Review – The Good Place – What the fork?!

 

Currently – On Netflix (UK)

Starring – Ted Danson, Kristen Bell

GenreFantasy Comedy

WriterMichael Schur.

Premiered – September 19, 2016, on NBC

**Spoiler Alert**

(Today I can at least promise none of my usual bad language!)

I’m late to the party again – I know! To be honest, I had avoided watching this show on Netflix as the accompanying promotional image looked, well, like another one of those slightly ‘kooky’, American woman things. It didn’t pique my interest enough.

Then I watched the first season. Then I watched the first season again with hubby in tow, and we completed the two seasons – watching two or three an evening.

A quick synopsis –

A young woman, Eleanor Shellstrop wakes up in the afterlife. She is informed by Michael, that this is The Good Place. It is a Heaven-like utopia, that he designed, in reward for her having lived a good life. Everyone here as done something amazing when they were alive. However, Eleanor realises that she was sent there by mistake and must find a way to keep her true, morally reprehensible past a secret. Enter Chidi – her carefully selected after-life soul mate, who was a moral philosophy professor when alive. Can Chidi help to improve Eleanor?

The Good Place is well-written entertainment, as well as being quite thought provoking – what better way to get people to consider the ethical and /or moral considerations of our actions, than through the use of humour?

The use of names is interesting –

Michael – means ‘who is God?’. Was also an archangel.

Chidi – means “God exists” in Igbo (West African)

Eleanor – meaning ‘light’, or ‘bright shining one’. (Latin)

Tahani – ‘congratulations’ or ‘best wishes’ in Arabic.

Jason – comes from the Greek for ‘healer’.

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“I came up with hundreds of plans in my life, and only one of them got me killed.” 

And although it is not necessary; I personally find the origins of names interesting, the selection of these names does add to the overall ‘plan’ of the writer and the show.

The humour arises from a number of contrivances:

Firstly, no-one can swear in The Good Place, so Eleanor’s profanities end up as, fork, shirt, dink, ash hole and motherforker.

Chidi is morally bound (by his own morals!) to assist Eleanor – regardless of how much she tries to take the easy route, and this causes him pain, “I’m getting a stomach ache. I’m in a perfect utopia, and I’m… I have a stomach ache. This is awful.

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“I don’t know what to do here. This is a mess, morally speaking. This is a putrid, disgusting bowl of ethical soup.”

Eleanor’s neighbour is a once wealthy, British socialite, who seems to be the only person with a dissimilar accent, “I also dabbled in some other professions. I was a model, a museum curator, an “It Girl,” and… oh, I was Baz Luhrmann’s muse for a while. That was quite fun.

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So “Tahani” means “congratulations” in Arabic…

And then there is Janet. I have to say, Janet is my favourite character – she is a human shaped data base, “Not a girl.”. She works with Michael; the Architect, and is all-knowing, “Fun Fact: Columbus is in The Bad Place because of all the raping, slave-trade and genocide.

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“Hi there!”

But the real humour comes from the moral and ethical arguments put forward by the various characters and situations. We’re all pretty familiar with the ‘trolley/train problem‘, well imagine doing it for real! Who really does belong in ‘the good place’? Are our deeds counted and assessed by an all-knowing being? If you choose to ignore the ‘small voice’ (your conscience), are you going to the bad place? (Motherforker! That’s me done for!)

And then there’s Michael, he’s …

Nah, I’m going to let you watch it and decide for yourself whether you think The Good Place is good, or not?!

I’m giving The Good Place 4 stars

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Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Genre: Fiction, Humour
Pub Date: 2017
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 400 pages (PB)
Paperback: £8.99

Synopsis

Eleanor Oliphant has worked in the same office for nine years. Believing she has ‘met’ the love of her life; musician Johnnie Lomond, she resolves to make a project out of winning him over, before ever meeting him.

Eleanor forms a kind of friendship with the office’s IT guy; Raymond via an accident they both observe. Eleanor reveals a little about her past relationships, boyfriend and mother, during their now regular lunchtime meetings.

After a potentially disastrous event, Raymond ends up taking care of Eleanor, thus setting her on the road to recovery.

Eleanor Oliphant struggles with social skills and appropriate responses to pretty much everything and everyone she encounters. She has never, for example, bought a women’s magazine before, but, “I’d worked out that they were the most reliable and accessible source of the information that I needed.” Her life is carefully timetabled, from the Wednesday phone calls from Mummy, to the food she eats for her evening meal. She drinks a large amount of vodka at weekends and has visits from a Social Worker.


I found myself right from the outset, trying to work out if Eleanor had suffered from a past trauma, or if she was a high functioning Autistic. Her attitude to colleagues and people in general is akin to how some people with Autism maintain a distance from others; reluctance to engage in office banter, avoidance of touching other people and such-like. She always has her shopper with her and wears the same clothes to work daily, she even has just two pairs of shoes; practical, comfortable; Velcroed.

Writers, when starting out in the craft, are often advised to open the first chapter with a bang, to create a hook for the reader, grab the publishers interest – but – I didn’t feel any of this when I read the introductory paragraphs. Even the fact that she had her interview with a black eye did not intrigue me. Only after pages 4 to 6, when Eleanor explains her weekly routine; “I usually have pasta with pesto and salad – one pan and one plate.” and a tiny glimpse into her childhood, did I think that there was something more to this than meets the eye.

I’m glad I stuck with it. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine gives the reader an outsiders view of the world – haven’t we all felt a little like ignoring those around us? It is both funny and touching. The reason and mystery Eleanor is alone is made clear very gradually, drop by drop, and poses the question, how vital is human interaction? When she thanks the hairdresser for making her ‘shiny’, I had a lump in my throat. 

Is Eleanor Oliphant Completely Fine? Do read it and decide for yourself!

This is Gail Honeyman’s début novel, for which she won the Costa First Novel Award 2017, it feels like the work of a more experienced writer.

I’m giving Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine 4 stars

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Book Review: The Improbable Wonders Of Moojie Littleman by Robin Gregory

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The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman. Robin Gregory

Genre: Fiction. YA. Historical.
Pub Date: 1 November 2015
Publisher: Price World Publishing
Length: 294 pages
Paperback : £11.00

Synopsis

Early 1900s, Western America. A lonely, disabled boy with a nasty temper and uncontrolled mystical powers, Moojie is taken by his father to his grandfather’s wilderness farm. There, Moojie meets an otherworldly clan of outcasts that he wants to join. Following a series of misadventures–magical and mystical–he is summoned by the call to a great destiny … if only he can survive one last terrifying trial.

https://www.amazon.com/Improbable-Wonders-Moojie-Littleman/dp/1942545002

 

I was surprised to learn that this book was published over 2 years ago; it seems to be suddenly everywhere I look online.

Although touted as Y.A, I found it to be an engaging and beautiful story – Set in late 19th early 20th century. Moojie Littleman is a foundling who is adopted by childless couple; Henry and Kate Littleman. Moojie is written across the babes forehead, and so the name sticks.

The name is an interesting choice, it is no accident that the name Moojie (and its variant spellings) can mean – an ethnic slur in India, particularly about a Muslim. For Kabbalists it is about optimism, being friendly and likeable, other sources say it means ‘gift from God’. Knowing just this gives a foothold into this world created by Robin Gregory. A world of hard men; of Scottish, Irish and European origins, who live hard lives in the dust-blown, western edge of the earthquake riddled coastal town of San Miguel de las Gaviotas.

As Moojie grows to an age when certain stages in development should be met, it becomes clear that he is not like other children. For starters he is disabled. This physical disability is not named, but reads like cerebral palsy. Moojie does not, or cannot, speak; until much later. He has tantrums that create havoc and can be said to be spoilt by his doting mother; Kate. An interesting character herself, his mother introduces Moojie to the magical world of books – science, history, Odysseus. She sees in Moojie something no-one else can, a special quality that she attempts to nurture.

Then tragedy strikes. Moojie’s world falls apart after his beloved mother’s death and he is packed off to live with a cranky grandfather. He has to toughen up, the threat of being sent away to a boys home hangs over him for years. He is alone, feels unloved and without a sense of belonging.

Enter the Light-Eaters. A strange ‘tribe’ or ‘clan’ of people who live in the hills beyond grandfather’s goat farm. They are not like the locals, they are dark-skinned, dark-haired and viewed with suspicion by the townsfolk, who call them ‘Hostiles’. We are not told if they are Native American, they can speak any language they want, and there is a heavy emphasis on Eastern philosophy and spirituality. A curious group who each have lessons for Moojie; even painful ones, who reveal a little about themselves drop by drop; where are they from exactly? How old, actually, is Babylonia, the ‘girl’ whom Moojie falls for?

Moojie’s desperate desire to belong; to find a family, leads him on a journey of self-development. It is, in essence, a story of self-discovery and spirituality. Moojie’s disability is no excuse or reason for self-limitation, Moojie must learn how to give, how to forgive and how to accept.

This is a curious story, I was quite entranced from the start with the magical elements entwined in amongst the mundane – and isn’t that the point? Gregory has a light touch, poetic adjectives fill the spaces between the daily activities, is an easy read and has a positive message without being cloying. It can be read by the young as a tale of wonder and magic, and by adults as a tale of the human condition, for after all, aren’t we all Moojie Littleman?

 

I am giving The Improbable Wonders Of Moojie Littleman

5 Stars

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Film Review: The Foreigner

The Foreigner coverGenre: Action Thriller 

Starring: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan

Based on: The Chinaman, 1992 novel by Stephen Leather 

Release Date: 30 Sept. 2017

Director: Martin CampbellProduction Company: Huayi Brothers

Synopsis

A humble businessman with a buried past seeks justice when his daughter is killed in an act of terrorism. A cat-and-mouse conflict ensues with a government official, whose past may hold clues to the killers’ identities.”

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1615160/

I watched this on Netflix UK.

Jackie Chan, star of Martial Arts movies such as Project A (1983), Police Story (1985) and Armour of God I and II, stars as Quan Ngoc Minh; a Chinese single parent, living in England with his only daughter.  Pierce Brosnan, former James Bond, is Northern Ireland deputy First Minister, Liam Hennessy, a former IRA member who is publicly open about his past but now in his later years, is keen to keep the peace accord in place. In the opening, Quan’s young teenage daughter is killed in a terrorist bomb attack – the quiet man sets out on a vendetta to find his daughter’s killers.


I have been watching Jackie Chan movies since the early 80s, and am very familiar with his fast-paced action style, his well-publicised injuries during filming, his comedic roles and Buster Keatonesque scenarios. So this was a bit of a mental adjustment. Chan is now 63 years old and although he cannot do the ridiculous acrobatics he performed in his earlier films, he can still move with astonishing speed – when he needs to. I was totally impressed with his physical stamina; and this film does have some pretty harsh fight scenes. He is mostly pitted against men who are twenty to thirty years his junior and is tripped, thrown and felled to a degree you wonder how his ageing body can take it.

However, what affected me most was his very moving performance as a deeply distraught father who simply wants the names of his child’s murderers. He drifts like a ghost, stands in his daughters bedroom and stares, he shuffles like an old man. When his offer to pay the police for the names of the bombers is refused, he decides to take matters into his own hands. And here; along with the First Minister, we discover Quan’s history. It is both tragic and fearsome – the Minister and his men are tested repeatedly by this quiet foreigner who wants, not only justice, but revenge.

The film is interesting for its pitting two older men against one another; neither are completely innocent; both have violent pasts. There is a resilience one could call stubbornness in both men. Both have their own moral codes that one could say have become rigid. There are thrilling fight scenes, but not so many – this is mature martial arts – when Chan is knocked flat on his back on a rooftop my ageing bones empathised. This is also the first time I have ever seen Chan cry.

It’s an oddity too. The bad guys are Irish, or more precisely, the IRA. The IRA ceasefire was called about 20 years ago, so to someone who grew up in England during The Troubles, with Irish parents, it seems dated. Plus, there are moments in the film in which some characters refer to Chan’s character as ‘the Chinaman’ – I couldn’t decide if it was racist, a hint that Brits and Irish are racist, a nod to the original novel title, or lazy updating of terms. Some of Hennessy’s henchmen can come across as a little too predictable, too generic and the theme could said to be dated – but – I did enjoy it; if enjoy is the right word to use for such a dark, troubled and sad film.

I give The Foreigner – 

4 stars

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Book Review: Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

Genre: Crime, Thriller, Mystery
Pub Date: 9 Nov. 2017
Publisher: Hutchinson
Length: 288 pages
Hardback: £12.99

Synopsis

Abby Williams returns to the small town where she grew up. Now working as a successful environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has been tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s economic heart. Abby begins to find strange connections to a decade-old scandal involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

As Abby attempts to find out what happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations.”

Krysten Ritter, star of American TV shows such as Jessica Jones and Don’t Trust The B**** in Apartment 23, has published her début novel, Bonfire. I have to admit I had mixed emotions; unsure whether this actor, who I have been a fan of for some years, would be skilled enough to pull off a novel ( I think it was J G Ballard who said one shouldn’t not write a full length novel for a first outing). Bonfire has been described as being ‘dark, disturbing and compulsively readable’ amongst the blurb.


I found the writing to be mature, I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was. Ritter keeps the writing tight and moving along at a fair pace. The protagonist, Abby Williams, is deftly portrayed, she has a strong voice and reminded me a little of a cross between the two characters Ritter has played in the aforementioned shows; intelligent, forthright and possibly a little bit sexy. Other characters are portrayed well with sparse use of adjectives, yet we get to see them clearly.

Abby has tried hard to move away from the memories of her home-town. Memories dominated by the popular girl Kaycee Mitchell, memories of her bullying, of becoming her friend, of Kaycee’s clique of hangers on, like the appalling Misha, and ultimately the illness that gripped Kaycee and the others. To Abby, there is a connection between the illnesses and Optimal Plastics and she sets out to prove it.

Bonfire is dark and compulsive reading, but the disturbing not so much for me. I found myself thinking of The Virgin Suicides (1993), Mean Girls and a little Twin Peaks. So, not hugely original or with a shocking or surprising outcome. Maybe because I am British, but I found it quite difficult to relate to many of the characters; do high school students really behave like that in USA?! And I simply could not get my head around the idea that school-age Abby wanted to be friends with such a bitch! But maybe I’m not the target audience.

Although there are a couple of close moments between the protagonist and other character, there is no reason why this cannot be read by those aged 16 years.

I’m giving Bonfire 3 stars

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Google Digital Garage

Google Digital Garage, free digital marketing training and certification

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Google Digital Garage

A lot of the information included in Digital Garage is not relevant to myself as a writer, because I don’t have a business – or do I?

If you have read the ‘About’ me section on my blog, you will appreciate what a technophobe I am. However, as a blogger, I am interested in reaching people who may be interested in the same things as myself. I admit that my ego is massaged when I get notification of a new follower or a like (come on, we all like positive attention, don’t we?)

I like to comment on other bloggers pages; if I am sufficiently piqued or irked! There are some truly amazing people in the world and blogging provides an, albeit connection to them and their ideas. I mean, think about it – I live in England, and someone in New Zealand reads my blog!!! That’s when technology is f***ing amazing !

Google’s Digital Garage has given me some tools to reach a greater audience; like I did not know, for example, that you had to put text with your photographs because search bots can’t ‘read’ pictures! Okay, so you did – you’re probably 30 years younger than me then.

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Start Learning Screenshot

So back to – I don’t have a business – or do I?

Yes I do, unfortunately. As a writer, who wants to get my stories published it is not enough any-more to simply – write – edit – get MS accepted by publishing house – print – make money. Do you know how many books are published each year? Even in your own country? Me neither, but it’s A LOT! ( Bowker reports that over one million (1,052,803) books were published in the U.S. in 2009). You cannot simply write and expect your creation to make it’s own way in the world, it needs a helping hand.

And what if you aren’t a writer or you do not run a business? Well, you probably spend a large part of your time on a computer somewhere in the world, and a few lessons in a previously unexplored area will keep the little grey cells ticking over!

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Test Yourself

Why Digital Garage could be for you:

  • The course is free!
  • All you need is a Google Account or you can simply sign up online at Google Digital Garage
  • At the end of lesson, there is a little test. At the end of each topic there is a quiz.
  • You can do as much or as little as you want; it’s all under your control.
  • 23 topics broken down into 89 lessons; including useful subjects such as ‘Your online presence’, ‘Make search work for you’, ‘Get noticed locally’.
  • Each lesson is delivered as a very short online video. Accompanied by a transcript.
  • It isn’t overly technical (I had absolutely no clue what SEO was before)
  • It’s a good starting point if you’re new to all things digital and the online space.
  • It could actually help you in you in the workplace; or help you promote your blog or book.

However, being the lazy individual I am – no, I’ll rephrase that… being the distracted yet multi-tasking individual I am, it is taking me longer than it should to work through this training, but hey, isn’t that the point?! So give it a go; Boost your digital knowledge today! 

Alex Digital Garage
“…and OPO is Online Page Optimisation!” Me and the gals…

Mother! A Point Of View

*There will be spoilers, stop at the red message if you don’t want to know more*

Last night, hubby and I went to see Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, Mother! I had ‘ummed’ and ‘aahd’ about going to see if for a while, based on feedback from people I know and their usual tastes in films, I was not convinced. The I read a review by WordPress blogger, Misfit Vinagaroon and that made my mind up.

I had not read any reviews of the film, I had seen a single, brief trailer and was led to believe that it is a ‘psychological horror’.

Briefly, and basically, Mother! Is about a husband and wife who live in a beautiful yet isolated house. Their existence is, if not happy, then it has equilibrium. This is upset with the arrival of a stranger then his wife, and from this point on the couple have their lives turned upside down by a succession of ‘visitors’. Javier Bardem and Jennifer Lawrence give wonderful performances; as do Ed Harris and Michelle Pfeiffer.

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Mother! Movie Poster

*****SPOILERS*****

So, what’s my take on this movie? Did I enjoy it? Would I recommend it?

*****SPOILERS*****

 

So what is it all about? (in my opinion). Stop reading now if you don’t want your point of view ruined…

*****SPOILERS FINAL ALERT*****

 

If you are a creative type, and know your Biblical references, you will get this film pretty quickly.

The film is from the perspective of “The Woman”, Lawrence, who is in the process of repairing their home, decorating, plastering, painting; everything.

Bardem and Lawrence remain without names throughout the film – as does everyone. Lawrence’s character is easier to fathom – she represents Mother Earth, nature, Gaia if you like; she is part of the house, she listens to the house; she even feels it’s pain. Bardem, “The Man” I think, represents creativity, he is a poet yet is having writers block at the time we first meet them. Bardem could also be all that mankind represents materially – or he could be an aspect of God – I said he was more complicated!

The opening scene is the placing of a glass-like, rock onto a stand and a destroyed house ‘repairing’, a woman wakes up in bed and calls for her husband.

The man and woman who arrive (Harris and Pfeiffer) are “Adam and Eve”; he is ill, perhaps dying, and the house begins to display signs of this illness; as felt by Lawrence’s character. Eve brings disharmony, chaos, irritation. When the sons arrived on the scene, this was when it clicked with me – “Cain and Abel” – Cain slays his brother in a fight in the living room; with “The Woman” watching on in helpless horror – what are they doing to her home? The World????

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Harris and Pfeiffer

“The Man” invited them into their home, he invited them to stay; he even allows them to bring others when they have a funeral for their dead son.

As the film progresses we see how impotent “The Woman” is, she can only look on and plead and beg for people to stop intruding on her private space. “The Man” will not turn anyone away, despite the friction and the damage caused between himself and his wife, and their property – he keeps saying, “But where else will they go?”of “They have nowhere to go.”

Then despite all expectation, “The Woman” falls pregnant, ( I was not and still am not sure about this part of their relationship, why couldn’t “The Man” have sex with his wife previously?) And suddenly, “The Man” can write again, joy for both of them; he writes the most beautiful poem that makes her cry. His publisher turns up, fans of his writing turn up – and never leave!

Throughout “The Woman’s” pregnancy, the film appears to race through time. The house becomes crowded with people coming to see the poet and adore him and his work. We see people taking advantage of “The Woman’s” home (and you do feel it is her home – even though she is repairing it for her husband), they enter her bedroom, they eat their food, they steal things and break things.

There are groups of people putting up pictures of the poet in his honour, there are people chanting in another room, there are religious cults popping up all over the house.

It rushes through some awful scenes of protesters and police, it becomes a war-zone, people are herded behind barbed wire; incarcerated, executed. “The Woman”, by this point very heavily pregnant, seeks to leave her home with a little bag packed. She gets caught up in the ‘affairs of man’; we see a team of men digging away in her kitchen with pickaxes and shovels. And at each change, she feels the heart of the house shrivel, harden; die a little. Her birth pains start and at each wrack of agony, all about her shakes and blurs – (earthquakes)

“The Man” finally comes to her aid, ushering into a room where she gives birth to – you guessed it, a baby boy. For days she is trapped with him; she wants to leave, he wants to hold the baby; she won’t let him, and here we what I felt was the crux of the matter. He goes to take his child and when she refuses he says, “I am the Father.” and she retorts, “And I am the Mother!” (Hence the exclamation mark in the title.)

Finally, exhausted, she sleeps, then awakens to discover baby boy gone, door open, and “The Man” presenting his son to the people. The crowd are ecstatic, Mother is terrified and chases her baby through the tight crows as we see his little form passed overhead throughout the house – until the inevitable happens. Baby boy dead, Mother inconsolable, a new religion emerges – Christianity – and everyone eats little bits of the dead child.

“The Woman”, after being beaten and abused escapes and makes her way to the basement, opens the fuel tank of the burner and sets fire to it all. “The World”, “The Woman”, “The Man” and “Mankind” go up in smoke.

But then there is a twist.

The next scene has “The Man”; unharmed, carrying the burnt, barely alive “Woman”, he asks for her help,he wants one more chance, he thinks he can make it right this time, but she has nothing to offer him – but her ‘heart’, which he removes from her body in the form of a crystal we saw placed on a stand in the beginning – and the destroyed house ‘repairing’. A woman awakes in bed and calls for her husband…The End.

I really enjoyed this film, I love the symbolism, and if you go to see it expecting a horror film, then you will be disappointed. I have never before watched something where everyone, literally every cast member is a symbol for someone or something else. Mother is an allegorical piece, much like religious paintings from the Middle Ages I feel.

I would recommend it to people who enjoy heavy symbolism in their movies. To people who like to think about what they watched, rather than be spoon-fed. Creatives will recognise themselves – I did; the selfish, self-obsessive nature of creativity. I could actually go on for ever about what Aronofsky did or did not mean when making this film, what message is he trying to convey? I think we need to take care of the world, it’s our only home (for now), is one message for sure.

The camera work can be a bit dizzying, lots of tight close-ups, hand held and following Lawrence around made me feel motion sick at the beginning, so if you like your multi-cam, tripod mounted mid shots, this might be awkward for you visually.

But yes, go and see it, I’d love to know what others thought, and whether my take on it makes any sense to other viewers.

Thank you for reading.