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In this British comedy, Rufus Hound plays Raif Moyle, who is returning home to Cheshire to be the best man at his brother Tim’s (Robert Webb) wedding to Saskia (Lucy Punch). He decides to film the wedding preparations and the few weeks before the big day as his wedding present to the happy couple, but instead ends up capturing events as they spiral out of control. From Saskia’s society-obsessed mother (Harriet Walter) taking over the arrangements and ignoring her daughter’s wishes, and Saskia and Tim’s constant disagreements, it starts to look like the wedding might not even go ahead at all….

After watching this film I read some reviews, and was surprised that they were so scathing. In truth, had I read the reviews beforehand, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered watching, but as it is I’m glad I did watch it, because I really liked the whole thing. All three of the leads were great, especially Lucy Punch. Harriet Walter was unsurprisingly brilliant, and Miriam Margolyes had a small but excellent part as Saskia’s grandmother.

If you like British comedies, I would suggest ignoring the reviews and giving this one a go. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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Year of release: 2012

Director: Nigel Cole

Writer: Tim Firth

Main cast: Lucy Punch, Rufus Hound, Tim Webb, Harriet Walter

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This is the sixth book in the Phryne Fisher Mystery series, and probably my favourite one so far. In essence, our feminist, intrepid sleuth is bored, and goes undercover at the Farrell’s Circus, where she has friends, to try and find out who is trying to sabotage the circus, and who murdered Mr Christopher, one of the acts. Phryne, so usually able to hold her own in almost any situation, finds herself out of her depth and lacking in friendship. Not to mention that she is not able to easily call on her friends and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (although Jack does take a bigger role in this book than in previous adventures). Without her usual back-up she has to rely on her own wits, but anyone who is familiar with the series knows that she has plenty of those!

Interestingly, having read other reviews of this book, it seems that people who have enjoyed previous novels in the series have been somewhat disappointed in this one. For me it is the other way around; the last few novels have been underwhelming for me, but this one was much more enjoyable. The mystery itself was not as enjoyable as Phryne’s experience of circus life. Here we meet a different Phryne – going by the name Fern, she is vulnerable, unhappy and an outsider among the circus folk, and I did enjoy reading about that. The mystery itself was an intriguing one although I felt that the solving of it was rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory – interestingly I remember thinking the same about the television adaptation of this particular book. I liked the colour, flamboyance and excitement of the circus atmosphere though, and the story whipped by quickly enough I also loved the young policeman Tommy Harris – I wish he had been a character in the television series.

Overall, if you are a fan of this series, for my money this is one of the best so far.

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There can’t be many – if any! – Richard Bachman readers who don’t know that it is actually a pseudonym of probably the world’s most successful horror writer Stephen King. In the late 70s, King/Bachman released a series of novels, focussing more on dystopia or an alternate reality than the horror for which he is best known. (Another of his novels was The Running Man – later made into a film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger – which follows similar themes to The Long Walk.)

The Long Walk is a yearly event which takes place in America in the near future, or possibly an alternate present; the year is never stated. 100 teenage boys come together to participate in the contest, the winner of which wins whatever his heart desires for the rest of his life. The rules are simple – if you drop below four miles an hour, you get a warning. If you get three warnings, you “buy a ticket” which means you get shot dead. The winner is the last boy still walking, and the event attracts huge media coverage and crowds along the way.

I listened to the audiobook which was narrated by Kirby Heybourne, and although it took me a short while to adjust to his narration, I ended up really enjoying both the story itself and the way it was told. Dystopian fiction is a favourite genre of mine, and no matter what, King/Bachman is an expert storyteller. In this particular story, lots happens and simultaneously nothing much happens. It’s a story of 100 boys, who all think they can beat the odds, but 99 of them are going to be wrong. It is told in the third person, but concentrating mainly on the character of Ray Garraty, and through him we learn not just about his own experiences, but the way the walk affects the others too – some grit their teeth and carry on, others lose their mind, others lose the will to live. It’s heartbreaking and compelling.

It makes you wonder what on earth has happened that such a gruesome event has become national entertainment – but then when you look at reality television programmes, is it really any surprise? After all, don’t people watch Big Brother to see people fall out with each other, to watch housemates get humiliated, to see people being cruel or underhand with their tactics? I remember reading about crowds of viewers chanting hateful things at people as they left the Big Brother house. What about shows like I’m A Celebrity….? The media and the viewers like to pick out certain people as villains, to be criticised and ridiculed. And look at shows like the X Factor, where people are clearly put on screen to be the butt of people’s jokes. Isn’t the whole concept of a public vote designed to reinforce how unpopular some people are? The Long Walk, and books like it just take that situation a few steps further.

If I had to criticise anything about this book, it would be that the ending felt sudden and somehow not really an ending at all. It’s open to interpretation certainly, and I’m not yet sure what my personal interpretation is. However, the journey itself kept me listening throughout, and for that reason I would still recommend this book very highly.

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Mike Gayle is known for his fiction writing, but he takes a foray into non-fiction here, and from my personal point of view, it’s a great success. Having finally decided it’s time to become a fully fledged grown-up, Gayle makes a to-do list which ends up with 1277 items (!) and gives himself a year to complete it. Some of the items are the kind of thing we will all be familiar with (such as sort out the drawer which is full of takeaway menus), and then there are a few more unusual items, one of which involves him flying to New York to buy a mug!

The book gives an insight into Gayle’s personal life, and his marriage to his lovely wife Claire. He comes across as likeable, genuine, and the sort of person who you would want to be friends with. I also felt a ripple of pleasure as Gayle lives in Birmingham, which is local to me, and there are several mentions of Wolverhampton, which is my home town.

If you are a fan of Mike Gayle’s fiction – or if you just like an amusing and daft story – then I highly recommend that you give this a go. Lots of laughs, and plenty of relatable moments make this a hugely enjoyable read.

The Campaign (2012)

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The Campaign is a satirical (although satire is fast becoming reality with Trump as President) political comedy. Will Ferrell is Cam Brady, a Democratic Congressmen who is running unopposed for his fifth term. His campaign is damaged by a mistaken phone call, and the corrupt businessmen, the Kotch brothers (John Lithgow and Dan Ackroyd) seize the opportunity to persuade Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis) – an honest but somewhat naive local tourism director – to run against Cam as a Republican candidate.

What follows is a campaign that gets progressively nastier and more violent as both men are determined to win. It’s very funny and not as ridiculous as it would have been ten years ago, given that we now have a man in the White House, who knows no limits whatsoever regarding what is acceptable and what isn’t.

Both leads are excellent even if Galifianakis reminded me of Nick Offerman throughout, and the supporting cast also do an excellent job. Highly recommended if you fancy a good belly laugh, or something to take your mind off how screwed up the American presidency is right at the moment. Great fun.

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The word ‘legend’ is bandied about too frequently these days – I’ve seen it used to describe reality tv stars, YouTube ‘stars’ and all manner of others which in truth it should not be used for – but sometimes the word is entirely fitting and Bruce Springsteen is one of those people truly deserving of the title. Whether you like his music or not, his songs are familiar to all, for their stories of blue-collar working class families and their struggles, from the anti-Vietnam protest song Born in the USA, to the Oscar winning Streets of Philadelphia from the groundbreaking 1993 Tom Hanks film about AIDS.

Bruce’s autobiography is a joy to read – not only does he discuss his own working class, blue collar background, and his rise to success, he is also amazingly candid about his struggles with depression and anxiety. He talks with obvious love and gratitude about his wife Patti Scialfa and their three children, and with open-ness about his troubled relationship with his father, who nonetheless he loved and loves very deeply.

His passion for his craft comes through on every page (no surprise to anyone who has listened to his music), as well as his enduring friendships with the many people who he has played with and alongside. I loved that he was starstruck, even at the height of his own success, when meeting the Rolling Stones!

Again – this will be no surprise for anyone who listens to Bruce’s lyrics – but he is a very talented author, likeable and amusing, and unapologetic…not that he has anything to be apologetic about. I always felt that Bruce was one of the good guys, and this book reinforces that view.

If you are a fan of Bruce Springsteen, or if you just really like reading autobiographies, I highly recommend this one.

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Crazy For You debuted in 1992, but features the songs of George and Ira Gershwin, written in the 1930s. The show is something of an homage to the 1930s style musicals and if you liked the Astaire and Rogers musicals and others of the ilk, then this is sure to appeal to you.

Bobby Child – here played to perfection by multi-talented Tom Chambers – is the son of a New York banking family and expected to take over the family business. What he really wants to do however, is dance on stage, but both his mother and his fiancee Irene Roth (Claire Sweeney) disapprove. Bobby is sent to the town of Deadrock, Nevada, to close down the failing theatre, but as soon as he meets the theatre owner’s daughter Polly (Charlotte Wakefield), he falls for her. In order to stop the theatre closing (and to win Polly’s love), Bobby decides to stage a show at the premises, but he takes an unorthodox approach to achieving this! A comedy of mistaken identities and misunderstandings ensue, and the whole story is told against a backdrop of slapstick comedy, fantastic dance routines and beautiful classic show songs.

I really enjoyed this show, but as a lover of the old 30s style musicals, I am probably  it’s target audience. Tom Chambers is the proverbial triple threat, being able to dance, sing and act – indeed some of his acting was hilarious, particularly the scene where Bobby and famous theatre producer Bela Zangler both get drunk. His dancing was gorgeous to watch, particularly the drum dance as I call it – you’ll know it when you see it.

Charlotte Wakefield was also excellent as the feisty and outspoken Polly. She has a simps beautiful singing voice, which was put to excellent use. She was also a perfect foil for Tom Chambers.

Claire Sweeney’s part was smaller than I expected, but she still got her chance to shine with her own singing number Naughty Baby.

The backing cast were all excellent and very funny, and it should be noted that there is no orchestra in this production – the cast play live instruments on stage for the musical numbers.

In essence, if you are looking for a feel-good romantic musical, you can’t go far wrong with this one!