Blue Heart, Blue Stars

Here are some drawings, featuring stars who care and cats who scratch (please obey all cats or face terrifying repercussions). ✶☾*。・

The Best Films I Watched Last Year

I know it's a bit late now, but I thought I'd share a list of some favourite films that I watched in that long lost time we call 2016. Quite a few of these films are from the 2013 - 2015 period, because that's just the staggered rate at which I tend to see a lot of films, but there's also some earlier gems. Let's take a look at them.

Rogue One (2016)

This was the last film I saw, just a couple of days before the end of the year, and it was one of the most satisfying films I saw all year. Almost every component of this one just really hit the spot for me - a great story, a perfect sarcastic robot, Mads Mikkelsen being incredible as always, and an ending that felt gratifying and appropriately bittersweet.

Spy (2015) 

In Spy, there's a running joke about the possible romance between Miranda Hart and 50 Cent, and it's amazing. That's all I'm going to say about this one.

Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

This is such a unique, surreal, and darkly funny story. Al Pacino is a bank robber who ends up on live TV news coverage. The bank ladies are probably my favourite element of the film (they are gleeful hostages). It's just... good.

Saving Private Ryan (1998)

I'm not sure how I managed to go so long without seeing this film, but I watched it in 2016 and it is a stunning piece of film-making. The humanity of each character is so expertly shown through various directorial choices, and the whole film is so touching.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

This is another film which has lots of shots and sound design and use of visuals that you can pick out and marvel over. The post-apocalyptic world feels very real and dense thanks to lots of tiny, well thought out design elements that build a strong sense of culture within the film's universe. It's a film that touches on a lot of interesting concepts concerning society, community, and liberation.

Obvious Child (2014)

This is a heart-warming story about one woman's abortion. I watched a few films that dealt with this topic last year (including one that featured Cher as a doctor - If These Walls Could Talk), but this one deals with it in a really interesting way. Comedy is central (the protagonist is a comedian), but the film knows exactly when to be serious, and to express vulnerability and fragility. It's a very hopeful story, and I really enjoyed its approach to its themes.

Badlands (1973)

Sissy Spacek is the perfect shell-shocked and suggestible teenager in this brilliant film about a Bonny and Clyde-esque escapade which feels very sleepy and wide and sunkissed.

Dead Leaves (2004)

Lastly, Dead Leaves. How do I explain Dead Leaves? It is a wonderfully fast-paced, angular animated film about two characters who attempt to break out of prison. It's crass in a clever way and the whole thing feels like a long dream in the way that things loop and erupt continuously. It's very weird, kinda short, and a bit magical.

Cats & Strawberries: Cute SNOW Gifs ✶☾*。・

Sometimes you just want to put twitching pixel cat whiskers on your face, or have cutesy pastel pink strawberries float all around you like some kind of bizarre yet adorable fruit blizzard. Luckily, we are now granted the glorious technology to do these important and necessary things - or at least, to make it appear so for cute pictures and videos - thanks to SNOW.

SNOW is a perfect little app that mimics Snapchat, but with way cuter filters, and I am extremely pleased by it. I don't know what it is about putting cat ears and bear paws upon my person, but making stuff in SNOW makes me super happy. It's my passion now.

Expect all further blog posts to include at least twelve gifs of this kind.*

*Okay, not really, but that would be fun.


As you may know, I love to do lots of happy little paintings of [Ned Flanders voice] nothing at all, but sometimes I like to add a little smiley face in there to truly hammer in the happiness. It's possible that the happiest smiley face is actually the smiley face with a smile that is just barely turned up at the sides, denoting a blissfully unaware state of relaxed contentment rather than a cheek-dimplingly deep smile of over-exerted glee. Also, please use 'dimplingly' in any future writing, just because I would enjoy that. Anyway, whichever smiley face most adequately represents true happiness is up to you. I will paint as many smileys as necessary amidst a forest of purple brushstrokes.

My #1 Goodreads Hack

I've been using Goodreads to keep track of my reading for several years now, and one thing I always notice on the site, as well as in online book communities in which people are very visible about what they are reading and when, is that people end up feeling pressured with their reading. Everyone throws around numbers and long TBR* lists, and there is this implicit sense of competition. Maybe you're not good enough of a reader because you've only read [insert number here] books this year.

One particular elements that drives some of this stress is the Goodreads reading challenge component. Everyone can type in their desired number into this profile module and then enjoy a growing percentage bar as they work towards their goal of books read this year.

Now, I like this feature a lot. It's a quick and easy way to see some stats about my reading progress, and I love having these figures for previous years to compare against. I like getting a quick look at how much other people have read so far. It's interesting. The problem is when there's a sense of pressure to read a certain amount of books that gets stressful for people, and gets in the way of their enjoyment of reading. Most of us have probably forced ourselves to finish a book we didn't like. because hey, you gotta finish what you start, right? But that can be made worse with a goal system like this that adds a new element of gamification to your reading, giving you an incentive to increase that number rather than actually enjoy yourself, It can turn a leisure activity into a race.

I decided this year to change the way I fill in the reading challenge. I set my goal to one book. And there, it's already done. Quick as a flash. My plan is to change it right around the end of December to the closest number (ending in zero or five) to the amount of books I've read. That way I get the record of the approximate amount of books I ended up at, but without an initial goal number to aim for and distract me while I'm reading.

I don't think people are less accomplished for having read fewer books in a year. I care about what they read and why. I care about where they were when they were reading, what they were surrounded by and thinking about, whether they cried, or laughed, or got biscuit crumbs on the most intense page because they didn't want to put the book down.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar a hundred times. Truly the greatest literature of our time.

*TBR = to be read

Small Things

Most of us probably get caught up in whatever we're doing a lot of the time, and it's good to have a focus and some kind of routine, but I always think it's important to take a step back and try to be mindful of all the small things around us which are a part of our lives and a huge influence on our happiness. So this is a post about some small things, some nice little moments.

I always notice making little drawings and paintings and sitting in some morning sunlight to absent-mindedly draw something is a big thing I do to relax and take a breather. Actually, often the same things that I do for projects and plan tasks around I also use to relax with. I guess that's one reason I enjoy being quite introspective, because that kind of switch happens a lot. I don't use particular things to wind down with as much as I do very similar things but switch my mindset to one where I can do fun creative stuff without taking it too seriously or working towards a particular goal.

There's a big overlap between doing stuff purely for fun and doing the same stuff with more of a structured goal and work ethic. This is extra nice, because I get to mix and match things that I made less seriously with other, more considered projects and ideas. It's all a fun jumble that allows me (and reminds me) to relax and enjoy myself.

Here is a tiny, silent video of some nice small moments from recently:

Don't forget to sit back and enjoy all the things in life that bring you a sense of calm, relaxation, and joy!

Book Review: The Phantom Of The Opera - Gaston Leroux

★★★★★: Spooky underwater hell opera kidnapping rescue romance time with THE GHOST!

The Phantom of the Opera has been a huge cultural phenomenon since 1986 saw the release of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical adaptation of the story. Now, full disclosure, I haven't seen the musical. The only film version I've seen is the 1925 silent movie, which already felt like quite a departure from the book in some respects - but this is probably inevitable. To me a lot of what made the 1910 book so enjoyable was the sense of atmosphere that I'm not sure can be created in the same way on film or onstage.

It's obvious to me at this point that I love Victorian melodrama, gothic horror stories, and tales of daring rescue (given that I loved Baroness Emma Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel so much). I was already pretty sure I was going to love this book before I read it, and I was not disappointed.

In Leroux's book, there is a beautiful co-mingling of tongue-in-cheek melodrama ("We will lodge a complaint against THE GHOST"), genuine horror and an unfaltering sense of confusion regarding whether our villain is truly of this world, as well as a sincere, passionate, and sort of frenetic romance which is in peril for all of the book's length. Raoul is an anxious, slightly petulant, but ultimately endearing character. Perhaps it says a lot about me that I deeply relate to the man who at one point must restrain himself from crying out "I am jealous! I am jealous! I am jealous!" - but really, I love Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. He is youthfully immature and dramatic, but understandably so amongst the confusion and mysteries of the opera house. He's a good lad and I wish the best for him.

The book manages to make most, if not all of its characters quite complex and sympathetic. I've heard the novel described as "pulpy" but to me it felt quite emotionally dense. Erik, THE OPERA GHOST, is a skillfully written character. Whilst he is our villain (and in this version his "romance" with Christine Daaé is entirely unrequited, which I think ultimately tells a much more compelling and poignant story), we come to understand his motives. Most importantly, Erik has a character arc here which allows him humanity and redemption. He is condemned for his actions, yes, but he has opportunity within the narrative to be both tortured and compassionate. He is not a two-dimensional monster who gets his comeuppance, nor is he an anti-hero whose actions are waved away under a titillating cultural notion of sexy, dangerous romance (as some later adaptations would lean towards).

Christine operates on this fine line between shell-shocked, confused, strongly religiously influenced and possibly demonically spellbound, and someone who is cunning in her moments of realisation. She is close to being a damsel in distress initially, but ultimately this story is one that centres on her realising and asserting her own autonomy. She has a cluelessness and a great deal of easily manipulated compassion about her. She is a woman torn between her own needs and a sense of duty to meet the needs of others. This is why I prefer this portrayal of Erik's affections as unrequited.

Overall I just have so much love for this book and all its weird, silly, spooky, intense atmosphere, its engaging characters, and the fascinating setting of the Paris opera house. The story is compelling and effectively spooky, the characters are well-explored, and by the end of the book I felt like I had traversed something genuine. I also really appreciated the little touches of humour here and there that add a little extra touch of depth in tone to the story.

It's also given me what will henceforth serve as my life motto:

"Don't touch me! I am Red Death stalking abroad!"