Friday, 22 August 2014

Friday Night Films: White House Down

So it has been occurring to me that I watched A LOT of DVDs, but I don't often talk about them. So I've decided now that, when I feel it important to do so, I will convey my thoughts of the multitude of DVDs that I watch on a weekly/monthly basis. Hopefully it will inspire you to also enjoy some fabulous movies on the weekend. :)

I’ve been keeping an admiring eye on Channing Tatum since I first saw She’s the Man. He’s come a long way since then, and done some fascinating work. If it weren’t for his appearance in White House Down I probably would not have watched it. I am not a huge fan of action movies, especially ones with an American patriotic theme. 

But I am so glad that I have watched this movie. The action was relatively believable and it wasn’t JUST two hours of explosions - there was a story here as well that stood up on its own merit, not just to fuel more CGI theatrics. There was a great deal of humour in this movie, and despite the seriousness of the story it felt right. The President, played by Jamie Foxx, was personable and engaging. Apart from West Wing, I’ve not found a TV/Movie President that was someone I could really like and it was hard to summon the American sense of patriotism and total dedication to their leader. However with <i>White House Down</i>, I found myself really admiring him, especially because he was fighting for himself and doing it with the Jamie Foxx cool. 

But aside from the two leading men, I greatly admired them for making one of the main heroes a heroine – a 13 year old heroine - who fought back not with guns or violence, but with courage and calm thinking. They also had a female head secret service agent who is very dedicated to her job. 

I think what struck me most with this movie is that the terrorists weren’t outsiders. So often these movies represent the current political turmoil – all the Bond movies featured Russian or Korean spies and enemies reflecting the Cold War and anti-Communist politics. Then there was a turn and all the terrorists and enemies of state were Muslims from the Middle East, or drug traffickers from South America. Yet this is the first movie I can recall, and granted I haven’t seen a lot, where the enemy came from within America and were white American men, fighting against mostly white American men. 

I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I ever thought I would and I think it will appeal to most people wanting a fun night in alone or with friends. 

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde

My Rating:1 Star2 Star3 Star4 Star

The Mighty Shandar, the most powerful wizard the world has ever seen, returns to the Ununited Kingdoms. Clearly, he didn't solve the Dragon Problem, and must hand over his fee: eighteen dray- weights of gold.

But the Mighty Shandar doesn't do refunds, and vows to eliminate the dragons once and for all - unless sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange and her sidekicks from the Kazam house of enchantment can bring him the legendary jewel, The Eye of Zoltar.

The only thing that stands in their way is a perilous journey with a 50% Fatality Index. It's a quest like never before, and Jennifer soon finds herself fighting not just for her life, but for everything she knows and loves . . .From GoodReads

The first thing we had to do was catch the Tralfamosaur. The obvious question aside from ‘What’s a Tralfamosaur?’ was: ‘Why us?’.

Part of the joy of reading a Jasper Fforde novel is knowing that you’re about to go on a completely insane adventure that will leave your brain reeling from the What the fuckery that he thrusts upon you. I read The Eye of Zoltar in one sitting and once I’d finished the last page my initial response was ‘I don’t know what just happened, but it was great.’

The Mighty Shandar is in trouble. A few centuries ago he accepted 18 dray weights of gold to eradicate the dragon problem. Now that Jennifer Strange has revealed that Shandar had tricked everyone, Shandar is being forced to pay back the money and The Mighty Shandar doesn’t do refunds. In exchange for not killing dragons Colin and Feldspar Axiom Firebreath IV, and therefore everyone at Zambini Towers who would die defending them, Shandar has commissioned Jenny to find the missing Eye of Zoltar, a legendary stone of great magical properties.

This is the first time we’ll travel outside the Kingdom of Snodd and explore some of the other unUnited Kingdoms. The Cambrian Empire: home of the last potential sighting of the Eye of Zoltar in the hands of the rumoured Sky Pirate Wolff in the legendary Cloud Leviathan Graveyard at the mountain peak of Cadair Idris. It’s hard enough trying to follow a trail of rumours and legends to find a magical stone that may or may not exist, but the Cambrian Empire has made its fortune on being the jeopardy tourism capital. Jeopardy Tourism, or paying for a holiday where there is at least a 50/50 chance you’ll die, is like going to Jurassic Park and being disappointed there weren’t more monsters, death and carnage and less of the pesky safety procedures and giant fences.

In order to survive the journey – it’s NOT a quest, the paperwork is extensive – Jenny, Perkins, Princess Snodd and an accidentally rubberised Colin the dragon hire Addie the tour guide and add four expendable tourists in the hopes of increasing the terrible survival odds. What follows are a sequence of events I can’t begin to describe to you because I’m not sure what happened myself. There is nothing but chaos along the way as people are kidnapped, rescued, turned into Australopithecines, eaten alive by cannibals who practise taxidermy on their victims, revolutionise the goat trade on a free market and end a hundred year war between two railway companies.

‘Hells teeth, you just couldn’t make this stuff up, could you?’

Jasper Fforde has always had a talent for combining completely random, often made up things and turning them into a brilliant bit of storytelling full of humour and absolute insanity. One could only wish to one day come up with one of the brilliant things that Fforde does, let alone include fifty other events that all collide in the final reveal to discover that all his mind fuckery was actually building to something big and glorious. Yet he does it every single time, and every single time I fail to see it coming. Even now, there are some events I can only vaguely recall a day later, like my brain just wasn’t able to handle it all and tried its best to bring me the highlights.

A Fforde novel is one that requires reading more than once, but I think that is part of the beauty and delight of his writing – each reading leaves something new to discover and enjoy. I’ve never come across a sense of humour quite like his, though Terry Pratchett and Gideon Defoe come close. It’s a hard thing to describe, it is truly something that just must be experienced yourself and it’s a humour that can be appreciated by any age as long as you’re prepared for things to get a bit whacky.

I’d been an idiot to think that this was anything but a quest. Searches were nice and soft and cuddly and no one need be killed. A quest always demanded the death of a trusted colleague and one or more difficult dilemmas. I’d been in denial. I’d been a fool.

Aside from the brilliant storytelling there is some great characterisation in this novel. There’s the usual range of contemptible bastards who abandon friends or murder innocent people and generally throw a spanner in the works, but there’s also some really lovely characters whether they be brief encounters or characters that work their way into your hearts and leave you a little misty eyed. Jenny of course is her usual resourceful, courageous person of outstanding moral fibre, but I also really enjoyed the addition of tour guide Addie of similar practical, resourceful talents and determination. While I sorely missed the much loved Quarkbeast, Tiger Prawns and tetchy wizards, the new characters did a great of warming their place.

This is the first book in the series to end in a cliff-hanger and while I would always be excited for any new novel in this series, the scale has really expanded in this novel now that we’re facing yet another Troll War and all the unUnited Kingdoms are being drawn into the warzone of The Mighty Shandar and his evil plans. I’m now really intrigued to see what’s going to happen now that the stakes are higher and stage has grown bigger and better.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Quote of the Week (78) Different

"It's somewhat bizarre to learn that many of you think that other humans are somehow different enough to be hated and killed when in reality you're all tiresomely similar in outlook, needs and motivation, and differ only by peculiar habits, generally shaped by geographical circumstances."
Jasper Fforde
The Eye of Zoltar 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Confessions of a QANTAS Flight Attendant by Owen Beddall

My Rating:1 Starhalf Star
Want to know what really goes on on an aeroplane? Let's go behind the scenes and fly high with these tall tales and gossip from the galley!

Everyone wants to be a flight attendant, or at least they want to know about the cushy lifestyle they lead – flying to exotic destinations, swanning about in five-star hotels, daytime lazing around the pool and night-time tabletop dancing with Bollywood stars. At last the lid is lifted. Come on board a real airline with a real flight attendant and find out what really goes on. 

In Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant – True Tales and Gossip from the Galley, Owen Beddall dishes the dirt – he tells you the things you always wanted to know (and maybe a few things you didn't) about the glamorous world of flying. This book is packed with cabin crew adventures and misadventures in and out of that smart uniform in far flung places. There's sex, drugs and lots of celebrity gossip; Katy Perry, Lily Allen, Kylie Minogue, Venus Williams and Cate Blanchett – are all in the galley having a gossip with Owen. 

Confessions of a Qantas Flight Attendant is a hilariously bumpy ride around the world with a very funny man. From GoodReads

As a former flight attendant, news and books about the industry always attract my interest. Confessions of a QANTAS Flight Attendant is only my third book on the subject and I was hoping for a few laughs and a nice nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Beddall worked as both a domestic and international flight attendant for over ten years, slowly climbing his way up the strict professional hierarchy of QANTAS. His travels took him to many countries and included a two year stint based in London. In his biography he exposes the scandalous secrets of the glamourous world of the international cabin crew – the parties, the drugs, the sex and the inside gossip from some of the worlds biggest names.

You could easily be forgiven upon finishing this biography for thinking that the life of a flight attendant is just one extended free holiday and occasionally - once in a blue moon - one pours a coffee or two. I flew for a domestic airline for fourteen months, and while there are certainly some strong differences in the work between domestic and international, very few stories like Owen Beddalls made their way through the Galley Gossip. My airline consisted of crew from many airlines with varying years in the field, yet the stories of freely popping drugs, drinking all night and the casual colonic irrigation were not stories that routinely cropped up.

You would also not be faulted for believing that every pilot was a walking unfaithful petri dish or that every young cabin crew girl had no other goal than sleeping with them. Yet I can count on one hand the number of examples I have of infidelity or scandals for the very reason that Beddall mentions - ‘You don’t shit where you eat’ - and most staff knew better than to get involved in the office or were at least smart enough to keep it quiet.

In my experience, and I fully acknowledge that I am not a party girl, after working a shift up to 9 hours 45 minutes each day that required keeping at least five hundred people over four flights happy, most crew were not planning to go bar hopping all night. Our first discussions in the crew bus were most likely to do with food (you inhaled what you could on the run between cleaning the toilets, collecting rubbish and handing out more drinks) and possibly a drink or two before TV and bed. Considering how strictly alcohol and drug use is monitored (staff are warned some cold medications will trigger a positive test), and how Cabin Supervisors and Pilots must assess a staff member for being fit to work, I find it very hard to believe that Beddall and his colleagues were so quick to drink all night, pop pills whilst on duty and constantly maintain themselves on a cocktail of sleeping tablets, uppers and downers.

Disappointingly for me, this book focuses less on the work and more on the partying around the world. As I had said before, that is not my lifestyle, and I wanted to hear more about his job than about what he got up to in his spare time – a few episodes of Sex and the City or any other ‘young persons show’ about partying away the singles years could have fulfilled the same requirement. What I wanted was the stories of the passengers: the medical emergencies, the crew disagreements and the general insanity of being confined to a very small space with a huge number of strangers.

Yet Beddall shows a complete lack of respect and regard for any passenger that didn’t allow for a delightful dose of name dropping. I heard all about famous tennis players, rock stars, and household celebrities – any name that can quickly sell a book. Even if there was a disappointing lack of the hijinks of the everyday passenger, his dismissal of them was embarrassing. After all, who do you think pays for those hotels, crew allowances and all that stolen booze, cupcake? It’s those pesky unwashed, poorly trained animals that have the ability to make or break your airline with their customer feedback. All airlines make huge profits from their freight charges, not their passengers, but freight doesn’t thank you at the end of the flight, or praise the company to their friends and family and without good press an airline will never get off the ground.

I’ve worked in customer service for ten years, and sometimes it is hard work. People take out their bad days on you, when anything goes wrong it’s always your fault and if it does go wrong the bad ones won’t hesitate to remind you that they pay your salary. We’ve all experienced the dirty nappy handed to you while you scoff your dinner, or the passenger that doesn’t care that CASA requires you to fold up the tray table and open the blinds. We’ve all experienced the self-important business people that expect preferential treatment, have to get somewhere way more urgently than anyone else and we’ve all had the unhappy babies and the projectile vomiting babies (twice in one week). If you’re unlucky enough, you’ll also unfortunately experience those bad days when your crew are abused or assaulted, or a passenger becomes very ill. This is the job you sign on for, are trained for and it is because of all of these people (good and bad) that you get paid to travel and have exciting adventures. However there are always more good customers than bad, all with different opinions and life experiences that it’s a delight to talk to and making them feel safe and happy and walking away with a smile is what gave my day value.

The real purpose of this book quickly makes itself known towards the end of the story. Throughout his years Beddall has witnessed some terrible things: crew have been robbed, attacked, raped and been in other awful, life threatening situations. There have accidents, most of which ended with a laugh and a good story to tell, up until Beddall fell during training exercises and broke his spine in three places. Beddall has all of my sympathies for his plight – an accident like that is terrible and has far reaching and devastating consequences. Yet, at least according to his account of events, Beddall did not have the sympathies or support of his employer and after a prolonged period of nastiness, he left the company.

QANTAS is certainly not the only company with a shameful attitude towards sick and injured staff members – every company is concerned with the bottom line and I myself have heard and seen examples of an airline not caring for its staff as promised – not to mention as is legally obligated. Now is a very good time to be angry at your employer – especially since public opinion of QANTAS is plummeting over reports of mass redundancies, sending work overseas, cost cutting and the most recent financial struggles. While I in no way wish to demean Beddalls struggles or his feelings of betrayal, his lack of subtlety in the agenda to attack QANTAS certainly sours the experience of the book.

This biography reeks of trying to make money – the name dropping with celebrity passengers, the battle for compensation and the attempts to maintain the illustrious and glamourous illusion of a partying lifestyle – and its poor writing and structuring make it clear that they are rushing to strike while the iron is hot.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

In My Library Bag (August)

Hey folks, I haven't done one of these for a couple of months because I WAS trying to stop myself from borrowing new books til I'd gotten through my backlog. I failed. 


We have: 

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein - I know Mandee absolutely loved this book and I'm a fan of historical fiction so I'm looking forward to this audiobook. 

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell - I had to read this for school and hated it, but fell head over heels in love with the BBC miniseries. Thanks to Belle at Belle's Bookshelf  I've been convinced to give it another go, though I'm disappointed it won't be the Juliet Stevenson narration. 

The Mortal Instruments Trilogy by Cassandra Clare - I was really disappointed by the first book, and though I've read on Wikipedia what happens, I'm curious to try them again via audio book. 

The Wit, Wisdom and Timey Wimey Stuff by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright - Because of course. 

The Gospel of Loki by Joanna Harris - I read Runemarks years ago and thought it was the best thing ever but never got round to the sequel despite being given a copy a few years later. But I can hardly resist something featuring everyone's Trickster God now can I? 

I've been super excited to see her since I first saw the trailers so I'm glad to finally have it in my possession. I was apprehensive about the Veronica Mars movie, but I ended up really enjoying it and I'm so glad it's back to former glory. 

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Quote of the Week (76) Still Standing

So I've watched plenty of KatrinDepp's videos over the years - I've posted her Harry Potter ones here before - and I recently came across this one in my Buffy inspired procrastination. 

*Please keep in mind, there are spoilers*

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