McMansion: mass produced mansion; generally used to denote a new, or recent, multi-story house of no clear architectural style, which prizes superficial appearance, and sheer size, over quality.

The McMansion Hell blog is a recent discovery of mine and it has provided me with much amusement. It’s written by an American woman named Kate who grew up in North Carolina and now lives in Baltimore, Maryland. In her own words: ‘I love to hate shitty and bloated houses with a passion. I’m always seeing what monstrosities are for sale all around the US. Bonus points for dated-ness and McMansion architectural faux pas. These are all houses that are currently on the market, rather than just rehashing the same 50 McMansion pics from Google Images.’

What turns a big house into a McMansion? Kate provides a definition here. She finds much to ridicule in current American architecture and she sure as hell knows what she’s talking about. My favourite parts of the blog are the captions she uses in photographs; always edifying, always funny.

Some examples below. Click on the locations to be taken to the original post on the McMansion Hell blog. Enjoy!

 

Emma Cline is just twenty-seven and already the recipient of a three book deal worth $2 million after a bidding war between twelve publishers. That’s the kind of thing that rarely happens these days, and even when it does it’s no guarantee of quality or originality (I’m looking at you Garth Risk Hallberg, AKA the stark naked emperor). Thankfully in Cline’s case, both the advance and the accompanying hype surrounding her debut novel The Girls are very much deserved.

Evie Boyd is a middle-aged woman in between jobs who is taking a break and staying in her friend’s house. She seems as if she is on the periphery of life, working as a carer, ‘cultivating a genteel invisibility in sexless clothes, my face blurred with the pleasant ambiguous expression of a lawn ornament.’ Her friend’s teenage son Julian shows up unexpectedly one night together with his girlfriend Sasha, disrupting Evie’s solitude. Julian knows about Evie’s past, her time in a cult in the late 1960s in California, and over the next few days prompted by Julian’s lurid interest, Evie begins to reflect on what happened.

In 1969 Evie is fourteen, alienated and lonely, blossoming sexually, and scarily impressionable. She is captivated by Suzanne, a glamorously cool older girl who lives in a commune with a guru and his band of followers. The commune is a fictionalised version of the Manson Family, and the charismatic leader Russell, with his long hair, buckskin shirt and failed music career, is based on Charles Manson. Evie is gradually drawn deeper into the cult, taking drugs and partying, sleeping with Russell, until she lives full-time at the ranch and is embroiled in increasingly dangerous behaviour, rolling towards the inevitable conclusion (a murder based on the infamous Tate-LaBianca killings).

A cold cynic might say that basing the novel on the Manson murders is a smart commercial move. Manson still holds a certain level of fascination and this handy reference point may have proved irresistible to publishers. However Cline’s writing is what makes this a memorable book. Her ability to conjure up the emotional turmoil and insecurity of a fourteen year old girl is masterful, and at times the perfectly observed detail in her writing creates an intensely visual experience. No wonder the film rights were snapped up before publication.

The Girls is an accomplished debut novel, all the more so given Cline’s young age. In a business where most published writers under the age of thirty are viewed with deep suspicion, she has set herself up for an already lauded and interesting career.

 

Chances are that even if you’re not a jazz fan you’ll have heard the above song, ‘My Funny Valentine’ as sung by Chet Baker. He’s the subject of a new biopic Born to be Blue starring Ethan Hawke which I saw in The Lighthouse last weekend. I read Deep In A Dream by James Gavin years ago so I was familiar with Baker’s story: a trumpet player who exemplified West Coast cool jazz as opposed to the harder, more experimental East Coast players like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, a guy with James Dean good looks that he famously ruined with hard living, and who died when he was just fifty-eight, falling out of a hotel window high on coke and heroin.

The film is factual in some respects. Yes, Baker’s life took a tragic turn at the age of twenty-seven when he discovered heroin. It’s true that his teeth were kicked out in a fight, so he had to learn to play again with dentures, a grisly process depicted in detail in the film. (I went to see this with my Dad who is a sax player and who has had problems with his teeth in the past, so he easily related to Chet. He couldn’t watch the scenes of Chet practising, gums bleeding, obviously in tremendous physical pain, but also desperate to play again.) Yes, Chet was imprisoned for drug use in Italy and America, and he fucked up his romantic relationships due to his addiction, although Jane (played by Carmen Ejogo) is a composite character.

Other elements are clearly fictional. The shots of Baker playing trumpet in the surf, on top of a caravan, resting on the roof of a snow covered shed, in corn fields, on the edge of a cliff, in the bath, struck me as being the kind of romantic notions a director might have about a musician. (What serious trumpet player brings his horn into the sea? Sea salt + brass = disaster!) While the individual shots are beautifully composed, the montage gets a little cheesy.

The film is stylised, with flashbacks in black and white and then returning to colour to show the events of 1966, the year Chet lost his teeth, had to learn to play again and made his comeback playing in Birdland. Ethan Hawke is excellent as Baker, conveying his charm, vulnerability and insecurity. Apparently Hawke was first approached about playing Baker fifteen years ago and he has obviously done his homework since. He learned how to play trumpet for the film and also wore dentures to correctly portray Baker’s mumble.

Fittingly Born to be Blue struck me like a jazz tune, an interpretation of Chet’s life rather than factually rigorous. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

 

As I mentioned last month I was pretty ill with the flu for a few weeks, lying flat on my back in bed and getting huge mileage out of my Netflix subscription. Although the weather this weekend is supposed to be spectacular and you’ll probably be outside soaking up the sun, here’s a quick round-up which you can bookmark for when the rain inevitably returns.

Stranger Things
At this stage you can’t have failed to hear about Netflix’s new hit. Paying homage to classic 80s sci-fi, Stranger Things follows a group of boys whose best friend disappears and who simultaneously find a mysterious girl named Eleven or ‘El’ who needs their protection. It has spawned much discussion online from a thorough run-down of every film reference (spoilers in that article), to criticism of the series’ depiction of women. Netflix have even announced that an official soundtrack is on the way due to popular demand. It’s a bona fide TV phenomenon which I enjoyed but I’m not a rabid fan in the way so many others are.

 

Fargo
Both seasons of Fargo are now available to watch and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Set in the same fictional world as the Coen Brothers eponymous 1996 film, Fargo is an anthology TV series, with a different cast and different plot set in a different era every season. Season one stars Billy Bob Thornton (in a career best performance), Mark Freeman, Colin Hanks and Allison Tolman and is set in 2006. Thornton plays Lorne Malvo, a hitman travelling through Bemidji, Minnesota, who causes chaos when he interacts with local residents. Season two is set in 1979 and stars Kirsten Dunst, Patrick Wilson, Ted Danson and Jesse Plemons. Dunst plays beautician Peggy Blumquist who covers up a hit and run accident involving one of the town’s most notorious criminals which leads to carnage. Both seasons were hugely praised and season three is due to premiere next year. If you haven’t seen it, get on it immediately.

 

3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets
Marc Silver directed this documentary about the 2012 shooting of teenager Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn over an altercation about loud music. (Do I have to even say that this happened in the USA or did you assume that already?) It’s a brilliant documentary with interviews with Davis’ family, the witnesses to the crime and Dunn himself, and containing footage from the subsequent trial. Gun control in America is an oxymoron – as far as I can see there’s barely any control at all – and this documentary highlights the reasons why.

 

Tallulah
Tallulah debuted last weekend, and I had looked forward to it as it stars one of my favourite actresses, Alison Janney. Tallulah (Ellen Page) rescues a baby from an irresponsible mother (Tammy Blanchard) and pretends the child is her own, using the baby to form a relationship with her ex-boyfriend’s mother, Margo (Janney). I had such high hopes for this film, remembering the great chemistry the two actresses had in Juno. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to my hopes and I think the script was at fault. Both leads did their best but ultimately it seemed flimsy and predictable.

 

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
After so much drama I want some light relief and so a mate recommended Crazy Ex-Girlfriend starring Rachel Bloom as Rebecca Bunch. Bunch is stressed out and about to burn out in her job as a corporate attorney in New York. After a chance encounter with her ex-boyfriend Josh Chan she decides on a whim to move to his town, West Covina in California. I was hesitant about watching the show for two reasons: firstly, American comedy doesn’t make me laugh a lot of the time, and secondly, the show has a couple of musical numbers per episode (nooooooo!). However I did end up watching the entire season and although the musical numbers do get a bit tiresome there are some absolute gems and Rachel Bloom is just brilliant.

Christine and the Queens seem to have come out of nowhere in the last couple of months, generating huge hype with performances on Jools Holland and Graham Norton, some well-received festival gigs and album Chaleur Humaine  reaching number one on the Irish album charts in July. In fact Christine released her first EP five years ago and is  a well-established star in her native France. Chaleur Humaine was originally released in France in 2014 but has been slightly retweaked for its international release, with some new English language songs and some of the original French lyrics translated.

Christine (real name, Heloïse Letissier) is an interesting pop star. She describes herself as pan-sexual, she is interested in gender identity, dance and performance art, and the ‘queens’ part of her stage name is in tribute to a group of inspirational drag queens she met in London when she lived there in 2010.

When interviewed she is thoughtful and intelligent with a feminist sensibility, telling Dazed Digital that her first song ‘iT’ was about ‘wanting to have a dick in order to have an easier life’, and explaining to TIME magazine that, ‘My songs exist already with the beats and the bass lines, [but] because I’m going into the studio with a sound guy, everything changes for people—they assume the guy did the production… The real fight will be when girls will be able to do what Kanye West does. Kanye West is never questioned as an artist and is working with, like, 10 producers at the same time.’

The album is definitely worth buying, not just for lead single ‘Tilted’ which you’re bound to have heard on radio recently. I also love her live version of ‘Pump Up The Jam’, the classic Technotronic tune. Check it out.

 

 

(No posts for almost a month! Swine flu will do that to you, I guess. Yep, that’s right, swine Jaysus flu. I tried to deal with it by myself for two weeks and then admitted defeat and went to the doctor whereupon I was scolded, told I was a lot more sick than I thought, and put on various forms of medication. I very rarely get ill but when I do, it appears to be along the lines of ‘go big or go home’. Nearly better now though. And back to the matter at hand…)

I have never been a tech-fetishist. For me phones and computers are just devices that make life easier, like washing machines or hoovers. I don’t much care what they look like as long as they can do the basic job effectively. I have never owned an iPhone because the battery life sucks and the cameras on Androids are way better, and paying hundreds of extra euro for an Apple symbol just seems silly.

So for me, the massive outpouring of grief that happened when Steve Jobs died was bizarre. I found it hard to understand why people felt such a personal connection to a product and I didn’t get why people thought he was a genius. People like Steve Wozniak seemed to be the technical innovators. Jobs didn’t code, he didn’t design and he wasn’t an engineer. To me Jobs was just a savvy marketeer.

I watched two films to try and get more of a handle on why he was perceived as one of the greatest minds of his generation: Steve Jobs starring Michael Fassbender and directed by Danny Boyle, and Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, a documentary directed by Alex Gibney.

The film takes a three-act structure, with each act taking place before a huge product launch. It’s a great construct which enables us to see the kind of pressure Jobs put himself and everyone else under. At one point Steve Wozniak (played by Seth Rogen) questions what Jobs has really contributed to computing history and Jobs replies that he is the conductor of the orchestra and people like Wozniak are the musicians. It’s an interesting answer to my original question. Fassbender was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance and he is brilliant in the film, and the script by Aaron Sorkin is excellent.

The documentary is another feather in Alex Gibney’s cap, and provides a more rounded look at Jobs, containing interviews with most of the key figures in his life. He comes across as a fairly horrible individual. An early anecdote shows him ripping off a friend, claiming they got paid a tiny amount of money for a project when in fact Jobs just took the lion’s share for no reason other than greed. His rejection of his daughter Lisa is well documented, allowing her and her mother to live on welfare while he earned millions. He often publicly humiliated his employees and rarely gave praise. Excuses are made during the documentary, such as the fact that he never got over being adopted, or he was such a genius that his failings should be tolerated. I don’t buy this for a second and I certainly didn’t come away from the documentary filled with warm fuzzy feelings about Jobs.

Both films are well worth a watch, but they haven’t really changed my mind. Jobs was probably one of the best marketeers the world has ever known, but Wozniak emerges as the true genius. I suppose it’s emblematic of our culture that the promoter is deified rather than the revolutionary.

 

 

The last time I was in New York I paid a visit to MOMA to see parts of the permanent collection and the Matisse cutouts on exhibition at the time. The cutouts were lovely but the work that transfixed me and left me thinking about it for weeks afterwards was The Starry Night. Having seen so many reproductions of it – on postcards and prints and fridge magnets and even mouse mats – I thought I was anaesthetised to it, so I was completely unprepared for the effect it had on me. It genuinely moved me in a way that few pieces of art ever have, and I’m not sure I can explain why or how. Next time I’m in New York I’ll be going back just to gaze at it again.

I only mention this because last week I re-watched Vincent and Theo, a biopic of van Gogh directed by Robert Altman and starring one of my favourite actors, Tim Roth. The film opens with an unforgettable scene; documentary footage of The Sunflowers being sold at auction in Christie’s for the record breaking sum of over £22 million, juxtaposed with van Gogh, played by Roth, declaring his ambition to become a full-time painter at the age of thirty. The audio from the auction plays under a fight between Vincent and his brother Theo, who was an art dealer and who didn’t have much faith in Vincent’s ability.

The brothers had a fractious relationship, with Theo unable to understand his brother’s work and unable to find a market for it. Although Vincent famously sold few paintings and was not recognised for his talent in his lifetime, he continued painting, creating great art whilst living in poverty and squalor. His work was his obsession and in little over a decade he produced over two thousand works despite frequent psychotic episodes and hospital stays.

Van Gogh is now regarded as the epitome of the romantic genius starving in a garret, but the film shows the unvarnished reality. For most of his short life van Gogh was penniless, hungry, unappreciated and frustrated. He struggled with mental illness and alcoholism, and as a result his life was chaotic and often without love, leading him commit suicide at the age of thirty-seven.

This was one of the first films of Roth’s that I saw and I loved his performance. He demystifies the artist, making him less of a god-like genius and more of a human being, albeit a human being to be greatly admired given the heroic struggle that was his life and the influence his work has had for generations.

 

One of the great things about not having a TV is that you don’t get sucked into brain-drain channel surfing and so the only reality show I have ever been a rabid fan of is RuPaul’s Drag Race. I first discovered it in 2013, reviewed it here, then recommended it to everyone I thought would appreciate it, creating a few new fans in the process.

Drag is an art form, a unique expression of a personal creative vision, and the show has given me a look into a world I knew nothing about before. I am often blown away by the queens’ charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent (for an explanation of this phrase and a general resource for newbies, this is a comprehensive guide).

The Lipsynch For Your Life is the great leveller of Drag Race, the last chance to prove the queen deserves to stay in the competition. Stellar performances have come out of left-field to save the day, and seasoned queens have unexpectedly been sent home.

Having watched all eight seasons of Drag Race more than once, my favourite lipsynch is from season four: Dida Ritz doing ‘This Will Be’ by Natalie Cole. Cole is on the panel and her reaction sums up what the viewer is feeling. Dida lives the joy and energy of the song, and she’s so on point it’s jaw-dropping. As legendary queen Latrice Royale says, ‘that is what a lipsynch for your life is…that is high-drag at its finest.’

 

Last Friday the first season of Happy Valley debuted on Netflix. It was first shown on BBC in 2014, so many Multiverse readers may already be familiar with it but not having a TV sometimes I’m a wee bit behind!

Happy Valley is set in the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire (the title is taken from the local ironic description of the drug-ridden area). Sarah Lancashire plays Catherine Cawood, a respected police sergeant with a tragic past. Cawood’s daughter Becky committed suicide eight years ago, her marriage broke down as a result, and she now lives with her sister Clare (Siobhan Finnegan), a recovering heroin addict and alcoholic. Clare helps Catherine to bring up Becky’s son, Ryan, who lives with them.

The citizens of Happy Valley contend with unemployment, drug addiction and poverty and the opening scene of the first episode shows Cawood talking down a young man who is drunk and high and threatening to set himself on fire. This immediately sets the tone which is often graphically violent, emotionally brutal and unsettling.

When Catherine hears that the man who raped her daughter, Tommy Lee Royce (James Norton), is out of prison she cannot help keeping tabs on him. He becomes involved in a local kidnapping and the series tracks Catherine’s suspicions and Royce’s escalating viciousness towards his victim.

Cawood is stubborn, taciturn and stoic, sensitive and caring, consummately professional with an empathetic core. It’s refreshing to see a female character given the same depth as a male character. She’s not just a bitch or a victim, a temptress or an ingenue, or a significant other; she’s a fully realised authentic character, flawed and complex. Plaudits are due to Sally Wainwright’s script and Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood. Happy Valley is categorised as crime-drama but Lancashire’s interpretation turns it into a compelling character study.

The series consists of six one-hour episodes which I binge-watched last weekend. The second series was broadcast this spring on BBC so I hope it won’t take too long for Netflix to get the rights to stream it. Highly recommended.

 

 

After a sixteen year break, Australian band The Avalanches are back with Wildflower. You’ll remember them from their first album Since I Left You, which saturated the airwaves in 2000 and was notable for consisting of almost 3,500 vinyl samples.

‘Frankie Sinatra’ is the first single from Wildflower which will be released in early July. It’s a pleasingly shambolic affair, with boom-parp circus horns in the chorus and guest vocals from Danny Brown and MF Doom. The album has received early rave reviews and although I’m not totally crackers about this single I’ll be interested to hear the rest of it.

The Multiverse

is a blog from an Irish writer and DJ which takes in a wide range of subject matter as follows: Monday’s blogs are related to literature and writing; Tuesday is fashion, style and beauty; Wednesday is music; Thursday is TV and cinema; and Friday is a miscellany.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,539 other followers

Instagrammage

I guess the kid smoking a bowl on the left is really going to appreciate the Haribo when the munchies kick in. #vintagetin #haribo #munchies The stack waiting to be read beside my bed. Early night for me! Wish my niece's shoes came in my size! Hay's birthday dinner in my gaff. Girls and a selfie stick! So the Savoy is RAMMED for Jason Bourne. #jasonbourne #savoy #Dublin Markie and Jeanne hanging out this afternoon. Thanks @alicoffey for a great day. Xx

Tweetage

Like The Multiverse on Facebook

Bloglovin’

bloglovin

I’m on Networked Blogs

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,539 other followers