From One Blogger To Another: The Handmaid’s Tale Discussion With The Blog From Another World

From One Blogger To Another: The Handmaid’s Tale Discussion With The Blog From Another World

Image via Channel 4.

With the hit television drama, The Handmaid’s Tale, currently sweeping our screens, Patrick from The Blog From Another World and I decided to discuss the book and its adaptation.

The Handmaid’s Tale is based on Margaret Atwood’s feminist dystopian novel of the same name, following the life of Offred, a Handmaid living and serving the extreme Christian totalitarian system named Gilead. She is forced to have sex with her Commander each month, in the hopes she will be impregnated with his child and thus continue the population of Gilead.

I’ve only briefly discussed The Handmaid’s Tale before. In a nutshell, my opinion of the novel is that it’s I liked the subverted use of Christianity, which made for an interesting dystopian, but the feminist overtones are overly laboured.

Patrick however, has not finished The Handmaid’s Tale yet.

“I have read part of it, but not enough to provide an honest summation. I think watching this story with very little prior knowledge gives the series a real unpredictability. I will have it finished by the time the series is over though!”

This is not the first adaptation of the novel; The Handmaid’s Tale was adapted into a film in 1990 – a film I have seen, and did not enjoy. I think the decision to move from a film adaptation to an in-depth television drama was smart.

Patrick said, “I think this TV adaptation has allowed the writers to expand upon Margaret Attwood’s ideas and the world she has created. You can dive into the backstory of many characters and give everything a very modern update. I think it was the most obvious thing to do and has paid off enormously.”

The Handmaid’s Tale is not especially a long novel, but its television adaptation has been divided into 10 episodes.

In my opinion, this helps the narrative to be divided proportionally, so that the story is covered at an appropriate depth and doesn’t feel “drawn out”. I also like the incorporation of flashbacks to Offred’s old life, as these both emphasise the pain she is currently in at being separated from her husband and daughter and tie in to the current narrative as she hears rumours her husband may be found.

Yet, despite thinking ten episodes is a good length for the drama, I struggle to keep up with watching new episodes.

In the UK, The Handmaid’s Tale is aired on Channel 4, and available to watch on catch-up on All4.   Channel 4 is notorious for its advert breaks. This is a petty complaint, and not linked to the production of The Handmaid’s Tale itself, but regularly disrupting a show that is full of gripping scenes and high-tension to advertise the latest dishwasher or car completely ruins my immersion in the drama.

The frequent advert breaks have a dramatic impact on my willingness to keep up with new episodes, and this is a real shame.

Patrick also struggles to watch new episodes, but for a different reason.

“I have hit a bit of a brick wall with this series. I cannot fault it – honestly – but it’s just so grim that I don’t know when I’ll watch the next episode.” he said, “If The Handmaid’s Tale was six, rather than ten, episodes long, then the intensity of the rape and violence might be warranted. Instead, imagining another four hours of brutality is not the most attractive prospect now – sometimes you need a bit lighter entertainment.”

However, Patrick and I have plenty of positives to discuss about The Handmaid’s Tale too.

He said, “I have really enjoyed the performances from the cast. Elizabeth Moss has made an incredible Offred, and has created so much depth and emotion. Yvonne Strahovski has also made the character of Serena Joy much more sympathetic and poignant than I first thought. I think that Serena Joy is probably the character I watch with the most interest.”

On this, I have to agree. In the novel, Serena Joy was always presented as a harsh, standoffish woman who resented Offred from the beginning. Whilst this is present in the television adaptation too, we are also presented with a  vulnerable, emotional – and quite frankly, human – side to her that helps the audience to understand her motivations and feelings, and this, I think, was lacking from the book.

Patrick continued, “I also think many of the directing choices have been strong. The complex and jumbled chronology has added variety and context when needed. The writing is fantastic, really delving into the situation with uncompromising bleakness.

In terms of casting, Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia is very impressive and I think Madeline Brewer as Janine is the most complex role. The women have the most material to work with, and the series as a whole is a really ensemble effort.”

The penultimate episode of The Handmaid’s Tale airs on Sunday the 23rd of July at 9pm.

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like.

If you’ve been watching The Handmaid’s Tale too, what has your favourite part been?

– Judith and Patrick

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Film Review: Hush

Film Review: Hush
  • Title: Hush
  • Director: Mike Flanagan
  • Released: 2016

I watched Hush the other day, and had so many opinions about it that I just had to write down.

A deaf writer who retreated into the woods to live a solitary life must fight for her life in silence when a masked killer appears at her window.

Hush’s protagonist, Maddie Young (Kate Siegel), is a writer who is both deaf and has vocal paralysis – the after-effects of having meningitis as a teenager. As a result, Maddie’s perspective is one I’ve certainly not seen in film before and poses new problems within this horror scenario: she can’t cry* for help and she can’t hear her attacker approaching. So what does she do?

*A lack of screaming worked strongly in Hush’s favour; it was so refreshing not to have to watch another boring “helpless woman runs through the forest frantically screaming” film.

Maddie is a strong female who, despite a few silly moments**, mostly used logic and common sense to defend herself, avoid her attacker and plan her survival.

**I was screaming at my screen: “Why would you do that?” “No!” “Don’t go there!”

My Photo [Hush 1]

This was most evident in the scene where she has a dialogue with herself, allowing the audience to understand Maddie’s chain of thought even though she is mute. Again, this is a refreshing change from the helpless victim status women in horrors are often awarded.

“If you can’t run, hide, or wait, what does that leave?”

I thought the character of Maddie was developed well; we learn that she has a sense of humour as well as clever, caring and independent  in just a few opening scenes. I found myself genuinely caring about the survival of Maddie and genuinely fearing the murderer who stalked her. This is another positive about Hush; the protagonist feels like a real character, unlike another stereotyped, standard issue horror victim.

A minor spoiler: there is blood and there is gore in this film  – more than I had expected of a film rated 15 – and so I had to hide my face or cover my ears at certain points because of my squeamish nature.

My Photo [Hush 2]

However, the real horror “feel” in Hush was not generated by gore or by screams, but by creating and maintaining tension throughout. The dark colour palette of the film mirrors the dark tone of the story*** and the sound design – a mix of sound and silence to show both what the killer can hear and what Maddie can’t – was well done, and reminded me of Danny’s tricycle from Kubrik’s The Shining. Another intertextual reference was how the killer’s mask echoed Jason’s from the Friday the 13th franchise, and this made for a chilling entrance.

***Although, this darkness creates atmosphere for a horror film, it also makes things quite difficult to see!

Of course, there were a few jumpscares that anyone familiar with the horror genre could have predicted, but even these were well-executed and used few and far between.

I had some problems with Hush however. The Apple product placements were obvious and tedious, future weapons were clumsily foreshadowed at the beginning of the film, and  there were unnecessary close-ups of items (a book blurb, for example) to provide characterising information about Maddie – information we were already given a few scenes prior.

However, despite my grumbles, I really enjoyed watching Hush. Even after the resolution of the film, I still wanted more of the story because I was simply not ready for it to end.

***

Thank you for reading!

Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed this post or click ‘Follow’ for more reviews and other book or film themed blog posts.

– Judith

Opinion Piece: Thoughts on IT (2017)

Opinion Piece: Thoughts on IT (2017)

the blog from another world

The following article was written by Judith from ReadandReview2016.

This is the second part of another collaborative series with Patrick, from The Blog From Another World, about Stephen King’s IT. With the upcoming release of a new film adaptation of the iconic horror, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to discuss the trailer. You can read our first blog post, about the book and original film, here.

I thought, as trailers go, it looks quite well-made. A number of shots are incredibly similar to the original film. Whilst some may claim this is unoriginal, to me, this suggests the film will be fairly similar in terms of plot, improved upon with a better budget, better casting, and a better utilisation of horror conventions.

Patrick said, “I thought the trailer looked decent. It had lots of mood and seems to have a big enough budget to…

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From One Blogger To Another: IT Discussion With The Blog From Another World

From One Blogger To Another: IT Discussion With The Blog From Another World

This is the first part of another collaborative series with Patrick, from The Blog From Another World. Stephen King is one of my favourite authors, and he wrote one of Patrick’s favourite novels, Carrie. With the upcoming release of a new film adaptation of the iconic horror, IT, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to discuss both the book and original film.

In case you are unaware of the plot of IT, here is a brief synopsis, courtesy of Wikipedia: ‘The story follows the exploits of seven children as they are terrorized by the eponymous being, which exploits the fears and phobias of its victims in order to disguise itself while hunting its prey. “It” primarily appears in the form of a clown in order to attract its preferred prey of young children.’

Patrick said, “What I loved about the book when I read it was the detail. King puts a lot of effort into his character development.” I also loved IT’s length – King provides brilliant detail of the characters’ lives as the plot switches from the perspectives of Bill, Ben, Bev, Richie, Ed, Mike, and Stan as both children and adults.

“The novel deals with the passage of time and the impact that traumatic childhood events have on our adulthood.” Patrick explained, “For this reason, I think the dual time period narrative is very fresh and gives the story a real weight which certain other King novels are missing.”

This style of narration submerges the reader and effectively conveys just how terrorizing It is to each character. IT cemented my positive opinions about Stephen King; he writes thrilling and / or scary material incredibly well – be it in the simple description of a child’s feelings, or about the many forms It takes. Whilst not every passage contains a ‘scare’, enough detail is always given to put the reader on edge.

Pennywise the Clown, the most common form of It, is certainly a fantastic monster. Patrick said, “As an idea, he is terrifying, and sticks in my mind even now.”

“A great horror monster often makes more of an impression that the heroes, and Pennywise is no different. Norman Bates, Michael Myers, Jason, even Darth Vader – these characters are cultural icons more beloved than the lead characters in their respective films.”

However, no book is perfect. Patrick commented, “IT has an overabundance of the clichés which feature heavily in most King novels.” Examples of this include one-dimensional bullies, an alcoholic writer, and a disappointing resolution.

Despite my love of King, the more of his novels I read, the more I see these tropes reappearing – in particularly the English teacher / author who struggles with alcohol. Another significant example of this character type is Jack Nicholson from The Shining. Whilst this is drawn from King’s own experiences (and we are so often encouraged to write about what we know), I can understand why a repetitive reuse of these tropes would come to grate on readers.

IT was adapted into at TV miniseries in 1990, starring Tim Currey as Pennywise the Clown. It was made, at the height of, as dubbed by Patrick, “the Stephen King adaptation craze”.

I thought the film was alright. Visually, the appearance of Curry’s Pennywise was exactly what I had envisaged as I read the book, and I liked the fact there was an adaptation of such a good novel available.

However, for me, Curry’s actual performance often flip-flopped between mildly scary and pantomimic.

IT suffers from a lot of the problems which plagues the miniseries – too much time to fill, and not enough money to make it really frightening.” Patrick explained, “A lot of the performances are very goofy, especially Tim Curry as Pennywise. He’s just so flamboyant and crazy that he doesn’t really scare me.” He continued, “IT hasn’t aged well and some of it is unwittingly hilarious – I’m looking at you Talking Head!”

Finally, Patrick summarised his thoughts on the book and film with a phrase that every book lover longs to hear: “If you want the unadulterated IT experience, read the book.”

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like.

You can read the second blog post in this collaborative series with The Blog from Another World tomorrow, in which we discuss the trailer of the new film adaptation.

– Judith and Patrick

Read and Review [+ Film Review]: The Shining

Read and Review [+ Film Review]: The Shining

Book Review

The Shining (1977) is a paranormal horror by Stephen King. When Jack Nicholson becomes caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, he moves his wife Wendy and five-year-old son Danny there as well. Although just a small boy, Danny has unusual psychic abilities – known as having a ‘shine’. As winter approaches and numerous blizzards cut the Nicholson family off from the outside world, the hotel appears to have a life of its own, causing dangerously scary visions and voices to play inside their heads. It looks, as The Shining’s book cover says, as if the hotel itself is ‘beginning to shine’.

King himself critiques The Shining – a skill I think all writers should posses – in his introduction, and comments that:

‘The result [of Jack’s character] wasn’t perfect, and there is a cocky quality to some of The Shining’s prose that has come to grate on me in later years, but I still like the book enormously’

I liked The Shining enormously too; Jack became a scarier and scarier antagonistic force, motivated not just by supernatural beings but by the haunting memories of his own abusive upbringing. The animal-shaped hedges seem to come to life, moving behind their backs, hunting the family so they can’t escape.*

*This reminds me of my favourite Dr Who villains, The Weeping Angels.

Whilst the narrative perspective did often change, (in true King style) because the Overlook Hotel is so isolated, the narrative mostly alternated between the only three tangible characters: Jack, Danny and Wendy. I thought these provided a much deeper insight to the thought processes of each character which is especially beneficial in a psychological novel about the powers of the mind as well as problems of the mind.

Although Hallorann’s involvement, particularly at the beginning of the novel, was useful at providing the reader with explanatory information about ‘shining’ abilities, he felt very much like an outsider and at times he felt like just a plot device.

 My one main criticism is a minor one.

In his last few pages, King uses the adverb ‘suddenly’ three times in the space of three sentences. If I recall correctly, he asserted in On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000) that ‘suddenly’ is quite a lazy way of describing a given event. Maybe he formed that opinion upon reflection of The Shining, or maybe he included them purposefully for effect. Either way, I had trouble taking that last passage completely seriously, because of the way multiple ‘suddenlys’ were included. It’s quite a petty criticism, but I’m an English student and writer, so I can’t help but notice language or grammar that bothers me.

Overall, I quite liked The Shining, and would definitely recommend.

Film Review

I recently watched the 1980s film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick – a film, interestingly, King can’t stand! After watching it, I had lots of initial thoughts I just had to write down:

Negatives

1) As an adaptation of the novel, it is seriously lacking. Whilst an adaptation is not limited to religiously following every page of the source material, I would expect the core plot to be as similar as possible. However, Kubrick departs from this; there were multiple blatant changes or omissions from the book, which I felt detracted from the narrative of the film. For example, King’s Jack descends into insanity by mixing the the grisly and ghostly past of the Overlook Hotel with his struggles with alcoholism and abuse, whereas Kubrick’s Jack is introduced to the audience in a way that suggests he is already unhinged.

2) Wendy (played by Shelley Duvall) is such a pathetic character. She does nothing but scream or cry, and it was just tiring to watch. King refer to her as ‘one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film […] that’s not the woman that I wrote about’. (IndieWire).

3) The ending left me unsatisfied, mainly because it was so different to King’s ending, and there was no clear resolution. However, this might also have its benefits: it raises lots of questions for the audience, mainly questions about what (and who) is real and what (and who) is purely hallucination. As my friend Florence commented, ‘The fact it raises so many questions is why I love it so much.’*

*Florence’s favourite film happens to be The Shining.

Positives

1) The musical score was brilliant; the tension was consistent throughout, by the raising or lowering of volume and the use of string instruments. The level of tension, even when there were no sudden movements or “jump scares”, was refreshing in comparison to modern horror, where the format seems to be nothing more than building up tension until the next “jump scare”.

2) Although King wasn’t overwhelmed by Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance, I thought he was superb. He looked and sounded like a convincing, raging psychopathic and he was by far the best casting choice.  I may be somewhat biased in this opinion as, before reading The Shining, I had seen a few clips – like the infamous “Here’s Johnny” scene – and so even when reading the book, it was Nicholson I pictured.

3) Some of the cinematography was stunning. One example of this are the tracking shots used to follow Danny’s tricycle around the hotel. The transitions are smoothly executed, and incredible attention to detail is given to the sounds of his tricycle. We hear him cycle over wood flooring noisily, he passes over a rug (suddenly making it eerily quiet), then he cycles back over the flooring. A second example is when (minor spoiler here) Jack is trapped in the pantry. The audience are left looking up at Jack, as he fights against the door; we see his nostrils flare, his eyes widen, and his muscles work to free himself – all while he looms over the camera in a domineering stance. Clever film techniques such as these are a Media Studies student’s dream (a dream I left behind at A Level sadly) and The Shining is certainly a well-crafted film.

My Photo [The Shining]
A still taken from the film.

Approaching the film with an analytical and psychological thriller perspective, I think The Shining is fascinating and for that reason I enjoyed it. However, as an adaptation dubbed the ‘scariest horror film ever’ (The Independent) and based on a fantastic novel, for me, The Shining falls short.

Thank you for reading!

Please click ‘Like’ if you enjoyed this post or click ‘Follow’ for more reviews and other book or film themed blog posts.

– Judith

[Guest Post] Film Review: T2 Trainspotting

[Guest Post] Film Review: T2 Trainspotting

The following blog post was written by Patrick, from The Blog from Another World, as the second part of our second collaborative series and again, the focus seems to have been on trains! You can read our previous posts, talking Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting here, and about Paula Hawkin’s The Girl On The Train, here and here.


I love Danny Boyle and I love Trainspotting. When T2 was announced, I was worried that the film would be a cash grab, a lazy retread. Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon had already disappointed me with Jason Bourne (2016), which was an ill-thought through bore. However, after watching Trainspotting again for my article with ReadandReview2016, the stakes were raised very high. Impossibly high?

No. Not at all. Danny Boyle is the finest British filmmaker in modern cinema. There is no doubt in my mind about this. T2 is fantastic. Possibly even better than the first.

Boyle performs camera moves, positions and set pieces which are truly thrilling. He and his director of photography Anthony Dodd Mantle work with light and shadow and perspective to create meaning.

He’s a director who inspires me and this might just be the biggest risk of his career. He pulls it off and shows a maturity and an evolution of film-making style which makes us understand just how much experience and persistence matters. In preparation for watching T2 I watched A Life Less Ordinary, the Boyle directed film which came after Trainspotting and before The Beach. The film is a flawed and underwhelming work despite a career best performance by Cameron Diaz.

My reason for watching A Life Less Ordinary was to remind myself of Boyle on a bad day (but even his low point is better than many director’s best).   Slumdog Millionaire and Steve Jobs are big favourites of mine but T2 takes his best work and betters it.  It’s funny, sad, euphoric, tragic and utterly brilliant.

The story of T2 follows Renton, Sick Boy (now Simon), Begbie and Spud as they deal with the modern world twenty years after the events of the first film.

This film is a wonderful look at ageing, our modern world and the responsibilities of adulthood. The characters feel deeper and emotionally richer although some plot strands don’t go anywhere and seem added in for nostalgia’s sake (the re-appearance of heroin is pointless).

The four leads are superb. Ewan McGregor is the best he’s been since the original film, Robert Carlyle has aged Begbie in the most perfect way and Ewan Bremner is the heart of the film. Only Jonny Lee Miller isn’t stretched, with Sick Boy always being a secondary character.

This film has a rollicking pace and heaps of style. It captures the spirit of the original whilst moving in an entirely new direction, away from drugs and toward some kind of recognition. For the first time, Renton is forced to face the consequences of his actions and it’s an explosive moment. I personally loved this scene (not a spoiler) which captures the hard edged but joyful tone of the original and is a perfect storm of music, action, comedy and character.

This film is the best thing I’ve seen all year. It would take a lot to top this, and I can’t wait!

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like’. . Thanks to Patrick for writing this film review. You can find his other film reviews here:

From One Blogger To Another: Trainspotting Discussion With The Blog from Another World

From One Blogger To Another: Trainspotting Discussion With The Blog from Another World

With the release of Trainspotting 2, the long-awaited sequel to Danny Boyle’s 1996 black-comedy film, I sat down with Patrick, from The Blog from Another World to discuss Trainspotting.

I read Trainspotting, the book on which the film is based, by Irvine Welsh last year and wrote a review of it here. Overall, the gritty Scottish social realism failed to captivate me, but I appreciated Welsh’s inclusion of Scottish slang and dialect. When I watched the film however, I felt much more engaged.

I asked Patrick if enjoyed watching Trainspotting. He said: “I think that ‘enjoy’ is a difficult term to use to describe this film. I think it’s is a British classic and a milestone for British cinema.”

He continued, “Many films have tried to emulate the anarchic and twisted style of this film (such as Jon S. Baird’s Filth in 2013 – based on another novel by Irvine Welsh) but nobody has ever really come close. I love Danny Boyle’s direction and he makes the film palatable for the audience.”

However, what I found unpalatable in Trainspotting was how every social situation was punctuated by, hard drug use aside, cigarettes and alcohol. Whilst Trainspotting is by no means the only film to feature heavy drinking and smoking, it’s something in film that irritates me every time; excessive consumption makes me feel physically sick. I also found it ironic that the characters who frequently binged on these “socially acceptable” drugs were the same characters berating Renton and his friends for their heroin addictions.

Yet the constant smoking and drinking was certainly not the most shocking part of Trainspotting. To say the film includes crude scenes is an understatement.

 “It is a tough film to watch in places, so I understand why people can’t enjoy it for that reason.” Patrick said. However, he argued that these disgusting scenes are purposeful, and contrasted with moments of beauty and perfection.

“For example, when Renton dives down the worst toilet in Scotland, he lands in clear, serene water –  brilliant juxtaposition; I really admire the sheer invention of it.”

Speaking of whom, Ewan McGregor’s Renton was my favourite character in Trainspotting: the protagonist and heroin addict, who provides a voice of relative reason and is capable of blending into “normal” society.

Renton is the central narrator of the film, which made the plot easier to follow and helped me put names to faces. It was also a nice change from the book, which frequently changed between different narrative perspectives, making for tough reading. The fact Renton’s narration helped me understand the plot better made me appreciate the voice-overs – a technique I normally dislike within film –  and I thought they matched the style of Trainspotting well.

Patrick’s favourite character was Francis Begbie, a psychopath with violent tendencies, played by Robert Carlyle.

“Carlyle gives such a ferocious and frightening portrayal of a psychopath” he said.

“I can’t help but feel that Heath Ledger’s Joker and Andrew Scott’s Moriarty share DNA with Begbie’s pint-glass-throwing-chaos. True, Renton, Spud and Sick Boy are iconic characters, but Begbie is the character who sticks in my mind.

When Begbie starts a fight at the pub, it’s horrible. His callous violent bloodlust is frightening and his whim to have a fight is portrayed excellently.”

Patrick described to me another memorable Trainspotting scene, where Renton is forced by his parents to give up his heroin use, going through withdrawal symptoms, including vivid hallucinations. “It’s a horrific and surreal scene.” Patrick said, and I have to agree. McGregor’s acting here was fantastic; his screams really emphasised the suffering he was going through, and it was conflicting to watch.

Personally, I found the scene where Allison’s baby dies unsurprising but incredibly emotional. Allison, played by Susan Vidler, had an incredibly blasé attitude to drugs and promiscuous sex, resulting in a neglected baby surrounded by drugs and filth. When baby Dawn, inevitably died from poor health and neglect, it was such a raw and emotional scene – I could really sense Allison’s pain. However, what disturbed and angered me was that although Allison was in such pain, she still turned back to drugs – highlighting the vicious and destructive cycle of drug addiction.

It is scenes such as these that give Trainspotting a much darker tone, to juxtapose with its comedic elements.

Patrick said, “I think Trainspotting’s tone is very complex. It’s a film which is hyperactive but sombre, crass but frightening. The tone works because it’s about the ‘highs and lows’ of drug addiction; the tone wildly fluctuates to expertly capture and reflect what life is like for a heroin addict.”

“Many drugs films such as Requiem For A Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000) show only the horrific parts of drug addiction. Trainspotting is the best portrayal of addiction since The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945). It gives a balanced but unflinching view of addiction – it’s as euphoric as it is disgusting. It is better to understand what drugs give you, before you see what they take away.”

Trainspotting 2 was released today in the UK, and will be released in March in the USA.

***

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please give it a ‘Like’.

This is part of another collaborative series with The Blog from Another World, and again, the focus seems to have been on trains! You can read our previous posts, talking about Paula Hawkin’s The Girl On The Train, here and here.

This is also the first post in my new series, From One Blogger To Another, where I will interview a different blogger / writer each month. I wanted to write some longer pieces for my blog that are more journalistic in style, and hopefully this series will allow me to do that.

That’s all for now!

– Judith and Patrick