An Ordinary Life – Ethel & Ernest

14 12 2016

ethel-and-ernest (Cloth Cat Animation - 2016)

What do you dream of? Do you dream of riding a Unicorn and battling the Troll King in the city of Colossus on the furthest edge of Saturn? If so, then you have misunderstood my question. When I ask what you dream of, I ask that in the meaning of, what do you foresee for yourself. Do you dream of a big mansion, lots of money, a gold-plated Rolls Royce and a pet Jaguar? That sounds like a pretty good dream for yourself and I wish you luck in your endeavors to achieve that, but is there anything wrong with a simpler life: a life that involves having your own house, a nice job, maybe a husband or wife, a nice little car and a kid to call your own? Well, given a recent example I recently discovered, I can see a lot of pleasantry in just living a nice long-lived ordinary life, seems quite nice.

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Released in 2016 by Cloth Cat Animation and Directed by Roger Mainwood; Ethel and Ernest is an animated adaptation of the Raymond Briggs graphic novel of the same name. Raymond Briggs is of course best known for his graphic novels including The Snowman, Father Christmas, Fungus the Bogeyman and When the Wind Blows, many of which have since been adapted further into films and TV shows. Ethel and Ernest follows the story of Briggs’s parents from when they began their courtship in the early 1920’s right up to their deaths in the 1970’s, along the way showing their incredible life through an ever-changing world, delivering their own experiences in some of history’s most notable moments.

ethel-and-ernest-book (Jonathan Cape - 1998)

The story begins with Ethel (Brenda Blethyn) working as a lady’s maid who over the period of a couple of days is spotted by a young man on a bike. After a few days the young man all nicely dressed arrives at Ethel’s work place and introduces himself as Ernest (Jim Broadbent). He invites her out on a date and after a few more dates, Ethel requests that she leaves her employ as a maid so that she may Marry Ernest. Her request is given, and the two marry, followed by getting a house together, and Ernest getting a job as a milkman. As time passes by, the two of them sit down into a normal living routine, with Ethel becoming a housewife and Ernest fascinated by the ever passing technological world, installs a radio and a cooker plus a few more home improvements to make it theirs. Outside of their lives, things are changing, Britain is on the brink of war with Germany, and people are out of work. While all this is going on, Ethel and Ernest conflict with one another due to their respective beliefs, with Ernest acknowledging his working class life, while Ethel believes that she is more middle class and up. Eventually Ethel is treated with the birth of a son they name Raymond (Luke Treadaway), but giving birth was a real strain on her and is told that it’s best that they don’t have another.

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Britain engages with Germany as World War 2 starts, and Raymond is sent to live with Aunty Flo (Gillian Hanna) and Aunty Betty (Pam Ferris) in the countryside as he is evacuated with thousands of other children. Broken hearted at home without Raymond in their lives, Ethel and Ernest plod on with Raymond taking another job as a fireman during the Blitz Bombings. The two of them erect both a Morrison and an Anderson bomb shelter, and are privileged with seeing Raymond in the countryside and have him home one weekend, although he and Ernest narrowly miss an attack from a Doodlebug. With the war over, the family returns to normal, with Raymond going to grammar school and Ernest seeing improvement in his work load, although the two cannot stop bickering with the election of a Labour government and Churchill being kicked out of office. As Raymond grows up, he begins to do things very different to his parents that they just don’t understand, such as his desire to go to Arts School, while his parents can’t see much of a job coming out of it. Raymond grows his hair out, although Ethel continues to press a comb onto him. Eventually Raymond meets a girl called Jean (Karyn Claydon), who unfortunately is not able to provide grandparents to Raymond’s parents. The two of them get a house in the countryside that Ethel considers to be a dump.

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As time passes by and the world steadily advances further, life for Ethel and Ernest begins to slow down. Ernest retires from his job as a milkman and Raymond gets a job as a teacher. Ethel and Ernest take in a more quiet life, but Ethel’s health begins to deteriorate, and as time passes by begins to forget things, even those closest to her. Eventually Ethel dies in hospital, leaving Ernest to fend for himself. After some time goes by, Ernest too dies. Back at his parents’ home; Raymond makes note of a tree in their garden, one he planted when he was just a boy.

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Ethel and Ernest is a rather pleasant film which at first does not really present itself as a film, more a sequence of short films spanning the life of two very ordinary people. At first it’s like an animated slide show, and one I felt presented the story of these two-bit by bit, maybe frame by frame or chapter by chapter. The film however is at this point just starting its engine, as when life settles down, the Drama begins. At first these are two gentle lovers just enjoying life as it can be, but now they face the prospect of actually having to live together, and what we discover is that they are two polar opposites. They share dreams and desires for the future but like many of the time cannot see how much life will change ahead of them, or how quickly it is enacted. While it is very pleasant though, the film is somewhat tragic, as it ends the only way life can, in the Death of these two people, and how their life affects those around them at that time. But in that though we are presented with a cold hard fact of the knowledge that life must come to an end and how important it is that we don’t waste it, it’s one chance in only one chance. The film though while ending like this however reminds us that even when these two people passed on, that in life, although maybe not absolutely perfect, they still lived an extraordinary life, one that was filled right to the brim. Maybe not the most glamorous or exciting, but definitely a positive life, and shows that no matter your standing, class or background, a good life can still be had.

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The film’s story I find is very similar to The Wind Rises, as though while in essence it’s just a story of the parents of Raymond Briggs, it also tells a very broad story of the growth of England from post World War One right through the tumultuous years of World War Two and the progression of life luxuries beyond that. It does this in a very unique way to. I have seen lots of documentaries in the past regarding what happened in World War 2, but most of these have taken the form of talking about the front line, the enemy, the Battle of Britain, the blitz, other countries and the evacuation of children; however I have not ever (I think) seen a documentary or presentation of the life lived by those in London during this time. I am not saying that said things have not been done before, but they do seem pretty rare. Here, this film really shows that with mentions of the Anderson Bomb Shelters and the like, to mentions of life for those working to keep London built and even the raids of Doodlebugs. It is a very nice way to tell a story but also presents information of what England was like that at that time.

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While all this is going on of course, we get a real glimpse of the lives of Ethel and Ernest. The film does have some great cast members and features some cameos from people at the time presented in their original format, but this film really does work to show us what these two were like by making them the front-runner of every scene. But while it may be an idyllic life for those of a similar situation, there is a minor level of conflict between the two. Ernest for example is very much a working class man. He works hard because he knows he has to and is good at his job. He loves Ethel a lot, and even uses his manual labour skills to good use in improving their lives in any way he can; he is very much a working class hero. Ethel meanwhile comes from a more upper class background, although this is only shown in what she used to do for a living. This background though very much impacts her way of thinking, and though while their lives appear very much in similar vain to that of the average working class family, she genuinely believes she is not Working Class. This conflict between the two remains throughout, and while although this causes tension between the two-way of thoughts, they are less hostile, more just ways of thinking. In reality they are two very different people and share no real commonality in belief. This continues further when Raymond grows up, starts acting more like a teenager, a rebel against the old-fashioned views and respects. This causes Ethel to look at her son differently as he changes like a changed world, growing his hair out, not looking for a normal ‘job’, going down a different route, not buying a ‘house’ and of course not being able to provide her with a grandchild. It really shows the change in respects over time as though back when they were young; Raymond’s choices would not have stood up to anyone, but now the world is more free it goes against those older respects and really delivers home in a very presentable and obvious way the difference between the old and young generations.

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Being based on the works of Raymond Briggs, the film strives to present its artwork and look in the same style as his book and his personal drawing style. The film looks very traditional in its animation, although shows some points where it nearly leaps off the page. It is 3D shaded but not flat 2D either. The animation is very fluid and very detailed, and within a few seconds really draws your attention in as it’s nice and clear but also very fun in presenting its information as well as world and characters. One thing thought that really stood out for me though was how it used 2 different styles of artwork to portray life and death. You see, when the film is playing, all the images are nice and colourful, nice and bright, as if to show their life and how easily they just jump off from the page. But then as the film continues, when it presents a moment of death, the style changes; while it still carries all other forms of life in the same style, death is a more static, 2D image, that is very detailed still, but the life is completely withdrawn, like they who they once were is gone and the body; like the drawing, has no life.

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Ethel and Ernest has an interesting use of music, as for the most part there is pretty much no soundtrack, but that is in to say that one has not really been provided, but not there is no music either. No, instead the film uses a lot of old-fashioned and well known pieces from respected composers of the time using popular music of the current time the story is in. One piece though that has sort of been used as a standing point of at least some form of a soundtrack is that of a piece by Paul McCartney called In the Blink of an Eye. I am not really all that a fan of McCartney, but this piece of music is a nicely fitting piece. It sounds very progressive in its tune and presents other animations to mind as they pop into your brain. It sounds very British and really helps to create a vision of the passage of time in British lands and fits nicely with the images of this film. It’s progressive but also retrospective and just nicely fits in there as when the credits roll on they show how beautiful a life it was for Ethel and Ernest and really how well it was lived.

Ethel and Ernest really is such a pleasant film. It tells a nice story of an average family, not an average family who happened to be spies or anything spectacular on an action like scale, just an ordinary family living a pretty ordinary life. It tells a story of the inner conflicts and opinions of married life, plus also tells a story of Britain and the changing of attitudes and respects with the passing of time. It is nicely animated showing stark contrasts between life and death, creating some really humorous moments and at the same time bringing to life and telling the real life biography of two amazing people. Ethel and Ernest is a real family drama and a really pleasant film to watch, easily a future classic, one that families can (and probably will) continue to enjoy watching with one another in years to come.

GENEPOOL





Top 5 Books I Read In 2015

10 08 2016

The Ask And The Answer (Patrick Ness - 2009)

2014 was a good year for reading, at least for me, and in total I read 25 books. In 2015 I did not read as many, but it was not a bad year for reading neither. Yes there were some books that I read and just did not get, while many others I consider amongst some of the best books I have read in my reading life. I know it’s a bit late in the year to be doing Top 5 of the previous year posts, but I really have been meaning to get round to this one. Yes, much like I did last year, this is the time for the books I read last year to shine. I did read quite a few books as it happened, but quite a few I thought were not so good and really did put a downer on my reading time, the one standing out more than most being The Young Elites by Marie Lu. It was a good idea and a really well devised, interesting and enjoyable setting, but for the most part I simply did not understand it all that well, nor enjoy it all that much.

The Young Elites (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers - 2014)

Unlike last year, this year’s selection of books are not entirely dominated by two people called Michael, although one of them does return to this year’s list (see number 4). This year however one author dominates with two entries: as for a good period of time last year I read 4 Patrick Ness novels of which my favourite 2 are in this list. The main part of that reading was in the form of his Chaos Walking Trilogy. While I did enjoy all the books in that series, only one gets a part here, this is because I felt that I had read a few things better than The Ask and the Answer, and that while I really did enjoy The Knife of Never Letting Go, as I had read a good part of the beginning in late 2014, I thought I would allow another book the place of Number 5 in this list. All things considered though, I had a really good reading year last year, and am enjoying another fun-filled one this year having already read some other books which right now I am certain will get featured in next year’s list too, hopefully though that one won’t be so late in the year. Anyway, hope you enjoy this retrospective look at the Top 5 Books I read in 2015.

Darkmouth (Harper Collins - 2015)

5. Darkmouth by Shane Hegarty – This one I just found staring at me in 2 branches of Waterstones. In the end I did buy it along with The Enemy (see number 3). Funny thing is, is that apparently when my Dad was in town that same day; he almost bought a copy of it too. Darkmouth as a book is quite an interesting idea, as it revolves around a town called Darkmouth, where every now and then a portal opens up releasing a legendary creature into the town to cause havoc. Keeping these ‘Legends’ in check is a young boy in training to become a legend hunter from his dad who is something of a legendary legend hunter. In the meantime the boy has got other worries; he actually wants to be a vet not a Legend Hunter, he still has homework to do, and there is this mysterious new girl in town that is strangely attracted to him. It’s a very nice well thought out book that is also very lengthy, but also very easy. It does not keep you held down with difficult mumbo-jumbo nor does it bore you with the details, there is actually something always happening from one chapter to the next and it does well to keep you involved. It’s also very fun and has its own style of humour which goes from laugh out loud moments to a quirky giggle; fun from start to finish, but also very tense at times.

Eve & Adam (Egmont - 2012)

4. Eve & Adam by Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate – Yes, Michael Grant is back, however I can’t help but feel that this book is more Applegate than Grant. A young girl has got herself into a real horrid accident, and is taken to the private hospital run by her multi-millionaire Mum, who runs a giant corporation in the same building. While she is recuperating, the girl tries out a brand new piece of software, one that will allow her to create her ultimate boyfriend, but it’s all just a game…right? Eve and Adam is a nice punchy but easy read that is also laced with ideas including romance, love to the misuse of genetics and creation. Each chapter centres around a certain character, of which there are mainly two, but every now and then another is introduced. It has a strange pace as it goes from an accident, to recovery, to the software, to an ex-boyfriend, to a new being, to a giant conspiracy to the big finale. It’s relatively a simpler read in comparison to the Gone books and is a nice thing to read when you have a spare minute; for instance I read it after getting my new bed. I really enjoyed it, it was just really interesting and was less about action, more an intelligent read to get you thinking and really see where things can lead, especially when several spanners are thrown into the mix, I also thought it was very similar in ideas to Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton.

The Enemy (Penguin - 2009)

3. The Enemy by Charlie Higson – Since reading the Gone books; I have found it progressively difficult to find a book that just grabbed me from the first page and one that I did not want to stop reading. Then I read The Enemy, and I was hooked from start to finish. Set in London, a group of kids survive on the edge inside a branch of Waitrose, while the world’s adults have all turned into Zombies. It’s a very simple premise, but the level of detail is excellent, because as soon as it begins, kids start dying, and they don’t stop. The level of violence is unprecedented, and the rivalry between the kid gangs of London and those whose stories are also explored tell a tale of a once great city crumbling in on itself, as Kids have to grow up, while the grownups go one a killing spree in their search for food. It’s very well detailed and goes into locations all over the Capital, but most of all, it tells a genuinely realistic story of the fight for survival, and how resourceful kids can be when given the chance to prove it, but also show what lengths they will have to go to in order to survive, even if it means killing those that they once loved.

Monsters Of Men (Patrick Ness - 2010)

2. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness – The Chaos Walking trilogy began with a young boy living in a world where everyone could hear each other’s thoughts, who then stumbles upon a spot where he can’t hear anything. As the first two books developed, they told the story of a world that lied to the boy, and who has to conform to a new world order in order to survive. As Monsters of Men starts though, the young boy named Todd is standing in the middle of a town on the brink of war from not one but 3 sides, as an old native species to the planet has returned from extinction. Monsters of Men is a power house of a read, it goes into great lengths the horrors of war, what people will do to achieve victory and the importance of attaining Peace sooner rather than later. It is a pretty big book, but in comparison to the previous two instalments (which were both un-put-down-able), this one is one you just can’t stop reading, other than to do the things you need to do to stay alive so you can finish it. It comes with twists and turns and a whole load of action, while also following on from lessons learned, and from the point of views from not one but 3 people inside the conflict. There are also a lot of surprises and returns, ones that will grip you and began from the first book. Overall though the book goes into a real truth: a great horror not just set in a fictional world, but one existent in ours; and this is just a taster of that.

A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness and Siobhan Dowd - 2011)

1. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, Jim Kay and Siobhan Dowd – I spotted this one in Waterstones when reading Chaos Walking but did not take much notice; until I realised that a film (due for release in October) was being made of it, so I gave it another look, and asked for the book for Christmas. I read it quite quickly, because for one it was quite a short read, and two, because I couldn’t get enough of it. From day one, I read a few chapters but then needed to go to bed, the same for day 2, and day 3 when I finished it, after which I had a good long and emotional cry. The story revolves around young boy Connor whose Mum gets Cancer. At school, Connor is treated as like he was invisible, because everybody knows and does not understand, but he is made the target of a group of bullies. While all this is going on however, Connor is visited by a tree monster who tells him stories, and in return, the Monster wants The Truth. It is a very chilling book with lots of fiendishly chilling artwork on every page; however the books key characteristic is how real it is: Connor not having much of a father because he left and the grandma who does not get on well with him. But the real battlefield is the playground, as day-to-day it’s a matter of walking through school invisible to everyone, keeping secretive from supposed friends and having to keep his head low from the bullies. In the meantime, The Monster tells some really chilling stories which in turn bring out the worst in Connor, who himself is holding in a dark secret, one that he fears more than anything else. The book is also very emotional and really strikes a chord with your emotional strings, one that is so powerful, that from simply reading this book I felt like I was there, and was experiencing the emotional turmoil that Connor goes through, especially the anger at old friends and the emotion of the key plot line. In turn this book had another effect on me, as this was the first time a book has ever made me physically cry, to which I did nearly before the book ended, to at least half an hour afterwards. It’s not just a brilliant read, but also a very powerful book, one whose experience will remain with you forever.

GENEPOOL





Book Review – GONE by Michael Grant

23 10 2013

GONE (Michael Grant)

Title: GONE

Author: Michael Grant

Publisher: HarperCollins/Egmont Books

ISBN: 1405242353

Imagine you are a teenager (unless you are one), a time when you wished your parents and teachers would just leave you alone. Every teenager goes through that period, but imagine that it actually happens. A place where all the Adults have simply disappeared. What would you do? Eat all the fast food you want to, watch TV and Play Games day and night, it sounds perfect doesn’t it. Well, it turns out that it really isn’t all that perfect.

GONE tells the tales of a group of teenagers who live in and around a town in America called Perdido Beach. One day all the Adults suddenly disappear, everyone over 15 ‘poofed’. Many kids see this naturally as an opening to do whatever they want, eating cookies and ice-cream till they are sick, watch TV and play games until they can’t stay awake, no one bossing them around, Great. Well not really, from the get go the school playground is multiplied by 10 as the bullies see a chance to take control and total anarchy commences. A fire is started and attention in the community focuses on main character Sam and his girlfriend Astrid. Soon control seems to re-emerge with the appearance of several kids from a local private school arrive to take control, but things only get worse. What’s more, there is a giant invisible barrier twenty miles in diameter blocking the community off from the rest of the world and kids have started developing abilities, Mutant Powers. And if things couldn’t get any more worse, there is something lurking in the wilderness, The Darkness.

I personally found out about these books when I first began to read The Hunger Games. I was in Waterstones and saw this interesting looking book called FEAR. The front cover got me interested and I looked more into it and discovered it was part of a series of bestselling books known as the GONE series. Several months later I finally get round to buying the first book GONE, but I did not start reading it until about 9/10 months later. At first I found it hard to get into, new book and all but I kept pushing myself to keep reading it. Eventually I got to the point where I could not stop reading it. I loved it.

The books main setting is that one a teenager wants, but the author goes into exploring the idea of no adults around, what would happen? In many a sense it is the school playground on a much larger scale. With no authority around, bullies can do whatever they want and the teenage utopia begins to crash. But there is more to it than that. You have the preschool children that need taking care of, if people get injured, they cannot be taken to a hospital because there are no doctors, food is abundant but will eventually run out, if a fire breaks out there is no fire brigade to tend to it and if there is a problem there is no police to call. Law and order will naturally break down until someone can step up. This idea is directed mainly at Sam who is seen as a possible leader; however he does not want the job despite constant poking from Astrid. A few days later though it is too late as the book’s main protagonists; Caine, Drake and Diana arrive to take control, and bring back law and order, but deep down they have sinister intentions. The books main point of chaos though comes from the strange new world that the kids inhabit. The barrier which prevents them from leaving, people gaining Mutant Abilities, creatures mutating, the approaching darkness and the fact that once your 15th birthday arrives you take the big poof. All of which takes place in an area that has become commonly known as the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone).

For most of the book, the story is told in the third person point of view. Each chapter though tells the story in relation to how a character thinks or feels. One chapter could involve Sam Temple saying, doing, moving and thinking, when the next one could involve Astrid saying, doing, moving and thinking making her the central character of context. It is through these perspectives that other characters begin to emerge. Characters like Mary Terrafino who looks after and takes care of the day care centre as well as her own personal problems as well as Lana who for most of the early part of the book is completely separate from everyone in the FAYZ with only her dog Patrick for company. The central character context of the book also allows the reader to gain insight into the minds of the antagonists of the book like Caine and Diana.

The author also draws upon inspiration and real events from the real world using these events to shape some of the more horrific events in the books. Ideas begin to come across including fear of the unknown, racism, the horrors of war and slavery. The fear of the unknown is much in many a case like the X-Men as you have Mutants vs Humans, which is the case here but this mostly leads to racism but only on a partial level as many can see that they also need those with mutant abilities to survive this new world. Slavery is an area which the book explores with great detail including how people become slaves. This angle is not featured until the early stages of about last third of the book, but the whole experience when reading it made me want to jump in and stop it all, because the book also represents how horrific slavery is and potentially can become particularly at the levels it represents in this book. This all leads to the eventual conflicts between groups to which the author may be drawing from experience as part of a military family. In many a case throughout this book it is showing how kids have to adapt and grow up because their imaginary world can’t happen. In a sense it makes childhood look like a safety barrier to the horrors of the real world that the parents are trying to protect them from. This may be another reason for the title as not only have all the adults gone, but so has the world they live and more and more each day it is becoming a lot more hostile and cruel.

After I first read The Hunger Games and the books I have read since then, I did not know if I would find a book that would be better than it, but I think I have. GONE, while being a larger book reveals more of the world than The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is taken from the first person perspective and shows the world around the main character while GONE takes a step back and looks at the world that has been created, but it also creates more than one story too. Each character has their own part in the story while also telling their own story, one that you want to keep reading to find out what happens. GONE is one amazing ride, from  the point of the world’s formation, through it’s struggles and hardships to it’s eventual dramatic conclusion, GONE is a book that everyone should have on their bookshelves.

GENEPOOL








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