interview

Interview: Rufi Thorpe on Dear Fang, With Love and Mental Health*

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Interview: Rufi Thorpe, the author of Dear Fang, With Love from Corsair Books

* I was fortunate to receive this copy of Dear Fang, With Love for review from Corsair; thank you! All opinions are, of course, my own. *

Today I have the enormous pleasure of introducing to you the author of a book I have not been able to stop talking/blogging/tweeting about: Rufi Thorpe. I can hardly believe I'm saying this! Rufi is the author of the spectacular Dear Fang, With Love as well as The Girls from Corona del Mar (which I am yet to read, but very excited to), and she was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions. In this interview we cover writing, Beyoncé (of course), mental health, films and television that influenced her, casting adaptations, as well as how she stays calm and grounded in this fast-paced world we live in. I really hope that you enjoy hearing what Rufi has to say; I for one love all of her answers to these questions.

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Magic & Musings: Dear Fang, With Love deals with some serious subject matter including mental health issues and estranged family members. Did you find these things particularly difficult to write about, and if so, what parts in particular? 
Rufi Thorpe: I think their difficulty is in fact what interests me. I like to write about problems I don’t have the answers to, and mental illness is one of those issues for me that continues to evolve and grow increasingly complex. The more I learn about bipolar the less certain I become that I know anything at all. 

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M: The setting of Vilnius was one of my favourite aspects of Dear Fang. It felt soaked in history and rather mysterious; it certainly had its own character! What made you choose Lithuania as the setting for this book? 
R: I actually went to Vilnius as part of a writing program when I was drafting my first book, The Girls from Corona del Mar, and I fell in love with the place. Vilnius is a city with many conflicting, layered, and erased or suppressed identities, native Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, Jewish, and so when I decided I wanted to write about mental illness, which also asks questions about identity, it seemed like the juxtaposition could spur interesting questions. 

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M: How did the character of Vera come into creation? What were your inspirations for her experiences and personality? 
R: Vera is one of those characters who just sort of sprang forth preformed. Some characters do, you hardly have to write them, they just write themselves. Which is to say, she is probably some deeply repressed aspect of self. Ha. 

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M: If there was a film adaptation of Dear Fang, who would you love to cast in your leading roles? 
R: Gosh, what a fun question. You know, I’m a big fan of Chloe Grace Moretz and I bet she could do a wonderfully manic Vera. For Lucas, I think looks-wise Seth Rogen is almost exactly what I was picturing and it would be interesting to see him in a more serious role. I don’t know who you would get to play Fang, but oh, it would be fun to sort through people! For Vera’s mother, Katya, I could kind of see Natalie Portman!

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Cover art for Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi ThorpeM: We've all been teenagers and know how much of what we do and consume in our teenage years affects our adult lives. What books and films from your teenage years would you say shaped your life now the most? 
R: Well, I of course read books like my life depended on it. Specifically, when I was a teenager I was just discovering all these great contemporary women writers: Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett. I would sink into these novels with such pleasure, tearing through them like boxes of cookies or something, junkfood that I couldn’t get enough of. 

In terms of movies, I watched a lot of horror movies, and a lot of Harmony Korine. Kids and Gummo were both really influential. I have never really thought about it before, but I think those two movies hugely influenced me and traces of them can be seen in my work even now. A certain aesthetic of awkwardness, a certain buzzing of the weird.

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M: On Magic & Musings I love talking about female authors and their work. What female authors would you say have been influences for your writing, or are your favourites to read over and over again? 
R: Jane Smiley. I’m obsessed, honestly. Luckily she is prolific, so there is an insane amount to read, but I’m particularly in love with her two novellas packaged together as Ordinary Love & Good Will. I will remember scenes from those novellas for the rest of my life. 

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M: It's not unusual to feel stressed and anxious these days. We live in a fast-paced world and mental health is something I like to speak openly about on my blog. Do you have a mantra that keeps you going during the difficult days? When do you feel at your happiest and most peaceful? 
R: The older I get the more sensitive I am to my own brain chemistry and these days I am able to take a sort of gardener’s approach, weeding out what is bad for me, able to point more directly towards things that are good for me. Walks are very good. Spending time with plants, spending time outside. If I have a mantra, it is that I choose this. I choose this life, this body, this self. I look at my children each morning, and I think: I choose these children to mother. I look at my husband and think: I choose this man. Somehow understanding how active a participant in my life I am helps me. In other words, there isn’t anyone else to drive the car. It’s you. So you can drive it, or you can pretend you aren’t, but its YOUR car, so it’s better to, you know, take the wheel. 

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Rufi Thorpe, author of Dear Fang, With Love and The Girls from Corona del MarM: The internet is flooded with tips for people who want to become writers. Do you have any tips you could give to someone who wants to take up writing that you might not hear about elsewhere? 
R: On a craft level, there is so much to say, it would take many essays, a book, a lifetime of conversation and reading and forgetting and then remembering the same core truths about what a story is, what a character is, why we read and why we write. But for just one core insight, I would say: divest yourself of the belief that writing is magic, that there is a muse, that there is some metaphysical thing called talent that you worry you don’t have or hope that you might. Writing is a skill like anything else. If you spend many hours doing it, if you invest yourself in it, you will get good at it. Story telling is a very basic human ability. There is no muse. There is just you and the other monkeys around a fire. Don't be intimidated by it, it’s in you. 

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M: This is a question I like to ask purely because of the variety of answers I get! I’m really interested in how people work and get things done. Do you have a particular place you write or find yourself the most productive? Are there a particular set of things that need to be in place for things to get done, like a milky cup of tea or a particular album of music you listen to? 
R: I mostly write on a laptop next to a sleeping child. What is most essential for my writing to go well is not any kind of ritual regarding the time or place of the actual act of writing. I could probably write on a napkin on a bus. What is most essential is that I have a few hours alone in my own head during the day. Solitude is the food of the subconscious. As long as I buy myself that time, to sort of stare at things, to think nothing, then I find when I sit down to write that I have plenty to say. 

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M: One last question for a bit of fun! Can you recommend everyone reading a book you've enjoyed recently, as well as a film and an album or song? 
R: I really fell in love with The Door by Magda Szabo. It is one of the strangest, most powerful books I have ever read, about a woman and her housekeeper of all things. From the very first pages it is captivating and has a deep magic like a dream one had long ago that one is only just now remembering. 

As for a film, I hardly get to watch movies anymore until they come on Netflix and then we watch them after the kiddos are asleep, and more often we watch shows. I’m a huge Maria Bamford fan, so I’ve been loving her new Netfix series, Lady Dynamite

As for music, it’s been one solid Lemonade dance party all summer long. It’s just an incredible album. 

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M: Is there anything else you would like to say before we finish? 
R: Not that I can think of! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me and put together such thoughtful questions! 

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M: How can people find out more about you and your work? 
R: Well, I have a website, www.rufithorpe.com, which has links to my books and essays, but I also write a column for McSweeney’s, that you can find here: www.mcsweeneys.net/authors/rufi-thorpe 

~

Thank you for taking part in this Q&A, Rufi! I urge everyone to go out and pick up a copy of Dear Fang, With Love. In case you missed it, my review of this beautiful book can be found here.

M x

reading

Book Review: Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online by Emma Gannon

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Book review: Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online by Emma Gannon

When you got home from school, would you always sign into MSN and spend the rest of the evening speaking to people you've spent the whole day with? Would you set your personal message to show what music you were listening to and then only listen to 'cool' songs to make you look edgy? Did you log in and out again when you saw your crush come online so they would definitely know you were online too? Did you 'accidentally' send them the 'wrong' message in order to get a conversation going? I can safely imagine that most of us did these things, us 'millennials', the ones who grew up with the internet. MSN has since died a sad death and it's all about the Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Twitter, and the million other ways we can speak to each other, non-stop. If talking about the internet and reminiscing about your embarrassing teenage years are two of your favourite things to do, this is the book for you.

Emma Gannon blogs at 'Girl Lost in the City' and grew up with the internet having been born on the same day as the big www. She writes about her life as a blogger and as a freelance writer, her experiences with the internet and the wider world, and generally the things that my generation enjoys reading about. The raw stuff, the real stuff, the stuff that happens to us that we've pretty much been conditioned not to talk to each other about. Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online is a more concentrated, focused version of her blog, taking us through her life so far and the internet milestones she has faced, including (as mentioned before) MSN, text sex, catfishing, online dating, trolling, bulling, and careers. I am incredibly grateful that this book exists as I feel it validates the amount of time I spend musing about the internet and thinking about how much it has affected my life (in good ways and bad).

Emma's opinions are balanced. She's not 100% pro-internet-all-the-time and she's not 100% anti-tell-everyone-everything-about-your-life. She shines as an example of someone who is 'doing internet' right, after giving us many examples of when she has done the internet 'wrong'. I didn't feel when reading this that it was supposed to be a slap-on-the-wrist morality tale for millennials to learn that they're doing something wrong, but a confession that now the internet is such a force in our lives, naturally things are going to go wrong for us. There are also so many things that can go right. Emma speaks about how the internet has helped her to get a wonderful career and supportive friends who she never would have met if it wasn't for Twitter. I can admit myself that I have friends who I only know online and I cherish them as much as my 'in real life' friends. (There's a lot of inverted commas going on in this paragraph, I am aware.)

If this book sounds interesting to you, pick up a copy. If you're nearly there but not quite convinced, listen to a few episodes of her accompanying podcast. It's quick, fun, and a good kick up the backside when you're having an unproductive day.

Ctrl Alt Delete: How I Grew Up Online was published in 7th July by Ebury Press and is available in paperback, ebook, and audiobook now!

reading

Favourite Books of 2016 (So Far)

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Favourite Books of 2016 - Becoming by Laura Jane Williams, Just Kids by Patti Smith, Dear Fang With Love by Rufi Thorpe, The Gunslinger by Stephen King, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth, and Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle

* I was fortunate to receive this copy of Dear Fang, With Love for review from Corsair; thank you! All opinions are, of course, my own. *

As we shuffle into July after a less than stellar June (July hasn't been that great either really, has it?), I thought it was high time I looked back and assessed my reading material from the year so far. I think this year has already been exceptionally high quality on the reading front already, so when it came to picking out a top five I really struggled to narrow my choices down. So I didn't. Here's a top six with a couple of notable mentions thrown in for giggles.

Becoming - Laura Jane Williams (2016, Hodder & Stoughton) - A real five-star read. You may have seen my review of this book back in June, but if not you can find it here. Laura Jane is an absolute star and I will be offloading this book onto anyway who gets in my path.

The Gunslinger - Stephen King (1982, New English Library) - An exciting start to a series I have been putting off for far too long. I haven't written a review of this but this is definitely one of the greatest fantasy books (that isn't Young Adult) that I've read in a long time. There's not really any way I can talk about the story without spoilers but The Gunslinger is chasing the Man in Black across the desert and from that point you'll be sucked in like I was. P.S. Beyond excited for the film.

Just Kids - Patti Smith (2010, Bloomsbury UK) - Another book without a review, but an absolutely stunning read. Patti reminisces about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe from its beginning to his death. It's an incredibly beautiful read that transports you right to the heart of the 1970s New York art and music scene. It's full of references to works that have influenced her life, which I have since gone through and highlighted and written up as a list for my own consumption.

Wolf in White Van - John Darnielle (2014, Farrar, Straus, & Giroux) - My review for this book can be found here. An incredibly unique book that delves into the world of play-by-post games, dealing with topics of loneliness, isolation, and addiction.

Dear Fang, With Love* - Rufi Thorpe (2016, Corsair) - Oh boy. I would recommend you just read my review of this book here and then pick up a copy. Probably my favourite read of the year.

Bitter Greens - Kate Forsyth (2012, Allison & Busby) - Okay, maybe this is on par with Dear Fang as best book of the year. This is in part a retelling of the myth of Rapunzel, intertwined with the story of a young woman and her experiences in the court of Louis XIV, from which she is eventually banished to a convent. I'm in the middle of writing a review for this, so keep your eyes peeled because there is a lot to cover. This book is dark and magical.

Notable mentions:

The Tale of Murasaki - Liza Dalby (2000, Vintage) - Review can be found here! This is the (semi-fictionalised) story of Murasaki, author of The Tale of Genji and lady-in-waiting of the Empress Shoshi at around 1000. We learn about her childhood and travel through life with her, through her relationships, intense friendships, and her introduction to the court of the time.

A Court of Thorns and Roses - Sarah J. Maas (2015, Bloomsbury Children's) - I've written a short review of this book here but to summarise: this is the first in a new(ish) Young Adult Fantasy series by Sarah J. Maas, introducing us to Feyre and her experiences in the world of the mysterious and dark fae after she murders one of their kind. It's an intense and mystical read.

M x

reading

Book Review: Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe*

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Book review: Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

* I was fortunate to receive this copy of Dear Fang, With Love for review from Corsair; thank you! All opinions are, of course, my own. *

'By turns both dark and hilarious, Dear Fang, With Love chronicles a bizarre Eastern European holiday taken by Vera - a ravishing, possibly psychotic, impossibly intelligent seventeen-year-old - and her estranged father, Lucas. From the acclaimed author of The Girls from Corona del Mar.'

Dear Fang, With Love came onto my radar after seeing a tweet from Greta Johnsen of the Nerdette Podcast praising it highly and telling everyone to grab a copy. You can get book reviews from anywhere these days and I love it. I was lucky to get my hands on a beautifully designed proof of Rufi Thorpe's book which now shows many signs of wear from knocking around in my bag, being read in the rain, and whilst eating my lunch on the train. There's even a chocolate stain. I could not put this book down.

The premise of Thorpe's book is an estranged father taking his troubled teenage daughter on a mysterious trip to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The story is told from his perspective, interspersed with emails from his daughter, Vera, to her boyfriend Fang back in America. Before their trip, Vera suffered a psychotic break at a high school party and is now in-and-out of therapy and taking medication for her Bipolar disorder. Lucas hopes this trip will help to calm her and serve as a refuge after he troubling times. Through this journey we learn more about Vera and her mental illness, Lucas' family history from World War II, and the complicated dynamics that can exist between fathers, daughters, and estranged family members. Vilnius serves as the perfect ghostly, historical, and artistic backdrop to this emotional and dizzying journey.

Thorpe's construction of characters is probably my favourite aspect of this novel. She has created true-to-life characters with endless complications that make them human. They contradict themselves and we can see their frailties through their actions, but their love always shines through, even if they don't want it to. We see the turmoil in the mind of a father who left his wife without getting to know his daughter, and we see the processes in the mind of a daughter suffering from something she doesn't understand or want to accept. Despite these difficult stories and emotions, this book feels like a happy book. Throughout I felt the calmness of Vilnius as they attempted to reconcile with one another.

Oddly the only book I can think to compare this to in the way of tone is The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno (which I reviewed last September here). I cannot put my finger on why but both books ooze a sense of calmness in the middle of a family storm. Both have a place on my list of favourite books. There's not much more I can say. This was such a beautiful book that I can't wait to read again.

You can follow Rufi Thorpe on Twitter with her handle @RufiThorpe and read some of her essays at rufithorpe.com. As well as many national publications, Rufi is a columnist for the amazingly hilarious and thought-provoking McSweeneys Internet Tendency, one of my favourite online places to reside. I'd really recommend you give it a look if strange satire and postmodern writing is your thing.

Dear Fang, With Love was published in paperback by Corsair on 2nd June. Pick up your copy of this whirlwind book ASAP.

M x

haul

A Small Mid-Week Haul

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Book haul: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Under-Rated Organ by Giulia Enders and A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J. Maas

During the 'Big Fun Week Off Work 2016' I found myself, yet again, in Waterstones and clutching books from their always-dangerous 'Buy One Get One 1/2 Price' deal. The first book I picked up was Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Under-Rated Organ by Giulia Enders (translated from German by David Shaw, published in English by Scribe), which has been on my radar for a few months now. Filled with drawings and lots of interesting information on your digestive system, this looks like it will be a quick but revealing read. My half price book of choice was A Court of Mist and Fury (published in 2016 by Bloomsbury), the sequel to Sarah J. Maas' A Court of Thorns and Roses which I reviewed in my Quick Reviews post earlier in the week. I was really pleased to see that this is about double the size of the previous volume with oddly tiny text. Think of the amount of drama that can fit in those pages. From everything I have read about this series, this second book has had an even more positive reception that the first so I am excited.

M x

P.S. The moon and stars blanket is new too and will probably be featured in every photo on my blog from now until the end of time.

reading

Quick Book Reviews: Neil Gaiman, J. A. Redmerski, and Sarah J. Maas

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Quick book reviews: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, Killing Sarai by J. A. Redmerski, and A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

It's time for another installment of Quick Book Reviews: short and snappy reviews of recent reads that I don't have enough feedback on to warrant single book reviews. There's a mixed bag here today with some adult fantasy, dark gritty romance, and a popular young adult fairytale retelling. It's also a mixed bag regarding my feelings toward these reads, so I'll dive straight in.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013, Headline) - Neil Gaiman (3 stars)
I only finished this a few days ago but this was a very quick and fun read from eternal favourite Neil Gaiman. When this was first released I didn't feel compelled to pick it up after hearing it took the form of a man reminiscing on his childhood. I don't know why, but these sorts of stories don't really draw me in. However I picked up a copy recently in my birthday shopping haul and actually found myself in the mood to read it. The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the story of a man who, on his way back from a funeral, takes a detour to his childhood home and encounters a figure from his past. Through this event he reminisces about a dark time in his past that is full of monsters, magic, and delicious food. I did enjoy this story and it was written in Gaiman's usual compelling, mystical style, but something about it didn't entertain me as much as his other tales. Maybe it didn't feel as magical, I don't know. But this was still a nice read and one I'm happy I finally got round to.

Killing Sarai (2013) - J.A. Redmerski (DNF 33%)
As you know if you read my TBR Takedown 4.0 post from last month, I was planning on reading this. Unfortunately a third into the ebook I decided this just was not for me. Killing Sarai is the story of a young woman held captive by a Mexican drug lord since she was a child and, when an American man visits the compound (may I add that he is a hitman), she chooses her moment to finally escape. I will admit this book is fast-paced and has an interesting story, but the characters to me were just horrid and I could not deal with the idea that this man and women were going to end up an item. Two damaged individuals do not make a right.  Plus, the female narrator calls another woman a slut within the first few pages, so no. I am not compelled to continue this book or this series.

A Court of Thorns and Roses (2015, Bloomsbury) - Sarah J. Maas (4 stars)
Last but most certainly not least is the first book in a young adult fantasy series that serves as a loose (very loose) retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Feyre is a Katniss Everdeen-type character, hunting in order to keep her family alive in an impoverished and bleak landscape. She lives in the human world, separated from that of the dark and powerful fae whom the select few are foolish enough to worship. One day out hunting, Feyre kills an enormous wolf. This event sets off the rest of the story, with Feyre taken away to the land of the fae by the mysterious Tamlin (aren't they always mysterious, these young adult men?) as punishment for killing one of their kind. Now, this book was fun. This book was really fun. The subject matter wasn't fun, and the vibe wasn't fun, but I absolutely loved reading it. It was dark, cleverly-crafted, and drew me in to this world of the fae and their lore. Honestly, give me some good lore and I'm there. I am beyond excited to continue with this series as the ending left so much open to explore.

M x

film

April, May & June 2016 Films in Review

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April, May and June 2016 films in review

Films, glorious films. Things I don't watch enough of. I look at this list and cannot believe I only managed this amount in three months, but I've <insert excuse here>. I thought I would briefly summarise my experiences with these films in ascending order of enjoyment. I guess in a way it was successful in the way that only one of the films truly didn't give me any joy, and lived up to its name. Speaking of...

Trainwreck - 2 stars - I was disappointed I didn't enjoy this more, but I feel it could've been written a lot better and a lot more concisely. The jokes felt too long and drawn out, so even though I enjoyed everyone's performances, they dragged and left me feeling bored. If you want to experience Amy Schumer at her best, watch her show Inside Amy Schumer. A lot more funny with quick sketches and topical subjects.

Grease Live - 3 stars - Yes, I enjoyed this immensely but only three stars due to the fact most of that enjoyment probably hinges on my love for the film. I thought the casting was very well done and the cinematography of the whole production as a live, constantly-moving performance was pretty spectacular. It's on Netflix if you wish to watch it, and I would recommend you do if you're a fan of the original movie.


The Lobster - 3.5 stars - Dark, disturbing, and weirdly funny. This is the story of a man living in a world where single folk are given 45 days to find a mate or they are turned into the animal of their choice. With unique performances from Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux, and John C. Reilley, this film scratched somewhere in my brain that really got me thinking. Admittedly I enjoyed the first half of the film that sets up this world a lot more than the second half and the aftermath, but still a creative watch and one I'm still thinking about today. Also still undecided about what animal I would be.


Ponyo - 3.5 stars - As you would expect from a Studio Ghibli film, this was adorable, colourful, and charming. A young boy finds a goldfish that turns into a girl. That's the basic premise and, as Hayao Miyazaki has shown time and time again, such a simple story can work so well. This was far from my favourite SG film but I loved it nonetheless. It still gave me that feeling all of their other films do.


Blue Jasmine - 4 stars - #1 Babe Cate Blanchett plays Jasmine, a heavily self-medicated socialite, who moves in with her sister in San Francisco after her husband goes to jail. Another very well-cast film with brilliant performances that is let down by how stereotypically Woody Allen it feels.


Make Happy - 4 stars - Here's the good stuff. Bo Burnham's second stand-up, now on Netflix. I've been a fan of Bo's work for...about seven years now so every time he releases something new it's an exciting day. Although a similar set-up to his previous stand-up, what., and with equally catchy songs, the mood is a lot darker and more inward-looking. He's clearly going through some stuff and isn't afraid to share it with his audience.


The Princess Bride - 4 stars - Yes, I had never seen this film before. I know. Cult classic. 'As you wish'. I get it. I get it now. Don't hassle me. I'm planning on writing a whole post about this film and comparisons with the book which I read before watching. There we can gush.


Bill Cunningham New York - 4 stars - After putting off watching this film for years, unfortunately Bill Cunningham's death prompted me to finally give it a go. What a wonderfully kind and inspiring man. I love documentaries about people who work in journalism and fashion (The September Issue is the best thing since sliced bread), and this was such a pleasing one, devoid of snark or drama.


Birdman - 4.5 stars - I'm almost aggravated by how much I enjoyed this as I was so sure that it wasn't going to be my thing and was massively over-rated. I will now hang my head in shame. This film was spectacular. It follows the story of a superhero movie star looking to make his break onto Broadway by adapting and starring in a Raymond Carver piece, haunted by his past marriage, his daughter fresh from rehab, and the stigma of 'moviestardom'. The cinematography was unbelievable (the film is shot as if one smooth take), with outstanding performances from Emma Stone, Zach Galifanakis, Andrea Riseborough, and Edward Norton. I now understand why critics went mad for it.


Captain America: Civil War - unrated - The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe which I will need to watch again before making a call, star-wise. I liked it, I didn't like it, it wasn't what I expected, it didn't blow me away, but it surprised me. Source material, blah blah. I'm waiting for September's DVD release date. One thing I can say for sure: Spider-Man and Black Panther are the only superheroes I want to see anything from right now.


M x