There are so many movies out at the moment that I have been looking forward to for months, but Spotlight has remained firmly in the top three (the others being The Big Short and Trumbo). Spotlight is about The Boston Globe uncovering the Boston Archdiocese child abuse scandal in 2002. Having seen it last Monday with my Dad, I reckon it’s All The President’s Men for this generation.

A new editor, Marty Baron, arrives at The Boston Globe in 2001, and having seen a small article about John Geoghan, a Catholic priest accused of sexually abusing children, he instructs the investigative journalism team, Spotlight, to find out more about the story. As the journalists dig deeper they find that the church hierarchy knew about Geoghan as well as many more priests. Their strategy was to move them from parish to parish and send them to rehabilitation centres, but crucially, they never involved the police and they bought off the victims with settlements and false promises.

The film certainly has resonance for anyone living in Ireland, given the huge number of sexual abuse cases uncovered here since the late 1980s. After The Cloyne ReportTaoiseach Enda Kenny made a speech in Dáil Éireann, condemning the Church, saying that their reaction to the ‘rape and the torture of children’ was to ‘parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon-lawyer’. It was the first time a high-level Irish official had attacked the Church, and a turning point given the Church’s importance and power in Irish society for centuries. Ireland is just one of many countries dealing with the aftermath of this systematic abuse, and the last few frames of Spotlight list the horrifying number of international cases uncovered so far.

The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer for their coverage, and the film has been hugely praised, having been nominated for six Academy Awards and winning a host of others. It’s an all-star cast and the performances are excellent, especially Mark Ruffalo and Stanley Tucci. Of course it’s a tough film to watch and I was both angered and deeply saddened by much of it, which I’m sure is a common reaction. Spotlight manages to be respectful of the victims while still being a well-crafted drama. Highly recommended.

 

Just before Christmas I was contacted by Specsavers and asked if I would like to try out their prescription glasses service and perhaps choose a pair of frames, so off I popped a couple of weeks ago to take them up on their very generous offer.

I collaborated with Specsavers on a blog post before, when I was invited to try their contact lens service. Prior to that I had been getting my lenses from my regular optician but since I trialled Specsavers I have been using them exclusively. Firstly they’re almost twenty quid cheaper per month, and secondly, they have a great service where you can pay for your lenses by direct debit every month and have them delivered to your house.

I’ve been for a gazillion eye tests in my lifetime and I’m well used to the whole procedure (apart from the puffs of air in your eye – how does anyone ever get used to that?!). It was speedy and the optometrist was very friendly and thorough. When my eye test was complete the optometrist handed me over to a young man on the floor who gave me an opinion on the frames I tried on, then guided me through the lens options and overall pricing. As I’m very myopic with a high prescription, I opted to get the extra thin and light lenses.

Specsavers have a good selection of frames in different price ranges. If you want something avant-garde or outrageous a different optician’s might be your best bet, but I wanted a pair of glasses that I could wear every day, not something that would end up wearing me!

I found an FCUK pair that were exactly what I was looking for, black metal frames with tortoiseshell arms. The frames are lightweight and comfortable, the colour isn’t too heavy on my face and they’ll fit with my overall style without making a huge statement.

Once I had chosen the frames I was told I could collect the completed glasses the following day, which is pretty unbeatable in terms of efficiency. When I returned to pick them up, I tried them on in front of another optometrist, who made a few tiny adjustments to make sure that they were a perfect fit. I’ve been wearing them for a couple of weeks now and I love them.

And here they are, in all their brand new glory. New specs for a new year!

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(This post is a collaboration between Specsavers Ireland and Alex Donald’s Multiverse)

 

Bessie Smith. The Empress of the Blues. A hard-drinking, hot-tempered, stubborn, fascinating, warm woman, and a singer with a voice that sounded like she knew every sorrow in the world but decided to celebrate life anyway. A biopic of this icon is long overdue and last year HBO released Bessie, starring Queen Latifah, which covers Smith’s life from her childhood in Chattanooga in the 1900s, to just before her death in 1937 in a car accident.

Bessie adheres to the Hollywood biopic formula (including the ‘based on an incredible true story’ line in the trailer): from her poverty stricken early days raised by her sister Viola, to the hubris of the young performer overshadowing Ma Rainey, the fame and adoration, then the inevitable isolation and downward spiral.

There’s a great article on Slate by Laura Bradley on the accuracy of the film, fact versus fiction, and there are some surprises, such as the fact that Bessie really did chase the KKK away from one of her gigs, and that she was stabbed by a man she had punched for coming on to one of her girlfriends. But the film’s downfall is that it leans towards scandal and sensationalism, especially towards the end, making it feel more like a Lifetime movie than an HBO one.

The performances in Bessie make it worth watching. Mo’Nique plays Ma Rainey, a renowned blueswoman, and Bessie’s mentor and friend. Michael K. Williams is Bessie’s husband Jack Gee, a passionate man who adores her, but who is volatile and manipulative. The cinematography is also gorgeous, and I adored the costume design by Michael T. Boyd, coveting every beaded flapper dress and satin chemise.

The film was twenty-two years in the making and Queen Latifah was always the first choice for the lead role, so she had ample time to get under Bessie’s skin. Given that Bessie was singing during the 20s and 30s, all we have left are low-quality recordings, some photos and various biographies. From this, Latifah manages to create a magnetising and complex character. Latifah recorded her own vocals for the film and she beautifully captures the power and emotion of Bessie’s voice. Latifah won the Screen Actor’s Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie and the film won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Television Movie.

Bessie Smith has been claimed as a major influence by artists as diverse as Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, Mahalia Jackson and Norah Jones, and Janis Joplin was such a fan that she paid for Bessie’s tombstone after her grave had gone unmarked for thirty-three years. If you want to check out the woman herself have a listen here, and watch her only film performance here, in St. Louis Blues. Enjoy!

 

 

If you’re an Irish film fan you can’t have failed to hear about Brooklyn, our great hope at the Oscar’s, featuring a host of names that will make even the best presenters sound like John Travolta introducing Idina Menzel.

Brooklyn tells the story of Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), a girl from a small Irish town who emigrates to America in search of better prospects. Although Eilis is desperately lonely at first she grows to enjoy her independence away from home, and becomes more confident in her sales job at a city department store, encouraged by her sophisticated manager, Miss Fortini (Jessica Paré). Eilis meets Italian-American Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen) at a church dance and they begin a serious relationship, despite her reticence to reciprocate Tony’s love.

Eilis is suddenly called back to Ireland when her sister Rose falls ill. She stays for a month to comfort her mother and ends up being courted by an eligible bachelor, Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson), and managing the accounts at a local factory. Ireland now holds everything she had hoped for and so Eilis is forced to make a choice.

The film is faithful to the book which I read when it was published in 2009. I enjoyed it (especially the stomach-churningly vivid description of Eilis’s boat crossing to America), but I was surprised that the plot hangs on a deus ex machina twist, an implausible coincidence which is the catalyst for the denouement of the story. It seemed a little too convenient for a writer of Tóibín‘s considerable talent, and the film didn’t fare any better in convincing me otherwise. (But what do I know? The novel won the Costa Award and the film is up for numerous awards including Best Film and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards).

The film is worth watching for Saoirse Ronan’s performance alone. She has an astonishing talent given that she is only twenty-one, and in Brooklyn she reminded me of Cate Blanchett, in that her facial expressions convey as much as the dialogue. Domhnall Gleeson is charming as Jim Farrell (I was rooting for him the minute he arrived onscreen) and Julie Walters is spot-on as the pious yet likeable Madge Kehoe, the landlady of Eilis’ boardinghouse.

The Ireland of the 1950s, as depicted in Brooklyn, is well-trodden territory for writers, but it obviously still holds fascination for readers and film-goers alike. Are there any Multiverse readers who have read the book or seen the movie? What did you think?

 

The Great Recession has inspired some of my recent favourite films and documentaries (reviewed here, here and here on the Multiverse) and when I heard about The Big Short and 99 Homes they both went to the top of my wishlist.

99 Homes stars Andrew Garfield as Dennis Nash, a single father who lives with his son Connor and his mother Lynn (Laura Dern) in their family home in Orlando, Florida. Dennis is an unemployed construction worker who has had problems keeping up with his mortgage payments and so the house is repossessed by the bank. Michael Shannon plays Rick Carver, a real estate mogul who is in charge of the eviction.

Dennis moves his family into a motel which happens to be beside Carver’s office. One day Carver witnesses an altercation over Dennis’ stolen work tools and he’s so impressed by Dennis’ attitude that he offers him a job. At the end of his tether, Dennis accepts the work and soon is evicting other families, and getting more and more embroiled in Rick’s morally ambiguous business dealings.

The opening scenes of the film are tough to watch, especially the eviction scene where Dennis and Lynn beg Carver for more time, try to bargain with him until they realise the futility of it, and then panic when it sinks in that they’re now homeless. The speed at which the eviction happens is breathtaking. One moment the Nash family are having a normal day at home, half an hour later they are standing on their front lawn surrounded by their possessions watching the locks being changed.

The three main performances in the film, from Garfield, Dern and Shannon, are all superb. Michael Shannon is one of my favourite actors and I reckon one of the most gifted actors of his generation. For his performance as Rick Carver, he was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor award at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors’ Guild, and the Critics Choice Awards amongst others, but not at the Oscars. Shannon was robbed (ROBBED I tell you!) and the Academy members should hang their heads in shame!

99 Homes is available now to watch on iTunes.

 

I consider myself relatively well-read but every now and again a friend of mine puts paid to my hubris by introducing me to a famous writer I’ve never heard of. Shirley Jackson was a late discovery last year and I started with a book of her short stories, The Lottery and Other Stories. The Lottery is probably one of the most famous short stories in American literature and it’s the chilling account of an annual tradition in a small rural community. The Lottery was first published in The New Yorker in June 1948 and both the magazine and Jackson were shocked by the public reaction; readers cancelled their subscription to the magazine and Jackson received hate mail throughout that summer.

Jackson had a short career, dying of heart failure at the early age of forty-eight, after many struggles with illness throughout her lifetime. Although she only published for a little over twenty years she was prolific in different genres, writing short stories and novels, memoir, and children’s fiction. Her acclaimed ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, has been cited by Stephen King as one of the best horror novels of the last century and been adapted for film twice, in 1963 and 1999. (The 1963 version is apparently the one to watch.)

 

 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is Jackson’s final novel and widely considered to be her masterpiece. It’s a psychological suspense novel narrated by Merricat Blackwood, a teenage girl who lives with her sister, Constance, and uncle Julian in a large house near a small village. The rest of the Blackwood family were poisoned with arsenic at dinner a number of years previously and Constance was tried for their murder but acquitted. The reader realises pretty quickly that Merricat is a strange girl, a believer in magic, sometimes prone to violent thoughts, and perhaps her version of events isn’t to be trusted.

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read more widely: more literature in translation, and genres that I wouldn’t usually gravitate towards. If anyone has any recommendations for other classic horror novels, let me know in the comments. Given that I’m a bit of a scaredy cat, nothing too gruesome please!

A very kind friend of mine added to my collection of reference books with a Christmas gift of An Unkindness of Ravens: A Book Of Collective Nouns by Chloe Rhodes. The book is perfect for a word-nerd like me, giving not just the more well-known words such as a pride of lions or a shoal of fish, but more obscure ones like (ahem…) a worship of writers. Explanations as to the origins of the words are included which makes for interesting reading.

There are some that seem self-explanatory and even a little sarcastic such as an obedience of servants, a goring of butchers, or a crash of rhinoceros. But some are not so obvious. For example a worship of writers does not imply that the writer should be worshipped (more’s the pity) but rather that writers, being historically dependent on patrons, needed to make ‘fawning dedications’ with every new piece of work.

A superfluity of nuns is derived from the fact that in medieval times nunneries were overcrowded. Today it could be read in a completely different way, in that no matter how many nuns exist it’s too many.

As you can see I’ll get hours of enjoyment and useless trivia from this great little book. I’ll leave you with this picture which a mate of mine posted on my Facebook page a few weeks ago, knowing that I’d be one of the few people that would actually laugh out loud at it.

 

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I have posted before about some of my favourite Christmas songs, from the sublime to the ridiculous. As well as the classics, my seasonal playlist includes some jazz be-bop tunes that might not be on your radar, so here are three of my favourites in case you feel like expanding your Christmas playlist. Enjoy!

Firstly Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong doing ‘Jingle Bells’:

 

 

Secondly, Bill Evans playing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’:

 

 

And lastly, Charlie Parker playing ‘White Christmas’:

 

 

 

Whenever I have people over to my house I always ask them to choose the music. I do a lot of that in my professional life so it’s good to hand it over to someone else while I’m preparing dinner or opening wine. Sometimes my guests raid my iTunes and play tunes I’ve neglected and sometimes they head for Soundcloud and introduce me to music I haven’t heard.

I particularly look forward to my mate Sinead coming over as it’s her business to discover new music. It’s also of course been her lifetime passion and we have very similar taste so I always get great recommendations when she comes over.

The last time she was here, she played Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats, an artist and album I hadn’t heard. She had seen the band live and been blown away.

The album opens with ‘I Need Never Get Old’, an old-school soul stomper with a big horn section. ‘S.O.B.’ starts with handclaps and backing vocals that sound like the forgotten track from O Brother Where Are Thou. The last track ‘Mellow Out’ ends with a Van Morrison influenced vocal refrain.

The disparate influences come together to sound somehow familiar but still have a distinctive musical stamp. Rateliffe’s vocals are seasoned and heartfelt and it makes for a feel-good vibe and great listening.

 

 

I don’t often recommend comedy films on the Multiverse, mostly because I don’t find most modern comedies all that funny. I’ll watch a new film by Judd Apatow, or a new movie starring Will Ferrell, and I’ll get a few giggles out of it, but it’s rare that a film makes me laugh as much as my friends do.

What We Do In The Shadows is an exception to the rule. It takes the form of a mockumentary about four vampires living in Wellington, New Zealand, who are flatmates. Deacon is the youngest at 183 years old and considered the rebel of the group. Vladislav is 862, ‘a bit of a pervert’ and very old-fashioned. Viago is 379, fussy in an old-maidish way and the most personable. Petyr is a Nosferatu-type, 8000 years old, mute and wizened.

What We Do In The Shadows opens with a housemates meeting where they discuss typical issues such who’s behind on the ‘chore-wheel’ (Deacon hasn’t cleaned the blood-soaked dishes for five years) and goes on to show the vampires’ struggle to adapt to modern life. They aren’t awake during the day and so have no knowledge of technology. Each night they try to get into nightclubs to find victims but fail because the bouncers don’t invite them in, and so they rely on their human familiar, Jackie, to bring potential victims to the house. One night Jackie brings her ex-boyfriend Nick over and the housemates turn him into a vampire. Nick integrates into the group and introduces his friend Stu, a computer programmer who revolutionises their lives by showing them how to use computers.

There are numerous hilarious set pieces throughout, such as the masquerade ball with the local zombies and witches. My favourites are the encounters with the Wellington werewolf pack led by Anton (played by Rhys Darby). Anton encourages his pack mates to civilise themselves and to be responsible, chaining themselves up before they change. ‘What are we? We’re Were-Wolves, not Swear-Wolves.’

The little details in a mockumentary reinforce the authenticity (e.g. the bands’ coldsores in Spinal Tap) and What We Do In The Shadows is full of these: a title card at the beginning assuring us that the crew wore crucifixes throughout filming, the vampires sketching each other in different outfits because they have no reflection and can’t see what they look like before heading out for the night, newly-turned Nick telling girls that he’s the guy from Twilight.

Fans of comedy series Flight of the Conchords will recognise Anton and Vladislav, who are played by Rhys Darby and Jermaine Clement. Clement is also the co-writer of the film along with Taika Waititi who plays Viago. What We Do In The Shadows came out at the beginning of 2014 so you may have already seen it, but if not it’s on Netflix now.

 

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.

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