Monday, 9 January 2012

Helena Bonham Carter: The Thinking Woman's Icon.

In a world that seems to be increasingly populated by TOWIE clones and try-hard "hipsters" such as Sienna Miller, Fearne Cotton, et al. Helena Bonham Carter stands alone as the quintessential British eccentric. And I adore her for it.
"I hate this image of me as a prim Edwardian," she once said, "I want to shock everyone." And shock, she most certainly does. Unlike most women in the showbiz sphere, Helena has never attempted to fit in with the size-zero wannabe Barbie doll brigade and she isn't afraid to look frankly ridiculous, both in the parts she plays and the way she dresses. It's this fearlessness that makes HBC such a huge inspiration for me.
As a woman, I look at the women who the press seem to be obsessed with and find it increasingly difficult to relate to a single one of them. I will never be a Kardashian or a WAG and I honestly don't aspire to be like women like that. Maybe I am in the minority but the women I admire are those who have something more to be proud of than a pair of silicone-enhanced bazookas, a fake tan and a trashy "reality" show to their credit. I have no desire to look like a cheap copy of 95% of the so-called celebrities that I am bombarded with on a day-to-day basis. What really impresses me are genuinely successful women who have made their name for reasons other than an affair with a married celebrity or simply getting their boobs out in whatever tacky mag will have them. If they happen to be beautiful as well as successful then they are damn lucky, but that isn't what defines them. Helena Bonham Carter is one such woman.
Helena actually does have a beautiful face - amazing cheekbones, smouldering eyes - but what sets her apart is her ordinariness when it comes to her looks. "I've never had white teeth," she says. "To be honest, I've never been told to do any of those horrible things - get your teeth whitened or your nose straightened." Thank the good Lord, too! For it is these things that make her something that most modern-day celebrities are not; a relatable human being. Helena looks like someone you might meet in real-life. She isn't so far removed from you or I, in fact.
Apart, that is, from her crazy sense of style.
Helena is never afraid to wear, quite simply, whatever the hell she wants! Don't get me wrong, more often than not I look at her choice of outfits with a mixture of horror and amusement, but what really impresses me is her sense of independent style. She really doesn't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks and for that I take my hat off to her.
"Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong," she concedes. "But fashion is all about having fun. I think fashion has been hijacked by the fashion industry creating rules on what one should wear and I feel like breaking the mould and seeing that the world won't crumble."
This is a message that should speak to all of us. Who says that you can't wear that dress with bare legs and no tan? Who invented the rule that black and brown together are a no-no? Who first decided that double denim was a disaster? And why the hell am I listening to them? Life is short damn it and if I feel like wearing brown boots with a black coat then sod it, I should do it. But alas, unlike Helena, I just don't have the confidence to be my own person often enough. Yes, I'm ashamed to say that I too allow myself to be dictated to by the likes of crazily-dressed middle-aged "experts" who are lauded as iconic fashion designers (yes, I'm talking to you, Zandra Rhodes).
But what about Lady Gaga? I hear you cry. Well, yes, no-one can argue that she is an, ahem, eccentric
dresser, but could you actually dress like Gaga in everyday life without being carted off in a straight-jacket? I suspect not. Helena, however, manages to be eccentric and shocking without resorting to the publicity-seeking stunts of wearing raw meat dresses and the like. She achieves individuality by simply wearing mis-matched shoes on the red carpet at the Golden Globe awards, or taking her daughter out for a stroll dressed as a kind of mad ragdoll in pantaloons.
"I'm often criticized for what I wear," Helena says. "That's my main label in the press now: disastrous dresser!" Maybe so, but she is also a breathtakingly brilliant actress with two Oscar nominations under her belt and a newly-awarded CBE. Even more impressive when you consider that her film roles have been almost as off-the-wall as her wardrobe.
Even Helena's personal life is unconventional. She and her partner, Tim Burton, famously live in adjoining properties rather than sharing a house together, and yet their relationship has so far survived ten years and two children. No mean feat
in the world of showbiz. Clearly they are doing something right and if it works for them then why not? Why be pressured to live in the "normal" way if it doesn't suit you?
Finally, I return to what I see as Helena's most admirable trait. Her unashamed humanity. Unlike the Victoria Beckhams of this modern age, who somehow find it fundamentally impossible to even raise a smile instead of a pout, Helena is the kind of person who could fit right in at your local.
"I drink booze, I smoke, and I'm hooked on caffeine. I actually have been known to swear at times and belch and even raise my voice when provoked. And I'm not physically repressed!"
Helena Bonham Carter, I salute you!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Shows you would love but have probably never heard of (or My First Blog).

It's a shiny new year and one of my resolutions this time around is to
write more often. A blog seems like a good way to achieve this. So in order to get the awkward first post out of the way, I'm just going to write about something that I know a lot about - obscure TV shows, natch.
Earlier this week I lamented on my facebook account that I wished I had something good to watch. Around this time last year I was totally obsessed with Forbrydelsen (the Danish orginal version of The Killing). Sarah Lund and her fabulous knitwear had me completely captivated and I can't think of another new show that has caught my attention in quite the same way since. What I can do however is reminisce about some of the other hidden TV gems I've discovered over the years that I seriously wish more people knew about, if only for the fact that maybe then they would have survived more than a couple of seasons...

Mongrels (2010 - present)

The only show on my list that is still on the air, Mongrels is probably an acquired taste. An "adult" puppet show, some of the jokes are a bit crass but nevertheless bloody funny. Katy Brand and Paul Kaye (a.k.a. Dennis Pennis) are among the voice cast; Brand as the aggressive and outspoken Kali the pigeon and Kaye as Vince the foul-mouthed, violent and hilarious fox. The other mongrels are Destiny the self-obsessed, vain Afghan hound, Nelson the educated, gentlemanly, metrosexual fox, and Marion the silly stray cat who has an accent of undetermined origin. Each episode contains a musical number and a bizarre guest appearance by a celeb like Danny Dyer or Vanessa Feltz. The second series just finished airing on BBC3 but the first is available on DVD from Amazon at the insanely affordable £5.49.

Party Down (2009 - 2010)

Party Down aired on the American premium subscription network Starz. The story of a group of actors working for a catering company in L.A. while they await their big Hollywood break, this was beautifully understated. Each episode centred around a different party that Party Down were catering. The humour was very similar to a Ricky Gervais offering and much like The Office, there was a will-they, won't they storyline between two of the characters, Henry and Casey (True Blood's Lizzy Caplan). The first-series cast included the always sublime Jane Lynch, who was replaced by the almost-as-wonderful Megan Mullally (Will & Grace's Karen) for the second series after Lynch struck gold with Glee. Sadly, Party Down appears to have been too subtle and smart for the American audience and it was put out to pasture after two brilliant seasons. *Sad face*

Wonderfalls (2004)

Wonderfalls was truly wonderful. *sigh* The tale of Jaye Tyler, a philosophy graduate who via a sequence of bad choices had ended up living in a trailer park and working in a Niagara Falls gift shop (hence the series title).
After her nerdy, inept co-worker is promoted ahead of her, Jaye seems to have a sort of mental breakdown in which inanimate objects appear to be talking to her. At first Jaye tries to ignore the voices but after a while, in a bid to silence them, she finds herself doing the things they are instructing her to do. This sounds a lot creepier than it actually is because what the objects want Jaye to do are acts of kindness that will benefit those around her. Each episode features a different talking object and a different mission for Jaye, who is convinced she is losing her mind. Alongside all this she is also dealing with her crazy over-achieving family and falling in love with the local (hot) barman. A refreshingly different concept with amazing potential, Wonderfalls was axed after just four episodes aired in the US. A subsequent fan campaign led to a full-series DVD release and here in Blighty, the show was aired in it's entirety on Sky 1. If you have a region 1 DVD player then I would urge you to buy the boxset, or no doubt you could find it online if you know where to look.

Dead Like Me (2003 - 2004)

Georgia "George" Lass was just 18 years old when she was killed in a freak accident by a falling toilet seat, but that's where her story begins. After her death, George is recruited by the mysterious Rube as a reaper who must reap the souls from those who have died in traumatic circumstances - accidents, suicide, murder, etc. George's fellow reapers all have issues with their passings in a variety of tragic ways which we discover over the course of the series and all the reapers, including George, have earthly identities and false appearances in order to remain in the land of the living. George struggles to cope with being dead, becoming a reaper and holding down a 9-5 job, while we also see her family (mother, father and younger sister) struggling to come to terms with their loss. Dead Like Me ran for two series in 2003 and 2004 and was briefly brought back from the dead itself in 2009 with a straight-to-DVD release of a 90 minute feature.

The 4400 (2004 - 2007)

You know how sometimes people go missing and there is absolutely no trace of them ever again and you wonder how on earth anyone can just disappear like that? Well, imagine if they suddenly reappeared all at once just as they were when they went missing. That was the concept behind The 4400, so-called because of the number of people who return from nowhere in the pilot episode. The returnees were the victims of alien abductions and despite the fact that they were taken over a very long period, they are all brought back to earth at the same point in time, none of them having aged a day since their disappearance. This results in a lot of frightened members of the public and a lot of displaced returnees who suddenly find themselves in a world that has changed. To make matters more complicated, none of the returnees can remember what happened after their abduction and each of them finds themselves altered in some way. The US Department of Homeland Security is charged with investigating the case of the 4400 and initially each episode tells the story of one of the returnees, although this stopped being the centrepiece of future episodes as the overall story arc developed. The 4400 ran for four glorious seasons but could easily have continued for many more given the rich tapestry of characters and ideas the show possessed.

United States of Tara (2009 - 2011)

Toni Collette plays a woman who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, an illness that causes the personality of the affected to split into several different characters. DID usually develops as a kind of coping mechanism within the sufferer after a traumatic experience. Tara knows that something happened to make her the way she is but she is unable to remember the details of what the incident was and her alternate personalities seem to want to protect Tara from the truth and prevent her from regaining her memory. In addition to her "alters," Tara also has to deal with her dysfunctional family - her bitchy sister, her precocious teenage daughter, her young gay son and her devoted but down-trodden husband, played by SATC's divine John Corbett. Collette effectively plays about ten different characters in the series including a slutty teenage alter named T and a coarse, Vietnam vet named Buck, and is mind-bogglingly brilliant at all of them. The series was created by Diablo Cody, the genius behind Juno, and was executive produced by Steven Spielberg, but bizarrely was never picked up by a UK channel. It ran for three seasons in the US on the Showtime cable network before being axed last summer, despite solid ratings.

So that's my first blog entry and my pick of little-known television gems. Are there any you'd like to recommend to me?