Reviewsday – Grief

Reviewsday doesn’t quite work on a Wednesday. Revednesday. Nope. That Bank Holiday’s made a right mess of things!

Anyway, we have a bit of a dark Reviewsday this week… I’ve decided to review Kübler-Ross’s 5 stages of grief. Most of you will have experienced grief at some point in your life; the loss of a friend or a family member, the loss of a job, the end of a relationship. Many things create in us a state of grief. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross put forth the theory that the brain goes through a series of stages when coping with grief. Her initial thoughts were that these stages were passed through by a person suffering with a terminal illness, but the theory has since been expanded to cover any form of grief.

The stages can be remembered by the acronym DABDA; Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. Different people will pass through the stages at different rates. Some people may skip stages; this is just a rough guideline. Grief is on my mind quite a bit at the moment. In real life I’ve got a very poorly Nanna, and a very poorly dog. Both mean a heck of a lot to me, and the prospect of losing either one is ridiculously upsetting. Slightly more trivial; a couple of the short stories I’m currently writing involve emotional devastation; through death or through the learning of terrible truths. So I’m very aware of grief right now, and the most pragmatic part of my brain wants to deconstruct the stages to be better prepared.

Somewhat toddler-like, we start out with the sheer refusal to believe that the impending doom is going to happen. This is the desperate attempts to believe that it’s all going to be alright. Maybe you misheard the news, maybe the test results got mixed up and it’s really happening to someone else. Maybe there was some sort of mistake. Maybe this is all some terrible dream and in the morning you’ll wake up and it’ll be ok.

So you wake up and it’s not ok. And the next morning you wake up and it’s still not ok. And eventually it sinks in that this terrible thing is happening whether you like it or not. You really don’t like it, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening and the powerlessness drives you absolutely crazy. The more you can’t do anything, the more angry you get that it’s happening. It’s not fair, you’re better than this horrid thing. You’ve worked so hard to do the right things, why should this happen to you?

The anger breaks on the hundredth utterance of ‘It’s not fair’ and a last ditch of desperation appears. You find yourself willing to do anything to escape your fate. You walk the safest paths and avoid anything even remotely risky, you swear by whatever deity you believe in that you will be the best person you can be if only they give you another chance. I would call this step ‘Desperation’ except that would ruin the acronym; no one wants to associate ‘DADDA’ with grief.

Your bargains receive no answer, the impending awfulness is still impending and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. So you give up. You shut out well-wishers and you wallow in futile sadness that it’s all so very out of your control. Now the tears shed are not the tears of shock, but the tears of how bloody rotten everything is, and how this shouldn’t be happening, and how distraught you are now you know what you’re distraught about.

Then something clicks in your understanding. It’s not necessarily the serenity of being granted the knowledge to see what you can’t change, or however that goes, but rather the point when you realise that there’s nothing you can do about the fact that there’s nothing you can do. You’re no less sad than you were, no less angry at the way things are, but you’re probably a bit less stressed and able to deal with the things you need to deal with.

And that’s that. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.

Now, to make up for the really sad subject, here’s a couple of adorable things.
really cute puppies grief
adorable baby kitten


Reviewsday – Les Miserables

It’s hard to get the true measure of something on a single viewing, tasting or other method of sampling. Cinematic experiences are particularly true for this, in my experience. The hype of visiting the cinema and the engrossing viewing environment; the big screen, the surround sound, the dimmed lights and the inability to pop out for a cuppa and get distracted loading the washing machine all add to the enjoyment of the film. I know I find that I’m much more likely to rave about something I’ve seen at the cinema, than I am to rave about a first viewing of something on the smaller screen.

Because of this, I’ve decided that the only way to review a film is to watch it once on the big screen, then let it sit for 4 months, watch it again on the small screen and make the review after that second exposure. Or at least that’s what I’ve done with the subject of this week’s reviewsday. With the slight addition of having listened to the soundtrack off and on throughout that 4 month break.

So, without further ado, I bring you my review of Les Miserables.

Les Miserables poster

First thing I need to do is to issue, as is often the case, a disclaimer. I have not read The Brick; aka the literary source material for this story. I have, however, seen the West End production, and I’ve even seen the film they made in the 90s with Liam Neeson taking on the role of Val Jean and not singing a note. So I know a bit about Les Mis. I’ll go as far as to say I was already a fan before I saw the most recent film adaptation. Because of that, I’m not going to give you a review of the story – it’s been retold in so many ways and I’ve seen/heard so many slightly different versions, it’s just going to get confusing. Instead I’m going to give you a 2012 film-specific review, looking at the cast and some of the direction and giving my opinion on them.

Now, I’m a list-based reviewer. That’s just how I roll, and that’s how I’m going to go about this. My points will be vaguely in film order, simply because I made notes during my small screen viewing and that’s how it worked out!

Hugh Jackman. Upon first viewing I liked him, but having listened to the soundtrack several (hundred) times, there’s just something I don’t like about his voice. It’s too energetic at times; too much a caberet star, and it doesn’t have the gravity I want in my Jean Val Jean. To be fair to Hugh; the two JVJs I’m comparing him to are Colm Wilkinson and John Owen Jones (who I saw on stage as the Phantom); both truly epic performers, and both with a bit more oomph to their voice. Watching the film again last night I sort of forgot my complaints; when watching him acting, Hugh does a fantastic job, but listening to the audio on its own lets him down a little bit. This is most likely due to the fact that they recorded it ‘live’ on set, which has to be exhausting, and I would imagine the acting and the singing each lost a little bit in trying to get both captured at the same time.

Russell Crowe, because I can’t start with one and not follow with the other. Who knew he could sing? Again, as with Hugh, he’s not got the same depth of tone as the West End cast recordings I’m familiar with. I adore Earl Carpenter’s version of Javert. I do, however, rate Russell’s version; I really see in him the black-and-white logic of Inspector Javert, and the utter conviction he has in his faith and his duty. I particularly liked the scenes between Val Jean and Javert – the two actors played against each other very well. There’s a video on youtube with Hugh and Russell singing Confrontation and they just look like they’re having so much fun!

Anne Hathaway – I know she’s persona non-grata on the ol’ interwebs, but I’ve always been an Anne Hathaway fan. I don’t get why people don’t like her. Fantine’s a tricky character; she’s not in the film for long enough for the audience to love her, but I think Anne did wonderfully, and I Dreamed A Dream was wonderfully performed – it’s such an emotional song, and was heart-aching to watch on both screens.

Samantha Barks – Now, here’s where it gets interesting; Sam Barks is from actual musicals; she was Eponine in the 2th Anniversary Concert, she knows how the theatre audience want to see their Eponine, and so I couldn’t help but to love her performances. What I didn’t love, however, was what the adaptation did to her character. In my mind, Eponine is lovely; she fancies the pants off Marius, but she helps when he asks for help; even if that help is pushing him toward Cosette. She climbs the barricades mid-battle to deliver news that she has given his note to Val Jean. In the movie she’s a scheming, conniving cowbag, hiding notes and just generally being unhelpful. Why?!?!

Also, whilst we’re on this particular soapbox, what the heck did they do to On My Own? The musical arrangement was beautiful, Sam’s voice was lovely. The scene, however, looked like a rather dodgy pop video. It’s everything I disliked about the direction of the film; the overuse of out-of-focus camera shots, the bizarre need for a rain deluge every time Eponine sings about rain, and yet remaining dry as a bone in every other shot. What is this?!? I may be over sensitive, I love Eponine, I love On My Own, I had such high hopes for that bit, and found it so utterly wanting. It’s not even just that scene, the strange out-of-focus camera work happens fairly often, and the mysterious sudden rain shower reappears when Eponine is felled at the barricades, just in time for A Little Fall Of Rain. Maybe the rain’s not as metaphorical as I had thought.

Quickly through the rest of the cast so as to not make this too much of an essay;

  • Aaron Tveit’s Enjolras is sheer perfection. This may be because I went into the film with already a little crush on the character, a crush which was certainly not harmed by that earnest face and amazing eye acting. The way Enjolras stares at Marius, and then later at Grantaire – makes my lustful knees go weak!
  • Speaking of Grantaire – major props to George Blagden; he wasn’t in the film for long, but he gave such an emotional performance.
  • Eddie Redmayne was a fantastic Marius. I believed in his love for Cosette, and his devotion to the revolution. Yes, his singing voice was a bit different to everyone else’s, but I kinda loved it. He sounds like he’s been airlifted from a Sinatra film, and there’s nowt wrong with that!
  • Amanda Seyfried was good as Cosette; a bit shrill at times, but not enough to distract from her performance. Bloomin’ difficult to warble along to in the car though!
  • Sasha Baron Cohen & Helena Bonham Carter made for amusing Thenardiers, but upon second viewing I wasn’t so easily amused. I think it’s because I can’t put aside the actors from the roles – I look at Sasha Baron Cohen and I see his other performances; Borat and Pirelli in particular, just as I look at Helena Bonham Carter and see Mrs Lovett, and every kooky Tim Burton character she’s ever played.
  • Daniel Huttlestone (Gavroche) on the other hand is seventeen shades of perfect. His EVERY moment on screen is exactly right.

My favourite scene in the movie was probably Do You Hear The People Sing; the revolution’s beginnings in the crowds; a slow building song of revolution. In the cinema I got goosebumps (and that was the moment the tears started flowing, not to end until the credits rolled.) I also loved One Day More; it’s impossible to do that sort of montage in the theatre, and so there wasn’t much to compare it to, but even so it exceeded my expectations; as they prepared for battle. Marius’s return always makes me smile, especially with the addition of Redmayne and Tveit’s eye acting.

In fact, the whole short-lived revolution needs to be talked about. It was engrossing viewing; I flinched at every one of the gunshots. I wept piteously as Gavroche fell. I felt my heart breaking as the battle turned and the students were banging on doors begging for salvation. That final scene; Enjolras and Grantaire standing together, knowing death was moments away. That brief moment was so perfect, and such a lovely nod to the fans, especially those who maintain the pair were more than just brothers in arms.

Javert’s unravelling further served to break me; I did not expect the moment when he removed his medal and pinned it to Gavroche’s chest, and so that surprise utterly devastated me in the most cathartic way – his resolution had broken and his downfall had begun. At his suicide I wanted to applaud, as is right and proper in the theatre but most unacceptable in a cinema. Yes it was brutal, but the whole film is brutal in just the right way.

I do have to mention a couple of small annoyances (aside from the aforementioned camera work and rain scenes) – I didn’t like the sewer scenes. Yes; sewers are dirty and full of poo, but when Val Jean and mostly-dead-Marius emerged with gross poo-encrusted faces it broke my concentration just a little bit. They could have restrained the make up artist just a bit on that one, I think. Also – what the fudge was going on with their accents?!? I know the film was set in France, and to have them all doing dodgy French accents would have ruined it; but they could at least have picked one English dialect. I heard everything from Cockney London to Yorkshire to Irish, and that’s not even focusing on Hugh Jackman’s ever changing tones. It wasn’t a major big deal, but it was a bit irritating.

I’m going to bring this to a close on two last good moments of a fantastic film. Firstly; Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. This song, for me, is the end of the story; everything after is the gentle wrapping up; like coasting downhill. Eddie delivered this song so beautifully and so heartbreakingly, highlighting the devastating loss of so many young men.

And finally; Colm Wilkinson’s cameo as the Bishop made me too happy; seeing the original Val Jean on the big screen was a much appreciated hat tip to those of us who recognised his voice/face.

Les Miserables

Materialistic Reviewsday

In this week’s reviewsday I’d like to invite you all into my life for a little while. It’s probably not the done thing, but this week we’re going to get a little bit materialistic. I want to review my 6 favourite things.

Now, I’m going to have to remove anything living – clearly my absolute favourite things are my family – human and various other mammals. I’m just looking at things that I can say I legally possess and could possibly dig out a receipt for (or the gift tag… some were presents). I’m also going to try to avoid anything too specific; these should all be accessible to other peoples, should they want to fill their lives with stuff I like! And yes, that would be SO weird. Please don’t do it.

Last disclaimer – this list is in no particular order, save for the order these things came to my mind. I guess it’s a case of the obvious ones first and the more obscure ones after…

1 – My car
Honda cr-v 4x4 car
Yeah, we’re starting with the biggie. I love my car. I started learning to drive when I was 17 and my Mum let me drive her Fiesta around a car park.
Years passed; I got my licence (2nd attempt) and was lucky enough to be in the situation where my Mum’s old Fiesta was looking for a new home. Thus began ten years of Fiesta-driving. In that time I had three different Fiestas; a little dark blue one which served me until my first and only car crash whilst I was behind the wheel. (We had to threaten him with a court case, but the arse driving the other car eventually admitted liability.) After that, and because of that, came a little dark red number which saw me to the end of uni and into my first job. Once I got a job I decided to upgrade to a newer model Fiesta in a gleaming black and all was well… Until the ferrets moved in.
It is impossible to fit a 100cm show cage in the back of a Fiesta, and it’s a right bugger to have to move eight ferrets around in a cat carrier, so this February I decided enough was enough and I part-exchanged my trusty Fiesta for a gas guzzling Honda CR-V. And I love it! From the rumble of its diesel engine to the HUGE bootspace, from the many secret storage spaces to the actual picnic table, it’s perfect. Sure it’s not quite as nippy on the corners as the Fiesta, but I needed a bit of slowing down if I’m going to be honest with you.
It’s more than just a big, shiny, grey thing. My car is very much my safe place. Always has been – if life feels a bit shitty I can go for a drive no matter the weather or the time of day. In my car I can crank my music up loud and belt out my frustrations, or simply just warble along happily if things happen to be going well. In my car I can go wherever I want (within reason) whenever I want. I can see my wonderful family, be they 10 minutes up the road, an hour away or further. I can take the ferrets to various country shows, or I can take HollyDog for a walk somewhere more exciting than the town we live in. My car is my freedom and that’s pretty much why it was the first thing to come to mind.

2 – My books
For longer than I can remember I have been a reader. It’s just always felt good – to get lost in a book, devouring the words, the characters, the worlds, the plots. It’s why I’m a writer. Part of being a constant reader is my collection of books. Every room of my house has at least a small pile of books in it. Most are in the little spare room, which may be barely big enough to swing a cat, but it’s certainly big enough to shove two overflowing bookcases into. More recently read books, and books yet to be started are in my bedroom. Books I want visitors to see are in the lounge whilst cookery books are in the kitchen (yeah, that’s sort of a given!) There are even books in the bathroom; reading in the bath does come with some risks, but it’s a must!
Amongst my books are old favourites which I could read from cover to cover again and again, never growing tired of. There are harder books which I finished and set aside, declaring I would rather not face again. There are epic serieses which took many, many months to get through, and small volumes which were finished in a single sitting. These books have made me laugh, made me cry and made me wish more than anything that I too could commit my words to paper. It is a matter of great pride that my bedside table contains a copy of the 400-page paperback which bears my name.
If I didn’t have my books to read I don’t think I would be the person I am today. I’d live I’d find other things to occupy my mind, but I’d be missing a large part of who I am.

3 – My Laptop
packard bell laptop red
This, sort of, follows on from my books. My laptop contains a lot of things which I value very highly. If this list were in order of irreplacable sentimental worth, the laptop would take the top spot. It contains my photographs, it contains my videos and it contains my words. Hundreds of thousands of typed words live in this machine. I have some of it backed up, but not enough that I wouldn’t mourn if this computer died tonight. Ever since I first had my own desktop PC (just the year before I got my car, I believe) I started writing this one story. There’s a girl, a boy, and a lot of dragons. The other details have changed with the years and the numerous re-tellings, and many other story ideas have bloomed. Word document after word document sit on this hard drive containing the beginnings of stories my mind wanted to tell. Most will never be finished, but they wait, just in case I return to them one day.
As well as my words, my laptop contains my link to the world. The internet, and with it Facebook, Skype, Hotmail and YouTube, not to mention my new friend WordPress. Without this laptop I don’t know what my life would be – I’d either get out more, or you’d find me sat in a corner rocking and talking to my imaginary friends!

4 – My mini-Dishwasher
table top dishwasher
Not much I can say here – this is for reasons of pure laziness! I don’t like washing up; it takes too long and I can think of so many things I’d rather do. My kitchen isn’t huge, so there’s no room for a proper size dishwasher, but as there’s only one of me I don’t make enough mess to fill a proper size dishwasher. That’s about it!

5 – Bath foam collection
bath products
I like a bath. I have quite a few baths. Admittedly this is because the shower in my bathroom does not work, so I need to have regular baths to keep clean! More than anything, however, I like to make the most of my bath. This includes music, a book (or a podcast) and lots and lots of bubbles. I don’t mind the flavour, I just like me a bubble bath. Alternatively a bath bomb will do – some sort of potion or unguent in the water making everything fizzy and aromatic and I’m a relaxed and happy bunny.
I can’t claim to have the busiest or hectic-est of lives; I’m not chasing around after children or juggling a billion social activities, but I do get aches and stresses and tired, and a good bath goes a long way to easing those aches, stresses and tireds.

6 – iPod
Last, but not least is my trusty iPod (or mp3 player of choice). It’s a good few years old now, and has a crack across the bottom of the screen from where I dropped it, but it’s definitely one of my favourite gadgets. I work in an office. For the past 6 and a half years I’ve worked in offices, albeit different rooms with different colleagues. The problem with offices is that some people work better with background noise, and others prefer silence. I’m one of the former category, needing some sort of noise to be happening. However offices generally seem to cater for the second group. So in comes the iPod – one ear in, one out so I don’t miss anyone talking to me, and I get to work to my own soundtrack. Likewise on the few rare occasions I go to London I can take my own soundtrack with me onto the tube, walking round the tourist-filled streets. Away from the Capital I can plug my iPod into my car, thanks to a nifty radio transmitter, and I can listen to my music as I travel. I don’t know why music’s so important, but I know I’m not such a huge fan of silence, and I’ve yet to find a rado station which doesn’t begin to annoy me after a short while. With my iPod I can skip and skip and skip until I find a track suited to my mood. I can block the world out, I can seek inspiration or motivation, and I don’t have to share with the worldd whatever highly unfashionable tune I’m listening to!

There we are – these are a few of my favourite things, along with related images. If you’d like to share your materialistic happy places, please do, otherwise I’ll see you in the next blog!

Reviewsday – Video Games

This could be fun… Y’see, I’m not really a hardcore gamer; I couldn’t tell you the history of the Zelda games from their first outing on the N64 or the GameCube or whatever. I only recently started thinking of myself as a gamer. So, similarly to last week’s story of how I got into ferret-keeping, I figured I’d tell you a bit about my gaming history, then give you a review of the games I own/play.

A very quick trip through my gaming history actually starts quite early on. It all started on the PC with Disney platform games – I particularly remember Aladdin and the Lion King as being particularly great. After them, Mum used to buy computing magazines (I don’t know whether it was personal interest, because she worked in computers, or a bit of both) which had free game discs on the front and contained a ton of free demos. One of the best games I can remember was one called Tyrion, It was just an up-scrolling spaceship-flying and shooting game, but you could modify your ship, and you could pick up all manner of weaponry. (And I wonder why I turned out to be such a geek…!) Next up came Theme Hospital (which I still think is a fantastic game), Theme Park World, Zoo Tycoon, Lemmings 3d and Sim City (not sure which one) which then led to The Sims, The Sims 2, The Sims 3, Age of Empires, Age of Mythology and a few others along the way. So you get the point – I was always a gamer, I just didn’t realise it!

My break from the PC came in the form of the original bulky GameBoy. My brother had the grey one and I had the yellow one (Donkey Kong edition) and so I found Super Mario Bros (which I had played before – our childminder had a Nintendo console so we’d played games on that on occasion.) and eventually Pokemon.

Moving through time to uni I treated myself to a DS… this may have been because I was working in a Virgin Megastore and I had a little crush on my colleague who usually ran the games section. The DS came with Nintendogs, but my time was mostly wasted on Mario Kart!

After uni I bought my first console – the Nintendo Wii. Yeah. The least gamer-y games console. I didn’t know then that it was all about Playstation vs Xbox. I just knew I wanted a Wii Fit, because it would totally make me thin.

It didn’t. But the Wii did prove to be rather amusing. I had my beloved Mario Kart, not to mention a couple of musical games; Guitar Hero 3, Rock Band, and a particularly addictive game called Kororinpa, where you have to guide a marble around a track using the motion-sensitive wii-mote. It was fun, but I wanted something more.

Something more came at the end of November 2011, in the form of a super shiny Xbox360. I didn’t even consider the PS3; my co-Gaveller and her husband had (still have) an Xbox, and so I’d already been treated to some multi-player (co-op) first person shooters (FPSs) with them, as well as some throat-damaging games of Lips (which we still indulge in to this day – I’m particularly proud of my operatic abilities on songs from Phantom of the Opera).

And that is how I got to where I am today, so let’s get to the important bit;

The Games
(These are probably in the order I got them, but that’s going by a rather shaky memory…)

1 – Fallout New Vegas
This came with the console, and for a long while was the only real game I had (with the exception of the demos/arcade games which came pre-installed…) and came highly recommended. My fellow Gaveller, Charli, is a fan of the Fallout games, and so I expected to enjoy it. Sadly I just didn’t get it. I figured out how to move the character, how to shoot things and how to interact with people, I just didn’t get on board with the story, and compounded things further by managing to open a door into a corridor full of badguys where the game autosaved. I died over and over and over… It was not a good moment.
I’m sure if I return to FNV at some point, now I’m a year and four months into gaming, I’ll probably get on with it a bit better.

2 – Dragon Age : Origins + Dragon Age II
Ah, Dragon Age : Origins, anoher game which came highly recommended by my good friend and cousin. This time, however, I was not disappointed. Confusion at how a grown woman could become lost for days in a video game suddenly became understanding. My favourite thing about the two Dragon Age games (plus downloadable content (DLC)) is that you can do what you want; follow the main quests or faff about with side quests, but it wasn’t so big that I felt I was getting lost/wasn’t really sure what the main plot was, as with FNV. An added bonus is the sheer variety of characters you can play; each with their own starting point and personal drama. You could play the game half a dozen times and have a different experience each time round. It’s magnificent!
Dragon Age 3 is on its way, and I’ll be there on release day, eagerly awaiting my Mage’s staff or my Warrior’s two handed battle axe, or my Rogue’s bow and arrows.

3 – Mass Effect 1 + 2 + 3
Following my enjoyment of BioWare’s Dragon Age games, Charli’s husband recommended I give Mass Effect a go. This was around the time the third installment was released. I played all three games pretty much nonstop, whenever I wasn’t at work – and I think it’s fair to say I loved them a little bit more than I loved Dragon Age. Why? The single character through the entire trilogy was wonderful. Ok, your DA:O character was mentioned in DAII, but it’s not the same as taking the same Commander Shepard (male or female, it’s up to you!) through three games, with mostly the same companions. It just gave so much more satisfaction when you got to five-minutes-before-the-end. (We don’t talk about the last five minutes. They were shockingly awful, and almost enough to ruin the rest of the trilogy… but the internet is full of people explaining why the end of ME3 is so terrible. The end of ME2, however, is perfect on SO MANY levels!)

4 – Enslaved
I wish I could talk more about this. The premise is fascinating, the character looks like a bulked up Puck from Glee and the game play is both exciting and fun… I just had other games to play, so haven’t really gotten too far with this yet…

5 – Halo 3 ODST + Halo 4 & 6 – Gears of War 3
Once more I have to point the finger of blame at Charli and her husband. I played a fair amount of co-op GOW (1 or 2… maybe 3) with her husband over the years, and so when I got myself an Xbox Live Gold membership and I had to get something with multi-player so we could go on gun-toting space rampages from our own living rooms. This quest led to both GOW3 and Halo 3 (except I accidentally got the ODST version, which seems to be something quite different to actual Halo 3!) and, more recently, Halo 4. I’ve not really played any of them on single player due to the next game on my list, but GoW3 has provided some great team battles in its Horde setting; the three of us against wave after wave of enemy aliens. Great stuff!

7 – Skyrim
I bought Skyrim for two reasons. One – Charli loved it, and she’s occasionally right about these things. Two – Toby Turner (you might remember him from my top 10 youtube channels, or from my review of the comedy charts) was playing it on his TobyGames youtube channel, and after watching a couple of hundred ten-minute videos of someone playing a video game, I began to wonder whether I could do better (not better, but probably not worse!)
After my rocky start with Bethesda’s FNV, I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to play Skyrim. I liked the comfort of Dragon Age and Mass Effect; it wasn’t just a case of getting from A to B, but there was a plot and an ultimate goal. I was wary that Skyrim would be as massive and bewildering as FNV. Now, I didn’t get so far in FNV, but I can tell you Skyrim definitely is massive. It’s an entire world, and more than that it’s an entire world and you can get to pretty much every part of it. And yeah, it’s a bit bewildering; there isn’t just one main plot with random side quests; the random side quests spawn off some fairly hefty sub-quests which can divert your attention completely from the main quest. You can do as I did in my current playthrough and blitz the main quest before you reach level 14, then saunter around all filled with bad-assery following up every other quest (and killing dragons left, right and centre) to your heart’s content, or you can take Charli’s latest route and nonchalantly leave the main quest until you can be bothered with it. Either way – the options are endless. With Skyrim you’re in it for the long haul. In a recent conversation with a Game store employee I declared Skyrim to be un-completeable; not because it’s impossible, but because there are so many re-spawning events (dead dragons/giants are replaced by new ones, there are always bandits and wolves out for your blood) and the top level (81, I believe) is so far away from my current standing in the early-mid twenties, that I still have so many skills I need to improve!

8 – Portal 2
My most recent purchase is another Toby Turner inspired move. (Yeah, it’s the guy in the games department all over again; equally as unattainable, albeit a little further away!) It may seem a bit silly; buying a game I’ve already watched someone else complete, but I actually really like this game, and it’s a good balance against Skyrim. With Skyrim I know I’m anchored to the controller until the batteries die or I realise I have to be up for work in five hours. With Portal 2 it’s a series of puzzles, so there are regular points where I can save and step away. Even if I wasn’t a puzzle addict, the ongoing commentries of GlaDos and Wheatley are incredibly amusing. The former hates me for destroying her in Portal (which I haven’t played) and the latter, voiced by Stephen Merchant, seems to be trying to help me. Between them, and my trusty orange and blue portal gun, I’m working my way through some sort of delapidated testing complex. Much fun!

Musical Reviewsday – Alternative vs Comedy

(First off, a quick apology – there was no Reviewsday last week. I have no excuse other than that I went out Tuesday night to see The Princess Bride as it was being shown at the cinema in a super special one-off viewing, so I couldn’t miss it, and I didn’t get my stuff together and write anything in advance. I failed… sorry!!! Will try better in future! In an attempt to make amends, this entry is ridiculously long!)

I have always struggled to tell people what sort of music I’m into, usually resorting to a generic ‘a bit of everything…’ This is exacerbated by the fact that my new music intake seems to happen in waves; every so often, usually months and months apart I’ll look for new songs/artists, but generally, thanks to my iPod, I’m listening to a big mix of old stuff.

There are four main times in life I listen to music;

  • In the car. This needs to be fairly up tempo music; something I can crank up loud and warble along to.
  • In the office. This would be played through headphones. Again, up tempo is good, but I’m not averse to a ballad. It sort of depends on how the day is going; sometimes happy music, sometimes moody music.
  • When writing. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but I’m a writer. Charli is too. I write fantasy fiction, when I’m not writing for the blog or wasting my life wandering around Skyrim! My writing music of choice is something a bit background music-y. Sometimes I make playlists based on theme, but generally something wordless and almost bland to act like white noise works.
  • Going to sleep. I have neighbours, the heating makes funny noises, people walk past the house, so I like to put some very quiet music on when I’m going to sleep. This is where the sad songs and the love songs come to play – anything soothing or mellow fits here.

So I’ve set myself a challenge – to regularly expose myself to modern music, and I reckon the best way to do that will be to check out the different genre charts from the iTunes site. Probably once a month I’ll delve into the charts, pick a genre or two which I think I’ll like and review the songs I already know, and investigate the ones I don’t know.

Today I’m going to talk about Alternative and Comedy. I’ve taken the charts from the evening of Sunday 17th March in an attempt to appear like I’ve done some research ahead of writing! All links are to youTube videos, which will be what I base my reviews on.

Alternative Chart

1. ‘Pompeii’ – Bastille

2. ‘Ho Hey’ – The Lumineers

3. ‘Chocolate’ – The 1975

4. ‘My Songs Know What You Did In the Dark (Light Em Up)’ – Fall Out Boy

5. ‘Still Into You’ – Paramore

6. ‘Radioactive’ – Imagine Dragons

7. ‘Indian Summer’ – Stereophonics

8. ‘Pompeii’ – Bastille

9. ‘People Help the People’ – Birdy

10. ‘High Hopes’ – Kodaline

I picked Alternative because I think I’ll like the most of these, and I think I’ll know the least. That said, however, I’ve just noticed Pompeii, by Bastille, is on the list twice. Investigation has shown that the number 1 entry is the single version and the number 8 entry is the album version. They’re both the same length, so I don’t think there’s a difference…

Let’s start with Bastille, then. I think I’ve heard this song maybe once, twice at an absolute push. I love the low ‘eh oh’ vocal work, and in fact I really like the whole song. It’s got a nice up beat sound going on, even if the video’s a bit creepy in places. It’s definitely something I can imagine listening to in the car, or on my headphones in the office and I’m very tempted to look further into Bastille’s album and see if it’s something I might part with money for.

Next up is ‘Ho Hey’ by the Lumineers. I think I’ve heard this a few times. It’s very similar to ‘Pompeii’ – a male vocal over a deep vocal rhythm. It has a catchy chorus and a very alternative video. It makes me think of a summer evening, and related happy thoughts. I’m not quite as enamoured with it as I am with Bastille, but again I’d probably check the group out further with a possibility of investment.

‘Chocolate’ by The 1975 starts with a really nice beat, over a moody black and white video. The vocals are almost a disappointment – not quite big enough to battle the poppy music. It’s telling a story, but I’m not really drawn in enough to pay attention; rather wondering whether there would be an instrumental version as I do like the tune.

The next song on the list I know I’m going to love. I’ve heard the recently revived Fall Out Boy’s new offering a couple of times, but as a long time FOB fan, I’m so happy with the familiar tones and Patrick Stump’s wonderful voice. This is perfect car music, and also rather good for a more attitudey afternoon in the office. I could imagine writing epic battle scenes to this, my head filled with 300-esque imagery. The video is beautiful; very phoenix-y; a burning of FOB’s back catalogue heralding their rebirth now they’re back together. This song is definitely on the ‘to buy’ list.

I’ve never been a huge Paramore fan. Not because I don’t like them, but because I’ve just never really listened to them. I’ve found a lyrics video instead of an official vid, but it’s cute so I’m leaving that link in! It’s a cute boppy song, what I would call pop-punk, but I don’t know if that’s even remotely the right term… It’s not an awful song, but I’m not really enthused by it – there’s nothing incredibly catchy about it, and the message doesn’t hugely appeal. I think because I’d heard of the band I was expecting something more…

On a youTube video I watched earlier this very evening I heard iJustine reference ‘Radioactive’ by Imagine Dragons. That was the first I’d heard of them. The opening to the song and the opening to the video are really nice; building up to a Something. I like the tone of the music once the vocals kick in; grimy and emotional, and it has some awesome apocalyptic lyrics. The video’s insane, but I kinda love that too. This is going straight to the top of the aforementioned ‘to buy’ list. It’s got the catchiness the Paramore song lacked, and it’s perfectly epic.

I have most definitely heard of the Stereophonics, although I couldn’t tell you anything they’d done recently… ‘Indian Summer’ opens on a strong beat. Good openings, apparently, play a big part in my song reception! The song itself appears to tell a story about a romance, as backed up by a video set in a very strange train. I do like Kelly Jones’ very recognisable voice and the big chorus – this would do nicely on a long car journey.

‘People Help The People’ wins points for its intro – it’s bee-yootiful! Music and video. I think I’ve heard this a few times before; the chorus is definitely very familiar. I really like it; Birdy’s voice is a treat to listen to, ranging nicely from soft to strong, and I’m such a fan of the simple piano music she starts off singing to. Not a lot to say about this track except that I like it! The one Birdy song I know which isn’t this one is from the Brave soundtrack and features Mumford & Sons, so she’d already got a good standing in my opinion!

My foray into the Alternative chart is rounded off with ‘High Hopes’. Both the song and the band, Kodaline, are brand shiny new to me. The video starts with the saddest of scenes. The music accompanying it is also slow, sad, tentative. The video is achingly sweet as the song grows, making me feel actually rather hopeful. And then 3/4s of the way through I stop typing, my mouth hanging open. It’s a mini film, and one I can’t stop watching. The song has the same epic, film-like qualities as its video; a story is being told, and it’s inspiring and emotional and really quite beautiful.

I’ve really rather enjoyed my taster of current Alternative music. It was certainly the right genre to start off with; there’s so much room for variety (as opposed to the country chart for this week which is 70% Taylor Swift. I like TaySwif, but I don’t think I could have talked about 7 of her songs all at once!)

Comedy Chart

1. ‘Yolo’ – The Lonely Island (feat. Adam Levine & Kendrick Lamar)

2. ‘After Ever After’ – Jon Cozart

3. ‘Mine It Out’ – GameChap

4. ‘Screw the Nether’ – Inthelittlewood (feat. The Yogscast & Sparkles*)

5. ‘Always Look On the Bright Side of Life’ – Monty Python

6. ‘Form This Way’ (Born This Way Minecraft Parody) – Inthelittlewood [feat. The Yogscast]

7. ‘Harry Potter In 99 Seconds’ – Jon Cozart

8. ‘I Can Swing My Sword!’ – Toby Turner (feat. Terabrite)

9. ‘Threw It On the Ground’ – The Lonely Island

10. ‘Nikola Tesla vs Thomas Edison’ – Epic Rap Battles of History

In a very intentional change of tone I really wanted to look into the Comedy songs. I’ve heard two of them fairly recently, and am incredibly familiar with another two, so I have no doubts that I’ll like the category, but the main reason was the massive cross over with youTube. The majority of these songs are side-releases based on popular videos made for youTube. One of them may even be familiar to those of you who read my reviewsday entry from a fortnight ago and went exploring the channels I recommended! I won’t be looking at these songs in the same way as the previous set; they’re not upbeat enough for screeching in the car, and it’s not appropriate to be smirking through the work day. They’re too distracting for sleep or writing, so they’re not likely to hit my iTunes library.

Kicking us off are an American comedy trio known as The Lonely Island. They come from Saturday Night Live, which is fairly huge in the big ol’ US, but I’ve never seen it, despite having heard of it. I had, however, heard of The Lonely Island through the youTube series ‘Teens React’. YOLO is a particularly humorous dissection of the latest phrase which is hip with the kids (Oh gawd, I’m so old!) It stands for ‘You Only Live Once’ and is supposed to imply that you should live life because you only do it once, but this song has twisted the meaning rather amusingly.

I only heard After Ever After recently and it made me smile; appealling to my inner Disney child. Jon Cozart seems to be one of the many solo singers popping up on youTube. It’s the new My Space! The concept of this musical masterpiece is ‘what happened to the Disney princesses after they got their happily ever after?’ and it features Ariel, Belle, Jasmine and Pocahontas and is remarkably well sung. Not to mention the backing vocals!

‘Mine It Out’ is new to me, and to be honest I don’t really know the song it’s a parody of! I know what Minecraft is though; an open world foraging and crafting game I really want to play but am afrraid I’d lose hours of my life playing it, and Skyrim’s already taken a good amount of my time!!! This track isn’t my sort of thing; I’m missing the humour by not knowing the original track (although it is quite catchy!), but the animation and editing is very impressive! Pay attention to the Diamond Sword, you just might be seeing that again soon…

But not this soon! Next up is ‘Screw the Nether’, another parody – this time of Moves Like Jagger. Oh – and it is a Minecraft themed parody! Minecraft seems the geekiest game ever, yet it’s all over youTube. I’ll confess I’ve spent hours (actual hours) just watching Toby Turner’s game play videos of Minecraft. Why? I really couldn’t tell you. The vocals on this track aren’t quite as polished/authentic as the previous one, but the animation is, as before, really good, and if I knew what the ‘Nether’ was… I’d probably appreciate it a bit more!

The odd one out of this chart is a true classic comedy song; ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’, from the Monty Python movie ‘Life of Brian’. It closes the movie, depicting Brian (Graham Chapman – not the Messiah, just a very naughty boy) on the cross, alongside a number of other condemned folk. Eric Idle’s on the next cross, and he offers some wonderful musical advice. There’s not much I can say other than that you should go watch it now, especially if you’ve never heard of it!

In at 6 is another Minecraft parody song by the same creators as ‘Screw the Nether’. I’m guessing there’s some money in becoming an internet personality and releasing parody songs, combining pop music with cult video games… I might have to add it to my ‘to do’ list! In this case, instead of Maroon 5; they’re spoofing Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’. The video’s the story of a boy’s discovery of Minecraft, and shows some of the more epic creations from the Minecraft world, as well as some more great animation. If you’re good at animation, get thee to youTube!!! It’s so beautifully geeky!

Next up we have another entry from Jon Cozart (who appears now to be two people); this time singing us through the Harry Potter books in 99 seconds to the tunes of the sountracks. What more is there to say? I’m rather fond of Harry Potter, and am very partial to a cleverly written and well performed humorous song. This song wins on both counts!

Remember that Diamond Sword from earlier? Here’s another Minecraft song, but this time it’s an original one, not a parody… and it’s sung by one of my absolute favourite youTube personalities – Toby Turner. I love this song, and what’s more so does my 3 year old almost-niece (you may recognise her from Sunday’s Cookery Corner, making sticky toffee pudding! I could listen to this song on repeat (oh yeah… another popular thing on youTube seems to be the making of 10-hour repeating loops of things. I have not watched any of those because I simply don’t have 10 hours to spend watching the same thing… I have watched this one a fair few times though.

You’ll be glad to know entries 9 and 10 are nothing to do with Minecraft; giving it only a 40% hold over the chart at this instance! Number 9 is a return of the Lonely Island guys, with a very strange track named ‘Threw It On The Ground’ which seems to be a man’s tale of refusing to accept things handed to him because he doesn’t want to be a part of the system. It’s… bizarre… but the dubstep beat is quite cool, and the shots of things hitting the ground are oddly watchable. Not to mention the surprise cameo appearances from two Hollywood stars, committing a rather serious offence on the main character… Amusing for teenage boys, maybe (yes, that’s a sweeping generalisation, but it might be true…)

Closing out this Reviewsday is something I’d heard of but never watched – Epic Rap Battles of History. Featuring Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. There’s education in the lyrics if you look for it. I don’t really know what to say about it except again I think it’s more suited to the 13-16 year old audience… But then this is coming from a Toby Turner fan, and his demographic is also the young teen, so I’m perhaps not best to judge!!!

And that’s the current state of affairs in the UK Singles charts in the genres of Alternative and Comedy. I’ll do two more genres next month (or sooner if people like this/recommend which genres I pick next…

In the spirit of Epic Rap Battles of History, I think there needs to be a winner, and it’s an easy one to call. As much as I love Toby Turner and three other songs about Minecraft, the winner has to be the Alternative genre. Gavel!


Reviewsday : Top Ten Youtube channels

Hello and welcome to the first edition of my  new weekly post; Reviewsday. (Not the catchiest of titles I’ll concede, but it’s a fair-ish representation of what I’m planning on doing!)

Now, first things first, these won’t actually be critical reviews. I don’t want to add another load of essays on top of the regular blogs/rants Charli and I do. So, to save myself some writing and you guys some reading, I’ll be presenting my reviews in the time-honoured form of a Top Ten.

I’d much rather share the things I love than slate things I personally didn’t get on with, so think of it more as an ‘Alison Recommends’ segment than a true critical review. Also, just to warn you all, I’m not going to stick to any one particular type of ‘thing’ to review; anything is fair game; books, films, tv shows, albums, games, podcasts, plants, vehicles, events, anything; new or old. I’m gonna cover EVERYTHING!

Spoiler Policy: I am going to try VERY hard not to give away any spoilers in my review posts. In the case of books, films and tv shows there will be some plot description to try to explain what it’s all about. I’d be grateful if any comments could be equally spoiler-free. Thanks!

And with that as explanation, here comes the first Reviewsday entry;


Alison’s Top Ten Youtube Channels

I’ve been a fan of New Media for a long time now, although I’m far from being completely up on it. I’ve been a podcast listener for at least 4 years, and have spent the last year discovering youtube as something more than just a place to watch videos of cats playing keyboards, or goats talking like humans. I’m probably only subscribed to about two dozen channels, and a lot of them are by the same people (i.e. one broadcaster has 3 or 4 different channels to put out different content) so it was fairly easy to come up with a top ten without having to leave people out. However, it does mean that these are all from a very narrow sliver of youtube’s broadcasting populous, so I would really welcome some channel suggestions in the comments!!!


10 – The Tribe

Ok, so I’m starting with something close to my own heart. I watched this show religiously every weekend when I was younger; shirking my chores for the half hour it was on Channel 5 (before Daria, I recall.) I blame it completely for my desire to write the post-apocalyptic novel which doesn’t deal with the apocalypse itself, but instead with the way people endure and survive and, indeed, thrive after having to change their ways. The Tribe was a kids’ show made in New Zealand and was broadcast between 1999 and 2003 (i.e. during my formative teens!) and was set in a future where all the adults had died as a result of an unknown virus. The remaining kids fall into anarchy, splintering into tribes. Some just want to get on with their lives, whilst others are seeking power (and chaos!) There is rumour of a film in the offing, although I’m assuming it’ll have to be a reboot, as the cast are all 10 years older and no longer kids! I don’t know whether this film is the cause of this youtube channel releasing the episodes one by one, but that’s what’s happening. Definitely worth watching the first couple of episodes. If you can get past the dodgy fashion and the facepaint it’s well worth the watch. The characters are so well written/acted and the 5 series take them through so many different arcs and dramas. But I might just be remembering it through rose-tinted specs.


9 – jacksfilms

Now for something a little more typical of my youtube viewing. Jack Douglass’s channel features parodies, music videos and sketches. By far my favourite feature he does is ‘Your Grammar Sucks’ (also known as YGS), a compilation of clips of him reading out mis-spelled youtube comments. As a fellow spelling- and grammar-enthusiast, the series greatly amuses me. Every 10th episode is a special one, and we’re currently waiting for episode 50, which is due to be a half-hour long extravaganza with guest hosts from other youtube channels, as well as viewer-submitted videos of fans reading out badly typed posts they’ve found. Aside from YGS, videos of note include Jack’s series of Twilight parodies; the last in particular is rather amusing. Also the music videos he creates are particularly impressive. Jack plays keyboard, and makes some very amusing songs, often including other youtubers. The only reason Jack’s not further up the list is because his videos don’t fit a regular release pattern  as most of the higher entries do.


8 – 4oDEntertainment

Slightly more commercial now, I have to recommend the 4oD series. I’ve picked Entertainment, but they also have channels for other genres; Comedy, Drama, Documentaries and plenty more. I’m imagining any UK readers will know what Channel 4, E4, More4 and 4oD are, but for those of you hailing from beyond the seas; Channel 4 was one of the 5 terrestrial TV channels before analogue TV was turned off and we went fully digital. Now Channel 4 has been joined by its sister channels E4 (more aimed at the young adult audience), More4 (slightly higher brow) and 4seven (repeats of programmes from the past week). Now, all the main channels have their own on demand players; BBC have iPlayer, where most of its shows are available for the 7 days after they’ve aired. ITV has ITVPlayer, but I don’t seem to watch many ITV programmes, so am not too familiar with how long shows stay available. Channel 4’s offering, 4oD, has always been head and shoulders above the others. While it doesn’t broadcast many (any?) of the imported programmes; The Big Bang Theory, for example, it more than makes up for it by hosting a vast number of old shows. Feeling nostalgic for Green Wing? It’s all on 4oD. Want to have an 8 Out Of 10 Cats marathon from 2010? Go for it. My only complaint used to be that 4oD was a separate site to have to visit; and now that complaint has been resolved. I can now watch Father Ted on youtube, the latest episode of The Last Leg just appears in my subscriptions (because apparently I can never remember to watch it on actual telly!) and for the majority of programmes there are no advert breaks. Some programmes do still have a gap for 3 or 4 ads, but that’s generally one gap in a full length show. I’m not complaining!


7 – ijustine


6 – Jenna Marbles

Ijustine and Jenna Marbles can kind of be addressed together. Not because they’re the same person, or even because they do the same sort of content – they don’t really, but because I like them for mainly the same reasons. They’re both very no-nonsense, thought-speaking women, something I find somewhat easy to identify with!

I’m still new to ijustine, despite the fact she’s been around for a long time. She has several channels; including one for  gaming, one for vlogging. She talks about iphones, and seems to be fairly well known for being an Apple fangirl, she makes spoof music videos, and talks about current events. Sounds vague? Yeah, I literally only started watching her a week ago. I really like her though, so check her out on that basis!

Jenna posts new videos every Wednesday. These range from a straight-to-camera talk (or rant) about her views on things, to her narrated videos which take a humorous look at things like ‘What girls do in the car’ and its follow up ‘What boys do in the car’. There are even the outright unexpected; Interupting Adele. Very much a part of her videos are Jenna’s dogs, Marbles and Kermit.


5 – The Fine Bros

Unashamedly fangirling now. I love Benny and Rafi Fine. From my corner of the internet I’m about ready to hail them as the pioneers of New Media and the innovators of the internet. It might be heaping a little too much praise on them, but really, seeing what they’ve done and the community they’ve built makes me think there’s nothing currently on tv that couldn’t be done on youtube. But there might be more on that later…

So, the Fine Bros channel is primarily for their ‘React’ series, although today marks the launch of their new animated series ‘Emo Dad’. The React series started with Kids React; showing children’s reactions to various youtube videos; either viral videos, pop songs, sometimes news stories. This then expanded into Teens React, as some of the kids grew up. Now the channel is rounded out with Elders React and Youtubers React, the latter bringing together a number of famous youtubers, or at least the ones who live in LA. (LA seems to be the place to be if you’re going to make it big on youtube!) Teens React is my particular favourite – watching how the different young adults react to the more political/topical videos.


4 – dailygrace

Oh lawks, what can I say about Grace? She’s dry, funny, and she posts according to a schedule. I like ALL of that! She posts 5 videos a week, with a different topic per day (can you see where we got our inspiration for our schedule here at Gavel!Discuss…?) Whether she’s teaching us how to do something, or commenting on comments, Grace is just so watchable; she’s kooky and effortlessly cool and her reactions to the recent spate of goat remixes were funnier than the goat remixes themselves!


3 – Tobuscus

I will always have a sweet spot for Toby Turner. Were it not for him I would never have discovered the awesomeness of youtubes. Seriously, it’s all his fault! Bioware linked me to his Literal Trailer for Mass Effect 3 and I was a little bit hooked. Then I found his daily vlogs, his gaming videos and his songs and I fell a little bit in love!!! He’s just a slightly nerdy 28 year old, he plays Minecraft, for goodness sake, and yet his life makes for slightly addictive viewing. He knows Jack from entry 9 and has done gaming videos with ijustine of entry 7, and is the centre of my internet world – it was through him I found pretty much everything else I’m recommending here today.


2 – The Lizzie Bennet Diaries –  (& Pemberley Digital , & The Lydia Bennet )

And now we’re getting down to the really meaty stuff – the absolute best things I’ve found on the internet. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries are a web series, re-telling the classic tale of Pride and Prejudice. Lizzie is a media student, making video diaries as part of a project. We meet all our favourite characters; Jane, Lydia, Charlotte, Bingley, Darcy, albeit not quite as you’d expect them. Now, I do like a good story retold, but I really feel the Lizzie Bennet Diaries went above and beyond. From Lizzie’s videos sprung forth Lydia’s videos, and a few from Georgiana Darcy. And it’s Lydia who steals the show. I desperately don’t want to spoil, but there were a couple of Lydia’s videos I watched with my heart in my mouth.

 The series is currently nearing the end, and at 94 videos so far it’s a bit of an undertaking, but it’s well-worth watching. Honest!


1 – My Music

The ultimate best of youtube has to be My Music. It’s a web sitcom created by Benny and Rafi Fine and set in the offices of a fictional music production company. Each member of staff is named for the genre of music they like best, so the boss is Indie (played by Adam Busch of Buffy fame) and the staff are Idol, Metal, Hip Hop, Techno and Dubstep, Scene and Intern 2 (he was the second Intern and hasn’t yet found his musical niche). The series followed the characters through various dramas and incidents in their offices, and was backed up by a series of live music shows, music news shows and ‘The Mosh’; a weekly show where the characters (remaining in-character) interacted with their viewers, in what was a genius move on the behalf of the creators. Each staff member had their own twitter account, some were on Facebook, and it all added up to make an incredibly immersive experience.

The first series has ended now, and we fans are not yet sure whether there’ll be a second one or not, but I would recommend, above all of the other things I’ve mentioned today, that you check it out. It’s that good.