Category: Film


A few weeks ago I had a burst of inspiration. I was adding to old material and creating new work for what felt like a whole week solid. It was just pouring out of me and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) stop it. The last few weeks that wave of creativity has truly crashed and become a pathetic dribble of vague ideas, all due to that frustrating mess of distractions – life. In the past, when I’m struggling, I find I can take inspiration from music. I’ve said before that music is a large part of my life and, aside from the stuff I might sing along to in my car, I’ve got a bank of music I turn to if I want to jump-start a story in my head. Below are five of, what I think, are the most inspirational musicians for writing (as well as providing dramatic soundtracks for your day….or am I the only one who does that?)

Murray Gold – I’m a Doctor Who fan and Murray Gold’s soundtrack comes with a whole TARDIS full of inspiration. Tracks such as ‘The Master Tape’, ‘The Majestic Tale of the Madman with a Box’ and ‘The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble’ are awesome kick-starters for a dramatic showdown or fully-charged finale. A lot of Reset was written with Murray Gold’s series 4 soundtrack blasting in the background, particularly tracks from latter episodes. Not only has he composed some deliciously dramatic pieces, but his tracks, such as ‘The Dream of a Normal Death’, ‘Goodbye Pond’ and ‘The Long Song’ can also be beautifully poignant. I’ve used Murray Gold’s music to inspire my own work but I’ve also played it many times in the classroom to inspire creative writing (and the children always love it). It’s also worth noting that Gold has composed some wonderful incidental pieces for Torchwood, such as ‘Death of Toshiko’ which always makes me a bit damp around the eyes.

Scala & the Kolacny Brothers – I first heard their take on U2’s ‘With or Without You’ some years ago on an advert for Downton Abbey. It was such a haunting piece of music that I had to find out more, and I’ve since added their versions of ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Every breath you take’ to my writing playlist. Nothing quite tops ‘With or Without You’ when it comes to sending shivers up your arms, though.

Michael GiacchinoLost was one of my favourite TV shows and, apart from the bonkers characters and quirky mysteries, I loved it for its music. My favourite piece of incidental music from Lost is ‘Moving On’. I love how it rises and falls, from soft and gentle to a breath-taking crescendo that just makes you cry! (It’s also great for calming down rowdy Year 6s, I’ve found). Giacchino is also behind some amazing scores from films such as Up and Jurassic World.

John Williams – Speaking of Jurassic World/Park, I had to include the film’s original composer, who created that iconic theme tune (and, alright, I may have been guilty of playing it at full blast as I’ve driven around Wales). Whether you’re into dinos or not, it’s really difficult not to get excited when the music swells. Of course, Williams is also famous for the Star Wars soundtrack, which is equally as inspiring for dramatic writing.

Alan Menken – Responsible for creating some classic Disney tunes, I had to include Menken’s work. Regardless of the catchy songs, Menken’s back catalogue of instrumental scores alone is worthy of this list. From The Little Mermaid to Tangled , Menken has created many breathtaking pieces of music. One of my favourites is ‘Transformation’ from Beauty and the Beast. (Close your eyes, have a listen and feel happy!)

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There are two inspirations for this week’s post. The first is a festive memory, so let me take you back to Christmas Day 2016. Picture the scene:

Christmas dinner has been eaten. We’re all crashed out in the living room, Grandad flicking through the channels with the remote control. He stops at a cartoon meerkat and warthog. It’s Disney’s The Lion King. We’re all enjoying watching Timon and Pumba through the fuzzy full-of-food-ness when my Nanna pipes up. ‘What on earth have we got this on for? Load of rubbish…’. Me and my brother are obviously horrified. It’s The Lion King! Although our efforts are in vain, we try to convert her. We explain that it’s a classic that we watched as children and she sighs ‘Well, you’re not children now. I prefer things for adults. So should you.’ (My Grandad took a lot less convincing and he was soon gripped by Simba’s saga.)

Alright, she might have a miniscule point but my argument is – children’s films can be enjoyed by anyone. Some of the classics might seem fluffy and sickly on the outside but they are actually works of art. Someone’s livelihood has gone into creating this piece of film. The superficial piece of fluff my Nanna saw is actually the end product of many people’s hard work, so to class it as unworthy of adult attention isn’t very fair.

Many children’s films carry very grown up themes and dark moments, especially those that have taken inspiration from traditional tales. Look at Hercules, for example, Meg sacrifices her soul to the underworld. In Robin Hood, the villagers are being taxed into poverty. In Pinocchio the orphan boys are promised paradise and turneImage result for pinocchio gif donkeyd into donkeys! Some of these tales can be pretty grim (Pun fully intended. I make no apologies). And anybody who doesn’t cry during the first ten minutes of Up is simply inhuman. In The Princess and the Frog, the Ray the firefly dies! That’s right, Disney heartlessly kill off a character and audience members have to just get over it, whatever age they are. I was twenty when I was forced to watch the characters of Toy Story 3 accept their death in the incinerator and the tears still dripped from under my 3D glasses. Of course, before that, we had The Lion King, where Simba is led to believe he has killed his own father and lives with that guilt for years before learning the truth. Dark stuff for children to handle but they do so all the same. It might give us a few nightmares when we’re younger but it armours us for real life. The world isn’t sweets and bubblegum.

It’s a fact that as adults we get bogged down by all the life-stuff like careers and relationships and paying bills, we forget to let our imaginations stretch. Sometimes, opening your mind to a fantasy film is the perfect form of escapism. Sometimes after a day of work, when I’m flicking through my on-demand movies, I don’t want a gritty thriller that’s going to make me think. I want something that’s going to be visually appealing, some catchy tunes and perhaps a bit of magic on the side. That’s when I’ll unashamedly head for the family movies section.

Anyway, now that I’ve shared my Nanna’s disgraceful lack of movie taste, the second inspiration for this post comes from my favourite Disney film *drumroll* Beauty & the Beast. As I child I was desperate to be Lumiere. I love everything about the cartoon from the characters to the music so I was so excited to see the live action version this week (my review – perfect. My favourite character was the wardrobe. I’m only disappointed the wardrobes in my bedroom aren’t as fabulous.) Watching the new version transported me back to my childhood but I could also appreciate it from another point of view. I noticed the new variations on the score, beautiful visuals, easter eggs and subplots – stuff I might not have spotted as a child. Incidentally, this new version included Disney’s first ever ‘gay moment’ and first ever interracial kiss. So, in the world of film, it’s groundbreaking. Not bad for just a kids’ movie.

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Alright some of the old Disney stuff can hardly be seen as feminist (Cinderella and Ariel both changing in order to get a man? oi vey!) but a lot of these films can give good lessons to both children and adults. If you look at some of the more recent films, realistic relationships and moral dilemmas are being explored more and more. Big Hero 6 has the main character dealing with death twice. Up explores moving on after the death of a loved on. Frozen has Anna and Elsa realise they don’t need to marry princes, and instead the focus is on their sibling-love for each other. Things still aren’t perfect but the movie world is making small steps towards sending healthier messages to our children.

So I suppose I’m saying don’t judge a book by its cover….OR a film by its poster. Films for children were made by adults and it’s important we acknowledge the end product because some of them are works of art. Don’t be put off by their label. Release your inner-child, let your imagine run wild and be free!

Oh, and never diss The Lion King in front of me.

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Continuing with the HP re-read, it’s the turn of the penultimate book….

I really couldn’t remember much about Half-Blood Prince. A lot of the story felt completely new to me. However, that just makes for better reading, as I’ve spend the last couple of weeks gripped by Harry’s latest adventure.

Half-Blood Prince sets up the mega-finale of Deathly Hallows, introducing horcruxes, Tom Riddle’s past and, of course, bumping off Dumbledore. The book is not just one big plot device though. This is the book where the Hogwarts students are written as adults. Snogging, jealousy and hormones all appear in this book as we start to get the first solid references to romances between Hermione and Ron (I still can’t believe that, reading as a 15 year old, I didn’t see this coming!) and Harry and Ginny.

Ginny is a must stronger character in this book. She’s no longer the timid girl, who peeks out from behind her mother’s skirts and is too terrified to speak to Harry.  She is now fiery and mature, with a string of admirers. I was surprised at the lack of fuss from Ron when Harry and Ginny finally, and publicly, get together. It is a relationship that works. After those disasterous dates with Cho Chang, it’s  refreshing to see Harry in a happy, but brief, relationship. Happiness can never last whilst Voldemort’s at large and Harry makes the choice to end the relationship for the sake of Ginny’s safety. Ginny’s graciously accepts Harry’s decision, a testament to her true feeling for him. It’s clear to the reader that this is not the end.

Although the darkest book of the series so far (they really do keep getting darker, don’t they?), there are some moments of relief. The banter between Ron and Hermione is as good as ever and now tinged with stronger romantic tension. New potions master Horace Slughorn mixes in some comedy with his pompous and heavy-handed attempts to make links with his ‘most talented’ students.

The story builds to a gripping three act finale. Harry finally gets to join Dumbledore on an adventure to find a horcrux in the middle of an underground lake. Obviously, it doesn’t go to plan, leading to a terrifying attack of Inferi (basically…zombies) which leaves poor Dumbledore severely weakened. Harry forcing the poison into Dumbledore’s mouth (on Dumbledore’s orders) is not easy reading and a cruel twist in the beautiful friendship between headmaster and student. The next part of the epic ending sees the pair return to Hogwarts, only to find the castle under attack from Death Eaters. Frozen and hidden safely thanks to Dumbledore’s quick thinking, Harry is forced to watch as his headmaster is murdered by Snape. Trust is a huge theme of the series and Dumbledore’s last moments cast another cruel twist on the tale, as his strong trust in Snape leads to his demise. Snape’s true intentions are never quite known throughout the whole series, but the murder of Dumbledore seems to securely confirm his villainous nature. For now, at least.

The final act sees a dejected Harry mourn the loss of the last of his parental figures. It’s at this point that Harry realises the importance of the task ahead of him – he alone must stop Voldemort. But, of course, he’s not alone as Hermione and Ron are soon beside him, vowing not to return to Hogwarts until the war is over. Each book seems to age with its readers, with Half-Blood Prince carrying darker and more mature themes than its predecessors. These are not children’s books. The way Rowling describes the lake of bodies is genuinely creepy and I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to some of the fluffier descriptions of Philosopher’s Stone. Dumbledore’s funeral is also quite hard-going emotionally. You’ll be bawling like Hagrid by the end of the chapter.

Half-Blood Prince acts as a pre-cursor to the grand finale but also stands firm with its own tale. Rowling continues to deliver with her usual mix of emotion, humour and killer twists that you never see coming. Re-reading these stories ten years later is reminding me just how much I love them. These stories are perfectly written and I cannot wait to re-live the final chapter…

The great HP re-read continues and this week it is book five’s turn.

It’s the largest book (it could easily be used as a weapon) so I strategically planned to read to it over the Easter Holidays so I would actually have time to read and it wouldn’t take me thirty years to get through it (I have a chapter-a-day habit during term time. Any more than that and I, frustratingly, end up falling asleep.)

It’s been a good ten years since I read this series and, although I remember the gist of each book, a lot of things have slipped my mind – which in a way is great because it’s like I’m a new reader again. This book certainly coughed up a lot of surprises for me. I’d forgotten about occlumency, sirius’ mother, Bellatrix’s connection to the Malfoys, and Grawp. I was also surprised when Lockhart popped up in St Mungo’s. I’d signed Lockhart off as a character we wouldn’t see again so it was great to have that short scene, even if it was tinged with sadness. I can’t help feeling sorry for Lockhart. I know he was a first class prat but still….there was a moment of sympathy as he signed those autographs in his hospital bed. But of course, the main emotional pull of that chapter is the appearance of Frank and Alice Longbotton. Alluded to in previous books, this was our first glimpse at the severity of their condition and the impact it has had on Neville. Alice handing Neville a bubble gum wrapper was very touching and it’s easy to see how, as Dumbledore later explains, Neville could have easily been in Harry’s shoes. You can’t help feel immediate hatred for Bellatrix Lestrange before she’s even introduced! Her callous destruction of the Longbottoms serves as a warning of just how dangerous she can be….

Speaking of villains, this year’s Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher is probably the most evil yet – Dolores Umbridge. I remember her being my favourite DADA teacher because she was just so vile.  Umbridge’s danger is palpable because she is so desperate to rise to the top and please those in authority. I’ve met so many Umbridges – backstabbing, manipulative and quietly wicked – with a sickly sweet exterior. Ruthless throughout, the moment she suggests using the cruciatius curse is actually gasp-inducing. She a true villain. A villain that could be found in day-to-day life. She could be in any place of work , any family or on any street. That’s what makes her so frightening – we all know a Dolores Umbridge.

In terms of magical creatures, we’re introduced to the Thestrals in this book. JK has a clever habit of harking back to past stories with the invisible creatures pulling the Hogwarts carriages finally being revealed as Thestrals – dark, winged horses that can only be seen by people who have witnessed death. The mythology and legend surrounding the Thestrals is interesting with wizards believing them to bring bad luck due to their connotations with death. They’re described beautifully in the book and synch well with the darkness of the novel. 

Harry is certainly changed since Goblet. He spends a lot of the book arguing with his friends, which does get slightly tiresome. Hermione and Ron are relentlessly loyal to Harry so it is frustrating that he keeps snapping at them. His relationship with Cho provides a glimmer of happiness in quite a bleak book, but even that fizzles out due to her mistrust and Harry’s indifference. Cho was a promising character in Goblet, but in Phoenix she comes across as fickle and …well…a bit unstable. Yes, she’s grieving for Cedric, but nobody seems very sympathetic as she continues to breakdown in tears. I would have been interested to see Cho and Harry date but this was not meant to be and by the end it’s clear this relationship is a non-starter. I suppose it’s in Cho’s interest to stay away and stay safe.

This is certainly the most emotional book so far. Rowling set the bar in the final moments of Goblet, with the death of Cedric Diggory, but the last few chapters of Phoenix certainly meet that standard. The death of Sirius, Harry’s last remaining hope of family, is a suckerpunch. Voldemort using Harry to lure Sirius to his death is a clever move by Rowling which also gives way to some tragically dark moments. Harry’s resulting guilt is beautifully written – his angst, frustration and pain as he wanders the grounds of Hogwarts is very touching but the most poignant moment comes in his last conversation with Luna Lovegood. Luna seems to wander purposelessly throughout the book but she is finally defined in this last moment with Harry. It transpires that people have been taking oddball Luna’s possessions. Harry offers help but she proclaims

‘[I’ll] wait for it all to turn up…it always does in the end.’

Totally lost on me the first time round, but now as an adult I can see Rowling is using Luna to give profound advice to Harry. Nothing lasts forever and in the end everything works out one way or another. Another emotional moment comes from fan-favourite Dumbledore, as his finally explains the truth about the prophecy to Harry. Dumbledore is notably absent throughout most of the book, and here he explains he was deliberately avoiding Harry for his own protection. As Dumbledore admits his mistakes and reveals that he ‘simply cared too much’ for Harry, the reader can’t help feeling touched by the Headmaster’s attempts to keep Harry safe. His final admittance that he thought Harry had enough responsibility without being a prefect is a very strong moment and perhaps a defining one in Harry and Dumbledore’s friendship.

Goblet marked the start of a dark spiral to the finale and Phoenix certainly develops that. The death of Sirius, Harry’s last caring relative, begins Harry’s journey to adulthood and marks the death of his childhood. Not only does he now have to face the challenges of all young adults, but he also has that little problem of vanquishing the Dark Lord or dying at his wand. Yup, dark stuff.

 

The great HP re-read continues with Goblet of Fire, and this time I managed to squeeze in a re-watch too. This was the story I could remember the least about. I realised it’s been 16 years since I first read the book (feel old? Don’t give me a panic attack) and 11 since I saw the film.

It’s definitely the darkest HP story so far. This is where shizz gets real. The fun of the last three books is still evident but the story is streaked with dark overtones and takes a sinister turn in its final act, paving the way for final three books. By the last few pages there’s a real sense of the beginning of the end.

The story opens in Voldemort’s dilapidated former home. He’s hiding out with Wormtail and Nagini when he is interrupted by muggle Frank, who he quickly executes. It’s quite a disturbing start to the story and I remember as a ten year old noticing the shift in tone. The plot continues with lots of references to missing people, wizards tortured into insanity (poor Neville) and the introduction of three terrible curses. I’ve said before that JK is able to skilfully handle adult themes whilst maintaining a focus on her younger audience. Well, this is even more evident in this story.

This is also the story where Ron, Hermione and Harry start…well…erm….noticing the opposite sex. I totally missed this the first time round (well…I was ten!) but Ron’s crush on Hermione is so obvious and quite cute to read. (I know. I’ll vomit later.) It did strike me as a bit weird though that Viktor Krum is supposed to be 18 and Hermione is supposed to be 14.  I don’t think many 18 year olds nowadays would want to pursue 14 year olds.  Also, why does everyone suddenly have long hair? Harry…Ron…Neville…all the boys have suddenly developed floppy long locks! Perhaps the Hogwarts Hairdresser was another of Voldemort’s victims…..

The biggest shock of the fourth book is the death of Cedric Diggory. Knowing Cedric is about to meet a grisly end certainly adds a chilling dynamic to his introduction. It’s clear his father,Amos, idolises him which makes his final appearance even more upsetting. Reading/watching Cedric gear up for the final task with the knowledge he won’t survive is actually awful and almost unbearable. I actually wept (stop chucking) during the film as everyone celebrated the end of the tournament, slowly realising Harry was crouched over Cedric’s body. Wow, talk about dark. Amos’ cries of ‘That’s my son!’ nearly broke me *sniff*. His actual death, in both versions of the story, is so swift and sudden. It’s genuinely shocking and you can’t help feel that he deserves a farewell speech or heroic moment or something. Cedric is built into a key character throughout the story, and comes across as a decent, genuine guy. Then flash. He’s dead. Just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. How cruel. I suppose this re-establishes Voldemort’s ruthlessness and the fact that he’s just so damn evil. What a bastard, eh?

Anyway, here are five things missing from the film that are awesome in the book.

  • P.E.W. – Remember Hermione’s civil rights campaign for house elves? I’d forgotten all about it to, but her determination makes for some fun scenes.
  • Dobby – Our favourite little elf was cut from the film but plays an integral part in the book, handing Harry the gillyweed he uses in the second Triwizard task. In the film, Neville gives him the weed (*ahem*) which does kind of make sense with him being a top herbologist.
  • Blast ended Skrewts and the Sphinx – No, this isn’t a hip new indie band. There’s quite an absence of magical creatures in the movie compared to the book, with unicorns and flobberworms also not making it to the big screen. Although the mermaids, dragons and grindylows are visually brilliant, it would have been nice to see the odd Skrewt appear.
  • Beetle Skeeter – Journalist Rita Skeeter’s subplot it tied up quite neatly in the final chapter of the book, as Hermione reveals her to be an unregistered animagus who can transform herself into a beetle. In the film, no reason is given for her ability to seek out secret scoops.
  • Ludo Bagman, Peeves, Bill and Charlie Weasley – These characters, particularly Bagman, play vital parts throughout various plots in the book but sadly don’t appear in the film. Ah, the curse of the edit strikes again. Let’s just blame Voldemort. Or the Hogwarts Hairdresser. 

Review: Maleficent

On Sunday afternoon I paid a rare visit to the cinema. The film of choice – Maleficent..

Visually, it’s brilliant. The landscape of the Moors is beautiful and a cinematic treat for the 3D viewer. The mystical creatures of the realm are also stunning (and extremely weird – some of them are bordering on creepy!) King Stefan’s castle is also magnificently brought to life whilst still remaining familiar to fans of the original Disney animation.

Obviously, the star of the show is Angelina Jolie. There’s no denying she is fantastic and perfectly cast as the Mistress of all Evil. I was genuinely baffled at how much she sounded like Eleanor Audley (who provided the voice of Maleficent for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.) It would have been easy to portray Maleficent as a camp, 2D villain but Jolie puts her own believable spin on the character.

Maleficent is funny. I loved that! I was worried that this film wasn’t going to carry many laughs  but Jolie gives Maleficent a wicked sense of humour. My favourite part of the film comes as Maleficent interacts with baby Aurora through an open window and, stuck for exactly what to say, Maleficent adds with dead pan delivery ‘I hate you’. (I know – grown-ups hating on babies! In a Disney movie?!) Maleficent’s banter with human/crow/dragon Diaval is also brilliant, though I would have liked to have seen more their relationship.

Although in terms of imagery the film is top class, the plot wavers a little bit. Without giving away the ended there’s a twist that flies (….) in out of nowhere and seems ridiculously convenient. I also have to grumble about the three fairies. Although I’m a fan of all three actresses, the fairies just seemed to be shoehorned in for comic relief…..and weren’t funny. They’re petty squabbles got boring very quickly and came across as quite silly. I would have liked the fairies to be a bit closely related to the fairies from the Disney animation. They needed to be Flora, Fauna and Merryweather!

I also left the cinema feeling a little deflated. The reason we love Maleficent is because she’s so evil! So to find out she’s actually quite…well….good was a bit of a let-down. I was disappointed in her.

Still all this aside, Maleficent is spectacular and well worth a watch.