Tag Archives: snob

Why New Year’s Eve is not the worst film of all time…


What did you get up to on New Year’s Eve? Fireworks are standard fare on the 31st of December and I bet you at least heard a few, even if you were trying to avoid the garish explosions of tinsel in the sky. Booze is another requirement of the occasion; so that even those staying in alone to watch Big Ben on the telly end up cracking open the wine. Talking of Big Ben, there’s the countdown, which for 60 seconds binds us all together in dreary and slurred chanting. And of course there’s the kiss, or lack of, which makes or breaks your evening and sets the tone for the year ahead.

How many of you went to see New Year’s Eve on New Year’s Eve? I’d be surprised if any of you did and even more shocked if you’d heard some snippet of positive press to tempt you to the theatre. A carbon copy of his previous ensemble effort Valentine’s Day, Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall’s film follows the intersecting lives of a clutch of Hollywood’s biggest stars in New York City. It’s packed full of product placement, cheesy messages of hope and not a lot else, which has led to a unanimous selection of one star reviews relegating it to the lower leagues at the box office.

Critical legend Roger Ebert calls the film a “dreary plod” and bemoans its shameless commercialization, which even goes so far as to advertise other films, namely Sherlock Holmes 2, in the final shot. Robbie Collin describes the “utter ghastliness” of seeing New Year’s Eve, whilst Peter Bradshaw rants that post screening his colleagues had to wrestle a razor from his throat. On Rotten Tomatoes it appears to have done well to muster its measly 7% rating.

I don’t disagree with the charges levelled against New Year’s Eve. The big names on show, from Robert De Niro to Katherine Heigl, are clearly on uninterested autopilot. Zac Efron’s plotline seems to exist purely to showcase the wonders of New York to the world and suggest that life is better there, regardless of income or background. The dialogue is atrociously bad and the whole concept painfully predictable. New Year’s Eve is guilty as charged. But Xan Brooks of the Guardian and others have dared to label New Year’s Eve the worst film ever made.

Here I do disagree. I saw New Year’s Eve earlier this week with subterranean expectations. I emerged feeling confused and pleasantly surprised. Let me be clear, I’m absolutely not saying that New Year’s Eve is a good film in any way, shape or form. It is undoubtedly utter rubbish. But whilst it is the worst kind of junk food, sensibly plastered with serious health warnings, it can also be strangely satisfying. New Year’s Eve made me feel something. It tapped into personal memories of mine to provoke an emotional response.

This does not mean there is the slightest sprinkling of quality in the film and I’m aware I’ve been duped into sentimentality by a money making juggernaut. Some might say I should have resisted in order to combat the disgusting Hollywood culture of our time. I feel just as passionately as many of this country’s finest critics who have slammed the film that new voices ought to be heard in cinema, as opposed to this formulaic soup designed to generate dollar signs.

However I think critics that lazily label New Year’s Eve as the worst film ever are being dishonest. Some may genuinely have never disliked a film quite as much. Others must surely be snobbishly concealing their own emotional reactions or at least remaining ignorant of their audience’s views. Yes point out a film’s flaws, yes make the case for more worthwhile productions in future. But do not take a blinkered, negative view for fear of raising your head above the parapet and admitting that yes, actually, I did like something about New Year’s Eve.

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Library Love: Do the closures really matter? – Reading and Writing Challenge Month


I’ve never been a library lover. I’ve never taken to sitting there, in some dusty corner of my local archive of books, losing myself not just to the act of reading but the musty, hushed atmosphere of the place itself. I don’t depend on libraries for my books. I haven’t been to one in years.

When it was announced that libraries across the country would be closed down, I was frankly unmoved and more concerned about prioritising the threats of more devastating cuts to public services and investment. Reading will not end without libraries. In many ways they are outdated and unappealing. The future of reading, writing and knowledge lies elsewhere.

But recently I’ve been thinking about the issue again. And it’s certainly wrong that the Coalition are getting away with the quiet removal of libraries and other amenities, just because they happen to be less important than other areas in danger of being swallowed by the avalanche of cuts. The government is constantly striving to be radical, often for no practical reason. In all their years of opposition our current leaders appear to have built up such extreme levels of restless energy that they desire to drastically change everything, regardless of its merits. Some things are less broken than others; they should stop wasting time and money by meddling in too many areas.

I’m not saying libraries do not require government attention. Part of my attitude to them is down to the problems of the system. However they are also something that democratic, educated, developed nations, ought to be preserving rather than eradicating.

As I’ve said, my view of libraries is largely passionless. But once, reading both the novel Fahrenheit 451 and an explanatory introduction from its author, Ray Bradbury, I was entranced by the power, mystique and heritage of the institution that is the library. Across the world they have been the foundations of our knowledge, the records of our history, for centuries, if not millennia. Particularly in modern Britain they are vital bastions of cultural identity and heritage; a heritage the government is unthinkingly decimating with its deficit hacking cuts. Most of the cultural organisations hit by the government’s spending plans require little funding but produce massively disproportionate benefits. The case for the pluses of cutting them is wafer thin.

I began by stating that I had never been a library lover. This isn’t 100% true. As a boy, my attachment to reading began with the free books of the local library. Back then I discovered that an hour is better spent with a book than a games console, and that hour would be unbeatably absorbing. I only read trashy children’s and teen fiction, detective stories like the Hardy boys for example, but gazing around at the shelves it was then I knew that the written word and the ability to devour them was the gateway to entire worlds and experiences and information.

I still didn’t like reading in the library itself, an unattractive mid 20th century building, but I liked taking the books home. I liked that it was free and always remembered that reading needn’t be expensive from then on. I liked learning how to interact with the librarian and make my choice. It taught me more than just the importance of reading. Of course then I didn’t realise how meagre and disappointing the choice at my local library really was. That’s the main reason I abandoned it at quite a young age, and the same factor behind me shunning my school library as a source of information and a place of work throughout my school years.

I still think that only the most wonderfully impressive libraries retain a magical air; provide the sort of feeling I got for them reading Fahrenheit 451. Great historical libraries with their own stories and vast collections are beautiful, captivating buildings. Even an ordinary academic library, when devoted to your favourite subject, can be inspiring. Whilst regular local libraries lack the architectural magnificence and legacy, they remain vital lifelines, if only for a handful in the community.

 David Cameron’s Big Society, “DIY” and “help yourself get on in life” message, is in many ways perfectly encapsulated by the library. And yet he cuts them. He removes hundreds of local centres for people looking to educate themselves, for children encouraged into reading and away from useless, sometimes harmful diversion. Instead of getting rid of libraries he should be increasing access to them and strengthening the ones that are already there; with wider stock and more attractive, better designed spaces. The Prime Minister’s political party no longer seem worthy of the name “Conservative” but the changes they propose are hardly for the better. I’ve made it pretty clear here that libraries have not been integral to my reading life for a long time. But it seems to me that the Big Society, if it is a real concept at all, would depend on community assets like the library for cohesiveness and development.

Obviously I don’t think we’re heading for quite the apocalyptic decline in information and knowledge vividly rendered in Fahrenheit 451. But Bradbury’s work highlighted that reading and access to learning can be a right as much as health care can be in civilized, fair society. And with the decline of independent bookstores and even Waterstones, libraries could have remained an inexpensive safeguard and positive starting point for the young. In a way the cuts have rallied some communities around their local library. But most will simply fade away, like so much else to be cut under this government. I feel part of a generation that is less widely read than any before it at times. So for me, for nostalgia’s sake at least, the loss of libraries is a grave mistake and a regrettable shame. They should not be allowed to die enveloped by the silence demanded within their walls; a nationwide, noisy debate about the future of reading should begin.

A note on Faulks on Fiction


I used to be a massive fan of Sebastian Faulks. And I’m still a fan. But as with most things greater wisdom comes with age. Faulks is far from a faultless writer, despite the eagerness with which I devoured his works and the undoubted merits many of them have. With Engleby, a disturbing first person narrative, he proved he is capable of versatility. But many would accuse him of churning out almost identical historical tales. Birdsong was the perfect fusion of history and literature, but other novels have been weighed down by excessive research. Balancing storytelling and a fascination for history is a problem I sympathise with greatly, but nevertheless a damaging weakness.  However he seems to take to presenting rather naturally.

Last night the first episode of a new series entitled Faulks on Fiction aired on BBC2. Overall I found it immensely enjoyable and refreshing to see such a marrying of literature and history given pride of place in the television schedules. It focused on enduring, iconic characters of fiction. Faulks and those he interviewed made various insightful and valid points. But the programme was also often necessarily simplistic. On the whole this didn’t matter because it allowed an engaging chronological sweep; history through the lens of characterisation. What did matter was the weakness of the entire premise behind the series.

Faulks argues that characters can be divided into heroes, villains, lovers and snobs. This first episode was on heroes. And you can’t help thinking Faulks himself doubts the strength of his point. The programme works best when it’s simply exploring great characters, not when crudely grouping them together; categorising and labelling in a forced, basic manner. Some of the staggering generalisations really undermine the more thoughtful, original points Faulks makes.

 In interviews Faulks has piqued the interest of many by classing the character of James Bond as a “snob”. In many ways this seemed like a publicity stunt to hook viewers. But if Faulks genuinely believes this it might explain the disappointment of his tribute Bond book, Devil May Care, when he was supposedly “writing as Ian Fleming”. Faulks cites Bond’s love of brands as the reason for his snobbery instead of heroism and would no doubt, if pressed, point out Bond’s sexist attitudes too.

The fascination with brands and even the outdated prejudices are products of the time and the author, not the character of Bond. Fleming peppers his narratives with luxurious products to stimulate the rationed masses of 1950s Britain, not purely for Bond’s love of them. The moments of prejudice are also clearly when Fleming’s own voice shines through, over and above that of his adored creation. Having watched this episode, Bond would undoubtedly have slotted in alongside countless other flawed heroes.

My views on the programme pale into amateurish bias when set against those of a fellow blogger however. Last night an interesting, thought provoking, funny and spot-on live blog analysed Faulks on Fiction as it happened. The start of the post suggests doubts in this particular reviewer’s mind; doubts I believe to be absurd given the depth, accuracy and skill behind previous entries. Read and support this valued writer:

http://tomcatintheredroom.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/faulks-on-fiction-an-on-the-fly-review/