Pop Arts Recommends: Pretty Little Liars

YOU GUYS. I’m actually not sure how to adequately convey my love for and complete obsession with Pretty Little Liars. If you haven’t found it yet, then BOY, do you have a treat waiting. For those that have: welcome, friend! As the show has just started airing its fifth season, I thought I should spend some time talking about its amazingness.

And thus, the whole show was summed up in one gif.

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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!


Pop Arts Recommends: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

It’s the end of April and I hope you’re all still enjoying the last remnants of Easter chocolate (I’ve already eaten mine…boo). As it is the last Friday of the month, it’s time for another recommendation. This month I’m talking about one of my all time favourite books, Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWSG).

Dave Eggers is well known as a modern voice and proponent of literature in its purest form. His publishing house and literary journal McSweeney’s is a recognised outlet for new voices and writers. He was also (importantly for me) immortalised on the wall of Rory Gilmore’s dorm room:


I first came across AHWSG in my school library when I was about 15. I loved the title, its ego and cheekiness appealing to me. However, AHWSG is a massive book and I was a bit overwhelmed and the librarian was unimpressed with how late the book was, so I gave up about four chapters in. Several years later in my early 20s, I picked it up again. The fact that I’d left it unfinished had always nagged at me, as I’d really enjoyed what I’d read and I was determined to give it another go. The second time there were no problems: I whizzed through it, utterly captivated. AHWSG appeared on my Top 10 Tuesday list a few weeks back as one of the most unique books I’ve ever read and I stand by this assertion.

AHWSG‘s plot is sort of hard to explain. It’s a kind of fictionalised memoir, with Eggers mostly recounting the truth, but knowingly and wilfully adapting and adding to his stories, to make them more readable, more dramatic or to fit better within his narrative. His choice to expose this fact (later editions of the book are prefaced with a list titled ‘Mistakes we knew we were making’) is an interesting and bold one. Readers are usually subconsciously aware that memoirs/autobiographies are ‘edited’ due to the vulnerability and unreliability of human memory, but I think it’s pretty rare to lay that out for the reader so openly. There are occasions where characters break the fourth wall and I feel that the reader’s awareness of the fictionalised aspects of the book makes you more questioning and more critical as a reader.

Essentially, AHWSG is about Dave and his family. He goes through the appalling trauma of losing both parents within weeks of each other and he and his siblings are left picking up the pieces of their family and figuring out how to move forward. There’s almost no time for grief, as the oldest three (including Dave) must provide and care for their youngest brother Toph, who is still a child (I think he’s about 8 at the start of the book). Responsibility for Toph is split between them, with the whole family moving to California and Dave being left to handle much of the day to day stuff for Toph. What’s striking about the novel is Dave’s internal conflict between being a very young man himself, desperate to go out and live irresponsibly and freely, while also loving his little brother very much and wanting to keep him happy and safe. He is still processing his own grief and loss along with figuring out who he is and how his life is going to go now.

I read AHWSG right out of university. I’d been reading a lot of amazing books and been exposed to some incredible, ground-breaking writing styles and narratives. And yet, AHWSG was totally unlike anything else I’d ever read. Eggers’ style was brand new to me and the way he combined memoir and story-telling, along with existential riffs on life blew my mind. Seriously, guys. I feel like it’s impossible to explain how this book opened doors for me in terms of what I read and what I thought writing needed to be.

It was also a good book to read while I was still so young and fresh to the ‘real world’. Dave has no real idea of what he’s doing, or how to be an adult or what he wants, even. He drifts from job to job, apartment to apartment never quite settling. It was immensely comforting to be reading about someone who didn’t have it figured out – at all, really. I felt less alone, less frustrated and like it would all be OK somehow. Despite opening with just about the saddest things that could happen, AHWSG never feels maudlin or depressing; instead I found it to be oddly hopeful and forward looking. Life goes on regardless and we have to see what else is out there for us.

AHWSG won’t be to everyone’s tastes; its meandering narrative and various tangents may be frustrating to some. But I can say absolutely and truthfully that I loved it. I loved it so much that I’m actually sort of scared to read it again, for fear some of it’s magic will have disappeared somehow. Go out and read it, discover a great writer and an unusual book that stays with you, in the nicest way possible.

Pop Arts Recommends…The Lizzie Bennet Diaries

Hello lovelies! I can’t believe that it’s already the end of March. This month has been super busy and so has positively flown by. We’ve reached the last Friday of the month so it’s time for another Pop Arts Recommends. This month, I talk about the internet phenomenon that is/was The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

I feel like everyone knows about the LBD, but am astonished by the number of people I meet who’ve never heard of it (they must not be as enmeshed in the internet…). The LBD was an astonishing project – to take a beloved 19th century classic by Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice) and update it (drastically) for the modern, digital age. Lizzie Bennet was re-imagined as a graduate student, living with her parents while she studied communications and figuring out what she was going to do with her life. Check out the first episode below:

When I first heard about the show, I was pretty skeptical. Though I have enjoyed other modern interpretations (Bridget Jones, Bride & Prejudice) I just wasn’t convinced about it working on…well, YouTube of all places. But it really, really did. After watching that first video, I was intruigued. Then promptly got distracted and forgot to keep watching after about three episodes. I came back to the show about 40 episodes in, after being contacted by several of my friends, who raved about the show and asked if I was watching it. I became utterly hooked, and had to binge watch all the so far transmitted episodes (which despite only being 3- 5 minutes, the vlog format made watching them quite intense)

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Pop Arts Recommends…Gregory Porter

This month’s Pop Arts Recommends subject is the sublime Gregory Porter.

I first encountered Gregory via the Alex Lester show. Lester regularly plays some lesser known artists and the first time he played a Gregory Porter track, I fell in love. Porter has easily the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard (I will totally stand by this) and the way he soars, tiptoes and glides through his songs is still mesmerising to me.

Below is ‘Be Good (Lion’s song), the first Gregory Porter song I ever heard and still one of my favourites:

Porter has a gift of making jazz seem more accessible. Lots of people are put off by the mechanics of jazz music, but something about the honey in Porter’s voice makes it seem warm and easy. His songs are stories; they are creative, interesting and vibrant.

Gregory talking about his career and love of jazz

Read some chats with the man himself, at NPR and at Stiehl/Over. It’s impossible to feel bad and listen to Gregory Porter. Just try:

Being awesome on Later…with Jools Holland

I hereby challenge you to have a fully functioning soul and not be moved by Gregory Porter’s voice. Listen and spread the word.

Culture Vulture (Or: Meanwhile, on the Internets)

Hello and happy Thursday everyone! Below are some links to culture-y stuff I’ve enjoyed recently. Go forth and click away…

Have you read the brilliant Anne T Donahue’s amazing Old Lady Movie Night series for Hello Giggles yet? Anne watches the great ‘classics’ of her youth and her commentary is both accurate and hilarious. Her viewing of Jurassic Park is a highlight.

Following on from the first Pop Arts Recommends being Friday Night Lights a couple of weeks ago, take a look at Matt WatchesDefinitive List of the Best characters on Friday Night Lights.  I am in total agreement with his top 10 – great choices.

I’m a bit of an infographics geek, so this new exhibition at the British Library looks amazing. Beautiful and informative!

The Brit Awards are always a tad on the cringy side; I generally spend the whole time bracing myself for secondhand embarrassement. I managed to get through this year ok, with only Katy Perry’s English accent causing pain (thank you TiVo fast forward) and I enjoyed the BBC’s rundown of the night even more.

And finally, in connection to last Thursday’s post, read Kerry‘s description of what sounds like the best Galentine’s Day ever.