Pop Arts Recommends: The Way, Way Back

This month’s recommendation is a film: The Way, Way Back. I really love this film, guys. Really really love it. I watched it again recently ahead of writing this post and was reminded all over again of just how awesome it is. Let the recommending commence!

The Way, Way Back is a sweet coming-of-age-summer tale, written and directed by Jim Rash (Community) and Nat Faxon, who won an Oscar for their screenplay for The Descendants. It tells the story of 14 year old Duncan (Liam James), who is reluctantly dragged to a seaside town for the summer by his mother, Pam (Toni Collette) and her new boyfriend, Trent (a wonderfully loathsome Steve Carell). Duncan is still adjusting to his parent’s separation, missing his Dad and enduring the bullying presence that is Trent. On the way to their holiday home, Duncan is sat in the ‘way back’ of the car, facing out at the road behind them. While the others are asleep, Trent asks Duncan where he sees himself on a scale of 1-10. Duncan guesses at a six, but Trent tells him he’s a three. This sets the tone of their relationship and triggers Duncan’s need to get away and restore his own confidence.

Duncan meets their neighbours: over-sharer Betty (Alison Janney) and her children, Peter and Susannah (AnnaSophia Robb). He develops a crush on Susannah, who is the only person who seems to talk to him like a normal person. Pam keeps both babying and ignoring Duncan, having fun with Trent and his friends Kip and Joan. She seems to Duncan to be oblivious to his needs, consistently allowing Trent to push him around. It’s a credit to the writing and to the brilliant Toni Collette that Pam remains sympathetic and complex, rather than seeming just weak-willed.

Fed up, Duncan discovers an old bike in the garage. Despite it being designed for young girls and covered with pink sparkles, it provides Duncan with some independence and freedom and leads him to Water Wizz, a local water park. After attending and sitting watching all the fun for a few days, the park owner, laid-back, fun-loving Owen (Sam Rockwell) takes a liking to him; offering him a job helping out and taking him under his wing. Working with Owen and the other Water Wizz staff, Duncan begins to blossom, growing in confidence and getting happier by the day. He learns from Owen, in particular, that being himself is good and the experience he has at Water Wizz affects how he moves forward at the end of the summer.

This film is heart-warming, moving and uplifting. Anyone who ever felt awkward and lost as a kid will recognise so much in Duncan and the difficulty he has in making himself really seen and really heard. His development as a character is a joy to watch and I defy anyone not to be cheering come the end of the film. The script and characterisation is sensitive and smart, with the adult cast delivering well-rounded performances. Liam James is extraordinary, mirroring Duncan’s internal transformation in his physical performance – definitely one to watch. This is a great film to watch at the start of summer, or following a rubbish day as it leaves a happy warm glow in it’s wake. Enjoy!

 

Throwback Thursday: Pop Arts Revisits…Speak for Yourself!

Important fact about me: I love love love Imogen Heap. She is a goddess of musical invention and magic and I will listen to her anytime, anyplace. Today’s throwback is to Imogen’s second solo album, Speak for Yourself and the special place it holds in my heart.

Imogen’s first album, iMegaphone is kind of dark and spidery, with her voice sounding very stark and British on each track. Her third effort, Ellipse, is dreamy and full of longing. There’s loads of experimentation with sound here too. Speak for Yourself is the middle child, and is full of songs about love, family and mystery.

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Some honourable mentions…

Happy Wednesday guys!

This ‘honourable mentions’ post covers a few things I have read and watched lately that I didn’t feel quite warranted a post of their own, but wanted to highlight. Take a look!

Film: Big Business

This was a truly bonkers movie. It starred Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin as two sets of mixed up twins in very different circumstances. They were all born in the same hospital and a dotty old nurse put the wrong twins together. They each end up being named Sadie and Rose (both Bette Midlers are Sadie and both Lily Tomlins are Rose) You following? Look, I don’t understand either, but this the plot of the movie, ok?

So, rich snooty Sadie and rich scatterbrain Rose live in New York. They own the factory for the town they were born in, but snooty Sadie wants to sell and scatty Rose is confused. In alternate twin world, dopey Sadie and feisty Rose are determined to stop the sale of their factory and head to New York to stop the owners from selling. Naturally, much farce, mixed up identity and double entendre follows. It is nonsensical and utterly ridiculous, but pretty good fun to watch. Plus, you get lots of Bette Midler hair tossing and eyebrow wiggling and plenty of Lily Tomlin arm flapping. AND they both play two utterly different parts each, in the same film, which is pretty awesome when you think about it.

Some books below the cut…

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Graphic Novel review: Northern Girl by Isobel Harrop

You guys; I loved this book. This was the first graphic novel I ever picked up to read (I’m not sure reading over your brother’s shoulder as he reads Marvel really counts) and boy, am I glad I did.

Northern Girl is a collection of drawings and musings from ordinary British teenager, Isobel. The book is divided into three sections: Me, Friends, College and Art and Love. The book is a little like a scrapbook, Isobel filling it with drawings and notes based on her musings, her conversations and her own inner monologue. Her thoughts and comments range from Beyoncé to her drawing skills, to getting over boys, to how she feels about shaving her legs.

Harrop manages to convey accurately the quiet, comforting sort of monotony that comes with living in a small British town. Having grown up in one myself, I recognise the push and pull feeling that comes with it: it can be frustrating and very dull to live somewhere small in the British countryside, especially as a teenager when your means of escape are limited. And yet, there’s something reassuring about its smallness, about knowing you know where it begins and ends. There a wonderful sense throughout the book that Isobel is trying to determine who she is and that she’s figuring it out through the words and pictures she’s brought together in the book. It rang true for me and my own experiences as a teenager.

Being light on dialogue and relatively short, I read my way through this in half an hour. But it’s not really the sort of book that you read once, put on the shelf and forget about. It’s a book to revisit several times over, flipping to the pages that are relevant to you that day, using it for inspiration and reminiscing about your own teen years. I look forward to going back to it for many years to come!

Dance Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Northern Ballet

When: 21st May / Where: Milton Keynes Theatre

I’m going to start off by saying that I think Northern Ballet are fast becoming my favourite dance company. They manage to be entertaining, inventive and visually dynamic all at once. The range of work they take on tour is impressive and being a relatively small company, you get the sense that there is more room for the dancers to spread their wings a little. I unfortunately missed their recent performances at the Linbury, but was delighted to be able to see their balletic version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream earlier this week.

For those unfamiliar with the original play, see a plot summary here or read Northern Ballet’s own summary here. NB had reimagined the play through the lens of a 1940s ballet company, giving us an unusual narrative: ballet dancers playing ballet dancers. The stage was set up to resemble a studio, with the company arranged as if warming up as the audience walked into the theatre. Once the curtain was officially up, we observed the company drifting about, preparing for rehearsals. Through interactions, we were able to identify out Hermia, our Lysander, our Helena and our Demetrius. The artistic director (our Theseus, Tobias Batley) strode in all in white, sharply reprimanding his dancers and pushing one ballerina aside (our Hippolyta, Martha Leebolt) in favour of another, their disagreement over his rejection of her as Juliet informing us of their romantic connection (and disagreement over her career). All of these small interactions mirrored the play perfectly, setting us up for the confusion that follows. I had trouble spotting Bottom and Puck in the scenes in the studio and at the station, although I had no trouble identifying them in the dream.

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Throwback Thursday: Pop Arts Revisits…Ballet Shoes

This week’s TBT is about the children’s classic, Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, one of my all time favourites. To clear confusion now: We won’t be talking about actual ballet shoes (sorry!), Noel was a lady and no, I didn’t misspell Streatfeild, that’s just how she spelt it. We good? Good.

My mother was an avid Noel Streatfeild reader as a child and bought the books for me when I was a child. I fell in love with Ballet Shoes from the first time I read it. It tells the story of three sisters: Pauline, Petrova and Posy. All three are adopted by explorer and palaeontologist Matthew Brown, who to them becomes Great Uncle Matthew or Gum for short. Gum has already raised his orphaned niece, Sylvia and as she grows older, decides to fill his house with babies for her to mind, reasoning that ‘women like babies’. Sylvia and her nanny, Nana (governesses and nannies feature heavily in all Streatfeild novels; always reliable, redoubtable women who sort everything out) take on the task of raising all three girls themselves, giving them the unifying surname Fossil, after Gum’s usual presents from his trips. However, when Gum heads off on another adventure after dropping off baby Posy, they don’t see or hear from him again for another 12 years or so. This unusual set up means that with no Gum, they have no real source of income. They turn Gum’s big house at the end of Cromwell Road in London into a boarding house to earn money. The arrival of their lovely boarders: dance teacher Theo, Mr & Mrs Simpson, fresh from Kuala Lumpur and scholars Dr Jakes and Dr Smith change the Fossil girls’ lives forever.

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Top 10 Tuesday – Link up with The Broke and the Bookish

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This week’s theme was surprisingly tough, I only made it to 9! Here are my Top 10 Books About Friendship

Anne of Green Gables (Anne & Diana) – LM Montgomery

Who didn’t want to be friends with Anne Shirley? Feisty, intelligent and enthusiastic, she brings a fearsome energy to everything. As is often the way, her best friend Diana is her opposite; quiet, gentle and softly spoken. The two are fast friends from the start and always try to balance each other out. It’s hard not to envy their devotion!

Just as long as we’re together (Rachel and Stephanie) – Judy Blume

I loved this book when I was growing up. Steph and Rachel have been friends forever, but are put in different classes once they start high school. Steph’s body has changed over the summer and her parents are splitting up, making her feel more distant from her over-achieving friend. Add new girl Alison into the mix and Steph and Rachel’s friendship is increasingly strained. I liked the way these two old friends learn to grow with each other and make room for the new things in their lives. A more realistic portrayal of friendship as a kid (well, it is Judy Blume…)

The Book Thief (Liesel and Max) – Marcus Zusack

Liesel feel like a very solitary, lonely child for much of The Book Thief. However, the friendship she develops with Max, (who they are hiding from Nazis) through their mutual love of stories and books is incredibly touching. It shows that friendship can bloom under the most difficult of circumstances and gives both characters a sense of hope in a dark time, as the very best friendships should.

Fearless series (Gaia and Ed) – Francine Pascal

Does anyone else remember these books? I was completely obsessed as a teenager with this series about a girl born without the fear gene. Crazy nonsense but totally addictive. I always liked Gaia and Ed’s friendship. Ed is motivated by romantic undercurrents, yes, but he and Gaia push and challenge each other and have to adjust to someone not treating them as they’d each come to expect. I always enjoyed their banter and willed then to make it through the various tests of their friendship.

P.S Longer Letter Later (Tara and Elizabeth) – Paula Danziger and Ann M Martin

My best friend and I both read this book as children. It tells the story of two friends, Tara and Elizabeth, who are writing to each other after Tara’s parents move. The book was written by Danziger and Martin writing to each other in voice, which gives the book a genuine two-sidedness. Tara and Elizabeth seem like total opposites but their determination to stay friends despite being apart is really uplifting.

Bridge to Terabithia (Jesse and Leslie) – Katherine Paterson

I feel like I might cry every time I think about Bridge to Terabithia. It’s a lovely, heart-breaking novel about two kids who became unlikely friends when they both needed someone to understand and appreciate them for who they were. They create an amazing imagined world together and anyone who ever played make-believe games as a kid will enjoy their commitment to their stories. Be prepared to cry though; it’s got a kicker of an ending.

Harry Potter series (Ron, Harry and Hermione) – J K Rowling

Anyone who’s read any of the Harry Potter novels knows that one of Rowling’s enduring themes of the series is the importance and benefit of true friendship. Ron, Harry and Hermione come together as children and stay united for the rest of the series (and presumably, the rest of their lives). Nothing would be accomplished or celebrated in HP without friends. Also, Harry would have died in book one, without Ron and especially Hermione to rescue him. I’m not sure that there’s a better or more balanced depiction of friendship around – sometimes our friends annoy us, sometimes they disagree with us and sometimes we don’t understand them, but they are always there when we need them.

The Outsiders (Ponyboy and Johnny) – S E Hinton

Oh, this book! This is yet another sad tale of friendship (why do I have so many on this list?). Their dedicated loyalty to each other is so admirable and Ponyboy reading to Johnny gets me every time.

The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants – (Tibby, Carmen, Bridget and Lena) – Ann Brashares

I raced through this book the first time I read it. I loved the idea of four close friends growing up together and finding a way to support and encourage each other, even when hundreds of miles apart. I have a close knit group of girlfriends and we are navigatiung this now – being separated but trying to find a way to keep up with each other’s lives. It’s also great to get to that point where you know that nothing about your friendship will really change and I think Sisterhood… really embodies that (let’s just ignore the later books, shall we?)

Book Review – Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close

Girls in White Dresses is Jennifer Close’s debut novel and it is very impressive first book. There is no specific plot to Girls…; instead we follow the lives of Isabella and her college girlfriends across a ten year period, drifting in and out of several different characters’ perspectives, starting from when they graduate from university and begin making their way in the world as adults.

I really loved Girls in White Dresses. Looking at the cover and reading the blurb I had originally pegged it as ‘chick lit’ which I’m not generally a fan of. However, I had heard great things about it, so decided to give it a go. I finished it in two days and spent the whole time I was reading it going ‘oh my God, that’s me.’ It was the first book I’ve read about women my age that I felt reflected my own experience. Isabella (who we return to most often) and her friends Mary, Lauren, Shannon and Abby have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. Not in work, not in love and definitely not as adults. When you leave education – particularly after university when you are officially ‘a grown-up’ – people just sort of assume you’ll get it together, know what you’re doing and start building your life in a mature, responsible way. Except that, in my experience (aside from a lucky few friends) none of us had a clue about what we wanted to do, how we were going to live or who we were, even.

Girls… perfectly encapsulates that lost aimlessness that comes from figuring all that stuff out. What we all forget is that in our early twenties, we’re still babies really. We have no proper experience of anything and it’s sort of terrifying to make decisions for the rest of your life at such a young age.

Close’s writing style is reflective and intimate, moving seamlessly from one character to another sometimes within the same chapter. You feel as if you know these girls and are checking in on them, as we do with people we’ve lost touch with when we bump into them at weddings and parties. I also liked how well she covered the emotional turbulence that comes from going through massive changes in life. I don’t think this is covered enough in books; I cry at everything and I’m not the only one of my friends to do so, so I appreciated Close’s use of emotional response in the novel. I liked the way the narrative focused in on each character’s inner life – we saw their boyfriends and partners reflected through their eyes, instead of the other way round, which usually happens. I did feel like the characters talked about their other halves in a detached sort of way, which I found a bit odd, but then again, they weren’t the focus of the story. There is a sharp wit sewn in throughout (I was reminded of Sloane Crosley on more than one occasion) and I loved all the caustic one liners from Lauren, who was easily my favourite character.

This was a smart, funny and totally relatable book. It was well written, easy to read and seemed completely on point to me. I’m going to be passing it out to all my friends and I’m looking forward to reading more of Close’s work!