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Archive for August, 2015

Just in case the post heading doesn’t make it clear – this post WILL contain spoilers! Probably none that you haven’t already seen in the media coverage and excitement over the release of this book, but spoilers nonetheless. The reason is that I don’t think I am really able to review Go Set A Watchman without revealing spoilers. So you have been warned…!

This book was written prior to Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird (hereafter referred to as TKAM), but the publishers apparently urged her to go back and write a story from Scout Finch’s point of view, which resulted in TKAM. It hardly needs pointing out that that book became a modern classic, a set text, beloved by almost everyone who read it. It also created in Atticus Finch, a true literary hero – a man who stood up for his principles and for what was right, despite huge and sometimes violent opposition.

Go Set a Watchman also concentrates mainly on Scout’s point of view, but Scout is now 26, living in New York and known by her proper name, Jean Louise. When she comes back to Maycomb to visit her family, she is shocked to realise that Atticus is not the hero she had previously considered him to be, and that in fact he supports segregation between black and white people. Her horror as she sees her much loved and respected father at a council meeting about how to keep black people out of white people’s business is shared by the reader. How can he do this to us? This shining example of all that is good and right is actually a racist???

The hurt is compounded when she discovers that the only reason he agrees to defend a black man accused of manslaughter is to stop the NAACP defending him and demanding black people on juries and wanting other rights to which Atticus and most citizens of Maycomb do not believe they should be entitled.

So for many reasons, this book was not entirely comfortable reading. The writing itself is not as polished and does not flow as easily as TKAM, but it IS very readable, and for the most part, despite the subject, I did enjoy it. However, the last part of the book (and once again there are going to be major spoilers here) when Jean Louise confronts her father and he explains his reasons for behaving the way he does – basically, he says that he is still a good guy but for the sake of all that is good and holy, those black people cannot be allowed the same rights as white people – is uneasy to stomach, especially when Jean Louise ends up coming around and sees his beliefs from his point of view.

All in, I would say that I am glad I read this, and would recommend it to fans of TKAM.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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Made In Britain was a television film, which was part of a series. It is notable for its unflinching and shocking portrait of a 16 year old Neo-Nazi, an anarchist who cares for nothing and no-one. Trevor is racist – at the beginning of the film he is in Court for throwing a brick through a Pakistani man’s window – has respect for nobody and nothing, and routinely causes criminal damage for the fun of it. The film is also notable because it features the screen acting debut of Tim Roth. Looking back now, it is no surprise that Roth is considered one of Britain’s best and most versatile actors, but at the time, he was an unknown – albeit an unknown who blasted onto TV screens and blew the audience away with how good he was in the role of Trevor.

The story is bleak – Trevor has no real future other than one behind bars; he knows it, the staff at the Residential Assessment Centre he is sent to know it, and he has no desire to change things for himself. As I may have mentioned before, I adore Tim Roth – I think he is fantastic in everything and makes any film worth watching. The beauty of his performance here is that even watching it today when he is well known, Roth disappears and all you can see is Trevor. Such is the brilliance of his performance.

The thing about this film is – although the main character is despicable, although he rejects any and all help which is offered to him, even though he commits some awful crimes and drags his room-mate Errol down with him – it’s also clear that Trevor is bright, he can see through people’s words and motives and his intelligence frustrates those who would try to discipline him.

Fair warning – the film features a LOT of swearing, some revolting attitudes and plenty of aggression. If you don’t like the idea of it, then definitely avoid watching Made In Britain. But if you do choose to watch it, it will be hard not to be drawn in, not to watch in horror and resignation, and even not to root for Trevor to find some kind of redemption. 30+ years has not lessened the impact of this film. I highly recommend it.

Year of release: 1982

Director: Alan Clarke

Producers: Patrick Cassavetti, Margaret Matheson

Writer: David Leland

Main cast: Tim Roth, Terry Richards, Bill Stewart, Eric Richard, Sean Chapman

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John Travolta plays Russ Richards, a TV weatherman whose sideline business in snow ploughs is failing due to an unseasonably hot winter. In a desperate bid to make money, Russ and his money-grabbing girlfriend Crystal (Lisa Kudrow) team up with their friend, strip-club owner Gig (Tim Roth) to rig the lottery. Naturally enough, things go wrong and the whole plan starts to unravel with Russ digging himself into ever deeper holes to try and carry the scam off.

This film got pretty slated by critics when it came out with Travolta winning a Razzie Award for worst actor. Well – it’s true that he doesn’t exactly have much range (his terrific performance in Pulp Fiction was a fluke in my completely unqualified opinion), but honestly I didn’t think he was too bad. And the supporting cast is excellent – Kudrow is terrific as the cold-hearted Crystal, Ed O’Neill is great as Russ’s boss at the TV station who tries to turn the situation to his own advantage, the always great Richard Schiff has a very short but memorable appearance as a bookie, and Michael Rapaport is very funny as a completely incompetent hit-man. Michael Moore pops up as the guy who Russ and Crystal try and embroil into the scheme (with a surprising result) and for a non-actor, he does a very good job. However, it is Tim Roth who unsurprisingly steals every scene he is in. After watching him in a number of things recently, Tim Roth is officially my favourite actor, and his performance here is an absolute delight. He is by far the most likeable character, seedy and of dubious moral character as he may be.

The story rattles along nicely, with mishap upon misdemeanour, and there are plenty of laughs along the way, not to mention a few ‘Wow, didn’t see that coming’ moments.

Don’t listen to the critics – if you want an undemanding, amusing black comedy, give this a try – it certainly put a smile on my face!

Year of release: 2000

Director: Nora Ephron

Producers: G. Mac Brown, Sean Daniel, Nora Ephron, Jonathan D Krane, Andrew Lazar, Anson Downes, Linda Favila, Jody Hedien, Donald J. Lee Jr.

Writer: Andrew Resnick

Main cast: John Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O’Neill, Michael Rapaport, Bill Pullman, Michael Moore

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This heartbreaking book is the true story of author Paul Monette’s final two years with his partner Roger Horwitz, who died of AIDS in 1986. Monette chronicles their discovery of the disease and the subsequent downward spiral which Roger’s health took, in a time where ignorance about AIDS was rife, and many people just didn’t want to know about it, thinking that it was a problem only for the gay community.

Roger’s symptoms and health problems are described fairly explicitly and the anguish of the author comes through on every page, as he describes seeing his soul mate struck down by a cruel and vicious illness. His anger at the lack of government interest in the disease is also palpable – and understandable.

But through it all, through every symptom, every ray of hope, every crushing disappointment, is the love. Paul and Roger were a couple so obviously, so completely in love, so together that Roger says, “…we’re the same person!” Yet there is no shying away from the problems they have been through – the brief affair which Paul had earlier in their relationship, and which he feels guilty about because he believes that that was the cause of Roger getting the HIV virus.

Monette talks about seeing friends struck down with “the plague” and describes the situation as a war. And it does feel like they were fighting a war – against AIDS, against ignorance, against indifference. He is aware that he himself has the HIV virus (Monette died of complications from AIDS in 1995).

The first line of the book says, “I don’t know if I will live to finish this.” I’m glad that he did. It’s honest and passionate, and a beautiful read. Keep a handkerchief handy if you are planning on reading it – you will cry, but it’s worth it.

Highly, highly recommended.

(For more information about the Monette-Horwitz Trust, please click here.)

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