, I don’t mean that I’m suddenly going to quit my job and go travelling around the world. I mean more of an adventure in the sense of doing things that I have thought about doing for a while. Of taking some risks, making some changes, and having absolutely no regrets.

An example? I’ve said for a while now that I’m going to give writing a proper go, and by that I mean finish a piece of writing, and try and get it published. I’ve had a few starts at it – I’ve been to creative writing classes, read some books on creative writing, and started this blog. But this year I need to do less thinking about writing, and more actual writing. That means posting more regularly on this blog, and devoting more time to structuring my ideas into something that I can do something with. It’s so easy to find distractions from writing, but this year I need to find out if it can be anything more than ambition.

Do, do, do, rather than think, think, think. I’m planning a trip to New York to visit my friend. I want to read a lot more books, try and see more shows, watch a lot more films. 2013 is when I’m going to try my best to do as much as possible, and write as much as possible about what I’m doing. The thought is exciting, and a little scary, but I can’t wait to start.

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