Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Boring Life Update

I will warn you in advance that this blog post will contain a lot of excuses as to why I haven't been writing lately. I'm not really writing this for anyone else but myself, and this post is nothing more than an attempt to shake myself back into action because BOY have I been slacking off on the writing front lately!

Life has certainly been getting in the way of me returning to the blogosphere. Being in control of my own life once again has been a blessing and a curse, and there have been days recently when everything has gone wrong at the same time. I was stuck at home with a horrible ear/throat infection for a while and I still have something going on with my throat that doesn't quite feel normal, my laptop's hard drive crashed because my dumb ass decided to turn it off halfway through an update, and other minor things that have all piled on top of me to make it feel as though I'm swimming through a sea of problems. But the major thing that has been taking up most of my time is the dreaded job hunt. Being unemployed isn't exactly a piece of cake, especially when you're actually desperate to get back to work, to get into a routine, and to earn your own money. However, assuming that all goes well (fingers crossed!), I'm due to be starting a fantastic new job in a few days' time! I can't shake off the feeling that something is going to go horribly wrong between now and my first shift, because most things I've been getting excited about lately seem to fail dismally, but I'm praying that everything works out just fine because this particular job sounds perfect for me.

Because I've been stuck in this job-hunting rut, I haven't really been engaging any of my creative muscles, so much so that any time I start doing something creative, I find myself worrying that it's a waste of precious time, and that I could be doing something - anything - else to help myself find a career or improve myself as a person. It has been an anxiety-inducing time in which I have barely been able to write a single poem, let alone a blog post, even though it's such a perfect time for me to be getting creative in theory - I'm in a wonderful new relationship, the summer weather is upon us, and Dundee is looking fabulous in the sunshine, and seeing my favourite city in full bloom is usually all the inspiration I need to get writing. I've also been inspired recently by the endings of some of my favourite sagas (Game of Thrones and Avengers: Endgame) to start thinking about how I could create something very special full of incredible characters and intriguing storylines. My boyfriend has introduced me to lots of new TV series and films that have also given me a nudge in the right creative direction, so I'm definitely going to have to start getting some ideas down on paper soon!

Even just tapping this blog post out has made me realise how long it has been since I actually sat down and wrote something that wasn't a job application email. I'm going to be spending any down time I have this weekend and this next week planning some new creative projects and some new blog posts. I want to branch out and explore new areas, maybe getting a proper YouTube channel going, making zines for my poetry and maybe some lyrical essays, and coming up with a proper blog schedule so that I end up posting at least once a week every week (possibly every Sunday). I'm just spitballing ideas at the moment, though. So much to do, so little time!

If anyone has made it this far into this post, then you're a real trooper. Now that I've gotten all of this off my chest, how about I leave this post here and actually get on with writing stuff that's actually interesting and exciting? Surely that would be a better use of my time! But I'm hoping that this personal and very rambly post will re-open the creative door that's been jammed shut for so long. I won't say that the creative door has been locked - maybe it's just a bit stiff and requires some oil for the hinges and some aggressive pushing in order to get it to open again. Anyways, here's to more creativity, and actually making use of the resources that I have right now!


Tuesday, 9 April 2019

Marvel Movie Marathon: 'The Avengers' (2012)

*This post contains spoilers for The Avengers (2012). You have been warned!*

I honestly can't praise this movie enough. It was when I saw this back in 2012 that I started getting more into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because while I wasn't crazy about superheroes at the time, I loved seeing how much more the franchise actually had to offer than just tough guys in colourful suits punching aliens. I distinctly remember leaving the cinema after watching this and saying, 'It was funny! I didn't think it would be that funny, but it was!' And amazingly, that comment still stands even though this film is now almost seven years old and I've seen it many times. So, in place of any actual commentary about why the humour in this film works so well, I'm just going to quote my favourite lines below:

  • Fury: Sir, please put down the spear! 
  • Tony Stark: Like Christmas, but with
  • Tony Stark: Doth Mother know you weareth her drapes?
  • Thor: He's my brother. / Natasha: He killed eighty people in two days. / Thor: ...he's adopted.
  • Steve Rogers: I understood that reference.
  • Tony Stark: Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.
  • Tony Stark: He wants a monument built to the skies with his name plast-...son of a bitch.
  • The entire interaction between Tony and Loki inside the Stark tower.
  • Tony Stark: Well, we got its attention...what the hell was Step 2?
  • Fury: I recognise that the council has made a decision, but given that it's a stupid-ass decision, I've decided to ignore it.
  • Hulk: Puny god.
  • Steve Rogers: We won. / Tony Stark: Alright, yay. Great job, guys.
I think most of what makes this film work is the fact that the initial conflict between all of the Avengers feels organic, not just a plot convenience conjured up by the writers. They turn on each other because they have different ideas of what constitutes a 'superhero', they disagree on how to handle Loki and his plans, and they are cautious about trusting each other. But that is what makes it so satisfying when we see the iconic shot of the six of them together poised for battle on the streets of New York: they have overcome their issues and learned to work as a team because the world is in danger, and they are the ones who must save it. At no point does their union feel forced, as though they are just coming together to save the day because the script says they must. The film builds up these characters to make you care about them (well, most of them - do many people really care about Hawkeye?) and to make you understand who they really are, so seeing them all come together, seeing all of these different personalities interacting and all of their different skills playing off each other in battle, feels like a huge deal, almost like an event

On top of all that, this movie proves that Loki is totally worthy of the 'Best Villain in the MCU' award. Lovable villains are hard to pull off, but he's so charismatic and theatrical that you just HAVE to like him. All of the best Marvel films are the ones with memorable villains, and you'll probably see that mindset reflected in my ranking as we go on. 

It goes without saying that this is number one on my MCU ranking so far. It's just so damn good - so funny, so well-paced and well-acted, full of iconic lines and scenes that stay with you long after the film has I said, I can't praise it enough.
  1. The Avengers (2012)
  2. Iron Man (2008)
  3. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
  4. Thor (2011)
  5. Iron Man 2 (2010)
  6. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Next: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Monday, 8 April 2019

Marvel Movie Marathon: 'Captain America: The First Avenger' (2011)

*This post contains spoilers for Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). You have been warned!*

I never thought I'd warm up to Captain America. Before I watched his trilogy, I passed him off as Marvel's equivalent of Superman - a character that could never do wrong or lose a fight, and who was just a bit bland. But the first time I watched this film last year, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it, and watching it again to write this post has reaffirmed my fondness for it. Steve Rogers isn't a two-dimensional hero who only punches bad guys and saves the world (although he certainly does do those things). He's just a kid from Brooklyn who is given the opportunity to fight for his country, and finds himself in the spotlight as a symbol of hope and strength. In many ways, he's your typical hero - courageous, strong, morally correct, almost faultless - but behind the Captain America mask, he's also still the scrawny little man who is still carrying around his old insecurities. He's also surprisingly good with the quips - I found myself laughing at some of his one-liners, which I wasn't expecting from a more serious character in a more sombre film. 

Comparing the romance in Captain America to the one in Thor makes the latter seem laughably lame. Steve and Agent Carter's relationship is inevitable, but it's gradual and builds up over a long period of time, to the point where their final words to each other are truly heartbreaking. And while we're on the subject of Agent Carter, can I just mention how awesome she is? As much as I hate to use the phrase 'strong female character', she fits the mould effortlessly. She's fierce and no-nonsense, but also passionate, hence why she shoots a gun at Steve after she catches him making out with another woman. She acts as more than just a love interest. She is Steve's companion and mentor, and it's a relationship that you root for. 

A few quick observations and things that I liked about this movie:
  • The final scene. I remember it catching me totally off guard the first time I saw it, and even though I was expecting it this time around, I still felt the tension while Steve was asking where he really was. 
  • 'Stan twitter' is right to be so obsessed with Steve and Bucky's friendship. Because I know everything that happens to them after this film, I'm preparing for heartbreak as I continue with this marathon. Even seeing their interactions in this made me remember the ending of Infinity War, and I just had to groan in pain. 
  • The scene in the bar, specifically the moment that Peggy turns up in the red dress, and throughout her interaction with Steve, she stands out so vividly against the dim brown set and the outfits of those around her. Just a nice detail that I appreciated. 
I'm going to put it here on my ranking for now. Although Thor is the film that I would rather re-watch because of its silly humour and fantasy aesthetic, there's no denying that Captain America: The First Avenger is the better film. 
  1. Iron Man (2008)
  2. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
  3. Thor (2011)
  4. Iron Man 2 (2010)
  5. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Next: The Avengers (2012)

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Marvel Movie Marathon: 'Thor' (2011)

*This post contains spoilers for Thor (2011). You have been warned!*

I have a real soft spot for this movie, in spite of its flaws. Maybe it's the 'fish out of water' humour that still makes me chuckle, or maybe it's the fact that I just like Thor as a character. We'll get to Thor: Ragnarok later, of course, and I'll get a chance to praise it to no end, but remembering how he's much funnier and quirkier in that film makes it feel like his character is almost wasted in this first instalment in the Thor trilogy. This film could have been so over-the-top and cheesy, and that would have made it real 'guilty pleasure' viewing. Instead, I feel like it falls short of being a fun flick that doesn't take itself all that seriously, and any serious moments tend to weigh it down.

But no matter what issues I have with it, this movie, like many of the MCU films, gets by on the strength of its main characters. Thor might have a predictable character arc as the arrogant king who must learn humility, but he has these moments of humour that always manage to make me laugh. But the real star of this show is Loki, of course. He's probably one of the best characters in the entire cinematic universe - mischievous and charismatic and very entertaining to watch. Maybe he and Thor stand out SO MUCH because this film is full of characters that are very easily forgotten. I don't remember much about Thor's friends, or Jane's companions, or many others apart from the main characters. While we're on the subject of Jane, she's not exactly the most compelling love interest in the MCU. It's like they tried to make her this super-smart, super-confident girl boss, but she ends up being a giggly, girlish stereotype whenever she's around Thor. Her relationship with him feels less like a love story and more like a lust story - they don't really seem to fall in love no matter how much the film tries to trick us into it with their stargazing scene, but they definitely fancy each other, hence why she goes in for a full make-out session before he returns to Asgard. Nah, I don't buy it.

I'm going to place it here on the list just now, which surprises me considering how many negatives I can find in this movie. But, at the end of the day, I'd rather re-watch this than re-watch Iron Man 2. I prefer the fantasy element of this film, and I'd much rather see Loki as the villain as opposed to Justin Hammer. Ugh.
  1. Iron Man (2008)
  2. Thor (2011)
  3. Iron Man 2 (2010)
  4. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Next: Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Marvel Movie Marathon: 'Iron Man 2' (2010)

*This post contains spoilers for Iron Man 2 (2010). You have been warned!*

Of the three Iron Man films, this is probably the one that stands out the least. It feels like they took the first one and tweaked it a little bit, and the result is a slightly darker, slightly more bloated version of the original Iron Man. I think I could pretty much copy and paste my commentary on Iron Man (2008) here and it would basically be the same. Tony Stark is by far the most memorable part of this movie, and the moments when he is on screen are the highlights of the movie. He's just the same lovable asshole he was in the prequel, but ten times more self-destructive to the point where I was actually happy to see Fury, Coulson and Natasha giving him strict orders in an attempt to stop him from almost killing himself.

Most of the joy I got out of this film came from the references to other characters in the MCU: Coulson finding Captain America's shield in Tony's workshop, the events in New Mexico that are also teased in the post-credits scene, and the knowledge that everything is building up to The Avengers. I certainly got no joy from Justin Hammer, one of the main villains. In fact, I wrote in my Notes app while I was watching the movie 'Hammer is a condescending prick and I hate him.' He's probably my current least-favourite villain in the Marvel Cinematic Universe because he's irritating, unlikeable and, as I've mentioned above, condescending. Everything he says and does annoys me. It's not that all movie villains have to be likeable, but when your villain is detestable for all the wrong reasons, it doesn't exactly add much to a film.

For now, I'm going to place the film here. It has its faults, but Tony Stark is an entertaining enough character to counteract the other aspects.

  1. Iron Man (2008)
  2. Iron Man 2 (2010)
  3. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Next: Thor (2011)

Friday, 5 April 2019

Marvel Movie Marathon: 'The Incredible Hulk' (2008)

*This post contains spoilers for The Incredible Hulk (2008). You have been warned!*

Confession: this post is pretty much my reaction to seeing this movie for the first time, since I'd never actually seen it before yesterday. I wasn't sure what to expect, having heard mixed opinions about it. I'm not entirely sure why I put off watching this film for so long - maybe it's for the simple reason that I missed it while it was in cinemas and later got so used to Mark Ruffalo as the Hulk that I figured it wasn't worth going back to watch this one - but I'm glad that I've finally watched it, although it's not what I expected from a Marvel movie. Something about the colour palette and the distinct lack of comic relief makes it feel more detached from the rest of the cinematic universe, so much so that I was surprised at the references to Stark Industries and at the appearance of Tony Stark himself at the end of the film. The colour grading makes it look like a film from the Transformers film franchise, honestly. At least, that was a thought that ran through my head while watching this movie.

However, the fact that there aren't very many funny moments makes the one joke that I remember really stand out among the rest of the film. For reference, it's the moment when Bruce and Betty jump out of a cab, Betty yelling at the driver for his dangerous driving, and Bruce tells her that he knows plenty of methods that could help her deal with her anger. It's an obvious joke, but it caught me off guard and made me laugh because the rest of the movie is so dark and dismal.

As with plenty of other films in the MCU, the main character is the most interesting part of it all. Bruce Banner is a complicated character, and while I'm more used to seeing him played by friendly-faced Mark Ruffalo, Edward Norton still brings him to life as a likeable character who finds himself in a 'Jekyll & Hyde'-type situation. Maybe that's why it feels so different to the other films in the MCU: while other main characters are busy saving the world from bad guys in their separate films, Bruce is trying to protect the world from himself. Through the eyes of other characters in the film, HE could be seen as the bad guy. The scene in which Bruce first turns into the Hulk is so dark that you don't see the big green monster for a full five minutes, only the destruction that he causes, which made me wonder if the film was trying to borrow tropes from the horror genre, trying to keep the monster as shrouded in mystery as possible before the big reveal. Bruce is a tortured man who wants to find a cure for his condition so he can protect others. He's selfless and caring, plus he's desperate to believe that he and the Hulk are two different entities. He can't bear the idea that he has to control the immense power that is contained within him, and wants to get rid of it so that he can't put others at risk. Of course, he's far from the bad guy, as we learn from this film and from the ones that follow, but there's no denying that you wouldn't want to take him on when he's angry. And this film wins points with me because I'm a sucker for a big loud character who can be calmed down only by one specific person, and each time that I watched Betty successfully calm down the Hulk, I couldn't help but smile a little.

But right from the get-go, this movie has its issues. Bruce's entire backstory is reduced to a quick montage in the opening credits, a montage that almost made me say aloud to myself, 'Whoa, slow down.' And I know that this is because there was also a Hulk movie in 2003 that tells this part of the story, but it just feels out of place in this cinematic universe. If you're only watching the MCU films, you're going to feel like you've missed some context. The film suffers from weird pacing all the way through: at about fifty minutes in, I could have sworn that I was already 75% of the way through the film, judging by how much stuff had already happened. It almost feels like the film could have been simplified down to Bruce Banner's battle with his own condition, as opposed to him also trying to escape from the U.S. Government. There's just slightly too much going on, considering the fact that it's not a long film.

And the thing that makes it feel VERY detached from the MCU? NO POST-CREDITS SCENE!

So, after watching the first two films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this is how my personal ranking is looking:
  1. Iron Man (2008)
  2. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Next up: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Marvel Movie Marathon: 'Iron Man' (2008)

*This post contains spoilers for Iron Man (2008). You have been warned!*

The one that started it all. I believe that this was the first Marvel movie that I ever saw (fittingly enough, as it IS the first instalment in the MCU), but it's not one of the films that stands out to me all that much. However, it's definitely one that I appreciate a lot more when I watch it years later in the context of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. As I rewatched this film again to start this little series, I found myself wincing at certain moments that hurt in hindsight after watching The Avengers (2012) and Avengers: Infinity War (2018), so I suppose that's a sign of consistency in this cinematic universe that has been running for ten years now. After watching the other films and seeing how many evolutions the Iron Man suit has gone through, and how Tony Stark himself has evolved over the course of all these films, it gives me an odd sense of nostalgia, and the unpleasant feeling that, if Tony dies in Avengers: Endgame, I will probably cry quite a lot.

Is it any wonder that the most memorable part of this film is Tony Stark himself? He's arguably the best character in the entire MCU, although I feel that I may be saying that a lot about many characters as we get into the rest of the movies. With that being said, anybody who doesn't instantly like Tony Stark is clearly someone who isn't worth bothering with. Tony is one of those 'lovable asshole' characters who are flawed yet absolutely adored nevertheless. He's impulsive, he's sarcastic, he's borderline misogynistic, he's out of control, he's late to meetings and arrives whenever it suits him...the list goes on. But there's more to him than that. He's courageous, he makes decisions for the greater good, he cares about those close to him, and he ultimately does what's right. A whole subplot of the film is basically him attempting to shut down his father's weapon-manufacturing company because he knows that the world does not need any more bad guys getting hold of weapons. Underneath the 'I'm a billionaire and I can do whatever I want' facade, he has a big heart. And yeah, that's not exactly a groundbreaking observation on my part considering the fact that Pepper Potts acknowledges this fact by gifting him with 'proof that Tony Stark has a heart', but it needs to be reiterated.

Tony and Pepper's developing relationship throughout the film kind of says it all, because Tony spends so much time alone and without many real friends that the only times we see the real him is when he's around Pepper. Their relationship is different from the usual tired 'boy meets girl and they fall in love and live happily ever after' subplot. They are just two people who do not have anyone else, who are always in very close proximity to each other and have therefore seen each other at their highest and lowest moments, and they help to balance each other out. It's a relationship that doesn't evolve into anything officially romantic in this film, but it's one that we root for nonetheless. Typical of me to talk about the romance in this movie as opposed to anything of real substance, but the MCU characters are so interesting that I barely feel like talking about anything else. After you watch this film, chances are you'll remember the characters and their interactions before you remember any of the action.

One thing that I will say is that the way that this film begins and ends makes it feel like this movie is ridiculously important, like it's worthy of starting the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It begins by blasting AC/DC at you and gifting you with the scene of Tony in an army truck, bantering with the soldiers, and it ends with Tony disobeying orders in very characteristic fashion to tell a crowd of eager journalists 'I am Iron Man.' If we're counting the post-credits scene, the film actually ends with the appearance of Nick Fury, and the teasing of The Avengers (2012). It's a film that leaves you feeling like something big is coming, and like it's the start of some sort of new era. And it is. Phase One of the MCU might not be my favourite of the phases, but there's no denying that it sets everything up brilliantly, and there's no better character to start off with than Iron Man, in my opinion.

Since I'm going to be adding each Marvel movie to the ranking as and when I review them, the table currently only looks like this:

  1. Iron Man (2008)

It's simultaneously the best and worst movie at the moment, but as the list fills out, it'll find its true place. At least, it'll find its place on the list according to my opinion...

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Marvel Movie Marathon: A Quick Intro

Before I went to see Avengers: Infinity War last year, I watched all of the Marvel movies in order in preparation. This was before I had properly started blogging again, and I didn't take the opportunity to give my opinions on any of the films or rank them or even just live-tweet my reactions. I had been watching some of these films for the first time, after all, and it would have been the perfect time to write 'first impression' reviews for those ones. For the ones that I had seen multiple times, it would have been fun to pick out little details that I hadn't noticed before.

So now, I'd like to rectify my mistake by watching all of the Marvel movies once again to prepare for the release of Avengers: Endgame, and by reacting to/reviewing each and every one of them. I'm going to buy plenty of popcorn and assorted other snacks, sit back with my notebook, and plough my way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe one more time.

A few things about this marathon before we start:
  1. Technically, I'm not 'marathoning' these movies since I'm not watching them one after another in one day, but eh. I want that sweet sweet alliteration in the title of this little series, so let's just pretend that it's a real movie marathon.
  2. I'm going to watch these films in order of release date (beginning with Iron Man) instead of according to the MCU timeline (beginning with Captain America: The First Avenger). Not sure if that's a controversial move or not, but who really cares? 
  3. I'm going to be ranking them all as I watch them in the same way that I Hate Everything does with his 'Search For The Worst' series: adding each film to the list one at a time until I reach the end of the marathon with a complete ranking from best to worst. The overall ranking will just be based on my personal opinion and how much enjoyment I get out of each film. 
So, with those points in mind, let's begin! Stay tuned for the first instalment tomorrow...

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

'Cancel Culture' & Critical Thinking

For a few weeks now, I've been trying to find things to write about that really matter, but it's been fruitless. There are plenty of issues that I could discuss, definitely, but I never seem to be able to find the right argument, or indeed any argument at all. Most of the posts I have started are currently sitting in my 'Drafts' box, waiting to be finished, even though most of them never will be.

So instead, I'm just going to talk about something more general that has been bugging the hell out of me lately: 'cancel culture'.

In case you're unsure of what 'cancel culture' means, it's essentially the concept of condemning a person and calling for them to be made irrelevant because of something that they have done at any point in their lives. And when I say 'at any point in their lives', I really mean at any point. Told an edgy and offensive joke as a teenager? Boom, you're cancelled, even if you're now in your late twenties and have long since grown out of that behaviour. 'Cancel culture' represents this very dangerous and very wrong belief that people cannot grow and change, and cannot admit to their past failings to become better people. We live in a bizarre world where people are barely even given a chance to defend themselves after a blunder, and instead of being educated on what they said or did that was wrong, instead of being given the chance to explain or provide context, they are blocked, silenced and demonised.

But 'cancel culture' is not always a bad thing. It gives us a chance to start fighting back against people who truly deserve it: celebrities who have abused their power over the course of decades, people who are consistently discriminatory in the things they say or do, scammers who hide their greed for money and fame under an innocent façade. In serious cases, 'cancel culture' can actually be beneficial, like the boycott against R. Kelly. It reminds us that we have the power to do good in the world when we actually put our hearts and minds into it, and when we start thinking rationally.

On the other hand, 'cancel culture' has become so toxic that people are now getting 'cancelled' left, right and centre for things that barely matter in the grand scheme of things. It's exhausting, and it makes being on the Internet an absolute drag. So, what's my solution to this?

Simple. Just use critical thinking.

I never thought that close reading would ever have a use in the real world, but now it seems that all that time I spent in secondary school reading Brighton Rock and making huge lists of notes about symbolism and subtext has actually paid off. It seems that most people nowadays have lost the ability to read between the lines, to close-read an article and pick up on the underlying mood and message, or have even lost the ability to read an article in full before commenting on the matter in hand. Most people seem to just read a headline, form an opinion based off nothing but clickbait and spectacle, and proceed to tweet something along the lines of '[insert name here] is trash and if you still support them after this, unfollow me'. It's incredibly frustrating, but it makes it very refreshing when somebody actually reads the article in full, picks up on all the little nuances in the text, and leaves an insightful comment underneath, talking things out like an adult.

Take the recent Liam Neeson drama as an example. Obviously, it caused outrage on Twitter when people simply saw headlines such as 'Liam Neeson: after a friend was raped, I wanted to kill a black man', which isn't even a line that appears in the original interview. It's a clickbait headline that lacks any of the nuance or subtext of the issue at hand, and were people to simply read that headline and not hear any other information on the matter, of course they're going to believe that Liam Neeson is a hideous racist. There's no mention of the fact that this event occurred decades ago, no mention of his obvious remorse for his actions, no mention of anything at all that might diminish the shock value of the situation. Read the article here, and I mean actually read it. There are so many little moments that add more dimension and context to the scenario. He keeps pausing and taking deep breaths. The journalist adds that his voice trembles at certain moments, like he knows how bad this is going to sound once it's out in the world. It reads like a confession from a man who understands his mistakes (although not entirely, since he glosses over the race and rape aspects of the story to simply focus on his own trauma and desire for revenge, which I feel is the REAL problem here), not a boastful or bold statement from someone who has racist views so deeply ingrained into his brain that he can't change his ways.

I might write a whole article about this situation one day because there's far too much information to go into just now in this piece. If anyone wants me to talk about it, then let me know, but until then, let's get back to 'cancel culture'.

The point I'm trying to make is that, after this interview surfaced, I saw so many tweets along the lines of 'Whoa, so Liam Neeson hates black people? Never watching his movies again,' which are so clearly from people who have not read the article and who have not understood the context. They are tweets from people who are prepared to disregard anybody who doesn't have a perfect track record. I'm far from praising Neeson for his confession (I've seen plenty of people on that side of the argument, and it makes me feel a bit ill to see people saying 'He should be APPLAUDED for this!') but there's no doubt that it was divisive enough for me to get a clearer idea of how 'cancel culture' really works. I don't have any answers here about how to deal with 'cancel culture' as a whole, but I do have some advice for those who always find themselves stuck in the middle with their views, seeing all sides and feeling unsure as to where they should stand.

  1. Firstly, I'd advise not getting involved in anything straight away. After a shocking story breaks, the Internet is usually full of extreme opinions and loud voices clamouring to be the first to say something. It's a very intimidating place to be, and I wouldn't recommend it. They're the first ones to 'cancel' someone without knowing the full story, and the first ones to blindly defend their heroes. No one ends up happy by diving into the issue immediately. Once several days have gone by, more information will have emerged (hopefully), and it'll be easier to form an opinion.
  2. Bear in mind that context always matters. If the issue at hand is important to you (and if it's a big divisive issue on the Internet, it's usually important to me), find out as much about it as you can before forming a very extreme opinion based on limited knowledge. 
  3. Learn to be critical, and learn how to read between the lines. Plenty of stories have more nuance to them than headlines and hashtags would suggest. Close reading is such an important skill to have when it comes to scandals, because it involves weighing up the good and the bad, working people out by paying attention to the words they use, the attitudes they portray, and of course, their actions.
  4. Each scandalous story is its own entity. Treat it as such. I'm not a fan of broad generalisations, and the idea that every scenario needs to be handled in the same way is ridiculous. Try not to grade on a curve or compare stories, because that will inevitably lead to a lot of context getting lost in the comparison.
  5. Ask yourself if it really matters. So many people are 'cancelled' every day over things that really don't matter in the real world. If it's not important to you, if it's not an issue that's close to your heart, if it's not outwardly hurting anybody or detrimental to society as a whole, then please just leave it. Don't bother yourself with pointless negativity. Hypocritical of me to say this since I constantly involve myself in issues that don't concern me (this article being Exhibit A), but hey, I never said I was good at taking my own advice. 
And I hasten to add, at the end of the day, it's totally your opinion as to whether or not someone should be 'cancelled'. If something they have said or done offends you and you don't wish to be a fan of theirs anymore, then that's fine. You do you, after all. It's your life, and you should be allowed to support people who you admire, as well as avoid those who you dislike or disagree with. It's a very personal decision. There will be people who will never again watch a movie starring Liam Neeson because of this confession. Longtime fans of his will turn their backs on him, and that's their choice. I'm not here to change anybody's minds; I'm just here to give my thoughts on the matter. 

I'd like to leave you with this. This is a quote from an article I wrote a while back about James Gunn being fired from Disney because of his history of offensive jokes:

'...I urge you to please consider what I have written about people changing and improving from their past behaviour the next time that somebody is condemned on any kind of social media. If it were you, you would be quick to defend yourself and try to convince the faceless mob of Twitter trolls that you have changed, and that your past behaviour does not represent you anymore. Please do not be so quick to lose faith in people before you understand their journey. They might just surprise you.'

And it's here that I would also like to bring up an opinion that has always stuck with me since the first moment I heard it: Eddie Izzard's opinion that we don't need as many as TEN commandments, and that if we all simply followed the one rule 'Do unto others as you would have others do unto you', the world would be a much better place. I 100% agree, and I think that's what I'm trying to say to end this piece. Try a little bit of empathy, and put yourself in this person's shoes. If their intentions are pure or if they are trying to change their ways, why would you try to make out that they are a villain? If it were you, you wouldn't appreciate people spreading lies about you, claiming that you cannot change or grow or become a better version of yourself. Everybody has skeletons in their closet. Everybody. We can't keep 'cancelling' everybody who slips up or makes one little mistake, or even those who have controversial pasts but have changed their ways, because then we will have nobody left. If you're holding out for perfection in those you idolise, you'll never ever be satisfied. It's another one of those scenarios in which you need to pick your battles, and decide who is worthy of your support and time. Make your decisions, but be rational. That's all I'm saying.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

Random (& Cheap!) Makeup & Beauty Finds

A few days ago, my best friend came down to Dundee to spend 24 hours in the city. You probably would expect us to have visited the V&A or the McManus Galleries, to have seen a show at the Rep Theatre or watched a critically-acclaimed film at the DCA.

But instead, we went on a scavenger hunt around the city to find makeup bargains because we're both a bit makeup-mad. 

I should say right at the outset that my bestie undoubtedly had the best find. Sitting on the makeup table in TKMaxx was an Anastasia Beverly Hills Subculture palette, untouched and almost half the recommended retail price. She would have been mad not to pick it up. We had fun swatching the shades once we were back at mine, and the colours were ridiculously beautiful and buttery-smooth, quite different from what I was expecting considering the negative reviews that had surrounded the palette upon its release. Maybe my mate found one from a good batch because there didn't seem to be much fall-out at all. 

This post isn't a full-on review of the Subculture palette, though. This is about all the little bits and bobs that I picked up while we were out in town together, because the evening after I had loaded my bag and pockets full of new makeup goodies, I sat down in front of my mirror to try them all out with the kind of excitement that only new makeup can bring. Here's a quick list of what I picked up before we get into things:

Cyclax Nature Pure Apricot Facial Scrub
Eye Candy Dramatise Strip Lashes

PS...Coconut Ice Lip Scrub
PS...Primer Water
PS...Brow Enhancing Serum

Make Up Gallery Good To Glow Matte Bronzer in the shade Matte Medium 2
Make Up Gallery Soft Kohl Eyeliner in the shade Brown 4

W7 On The Rocks Eye Colour Palette
NYX Turnt Up! Lipsticks, including the shades Mirage & Flawless

Secondhand makeup that my lovely friend gifted to me:
Soph X Revolution Highlighter Palette
No. 7 Stay Perfect Liquid Eyeliner
NARS Lip Gloss in the shade Turkish Delight

And now, here's what happened when I tried everything out:

Cyclax Nature Pure Apricot Facial Scrub
Before starting with the makeup, I took the apricot face scrub for a spin. I suppose it was my fault that my face felt a little raw after I had scrubbed it onto my skin since the instructions specify that you should apply it 'gently', and I was practically attacking my spot-prone cheeks, but oh well. I'll remember for next time. It left my skin feeling very smooth, I'll give it that, plus the tub is huge and it only cost me 99p! Absolute bargain for something that only needs to be used 1-2 times a week. I'm willing to bet this will last me at least six months if not a whole year. 

PS...Coconut Ice Lip Scrub
I may have reluctantly turned my back on the (extremely delicious) bubblegum lip scrub from Lush, but I couldn't resist a coconut-flavoured scrub for half the price from Primark, and I'm glad that I didn't stifle the urge. I have been struggling with an old New Look lip scrub which is oddly clumpy and sticky, unlike this one which is gritty and fine, and actually felt like it was exfoliating my lips when I used it. I'm sure that the ingredients in the Primark lip scrub don't exactly make it as safe for consumption as the Lush ones, but I just had to sneak a taste of the coconut one, and it was pretty darn tasty. If I suddenly fall ill, it's probably because I've been poisoned by flavoured cosmetics. Taste aside, it left my lips feeling soft, and once I added my usual Maybelline Babylips Balm on top, they felt smoother than they had in ages.

PS...Primer Water
Another Primark find was a large bottle of priming water, a type of product that I had only tried once before. As much as I enjoyed priming water, I never really trusted it to work on my oily skin, but what harm would it do to add a priming water to my collection, even to use in addition to my usual silicone primer before a night out to ensure that my makeup looks flawless? I was pleasantly surprised by this Primark water, as it turns out - it left my skin feeling slightly tacky and ready for makeup.

Make Up Gallery Good To Glow Matte Bronzer in the shade Matte Medium 2
I dragged my friend into Poundland after seeing their makeup stand through the window, and since every product was only (you guessed it) £1 each, I felt no regrets by adding this bronzer to my makeup collection. That's what I love about cheaper makeup - if it's garbage, you didn't waste much money, and if it's great, you've found a hidden gem! This bronzer, while not quite a hidden gem, was nevertheless very nice: warm-toned (perhaps a little too warm-toned for me, but I'm trying to warm up my appearance by tanning, so it might work on me eventually) and buildable. 

Soph X Revolution Highlighter Palette
My friend knows that I'm a bit of a Revolution Beauty nut, so when she heard that I didn't yet have the Soph X Revolution Highlighter Palette while she was debating whether or not to give hers away, the solution was obvious. Her secondhand palette has clearly been used and loved, but for someone who had moved on to Becca highlighters a long time ago, she had no real use for it anymore, and placed it into my eager hands when she arrived in Dundee. It's not on the same level as my favourite highlighter palette (the Revolution Beauty Incandescent Face Quad, the best thing you can buy with a £10 note), but it's lovely nonetheless, with a beautiful range of shades for any occasion and any look. Genuinely feel like SophDoesNails can do no wrong when it comes to her makeup collaborations!

PS...Brow Enhancing Serum
As someone with very sparse and light natural brows, I was curious to know what this brow serum was. It doesn't come with an ingredients list or any instructions, simply a slogan on the tube that says 'for thicker, longer and fuller looking brows'. I added it to my basket anyway, keen to know whether or not I'll see a difference in my brows as a result of using it. I'll keep you posted. All I know is that it seems like a nice alternative to using a clear mascara to prime my brows before adding pomade and gel. Please make my brows thicker and fuller - I'm counting on you!

Make Up Gallery Soft Kohl Eyeliner in the shade Brown 4
And once again, I have to reveal that I'm a bit of a dingus. I was sure that I was buying an eyebrow pencil, but instead picked up a dark brown eyeliner. Nevertheless, I gave it a go on my eyebrows just in case, but it is clearly not meant to be used anywhere but the eyes. It's surprisingly soft and pigmented, I must say, considering the fact that I have bought eyeliner pencils from Rimmel and Maybelline in the past that were so stiff that I could barely get any colour out of them. Embarrassing that eyeliner pencils from these well-known drugstore brands are being outperformed by Poundland cosmetics. I can imagine that this eyeliner will actually perform very well once I get around to using it on my eyes. It was too dark for my eyebrows anyway, so using it for them was an all-round bad decision. Well done, me.

W7 On The Rocks Eye Colour Palette - Outside

W7 On The Rocks Eye Colour Palette - Inside
While my friend snagged a true ABH Subculture palette, I made the decision to add the same colours to my collection but in a different form. This dupe palette cost me £4, and the colours are pretty much identical apart from the names, the undertones in the white shade, and the fact that one of the glitters is a lot greener in the cheaper version than the real one. I was skeptical while I was in the store, and swatched a couple of the colours in a palette that had already been opened and pawed by other shoppers, and while it's obviously not even in the same league as ABH, it's a suitable substitute. It's actually quite nice - the shadows work well with the double-ended brush that comes with it, and even the brush itself is very fluffy and soft, much like the actual ABH brush that my friend let me keep (did I mention that I love her?). So yes, this one is a win. Never thought I'd say that I like a product from W7, but here we are.

No. 7 Stay Perfect Liquid Eyeliner
Here, we have one of the few products that didn't work out, but luckily, it's one of the products that I got for free. Once a part of my friend's makeup collection, she offered it to me in the hopes that I would like it, although she warned me that the applicator was a bit weird. I'm so used to the ultra-thin brush of my favourite NYX liquid liner that this spongey and slightly thicker applicator was difficult to use. My liner turned out uneven. The formula is good, so that's a plus, but I definitely won't be reaching for this when I next feel like doing a cat eye.

Eye Candy Dramatise Strip Lashes
I'm not exactly the biggest fan of false lashes. Every time I try them, it never seems to work out. However, when I saw these wispy and more natural-looking lashes staring at me from a shelf in Bodycare, I knew I needed to try them out. And boy, am I glad that I did! These were fairly easy to apply, even for a novice like me, and once they were on, they simply looked like my lashes but longer! I only had to add a little mascara to blend everything together, and voilà! I'll definitely try out other lashes from this brand when I get the chance.

NYX Turnt Up! Lipsticks in the shades Mirage & Flawless
I did a double-take when I saw NYX lipsticks in B&M. It's a store that seems to be good for finding products that have recently been discontinued, things you thought were gone forever but which are still clinging on. With these NYX lippies, it was a choice between a set of brights or nudes, and I went for the nude ones. Once I applied the palest shade Mirage to my lips, I realised that the shade was too pale for my skin tone, and for a moment, I had a 'foundation lips' moment. I used the mid shade in the set named Flawless instead, which turned out a little better. However, as someone who favours thick, matte lipsticks, this sheer formula was a bit too wishy-washy for my taste. I've tried them since and they work well when they're layered up and blotted with a tissue between applications, but as I looked at myself in the mirror after trying them for the first time, I decided the look needed a little something else.

NARS Lip Gloss in the shade Turkish Delight
Enter the high-end lip gloss that I had been gifted by my bestie. I'm not a huge fan of glosses, but having never tried any NARS products before, I thought I'd give it a go to see how it differed from other cheaper glosses that I had used previously. It's thick and sticky, not something that I would pile on in layers or wear on its own, but which gave new life to my lipstick. It's a beautiful shade of pink that warmed up my lips too, for which I was grateful since the two nude NYX lipsticks are both on the cool side of the colour spectrum.

Overall, I was happy with how everything turned out. Buying makeup is always a gamble, but I always find it's less risk to buy things that are less expensive, as I mentioned above. I always like experimenting with new things too, hence why I bought the facial scrub, the wispy false lashes, the priming water, and the brow serum, and the places to look for these things are normally places in which you wouldn't expect to find good makeup: the cosmetics sections of clothing stores, pound shops, and even charity and secondhand shops, which is where I once found Urban Decay eyeshadow primers. Don't forget TKMaxx either, which is a fantastic place to rummage around in search of some bargains on high-end makeup. Basically, doing your makeup on a budget shouldn't have to be boring or infuriating, and there's makeup everywhere you turn these days, so there are products to suit any budget. Cheap makeup isn't always poor quality, just as high-end makeup isn't always worth the money.

I'd quite like to write a little more about makeup and beauty products in the future. I'm by no means a guru, but I love finding weird items and cheap products that I think will add something to my makeup routine. Writing about makeup feels like a copout in terms of blog material, but it's a lot of fun to sit down in front of your mirror with a load of new things to try, although I know from experience what little fun it is when one product manages to ruin your whole look. I'll count myself lucky on this occasion that I found products that work. Now, excuse me while I go and mess around with my face again.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Harry Potter & The Downward Spiral

As is the case for most people my age, the Harry Potter series is a huge part of my life, and was an even bigger part of my childhood. I grew up reading those books and picking on the flaws in the movies, and I believe that the franchise will forever be in the hearts of those who were raised on the tales of the iconic characters and their magical adventures.

But recently, I've found that I've become less and less interested in the new developments in the world of Harry Potter. The franchise is still evolving, but I've tuned a lot of it out. Partly, it's because I've grown up, and while the stories will always be important to me, they've simply taken a back seat now that I'm an adult. However, another huge reason for this sense of ennui is the simple fact that the Harry Potter franchise has been so unnecessarily drawn out for a long time now, and I'm only just noticing it.

I suppose it started with Harry Potter & the Cursed Child (although in my opinion, it started when the HP film series began the ridiculous trend of splitting the last movie into two parts, but that's just me). I thought it was an interesting concept, but the execution fell really flat in retrospect. The first time I read it, I enjoyed it. But the more I look back over it and remember the events that unfold in the script, the more it seems like fanfiction, not an actual published work by an established author. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to find on WattPad - a story that had been written by a teenage fan who wanted to bring their own '19 years later' idea to life, and to continue the story in a way that satisfied them. And there's nothing wrong with fanfiction, for the record, but I'm starting to feel that fanfiction has actually started seeping into the mainstream.

Allow me to give you an example of this trend: a little film that came out in 2018 called Solo: A Star Wars Story. I saw it once, and I probably wouldn't watch it again, partly because I'm not a massive Star Wars fan, but also because it was boring and unnecessary. It's an amazing example of retroactive justification, and an example of how filmmakers have the ability to sap any sense of audience imagination out of a franchise. What I mean by that is they explain the backstories of things that the audience probably never even wanted to know because they were content with Han Solo simply being a character in the original Star Wars universe. If somebody wanted to speculate about his past and any aspects of his life before he first appeared in the movies, it was up to the audience members to create little backstories in their heads, to use their imaginations, to debate where his name came from, how he became a pilot, etc. But now, all of that creative leeway has been stolen by those who made this wholly-unnecessary film. It's as if someone took their sub-standard Han Solo fanfiction and brought it to life on the big screen. I feel as if I shouldn't be so harsh on a film that most people seemed to enjoy and which is perfectly harmless viewing, but it just irks me so much that this kind of content is lapped up by audiences. It's the reason I can actually defend The Last Jedi (and there goes any credibility I may have had): because at least that film talks about moving forwards and leaving the past behind to die. It tries to do something different with the franchise instead of rehashing the same storylines.

But I digress. This post is about Harry Potter, not Star Wars, and for me, the moment that the Harry Potter franchise started to go in a similar direction was the release of the first Fantastic Beasts movie. It was a perfectly fine film - I even went to see it at the cinema with a guy I was seeing at the time because we were both huge Harry Potter fans - but it didn't make me feel anything stronger than 'Huh, that was alright, I guess'. And no, I haven't seen The Crimes of Grindelwald, and I'm not interested in watching it at all if it contradicts the original seven books/eight films. I don't find spinoffs particularly exciting because they almost always come across like a quick cash-grab. After all, people will go and see any film if you slap the name of a massive franchise on the posters.

The Harry Potter books were special because they were about Harry Potter and his adventures at Hogwarts. The magical world felt real and uncomplicated, as if wizards and witches could actually exist alongside us Muggles without us knowing. But that magic starts to fizzle out when you introduce far too many characters to this world, as well as a hundred new magical abilities that were never mentioned in the modern Harry Potter novels. The wizarding world has started to feel too chaotic, too overcrowded, and for the first time, it doesn't feel believable. It's odd to say that adding too much detail into a world makes it feel less real, but it's true.

Up until now, though, I've been ignoring the most obvious problem with all Harry Potter material released after the original series: J.K. Rowling herself. The longer that this franchise drags itself along, the stronger I feel that she is a person who doesn't know when to quit. Imagine for a moment that the original seven books and eight films were the only parts of the HP franchise that existed. It would be blissful. The characters would be revered, and there would still be plenty of imaginative space left for fans of the series to come up with their own stories that existed outside of the canon. But J.K. Rowling has essentially run her own creation into the ground at this point with too much world-building, too many spinoffs, and just too much STUFF. Some good things have come out of it, like certain aspects of Pottermore: giving fans a chance to be officially sorted into a Hogwarts house and find out what form their Patronus would take is a real treat. Although I've never been, the Harry Potter Studios sound wonderful, allowing the fans a glimpse behind the scenes of the films, and giving them a chance to explore the wizarding world for themselves. There are plenty of parts of the Harry Potter franchise that give back to the fans, and I'm grateful for those things.

However, I'm not particularly grateful for the gratuitous information that J.K. Rowling inserts into the canon at random. If anybody has been paying attention to Harry Potter news at all in the past week, you'll know the tweet that I'm referencing here, and that tweet (and the subsequent backlash) is the reason I'm writing any of this at all.

Yes, I'm talking about the infamous 'wizards used to relieve themselves where they stood and vanish the evidence' tweet. Does J.K. not realise that this nugget of 'trivia' completely destroys the entire plot of the second book? That's not an observation that I made, by the way, although I wish I had. Some absolute genius replied to Pottermore's tweet with this:

I cracked up before realising that he was absolutely right. The Chamber of Secrets, a chamber which can only be accessed via bathroom plumbing, would have no reason to exist if wizards could simply vanish away their own bodily fluids. People with far more knowledge of the HP universe than me have also observed the fact that Vanishing charms are only taught in fourth/fifth year, so how did young wizards cope with this scenario? Also, are you telling me that MUGGLES came up with an idea for a human waste disposal system before, you know, WIZARDS? Get outta here.

There's so much wrong with this tweet that I can't get into it all here. Just do what I did and look at the replies on Twitter. I guarantee it's a good laugh. But J.K. has done worse than making up unbelievable facts about what wizards did before bathrooms. She is the queen of retroactive justification, saying that Hermione was never specified to be white in the books, and also hinting at Albus Dumbledore's homosexuality. However, it's easy to realise that these facts were simply made up long after the books were published to gain brownie points - there are moments in the books where Hermione's face is described as 'white' or 'pale', rendering that first point moot, and the question of Dumbledore's sexuality is never raised in the books, nor in The Crimes of Grindelwald, which would have been the ideal time to expand upon that concept since fans believed that Grindelwald and Dumbledore were more than friends. If those characters truly had those characteristics, they would have been mentioned in the original material, and not thrown in as an afterthought.

I've never been a fan of the idea that a single person can 'destroy a franchise' or 'ruin my childhood', but I'm starting to understand it now. The magic of Harry Potter was that it was a story of good vs. evil set in a secret world that exists alongside our own. The books were intriguing, memorable and well-written, driven by fleshed-out characters and an almost immaculately-built world. There were plot-holes, of course, but it was hard to care when the stories were such a joy to read. The series ended on a satisfactory note with Harry, Ron and Hermione sending off their children to Hogwarts, and there was no need to add anything else to it that might contradict the source material. But now, we are stuck with two Fantastic Beasts movies that add nothing to the original canon and feature characters I couldn't care less about, and a play that needlessly tacks a hastily-written fanfiction-y Part 8 onto the end of an iconic book series, which also features new characters that I couldn't care less about, as well as characters who would have been better left as memories from the final chapter of The Deathly Hallows. The issue here is that the people behind the Harry Potter franchise don't seem to know when enough is enough, and although this is not an issue that is specific to Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling's creation is certainly one that springs to mind when it comes to creators ruining their own beloved characters and stories.

Of course, there are easy solutions to some of these problems. Don't read The Cursed Child. Don't watch the Fantastic Beasts films. Unfollow Pottermore and J.K. on Twitter so you don't see any more of these ridiculous 'facts'. Reread the original books and rewatch the original films to remember how much you love Harry Potter.

But I'm writing this article anyway because I want to send out a message to all creators out there: KNOW WHEN TO QUIT. Yes, creators and artists need to take risks, and some may not pay off. Maybe these were J.K. Rowling's risks that blew up in her face, and if they are, then that sucks (although she should have seen the backlash coming with that trivia tweet). But creators also need to know when enough is enough. If you want to create a quick, cheap spinoff that has nothing to do with the source material and even ends up contradicting it, you've gone too far. It just ends up looking greedy and thoughtless, like you're neglecting the world that you YOURSELF created. If you create something that people love and go crazy for, push it as far as you can, but know when to pull back. It's for this very reason that I'm nervous to watch the reunion episode of The Inbetweeners that aired on New Year's Day: I love the original series so much that any more stuff that's added to it is guaranteed to be a disappointment. It's the reason that I went into screenings of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Deadpool 2 with a feeling of trepidation, since I had loved the first instalments of the series so much that the second parts were sure to be let-downs (although in both cases, they weren't).

Know when to go forward with a project, know when to let it die. That's pretty much what I'm saying. And it sucks that I have to aim a comment like that at someone like J.K. Rowling, who I admired so much when I was young and attempting to write my own blockbuster series. But times change, and franchises change, not always for the better.
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