Sunday, 26 January 2014

2013 in Live... Thingys

I've taken to writing these posts while Leo is out at her rollerskating job on Saturday nights, but last weekend was pretty busy - and ended up being pretty terrible and stressful, so no blogtimes. I am sure you missed me terribly. Never fear, I have returned, and I continue to dwell in the past by recapping the goings-on of my 2013. We're now up to the various live events I attended - plays, musicals, talks, comedy, festivals and gigs.


That includes both plays and musicals.

The History Boys - Alan Bennett
Sydney Opera House

I saw this twice, and I blogged extensively about it at the time because this is my favorite play in the whole world. This production missed the mark a little. There were snatches that were right, but not enough - mainly with my fave character, unfortunately. But it WAS well done, and it was an experiment for me in seeing how I felt about that show with a new cast. Here's a bit from that blog.

"I made myself go and see The History Boys when it ran at the Opera House last month, despite being very nervous about it. I was scared it wouldn't be the same, I was scared that it wouldn't mean as much to me. I was scared that my obsession with the characters was too tied into my fondness for the actors, after following their careers for seven years. But I forced myself to go, to go and see - to test myself on how much I really loved the work, as an entity, as opposed to loving a particular performance of the work.

It was a successful experiment. I definitely love the work, and the work definitely stands on its own. The moment we got there, I picked up a flyer with a pictures of the eight boys on it, posing in character. Simply from their body language in these shots, I could immediately identify which characters they were meant to be. I then looked them up in the actual program, and I'd gotten six out of eight correct, and the two I mixed up with each other were a pretty understandable mix-up, especially due to one of them being the boy who, in my opinion, gave the most different/out-of-character/weak performance compared to the original."

Proof - David Auburn
Menier Chocolate Factory, London

Um, this is a play about maths, and a guy being dead. I saw it on my birthday pretty much only because it starred Jamie Parker and I'll see him anything. It was very clever though. Sorry to all the friends I made come with me who didn't know it was a play about maths.

Les Miserables
Queen's Theatre, London

Of course I went to see this in London - I think I've seen Les Mis on stage times than any other play, at least ten times including school productions. This is the first time I saw it since the new West End staging including the rotating stage and I'm not 100% sold on that, but there were other elements I very much enjoyed, including the work they put into characterizing a lot of the smaller roles through their background actions. Saw this twice - once in my first week with Cecile, and once alone in my last week after I saw their casting changes and knew I needed - NEEDED - to see Anton Zetterholm as Enjolras, because he's the most book-canon casting that they've ever done.

Trafalgar Studios, London

Strange post-apocalyptic version starring James McAvoy in the title role and a weirdly empathetic Lady Macbeth. I somehow scored front row tickets to this, which I thought, okay, that's fine, not a problem, expecting it to be a normal theatre with an orchestra pit and a risen stage. Nope. It was THIS. Totally modern amphitheater design. The stage is just... the floor in front of you, and very small. Here's a picture of it from after the end of the show. Note the remaining pool of blood. We were front and centre and spent a very long time having James McAvoy nearly fall in our laps while covered in blood. Leo loves James McAvoy, like, more than most humans on this planet. She also likes it when men have blood on them, like from a fight, she's super into it. So you'd think this would be a winning combination, but even she was like "THAT WAS TOO MUCH. THAT WAS TOO INTENSE. I'M NOT HERE FOR IT."

Bare: A Pop Opera
Union Theatre, London

I was so so so so thrilled to find out that this was on. Bare has been one of my fave musicals for a very long time, but I had never seen it live - it isn't a very big show, it was never actually full-Broadway, just off-Broadway, and it's a bit tropey, like it sort of tries to tackle ALL! TEEN! ISSUES! a bit heavy-handedly. But I love it and I have watched versions of it on YouTube so many times and played the soundtrack so many times and there is something about that - about being a Broadway fan and loving a show so much despite never having seen it - that moment when you get to sit in a theatre and watch it live for the first time, already knowing every word? That feeling is my religion. But this production. This fucking production. Surpassed every expectation I could have ever imagined to hold. It was in a tiny black box theatre - maybe holding 60 to 80 people - no real stage, just the space in between a few rows of seats. Band tucked away behind a curtain, minimal props. But it completely transported me. 

The cast was better than any I've seen in bootlegs, despite all being British and Bare is a very American show. They just nailed everything, they knew how to use the space, they didn't overdo it. Every lead character was perfect, made very real when it would be easy to make them caricatures, but my god, the two main leads - Michael Vinsen as Peter and Ross Wild as Jason - I have never seen anything like it. Ever. I have never seen better onstage chemistry. The stories they told just through their eyes could fill libraries. I have seen a LOT of versions of this show, and while I am sure the live element does make a huge difference, they were still miles and miles ahead of anyone else. It's very easy to class those two guys as the closeted jock and the twink choirboy who wants to come out, but the way Michael did Peter had so much strength and poise and so little hysteria... like he was so settled in himself and Ross as Jason was so vulnerable and weepy, which is exactly how it should be. They got the dynamic of the text completely perfect and everyone was a great singer, all the songs were incredible, and it was just the best production of something I love that I have seen in a very long time. Saw this one twice, and it's definitely my number one top spot for this year. It was perfect.

Peter and Alice - John Logan
Noel Coward Theatre, London

Judi Dench as Alice Liddell - the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Ben Whishaw as Peter Llewellyn Davies - the inspiration for Peter Pan. The fictional recreation of their one real-life meeting, and what they might have talked about - namely, how the authors ruined their lives. This play was fucked up, brilliant, and once-in-a-lifetime. If you ever get a chance to even read the script, do it, but man. This sure was something. Again, we were front row (this time with a proper stage and separation, thank god) and it was just... an experience. Maybe never see this if you cherish the idea of childhood innocence, but I don't put much store in such things.

The Winslow Boy - Terrance Rattigan
Old Vic Theatre, London

I studied this play at school and I've never seen something at the Old Vic, so I was quite keen to go. It was rather great - I'd forgotten how much I loved both Dickie and Catherine Winslow as characters. The Old Vic is a magical place, as well, so beautiful.

Even Stillness Breathes Softly Against A Brick Wall - Brad Birch
Soho Theatre, London

A new play, small theatre, just two cast members - one of whom was Joe Dempsie (Skins, Game of Thrones) and so I went to see this with Selina, a friend who covers GoT on Hypable. This play - about a comfortable couple that become aware of how complacent they've become and start questioning how their lives work - is so intense that at moments it felt like all the air was sucked out of the room. It literally left me breathless. There were so many quotes in it that I wanted to remember and share that I ended up buying the script, and so did Selina. It was very impressive and the kind of show that feels very adaptable - I hope to see it done again someday.

A Chorus Line
London Palladium

Another favorite musical that I'd never seen live. I managed to get discounted tickets at the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for me and Toyah, and it meant a lot that we got to see this show together after so long. It was a fantastic end to a really awesome BFF day, and by the way, if Morales isn't your fave character in this show, you are just wrong, soz. A Chorus Line is such a weird format for a musical - one act straight through, just the people all in a line telling their individual stories to the director at the back of the room as part of an audition process. It was excellent though.

The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde
The Seymour Centre, Sydney

This was a rather strange production, to say the least. It featured Cecily - with massive golden curls, a gypsy shirt and a flower crown - dancing to Icona Pop while watering roses, and Algie with a quiff and a blue and yellow tartan suit with city shorts instead of pants. Needless to say, while watching them all I could think about was Harry Styles and Nick Grimshaw, so... someone should make that AU a thing, or something.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead - Tom Stoppard
Sydney Theatre Company

This was ultimately disappointing, unfortunately. I was expecting a LOT from it, and it just didn't really reach that. I mean, different directors and actors interpret things differently, but I feel like this production missed the mark as to what the two lead characters are actually like, like how they feel inside. Their dynamic with one another was kind of abusive to the point that I felt uncomfortable, which is NOT how they should be - and the take on how they played it was weird. You had Tim Minchin, as Ros, who played it with his natural Aussie accent, his usual eyeliner and mad hair, and he was kind of puppyish and okay, and then Toby Schmitz as Guil who couldn't work out what he was doing? His accent was a weird mix of like.. very traditional RSC British, and like, Bernard Black. I don't know if it was on purpose but he was all over the place and played Guil way way way too harshly. This production was a really big deal here - those actors are both fairly big in Australian theatre and Tim Minchin has a place on the world stage - but it just did not impress me. I wanted to round up everyone who attended and transport them to see the version Jamie Parker and Sam Barnett did in the West End in 2011, because it was weep-worthy perfection and and this was just not. Blahhhh.

I'm also including here that I watched for the first time, The Book of Mormon as a bootleg DVD, original Broadway cast, as well as a non-bootleg DVD of the 25th Anniversary Les Mis concert at the O2 Arena, featuring that great moment in Drink With Me when Enjolras - Ramin Karimloo and Grantaire - Hadley Fraser - grab each other's faces and then walk offstage together to fuck while the others are all still singing.

I also went to a cinema screening of the National Theatre's 50th Anniversary documentary and performance and I fucking sobbed the entire way through. For three hours. I'd stop for a few scenes and then I would start again. It was one of the most gorgeous and moving things I have ever seen and I am getting the DVD to keep forever, but so glad I saw it in the immersive cinema experience. I wish I could have been there in real life. Of course, The History Boys tribute scene got to me - especially as I wondered who would do Hector after Richard's recent death and then they came on and it was Alan Bennett himself doing it, which was the only appropriate response and one I hadn't considered, but so many scenes - so many plays, so much history - the Angels in America bit, Judi Dench singing Send In The Clowns, Joan Plowright doing Joan of Arc, Ralph Fiennes in Pravda, the closing scene of Frances De La Tour in The Habit of Art... and hearing everyone behind the scenes speak about how excited they were to do these various scenes, and the history behind them... It was so moving and overwhelming and just.. if that community is something that you're familiar with, this event is a must-see.

Comedy and Speaking Engagements

This is the list of talky things basically.

Neil Gaiman
Melbourne Wheeler Centre and Sydney Angel Place Recital Hall

Two very different events promoting the upcoming release of The Ocean at The End Of The Lane. This promotional tour gave us a world exclusive sample of the book's first few chapters, but the two events, as I mentioned, differed quite a lot. Melbourne was more of a Q and A with a host I absolutely loathed, it was so awkwardly done. Sydney was more self-run, where he just stood there and did readings, took his own questions, and did a little bit with 4Play, the string quartet. I infinitely preferred the Sydney event, but the Melbourne one had some good stuff come out of it too.

Christopher Gutierrez
National Speaking Tour - Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney

I tour-managed Chris on this trip in April, including our first-time attempt at Perth, which was relatively successful! The bastard cut it very fine, though - we had our last event the night before not only his own flight home, but when I had to leave the country for the UK.

Nick Grimshaw's Sweat the Small Stuff
Riverside Studios, London

Not sure how to categorize this, but this seems like the best list. Obviously, this is a television taping - actually for the first ever episode of Sweat, the very first. It was a little awkward and SO long - much longer than any taping I've been to before, and I used to go to a lot in London - but I loved getting to watch Nick, especially when the cameras were off. That was a million times more entertaining and meaningful to me than watching the actual panel show, because he is just exactly how he seems - derpy and sheepish and awkward and sweet. It really struck me how he actually came onstage, before filming started - you see hosts come on being all HELLO! I AM HERE! sort of performing to the crowd. He did not do that. God, the stupid warm-up hype man was more of a showman than him. But he did not ignore the crowd either, he just sort of walked in casually from behind the stands and waved awkwardly being like "hi everybody... you alright?" in the way he does to literally everyone, from small children to the literal Queen of England. He doesn't put anything on and just talks like everyone is normal, and on the same level, all the time, and I really really really love that about him.

Unhappy Birthday - Amy Lamé
Camden People's Theatre, London

Bizarre comedy/cabaret/interactive performance group therapy session about a woman and her lifelong obsession with Morrissey. Katrina took this to me for my birthday present and it was ridiculously fun - I'm just super thankful that when passing the parcel, it didn't stop on me and I didn't have to get up and open a layer and participate in whatever that round's story was. The worst I got was commentary on my apparently amazing cleavage, which, coming from another lady, I will take! Let me tell you, my boobs are not often particularly extraordinary, but this was a new dress that apparently does good things. So that was fine but man, if I had to do what some of the other people had to do, I would have run out screaming.

Joe Lycett
Hen and Chickens Pub, London

Joe is a comedian who I know from panel shows, basically. He's friends with Nick and was actually at that Sweat taping, but I had never seen his own stand-up. It was good, a bit cringey but mostly good - he definitely pushes the PC line, but many comedians do. He's also bisexual and was quite keen to find other bisexuals in the audience. Katrina has been several times and is now known to him as that girl who always brings bisexual to his shows, because every time she's attended she's had a different bi person with her. The weirdest thing about this day was that when we got to the pub, Iwan Rheon - from Misfits and GoT - was casually sitting drinking outside the same pub. We lurked him for a while but he was unfortunately not there to attend the comedy stylings of Joe Lycett.

Neil Gaiman
Apple Store, London

This was a free event that Toy and I just caught the first half hour of before dashing into A Chorus Line - which was literally across the road - but some of what we did see really stuck with me - some stuff about families being crazy, and about weird Bible fanfiction. The interviewer was great. I believe this event is available as a podcast but I am not able to access it via Australian iTunes, so if anyone wants to help me out with that, that would be awesome.

Neil Gaiman
The Debating Chamber, Cambridge Union Society

This was the actual event of Neil's that I had planned to go to while in the UK and purchased a ticket for and everything! I went up to Cambridge by myself - first time there, actually, and while I didn't get to go inside any of the colleges like I did in Oxford, I really loved the vibe of the town. It was a little warmer and messier... it's the baggy wool sweater with thumbholes in comparison to Oxford's pristine argyle knit cardigan. Stephen Fry writes a lot, in one of his books, about the vibe of Cambridge versus Oxford in terms of the comedy and actors that come out of both places and I could immediately see what he was talking about just from the environment of the place. I did take myself for a walk to see the Footlights theatre and take a few pictures of it. Neil's talk was in the famous Debating Chamber, a very old mini-courtroom, and the seats were rather uncomfortable but it was a good event. I lay out on the grass before it opened, reading my brand new advance copy of Ocean, and the staff running the event were super wonderful to me about getting out to get to the train station and stuff like that. I'm glad I went, even it if was a tad awkward being alone.

Sir David Attenborough: A Life On Earth
Capitol Theatre, Sydney

Our tickets for this cost $235 per person. Worth it. 'Nuff said.


For this one, here's a straight list and then a top 5.

Big Day Out - Olympic Park, Sydney (watched Against Me!, Childish Gambino, Yeah Yeah Yeahs (incidentally) Vampire Weekend, The Killers, Red Hot Chili Peppers)
Motion City Soundtrack – Factory Theatre, Sydney
Fun - Enmore Theatre
Fall Out Boy – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Fall Out Boy – Palace Theatre, Melbourne
Iggy Pop – Horden Pavilion, Sydney
Pete Doherty – Brixton Jamm, London
Musical Theatre Cabaret - Battersea Barge, London
Carl Barat – Zombie Hut, Corby
Andrew McMahon – Union Chapel, London
Watsky – O2 Academy, Oxford
Slam Dunk North - Leeds University (watched The Summer Set, Ace Enders, William Beckett, Andrew McMahon
Slam Dunk South - Herts University (watched Ace Enders, William Beckett, Andrew McMahon)
Slam Dunk Midlands - Wolverhampton Civic Hall (watched Ace Enders, The Early November, William Beckett, Andrew McMahon)
Darren Criss – Nouveau Casion, Paris
Manic Street Preachers - Horden Pavilion, Sydney
Of Monsters and Men – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
William Beckett with The Maine and Anberlin – The HiFi, Brisbane
William Beckett with The Maine and Anberlin – Coolangatta Hotel, Gold Coast
William Beckett with The Maine and Anberlin – Panthers, Newcastle
William Beckett with The Maine and Anberlin – The HiFi, Sydney
William Beckett with The Maine and Anberlin – The Gov, Adelaide
Amanda Palmer – Enmore Theatre, Sydney
One Direction – Allphones Arena, Sydney (6th Oct)
One Direction – Allphones Arena, Sydney (23rd Oct)
One Direction – Allphones Arena, Sydney (26th Oct)
Fall Out Boy – Entertainment Centre, Adelaide
Fall Out Boy – Entertainment Centre, Sydney
The Cribs - Beresford Hotel, Sydney
Neutral Milk Hotel - Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Franz Ferdinand - Metro Theatre, Sydney
The Used - Warped Tour Sydney
The Used - Warped Tour Canberra

Okay I lied this is a top ten because I could NOT fucking not talk about some of these others so here is a hopefully short rundown of the my top ten gig experiences of 2013.

10. The Killers at Big Day Out, Sydney
I have been waiting SO LONG to see The Killers. The one time I got amazing, small venue tickets to see them, they ended up having to cancel. And they also went through a period where their stage show seemed really wanky and overblown. But god. This was perfection. Brandon Flowers might literally have the best voice in the world? I will never forget the sensation of the very light, very cold rain starting as he sung back an a capella reprise of Spaceman. Gorgeous experience.

09. Darren Criss at Nouveau Casino, Paris
This wasn't my favorite Darren show of all time in terms of venue or setlist, and wow some of the fans there really took the cake in terms of horridness, but I was with awesome people and he played some awesome stuff and he didn't do the awkward, showman-y stuff he was doing on the Listen Up tour, it was thankfully more acoustic and natural. It was really fun and nice and I had missed him so I am glad I got to see him play. Seeing him afterwards was nice too, of course, and seeing his film premiere!

08. Manic Street Preachers at Horden Pavilion, Sydney
This was just a really big deal show for me, it was perfect mix of really bad feels and utter ridiculousness, which is what the Manics are. I had no idea this was the first time Other Nat was seeing them or I would have offered her better moral support, because it may have been a big deal for me but it was a MASSIVE, MASSIVE deal for her. JDB can fight Brandon Flowers for best voice in history of time, and Nicky Wire is a magical sparkleprince.

07. George Watsky at the O2 Academy, Oxford
To start with, we had to make the security guard cloak a bag of pine cones for us, so that was a weird start. We went down to Oxford because we couldn't make the London show and we wanted to run around Oxford colleges looking at things, which we did and was wonderful and feels-filled. The gig, I was initially going to because my buddy Dylan Saunders, of Team StarKid, was touring as Watsky's lead vocalist, but I have gotten to know George's stuff pretty well too. I've seen George Watsky before, in LA, but the sound at that show wasn't great and I was in a really awkward enclosed bar area and basically, apart from one or two songs it wasn't the most fulfilling experience. This show in Oxford was a whole other ball game. It was so fucking beautiful and uplifting and amazing, the atmosphere was so pure and euphoric and I just love George as a writer. Toy was a total Watsky virgin and was really moved by this show, it was incredibly special.

06. The Used at Warped Tour Sydney
First time seeing these guys in nearly two years and it was as splendid as ever. Better, even, because you can see how things have changed with Bert for the better. Seeing him succeed and seeing him happy and not angry, seeing him focus on motivating and uplifting people, is really fucking cool.

05. Andrew McMahon at Union Chapel, London
Beautiful man who always puts on beautiful shows no matter if the venue is like a dingy tent or a rock club or a concert hall. So this was extra special because Union is one of the most beautiful, ethereal venues in the world. This show should have been filmed for a live DVD. I was so so so so sick during this show - this whole week - so it's amazing I even remember it - but it was fucking lovely.

04. Carl Barat at the Zombie Hut in Corby
To start with, this venue is freaking awesome? You'd never guess it - Corby is like a nothing place and this is literally a football club building on the outskirts of town but they have converted it into this AMAZING rock venue. If you see that a band you like is playing there, GO, it's like 7 quid on the train from London and it was so cool. But yes. Carl. He is good. He is nice. It was Toy's first time seeing him so that was also nice. I can't do words about Carl. Everything about him is perfect. The entire night was ridiculous - momentarily clouded by idiotic drunk people, and my god the crowd was LOUD and ROUGH (it was a full-band rock show) but it was great and he is a darling and a blessing to us all. Carl Carl Carl, Carl Carl Carl Carl.

03. Fall Out Boy at the Palace, Melbourne
It's really hard to choose between the four FOB shows I saw this year - the two reunion tour ones, and the two Save Rock and Roll ones. I love the staging and the effects and Pete's speeches and everything about the Save Rock and Roll live show, and I love the new songs. And the Sydney show was tiny, I haven't seen them play a room that small since like.. 2007, and it was the first one and I got to meet them all after and it was super chill. But as an actual show? I think the Melbourne reunion tour takes the cake. Melbourne has always done well by me re: FOB - for some reason their shows there always stand out to me, but this one was just.. they were so ON, funny, and fun.. the venue was gorgeous, never been there before and I was up on a balcony but didn't even care, it is the most perfect venue with all these different vantage points. And they played Sophomore Slump which is like, possibly my favorite song of theirs - maybe it has some competition now but it was my FIRST fave FOB song, and one they played at my first ever FOB show in 2006, but arrrrrgh, there was a lot of crying taking place at that show.

Okay. The last two are kind of a joint tie for number one for different reasons and I feel really stressed about it and what to number them so they are both number one.

01. William Beckett at Slam Dunk Midlands, Wolverhampton
Again, like FOB, it's hard to make a call here out of the eight times I saw William play this year. Each show was different, he mixes up the set list and goes with the crowd, and of course there's the difference between Slam Dunk (pre-album release) and the Aussie tour where he was playing the new record. Every single show was different and there wasn't really a low point - some of the SUPER high points include him playing Classifieds at Slam Dunk North, and Sputter with Andrew McMahon at Slam Dunk South, singing Just You Wait with Kennedy from The Maine on the Aussie tour, throwing in banter from our interview in Newcastle, opening with Oh! Love at my request, going to Adelaide last-minute to see him with Bel, and hearing Benny and Joon for the first time and every time after. Each show was different and special and every moment he's onstage still means so much to me even though the number of times I've seen him play is nearing 100. 

But if I'm picking a top 2013 William Beckett Experience, it has to be the final Slam Dunk day in Wolverhampton. We - me and Amy - met up with William a few hours before his set and he took us backstage to listen to his new record, Genuine and Counterfeit. We were apparently the first people outside of his professional team to hear it, in the whole world - he literally got the master the day before. There is no way to really talk about this without sounding like a bragging wanker, but that is a thing that happened, and it means more to us than either of us can ever really describe. We get so fucking ridiculous about him every single time. You'd think we would be like, used to him by now, but that is not a thing that is going to happen and the whole thing is still just really overwhelming. The show that followed, the end of Slam Dunk for us with lots of other friends there in the audience too, was an epic one, including After The Last Midtown Show, some terrible, hysterical banter, and The Summer Set doing gang vocals on Great Night. Amy and I drove back to her place in Cheddar after the show - we had a whole playlist of music planned and didn't even turn it on because we spent the entire journey gabbling to each other about everything that had happened.

01. One Direction at Allphones Arena, Sydney
How do I begin to describe my One Direction experience? Well, I did write an email on that subject, approximately 6000 words long, after my first show, which I attended alone. Again, all shows had merit for different reasons, but I think the last of the three I saw, which was also the last show they had in Sydney, was probably my favorite. We had insane seats, second row in the side box closest the stage, basically equivalent to watching from side of stage. It was like, TOO CLOSE but so fucking cool. Nat and I were both kind of mildly mentally prepared for everything by this point as we'd seen the show a couple of times each, we knew what to look out for and focus on and not miss, and it was so cool and happy and intimate. I have SUCH good videos from this, and Harry kept emotionally terrorizing children right next to us which was very traumatic, and gah, it was just so good. 

But real talk, regardless of seats, every show I went to had the best atmosphere. The crowds were just so positive - it wasn't like weird, sexually charged hysterical crying like footage of Bieber concerts. Everyone was basically just having a laugh and having fun and dressing up and being silly and fistpumping and it was fucking uplifting. It was so gleeful and positive and those boys deliver a PHENOMENAL live show, very natural and cool and way better vocals than on their recordings, and they work hard to make every show a bit different and organic, like chatting naturally, letting mistakes happen, talking to the band, their twitter questions, having fun with it. It was perfect. It made me so happy in a way very few things do - like happy in the way that you forget there is ever even a possibility of being anything other than happy. I don't mean that in a cultish, creepy way. It's such a good thing. I don't think anyone who attended their gig would fail to love it. I saw SO MANY hipster dudes with beards there. Not like, you know, the major population of the arena, but I kept spotting them. Bro Directioners are me and Nat's fave. There's SO much I could write about this, but yeah. So good. I would literally see them every single day. They did so good and I am so stupidly proud of them.

On that note, I shall end this blog, which is also an end to my 2013 recap lists! Appropriately, next week's blog will be 1D-centric - I've been mentally working on a post for a while now about my top 1D songs - I mean I'm a sensible person with generally well-regarded taste in music, so I feel like what the world needs is a descriptive playlist of their best songs according to me, perhaps to, ahem, force some people see the light. I wanted to wait to do that until the Midnight Memories video came out, because it will be included. And it's just been announced that it comes out this Friday! So yes. Next week is 1D blog week. Don't worry, I promise not every week will be 1D blog week.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

2013 in Films

Okay! Last week was books, now we have my movies of 2013! The full list, then a little bit about my top ten.

Similar categorising as before:

Bold indicates a first-time viewing.
Italics indicate that I saw it at the cinema.

Pitch Perfect
People Like Us

Les Miserables (two - possibly three times at cinema, in addition to seeing it twice in 2012)
Rise of the Guardians

Silver Linings Playbook
The Castle
Looking for Alibrandi
Bedazzled (the Peter Cook/Dudley Moore version)
Reefer Madness
The Boat That Rocked
She's The Man
Teen Wolf
Fried Green Tomatoes At The Whistle Stop Cafe
Star Trek: Into Darkness
Much Ado About Nothing
Behind The Candelabra
Imogene (Girl Most Likely)

Fun Size

17 Again
Josie and the Pussycats
Shaun of the Dead
Hot Fuzz
The World's End
Whip It
The Man In The Iron Mask
Beautiful Thing
The First Time
One Direction: This Is Us 
(twice at cinema)
Road to Perdition
White Frog

Maid in Manhattan
Leap Year
For A Good Time Call
Now You See Me

About Time
Thor: The Dark World

The Prestige

Romy and Michele's High School Reunion
The Hunger Games
Catching Fire
An Adventure in Space and Time

Miracle on 34th Street

That's a clean 50 all up, not counting repeats. There's a few things I haven't categorised here, like concert DVDs (This Is Us counts as a film, I think, but some concert DVDs I watched do not) and cinema-broadcast or bootleg theatre performances. Those will go into the next post, where I'll talk about live events like concerts and plays and such other good things.

In addition to movies, I obviously watched a lot of TV. I cannot record all the TV I watch, it would be sort of impossible, but the shows I follow regularly are Glee, Teen Wolf, Doctor Who, New Girl, The Legend of Korra, Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones, all of which had stand-out moments this year. My absolute guilty pleasure show is Reign, which is so bad in so many ways, yet so brilliant in so many other ways. My favourite new TV obsessions this year were Orange Is The New Black, Vikings, Greek, Castle, and The Great British Bake-Off. Bake-Off is legitimately the only show this year I've been angry about getting spoiled for.

Here's a bit about my top 10 film experiences of 2013:

10) Star Trek: Into Darkness
Been waiting a long time for this one. Watched the red carpet of the London premiere. Saw the actual movie with Megan and Leo - and let me tell you, ages and ages ago Megan joked that I should come to London for the Star Trek sequel release to watch it with her, because I got her into it in 2009 and it's meant so much to us since then. LOL that it ended up actually happening? The movie isn't perfect, but the entire main cast is, and the reverse-Wrath of Khan death scene is a punch in the gut. I think I love the characters and the universe more than I objectively loved this film as a stand alone, but it made the list for the investment, excitement and anticipation of it FINALLY coming out.

09) Imogene
I went to Paris to see the premiere of Imogene (called Girl Most Likely in the USA) at a French film festival that happened to coincide with my visit to the UK - well, actually I sort of extended my visit to fit it in. Getting tickets was a freaking nightmare - seeing Darren on the red carpet for his first feature film was worth it. The movie itself is a bit of an odd one, but there are some parts that were incredibly well written, and D himself is so so so good in it. It's one of those movies that's sort of hard to deal with because it's so painfully real - people doing the gross or weird things that they do in real life but that you don't often see portrayed on screen because people usually watch media for escapism and they don't actually want things to be too real. Imogene is very real, that is, until like, the last 20 minutes, where it seems like everyone involved in movie took a shitload of drugs and made something up. Still, it's pretty good. Weird, but good, and the acting is great, and I am proud of Darren for holding his own in this cast of big names.

08) Much Ado About Nothing
How long have Joss fans been waiting for this damn movie to come out? This movie really has to be experienced to be understood, but what a brilliant adaptation. Alexis Denisof was unbelievably perfect, Clark Gregg went beyond perfect into sublime, and - unusually for me - I loved the physical comedy in this movie. It manages to avoid dumb slapstick while still being uncontrollably hilarious. Much Ado is such a timeless play and it's just so cool that Team Joss made this film for the hell of it. I saw this with Toy in one of my favourite cinemas in Notting Hill, and I took so many photos of the Tube posters for it.

07) For A Good Time Call...
Leo watched this movie on the plane and made me watch it when we got home. It's about two girls who hate each other and become roommates and start a phone sex business. It's the best movie about female friendship I have ever seen. It's written and produced by one of the female lead actors, it's so lovely and so funny and it has zero hype, because misogyny. The main girls are totally shippable, but it's also kind of nice not to, because there's so little out there about the importance of friendship, in a realistic way, and it is so gorgeous. Justin Long co-stars as the gay bff of both girls - he sets them up as roommates - and there's a ridiculous Kevin Smith cameo.

06) Josie and the Pussycats
I cannot believe I had never seen this movie until this year. I watched it with Nat and Mimi and Leo after a totally ridiculous night of homemade pizza, a lot of candy, and making Nat's Harry and Louis dolls do very stupid things, and FUCK. I had sort of a mental block on this film for a long time because I had a bad association with one of the songs from it, really old high school ex stuff, but since I'm well over that now, I finally watched it and I was not, in any way, expecting the level of satire and hilarity. I had no idea it was so clever and I hate myself for spending over ten years pointedly not watching this movie.

05) One Direction: This Is Us
This movie wasn't quite as good as I wanted it to be - as in, not enough candid moments and it didn't teach me anything I didn't already know about them - but it is beautifully done and fun and very dear and it made me cry and made me feel so good. We got to see this at a preview screening and we may have taken in a fair amount of alcohol and then taken a lot of drunk selfies with the 1D cardboard cutouts in the foyer afterwards - and then Nat and I saw it again later in the run, like, in the middle of the day, so we could swear angrily at the screen about Zayn buying his mum a house and like, Liam's dad crying and stuff. EMOTIONAL TERRORISM.

04) Pitch Perfect
I blogged about this right after we saw it. What a fucking masterpiece that movie is. It's going to be a classic, and I still cannot believe how much Francesca cried.

03) Thor: The Dark World (MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW)
Saw this by myself, cried SO FUCKING MUCH. Like curled in on myself in my seat crying. So so so sos ososososo well done. Thor was easily my favourite MCU film pre-Avengers (not that Avengers is my fave now anyway) and this was just the best follow-up to Thor and Loki's story that I could have imagined. I love Jane, I  love dumb, Liam Payne-esque labrador puppy Thor, I love Darcy, I love Sif, I LOVE LOVE LOVE Frigga, I love the imagery, I love the London scenery, I love Asgard, I love the relationship between Frigga and Loki. I have massive empathy for Loki, and so much of this movie fucked me up - his reaction to her death and obviously his own as well. I am not sure exactly where they're going to take this now, given that end scene showing he's alive, because I found out from a source involved in the production - I have no idea whether this is common knowledge or not - that originally that death scene was legit, like it really was a sacrifice and a redemption, and he was meant to be gone, as a redeemed anti hero. But test audiences did not respond to it well, like, the idea of actually losing him for good, so they stuck him in again at the end. I'm not sure about that, because I really don't want the fact he's still around to take away from the integrity of what he did, for it all to be a trick or a double/triple/quadruple cross. His character is absolutely built for a redemption arc, villain to antagonist to antihero to reluctant hero, and that death moment was genuine. It was intended to be genuine. So I really hope that the reappearance is like, more similar to Spike coming back in Angel after season 7 of Buffy - something not entirely in his control, and less similar to like, Horcruxes or something. I admit I am glad he is still around.

02) The World's End
Leo and I got to attend a special premiere screening of this with Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. We ate Cornettos. We had a Q and A and I got to ask a question. The audience was so fantastic and responsive. The movie is one of the saddest, most wrenching things I've ever seen. I legitimately forgot, for the first half of the film, that anything supernatural/sci-fi/action was going to happen (as is the deal with the Cornetto trilogy - some bland small town life gets interrupted by Shenanigans) - I got so involved with the personal story, and I would have been totally cool if it had just been a weird emotional black comedy about Gary King and his Musketeers and his dissatisfaction with life. Gary King is Sirius Black, if Sirius had been a Muggle and not, you know, died. That is what people like that turn into, which made the whole thing hurt more for several reasons. So many little painful moments, like him still using a reference from a school in-joke everyone else had long since forgotten, that kind of stuff just stabs you, it is so awful. It's hilarious as well, at times, obviously, but yeah, it's heavy. I love these men, I love what they create together and their ethic about it - it's so complex and they put in references that like, only about 14 people will understand and they just don't care, they do it for themselves, you could dedicate years to unpicking the Trilogy, but here's a good blog about it, and a brilliant blog (weirdly, by a girl I used to know IRL, but didn't know this was her tumblr) about the ethos of Shaun of the Dead - and I am glad I got to see the film in this situation. Also, wow, Edgar Wright has some SERIOUS issues with his hometown. I demanded that Jonathan watch this, and I think I traumatised him.

01) About Time
SEE THIS MOVIE IF YOU HAVEN'T. SEE IT SEE IT SEE IT. There are no words for how good this movie was, but I attempted some for Hypable's Movie of the Year post: "Confusion would be a valid response upon hearing that the latest project from Richard Curtis – the beloved writer/director of Notting Hill, Love Actually, and Four Weddings and a Funeral – is a film about time travel. But About Time is a masterpiece, ticking every box for a perfect Curtis romantic comedy – love, death, family, a focus on the little things in life, a dopey leading man, and beautiful on-location English scenery – with the fantastical element hardly seeming out of place at all. When Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns from his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in their family have the ability to travel back in time, his life is, understandably, somewhat changed. After a few do-overs, he gets together with Mary (Rachel McAdams) and learns how best to use his unique ability to help himself and his loved ones. About Time is one for the ages – an indescribably beautiful and surprisingly realistic look at this science-fiction concept, and it may just be Curtis’s best film yet."

Next up - gigs, plays, musicals, comedy, talks - live events basically.

Friday, 3 January 2014

2013 in Books

My effort to blog more in 2014 starts now - I've got lists of all the books, movies, gigs etc I imbibed last year and I'm putting them up, in case anyone's interested. Here's all the books I read this year, vaguely in chronological order, plus a bit of a proper blog about my top five favourites.

Bold indicates a book that I read for the first time in 2013, regardless of publishing date.
Italics indicate non-fiction.

Wild Magic – Tamora Pierce
Wolf Speaker – Tamora Pierce
Emperor Mage – Tamora Pierce
Realms of the Gods – Tamora Pierce
First Test – Tamora Pierce
Page – Tamora Pierce
Squire – Tamora Pierce
Lady Knight – Tamora Pierce
Playing Beatie Bow – Ruth Park
Gray – Pete Wentz
Struck By Lightning – Chris Colfer
How To Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less – Sarah Glidden
A Dance With Dragons – George RR Martin

Young Nick's Head – Karen Hesse
Rose By Any Other Name – Maureen McCarthy
The Bully Book – Eric Kahn Gale
Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City – Anna Quindlen
The Laying on of Hands - Alan Bennett
The Clothes They Stood Up In – Alan Bennett

Coram Boy – Jamila Gavin
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops – Jen Campbell

The Brass Opinion – Jonathan Kearns
The Universe vs Alex Woods – Gavin Extence
Adorkable – Sarra Manning
Nobody's Girl – Sarra Manning
The Fault In Our Stars – John Green
The Promise – Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel
The Search – Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novel

Bridget Jones's Diary – Helen Fielding
Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason – Helen Fielding
My Sister Sif – Ruth Park
Battle Magic – Tamora Pierce
The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George Speare
Fortunately, The Milk – Neil Gaiman
The Radleys – Matt Haig
Fangirl – Rainbow Rowel
Elidor – Alan Garner
Trickster's Choice – Tamora Pierce
Trickster's Queen – Tamora Pierce
The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
Threepenny Memoir – Carl Barat
Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself – Judy Blume
The Christmas Mystery – Jostein Gaarder
Growning Pains – Billie Piper

Here's a little bit about my top five reading experiences of 2013:

Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
In case you missed the memo, the Les Miserables movie adaptation coming out last Christmas was a pretty big deal to me. This story is one of the most important things in my life and has been for a very long time. The musical came first, but I saw several film adaptations and read the book when I was in high school. Tom Hooper's film references an extraordinary, unexpected amount of book canon, and Les Mis got a huge, passionate fandom resurgence with most participants - especially fanfic writers - tackling the book. I re-read it early this year - actually, several parts of it I read a few versions of, in different translations - but the entire thing is so delightful. It's known as a tragic story and nearly everyone dies, but one of the reasons that it's so wrenching - something that the musical doesn't really show - is that you love EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER because they are all so fucking funny. They are all sassy and marvellous and it's just the most funny, sweet writing - beautiful descriptions of the human experience. Yes, Hugo quite literally loses the plot a few times when he wants to describe Waterloo or the Paris sewer systems, but like.. it is worth it, and it's all part of the charm, he's such a weirdo. Every life lesson you could ever need to learn is in that book, and I put flowers on both Hugo's tomb and the site of the barricade this summer.

Imagined London: A Tour of the World's Greatest Fictional City – Anna Quindlen
“London has the trick of making its past, its long indelible past, always a part of its present. And for that reason it will always have meaning for the future, because of all it can teach about disaster, survival, and redemption. It is all there in the streets. It is all there in the books.”

I bought this book instantly after reading the above quote from it somewhere online, because I knew right away that this author clearly gets London - gets it in a way that's so very important to me, in a way that cuts through the "So pretty! So historic!" Ye Olde Theme Park bullshit that casual visitors tend to pick up from their guidebooks. It's by an American writer, a novelist, who had a long-term love affair with London via literature before ever visiting the place, and she writes here about the London that exists in books and the London that exists in reality and the London that exists for her specifically. I've written a lot, in the past year, about the London that exists for me, as well - over 10,000 words, which I am in the process of perfecting and will post as a blog series at some point in the next few weeks.

The Universe vs Alex Woods - Gavin Extence
I kept picking up this novel in various Waterstones in London and putting it back down again, because I wasn't sure what to make of it - the blurb didn't sound like my sort of thing, but something just kept drawing me back in. Eventually I bought it and it's stunning. Absolutely astounding - not least because it's a debut novel - I am not sure I've ever read a more surprising book. The plot appears like a winding path through the woods - wanky metaphor I know, but seriously, to me it was almost tangible, how the next turn in the road would come out of the darkness and take the story smoothly to its next destination without being jolted or shocking. It's twist after twist after twist without being any sort of thriller - it really just unfolds. It includes Glastonbury hippies, getting hit by a meteor, epilepsy, Kurt Vonnegut, home marijuana cultivation, and the morality of legal assisted suicide. Above all it's about friendship. It's a special one.

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
Fangirl was my pick for Hypable's Best Books of 2013, and here's what I wrote for the site:

'Generally, when a book (or a movie, or a TV show) tries to portray a subculture to a wider audience, it doesn’t come across well – it tends to either turn into a caricature for "civilians" to laugh at, or it shows the community in a way that’s dumbed-down in its attempts to "translate" to the rest of the world. So, to say I was skeptical when the buzz around Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl started growing would be a massive understatement. My fears, in this case, were misplaced. Fangirl gets it right in a way that I’ve never encountered before. I’m genuinely shocked by the lack of heavy-handed exposition about things like shipping and fanfiction – it’s brilliantly and subtly done through the use of a few incredibly likeable civilian characters. The general story of Cath and her twin sister starting out at college, their family issues and first loves, holds up on its own, and in fact tackles some pretty tricky material in terms of mental health. The description of Cath’s involvement in fandom is so spot-on that I simultaneously want to gather up every copy on the planet and hide them- it feels that much like a look at something private – and to shove a copy in the face of every civilian I know and say "Read this. Here’s the last fifteen years of my life. Now you’ll understand me."'

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane - Neil Gaiman
This book is quite difficult for me to talk about. It's Neil Gaiman's first full-length novel for adults since 2006, and it's just as strange and magical and real as his past offerings, like American Gods and Neverwhere, but it's so much more personal than his past work, in a lot of ways. It's the first novel he's ever written in the first person, and that instantly lends something to it - usually I don't really like the first person, and actually, one of Fangirl's biggest merits was that it was in third - a first-person take on that story would have made it the self-indulgent wank I feared it would be. But when Neil does first person, which I've only really seen prior to Ocean in a few of his short stories - it instantly feels like he is the narrator. Not a fictional character, him, and I see him in every line and every circumstance, I feel like those stories are the ones that start out as a true incident from his life that he then adds to, in his own way. Some of them certainly are, for a fact, and Ocean absolutely fits the bill there. It is, by open admission, almost an autobiography - it's based on things that happened in Neil's own childhood, it's his own house... elements are changed, of course, but the setting and the start of the story are true, and most importantly, the narrator - the child, who is never named, that child feels like Neil. His inner thoughts and the way he responds to what happens to him, it's meant to be Neil. He put a lot more personal experience into this book than anything he's ever done before, he was terrified of publishing it and about how it would be received, and I understand why. Something about it feels very different. I heard the first few chapters in January, read aloud by Neil at a world exclusive event, and even those few set-up moments hit me very hard. It hurt me a lot to hear about this child being unhappy. There's scenes in those first couple of chapters involving a depressing birthday party and a dead kitten that I hope with all my heart never happened to Neil, but I've got a feeling they may have.

Again, in case you missed the memo, I have a fairly personal relationship with Neil. We are friends, in a way, and have been so for nearly five years. I care about him a great deal as a human being, he has been very good to me on a personal level. I worry about his mental state and his vulnerability a lot, as well as respecting him and leaning on him. He is a dear, dear, dear man. However, my relationship with him as a person and him as a writer has never really been blurred. Most of the stuff he's written that means a lot to me is stuff I read before we ever met. Nearly everything he's published since I've known him personally has been kids stuff, which I love too, but there hasn't been anything that I've felt him in, at least in a painful way (he's certainly very present in his children's books too, like Fortunately, The Milk.) This book, though, parts of it were really rough for me from that perspective. I cried quite a few times out of empathy for the child narrator, and I knew the child narrator was this man who I have in-jokes with and who has tried to get me a date and who helped me get into Comic-Con and who hugs like it's the last thing he'll do. So it was hard. However, objectively - as just a girl reading a novel? This book was also extremely hard in that circumstance, too. It's brilliant, a brilliant, fucked up concept. There's a part at the end, though, and it's hard to explain out of context, but it's when I realised that the whole book, the villain, the problem - that it was all a metaphor for mental illness and depression, and it is just so awful and so beautiful that when I read the climax, I cried and cried and cried, and it wasn't because I've met the author, it was because what was being said was the most important thing I've ever heard in regards to mental illness and feeling suicidal.

At this point in the book, the narrator is trapped in a protective circle that's keeping him alive, keeping him safe from demon birds and from the villain Ursula, an evil thing that, as a worm, travelled to this world through a dark hole bored into the boy's foot, and is now posing as the family's nanny. The boy is waiting for the witch-child, Lettie, to come back and help him, and the darkness is taunting him to just give in, to just let himself die so that everything is all over:

"Now, step out of the circle and come to us. One step is all it will take. Just put one foot across the threshold and we will make all the pain go away forever: the pain you feel now and the pain that is still to come. It will never happen [...] How can you be happy in this world? You have a hole in your heart. You have a gateway inside you to lands beyond the world you know. They will call you, as you grow. There can never be a time when you forget them, when you are not, in your heart, questing after something you cannot have, something you cannot even properly imagine, the lack of which will spoil your sleep and your day and your life, until you close your eyes for the final time, until your loved ones give you poison and send you to anatomy, and even then you will die with a hole inside you, and you will wail and curse at a life ill-lived. But you won't grow. You can come out, and we will end it, cleanly, or you can die there, of hunger and of fear. And when you are dead your circle will mean nothing, and we will tear out your heart and take your soul for a keepsake."

"P'raps it will be like that," I said, to the darkness and the shadows, "and p'raps it won't. And p'raps if it is, it would have been like that anyway. I don't care. I'm still going to wait here for Lettie Hempstock and she's going to come back to me. And if I die here, then I still die waiting for her, and that's a better way to go than you and all you stupid horrible things tearing me to bits because I've got something inside me that I don't even want!"

I mean... do you understand what a big deal that is? Fuck you, depression. I'm not going to kill myself because you say so. I'm not going to do something because of the influence of something inside me that I don't want. It might never get better, but at least I fucking tried and that's better than letting you win. This is seriously... I want everyone to read this, and understand it, because it's just so fucking important and inspirational and it is so beautifully done as a metaphor and it's a million times more personal and emotional than anything Neil has written before and he didn't know if it would work and guess what? It's probably his most successful book of all time, it's certainly crossed over from the cult/fantasy genre to general bestseller, and it's Book of the Year for dozens and dozens of magazines, websites and newspapers. I'm not exactly surprised.

I have to give an honourable mention to The Brass Opinion, written by my good friend Jonathan Kearns. It's not finished yet - nearly - but I've read it as it's come along and I love it so very much. Jon started writing this book two and a half years ago, after sending me three story samples and asking me to pick which one I liked best. I'll spend time this year editing the first full draft and helping make it as perfect as it can be and helping out with his re-writes before publishing. I love the story and the characters, it hits every trope that I'm a sucker for while remaining very unique, and it is very dear to me. Hopefully it will be available to read for you all soon.

I ended up reading 48 books this year, which seems a bit weak to me, but I've never kept tally before. I'll be aiming to beat this number in 2014, obviously, as well as aiming for a higher percentage of never-read-before entries. In addition to these books, I read many other things during 2013, including travel guides, articles, blog series, children's picture books, single-issue comics, and millions and millions of words of fantastic fanfiction, including many novel-length stories.

Next up - films!