Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Review: Miracle on Regent Street

Miracle on Regent Street was one of the top Christmas reads of 2011, being raved about on Twitter, the blogosphere and beyond.  Unfortunately due to my penniless student state, I didn't manage to get myself a copy until well into January, but it was well worth the wait.

Focusing on one girls attempts at saving a department store, the story was well structured if predictable at times. It is doubtful if, at time of writing, the author knew quite how poignantly relevant much of the story would be, when you consider how many retails businesses went into administration over the 2011-2012 festive period.

The writing, although powerful for the most part, was at times very amateur, and I found myself wincing at the painfully over the top description, which was often simplistic and unnecessary. On reflection, this is more to do with the fact that Harris' writing style is  remarkably similar to my own fictional narrative style (and the reason why I avoid this genre), than due to any lack of talent or ability on the part of the author.

One area in which the novel excels is creating a festive atmosphere-curled up in bed on a cold January night, I was temporally disoriented briefly, believing that it was really December and Christmas was still yet to come. Bad luck. The descriptions of the beautiful vintage clothing that forms part of Evie's transformation are inspirational, and certainly gave me a hankering for a black and white dogtooth skirt!

I won't lie and say I read it all one sitting, At first I struggled to get into the story, but after a couple of chapters, I was glad I persevered.

Conclusion: Partly questionable writing, but overall a good read.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

War Horse (Spielberg, 2012)

Having seen War Horse on stage in the West End, and absolutely loving it, I was eagerly awaiting the film version, but simultaneously praying that it wouldn’t ruin the story for me.

Suffice to say I was not disappointed. Directorially awe- inspiring, an emotional musical score and some Oscar-worthy acting, make for an emotional and entertaining two hours.

In the West End show, the audience’ interests were directed towards the family as a unit, and whether they as a whole would come through the war. The film, however, ensures that all interest is vetted in the relationship between Albie and Joey, with Albie’s parents and the villagers playing a minor peripheral role. This is hardly surprising; Spielberg recreates war scenes with such conviction, that much more screen time is given over to this part of the film. On stage, it is harder to recreate the horrors of war, so the villagers and the build up to the war

Unfortunately, I have not read the original novel (it’s on my ever-growing to-do list), so can make no comment about the interpretation that Morpurgo intended.

One disappointment was the casting of Albie’s mother, Emily Watson. For one, I couldn’t help thinking that she was far too young and fresh faced to play the worn down role of Rose Narracott, and secondly, her acting was not outstanding.

Verdict: The stage show is still the best thing I have ever seen live, and I would urge everyone to go see it. The film is magnificent (well it’s a Spielberg, I doubt anyone would expect anything less), but it is obvious that it is made with the intention of becoming a blockbuster hit, which somehow cheapens it.

 Sad but true that “War Horse” is probably going to become more synonymous with the name “Spielberg” than “Morpurgo”, but I guess that’s what you expect if you sell your book rights to potentially the biggest director in the history of Hollywood.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

This little place I know (and you should too...)

I made a fabulous discovery yesterday. It's a brand spanking new cupcake shop in the centre of York called  Sooty's Cupcakery. Ok, if I'm being honest, it wasn't a spontaneous discovery, I was going there with the purpose of reviewing it. But boy am I glad I did.

I know what you're thinking. It's just another one of those overpriced cupcake places that are taking over the world, giving yummy-mummies a place to yibber-yabber and spend their husband's hard earned money. WELL YOU'RE WRONG!

Take it from a self-titled cupcake connoisseur- I used to work in a cake shop, I've spent hours perfecting cupcake recipes, I spent the eve of my 18th birthday making and decorating 100 cupcakes-Sooty's is the bees knees, the cat's whiskers, the dog's toenails, in cupcakes (although you'll be pleased to hear that I found none of the above in my cake).

 I've been to the famous Hummingbird Bakery in Spitalfields, London, and even reviewed that one for Itchy City. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that my visit to the Hummingbird Bakery didn't even come close to my visit to Sooty's.* The service at Hummingbird was impersonal, the hot chocolate below average, and even the cupcakes, the holy grail for which I had made my journey, were nothing special.

Sooty's, on the other hand, was a dream come true. They had a wide range of flavours and toppings, and the cupcakes were only £1.49 each, and very reasonably sized-quite the opposite of the majority of similar businesses. Not only were the cupcakes cheap, they were perfectly decorated and, most importantly DELICIOUS. The cake was moist and light, not stodgy like some cakes, and the vanilla fondant was the most flavoursome I have ever had, without being overpowering. The accompanying hot chocolate was equally enjoyable, and cheaper than any chain cafe.  The staff were uber-friendly, and they had a wider range of choices than were available at Hummingbird.

I am therefore taking this opportunity to demand that all residents and students of York go to Sooty's at least once-although I can guarantee that you will want to go back. It is my understanding that different cakes are available everyday, so all the more reason to go back and sample them all. Sooty's also do cupcakes and occasion cakes to order, and you can mix and match base flavour and fondant flavour-it's like being in Willy Wonka's factory, but real!

Weekly visits to Sooty's are now inked into my diary. I'm only gutted that it arrived when I only have 6 months left in York.**

*I'm honestly not being paid to say this

** I'm actually also gutted that Sooty's has taken over the retail unit where a craft shop I liked once stood. But cupcakes will make that pain go away.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The negatives to being a student

People think that students have it easy, and I admit that to some extent we do; our bank accounts automatically fill up 3 times a year, we only have on average 30 weeks of "full time" education a year. But it's not all fun and drinking games, there are downsides to being a student too, one of which is niggling away at most final year students right now.

Perhaps one of the worst parts of being a student is the stereotypes that we are expected to live up to, which lead people to class us as one inseperable lump of society; we sleep all day and don't do any work, we sponge off the government, we drink too much. Yes, some students live up to these stereotypes only to well, but they are in the minority. I spent 8 and a half hours in the library yesterday, and kept working even after I got home. Until last month, save 4 weeks I have consistently held at least one, usually two jobs in the 2 and a half years I have been at University, to avoid sponging off the government more than necessary, and I haven't touched alcohol since cerca 1972. So yes, having to put up with the jokes about how little work I do does become tedious. But that is not the main reason I am disliking being a student right now.

The main reason I am hating being a student right now is something commonly known as 'The Guilt'. This is the feeling that washes over you when, having spent 8,9,10 hours straight working, revising, etc., you pause, be it to watch TV, or even do the most mundane of things such as cooking dinner or putting some washing on. You feel guilty that you should dare to leave the chains of your desk behind even for one second. I hate that your work as a student is never done; there is always one more article you could read. And so it is that I find myself craving the freedom of a 9-5 job, one where once you clock out at 5 o'clock, your time is yours. Time to pursue a new hobby, spend time with friends, or even veg around doing nothing if you fancy it, without the guilt of knowing that you should be doing something. I'm not saying that I want to do a job like that forever; I'm aware that the magazine industry is a hard task master, with irregular, long hours, and when I come to that, I will be ready for it. But for a couple of months after I graduate, I will be (hopefully) enjoying the freedom time-restricted employment.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

What I watched this week: 1st-8th January 2012

As part of my new year's plans to spread my journalistic wings in 2012, I am aiming to introduce a weekly TV blog. Whether or not I will keep up with this, only time will tell, but here goes:

Of course the big TV news of the week was Pat's death in Eastenders. In a bizarre seventy miunte long episode, the long standing matriarch of Albert Square passed away amongst her nearest and dearest, and Janine and her son David. The peaceful manner in which she died was somewhat unexpected,and definitely out of character-when her impending death was announced a few months back, fans of the show were surely imagining explosive death scenes to match the ferocity of the character. Yet somehow the quiet and sudden passing made it all the more poignant-the infamous closing credit 'duff-duffs' were even toned down to mark the occasion.Following this episode was the inevitable Goodbye Pat special. The rest of the week's episodes were devoted to Pat's family, Denise and Phil's feud and the Amira-Syed-Christian love triangle, which is getting a bit old now.

Next up was Absolutely Fabulous, the second of the three specials. The start lacked humour, but this was soon rectified by a combination of Bubbles' impressions of Liz Hurley and Patsy threatening to "have you clapping between movements for the rest of your life" (not sure how they got away without any complaints to Ofcom for that one). Further intrigue grows around the subject of Saffy's daughter in Africa-we don't yet know how old she is, or even if her name is Lola or Jane...will we meet her in the third of the three specials, centred around the olympics? The comedy timing was, as always, spot on throughout. The only complaint is that these episodes are only 30 minutes each.

Hacks was a bizarre, but not entirely successful, satirical take on the News of the World phone hacking scandal, although of course all characters and plotlines were entirely fictitious etc.

Eternal Law was of particular interest, being filmed in York. It's hard to be objective about a TV programme when you're spotting all the places you know whilst watching it, but other than the interest of familiarity, there was not much gripping about this airy fairy (or should that be angelic?) drama. The opening scene was reminiscent of Doctor Who, but it went downhill from there. It was hard to feel anything towards the characters, as they were just not developed enough in this opening episode. That said, the second episode is probably worth a watch, to see if it improves at all.

Hustle was meant to be broadcast on Friday night, but hasn't appeared on iPlayer. Anyone know anything of it's whereabouts?

Wild at Heart regraced our screens on Sunday evening, but this most heartwarming of dramas has a new, chilling factor. With two scenes of trailing blood, a dead body floating in the water and a rogue tiger. this is not the family drama we used to know and love. Combine the horror scenes with the predictability of the storylines, such as Danny lying about his new job and Alice finding out, you realise it's only the humour of Fatani's fear of being at Leopard's Den at night, reminiscent of an episode of Sccoby Doo, that saved the episode. Bring back the whole family and make it back into the show it was!

The Queen's Bodyguard is the new sitcom featuring David Jason as a blundering protection agent for the royal family. More of a guilty pleasure than a must see drama, it's occasionally funny, but mostly cringeworthy and highly predictable. Plus it's hard to shake off the character of Del Boy while you're watching David Jason playing a similarly bumbling character.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

High hopes and expectations

2012 is going to be a career orientated year for me. Fingers (and all other bodily protrusions) crossed, I will graduate in July, and until just a few days ago when we hopped across the border into 2012, that seemed like ions away. Now, however, it is only 5 months until exams etc. are done. That's only 5 months of long days in library and nights danced away in Reflex until I have to be a real adult in the real world (she wrote, whilst tucked up on the sofa at 3pm, watching Glee and drinking hot chocolate). So I have formulated a sort-of-plan to help me on my chosen career path of magazine journalism, and I'm hoping that by putting out into a public(ish) forum like this, it will help me to stick to it

  • Post to this blog as much as possible; So far so good, but hey, we're only 5 days in. Watch this space...
  • By the end of January I aim to have organised some sort of work experience, preferably in a national magazine. Ideally I would like to work in a mainstream monthly women's magazine such as Cosmopolitan, Glamour or Company. I will be applying for work experience with all of these, in the features department or similar (doesn't hurt to try, although I doubt I have enough experience yet for publications such as these to consider me), and will also apply to a whole handful of magazines. Again, watch this space
  • By the end of 2012 I will have pitched (hopefully successfully) a feature idea to a well-known magazine ( got a couple of ideas at the moment, but the actual pitch is going to have to wait until after graduation, when I have the odd moment a day to breathe)
  • Get some experience in multimedia journalism-video vox pops etc.
  • I also aim to expand the repertoire of publications that I write for. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

How do you know (Brooks, 2010)


This attempt at a deep, life-exploring romantic story is thorougly unsucessful, which is frustrating considering the combined talent of the cast: Jack Nicholson, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon.

The character of Lisa (Witherspoon) begins as a sexy, independent young woman, however the character, and the plot of the film, lose all credibility when she stays with her awful (sort of) boyfriend Matty (Wilson). Yes, he's hot, and yes, he's rich, but very few women would put up with their relationship. And so Witherspoon is boxed into the same old sickly-sweet, pretty-blonde character that rose her to fame in Legally Blonde.

The plot is hard work, not because it's hard to follow. In fact quite the opposite. But because it's hard to fathom why half of the scenes are necessary. From the moment George (Rudd) phones Lisa to cancel a date that they weren't going on (yes, it's that sort of film), it was clear through their thoroughly separate storylines that they would get together at the end.

Overall this is a dull, unrewarding film. However, there is one saving grace: anyone who thought that Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston were a hot couple in Marley & Me can sit back and watch the screen melt under the heat of Owen Wilson and Reese Witherspoon sharing on-screen time in How do you know.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Sale fail!

I am a massive fan of the post-Christmas sales, almost as much as Christmas itself. In anticipation of this year's sales, I wrote a feature for The Yorker about how to make the most of the sales. Every year, there's one big bargain that I'm proud of (and, if I'm being honest, several other items that I buy just because they're cheap, regardless of whether I'll wear them or not). Last year, my best buy was a black blazer from Bershka, reduced down to £20, which has become an absolute staple of my year-round wardrobe.

This year, however, the sales were highly disappointing. There were very few bargains to be had, and instead of reducing current stock, most high street fashion retailers simply wheeled out their unsold summer stock and filled a couple of reduced rails with that. Most disappointing.

Resultingly, I didn't but a single reduced item. What I did do, however, is invest in a couple of wardrobe staples. Namely; boots.

Roll downs, £35, Linzi

First purchase were these roll down leather biker
style boots-they can be worn both ways so are
effectively two purchases in one, making them even more bargainous (bargainful? bargainistic?). They are browner than they appear in the photo, but not enough so that they couldn't be worn with black. Plus, they're wide enough to tuck straight/skinny leg jeans in, but not so wide that they'd drown an untrousered leg.

Knee highs, £20, Primark

Second purchase was these black (imitation) leather boots from Primark. They're smarter than other boots I've owned, so perfect for wearing with a knee length skirt (any shorter and I probably risk being picked up in street corners). They're also roomy enough to wear with skinny jeans tucked in, and I love the contrasting colour heel. A new wardrobe favourite I think!

Monday, 2 January 2012

It's complicated (Meyers, 2009)


At the risk of sounding unoriginal by using that most overjuiced of cliches, this really is a heartwarming and empowering film.

A large part of the success of this film is due to the thespian institution that is Meryl Streep. She plays a blinding performance as a strong, stylish and sexy woman, despite being older than your average twenty-something rom-com protagonist. Supported by equally talented actors Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, whose characters provide perfect foils to each other, it's not easy to find fault with the impeccable acting that makes this film as watchable as it is.

The basic premise is a long-divorced couple reunite for a fling, despite Jake (Baldwin) being re-married to a younger model, and Jane (Streep) about to embark on a long-overdue new relationship with her architect  Adam (Martin).

What is so great about this film, is that for once it is not the woman who prematurely falls in love; It is Jake who leaves his new wife in the heat of the moment, hoping that Jane will take him back. Anyone with so much of a glimmer of inner-feminism will be jumping with joy when she walks away from him, a reversal of most films of this genre in which the woman is portrayed as the victim and the weaker character.

The one flaw that can be seen in the plot is that it's hard to get past the fact that Jane would consider being the other woman in her ex-husband's life after her own heartache; Although not a deception that this character would conceivably be part of, it creates a chink in her otherwise flawless armour, allowing the audience to warm further to her; a clever twist on the part of Meyers.

In addition to this, the chocolate croissant scene at the bakery is becoming one of my favourite rom-com scenes of all time,and is definitely worth a watch.

Despite the light-hearted route this film takes, it raises a genuine puzzle;would many divorced couples work the second time around, if they were to reunite 10 years later?

Not too mentally strenuous, but perfect for a quiet night in.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Going the distance (Burstein, 2010)


Heat magazine labelled it as the "funniest rom-com of the year so far". One can only assume that it was released in early January, as it is neither funny nor romantic.

The plotline has potential, although the long distance relationship thing has been done multiple times. The first main problem is the lack of chemistry and passion between the protagonists (Drew Barrymore and Justin Long)-a key ingredient for a successful romantic comedy.

The second gaping hole is the comedy part-the only part that managed to raise a laugh was the very final moment-and that was more of a this-is-meant-to-be-a-comedy-so-I-should-laugh rather than an actual this-is funny-so-I'll-laugh laugh. Ya get me?

That's not to say there weren't attempts at humour-but an awkward dining table sex-scene and an excruciating attempt at phone sex later, no one was laughing.

As queen of the downright awful rom-com, even I cannot find a saving grace for this atrocity. Avoid avoid avoid.