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Man Booker Prize 2017: Emily Fridlund’s ‘History of Wolves’ and the Modern Coming-of-Age Novel

Recently shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Emily Fridlund’s debut novel History of Wolves is a chilling and sombre coming-of age story. Fourteen-year-old Linda tells us from the offset, “winter collapsed down on us that year. It knelt down, exhausted, and stayed”.[1] This succinctly sets the tone for the rest of the novel, in which warmth, energy, and love are all distinctly lacking. Raised by well-intentioned but often absent parents in the austere climate of northern Minnesota, Linda’s story revolves around two parallel narratives. More...

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“I’m not in the business. I am the business”: The Vertovian Replicant in ‘Blade Runner’

Blade Runner (1982) and Soviet montage documentary The Man with the Movie Camera (1929) are two films not easily reconciled on first glance—one is a widely praised masterpiece, well known as a touchstone of science-fiction cinema, and perhaps Ridley Scott’s finest work; the other is a little-known film by a little-known director from the 1920s, obscure and inaccessible in its daring embrace of the avant-garde. The discordancy is predictable given Dziga Vertov’s deeply unconventional “kinok” style of cinema, which The Man with the Movie Camera...

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Man Booker Prize 2017: ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ and America’s Past Dreams of an Unattainable Future

The celebrated American writer George Saunders is known for his darkly satirical caricatures of his homeland. Stylistically and thematically akin to writers like David Foster Wallace and Kurt Vonnegut, he shares their postmodernist fascination with the absurdities of American culture. His first collection of short stories CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996) is set in a dystopian hyper-corporate not-so-distant-future America characterised by overconsumption, despair, and bleak outlooks. Perhaps it’s telling that eleven years later, with his...

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Man Booker Prize 2017: The Lonely City in Zadie Smith’s ‘Swing Time’

Swing Time is all about the double. In Zadie Smith’s fifth and Man Booker long-listed novel, countries, cities, friends, and narratives mirror one another however their reflections distort like shattered glass. Rooted, as most of Smith’s novels are, in a North West London estate, Swing Time follows two girls who meet in a dance class. Twin images, they have the same skin colour – “as if one piece of tan material had been cut to make us both”[1] – and share a disenchantment with their home lives and a passion for the history of dance. Titled...

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Man Booker Prize 2017: ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ and the Limits of Politics in Fiction

Arundhati Roy’s politics and her storytelling have always been intertwined. The Indian writer burst onto the literary scene in 1997 with her dazzling debut novel, The God of Small Things, a tale of a family’s secrets that also shone a passionate light on a society scarred by the British Empire and neo-colonialism, with its worst injustices saved for women, children, Dalits, and the poor. Roy won the Booker prize for The God of Small Things, but in the two decades since she hasn’t published any fiction. Instead, she’s worked extensively as an...

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‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’: Madeline Thien Brings a Musical Narrative to Chinese History

Madeline Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this year and for the Man Booker in 2016, is a complex novel about family relationships set against periods of political and cultural upheaval in contemporary Chinese history, including the Land Reform Campaign, the Cultural Revolution, and the Tiananmen protests. The novel is written from the perspective of a ten-year-old overseas Chinese girl named Jiang Li-ling but also known by her English name, Marie. The plot traces Li-ling’s...

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Narcissism and Criminality on Wall Street: the Sociology of ‘American Psycho’

Director Mary Harron depicts an extraordinary criminal in American Psycho (2000). He is good-looking, charming, smart, delusional, sadistic, and a cannibal. Difficult as it may be to trace the genuine pathology of Patrick Bateman, who, in his own words, killed “20 people, maybe 40”, there are several strikingly exacerbated personality traits in the film that can be regarded as the immediate explanations for his murders. Chief among these is narcissism, as Bateman displays excessive and erotic interest in his own body. Moreover, belonging to a...

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’

Over the last few weeks I’ve done quite a few of these Picks of Online Film, and to be honest you might be able to see a bit of a theme running through them: most of them contain at least elements of horror. And that’s not a coincidence, I like horror movies, I like movies that have bits of horror in them, and I even like movies that’s sole purpose is to make things just unsettling enough to be uncomfortable—looking at you Escape from Tomorrow (2013)—but I haven’t done very many comedies. And that’s for good reason, writing an analysis of...

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In Focus: ‘Stephen King on Screen’ at the BFI

In accordance with the upcoming seventieth birthday of Stephen King, author extraordinaire, the British Film Institute (BFI) are launching an entire season of adaptations of King’s work running throughout September and October. As the living author with the most prolific oeuvre of adaptations, King has had not only an impact on the literary world but also in that of the silver screen. While King is a man with undoubted skill in the realm of horror, his work does attain of a status of being more than just a master of fear. His work is...

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‘Fleabag’ and ‘Chewing Gum’: Breaking the Fourth Wall on the Small Screen

Two of the most successful British comedies of the last few years, receiving acclaim not just in the UK but also elsewhere thanks to streaming services, have been BBC3’s Fleabag and E4’s Chewing Gum. They are female-driven comedies with very different settings: Fleabag is about a white woman who owns a café in a middle class area of London, while Chewing Gum centres around a black woman who works in a corner shop on a Tower Hamlets housing estate. Yet despite these notable differences, the two shows have several things in common. Both...

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Cinema and History: Is Christopher Nolan just a big old Romantic?

Interstellar Getty: ‘So you have an idea?’ Murph: ‘No. I have a . . . feeling’. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk will undoubtedly be the historical blockbuster (or perhaps just the blockbuster) of the summer. However it is far from being the director’s first or even second (counting The Prestige) historical film. In fact Nolan has been playing with cultural, intellectual, and political themes drawn from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for many years. Nolan’s films are widely credited with being multi-layered, using philosophical,...

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From Stage to Page: Rosie Wilby’s ‘Is Monogamy Dead’

For a number of years now, Rosie Wilby has made her name on the comedy circuit for bringing warmth and personality to her shows, as well as being truly thought-provoking. She is a firm believer in tackling difficult issues through the medium of comedy, and now she has used the same approach in her first non-fiction book. We here at culturised talked to her about the experience of becoming both performer and author and why she chose to textualise the ideas expressed in her stage show. Is Monogamy Dead? places itself among a trilogy of Wilby’s...

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The Forgotten Brontë: Searching for Branwell

One of the defining images of the Brontë family, displayed on the cover of Juliet Barker’s epic biography The Brontës, is Patrick Branwell Brontë’s group portrait of his sisters. This is marred by a mysterious white pillar painted between Emily and Charlotte where the artist painted himself out. Long after the deaths of those pictured, the audience can only guess the meaning. Did Branwell erase himself out in a fit of self-hatred, or was it a family member who was ashamed of him? As the painting aged and grew more translucent, and was...

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‘Okja’ and ‘Raw’: Meat in the Movies

In 2008, PETA released their list of the “Top 10 Movies That Make You Go Meatless.”[1] Featured on the list was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – the 1974 horror classic that has, in the wake of PETA’s article, been reclaimed as a vegetarian movie. Namely, essayist Rob Ager gave a vegetarian reading of the film in his 2015 YouTube video; he sees the acts of the Sawyer family, who brutally murder their victims by bludgeoning them with sledgehammers, hanging them off of meat hooks, and, finally, stuffing them into freezers as a metaphor for the...

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Can Women be Doctors?: Regenerating Doctor Who

Here is an anecdote from a friend: My sister, who is now actually a practicing doctor, when asked around the age of six by my dad what she wanted to be when she grew up said she wanted to be a nurse. When dad responded by asking why she didn’t want to be a doctor she said, “can women be doctors?” Representation is not isolated to our screens. It trickles down to infiltrate real people, real decisions, and real aspirations. Decisions made about a fantasy universe with endless realities both can and do matter to our here and now....

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘It Follows’

There’s a theory in horror film circles that there’s two types of fear: horror-fear and terror-fear. Horror-fear is confining it traps us within our own psyches thus making us yearn for reassuring safety of companions. The process of thinking goes, “if I just have another person with me I’ll be safe”. Think of slasher films like Halloween (1978) or the machinations of the Saw series; these are the types of movies you watch with your buddies, the social aspect of feeling fear together comforts you all. The other type of fear is terror-fear....

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She-Hulk: Marvel’s Wonder Woman

As Wonder Woman lasso-of-truthed into theaters on June 2nd, film and comic geeks alike waited with bated breath. Not since the abysmally conceived Catwoman in 2004 had the silver screen been alight with a super heroine of such ready household recognisability and, needless to say, there was a lot resting on the Amazon’s sculpted shoulders. Fortunately, the reviews were sparkling and audiences came out in droves, resulting in a $223 million worldwide opening which is, as stated by Forbes: “an all-time record for a female director and the...

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The Pick of Online Film: XX

The horror genre often serves as a crucible for the film industry; countless directors, writers and actors found their start in the proving ground of the thriller. And so it seems especially poignant to note that, at the feet of Wonder Woman’s continued worldwide dominance, some of the horror genre’s most effective, fresh ideas over the past few years have come from the minds of female directors. One only has to look back to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, (which has previously featured in culturised’s Pick of Online Film series) and Ana Lily...

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She’s Got the Power: Naomi Alderman’s ‘The Power’ and Empowerment Feminism

The Power – winner of the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and critically lauded as The Handmaid’s Tale for the millennial generation – is a dystopian novel that imagines a world where women, particularly young girls, develop an electrical power that has the ability to maim, heal, or kill. Our contemporary social structure, the patriarchy, founded on the idea that men are physically stronger than women and thus the dominant sex, is inverted as women become physically more capable than men and gender roles become reversed. Like Charlotte...

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Four Alpha Males: A Different Take on Masculinity in Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’

Dictionary definitions of masculinity circle around having qualities or appearances traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness. However, when it is applied to the male characters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice this definition appears insufficient, or at least somewhat wide of the mark in understanding the actions of the novel’s male characters. Jane Austen places heavy emphasis on gender roles, but in her novels masculinity is defined by the relationship between men and women; the author avoids defining...

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Poetry, Plagiarism, and a Polemical Poe: The Longfellow War of 1845

According to Oscar Wilde’s account of his 1882 visit to Craigie House, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s longtime residence in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Wilde’s American host admitted sometimes waking up in the night. His thoughts would go back to when he met Queen Victoria thirteen years earlier: “Oh, I assure you, Mr. Longfellow, you are very well known”, the Widow at Windsor apparently told him, “All my servants read you.” He could apparently never tell whether or not this was a slight.[1] But the Queen...

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Highlights from The Edinburgh International Film Festival

In its seventy-first iteration this year, the Edinburgh International Film Festival strived to attract interested parties into its embrace with as diverse and comprehensive a selection of cinema as possible. Originally starting in in 1947, this gathering in Scotland’s capital is the longest continually-running film festival in the world, and it has lost none of its luster or charm over the years. This year, there was a distinct feeling of openness that accompanied the festival, bringing films of all sizes, scales, and stakes. Friendliness was...

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Game of Thrones: The High Septon and the Franciscan Ascetic

“He took off the shoes from his feet, put down the staff from his hands, and, satisfied with one tunic, exchanged his leather belt for a cord.”[1] “[His] beard was grey and brown and closely trimmed, his hair tied in a hard knot behind his head. Though his robes were clean, they were frayed and patched as well… [his feet were] thick with callus.”[2]   A description of the High Sparrow, leader of the religious order the “Faith of the Seven”, from Game of Thrones? Or of thirteenth-century mendicant St Francis of Assisi...

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Screening ‘Julius Caesar’: In Conversation with Phyllida Lloyd

Phyllida Lloyd has recently conducted a revolutionary experiment with Shakespeare. Billed as the “Shakespeare Trilogy”, Lloyd has taken Julius Caesar, Henry IV, and The Tempest and spun them with a diverse, all-female cast (starring Harriet Walter) in a bid to address issues relating to the representation of women in the theatre. More than this, in these productions the cast assume the roles of female prisoners staging the plays within the walls of an institution; Lloyd uses this added layer in order to explore wider structural societal...

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Caesar on Parole: in Conversation with Jackie Clune

Jackie Clune plays the title role in Phyllida Lloyd’s latest production of Julius Caesar, originally performed at the Donmar in late 2016 and now being released in cinemas. Building on a distinguished stage career, Clune was enticed by Phyllida’s groundbreaking all-female Shakespeare trilogy that also includes Henry IV and The Tempest. While not the first production of Lloyd’s Julius Caesar (the original production having been staged in 2012) or Henry IV (2014), the play’s new home in the Donmar’s pop-up theatre by Kings Cross gave new focus...

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Dog People: The Legacy of Anthropomorphic Animals in Disney’s ‘101 Dalmatians’

“Imamura thought that Western, and especially American, animated films had a mythic quality to them and that their power lay in the ability to teach by metaphor. Imamura compared the power of Disney films to ancient Greek fables and held the genre in high esteem.”[1] When Disney’s first full-length animated feature film, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, debuted in 1937, the entire world took notice of America’s newfound cinematic marvel. More so than the unprecedented proficiency of Disney’s animation, political leaders across the globe...

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Choosing a Book in the Twenty-First Century

“Book collecting is an obsession, an occupation, an addiction, a fascination, an absurdity, a fate. It is not a hobby. Those who do it must do it” – Jeanette Winterson[1]   Most bookworms know that it is almost impossible to walk into a bookshop without wanting to buy every single one because the thought of missing out on any of them is almost unbearable. Working at a literature festival means I’m always hearing about new books to read, whether it’s my director telling me about an epic Punjabi poem that hardly anyone in Britain has ever heard...

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Animals in the Bedroom: Bestiality in Medieval Thought, Literature, and Art

And now for something a little different. As a brief diversion from our adventures in medieval dating,[1] I’m going to take you by the hand, dear reader, and guide you through how medievals thought about animals and human-animal relations. Specifically, the gross kind of relation: people who pork with the animals. The first thing that we have to bear in mind is that medieval people thought about this in a different way to us. The key metric for the average medieval Joe would be that of good and evil; and this is how bestiality is most...

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The Pick of Online Film: Escape from Tomorrow

To watch Escape from Tomorrow (2013) is to watch a film that shouldn’t exist. Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with the subject matter, although it does delve into some uncomfortable spots. It’s not a film that’s been drastically neutered by the censoring agencies (although there are a few clever misdirects), and there weren’t any major stars to wrangle or diva demands that the filmmakers were forced to overcome. The reason that Escape from Tomorrow shouldn’t exist, is that it almost the entire film was shot without permission...

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The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: A Cult Hit?

For those without kind and loving friends from whom you steal Netflix, let me introduce you to The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and for those sensible enough to watch less TV than this writer, let me remind you of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. First released in 2015 and having just released its eagerly-anticipated third season, the show centres on the life of Kimmy (Ellie Kemper), a 29 year old Midwestern gal who moves to New York to start a new life. So far, so Coyote Ugly / Midnight Cowboy / Babe, Pig in the City, but add in the writers and...

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Dern Night of The Soul: David Lynch and His Unsung Muse

“Laura Dern is one of the all-time great actresses. She can play anything. And she’s just so…a great actress makes it real from a deep place, and Laura can do that.”[1] – David Lynch While never having really stopped working, Laura Dern is in the midst of quite a career renaissance. After receiving her second Oscar nod for Jean-Marc Vallée’s 2014 film Wild (her first in over two decades since Rambling Rose in 1994) she once again teamed up with him for HBO’s sleeper hit, Big Little Lies. Her inclusion in the upcoming revival of Twin...

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Once More As Feeding: Consuming Literature

It took root as a suggestion, tripped off the tongue.[1] At Oxford University, undergraduates are required to write a commentary on the venerable Middle English Troilus and Criseyde as part of their final exams. There’s something temptingly purgative about the task: twenty-five lines, cut from context, demanding dissection, splicing, the scalpel of literary-critical labour applied without the contaminating dullness of “context.” The myth of a purely technical exercise, sharp and sterile like a wipe-down hospital bed. Understandably, the...

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘Coherence’

One of the great joys in life for film buffs is finding those little known gems that flew under the radar. Not necessarily cult classics (though they have the potential), which require a devoted following that pushes them into the zeitgeist usually far after the movies’ original releases; I’m talking about the deep cuts, well made movies that exist on the fringe. Coherence (2013) is one such film and now, thanks to magic of online streaming, it’s available to just about everyone. I was lucky enough to see Coherence back in 2014 at a film...

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Hunger Made Me a Modern Girl: Food and Femininity in ‘Raw’ and ‘The Vegetarian’

“Nope nope nope,”[1] said the tabloids, disgusted, “French horror film Raw has inspired such extreme reactions from viewers that cinemas have had to start providing sick bags.”[2] Hyperbolic and wildly inaccurate, the press surrounding Julia Ducournau’s Raw would suggest a gratuitous slasher movie à la Halloween (1978) or A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). You’d be disappointed to discover that Raw is actually a nuanced depiction of sexuality, identity politics, and, well yes, cannibalism – more David Lynch than Wes Craven. Raw follows...

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‘Bioshock’ and the Morality of Obedience in Gaming

A great deal has been said about 2007’s Bioshock.[1] Its interpretation and critique of Ayn Rand, it’s wonderful design and innovative philosophical stylings have received no end of praise. However, I think the element that is so often ignored is the way in which Bioshock’s narrative is so unique to its type of media. As I have outlined in an earlier piece, video games are a narrative art form that need to be played to be properly experienced. They cannot just be watched or listened to; it is the active role one takes in the...

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‘Girlboss’ and San Francisco: Location as a Narrative Device

Girlboss is a show for which I’ve been waiting a long time. Sophia Amoruso is one of retail’s most vibrant characters; creator of online retailer Nasty Gal[1] and chief suspect of a whole lot of real-world drama. #Girlboss (2015), Amoruso’s autobiography/guide/entrepreneurial bible, continues to be a best seller – so it was no surprise when the book was picked up by Netflix and turned into one of its increasingly popular thirteen-part “originals”. The opening credits describe the adaptation as a “real loose”[2] retelling of true events:...

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“Where’s My Zimmer Frame?”: Middle Age and Midlife Crises in ‘Camping’

In an interview just before Camping aired on Sky Atlantic in April 2016, Julia Davis (writer, director and star of the dark comedy) mentioned that she would soon be turning fifty.[1] She admitted to being “a bit worried about that”, remarking “you read about people who really embrace it but I don’t feel like that”. She added that the topic of ageing would likely play a significant role in her next project. However it would seem that ageing was also on her mind whilst she was creating Camping, as youth, middle age and midlife crises are...

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‘Master of None’: Sex in the ‘Mornings’

All episodes of the first season of Master of None have a theme: parenthood (‘Plan B’) and the elderly (‘Old People’), for instance. Equally, most come with a suggestion for twenty-first century American life in relation to that theme. Some are simple: spend time with your parents like in ‘Parents’, and some more complex like the suggestions of how to date more empathetically, in ‘Nashville’. To my mind, the show’s most complex episode in this respect is its first season’s...

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The Race of Life: Euripides, Sport, and the Noble Identity

The Greeks loved competition. Doctors, sculptors, playwrights, artists, poets, dancers, kissers, beautiful children; all these and more pitted themselves against their peers for the sake of honour and glory.[1] Perhaps one of the most enduring forms of competition propagated by the Greeks comes in the form of their athletic games, the most obvious example being the Olympics, which today bears the name of the Ancient Greek competition but shares only a few similarities with its ancient progenitor. It is unsurprising, therefore, that we find...

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Camus, Dylan, and the Nobel Prize: Writers in the Spotlight

2017 marks the sixtieth anniversary of Albert Camus being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. At forty-six years of age, he was one of the youngest ever recipients of the award and also the first African-born writer to win the prestigious gong. Arranged by Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist Alfred Nobel in his will, and first conferred in 1901, the prize is awarded to a writer who has produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”,[1] with other prizes being awarded...

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘Cape Fear’

For this week’s Pick of Online film, we’ve got a two-for-one special for you: two different films – an original and its remake – both available for your viewing pleasure on the World Wide Web and both critically acclaimed in their own right. They are the J. Lee Thompson 1962 original Cape Fear and its Martin Scorsese-helmed 1991 remake. Both films are adaptations of the novel The Executioners by John D. Macdonald, which was originally written in 1957. The source story revolves around the lives of two men: convicted felon Max Cady, and...

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Going Deutsch: How to get a date in Medieval Germany

What-ho historical daters! Now that you have the necessary knowledge to flirt your way around Anglo-Norman Britain and Icelandic Sagas, I’m back again to offer romantic instruction for if you find yourself stranded in Medieval Germany. Prepare yourselves for itinerant penises, randy nuns, and vagina fish. Through this education (of sorts) you will be able to charm your way into Bratwurst and chill with most mittelalter German hotties. A word to the wise before we proceed: please keep it medieval – do not try any of this in the twenty-first...

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The Gaming Age: The Artistry of Video Games

Why are video games not included in the discussion of our most valued culture and entertainment? In-depth discussion of films, novels and plays feature prominently on a wide variety of platforms, whilst gaming is seemingly still viewed as the crude pastime of teenagers cooped up in their parents’ basements. This is simply not the case. We can no longer ignore the significance of video gaming. From an 8-bit world, gaming has expanded and evolved into new and interesting places. Yes, when gaming was in its infancy it was all about the fun...

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‘Inside Number 9’: Cabaret Macabre

Over the last few weeks, I decided take a leap into the surreal. Well I say I decided; it wasn’t my original goal, but after branching out from yet another episode of Buffy into iPlayer and beyond, that was the end result. I stumbled across a show called Inside Number 9 and chose an episode entitled “The Spinhx” (Series 3, Episode 2), the only reason being because it was about solving a cryptic crossword and I’ve always found people who can do that seem to be some sort of exotic, higher-human. Less than half an hour later, I had...

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Szechuan Sauce and Philosophy: The Return of ‘Rick and Morty’

The first thing I did after watching the premiere of Rick and Morty’s third season was double-check the length. Normally saying that the episode felt a lot longer than its 22 minute runtime would not augur well; but in this instance I do not in any way mean that it dragged, it is just an indication of how much action the writers packed into one short slot that I felt I couldn’t have only been watching for under half an hour. With a story that took so many sudden changes in direction it only really feels possible to start at the start and try...

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’

It seems hard to believe, but Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) is now over a decade old. This little-Spanish-movie-that-could took Guillermo del Toro from the pride of fanboys and Mexican cinema to the elite of Hollywood auteurs. What elevates Pan’s Labyrinth, and justifies its inclusion as this week’s Pick of Online film here on culturised, is its innovative combination of both a wartime and fantasy tropes to create a unique cinematic experience. Pan’s Labyrinth (or El Laberinto del Fauno to use its Spanish title) is a study of fantasy and choice in a...

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Can’t See the Wood for the Trees: The Mysterious Meaning of Medieval Penis Trees

Ok, stop me if you’ve heard this before: “What shall we think about those witches who somehow take members in large numbers – twenty or thirty – and shut them up together in a birds’ nest or some box, where they move around like living members, eating oats or other feed? This has been seen by many and is a matter of common talk… …A man reported that he had lost his member and approached a certain witch in order to restore his health. She told the sick man to climb a particular tree where there was a nest containing many members, and allowed...

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Take It Away! It’s Horrible!: Bette Davis and Familial Terror

“I was a legendary terror. I was insufferably rude and ill-mannered in the cultivation of my career. I had no time for pleasantries. I said what was on my mind, and it wasn’t always printable. I have been uncompromising, peppery, intractable, monomaniacal, tactless, volatile, and oftentimes disagreeable. I suppose I’m larger than life.”[1] -Bette Davis In the waning days of the studio era, the once worshiped screen sirens of Hollywood’s Golden Age found themselves unwanted and underpaid. Stars the likes of Shelley Winters and Tallulah...

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘Y Tu Mamá También’

Alfonso Cuarón’s directorial career has already spanned 30 years, in which time he’s made franchise movies, reinvented children’s tales, and created one of the most technically advanced films of all time: Gravity (2013). The first Latin American to win the Academy Award for best director, Cuarón is widely recognised and acclaimed in the highest echelons of mainstream filmmaking. Considering his CV, therefore, it may come as a bit of surprise then that what may be considered his best film is largely unknown to American audiences: the 2001...

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Mum’s on Top: Malcolm’s in the Middle

I’m very close with my mother. Not Gilmore Girls’ Rory/Loralei levels of bonding over men and broken dreams, but we get on very well. Despite the fact that, physically, we are chalk and cheese, we have exactly the same mannerisms, a penchant for Butterscotch Angel Delight and find inventive and well-timed swearing very, very funny. Long story short, we get on, and because of this, I’m fortunate enough to have never had to look for a mother figure elsewhere. That admission by itself makes for a very short Mothers’ Day article and, as...

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Love and Loneliness Under the ‘Moonlight’

A few weeks ago Moonlight won an Oscar. You probably heard about it. Or you probably heard more about the monumental disaster surrounding its announcement, which ended up overshadowing one of the most transgressive Oscar wins in recent history. It seems that, now that the dust has settled, it is time to look at why Moonlight is such a revolutionary piece of cinema deserving of the award that it picked up amongst all the confusion. More specifically a close examination of Moonlight reveals that, whilst wildly unconventional, it fits into an...

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What the Devil? – The Language of Hell in Dante’s ‘Inferno’ XXXI

Canto XXXI of Dante’s Inferno stands as one of La Commedia Divina’s most famous, and studied passages. This is despite its relative tameness in comparison with the bulk of the Inferno: we are not given hordes of the wailing damned, nor lakes of boiling blood as we see in Violence, nor souls bound writhing in the eternal fire of Heresy. These elements are widely considered Inferno’s major attractions, at least to the initiate Dantisti, for their graphic depiction of sin and the appropriation of poetic justice. Nevertheless, Canto XXXI’s major...

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Talking Dirty: Hygiene in the Eighteenth-Century Sex Lecture

  During his lifetime, James Graham was infamous for his unusual ideas. Known as the “King of Quacks,”[1] he lectured openly about sexual dysfunction and his electrical “cures” for it, dug people into holes in the ground so they could absorb nutrients from the soil like a plant, and even made himself the Messiah of a new religion. Unsurprising then that he went down as “one of those colourful sub-plot clowns in the tragicomedy of history.” [2] After this grumble about Graham’s reputation, Roy Porter encourages people to see him as more than a...

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“Jam and Idleness”: Jam, Play and the Socialisation of Girls in ‘The Mill on the Floss’

The idea that eating fruit can somehow be connected to (im)proper notions of behaviour for women is neither new nor revolutionary; we need only look to the Bible to find this concept’s influence on women’s lives. But what happens when the fruit is cooked? What happens when the women are actually girls, learning restraint and polite behaviour? George Eliot’s characterisation is always masterful, but she particularly excels in writing wilful women, and the girls who either learn or shirk rules of society to become these women. From Hetty Sorrel...

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World’

H.R. Giger is an example of an artist whose work has become incredibly well known without him attaining any large degree of personal fame. It is likely you don’t know his name, but if you have seen Alien (1979) or any of the increasingly convoluted array of sequels/prequels, you have seen Giger. If you ever came across the cover of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery or seen the infamous Penis Landscape poster in the Dead Kennedy’s album Frankenchrist, you’ve seen Giger. If any of your friends have a “biomechanical” tattoo made...

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Sex and the Sagas: How to get a date in Medieval Iceland

The Icelandic sagas are often described as one of the most significant bodies of literature produced by Europe in the medieval period. These prose narratives, many set in the 9th and 10th centuries when Iceland was first being settled by Norwegians, recount a myriad of events (of dubious historicity), such as family feuds, heroes, daring deeds, and battles that inspired the fiction of Tolkien and others. They also happen to be rather kinky (and sometimes utter filth). “What, the beautiful and mysterious sagas?” You may ask. “Especially the...

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Demonising Women: The Enduring Medieval Conception of Witchcraft

Think of a witch. Any witch. I’m willing to bet you’ve imagined some hideous old crone, bent over a cauldron with black pointy hat perched on her head and a black cat skulking about nearby (or a pretty teenager with a wisecracking cat like in the seminal ’90s programme, Sabrina the Teenage Witch). The image of the dangerous female sorcerer has been ingrained in western culture since the Early Modern witch craze in Europe, and the later panics about witchcraft in America. But harmful magic was not always gendered in this way. Our current...

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Carson McCullers: A Reading Recommendation for International Women’s Day

This year, 2017, marks the centenary of Carson McCullers’ birth. It seems appropriate then that on International Women’s Day some attention is given to this author who exists, at least on this side of the pond, in underserved obscurity.  McCullers is relatively unknown in the UK – I know of only two people around my age to have read any of her work – but she is regarded in America as a great writer. However, even in a U.S. context, McCullers’ work is often boxed into the category of Southern Gothic, leaving her often to pale into...

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Margery Kempe: The Moaning Mystic

Margery Kempe, the subject of the self-dictated Book of Margery Kempe – often referred to as the first autobiography in the English language – is well known in medieval literary circles, albeit perhaps begrudgingly. She was, and continues to be, a woman difficult to ignore. In fact, the word “difficult” would likely be lingering close by any semantic field dedicated to the description of Margery Kempe, alongside others such as: contrary, radical, unconventional, discordant, and outspoken. Whilst these words, individually, are often perceived...

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‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’: A Progressive Examination of Gender and Relationships

There has been a fresh collection of female-led online television in the last few years. From the entertainingly influential Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to the potently honest Love, the drive to create roles for women with a purpose has noticeably notched up a few gears. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a fantastic embodiment of this. Originally airing in October 2015, the show has gone onto become critically acclaimed for its contemporary musical-comedy style featuring a wide range of incredibly talented women. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the show I have...

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George Eliot: The Female Shakespeare

George Eliot’s Middlemarch was ranked number one in the BBC’s 2015 list of the greatest British novels.[1] Six in the top ten were novels by women, which is pleasing to note this week of International Women’s Day, but George Eliot sits atop the throne as the greatest female author to come out of Britain. George Eliot’s fiction continues to engage readers in the twenty-first century, and many people (myself among them) feel that in addition to Middlemarch’s success, Eliot’s other novels deserve more recognition. So who exactly was George...

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Nothing New Here: ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ and Female Desire

The final image with which we are left in “Fifty shades of Grey” is of Anastasia Steele, hair pinned tightly back, uttering a single word – “no” – as a grey elevator door conceals her from view. The reason that its sequel “Fifty Shades Darker” managed to hit £7.56 million in its first weekend at the UK box office,[1] and global revenues in the hundreds of millions,[2] lies in large part with the complexity, turbulence, and instability that this image brings to the concept of female desire. To say that the “Fifty Shades…” series has carved a...

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘The Babadook’

I first came across The Babadook (2014) at university; I was studying a course dedicated to the creation of horror fiction and our professor showed us the trailer for inspiration. I can remember thinking that I had yet to see anything like it. The atmosphere of the film seemed to pervade out into the classroom. Its heavy use of greys and blacks bled out of the screen and onto our desks. It would be close to another year before I was able to actually see the film in its entirety despite circling it at several festivals. Luckily for the world...

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Beyond ‘A Clockwork Orange’: Thoughts on Anthony Burgess’s Centenary

On the 25th of February, BBC Radio 3 Saturday Classic celebrated life and music of Anthony Burgess through a programme hosted by Andrew Biswell, author of The Real Life of Anthony Burgess.[1] Anthony Burgess was born in Manchester one hundred years ago, but it was only recently that we found out more about this famous author’s plural artistic interests beyond writing. To understand Burgess more fully, it is important that we examine his more obscure novels, which reveal a whole new world beyond Catholicism and violence. The BBC and the...

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Undermining Morality: Exploring Sex in The Cinema of Paul Verhoeven

“As a director, my goal is to be completely open. Just look at how I portray sex in my films. They’re considered shocking and obscene because I like to carefully examine human sexuality. It has to be realistic” – Paul Verhoeven[1] Isabelle Huppert’s inclusion in this year’s “Best Actress” category at the Academy Awards is not only a triumph for the French icon, but also for a director whose name has become synonymous with poor taste: Paul Verhoeven. The Danish auteur’s body of work may be most familiar to those who consumed his...

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Be more European: How to Save Independent Bookshops

The word “bookshop” conjures up certain images to me: killing underage weekends flipping through magazines in Borders café and gawping at the price of hardbacks, then buying them because you need them regardless (shout out to The Good Immigrant here). Even more than this, there is an overriding feeling of being judged by disinterested waifs, who recline artfully across counters and raise their eyebrows at the sight of yet another seemingly intelligent member of Joe Public paying *actual money* for the latest Dan Brown. With over 500...

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The Pick of Online Film: ‘Spring’

This is the first article in a regular series on culturised aiming to give some much deserved attention to the great films available through online streaming services (for more details see the “About The Author” section at the bottom of this article). The film I’ve chosen to kick off this series is what Guillermo del Toro has called, “…one of the best horror films of this decade. And the only Lovecraftian film that had blown me away.”[1] But this horror flick is also a love story, and a good one. The film is Spring (2014), directed by Justin...

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How to Get a Date in Anglo-Norman Britain: The Medieval Romance Textbook

Imagine, put aside all your great great grandparent-killing paradoxes for now: you’re a time traveller stuck in late fourteenth-century Britain. The Tardis is stuck in a time warp, the Delorean has run out of juice. Whatever. It’s going to be a while before you find a way out of the distant past, so why not live it up a little while you’re there? I intend to teach you how to survive in the past, starting with your primary concern: how to score with a historical hottie. Now, you may think we have no idea how dating worked in the Anglo-Norman...

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It Ain’t Over ’til it’s Over: The Great Gatsby and Baseball

The Great Gatsby (1925), maybe above all else, is a novel about the moral decay of the United States after the First World War. Jay Gatsby’s dream of romance represents the American dream of economic production and self-improvement—or so echo classrooms from continent to continent; the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are the eyes of God watching over an amoral nation, and Nick Carraway’s conflicted narration struggles to reconcile Gatsby’s ineffable desires with the social atrophy of his storied, corrupt world. In short, it is often taught as...

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J. K .Rowling and Modern Day Book Burning

J.K. Rowling has recently been both praised and scorned for her outspoken opposition on social media to President Donald Trump. Whilst many people admire Rowling’s ethical stance, some loyal Trump supporters found her views so difficult to stomach that they informed her of their intention to burn their copies of the Harry Potter books. Source: Twitter When I think of burning books, I think of examples such as the Nazi regime’s infamous mass book burnings or the destruction of Lollardist texts in England under Henry IV; in other words,...

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A Dying Breed? Originality and the Oscars.

Here we are again. Stuck in the doldrums of late January/early February, affectionately known to some—and by some, I mostly mean me—as, “the place where films go to die.” It’s that time of year when most of the Hollywood machine is focused on each studio’s Oscar run. The well regarded offerings of last December and their autumn brethren are shouldered in an extended or second release into theaters alongside the likes of the latest M. Night Shyamalan head-trip and a reboot of a remake of a J-horror classic. It’s awards season folks; the Oscars...

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A Brave New Cairo? The Pharmacology of Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s “Utopia”

“That humanity at large will ever be able to dispense with Artificial Paradises seems very unlikely. Most men and women lead lives at the worst so painful, at the best so monotonous, poor and limited that the urge to escape, the longing to transcend themselves if only for a few moments, is and always has been one of the principal appetites of the soul.” (Huxley, The Doors of Perception 42)   “Wait until you see the dancing green flame…” (Towfik, Utopia 23)   Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s Utopia could be crudely...

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Choosing Life in the 21st Century: Masculinity in T2 Trainspotting

Going into T2 Trainspotting, our last glimpses of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, and Begbie, were when we saw one smashing up a hotel room with imminent arrest awaiting him, one having been left completely swindled by his best friend, one collecting four thousand pounds waiting for him in a locker, and one wandering down the street at a leisurely pace with twelve thousand pounds as a voiceover tells us he’s decided to “choose life” and going to become “just like you”.[1] T2 Trainspotting sees these characters grown up, but in some ways distinctly...

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Taken Away to La La Land: A Musical for Everyone

Having tied for the most ever amount of Oscar nominations, La La Land is certainly captivating the minds and imaginations of whoever goes to see it. But why is it so special? What is it about La La Land that is making people lose themselves in its world, its music, its characters, and its romance? How does it consistently impress both fans of musicals and people usually ambivalent to the genre (such as myself)? Taking it from the top – if you’ll believe it, that pun was completely unintentional – it’s vital to mention that La La Land is a...

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The Real Housewives of Orange County: An Exploration of Reality TV Addiction

I first discovered The Real Housewives of Orange County ten years ago. I had decided to combat my teenage angst by watching a lot of television. A lot. A day like any other, I found myself sitting on the sofa at my family home flipping around the channels when I finally settled on another American reality show. There was twinkling music over titles, but unlike “The Hills”, this was followed by footage of a woman in her late thirties getting botox, proclaiming “I don’t want to get old!”. This was followed by a shot of a long-limbed young woman...

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Interruptions in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass: Lewis Carroll’s Nonsense Narrative

Lewis Carroll’s masterpieces of Victorian nonsense, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There,[1] are quite rightly two of the most widely read books ever written in English. The tales of Alice’s fantastic adventures have captured the imaginations of both children and adults for over a century, and as a result are endlessly being adapted into new films, plays, illustrated editions, paintings, and many more forms of art. What I wish to demonstrate here is that these two almost universally loved...

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Utopia in Translation: The Many Languages of J. M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus

On both sides of the Atlantic, rhetoricians of populism are calling for a revival of some utopian age: the nation state’s return to its former glory. Politicians are making America great again. They are taking back sovereignty over the United Kingdom and its borders, after decades of violation at the hands of its European neighbours. In this age of post-truth populism, countries are turning inwards to seek a homogenous utopian sphere that, like all utopias, never existed in the first place.

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Jenny Colgan vs Nadiya Hussain: Celebrity Novelists and the Burden of Representation

Last weekend saw a social media storm after Jenny Colgan published a scathing review in The Guardian of Nadiya Hussain’s new novel, The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters.  Colgan found herself on the receiving end of a barrage of tweets and other social media posts calling her ignorant at best, and a jealous racist at worst.  Now that, as they always do, the cyber-storm has calmed down and Colgan seems to have disappeared from Twitter, here’s a perspective from someone who, through my work with the Bradford Literature Festival, has to think...

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The Problem With Sherlock: Bond in Baker Street

On Sunday 15th January the BBC aired the final installment of the latest (and, potentially, the last) season of Sherlock, entitled “The Final Problem”. The episode has been met with mixed reviews to say the least, with a feeling of confused disillusionment seeming to be the popular consensus. But why is Sherlock so disappointing of late? What is missing? How have we reached a point when “The Final Problem” is a sadly apt title for a once universally acclaimed programme? Don’t get me wrong, Sherlock is not without its merits: at times the...

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You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Bomb: Jaws, Them! and Nuclear Guilt

The science fiction B-Movies in 1950s America heralded a new way of envisioning American, used in the context of this essay to refer to the USA, anxieties in the post-war period. “Structured around key metaphors”, these films became reflections of the “U.S. perception of the Cold War”[1] revealing implicit apprehensions that proved difficult to articulate. The B-movies, like many cinematic productions that arose from the last decade of the Golden Age of Hollywood, were consistently uniform in their structure and content. Yet their structural...

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London’s Little Known Feminist Library

Did you know that London has its very own Feminist Library? Few do, but this vital piece of London’s literary landscape has had to fight for survival this past year due to soaring rent costs. On December 23rd 2015, Southwark Council asked for an immediate increase in rent from £12,000 to £30,000 a year meaning the library was faced with imminent eviction, on the 1st of March (ironically the start of Women’s History Month). Despite celebrating it’s 40th anniversary at the site on Westminster Road this past year has marked the end of an era and...

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Tintin in the Land of the Soviets

The first ever adventure of everyone’s favourite Belgian reporter, Tintin, has been released in colour by publishers Casterman. Currently only available in French, the new edition was launched on Wednesday 11th January in Brussels’ Grand-Place, where an actor re-enacted the return from Russia of Tintin and his loyal companion, Snowy. Though the story of Tintin’s journey and his ensuing escapades with the Soviet army, police and spies, has been available in black and white as a collector’s edition for many years, this new colour issue finally...

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Literature to Look Out For in 2017

So that’s it.  2016, the year that brought us Brexit, the return of Planet Earth, more deaths than Game of Thrones, and Boaty McBoatface, is finally over.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll have spent the first two weeks of January wondering what on earth to do to combat the equal amounts of hope and dread that 2017 will bring. Well the answer to that is…books, books, books. Whether you’re like me and there are so many books you want to read that you can’t actually choose which ones to commit to, or you’re so busy you don’t know where to...

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Film, 2017

Split, Dir. M. Night Shyamalan 20th January 2017 An early release in 2017, Split, directed by M. Night Shymalan, might hopefully see a return to form for a frustrating director who reached his peak in an early stage of his career. The story revolves around three friends, Claire (Hayley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula), and Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy) kidnapped in broad daylight with their captor (James McAvoy) displaying clear signs of dissociative personality disorder. Trailers hint at a stellar performance from McAvoy playing a man with 23...

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