Saturday, November 05, 2016

Book review: The Girl on the Train (Paula Hawkins)

I have a habit of binge reading popular novels (just to see what the fuss is about – you know, like how I listen to Justin Bieber – totes ironically of course…yes *shifts eyes). I want to demonstrate something in this post – that anyone can be an author these days if you have a passable plot.

OK, before you indulge me with my test, the book. The Girl on the Train is a thriller novel that went on to become a global best seller and is now a film. The story is a first person narrative told from three different women who have intersecting lives. It’s all a bit messy and contrived in parts but here’s the gist.

Rachel is really the main protagonist. About 80% of the book is from her perspective. It’s hard not to be frustrated with Rachel, but, at the same time, completely relate to her. Her husband has left her for a younger woman (and they’re now married with a child) and, since the divorce, her life has been on a progressive downward spiral of alcoholism and depression. She has had a lot of trouble letting go of her ex-husband (Tom) which infuriates his new wife (Anna – the second narrator and least likable of the three).

Rachel has been fired from her job and has, for months, been pretending to go to work so that her flatmate doesn’t know she is unemployed. Each day she catches the same train to and from London and, from that train, she can see the house she used to share with Tom (the house abutting the railway tracks). A couple of houses down, she starts watching another couple (whom she names Jess and Jason) and she imagines their perfect lives together. One day from the train, she sees Jess kissing another man (not Jason, her husband) and she is furious for this ruining her image of their perfect lives.

A few days later, she sees Jess on the news – she has gone missing. Jess is really Megan and Jason is really Scott. Megan is the third woman who tells a narrative in the book.

After she goes missing, Rachel (who admittedly is just seeking any drama and connection) decides to tell the police (and the husband) about what she saw in the backyard that day. She becomes increasingly tangled in this investigation and ultimately discovers some truths about her own past that have been plaguing her.

This is an addictive and easy read (albeit with a disappointing conclusion). What makes it easy is the style in which it is written – the first person narrative – active voice at all times, suppositions about what others think and feel, and, basically, staccato sentences, emotive/self-effacing language, an unfiltered stream of consciousness. Here’s where my test comes in – I am going to write a few paragraphs below of my morning in this style. Just whatever happened and came to my head. Nothing interesting happened this morning and nothing will happen in these paragraphs, but you’ll see how easy it is to draw someone in with this style even if you are writing nonsense.

I wake up. My mouth is dry. Immediately I regret not having drunk more water the night before. I roll over and fumble for my phone. I wonder what time it is. It has to be early as it’s still dark outside but I can see faint hints of light. 5:45am. Joy. I figure I should get up and feed my cat who has been pacing around and leaving pieces of foil and pipe cleaner on my bed.

I find my glasses and glance at myself in the mirror. My hair is a mess. My eyes hollow and tired. I stretch and head to the kitchen, carefully stepping over things that have been knocked over on the floor by my cat.

My head is swimming. I feel pain trickling down my forehead like ice cream on the side of a cone. I probably should go outside and do something active, but I am in too much of a heady daze to contemplate doing anything. My cat looks at me with disdain – back in bed again – even he thinks I am lazy and boring. 

I prop myself up in bed and start to scroll through my phone. Yep, nothing much new since I last checked at 1am. A couple of likes on Insta, a few new stories on Facebook, an email from the post office seeking customer feedback. I decide to read instead. I light the candle next to my bed (one of the signals of single-person indulgence around my apartment) and it fills the room with faint vanillary notes. 

I try to breathe deeply and calm down. But I know that sleep will not return easily.

There you go. That took 2 minutes to write and is absolute rubbish. But did you read it? Did it draw you in? First person narratives have become so popular for that reason – it’s so easy to write in this style and it brings out the voyeuristic side we all have. I could’ve written anything and made it seem real to you. Like you’re getting insight into someone else’s world. I could just as easily have written about waking up in a beachside mansion next to a handsome man…or lying awake in a flea-infested motel room wondering what all the scratching noises are. You’d find it just as believable because these types of narratives are like being able to write a thesis without any citations – it’s essentially unverifiable. We have no choice but to go along with what’s being offered to us as we can’t very well argue with someone else’s thoughts and perceptions.

Anywho, thank you for indulging me. 

This is a solid book and a good holiday read. There are a few elements that I find disturbing; aside from the obvious prevalence of casual domestic violence and emotional abuse, the cavalier way that women are pitted against each other is affronting. For example, Anna and Tom repeatedly make light of Rachel’s struggles and can’t refer to her without calling her “fat” or “pathetic”. Rachel is made to seem like an unworthy person (in large part, as she’s less attractive than the other two women). In one scene, the police ask Scott if he is having a relationship with Rachel “A relationship?” he scoffs “have you seen my wife? Standards haven’t fallen that fast”. Wow. That’s just cruel and unnecessary in my view. The men in this novel are brutes and the women acquiesce to their whims. Makes me remember why relationships are so trying.

If you’re looking for a cheeky, easy read, give it a go.

7 first person narratives out of 10.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Book Review: The Course of Love (Alain de Botton)

This is a difficult review for me to retain any objectivity whatsoever, so I will do my best to alert you to my biases upfront before they completely cloud this review.

First up, I like de Botton. As if it’s not enough that he’s intelligent, witty, articulate, and urbane – he also came from some mega-rich family. While I find his writing can be turgid at times, he is an impressive person both in his interviews and through his miscellaneous works.

Secondly, I am in a bit of a “death to love” phase in my life. You know, just a passing 2-3 year funk with no end in sight.

Thirdly, despite being “death to love”, I can’t help being a romantic sap deep down inside (as I have written about before). My ability to see the profound in the banal has been a rather sustaining force for me through my darkest hours.

That out of the way, onto the book. The Couse of Love, as the title suggests, narrates the full trajectory of love (as de Botton would see it I suppose). He does this by narrating the story of a couple (Rabih and Kirsten) as they navigate the early stages of love and lust, through marriage, children, infidelity, dissatisfaction, and life changes. Woven throughout this story is commentary on love via references to history, art, literature, and mythology.

Their story isn’t particularly interesting and, I suppose, this is the point of the book. That love isn’t miraculous. The glossy, shiny, blinding love that we see in movies and popular culture isn’t love – or at least not the whole story. De Botton makes some accurate insights about love – mostly that we are ill-prepared for love because we pay a disproportionate amount of attention to the early (“good”) stages, and almost no attention to the ongoing stages of love. We have unrealistic expectations of love and lovers, and, therefore, are almost doomed to be disappointed.

De Botton seems like a hard task-master (like so many high achievers I suppose). I am surprised that he is married with children with his incredibly intellectualised views on romance and love.
I didn’t race to write this review after finishing the book; mostly because I couldn’t unpack my thoughts about it. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading it; it’s that I fundamentally disagreed with everything the book stood for.

But there was something else niggling at me…the persistent thought that even though I disagreed with it, everything is probably true, and its romantic schlubs like me who are wrong.

Rather than rabbiting on about my views, I have included three quotes from the book that summarise de Botton’s views:

“The only people who can still strike us as normal are those we don’t yet know very well. The best cure for love is to get to know them more.”

Could there be a more pointed and hurtful comment than this? I’m not sure I am on board with this – yes, perhaps time is an enemy of most relationships. As couples get to know each other more, they come across more disparities and (often) break-up. It’s a self-refuting idea – see! They broke up after a while. I (being the sap that I am) would rather say that love would only grow with time and knowledge of the other, and, if it doesn’t, it’s not love.

Next quote:

“…under the influence of Romantic ideology, such practicalities grew to seem altogether too mercenary and calculating, and the focus shifted to emotional qualities…a sense of having hit upon a soulmate, a faith in being perfectly understood, a certainty of never wanting to sleep with anyone else again…Pronouncing a lover ‘perfect’ can only be a sign that we have failed to understand them. We can claim to have begun to know someone only when they have substantially disappointed us.”

Again, I think this is an unfair and rudimentary summary of Romantic ideology. Someone who truly believes in love wouldn’t expect ‘perfection’; they know that someone ‘perfect’ for them is, by virtue of being imperfect, only ‘perfect’ for them. They know that understanding between the two is based on wanting to understand…of being patient enough to learn. We may have (for the most part) cast aside the mercenary imperatives for finding a partner, but I think the rest of this characterisation is unwarranted. The notion of getting to know someone by them disappointing us is an interesting one. I’d like to say that isn’t true, but, really, everyone will disappoint us now and then. The real test is how they make amends for the disappointment.

Final quote:

“The Romantic vision of finding the ‘right’ person…there is no such person over the long term. We are too varied and peculiar…The partner truly best suited to us is not the one who miraculously happens to share every taste, but the one who negotiates differences in taste with intelligence and good grace…it is the capacity to tolerate dissimilarity that is the true marker of the ‘right’ person.”

This is the one that probably sticks with me the most. The implication is that your ‘one’ is the person who ends up tolerating you. We’re all annoying, but someone will deal with your annoyances with grace. If you don’t find someone, are you intolerable? Or unable to tolerate? I don’t know. That doesn’t sit well with me and yet, I can’t help thinking that it’s true.

Compared to some of de Botton’s other works, this isn’t as intriguing or enjoyable. I found The Romantic Movement a much more engaging book on love. But, this is still a solid read with some interesting insights throughout. I only wish it didn’t strike quite as true so that I could continue to hold onto the last lingering threads of my belief in true love.

7 cupids out of 10.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, 
Remember that tedious epilogue that we all hated at the end of the Harry Potter series? That’s right – force yourself to remember the awfulness. The one where Harry has a million kids all named after his idols (like who could forget little “Albus Severus Hagrid Hedwig Dobby James McGonagall Voldemort (no, wait not him) Potter”?) and everyone is disgustingly happy and married to each other 90210-style. Well, picture 330 odd pages of that dreck turned into a stage play and, voila! You have Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

We have a love of nostalgia and don’t want to let things go. I am all for this as someone who sits around reminiscing about ridiculous memoirs. But sometimes, things are better left buried. This is one of those times. Sure, we all had a good time reading Harry Potter and we all have some fun memories of the movies…but that was enough.

On the plus side, this is a super quick read…on the downside, I don’t think I have ever audibly sighed so much while reading a book.

Now that I have all that out of my system (and have bile rising in my throat), I will review the book. First up, it’s not really a book, it’s a stage play written by Jack Thorne (whoever that is??). Thorne provided a synopsis for the book and it’s just too good not to include:

“It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn't much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband, and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.”

Yeeeeaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh. Put your big boy pants on already Potter.

Anyway the whole story centres on spoiled puke Albus who is sick of being a Potter and decides to defy his father by going back in time and trying to save Cedric Diggory (who died at the end of Goblet of Fire). Most of us just spit in their tea, but, each to their own I guess. But everyone knows that time travel is fraught with dangers – small changes can have massive impacts. Each time Albus travels back in time, he ushers in a new world of terror then has to scramble like a fool to undo it.

Spurring this all on is a random female called Delphi (who, spoiler alert, is the daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix LeStrange *raises eyebrows – Voldemort can mate??? Eww). She is, I guess, meant to be the antagonist of the story but ends up having such an infinitesimal role that I barely noticed what happened to her at the end.

That’s actually all that happens…

There’s nothing enjoyable about this book. The characters are all unlikable and one-dimensional. Albus and his (homo-erotic) friendship with Scorpius Malfoy elicited the most sighs from me. No kids speak like that which makes all these interactions seem superficial and disingenuous. The script itself is ridiculous and the plot is paper thin. Littered throughout are the most bizarre stage directions I have ever seen (like “there is almost a warm moment between them then it doesn’t happen” – what does that even mean?).

Harry is also up to his old tricks being a whinger – to think I used to want to marry you Potter. I am so glad you ended up with Ginny instead and I am single with a disobedient cat (hmmmm?). He is a lousy father and, instead of owning it, he does the old hair tousle and “I had no daaaaaaddddddd” (*bites knuckle) speech. You had a tonne of respectable figures in your life Potter, quit whinging.

Speaking of whinging, perhaps the worst scene in the whole book is between Dumbledore and Harry (cos I suppose they think we want some resolution here). Harry (petulant as always) is yelling at Dumbledore in the portrait accusing him of not being there for him and not loving him. Then Dumbledore is all “I respect you brah” and Harry is like “no, man, I respect you too brah” and they hug it out. Dumbledore had hundreds of students to look out for and, hold the phone, /died/ protecting you – the egocentricity is disconcerting.

The whole book is a mess and will not contain the outcomes or closure you seek from any of the characters (unless you’re an idiot). Give it a miss.

3 bizarre stage directions out of 10.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Film Review: Allegiant (the Divergent series)

Source (WP:NFCC#4)
I have a riddle for you. When does 1 + 1 + 1 = 4?

That’s right, when you have written three books but always manage to make four movies.

Not sure why I keep watching this series – I haven’t read the books, I don’t find the plot interesting, and no one I know has seen/read them…yet I find reviewing them so fun. The Divergent Series: Allegiant is the third in the book trilogy of four movies (insert shameless plug for previous reviews of Divergent and Insurgent). One of the issues I have with not being particularly vested in this story is that I always forget what has happened and then piece it together retrospectively. Between playing with my cat and skeezing on Four's (lead male) rippling biceps, I caught maybe 35% of the film. I still got the general gist.

OK so this film creates layer upon layer of confusion. Just when you think you have found the ultimate secret regime, there’s /another/ secret regime underpinning it which is controlled by yet /another/ secret regime….each layer more secret and regime-y than the last.

All forms of media these days are geared towards feeding our outrage and suspicion of authority. It’s such an easy target. Just once I’d like to see a film where a government agency is like “we need to collect some data from you”, the character is like “yeah alright mate”, and NOTHING bad happens. I mean, that wouldn’t have to be the /entire/ premise for the film, you could fill the rest with cat videos. It writes itself.

Conversely, and fascinatingly, we’re as idealistic as we are sceptical. Film characters are perpetually disappointed that no world is perfect – here’s a tip: just pick a place and make the most of it. Here’s another tip: what is perfect to you may be hell to someone else. There are always winners and losers.

OK, back to the film. We start off in a new regime after the preceding regime was overthrown. This new regime is anti-establishment etc and, like all punk regimes, always looks like it’s enforced by skinheads. The new regime are putting on trial all those that were instrumental in the previous regime and submitting them to “mob justice” (which is code for execution).

Our leading lady Tris is uncomfortable with this “shoot first, ask questions later” regime and wants to bust out. She looks longingly at the wall surrounding the city and thinks she can see life beyond it (yeah, like 7m from the wall is a glowing radioactive dump). Tagging along with her on the escape is her brother, Biceps, and the most annoying character who just refuses to get killed.

After some of the worst special effects I have seen (that wouldn’t look out of place in a 1960’s space movie), the group are rescued and taken to a research facility. The facility is run by a sensible old white guy in a suit so you /know/ it’s gonna be good.

All this time, the sheeple of Chicago thought they were the only people left in the world…but, turns out, there are heaps of people left and they are just part of some experiment being run to create genetic purity or some shit. Mind = blown. Then starts the tedious tropes about the dangers of genetic modification (*yawn).

Again, there’s an interesting interplay going on here. They want genetic purity, and those that are “pure” get better jobs, wear white clothes, and have better tattoos. But, at the same time, they’re dissing genetic manipulation? Weird. Anywho, turns out that Tris is exceptional in /yet another/ way - she's the only genetically pure person so they want to replicate her (and I think that's code for breeding *porn music plays).

While Tris swans about with the head honchos, the rest of her peeps are assigned public service jobs. But, as always, something isn't passing the sniff test and so Biceps goes to investigate. Yep, the stuff that they /said/ they were doing isn’t what they’re doing at all! And the people in charge of them are up to no good as well.

Disenfranchised, Tris heads back to Chicago. What regime will we uncover in the final movie? Only time will tell.

5 regimes out of 10.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Film Review: The Jungle Book

By Source, Fair use,  

As a white, hetero, educated female from a privileged background, I know a thing or two about discrimination. Let me womansplain it to you. Take a knee, chumps.

I don't drink. In Australia, this is seen as some sort of affliction to be remedied by yokels trying to ply you with alcohol every 2 minutes. I don't like tea or coffee. This gets an amazed commentary around how "good" I am (not really, I eat a block of choc a day, I just don't like coffee). I don't like the sun and so I get endless jabs about my whiteness and that I'm a vampire (you drink blood one time and never live it down). I have short hair. You'd be surprised how much schtick and 1950s commentary I cop for that as if my very femininity, sexuality, and the future of women everywhere is on the line by virtue of the length of my hair.

But none of my lifestyle choices have copped as much backlash as my choice to be a vegetarian.

Why did I start with this massive rant? Aside from the fact that I enjoy my own rants, the comments I receive from people about my choice to be a vegetarian show exactly what I find so repulsive about people - they have no respect for animals and think they're just there to serve their needs. We can do whatever we want as long as it makes us happy - and, to even think otherwise, is unnatural.

So that's where I am at. And, when I review this film, I am not going into the tedious tropes about the racist any quasi-thinker's blog for that...I am championing the animal stuff. If you don't like that, cease reading now.

So, The Jungle Book is a live-action/CGI adaptation of the works of Rudyard Kipling as well as being a hat-doff to the 1967 Disney film. I admit I didn't grow up on these works or watch the cartoon - wasn't something that ever appealed to me. So I am coming at this from only distant literary knowledge.

The basic premise is that an orphaned boy (Mowgli) is raised in the jungle by various animals but must evade constant threats from tiger, Shere Khan. Yeah, that's pretty much it. Oh, and he sets fire to the jungle at the end - good one, mate. Next time, we have a dinner party at /your/ place.

My overall impression is that this is a watchable film with (mostly) stunning visuals. It's an ambitious project and, in my view, mostly pays dividends.

But, as it's a limited plot, there's not much else to say here. The film kind of bumbles its way through various scenes and then ends suddenly. It's a bit unsatisfying really. Some of the themes that Kipling was making never quite come across and that's a bit of a lost opportunity. Instead, I will just over-analyse the shit out of it.

Kipling was, in part, trying to promote the need for species preservation when he wrote these stories inspired by his time in India. For me though, it just demonstrates that even when people /try/ to stand up for animals, they filter it through their own lens. 

First up, the story is very mammal-centric and all the creatures are humanised and sanitised. They are then given personalities based on our own rank stereotypes of what they're like - snakes are evil, bears are lazy and eat honey, monkeys live in abandoned cities - sick shit like that. And, though Mowgli can naturally understand the creatures (because humans can do whatever they put their minds to, apparently), there is a constant "us" and "them" mentality. All the animals can communicate with each other but humans can't talk to them. And, despite being saved by these majestic creatures, Mowgli just can't wait to get back to being a tool-creating asshole who takes more than he needs and destroys everything he touches.

Secondly, some of the animals dream of being human and see the human ability to control fire (the "red flower" as it's so eloquently referred to) as being sufficient to propel them to the top of the food chain. This dream of being human was where much of the criticisms of racism came from - Louie dreams of being able to wield the red flower and be like Mowgli. Naturally, I think being like Mowgli is a step down. The original Louie was voiced in an "African American" stereotype which was seen as racist - they "tactfully" side-step this in this remake by an equally stereotyped Italian mafia voice (which is just as on the nose if you ask me).

What stuns me is how Disney so desperately tries to work in references to earlier films that are probably best forgotten. Working in the songs throughout this remake just seems like a tip of the cap too far and it would have worked better without them. There are also two scenes directly ripped off from The Lion King. Seriously, you could have just edited in those scenes and you'd barely notice.

Other than the themes and the missed opportunity to deal with them more seriously, the acting (and voice acting) lets this film down. The kid can't act. He's terrible...just terrible. I enjoyed listening to Ben Kingsley (Bagheera) and Scarlett Johansson (Kaa), but the remaining cast are actually pretty woeful (notably Christopher Walken and Bill Murray). It just didn't work for me.

All up, worth a view. My cat loved it too - was pawing at the TV screen whenever the tiger came on (he thinks he's a tiger...see pic).

6.5 paws out of 10.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Film Review: How to be Single

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,
It sounds ridiculous to say, but this movie spoke to me. For a comedy, it really hits on some truths…yes, it’s girly…yes, it’s clichĂ©…but, damn, so much rings true.

How to be Single follows the kind of structure that I usually dislike (and disliked it again in this film) – the structure that has multiple disparate story lines loosely based around the same theme but involving a character that will intersect the different story threads from time to time. Kind of the same thing as Love, Actually or Valentine’s Day (I haven’t seen either of these movies but I know that’s how they are structured).

The main plot involves Alice (Dakota Johnson…most recently of Fifty Shades fame) who decides to go on a “break” from her boyfriend and then experiences all the stages of singledom. Helping her navigate the world of being single is Robin (Rebel Wilson). There are two other subplots involving another woman and a bartender and also Alice’s sister – neither of which I cared about. The subplot with the character Lucy is exasperatingly annoying.

Personal truth – I am single. I have been single for over 18 months and still show no interest in making a connection with someone new. I am Alice. Her awkwardness, her readiness to fall into relationships (and revisit unfulfilling ones – sinking into “d*cksand” as Robin puts it), and the fact she hadn’t spent any time “alone”. In the film, she reaches a realisation of her relationship mistakes when she starts to hook up with her ex, only to discover he’s still with his new partner and he’s only trying to get “closure” with her. The exact same thing happened to me. It leaves you feeling so very worthless.

But, there is an upside. The film takes a light-hearted view of being single. At first I thought this would be one of those plots where the girl dumps the guy then meets the “right one” and they all live happily ever after. But that doesn’t happen. Instead, she discovers it’s OK to be alone. I too have found that (though I have passed the point that Alice refers to in the movie when you become so entrenched in your ways and used to being alone that you can’t accept anyone else).

Rebel Wilson (who went to my school and it still trips me out) is hands-down brilliant in this. You could remove every other actor in this and it would still be as enjoyable. Everything she says is gold, her timing is on point, and her mannerisms are hysterical and engaging. Dakota Johnson is a wallflower (albeit a beautiful wallflower)…but its Leslie Mann (who plays Alice’s sister) that gets to me. She is in every movie and always playing the same character (neurotic, controlling 40-something woman who is freaking out about something). It’s getting tedious.

This isn’t going to be a film that you will revisit over and over again…or one that will be remembered beyond 2016…but, for any women who have been single, you’re likely to find some truths in this that may give you some comfort. Yep, it seems no matter who we are, we’re still all the same.

7 singles out of 10.

Friday, April 29, 2016

McDonalds Praise Blog 14: Haloumi Create your Taste

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived a girl who loved burgers and nuggets. Though she had a world of food opportunities available, she yearned for the sweet caress of the mythical Maccas. Day after day, she would write odes to Maccas, visit him with offerings of money, and proclaim her adoration to any receptive (or non-receptive) audience.

Then one day, tragedy struck. She was slain by two powerful foes – vegetarianism and being a food wanker. These foes proved too powerful and she withdrew from her love…hiding away in every overpriced organic eatery that she could find.

Days turned into weeks…turned into months…turned into more months… UNTIL something miraculous happened. Maccas started offering vegetarian options.

So she ventured out one day in search of her long lost love. The reunion was heart-warming to say the least.

I get the feeling this is going to be the start of a beautiful romance.

Maccas have never really pandered to the poncho-wearing, tree-hugging, dope-smoking vegetarian syndicate. Unfortunately, that excluded me on at least two counts. So, when I saw the latest addition to their Create your Taste menu was haloumi, well, I’d be an idiot not to go.

I was delighted to see that they have upgraded the ordering interface so it’s now much easier to use. I thank myself for that upgrade (you’re welcome, everyone). For my meal today, I ordered a burger with haloumi (2 pieces), brioche bun, long sliced pickle, guacamole, beetroot, spinach, tomato onion relish, and herb aioli.

This was a thoroughly planned burger. The haloumi was the savoury/salty element, the acidity was covered by the pickle and relish, aioli and avocado for creaminess, beetroot for contrast, brioche for buttery-ness, and spinach for freshness. And, not to brag, but I can make a freaking great burger.

This was amazing. When it hit the table, it wasn’t too overwhelming in size but it was comfortably filling. The burger was moist, flavoursome, and interesting with every bite. A real flavour sensation for the tastebuds. A true exploration for the senses. A fascinating voyage through flavour country.

OK shutting up now.

At any rate, this is a great addition to the Maccas menu and gives a real alternative for vegetarians. Their CYT quality has remained high and the experience is pleasant. For $13 to get a burger of that quality with a basket of fries and a bottle of water is excellent value.

If you love haloumi (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t?), go and replicate my CYT burger at your nearest Maccas. You won’t regret it.

9 ponchos out of 10.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Film Review: Ted 2

I have rather fond memories of seeing the first Ted movie so I was a bit reluctant to see the sequel. Fortunately, this doesn’t ruin the first one and kind of feels more like a stand-alone movie (in that it wouldn’t matter if you hadn’t seen the first one before seeing this one).

So we kick off Ted 2 at the wedding of Ted and his fiancĂ©e, Tami-Lynn. Everything seems blissful till life stuff happens and they realise what a sad rut they are in and, so, decide to have a child. As Ted is a teddy bear, they’d need to adopt. This brings their marital status to the attention of the Government who deem him as property and not a person. He then pursues a case to be declared a person instead of property.

There’s not much to it other than that. It’s more about the jokes. The first thing I want to mention is that the effects are much better in this film – Ted looks insanely adorable and his movements are fluid and seamless.

There are some genuinely funny moments that made me “lol”. For example, when they are assigned a junior lawyer to take their case pro bono (Amanda Seyfried), Ted asks how old she is followed by “I don't want my lawyer singing Frozen songs during the opening address”.  I also was guiltily laughing at the ongoing Google joke throughout the movie that you’re only ever two clicks away from black c*cks. I know I shouldn’t laugh, but it’s seriously funny how many times they manage to put that joke in. Like no matter what they search for, Google asks “did you mean black c*cks?” and has images in the search result.

Then there are other jokes that (in typical Seth MacFarlane fashion) go too far; the ongoing misogyny, the casual way domestic violence is handled, and the light-hearted treatment of pornography. I find pornography particularly repugnant but a lot of the movie just shows how insidious misogyny is when certain jokes are thrown in not even in an ironic way. We have a long way to go as society when we can’t even be reflexive enough to know when we’re being sexist a**holes. The ongoing comparisons to the Civil Rights movement (albeit tongue-in-cheek) were also in poor taste and uncomfortable to watch.

Much of the cast remains the same – which begs the question why they needed a casting director for either of these movies? It’s just the Family Guy cast plus one or two people. I found it was getting distracting in this movie and quite often found myself thinking of Peter Griffin rather than Ted saying some of the lines. I also found Mark Wahlberg’s arms distracting – why are his forearms bigger than his biceps?? I seriously couldn’t focus on anything else whenever he was on screen. It’s weird. And why are they persisting with making him the object of desire for every hot woman he comes across? *Shudder. Unfortunately Giovanni Ribisi is back as well. Nuff said.

There are some great celebrity appearances that serve as novel punctuations throughout. Tom Brady’s scenes were particularly gold and good-humoured. I suppose you can afford to mock yourself when you’re insanely rich, talented, fall-at-the-door good looking, and married to the richest supermodel on the planet. Damn these perfect super-humans.

Sadly the movie goes on for maybe half an hour too long and loses its momentum becoming indulgent and a little boring. As such I don’t think it’s as strong as the first movie but it’s still enjoyable enough.

7 talking teddy bears out of 10.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Film Review: The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2

I have made no secret of the fact that I didn’t enjoy the final book of this series and thought it was a ridiculous idea to divide the final book into two movies. While the books may have been average, the movies actually achieved a level of maturity and were captivating and enjoyable. Both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire were excellent movies, but things started to take a slip for Mockingjay.

This book is essentially the Hunger Games series equivalent of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. You have a tedious book, a captive audience, and a massive film budget – what to do but pump out as many movies as you can before you have to end the franchise. The final book is also when you can randomly kill off characters or throw in sickly sweet endings without any repercussions or questions.

We pick up exactly where we left off, which, frankly, is pretty presumptuous – it’s been a year since the last movie guys, as if we can remember what happened (TV shows are on daily yet still have a “previously on…” section). So, Katniss is feeling bummed because Peeta has been brainwashed by the Capitol and keeps trying to kill her. Disillusioned (and continuing to be the puppet of President Coin, President Snow, and former game-maker Plutarch), Katniss tries to take matters into her own hands and sets off on a mission to kill Snow. They spend a whole bunch of time in tunnels, the Presidential mansion always seems to be too many blocks away (in one scene they said it’s still 78 blocks away and I was like FFS), and high tech gadgets and creatures attack them and thin the herd a bit.

My sister and I were discussing the unnecessary kill-offs and she was saying the sister was uncalled for, and I said that Finnick is the true Hedwig moment of the book (for non-nerds, the death of Hedwig in Harry Potter was the ultimate unnecessary and throw-away death…he could’ve just flown away; jerks). This is the conversation that followed:
Sis: “Wait, Finnick dies?”
Me: “Yeah”
Sis: “Perving on him was the best part of the movie. At least she ends up with Gale”
Me: “She ends up with Peeta”
Sis: “Oh”
Me: “You just made up your own plot didn’t you?”
Sis: “Yeah”

There was a lot of shuffling and talking going on in the cinema. It’s a long movie and almost nothing happens. Nearly every scene could have been edited out and it would not have a deleterious impact on the overall movie series. On the contrary, by protracting the series, they undermined the realisations that Katniss has about power, control, and junk as it’s clear that she (and the audience) knew this ages ago so the ending has no impact.

There is almost nothing good about this film – the visuals offer nothing new or exciting, the cast are woefully underutilised considering their collective talent, and the mood is sombre and heavy. Even the attempted romance scenes (which I’d usually be up for cos I am single and pathetic), are nauseating and poorly scripted (doesn’t help that Peeta is ugly).

Overall this series was masterful in terms of portraying a novel series onto the screen and Lawrence has done a wonderful job with a challenging (and quite unlikable) character, but, sadly, this last film duo has let the series down and undermined the first two movies. It’s a real shame actually. See it for closure only.

4 made up plots out of 10.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Film Review: Insurgent (The Divergent Series)

OK, to be honest I’d totally forgotten what happened in the first movie and who all the characters were, so let’s have it. It’s still the future and “divergents” have become enemy number one. Society has been broken up into various factions for the sake of peace according to what their main strength is (see previous review for hilarious explanation). But, every so often there are individuals that display multiple strengths (“divergents”).

We pick up where we left off after faction Erudite (which is repeatedly mispronounced throughout the film) led an attack against Abnegation. Our leading lady, Tris (Shailene Woodley – who has the screen presence of a mushroom…and not one of those fancy ones either), is haunted by the memories of the unprovoked attack and wants to do "something different" so she does the unthinkable…what no woman should ever do - she cuts her hair short. Here I thought you guys were so bad ass and yet short hair shocks you and generates about 30 minutes of dialogue in the film. Is this the future or Downton Abbey?

Anywho, Tris and her buddies (including love interest, Four – that’s his name – well his adopted name anyway) are hiding out with the Amity faction while Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) is searching for a divergent to open a box that has a message from the founders of their civilisation. Jeanine hypothesises that this box (which looks a little like a PS4) will contain the secret to ridding society of divergents. In my view, her reasoning was always flawed here. A divergent was necessary to open the box…why would they create a box to destroy divergents when only a divergent could open it? That’s like creating a cashless theme park with a gold coin entry fee.

All this flimsy, nonsensical plot aside, I don’t understand what’s wrong with the society created by the overlords. When will young people learn to submit to government control and stop thinking for themselves?

Meanwhile, Erudite and Dauntless are closing in on Tris and Four so they take up shelter with Candor (the third most useless faction). Here, the leader of Candor administers truth serum to see if Four and Tris had anything to do with the attack…we find out that they didn’t and that Four loves Tris (aww, that’s kinda nice).

Mixed in with all this we have some confused alliance with a group of renegades who are “factionless” (don’t fit into any of the factions). So now we have the five factions, divergents, varying levels of divergence, and now these derelict factionless people? Geez, I thought things were better with Mufasa.

As this whole movie revolves around opening a box, I’ll give you the 411 on that situation. So they finally open the box and it turns out that the founders thought that divergents are good…#plottwist…dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn.

*taps fingers.

Then the movie kind of ends. I think there’s another one after this too but lord knows what that’s about. I think this was marginally better than the first movie but only just. I am going to endeavour to see the new Hunger Games at the actual cinema so will have a review of that soon.

6 short hair cuts on a woman out of 10.