Review: The Sandman (audio adaptation)

Recently, I finished listening to The Sandman, Audible’s recent adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s acclaimed comic series. I was eager to listen to this. I’ve been a big fan of audio as a medium for a long time now, and I’ve heard plenty of good things about this adaptation. On top of that, while I’ve yet to check out the original comic series, I had been eager to dive into its world. This adaptation looked set to be a good jumping-on point.

So, how well does an audio adaptation of a famous comic series work? About as well as you’d expect. Or at least, as you’d expect when its original writer and creator has a major hand in it. Not only is Neil Gaiman an executive producer and creative director on this series, but he’s also the narrator of it, too. So that’s certainly a good starting point in terms of adapting his world. Especially as each of the episodes in this series – of which there are 20 – are direct adaptations of issues of the original comic.

Another reason why this series works so well is how smoothly Dirk Maggs both adapts and directs the series. As you can imagine, there’s a great deal of narration, but Maggs also knows how to bring the focus to the dialogue too. On top of that, he doesn’t just rely on Gaiman’s narration to paint a picture. Maggs also works heavily on the sound design – a key component of telling a story like this in the audio medium. You can tell he’s been working in the medium for years, as he helps to bring Gaiman’s classic series to life in a completely new way.

A strong mix

As for Gaiman’s stories themselves, overall, I greatly enjoyed them. There’s just the right mix of arc storytelling and standalone stories featured in this volume. In fact, while the relatively small arcs told were enjoyable to listen to, it was the standalone episodes that I enjoyed the most. Stories that explored Morpheus’s sister Death, what she does and how she views her purpose, or Morpheus meeting someone just once every 100 years, were all fantastic to listen to. Gaiman gives these immortal beings a lot of focus, making them both powerful and yet strangely relatable in unexpected ways.

As someone who’s experienced the world of The Sandman for the first time (at least on a deep level – I read the first issue in a library a long time ago), this was a really fantastic way to discover the series. It was extremely well-produced, with a great cast (I didn’t even realize that it was James McAvoy who played Morpheus until the end credits), excellent sound design and great direction. I really do hope that Audible dramatizes the rest of The Sandman – even at twenty episodes, it feels like this series is only just beginning.

Thomas Wayne – examining two very distinct portrayals

A little while ago, while I was in a mood for good Batman stories, I got to thinking about Thomas Wayne. He’s such a major figure, and yet we see very little of him. In fact, let’s be honest – when Thomas Wayne is on film, his key role is essentially to die. To provide the tragic backstory that begins the story of Batman.

But while he’s often been relegated to small or even non-speaking roles, there have been two portrayals of the character on film that have really stood out. And what’s particularly fascinating is that, essentially, we’re presented with two extremely different takes on the character. Naturally, I’m referring to Batman Begins in 2005, and the far more recent Joker from 2019.

Father figure

Revisiting Batman Begins for the first time in several years, one thing I was extremely surprised by was that – even in one of the deepest explorations of a pre-Batman Bruce Wayne depicted on film – we still see very little of Thomas Wayne (played in this film by Linus Roache). The main reason I was surprised by this was the fact that, unlike so many other depictions of the character, the one we saw in Begins was so clear and memorable.

What really helps is that, with both Christopher Nolan’s and David S. Goyer’s script, the few scenes Thomas appears in do leave an impact, at least. I think we all remember the line, “Why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

Even the way he’s introduced is perfect: when his son falls into a cave, he makes sure to rescue him personally. The fact that we first see him through Bruce’s eyes directly makes him seem almost like a guardian angel.

And we are definitely presented with a strong father figure in this story. When his son becomes extremely scared at a performance while they’re at the theater, he asks if they could go. Rather than object, Thomas listens to his son’s wishes and leaves. Not just because his son had asked, but because he could clearly see his son was afraid. Essentially, Thomas Wayne is presented as the ideal father figure, one who tries to reassure his son even as he dies on the streets. Essentially, it’s all done to heighten the tragedy of the character’s death, and it’s handled beautifully.

Powerful figure

It’s ironic that Joker presents us with such a radically different interpretation of Thomas Wayne, both on film and in many other sources, as it’s probably the most we ever see of the character on the big screen.

Seen through lead protagonist Arthur Fleck’s eyes, Brett Cullen’s portrayal of Thomas Wayne is, on the surface, seen to be a lot less sympathetic than Linus Roache’s. While Begins gave us an extremely sympathetic character, Joker instead presents us with a man who would punch a man with mental illness in the face.

Even worse is that, during a television interview, he writes off people less fortunate than himself and critical of the rich and powerful as being nothing but “clowns”. Not only is this tactless, but it arguably helps to embolden a movement created by Fleck’s desperate actions. Honestly, this version of Thomas Wayne is hardly the most sympathetic take on the character.

Rich arsehole or just out of touch?

But does that make him a man who’s beyond redemption? No, hardly that. In fact, I wouldn’t even say that it’s too difficult to reconcile with what we’ve seen before of the character. Because what’s particularly interesting about Thomas Wayne in Joker is that this is the first time we’ve seen Bruce’s father through someone else’s eyes. Does that make him a complete arsehole? No. But it does mean that we see different sides to him.

For example, punching Arthur in the face isn’t exactly a sympathetic moment, especially as we had been following Arthur so closely for most of the movie. But then, considering that Arthur had tried to reach his home and even actually touched his kid, that moment is definitely more than understandable. In fact, in some ways, it’s another version of the ideal father figure: one who aims to protect his son, no matter what.

His comments about citizens less fortunate than him as clowns is definitely more problematic. But is he a complete arsehole for thinking that way? Or is he simply out of touch with the people he wants to represent? The latter is certainly more interesting. In many version of the Batman mythos, Thomas Wayne is presented as someone who genuinely wants to help the poor. But, while that may be true in Joker, his power and status may have blinded him to both what they go through and the ongoing tensions of the city.

In some ways, Nolan explored a similar idea with The Dark Knight Rises. The movie highlighted that, while Bruce had lost so much, he was still unaware of how angry the lower class of the city were at Gotham’s elite, not to mention the fact that he inherited all of his wealth directly from his father. It wasn’t something that he made personally, and he certainly couldn’t have been Batman without any of it. So if Bruce Wayne himself can miss the problems of the poor and the lower class, then it’s easy to see why Thomas Wayne would be guilty of doing the same.

Watching Batman Begins back to back with Joker is an interesting experience. Not only are both fascinating origin stories, but seeing how they present two distinct versions of the same character is fascinating to watch. On top of that, it also presents a great excuse to watch two great comic book films.

Which version of Thomas Wayne do you prefer? The idealized father figure of Batman Begins? Or the considerably more flawed version we got in Joker? Do you think a mixture of both depictions could work? Let me know in the comments below.

Some initial thoughts on Parasyte

I’ve been meaning to check out Parasyte for a while. Everything I’d heard about it seemed to appeal to me a lot. But, after a long time of putting it off, I decided this weekend to finally check it out.

I’m a huge fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The film has a great sense of claustrophobia and paranoia. More than that, it has some amazing body horror in there, too. While Parasyte isn’t an anime that I’d call claustrophobic, it certainly has plenty of gross body horror in there too.

But it also features a lot more than that. Along with featuring elements of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the series features hints of other genres, including humor, romance, and even the superhero genre, to a small extent, anyway.

The series focuses on Shinichi Izumi. One night, his arm gets infected by an alien worm called a Parasyte. Preventing the worm from traveling up to his brain, the Parasyte remains firmly in his arm, transforming it and giving it a mind of its own.

The relationship between Shinichi and his Parasyte – which gets named Migi – is an interesting one. Migi wants to protect Shinichi, but only because it’s dependent on him. It feels absolutely no sympathy for other human life. As such, Shinichi is constantly struggling to keep Migi under control.

However, on top of that, Shinichi and Migi also have to fight off other humans controlled by the Parasytes. Most humans are essentially killed and completely absorbed when the Parasyte enters their brain. Shinichi is against killing them if he can help it, as he feels very strongly that all life is precious. Shinichi’s sense of morality seems to be something that’s keenly explored in this series, so I’m eager to see how the rest of the anime explores it.

Right now, I’ve only seen the first four episodes. But I’ve definitely enjoyed what I’ve seen. It’s an interesting combination of several different genres, it’s got several interesting characters, one of the most unusual relationships I’ve seen between two protagonists, and of course, plenty of monsters and body horror. I’m definitely eager to watch more, and even read the manga, at some point.

The end of a decade: Comparing and contrasting Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Withnail & I

I really shouldn’t be writing this. It’s almost 1am, I have several articles to write for Doctor Who Watch, and of course, I have the regular day job. But I’ve just got back from seeing Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for the second time, and two things occurred to me.

Firstly, I need to get this film on Blu-Ray asap. I don’t often buy films on Blu-Ray these days, but this is definitely an essential purchase. Secondly, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another film entirely. One of my favorites, in fact, and one I only recently watched on the big screen: Withnail & I.

To say it’s odd to compare these two is a bit of an understatement. In many ways, these are two very different films. One is a love letter to Hollywood and a certain period of movies and television. The other is a semi-autobiographical film that’s completely plotless and focuses on a holiday gone wrong. They’re both comedies, but tonally, they’re extremely different. They were even made decades apart: while Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was released just last year, Withnail & I came out over three decades ago.

But there is one thing that links them: the year that they both take place in. 1969. The end of one of the most significant decades of the twentieth century.

It was this that made me want to compare the films. Not because of their similarities, but because of their very differences. They take a look at the final year of the Sixties, and each of them presents something very different. And that’s what I want to look at. (Bear in mind, I will be discussing spoilers for both movies.)

Living in the Sixties vs living outside of it

One thing that leaps out about Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is how much Quentin Tarantino bathes in the period. There is so much glorious nostalgia in this film. From the TV shows to the films to the music (oh, that glorious music), Quentin Tarantino shows so much love to the Sixties that he remembers.

Withnail & I is a little different. It’s set in the same decade – in the very same year, in fact. But, while there are moments that acknowledge the time period, especially the soundtrack, it’s not that important to the film. Not to most of it, anyway. A lot of it feels like it could take place at any time. Mostly because its two lead characters feel completely cut off. Whether in London or out in the country, these two live in an existence that’s devoid of time.

It’s only towards the end that the Sixties feels important. Because they’re reaching the end of it. As one character proclaims: “The greatest decade in the history of mankind is over.” And, to add insult to injury, it feels like they were hardly there for it.

Continue reading The end of a decade: Comparing and contrasting Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Withnail & I

One in Six

I’m going to be very upfront with you now: this blog post is much, much heavier than my previous entries. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for the past few days, and as much as I’ve tried to shake it off and focus on other things, I realized that I needed to write my thoughts. As much as I could.

A few days ago, I shared a link on my Facebook profile about Henry Cavill’s comments on how difficult it is to ask someone out, because of his fear of being called a rapist. That seemed like such an extreme reaction, and I couldn’t help but be shocked at his words.

A lot of people commented on it. Some ready to condemn him, some willing to see his point of view. Initially, there were good points on both sides.

A very close friend of mine added her opinion on things. About how important it is to remember that just because a man didn’t intend a woman to be frightened, that doesn’t mean that she has no right to be. One of my guy friends commented that the intention is what matters. As the discussion continued, a lot of interesting points seemed to be made on both sides.

Initially, I kept out of it. I didn’t feel like I had anything interesting to add to the discussion, and I must admit, it did make for some great reading.

Then, gradually, things started to escalate. The conversation started to get more heated, especially when another of my friends joined in. Usually, this is one friend whose opinion I respect. Particularly since we share very similar interests and have similar views. Most of the time. But I wasn’t sure that I agreed with some of the points he was making this time.

And as much as my close friend’s views were very strong, I couldn’t help but feel that the core of her opinion was being ignored. Specifically, that a lot of women do face a lot of sexual assault, and that for some, a fear of men is learned behaviour.

Then, to really hit the point home, she gave very brief descriptions of what had happened to her. Of how she had been sexually assaulted in the past. Of how she had even been raped.

That’s when one of my friends, someone’s whose opinion I had at least generally respected up to that point, replied with these exact words:

“Womansplain” it to me then.

After that, he strongly suggested that my close friend believed only women are victims, or only women can be raped, none of which she had even remotely suggested. At that point, that’s when I had to shut the argument down. I defended my close friend, even though I’m sure she didn’t really need it, and brought the argument to a close.

But you know what? It isn’t fucking enough.

Rape is a deeply traumatic experience for anyone. It’s not exactly easy for anyone to talk about. So if someone brings it up to a complete stranger, I’ve found it’s usually to make an important point. One that’s worth listening to.

Now, if someone you’re debating with brings that up, after listening to their point of view, you could change your mind. You could still disagree while showing sympathy. Or bring everything to a close, if you feel there’s no more ground to be made.

What you don’t fucking do is dismiss it with a fucking dumbassed statement. You don’t write it off as “womansplaining”. Even if there were times to use that word, that’s not the right time. Not even remotely.

Maybe my shock and anger was due to the fact that my best friend’s opinion was dismissed when it really shouldn’t have been. Maybe I’m still shocked by the fact that it happened to her more than once, which I’ll get to in a minute.

But honestly, just writing off any rape victim’s opinion like that so completely is not only fucking wrong. If you were making any kind of point to a woman along the lines of, “But not all men are like that”, and then say the word “womansplaining”, or make any dismissive kind of comment like that, you’ve just fucking proved her point, right then and there.

There’s one more reason why I’m feeling so strongly about this, though. It’s not just my close friend I know that was raped. Over the years, I’ve heard the same thing from several of my friends. And with some of them, it’s happened more than once.

Let me reiterate: a traumatic experience that shouldn’t happen to anyone has happened to people I actually know more than once.

Here’s what people generally believe about rape (particularly men). We believe that it’s not really that common. We’re consciously aware that it’s one of the worst crimes a person can commit. But for many of us, we assume that it’ll come out of nowhere. That it’ll be a stranger who would attack our friends and family in a terrible manner.

This is at least partly due to how rapists are presented in films and on television. Even in The Sopranos, the one time we see a character unambiguously raped in that series, in the award-winning episode Employee of the Month, the rapist is a complete stranger, an attacker who comes out of nowhere.

We assume that rapists are always lurking in places we should never go to. That they’re never people we actually know. We basically expect a sign advertising their presence: “Here there be monsters”.

So if we or the people we love are able to avoid those areas, as they clearly should, then rape can never possibly happen to them. That it’ll just be something that happens to “other people”. People whose names are in the papers, not anyone we actually know. Just like the rapists themselves.

The reality of course is completely different. There are no signs, no clear areas where we can avoid it, not really. Oh sure, perhaps some areas have higher statistics of attacks than others. But really, the fact is, it can happen anywhere. And I do mean anywhere.

Especially when you take this statistic from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, (or RAINN for short,) into consideration: seven times out of ten, rapists are people that we know. They could be friends of friends, or even much closer than that. And when it is someone you know – worse, someone you trust – then how can you possibly avoid that?

One of the most terrifying things a friend said to me:

Even the good guys get it wrong.

When she explained exactly what she meant by that, my horror and disgust grew and grew. The person who raped her wasn’t a stranger, or even someone that she only barely knew. It was, in fact, a friend. A very good friend. One who liked her and, as she described it, “took it too far”.

As someone who aims to be a good person himself, there is something absolutely fucking terrifying that someone a victim of rape would label as a “good guy” would be capable of the worst.

I said that we believe that it isn’t that common. That’s certainly something I used to believe. But then some of my friends talked about it. Then #MeToo happened. And then I saw this statistic.

According to RAINN, “1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of attempted or completed rape in her lifetime”.

One in six. Really think about that. Really fucking think about that. How many women do you know? What would one out of six of them come to? While it’s easy to assume you’d know if they had been raped, the question is, would you?

Sometimes, it’s important to listen. Especially when someone has something fucking important to say. We can’t just keep pretending that this isn’t a problem. We can’t keep saying things like, “Women in the West have it far easier than in some Eastern countries!” Just because that’s true doesn’t make that statistic even remotely ok.

We can’t keep saying, “But men get raped too!” Yes, men do get raped, and that is a problem. One out of every ten rape victims are male. But that still means that nine out of every ten rape victims are women. That might sound fucking obvious, but to many, that needs to be stated. And unless we fix the broken system with women, I suspect that men’s cases will continue to be taken even less seriously.

And because there’s such a broken belief in the American justice system at least, only over a third of all of these crimes are reported to the authorities. Even less end up in a conviction, and when that does happen, well…we all know how lightly Brock Turner got let off.

We can’t keep dismissing what women are saying. We can’t just assume that it’s exaggerated or made up. While that does happen, it’s to an incredibly small extent compared to when it doesn’t.

And we certainly can’t write something from a victim of rape off as “womansplaining”. When a rape victim tells us there’s a problem, that’s when we need to shut up and fucking listen.

The week I turned 30 (and why it was one of the best weeks of my life)

Over a month and a half ago, I finally turned 30. You’re probably wondering why it’s taken me so long to write about this. Or at least, why I’m writing about it at all.

Well, for the former, I wanted to write this sooner, but now that I’m site expert for Doctor Who Watch, it’s taken up a lot of time, as a result. However, it’s a bank holiday today here in Canada, so I finally have some free time to do this.

As for why I’m writing this? There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it was because that turning 30 was something I had been thinking about for a long while. Not just during the last few months of my twenties, or even the last year. In fact, it was something I had been thinking about since I first started planning for Canada.

Before arriving in Canada, I had lived with my parents my entire life. I hadn’t even moved out for university, as I never actually went. Now, living with my parents didn’t bother me, especially with the economy and house prices being what they are. These days, a lot of people are either living with their parents or have had to move back in. That’s just the day and age we live in.

However, what did bother me was the reason why I was living at home. Was it really just the reasons I had listed? Or, in my case, was it simply because I was afraid? As much as I hate to admit, the latter reason was the one that felt closer to the truth.

Living with my parents when I was 30 wasn’t an issue. Living at home without even trying to be independent and give everyone some space definitely would’ve been a problem.

This was one of many key reasons why I wanted to do more than just move out. I wanted to take on a huge challenge to go with it. Hence, why I aimed to move to Canada. (You can read more on some of my other reasons here.)

A couple of years later, and I’m living a wonderful life in Toronto. I miss my family and friends a great deal. But I’m still glad that I faced my fear, and did something big before I turned 30.

A story of boy meets girl (online)

The other reason I needed to write this? And a key reason why the very week I turned 30 was one of the best weeks of my life? Meeting my girlfriend, in person, for the first time.

I realise that this is the first time I’ve mentioned that I’ve been in a relationship. Mainly because, shockingly, I really haven’t blogged at all this past year. The last time I wrote something personal was back in early December last year. And that was about my trip back home, too!

It was also a few weeks before me and her first started chatting. Which started out very naturally.

I had noticed her before, on various Doctor Who groups. It was kind of hard not to, as she was as big of an Eighth Doctor fan as I was. Anyone who knows me knows exactly how rare it is for me to say that someone loves the Eighth Doctor as much as I do. But she clearly did, so, as I had done with a few other members, I decided to start messaging her.

Now, she could’ve just ignored it, and knowing how many creeps there are on the Internet, I would’ve completely understood that. But she said hi back, and we got talking about the Eighth Doctor very quickly.

Now, I’m not sure when it was I knew that this was different. At the very least, different to casually chatting with many other fans online.

Was it when we started to talk about other things? Was it when the messages went from simple paragraphs to full-length pages? Was it when we started talking about long-distance relationships? (Specifically, how they never work?)

New Year’s Eve was when I knew for sure that I wasn’t thinking of her as just a friend. When I got a message from her just before midnight, I was instantly happy. She mentioned how great the past week had been. I mentioned the same. A part of me was still trying to keep it friendly, but I knew it was something much more than that. Which was probably why I quoted a film that we had been discussing the previous evening:

You know, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

A little word of advice: if you really want to remain “just friends” with someone, don’t quote one of the most romantic movies ever made. So it was a good thing that I wanted to be more than that.

Something more

Over the next few weeks, the chatting started to change. First, it was just a little flirtatious.

(If you’re wondering, it was me who risked flirting first. When I knew how I felt, I decided that it was best to risk flirting, just a tiny amount. If she ignored it, then I’d aim to move on. If she thought I was a creep after all, then better I got shut down sooner rather than later. It seemed like a million to one chance that she’d flirt back. I was so incredibly happy when she did.)

Then, as the chatting went on, it got to be even more flirty. I was beginning to hope, in a big way, that she liked me in that way. But I wasn’t sure how to ask her for sure.

Then, for a couple of days, I wasn’t able to chat with her. Considering that I had been chatting with her every single day up to that point, that suddenly seemed like a bit of a dick move on my part. So I messaged her, as soon as I could, explaining why I had been quiet. Then I just blurted out that I liked her. A lot.

That probably wasn’t the coolest thing to do, I’ll admit. I’ve been given advice, more than once, that I need to be more of an asshole and just act cool. But that’s never been my style. Besides which, honesty in this case definitely worked. She told me she liked me too.

After that, chatting just became even easier. We went from messaging each other to Skyping very quickly, which really was fantastic. (Particularly since we knew for certain that we weren’t just catfishing each other. Be honest, you were wondering about that.)

It’s kind of funny. Like I said earlier, neither of us wanted a long-distance relationship. Especially as we had both done it before. And yet before we knew it, that was exactly what we were doing.

But it very quickly became clear to both of us that this was different to anything either of us had done. That the connection was stronger. That the fact that we didn’t want this, and yet couldn’t help ourselves, said everything. Before I knew it, I told her I loved her. And she said she loved me too.

And this is what brings me to why the week I turned 30 was such a wonderful week. Because she made sure to visit me for it.

A story of boy meets girl (in person)

On the morning she arrived in Toronto, I was, quite naturally, incredibly nervous. The past few months had been wonderful, and we had seemed to connect so well. But what if it wasn’t there in person? What if I was so nervous, that I just messed it up?

Waiting for her at the arrival gates felt like a long time, and didn’t do my nerves any favours. But the moment I saw her, I knew – knew – that it had been well worth the wait.

After a massive hug and a brief kiss, I helped her with her luggage while we got onto public transport and made our way to the hotel. On the way, we chatted a lot. Not just with each other, but with a guy who was in a serious long-distance relationship himself, and was even engaged. (I’ll not gonna lie, it was hard not to take that as a very good sign.)

Eventually, we made it to her hotel. Initially, there was some difficulty, as her room had been cancelled by mistake. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to clear it up, and she could literally sleep easy that night.

Understandably, she was still pretty exhausted from her flight. But she was also hungry and eager to see at least one sight in Toronto, so I took her to one of my favourite places in the city: BMV Books.

There are quite a few of these throughout the city, but the one on Bloor Street near Spadina Avenue is definitely the biggest. For a book lover like herself, seeing a shop FULL of discounted books was an absolute dream.

That was the first of many places I took her to throughout the week. And the time we did spend together at so many places was wonderful. Naturally, I took her to Cherry Cola’s, particularly on the night when Blackdog Ballroom were playing. She really enjoyed herself there.

The day after that, we went with a couple of friends to Niagara Falls. That really was an amazing sight. Not only was the boat trip we took amazing. It was also hilarious how, in the politest way possible, the commentary we heard basically said, “Yeah, America has its own falls, but it’s not nearly as awesome as the Canadian ones!”

The day itself

And of course, the day of the birthday itself was incredible. Beginning with some amazing presents, including an obscure Eighth Doctor book that only she could’ve got me, we then had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory. (Which apparently does more than just cheesecake. Who knew?)

Much later in the day, we then went with my housemate to see Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, performed with a live orchestra. Which of course, was amazing. I was so happy that I got to enjoy that experience with two fellow geeks.

But even better, they surprised me with karaoke afterwards. It was a nice surprise (even if I neglected to bring ID with me. I know, I know, drinking on my 30th should’ve been expected, but I was far too used to getting absolutely trashed on my birthday weekend rather than on the day itself. Luckily, no one asked me for my ID anyway). We only got to sing one song each, as it was incredibly busy. But overall, it was a wonderful night.

Going to so many awesome places and events was great. But even better than that? It was the quiet moments. Moments like getting to hold her hand in public. Or when we would just lay in bed while watching a film together.

That last example in particular was saved for her last night here. In some ways, it was a difficult night, for both of us. We had grown so used to each other’s company so quickly. Neither of us were ready for the week to end.

But in other ways, it was almost one of the best nights, too. Just lying in bed, her head against my chest as we watched a few films. These movies included The Purge, Dredd…and of course, Casablanca. It was a perfect last night for us to share. The kind of night that made me think, “Yeah. I really can imagine spending the rest of my life with her.”

When I said goodbye to her at the airport, it was incredibly hard for me to do. But I was so grateful for the time we did spend together. I’m also grateful for the fact that I’ll be spending time with her in August. I cannot wait for that.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to treasure the memory of us together. And to the woman I love: thank you for such a perfect week.

Toronto Interlude – Southend

First entry for the ongoing Toronto blog in a while, and it’s about the time I wasn’t in Toronto, or even in Canada. That’s right, this entry is about my recent trip to my home town, Southend-on-Sea.

Where to even begin with this one? There was a lot I had to pack in during this week. Pretty impressive, considering I had to mostly keep quiet about it (I’ll explain why), so a lot of it had to be sorted out on the spot.

I suppose the best place to start is seeing the family again. That was definitely brilliant. Over a year since I had seen them last, it’s the longest time I had been away from them, by a long, long way. It was brilliant to come back to chatting while watching TV together and family dinners. (Especially to mum’s lasagna. Seriously, my mother cooks the best lasagna in the world.)

However, as much as I got to spend time with them, they were also really generous with just letting me do my own thing, so I’m super grateful to them for that. Because with so many places to go and people to see, it was great that I had as much free time as I did.

Railway, Revolution and role-playing

One place I had been eager to see was the Railway Hotel. Bloody hell, I had missed that place. It’s one of those places which generally has a great atmosphere and is perfect for meeting up with friends, or simply catching a day’s entertainment.

And a day’s entertainment was exactly what I got when I checked out a charity show, as organised by one of my friends from improv. A great mix of spoken word, comedy, live music and even burlesque! (I guess that last part is something my favourite place in Southend has in common with two of my favourite places in Toronto: Cherry Cola’s and The Royal cinema.) A perfect example of why I had missed that place.

On Tuesday, I got to meet up with several friends for a quiz at a place called Revolution, which I had never been to before. It was pretty fun. While I only really helped to give one answer during the quiz, (“What year was Skyfall released?”, an easy one as it came out during Bond’s 50th year,) it was great to not just chat with several mates, but also get talking to new people. This was something that would’ve been a lot more difficult, once upon a time.

Middle of the week, I got to hang out with one of my oldest friends from high school. Best part of that was being introduced to several of his friends while briefly joining them for their current role-playing campaign. While I’ve come close to playing Dungeons & Dragons before, that was pretty much the first time I actually took part in a session. It was fun. At times, it even reminded me of improv, as there were a couple of moments I had to think on my feet. Definitely something I should take part in more often.

On the night before I flew back, I got to meet up with several more friends down the Alex pub. Once again, it was good chatting to mates, especially over drinks. And I got talked into staying out a little later than planned, which admittedly was nice. (Not too late though, as my flight really was the next morning.) Not a bad way to round the week off.

Of course, I haven’t mentioned the highlight of the week. Something that I had been looking forward to for months, and in fact, helped me to choose that particular week for me to come back. Specifically, my best friend’s 30th birthday.

Planning for a surprise

It’s something that I more or less had been planning for for months. In fact, I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t something I had thought about while I had been preparing for my move to Canada last year. Even while I was about to make a huge step with my life, I couldn’t help but feel that missing something as big as my best friend’s thirtieth just felt wrong. She’s someone who’s been a truly great friend to me over the years ever since high school, and I’ve always done my best to return the favour. However, with trying to sort out stuff like a job and a place to live in a new country, it was something that I decided to put to one side.

Cut to the middle of this year. Mum and Dad were talking about having me over for Christmas, or rather, an early Christmas at least, when the flights were more affordable. Initially, the first or second week of December looked like a good time. Early, but not too early.

Then I got to thinking about my best friend’s thirtieth. The more I thought about it, the more it just seemed too good to miss. Especially when she sent me an invitation. I explained to her that it was looking very unlikely that I’d be around that time, and she understood. More than that, she had pretty much expected it. But she wanted to keep me informed, at least. I think that’s when I knew that I was going to surprise her.

Props to Mum and Dad, they were very accommodating with helping me to arrange a trip for the end of November. It was soon after one of their own holidays, but they didn’t mind, which I’m super thankful for. And Mum even loved the idea that my friend had no idea I was coming back.

Over the next few months, the main focus was on getting the perfect birthday present. Something that would be unbeatable. This initially proved to be tricky. Over the past few years, me and my friend have been trying hard to outdo each other with presents. Last year, she gave me a Doctor Who waistcoat. Custom made. By her mum.

How the fuck was I supposed to outdo that?

Fan Expo

Thankfully, the idea for the perfect present arrived instantly while I was at Fan Expo, a convention in Toronto at the end of August. Of the many actors, writers and artists signing autographs, there was one person that significantly stood out: Nell Campbell.

While I had only seen Rocky Horror once and barely remembered it at all, my best friend has always been a huge fan of it. To the point where she has dressed as the character Columbia several times. So the idea of a personalized autograph from Columbia herself was too good an opportunity to miss.

I must admit, I was nervous about asking for it. Especially as the people in front of me were clearly huge fans, and had tons of stories to tell Nell. And there I was, with this image in my head of me saying, “Hi, I’ve only seen your film once and hardly remember it, but would you mind signing this autograph for a mate of mine? Cheers.”

Thankfully, that awkwardness didn’t happen. Particularly because Nell Campbell is super nice. Seriously, she’s clearly such a lovely person. The first thing she did was point out what I was wearing: the Doctor Who waistcoat. She asked me a ton of questions about the show, about who was my favourite Doctor, even about Sherlock. I answered quite happily, always conscious of trying not to go into too much detail. (As you can see from this length of this blog, I can really go on about awesome stuff.)

I made sure to tell her about my friend, and even show a pic of her in costume. Nell was really impressed, and not only signed the photo, but also took a selfie with me to show off to my friend.

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When I sent it to her, I received a mixture of emotions that started with jealousy and rage, before becoming super happy when I told her how much Nell enjoyed the costume pic I showed her.

Of course, she didn’t work out why I had gotten the selfie until months later…

A long expected party

Cut to late November. It’s the night of my best friend’s birthday, I’m holding her birthday present and card, and I’m heading in, feeling a mixture of nervousness and excitement. There was no big entrance or an announcement of, “Surprise, muthafucka!” or anything like that. I’ve always been a fan of the quiet entrance, myself. So I casually arrived at the party, hoping that the months of secrecy would pay off.

It did. So, so fucking much. The look on her face when she saw me was perfect, and her reaction was even better than I had hoped for. She really didn’t expect me at all, and she absolutely loved the surprise. That reaction alone made every single mile traveled worth it.

In fact, as much as I went on about getting the greatest present ever (seriously, let’s see you try and beat that one), I think it was overshadowed completely by the fact that I had showed up at all.

The rest of the night was chatting and catching up with everyone, eating buffet food, and of course, karaoke. (Naturally, I sung the song that I not only always sing, but was absolutely perfect for the occasion: I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) by The Proclaimers. Definitely glad I got to sing that one!)

As I look back on my week back home, there’s a couple of things I’ve realized. First, that while I haven’t missed the town so much, I have missed the people. There are a lot of awesome people back home – so many, in fact, that I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to catch up with all of them – and they’ve been what I’ve missed most about the place.

Second, that the move to Canada was definitely the right thing. In a lot of ways, I’ve remained my ol’ geeky self. But in other ways, I’ve changed a lot. Toronto has been a fucking amazing experience, and I think that’s going to continue for a good while yet.

Lastly, I need to thank a lot of people. Thanks to Mum and Dad for being so accommodating and allowing me so much time to spend catching up with my friends. Thanks to all of my friends, especially those who had no idea I was coming back and therefore had to meet up with me at such short notice.

And of course, thanks to my best friend, a woman who’s given me far more faith, trust and friendship than I’ve ever deserved, and someone who really helped me to believe that I really could do anything. Giving you an awesome present and a nice surprise doesn’t repay that, but I hope I made such a major occasion just that little bit extra special.

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I’m going to be honest: I’ve never seen In Bruges or Seven Psychopaths. The reason I bring this up is that both films were written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Both are on my to-watch list, though. But I’m just making it clear that he wasn’t the reason I rushed to see his new film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

No, there were two other reasons I rushed to see it. The first was the cast list, which is absolutely fantastic. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell – all have proved themselves to be amazing actors over the years, so a film with all three involved was bound to be worth a watch.

The other reason was the trailer. Seriously, if you haven’t done so already, just watch it. It’s the kind of trailer that lets you know exactly what kind of film you’re in for, without spoiling too much about it.

(Oh, actually, before you do watch it, just make sure there are no kids around. Seriously, the words “fuck, piss and cunt” are literally said in the second sentence.)

It has to be said, the trailer certainly left an impression on me. But how well was the film itself? Did it live up to expectations?

The plot

The film begins with Mildred Hayes renting three billboards, where she asks the police, in three short but brutal sentences, why they haven’t found the person who raped and murdered her daughter. At first, it doesn’t seem like too much of a problem, since hardly anyone uses the road the billboards are actually on. But gradually, attention towards the billboards starts to grow…

That’s the most I’ll describe of the plot. There are a lot of surprises throughout the film – surprisingly, there’s actually a rather crucial one revealed very early on that the trailer didn’t even hint at – and the less you know going in, the better.

(Having said that, I’m still going to write a detailed review on it while avoiding spoilers, if possible.)

One thing I really liked about the film’s developing plot is that it is entirely focused around the billboards themselves, and not the crime. Oh, the consequences from the crime on Mildred, her family and the community are explored, but the billboards themselves are the primary focus. It’s an interesting take on the crime genre, if this film even fits that description, but it works.

The characters

Ordinarily, a mother grieving for her murdered daughter while seeking justice would be a very sympathetic character. Fuck, in some ways, that’s a sympathetic character by default. Honestly, you’d have to try really fucking hard to make a character like that unlikable, or at least, is challenging to like.

However, you have to be impressed both by Martin McDonagh and Frances McDormand on how together, they achieved exactly that.

Mildred doesn’t want sympathy. She has absolutely none to give. She’s not a mother looking for justice, not really. She’s mainly lashing out, not just at the police in general, but primarily at the chief of police, William Willoughby.

Perhaps Mildred would be more likable if Willoughby was a man who was terrible at his job, like she paints him out to be. But Willoughby is clearly not someone who got the job by pure luck. Everyone in the community loves him, and everyone has good reason to. Willoughby is just a very honest cop who tried to do his very best. Mildred doesn’t see him that way, and that conflict drives a lot of the film.

Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson are absolutely fantastic in their lead roles. Which is to be expected really, as both are phenomenal actors. Both provide a lot of depth to each of their roles, and the scenes shared between them are fantastic to watch.

For the record, the fact that Mildred is so unsympathetic isn’t a criticism. Quite the reverse, in fact. As I mentioned before, she isn’t your typical “grieving mother” template character. She’s distinctive, memorable, and as challenging as she is, impossible not to watch.

A very dark comedy…

Considering the subject matter, it would almost be surprising how hysterical the film is. I say “almost” because, as I said before, the crime itself isn’t important: the billboards are. As a result, the reaction the characters have to the billboards – and to each other – is often hysterical to watch.

The dialogue is well written and equally well performed. Yes, there’s a lot of swearing, but, like one of my favourite satires The Thick of It, there’s almost a sense of poetry in how that swearing is used.

Also, I have to mention that Sam Rockwell is fucking brilliant as Dixon. A racist and violent cop, he’s actually the funniest character to watch in the whole film. (No, seriously.) Seeing him listening and low-key dancing to Chiquitita by Abba would be hilarious to watch just out of context. In context, though? It’s a masterpiece of utterly black comedy.

…with real heart

The thing that surprised me most about the film though was that, as dark and intense as it could get, there’s a real heart to it, too. I don’t want to sound cheesy about it – this isn’t a family film, after all – but when the film finished, I was surprised to find a real sense of optimism. It’s small and very understated, but it works very well. Characters make choices and change in ways that you don’t expect them to. When the ending comes along, it doesn’t feel like bullshit, but it’s not a totally depressing resolution, either.

Three Billboards didn’t just live up to expectations. It honestly exceeded them. Along with Baby Driver, it’s probably one of my favourite films of 2017, and definitely recommended. It also makes me want to watch In Bruges, and not just this single (but brilliant) clip:

Canada: One Year On

On Thursday 14th September, I achieved my goal of living one year in Canada. If I’m honest, I still can’t believe I made it.

In the months leading up to before I left England, there was a part of me that wasn’t sure whether or not I’d have gone through with it. I knew myself too well, and I kept thinking that, as much as I had sorted out the work permit application, a part thought that I would chicken out at the last minute.

There’s an episode of Cheers that I caught a few years ago. In it, one of the main characters, Norm, had this brilliant realization when it came to his life, and decided to leave the country to make a fresh start. At first, the other characters were really proud that he made such a bold decision…until they found out that he chickened out before he got on the flight and had been hiding from them in shame ever since.

Throughout all the planning, that episode had been stuck in my head. There had been many decisions in life that I had backed out of before, some big, plenty small. I really wondered whether I would actually go through something like this.

And yet oddly enough, as time went on, it actually got easier. With a lot of support from my friends and family, I started planning for it bit by bit. The major turning point was when I said “Fuck it!” and actually booked a flight. Once that had been sorted out, I started getting ready for everything else.

Limited preparation

Accommodation was what I focused on first. That took quite some time, especially since, as I mentioned, only my application for a work permit had been approved, not the work permit itself. It wasn’t guaranteed that I’d actually get it, and I’d only know whether everything was completely ok or not when I arrived in Canada and went through customs. So, as you can imagine, it did make things a little difficult. Fortunately, through emails and a lot of applications, I was able to find accommodation, both short term and long term, before I arrived.

Everything else, though? I had nothing sorted out for a job (the fact is that I knew it’d probably be easier if I was able to actually show up to interviews in person); I had savings, but probably less than I should have done, and in terms of electronics, I was bringing with me just a tablet and a phone. To say that I was barely prepared would be putting it optimistically.

But when it came right down to it, when my mum and dad dropped me off at the airport, they asked me, just to make sure, if I didn’t want to just go back home with them right there.

I think even I was a little surprised at how quickly I said “No”. In some ways, I wasn’t nearly ready for it, but in my gut, I was more than ready.

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The hard part

I could say that getting on the flight was the hard part, but that wouldn’t be the truth. Once I got through security, waiting to get on the plane and then boarding it was pretty straightforward. I could say I was nervous about what would happen when I got there – like I said, my work permit would only be approved once I had arrived. But even that wasn’t too bad. Even if it hadn’t been accepted at the last minute, I would’ve been satisfied that I had tried as hard as I could, at least. Even heading into a new place on my own, at least for the short-term, wasn’t too difficult. I was too exhausted to worry at that point.

No, the most difficult part happened the next morning.

I was lying in bed, fully awake, when it suddenly hit me: I was in another country. Holy fucking fuck, I had actually done it!

That idea wouldn’t have been too scary, if another thing hadn’t occurred to me – I didn’t have an adapter for both of my USB chargers.

It’s incredibly silly to think about now. But during that first morning, I was really panicking. Both my phone and my tablet had some juice in them, but it certainly wasn’t indefinite. Without them, I would’ve been basically cut off entirely from the outside world. Job applications, contacting home, even just looking for a local bus route – none of it would’ve been available. I needed a new adapter, and here I was, lying in bed, living in a new country and having no fucking clue about the local area! I was thinking, Oh fuck, I’m not going to last one week here. I’m just going to end up panicking and call home and say I couldn’t make it last.

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That only lasted for an hour, maybe even less than that. But it definitely felt longer. Lying in that bed in a state of almost total panic was, without a doubt, the scariest moment I’ve had in my year of living here. Maybe even in my entire life.

Eventually, however, I just decided to say, “Fuck it!”, and head out and look around for an adapter. After an hour or so of searching, I finally found one, and got both my tablet and my phone all charged up.

Believe it or not, that was actually the most difficult moment I’ve had since I came to Canada.

The first 7 weeks

Everything else after that was piss easy by comparison. And it actually kept getting easier, too. Sorting out a new local number was the top priority, so job agencies and companies could contact me easily. Looking up the TTC and getting a good idea of public transport on my tablet was the next step. For the next couple of weeks, it was mainly applying on my tablet and setting up as many profiles as possible on job application sites.

After moving in to my new place for the long term at the start of October, it wasn’t long before I realized that, as much as I was able to get done on the tablet, there was so much more that I could get done on a laptop. Particularly with the feel of a keyboard under my fingers. (Thank you mum for pushing me into learning touch-typing at an early age. It’s certainly made writing articles and applications so much easier.)

So, I took a bit of a risk and dipped into my savings for a new laptop. Even for something cheap, it wasn’t the easiest of decisions to make. I knew that would cut on both my rent and shopping money considerably. But, again, that was something else I was pretty pleased with – that I was becoming someone who knew when to take risks rather than just lie down and hope that everything would work out nicely. Because I knew that, as many applications as I could make on a tablet daily, I knew I could send out ten times as many on a laptop, easily.

It was a gamble that paid off. During early October, I was regularly going downtown for job agency interviews. I must have been to four or five agencies within those first two weeks. On the next step, I actually started getting interviews for places that I could start working for. My sister also gave me a contact for someone who worked for an agency over here, which definitely helped.

On Halloween, I got two interviews. One first thing in the morning, the other some ways out of Toronto in the afternoon. I don’t know how I did on the first interview, but on the second? They told me at the end of it that I could start the next day. And I’ve been working there ever since. One and a half months. That’s how long it took me to find work over here. Considering the long, depressing gaps I had job hunting that had lasted for years back in the UK, that was definitely a relief. A relief and, honestly, a major confidence booster.

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One hell of a year

As for everything else in my life? It has been nothing short of amazing. I’ve seen Steel Panther live. I’ve been to comic conventions and met some of my favourite stars. I’ve watched hockey and baseball; seen my favourite old movies on the big screen; watched burlesque shows and got drunk as fuck while seeing amazing live bands play. I’ve physically met with people I had only spoken to constantly on the internet and made new friends. I’ve gotten out of Toronto and seen more amazing sights in Ottawa, Montreal and Niagara Falls.

And I’ve been ridiculously lucky when it comes to housemates. As someone who moved in with complete strangers for the first time, I was really lucky to meet some really nice and welcoming people. I even got to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter with a housemate’s family, all of which were really nice.

One more thing

On Friday, at work, all of us in my department were asked to see our department manager. I thought it would be for something like a regular team update, but I was wrong. It was actually the whole team giving me a couple of gifts. Along with a gift card from popular food chain Tim Hortons, I had also been given a mug signed by everyone in the department. It was a really sweet thing for all of them to do, and I barely had the words to thank them. Exactly a year before, I had been panicking in bed that I wouldn’t be able to make it here, and suddenly next thing I know, I’m rewarded by the people I’ve worked with in a really lovely way.

So here’s the important point. If there’s something you really want to do, then just fucking go for it. Don’t let fear hold you back, and just try as hard as you can. Even if you fail, you’ll be satisfied knowing you tried. And you might just surprise yourself by how much you actually succeed.

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Thank you to all my friends and family who have supported me in this. As much work as I’ve put into this, without your support, I’d have never have gone for anything like this, so thank you all. It’s been an absolutely fucking fantastic year, and I can’t wait to find out what’s in store for the next!

 

Toronto #30

Labyrinth, free live music, Mod Night and IT! Here’s the latest blog!

Sorry guys! Once again, with the exception of last week’s Dark Tower review (which, with over 1,400 views, gave me the highest number of views for a post ever!), and a review for the amazing Baby Driver, I haven’t updated this properly in a while. At least, I haven’t been informing all you lovely people of what I’ve been up to in Toronto lately. About time I rectified that, I think.

Last month, I saw a couple of films at the Royal. The first was Labyrinth, which remains a true classic. Not only was that one showing for free, but it also had a live band performance right before it. It was by Hannah Georgas, who I must admit, I hadn’t really heard anything of before. I definitely liked her music, though. Very indie, very honest, and very cool.

Oh, and the best moment? Hearing her rather unique rendition of ‘Magic Dance’ from the Labyrinth soundtrack. Seriously, ‘Magic Dance’ in a distinctly indie rendition was glorious to hear!

The next film I saw was a 50th anniversary screening of Bonnie & Clyde. This one I hadn’t seen before. Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed it. Violent, but also with a great sense of humour. And the ending is as beautiful and heartbreaking to watch as they say it is. (Even if one of the greatest moments in TV series Cracker is Robbie Coltrane utterly destroying someone by telling them how shit that ending was.) Glad I got to watch that one on the big screen. (And not just because it was part of the Ladies of Burlesque series of screenings, either.)

While I don’t go to Cherry Cola’s nearly as often, it is most definitely my other favourite place in this city. Like I said, I try not to go too often – if you’re drinking, a night out can get expensive real quick – but it was Mod Night last month, so I had to go. And as ever, it was absolutely bloody brilliant.

Along with a cool ska band that opened the night, there was also regular mod band Blackdog Ballroom, who were as amazing as ever. I’ve seen a number of cool local bands in my day. But I don’t think I’ve come across one that nailed the mod spirit quite as well as Blackdog Ballroom has.

Oh, and one great little bonus? On the ceiling, classic movies were playing. We didn’t get to hear them, obviously, but it was a nice touch. Especially as one of those movies was Quadrophenia, in full. I must admit, I always get a craving for that film after a good Mod show, so it was good to fix that craving at the same time as watching great bands perform live!

Aside from that, there’s not really that much to say. I mentioned seeing the Dark Tower movie, and I’ve made my feelings on that very clear. I watched the amazing Baby Driver again, this time with the housemates, so that was awesome.

Once again, reading wise, I’m very much in a Stephen King mood. (No prizes for guessing why that is.) I’m not reading the Dark Tower again, as it’s been mere months since finishing my third entire read of the series. But I am reading the mammoth novel IT again.

I must say, I’m reading it much more easily this time around. I think it’s because I’m reading it on the kindle, as opposed to the paperback copy I had last time. Usually, I prefer reading a paperback, but I absolutely hated how small the font size was in my copy. Seriously, for a relatively slow reader like myself, there’s nothing more discouraging than feeling like you’ve been reading the same page for about ten minutes. Thankfully, this isn’t a problem I haven’t been having with my e-book copy.

Anyway, as well as reading it more easily, I’m finding myself much more absorbed by the world and by King’s storytelling. I love how King tells this story of childhood, adulthood and the horrors of both in one epic story. While I certainly enjoyed reading it before, I think I’m loving it so much more now. Definitely magical when that happens.

Obviously, I’m looking forward to the new IT movie next month. I love that it’s split the story in two, with one film focusing on the kids and the other film focusing on those characters when they’ve all grown up. (Of course, the second half being made depends entirely on how successful the first half is.) Honestly, with how huge and epic the book is in scope, splitting it in two is the only way to do. I hope it’s a good film in its own right, anyway.

Until next time, folks!