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Posts Tagged ‘alcoholism’

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I listened to this audiobook, narrated by the author, mainly while out running – maybe I was hoping it would provide inspiration!

In this memoir of sorts, Rich Roll describes how on the eve of his 40th birthday, he realised that he needed to change his health drastically – overweight,  unfit and scared of dying early, Rich transformed himself into an ultra fit, vegan triathlete and this book tells how it did it.

I should have enjoyed this – it had all the hallmarks of a book I would love. I am fascinated by people who find the mental and physical strength to push their body and achieve things way beyond the capability of most of us mere mortals. And running five Ultra-triathlons in less than a week is way beyond impressive by any standard you care to use. But…I never really enjoyed this book.

Having overcome alcohol addiction and some years later deciding to turn his health around, it is difficult not to be impressed by what Rich Roll has done. But for me, there was too much whining – things didn’t always go well for Rich, but that applies to everyone – and he had a distinct ‘why me’ tone to his voice (both literally and on the page). And there was too much spirituality attached to fairly mundane events. For example, in Hawaii Rich is confronted by an angry homeowner, annoyed to find Rich trespassing on his property (to clarify – Rich was not actually trespassing; he thought he had found a quiet place to relieve himself during an Ultraman race). But instead of seeing this as something that could happen to anyone anywhere, Rich decides that this is karma for not respecting the island. And when approached by an alcoholic woman who wants to party, of course he decides that this woman must be some kind of angel sent to show him the kind of life he could have wound up living.

Also, while fully respect the author’s vegan lifestyle choice, I disliked his dismissive attitude to anyone who doesn’t share the same values.

The whole thing just came across as a big ego-trip, and honestly I was pretty pleased to finish it. Oh well, onto the next one…

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I first discovered Duran Duran when I  was a young teenager, and quickly become obsessed.  As I grew older, I drifted away from them, but always came back again.  They may not be my favourites any more, but I still like listening to them, and as John Taylor was by far my favourite when I was growing up (I was convinced I’d marry him one day, and boy, did I hate Amanda de Cadenet when she beat me to it!), I was looking forward to reading his biography.  I should point out that I actually listened to the audio version of this book, which is narrated by John himself.

Anyway…I have mixed feelings about it.  I enjoyed the first part when he talks about growing up as an only child, and how he developed a love of music.  He talks about forming bands with friends including Nick Bates (now known as Nick Rhodes), and eventually forming Duran Duran with the line-up for which they are most famous.  They were very democratic, being one of the few bands who credited each and every member with writing each and every song.  However, the story of living his dream soon becomes a nightmare, as Taylor details how he fell into the drug scene, and become dependent both on cocaine and alcohol.

Some of the inside info about the music business was interesting – the machinations of the publicity machines, the secrets behind recording a slot for Top of the Pops, for instance – but the whole book kind of feels more like an overview of Taylor’s life, rather than a detailed autobiography.  I liked that he pretty much avoids dishing the dirt on anybody except himself – although after initially speaking pretty affectionately of fellow band member Andy Taylor, he seems rather dismissive of him at the end of the book.  Some of the language though feels quite contrived – maybe it sounds more so when it’s being read aloud, and the book generally feels like it was rushed.  (It was ghostwritten however, so I’m not sure exactly how much blame can be attributed to Taylor for that.)

Overall, Taylor comes across as a genuinely nice guy, and it was good to hear how he eventually conquered his demons, and has managed to stay clean and sober for two decades.  I’d probably recommend the book as decent but not essential reading, strictly for fellow Duran Duran fans.

 

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William Holden is one of my very favourite actors, and during his lifetime, he was one of Hollywood’s favourites too.  During the 1950s, he was a huge box-office draw, and the many films he made include such classics as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Sunset Blvd., Network and Stalag 17 (for which he won an Academy Award).  Handsome, masculine and talented, William Holden nevertheless struggled with chronic alcohol addiction for much of his life.  This book is a respectful biography of the great actor, and I enjoyed reading it very much, although it was hard not to feel sad at the damage that he was doing to his body and by extension, his career and his personal relationships.

The book is an easy read, and is never dull.  However, in some aspects, it was more of an overview of events – for instance, Holden’s childhood and adolescence is covered in a couple of short chapters, although as Holden was a private man, he might have preferred it that way.  Some of his film also didn’t even get a mention, although all of the high points in his career are covered.  I loved reading about his career, and the various films he made, both successful and less so.  He came across as I have always imagined him to be – a very gifted actor, with a strong sense of right and wrong (no, he wasn’t perfect, but why should we expect him to be?).  There is no escaping the effect of his addiction however, and it would probably be impossible to tell his life story without it.

I did feel a sense of sadness while reading, probably because I knew how it would end – with Holden’s death at the age of 63, when he slipped on a rug in his home and hit his head.  His body was not immediately discovered, and this is something that always saddens me when I watch his films or read about him.  I am glad that the book dedicated time to his career and the fine work he did in films, rather than being exploitative.

As far as biographies go, this was a good read, which I would recommend to fans.  As mentioned earlier, it is thin on detail in some parts, but overall, a well-rounded story of a fascinating life.

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After ruining her sister’s wedding and crashing a limousine, Gwen Cummings (Sandra Bullock) is sentenced to 28 days in a rehab centre, to work through her alcohol and drug dependency.  Initially resistant to the idea, Gwen eventually realises that she does have a problem, and starts to re-examine her life.

I admit that much as I like Sandra Bullock, I expected this film to be riddled with cliches, and only watched it because Dominic West is in it, and that in itself makes a film worth watching!  However, the film itself was a pleasant surprise.  Sandra Bullock, who is usually so likeable and sweet, played the part of Gwen really well, and the process of coming to accept and learn how to beat her demons did not unfold at the breakneck speed which I anticipated.  Having never been in a rehab centre, I cannot truthfully say how realistic it was, but it felt believable.

West plays Gwen’s boyfriend Jasper, who is almost certainly as dependant on drugs and alcohol as she is, but not being the one who is sentenced to rehab, does not take any time to look at his own life.  If there is a villain of the piece, he is probably it, but in truth, Jasper is not so much a bad person, as irresponsible and unrealistic about what a sober life means for Gwen.  I thought West did a very good job in a not especially likeable role.  Viggo Mortensen also provided great support as Eddie, a professional baseball player who is also in rehab, and Steve Buscemi was excellent (if slightly under-used) in an uncharacteristically sombre role as a counsellor at the centre.

The story bounced along nicely, and there were a few genuinely moving moments (I definitely had tears in my eyes a couple of times).  The only character who I felt was over-the-top, and who seemed to be there only to provide comic relief was Gerhardt (Alan Tudyk) as an apparently sex-obsessed fellow patient.  Although his monologue about forks in the road and forks in general was quite funny – more so when you realise that Tudyk actually improvised that scene.

Overall, well worth watching – it’s an entertaining, sometimes moving film, with a great cast.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Betty Thomas

Producers: Jenno Topping, Celia Costas

Writer: Susannah Grant

Main cast: Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West, Azura Skye, Steve Buscemi, Alan Tudyk, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Margo Martindale

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This is quite an appealing, but badly dated film, starring Ginger Rogers and Joel McCrea, neither of who are in the kind of role for which they were famous (Rogers isn’t dancing and McCrea isn’t being a cowboy). Rogers plays Ellie May Adams, a young girl who falls in love with young beach cafe owner Ed Wallace, and is desperate to hide her family from him, because her father is an alcoholic, and her mother is a prostitute (this is never explicitly stated, but is very clearly implied). However, she cannot keep her two worlds seperate for long…

The acting by Ginger Rogers in this film was really quite revelatory. She is obviously best known for her dancing, especially with Fred Astaire, but this film (as well as Kitty Foyle: The Natural History of a Woman) shows that she had a real talent for dramatic acting. Joel McCrea is less convincing, but his performance is still fine for the role he plays.

The storyline did move a little fast – no sooner had Ellie May met Ed than she was declaring her love for him, and twisting his arm into marrying her – and it all feels a little ‘cramped’ somehow. It’s not often that I think a film could benefit from being longer, but this is a case where a little extra time spent on the early relationship between the two main parts would have benefitted the story.

Supporting roles were played by Marjorie Rambeau, as Ellie May’s mother (she was excellent, and won an Oscar nomination for her portrayal), a surprisingly sympathetic character; Miles Mander, as ELlie May’s educated alcoholic father; Joan Carroll as Honeybell, Ellie May’s little sister; Queenie Vassar as Ellie May’s cruel, spiteful and altogether horrible grandmother; and Henry Travers as Gramp – the kindly elderly man who first introduces Ellie May and Ed.

I do not think that this film has aged particularly well – some of the characters are stereotyped, and a lot of the smart wisecracks made by Ellie May do seem obviously scripted (which of course they were, but the film never quite lets you forget that). Nonetheless, it’s worth seeing for Ginger Rogers’ performance, and overall it’s fairly entertaining, if slightly predictable.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Gregory La Cava

Writers: Robert L. Buckner (play), Walter Hart (play), Victoria Lincoln (novel), Gregory La Cava, Allan Scott

Main cast: Ginger Rogers, Joel McCrea, Henry Travers, Marjorie Rambeau, Miles Mander, Queenie Vassar

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In this 1954 film, William Holden plays Bernie Dodd, director of a new musical who wants to hire Frank Elgin (Bing Crosby) to be the main character.  Elgin used to be something of a big star, but due to tragedy in his life has become an alcoholic.  Neither Elgin nor anybody else knows if he will have the commitment or ability to see the role through, but Dodd is determined to give Elgin a chance.  Elgin’s wife Georgie – “just a simple girl from the country” – seems to have too much control of her husband – and clashes with Dodd, who thinks that Elgin would be better off if she wasn’t there. But as the irascible director comes to know Frank and Georgie better, he starts to realise the truth behind their situation.

This is the film which controversially won Grace Kelly the Oscar for Best Actress – beating the favourite Judy Garland (for A Star Is Born – apparently there were just six votes between them).  I have often thought that Kelly is over-rated as an actress, but she actually is terrific here, playing against type.  It isn’t often that she looks frumpy or anything less than beautiful, but here she plays the weary Georgie Elgin, disappointed in life, disappointed in her husband.  She brings all of the character’s pent up frustration to the role and really sets her scenes alight.

Crosby is also great as the desperate Elgin – who wants so much to get his life back on track, but doesn’t know if he has the required strength to do so.  Holden really shines as the blunt but decent Dodd.

Terrific acting all round then, but still the storyline seemed a little clunky and disjointed at times – in the hands of three lesser actors, the film would not have worked for me at all.  The film is adapted from a play, and maybe the storyline plays better on stage.  However, the ending is somewhat downbeat, but still satisfying, and overall while this is not a film I would rush to watch again, I’m glad that I have seen it.

Year of release: 1958

Director: George Seaton

Writers: Clifford Odets (play), George Seaton

Main cast: Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, William Holden

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When a mysterious and reticent young woman moves into the country abode of Wildfell Hall, with a young son but no husband, the interest and suspicions of the villagers are soon aroused.  Gilbert Markham, a young farmer in the village is intrigued by the newcomer, Helen Graham.  They become friends and before long Gilbert falls for Helen.  However, the other residents of the village start imagining all kind of things about Helen’s past and start spreading gossip and half-truths, especially regarding her apparent relationship with her landlord Mr Lawrence.  Gilbert confronts Helen, and it is only when she allows him to read her diary that he understands her reluctance to make friends or discuss her past – Helen has left her alcoholic and cruel husband, and has taken their son in order that her husband cannot be a bad influence upon him.  But can she ever escape the spectre of her unhappy marriage, and find happiness again…?

Anne Bronte is far less celebrated than her two sisters, Charlotte and Emily.  Most readers are familiar wtih Charlotte’s most famous novel, Jane Eyre (one of my personal favourites), and Emily’s only novel, Wuthering Heights.  (Even people who have not read the books usually have an idea of the storylines,due to the numerous television and film adaptations.)   This is the first time I have read Anne Bronte, and I am at a loss as to why she is less well known than her sisters, because I thought this book was superb.

The narrative has three distinct parts – the first and third take the forms of letters written to an unseen friend, by Gilbert Markham, in which he tells his friend about the mysterious stranger who has taken up tenancy in Wildfell Hall, and the  events surrounding her arrival in the village.  The middle section consists of Helen’s diary entries, which detail the events in her marriage and her flight from her husband.

For the time it was written, this was a very brave subject to tackle – no matter how badly a husband treated his wife, a wife was simply not expected to leave him.  Indeed at the time, it was not possible for a woman to obtain a divorce from her husband – although there was nothing to stop a husband divorcing his wife.  Helen comes across as a strong character, reluctantly but necessarily flying in the face of social convention, and finding herself the subject of salacious gossip rather than sympathy for her troubles.

Comparisons to the works of Charlotte and Emily Bronte are inevitable, and whereas Emily depicted Heathcliff as a passionate and incredibly romantic hero, Anne portrays a far more realistic picture of life with such a man – her husband is certainly attractive and passionate in the beginning, but she soon realises that he is selfish, cruel and concerned more for himself than anybody else.  I rather admire Anne for daring to show this less than savoury aspect of his character.

The characters were extremely well drawn, and while Helen verges on being overly pious and religious, it is important to remember the time that the book was written, when people were expected to be devoutly Christian, and not to go to church was seen as a serious transgression (early on in the book, the local Vicar calls on Helen to admonish her for her non-attenance at church).  Helen does however come across as wilful and strong in extrremely difficult circumstances, and is determined to do what she believes to be right, even if it is not what others believe to be right.  She was an admirable heroine.

Gilbert was a very likable and believable haracter.  He was essentially a decent young man, but perhaps due to his mother who pandered to his every whim, he sometimes could behave in a selfish or childish manner – a fact that he himself was not blind to.  However, this just served to make him all the more believable and realistic.

The other main character is that of Arthur Huntingdon, Helen’s husband.  He does not narrate any of the book himself, but is fully brought to life in Helen’s diary, and was a despicable and ultimately rather pathetic character.

The story had sufficient twists and turns to suprise me on many occasions, and the ending was very satisfying.  There were also moments of unexpected humour, although unlike some other reviewers, I did not see any similarity with the humour of Jane Austen.

Above all, this is an exciting story, with a heroine who was ahead of her time in many ways, but trapped by the social conventions of the time in which she lived.  The book kept me gripped throughout, and I would recommend this without hesitation, especially to anyone who may have read books by the other Bronte sisters, but have yet to give Anne’s work a try.

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

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