Critical analysis and reviews, Films

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much while watching a film. It’s been too long, obviously, but Nicolas Cage’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is that kind of meta treat that only comes along every so often.

It stars Cage as himself in a tongue in cheek critique of his career as he gets an appearance gig for a multi-millionaire out in Spain. Nothing is as it seems (of course) and he ends up playing himself, playing himself as he acts through one of his toughest parts to date. It is a meta film with a high dose of parody.

There’s a midlife crisis, parenting, questions about career choices and friendship. Plus action. All while Cage uniquely sends himself up using Tom Gormican and Kevin Etten’s script that could only have been written after watching a lot of Cage movies.

I suppose if you’ve not watched at least a handful of Cage films, then you might be hard pressed to enjoy his latest outing. And if you know nothing about his personal and professional life that is out there in the public domain, you might also struggle with some of the film’s plot points.

(And if you’ve never watched any of Cage’s films, you should probably rectify that. Like, go do that right now. Maybe start with Face/Off, followed by Raising Arizona and a side of Mandy, but that’s just to start with.)

One thing I did find myself thinking is that it reminds me a lot of The Disaster Artist but the big difference here is that I’d willingly watch any of Cage’s films. But The Room is not something I ever really want to see again.

Those of us who live for Cage “Going full Cage”, this film completely delights… And made me want to rewatch/watch some more of his extensive filmography.

You need to see “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”

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Films, Life, TV

What I learned from 500 days of learning Danish

On Saturday, 12 March, I hit 500 days straight of learning Danish through the language app Duolingo. But why am I learning another language? What inspired me? How am I learning? What’s the plan going forward? What have I learned beyond telling a zoo keeper that a tiger eats my future husband? (Tigeren spiser min mand!)

The Venn diagram of events that led me to me learning Danish

There’s a pretty simple explanation as to how I ended up leaning towards learning Danish over another language.

Step one: end up a Fannibal

Post GISH (the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt) 2020, I was gently nudged into a rewatch of Bryan Fuller’s version of Hannibal. Those who listen to my Nerds Assemble podcast will know how that went.

I dived deep into a fandom that is still going strong for a show that hasn’t had a new season since 2016 (and yes, I am one of those people who still hopes for a season 4). Through this dive and ongoing obsession, I well and truly became a Fannibal, who not only liked Hannibal but the filmography of the show’s two main stars.

Now, watching Hugh Dancy’s back catalogue (he’s a Brit who played Will Graham) is a lot easier for me as someone who has English as a first language. (He’s done a bit in French, but mostly sticks to English.) But for Mads Mikkelsen (who plays Hannibal) and his volume of work that goes far beyond the Hollywood titles that nearly always see him play some variation of a villain?

Some of it is in French, some German, but the majority of it is in his native dansk.

And while I don’t ever expect to be completely fluent in Danish, it’s nice not having to completely rely on subtitles (and pick on nuances that get lost in translation).

I can’t remember quite which scene, but there was one in Druk (a.k.a. the Oscar winning Another Round) where the English subtitles didn’t quite match what I was hearing in Danish and changed the emphasis a little. Anyway.

Mads has been in a lot of Danish productions, and through interactions with Fannibal Twitter I decided to get to know them alongside Hugh’s previous work.

(Did you know that Fannibals have a term for discussing the rest of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen’s back catalogue and having all sorts of fanworks where their various characters “encounter” each other? It’s called the Hannibal Extended Universe or HEU for short.)

Step two: be in the middle of the apocalypse

C’mon, you know what I mean. Begins with C, ends in D and has devastated the globe?

Followed up by other global events of a humanitarian disaster level that are shaking up everyone’s trust in institutions, friends, family and even neighbours?

Yeah, a lot has happened since 2020. (Though 2016 was probably the point where the darkest timeline really took hold, let’s face it.)

Step three: be aware of your need to stop doom scrolling

Boy, while I do tend to keep myself on top of world events there’s only so much I can take in and stay sane.

While March to the start of October 2020 saw me doing a lot of doom scrolling, there came a point where I was feeling like there was something else I’d rather do while on my smartphone. Something healthier for my sanity and meaningful to me (feck off doing it for future employability, and so on and so forth, because not every minute of my day needs to be “productive”).

Perfect opportunity to learn Danish

It helps that I had previously learned German for about seven years between secondary school and two years on the International Baccalaureate. Not that I am fluent in German, I can read it, listen a bit, but I am crap at speaking it.

With this background and all the above events coalescing in my life, it seemed like a good time to learn Danish.

There are many language apps out there

Depending on how you learn and why you’re learning, there are a lot of ways that you learn a language like Danish. It’s not supported on all language apps out there but it is on the following:

I haven’t looked further than these three and if you have any suggestions, please do share them.

And if you’re in Cornwall and have a Cornwall library card, the card gives you access to a free app where it’s possible to learn a level of Danish suitable for a holiday. (Based elsewhere? Your local library service likely has free-language learning resources you can use too.)

What I learned from 500 days of learning Danish

Here is a list of things I learned that aren’t just random Danish words.

There are bits I like about Danish as a language

There are similarities between Danish and German which helped me not be too scared by a third language. And there are things that Danish does that I prefer over how German handles things, including:

  • “The” being part of words (it varies but I love it), while still having a separate word for “the” when you need it. So, tigeren is “the tiger” with en denoting “the”.
  • The use of English swear words (makes cursing easier) and some intriguing ones of their own.
  • How less formal than German, Danish is as a language. And it’s far more to the point in my opinion as a result.

However, I have grown more appreciative of just how much more slowly spoken German is as a language compared to Danish. And wow, can Danish get fast.

There are also some similarities between English and Danish, which I find helpful.

It’s worth learning about the culture a language comes from as well as learning it

Learning about culture as you study a language helps you understand why certain phrases exist, where the important elements of a sentence come into play. And it just makes it all far more memorable when you don’t have a native speaker to talk with and you’re not living in the country.

I went on two language exchanges when I was studying German in school and the internet hardly existed as it does now. So, opportunities to learn about German culture were limited and it definitely made it harder to learn.

Today, there are so many opportunities to learn about the culture for a language as you learn it, largely thanks to the internet. That opportunity is super important in a world where travel is not always easy.

What I’ve used to get a bit of Danish culture:

  • Mads Mikkelsen’s back catalogue of Danish films
  • Danish language TV shows like Rita, Borgen, The Chestnut Man on Netflix
  • What The Denmark podcast, which is literally a show all about understanding Danish culture
  • Books like The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell (which was recommended to me)

And if you have any recommendations, lemme know.

I’ve even got a Danish version of the Stephen King novel Carrie to read once I’m feeling more confident about reading in Danish. (I also have some dictionaries and a grammar book on hand.)

You don’t have to learn something just because it’ll lead to a new career

Learning Danish has cost me money and it’ll likely cost me more in future because some day I’d love to visit Denmark for a spell (apparently it might be possible to get there entirely by train, an idea that excites me immensely).

I’ve been asked numerous times during my 500 days if I am learning just because I want to work in Denmark or with Danish companies. These have never been my goals.

My main goal has always been to give my brain something to do and occupy my time in a non-stressful way. That helps me alleviate boredom and connect more deeply with the film career of a guy who is an amazing actor.

And then the deeper I’ve gone, the more I’ve wanted to know about a different country and its culture beyond that one man.

I like knowing and learning stuff for the sole reason it fascinates me.

But I am well aware that I also have the privilege of time and modest financial means to learn something new.

Learning something new takes time

Okay, this is more of a reminder for me, rather than something I learned. But I do swear people forget that it takes time and practice to get okay and then good at something.

I’ve encountered a fair few people in my life who give up on something because they spent an hour learning something and still can’t do it as well as someone who’s had years to hone their abilities. People who won’t learn something because they won’t be instantly good at it.

Whether it’s learning a new language, learning how to knit or learning how to decently cook… and on, and on.

Slow down. Expect to fumble words, to make holes or burn food. And then try again. You’ll get better with practice, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you don’t get something right away.

Here’s to 500 more days and beyond!

While I’ve been writing this blog post, Duolingo has popped up a reminder on my phone to remind me to take a lesson.

Later this year, for my birthday, I’m hoping to convince a few friends to have a Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen movie marathon with me. (Heads up if one of you is reading this.)

I’m slowly saving for that trip to Denmark.

So, here’s to 500 more days and beyond of learning dansk.

Skål!

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Books, Critical analysis and reviews

Gave up: “Zodiac” by Robert Graysmith

My first defeat in my reading challenge comes in the form of Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac. It’s taken a while to write about it on account of being busy reading things I’m enjoying (more on that later). But at the start of February, I gave up on my next read after Black Sunday.

Breaking my own rules

Now, in the rules for this self-inflicted reading pile challenge, I did say:

I am allowed to give up reading a book if it’s not managed to hold my interest after I’ve attempted to read at least a third of it.

Dear reader, I could not even make it that far. I managed the first chapter and that was it.

I am familiar with the case of The Zodiac Killer, and I have read plenty of non-fiction in the past but this book is essentially a dry accounting of all the evidence that Graysmith collected over the years he investigated the cases at hand.

So, I gave up on the book.

I will be keeping hold of it, but just for writing purposes as a source of inspiration.

Do I change my rules?

Perhaps having my third of the way through rule isn’t entirely helpful. Maybe I should make it less generous.

I do have well over one hundred books to try and get through.

But there are books in the past where I struggled with the first chapter and then finally got into it. My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix is one such novel. And I’m pretty sure it took me a bit to get into This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyberweapons Arms Race by Nicole Perlroth last year.

I’m not going to change the wording for now, but I am allowed to change any rule as per the tenth rule in my list.

Is this a sign that the book deserves a zero star rating?

I think I’d just rather rewatch the David Fincher 2007 film adaptation of it, which removes the dryness of the book.

I’m going to say that Zodiac doesn’t need a rating from me. I can tell it has potential, I just can’t get on with the style of how it was written. Plenty of other people over the decades have found it a fascinating read but its style just ain’t my cup of tea.

And that’s okay.

(For the ins and outs of the To-read pile challenge check out the challenge and rules page.)

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Books, Critical analysis and reviews

Read: “Black Sunday” by Thomas Harris

Black Sunday by Thomas Harris is a thriller set in the 1970s following a terrorist group and their new American ally in the plotting and execution of a terrorist attack in New Orleans. The novel is Thomas Harris’s first novel.

How I got on

I’ve had Black Sunday kicking about for a while after starting a Thomas Harris kick at the end of 2020 and start of 2021, because of landing in Hannibal fandom. Having read all of Harris’s Hannibal novels, I wanted to see what this early work was like. (His latest novel, Cari Mora is also on my to-read pile.)

You can certainly see in Black Sunday the origins for Harris’s writing style where the plot speeds along as tidbits of characterisation are brought to life in the present or in harrowing flashbacks. And certainly his habit of not necessarily writing characters you should or would want to identify with.

When I found time to read this novel, I would devour chapters quite easily. It certainly works as a thriller, though sometimes I got tired running around in circles over Michael Lander’s misery and psychological disorders. Certainly, Harris does not shy away from the effects a character’s pasts will have on their present.

No one is well adjusted.

Would I recommend it?

If you’re unfamiliar with Middle Eastern politics at the time of the novel’s setting or indeed with them at all, much of the novel will make little to any sense. I’m the kind of person who’s read a lot on the historical situations there and the present issues, and seen and read a lot of news reports over the past 25 years as well as watching series like Homeland.

Should you know a lot about the above then you’re going to get along fine with the story’s main driving forces and plot.

SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

Do not read this thriller if you’re expecting a happy ending.

Will I be keeping Black Sunday on my book shelf?

Seeing as how I now seem to be collecting Thomas Harris novels, I will be keeping Black Sunday on my shelf. If I wasn’t collecting them, I probably wouldn’t.

Final rating for Black Sunday

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’m giving Black Sunday 3.5 stars. It’s a little dated and creaky at times but still worth reading at least once.

(For the ins and outs of the To-read pile challenge check out the challenge and rules page.)

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Books, Critical analysis and reviews, Writing

It’s been a while: NaNoWriMo 2021 and tackling my “to-read pile”…

Feck, it’s been a year since I last updated the blog. So, here’s what happened with my NaNoWriMo 2020 novel, what I’m up to for NaNo this month, plus a new challenge I’m setting for myself. Here we go…

I hated that story

I hated what I wrote and never went back to the story after I passed 50,000 words and “won” National Novel Writing Month 2020.

BUT wait!

I’m doing NaNoWriMo again this year and I’m not hating it this time round.

I’m just over 37,000 words in as of today and happy so far with the draft. Now, I might have seemed positive last year, but here’s the thing: last year’s story wasn’t dear to my heart.

Sunder is an idea I’ve been working on in terms of world building and planning since around 2018, maybe even earlier. I chose this year’s NaNoWriMo to give me the space and motivation to finally make a start on it. I can say even now that once I pass 50,000 words I will still have a ways to go, and that’s fine.

It will need editing but I’m enjoying this story and am positive that for me this will be the first NaNo story of mine I love. (My previous-previous win was in 2013 and again I hated what I wrote, but again it wasn’t a story close to my heart (or imagination) so here’s to hoping third time’s the charm.)

Anyway, all this talk of writing takes me to my next point…

112 books (and counting)

In October this year, my partner and I had a big sort out in our house over the course of a week. There were twelve trips to our local household waste and recycling centre and several more to a local charity shop.

During all this, I checked through my physical book collection and gave a bunch away to charity (though not as many as I did back in the start of 2019).

Anyway, this evening I was itching to fully catalogue the number of physical and digital books that are on my “to read pile”.

And it’s a lot, a 112 books a lot and those are the ones I can find.

Which means I think it’s only fair that I set myself a reading challenge that goes beyond something like whatever you find on Goodreads.

My to-read pile challenge

The challenge is simple, but I’m setting up some parameters that go a bit beyond “read the damn books”:

  1. I may only read books for fun that can be found on my to-read list or my currently reading list, the exception is re-reading previous books in a series in order to understand WTF is going on.
  2. I’m still allowed to take out and read books physically or digitally from my local library.
  3. I may not buy any new physical or digital books until I at least reach 50 books or fewer on the list.
  4. However, I am allowed to be gifted books or win them through competitions but these must go on my to-read list.
  5. I am allowed to give up reading a book if it’s not managed to hold my interest after I’ve attempted to read at least a third of it.
  6. I’m still allowed to read fanfic (though I will be reading with the knowledge that I have over 100 published books I could be reading).
  7. If I don’t want to keep a book after reading it, I should donate it to someone or a charity shop.
  8. I should write about the book on here once I’ve read it, and say how I got on, would I recommend it, and so on (post format yet to be decided).
  9. None of the above applies to books relevant to my role as a senior writer and editor that I need to read to help me stay skilled up for my job.
  10. All of the above is subject to change if I find this to be a completely terrible experience.

But let’s hope number 10 doesn’t come to be.

I’m using The StoryGraph to track my progress

Yeah, I’ve been using Goodreads for a hella long time but you know what? Amazon doesn’t deserve any more involvement in my challenge here than the few titles I’ll be reading via my Kindle.

So, I’m going with The StoryGraph to keep an eye on things. Two of the key reasons for this choice (other than feck Amazon) is that it’s “independent and black owned”.

If you want to add me on there: I’m emkingma.

I’ve also taken my annual reading goal over to The StoryGraph, and I’m hoping by tackling some of my currently reading, I can reach 10/10 for 2021. Currently, I’m at 8/10.

Should I actually find myself really liking The StoryGraph, I’m hoping to take advantage of their plus plan.

It’s late

I have been wanting to write the challenge part of this update for a while, and with no Nerds Assemble recording this week and cataloguing my books instead, I decided tonight was the night to brain dump this and run.

G’night and thanks for reading.

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