Some Initial Thoughts On The Catch-22 Mini-Series – Episode One

I just finished watching the first episode of the new Catch-22 mini-series airing on Channel 4, and as its source material is my all-time favourite novel, I wanted to do post my reaction to it, along with some hopes for the future episodes. Technically, all episodes are already on Hulu, but I live in the UK and it is being drip-fed so I can only go off of the one episode as it is all I have currently seen.

For the unaware, Catch-22 primarily follows Captain Yossarian, an American bombardier stationed in Italy during the Second World War, who is very cross that thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. It is a slightly surreal anti-war satire which highlights the absurdity of war and the dangers of bureaucracy. It is also widely regarded as an ‘unfilmable’ novel, though that didn’t stop Mike Nichols from trying to turn it into a feature in the 1970s (with an almost perfect cast, Alan Arkin is the most Yossarian Yossarian that could ever Yossarian) with very little success. This time George Clooney has stepped up to the plate with this new mini-series but does it hold up?

Well, the good news is that the casting is pretty good. As said, I am a fan of the Mike Nichols casting (other than Art Garfunkel, who was a very odd choice) and honestly wasn’t sure I could see any other actors in certain roles, but I am pleasantly surprised by Christopher Abbott’s Yossarian – he sounds exactly like I have always imagined him to sound. I don’t think we’ve seen enough of the other characters yet to determine how good a pick they are (and haven’t met some of them) but I will say, so far, so good.

It is also really beautifully filmed – if you can call a war piece beautiful, there is some gore in this right off the bat. But the colours used really bring out the beauty of the Italian setting, which makes the death and destruction of war even more jarring. The CGI is actually quite good as well, considering it didn’t have a blockbuster budget.

Now, I don’t want to be one of those people who bemoan an adaptation because it isn’t exactly like the book, however right now I am one of those people. I know, I suck. It’s my favourite novel, cut me some slack – and surely the target audience is the readers anyway, so it matters somewhat. So I would be lying if I said there weren’t a few things that really bother me so far with this adaptation.

The first of these is the fact that – for the first episode at least – it is in chronological order. I appreciate that some people may view this as an improvement, non-linear storytelling is always going to be difficult to keep up with, but it is one of the things I love most about the novel. You follow so many different characters and often see the same event from multiple points of views but without context or full understanding of what is going on, and by the time you get that context, it hits that much harder. I’ve seen it explained as akin to getting the punchline before the joke, which is a great summation. I appreciate that this is not an easy literary device to adapt, but I feel like some of the magic and insanity is lost in telling the story chronologically. It isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, but I’m disappointed it is told in such a run-of-the-mill fashion.

The next irk is kind of petty, but because we are going chronologically, we have not yet met the Chaplain and therefore not experienced Yossarian falling instantaneously in love with him. This bothers me, but I’ll get over it, though the sooner he appears on the screen, the better.

My final nit-pick is truly the nit-pickiest nit-pick, but it honestly threw me and I am not a fan of this particular adaptational decision – Yossarian is not called Yossarian by anyone in the series, instead, he has been dubbed ‘YoYo’. Every character in the novel calls him Yossarian, the text always refers to him as Yossarian, the only time he is referred to as YoYo is in one chapter by inconsequential characters that he does not like. Why the fuck is he called YoYo in the series? Could they not work out the correct pronunciation for Yossarian? Yet the figured out Minderbinder? Honestly, the strangest choice to make in my opinion and I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the thing that annoyed me most. I’m petty, I know.

On the whole, I had pretty high expectations for this show, and so far I do feel a little letdown. It is only the first episode though, the next five could be spectacular, so I still hold out hope. Just please don’t make me call him YoYo.

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A Few First Impressions

I realised I am just at the beginning of quite a few different things, and thought it might be interesting to share my initial thoughts on them. I’ve not consumed enough to give a fully informed review, but you know what they say about first impressions – they tend to stick.

Though inevitably I’ll contradict myself later, after having written this post, when I say my opinion has changed. But that isn’t as catchy a saying – ‘first impressions stick, but also sometimes they won’t because things change, or perhaps you were stupid to decide something is absolute after only an initial impression because sometimes things take time‘.

Anyway, here are my (non-concrete) thoughts on stuff. First up, some skincare.

When I re-ordered my beloved Clinique cleanser, it arrived with a deluxe sample size of the Moisture Surge 72-Hour Auto-replenishing Hydrator – which is a very long-winded way to say ‘moisturiser‘. As I am trying to use up the beauty products that I have instead of constantly buying new products, when I ran out of my evening Boots Botanics Face Oil, I decided to replace it in my routine with this Clinique mouthful. The two are not the same, one is obviously an oil, which I tend to prefer at night as I find oils more moisturising and specifically rosehip oils good for acne scarring. And the other is a gel-cream, not something I tend to opt for even in the day, generally finding that gels do not give me the level of hydration I can get from a cream or oil. But, the lengthy name got me, with its promise of 72 hours worth of hydration. Plus, it was free, so, why not?

I’ve used it three times now, twice at night and once in the morning, just to work out where it fits best in my routine. I can’t say I have noticed a huge difference in my skin, but that isn’t surprising considering I have only just started to use it. I do have a few dry patches on my face at the moment and it does seem to have helped somewhat with softening them – though they are still there. It seems to layer well over the top of both my morning and evening serums, feels nice and lightweight, and it wore well underneath my makeup today as well. So, first impressions are not bad, I will keep using it, but my gut instinct tells me I’ll be back to oils once I’ve finished because I am a creature of habit.

On my Mum’s recommendation, I started watching True Detective Season 3, which follows the disappearance of two children in the 1980s being recalled by a detective suffering from memory loss in his old age. I enjoyed the first season of this anthology series by Nic Pizzolatto but thought the second was an incredibly dull parody of itself, so I was unsure about starting the third season, worried it would be more of the same. And I have to say, two episodes in, it does share some similarities to the first, but personally, I’m finding it as dull as the second. I’m unsure if I’m struggling with it because I’m simply not in the mood to watch a series with a heavier tone right now, or whether I am just no longer interested in the stories Pizzolatto writes. These are slow-paced series, dealing with serious crimes, with a saturated colour palette (that is how you know a show means serious business) and with characters that mumble more than they actually talk. Perhaps if I had never seen the first season or even the recent adaptation of Sharp Objects which has a somewhat comparable mystery, I would feel more invested and interested in this series, but at the moment it feels like a less gripping rehash, and I’m just not that into it.

In an attempt to combat the sombre tone of True Detective, I decided I wanted something more light-hearted and watched the first episode of After Life, the newest comedy show from Ricky Gervais about a man who has stopped caring about social etiquette after the death of his wife. It was something I had not intended to watch, as I don’t tend to get on with Gervais’ humour as much as I once did, finding it quite repetitive, but I saw a lot of good reviews and thought I’d give it a go. I’m only one episode in and think my gut instinct was right on this one – I have never laughed less at a comedy. To give the show its dues, it does toe the line between drama and comedy, what with the themes around death, but it definitely inclines more to comedy and it just is not to my taste. A lot of the scenes felt constructed for a specific punch line, which takes away any feeling of spontaneity – and, yes, I realise something that is filmed and edited cannot be spontaneous, but any joke made has to feel organic and of the moment especially if it is situational. That is part of what made The Office so great, it felt improvised and real even though it wasn’t. In contrast, everything in After Life feels scripted and forced, even in the choice of certain shots. And this is an issue for a show that is supposed to be grounded in real life and the ugly emotions felt while grieving – if it feels fake and forced in the more flippant moments then I will never buy the more serious scenes. But hey, it is one episode, maybe it gets better. And as it is a series that can be binged in around three hours, perhaps I should give it a second chance.

I’ve just started reading two books, the first of which is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, which is a multi-generational novel which starts with two Ghanaian sisters, one of whom marries a white colonizer and the other of whom gets sold into slavery. I believe each chapter follows a different member of the same family tree, so I have just finished each sister’s individual chapter and will now be moving on to a different character – one of their children perhaps. I liked both the chapters that I read, the contrast between the two and the way the interlinked was really interesting, and I have to say I am disappointed to not be following them for longer. I’m curious as to how I’ll get on with following multiple characters, it normally isn’t something I like or look for, but the first two chapters were beautifully written and incredibly powerful so I am eager to read on and see how it all connects by the end.

The other book I have started is The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, which is a retelling of The Iliad (I guess? I’m not good with Greek myths) and the myth of Achilles, who would’ve guessed it? I picked this up because Miller’s recent novel, Circe has been doing the rounds, and I saw it on offer in the Kindle store and thought I would start with her debut novel. I’m less than fifty pages in, but so far I really it. In terms of a retelling, it feels like everything I wanted The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood to be, in that it appears to actively be retelling and redefining the original tale – though it is worth mentioning I don’t know that much about The Iliad, so who knows. If it keeps on in the direction I think it is headed then I think I’ll love this novel, but obviously, anything could happen in the next three hundred pages, so I am cautiously hopeful.

Those are all of my first impressions, let’s see if they last.

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Five Favourite Things from February

I thought I’d do a round-up of a few things (books, film, beauty, etc.) that I discovered and loved during the last month.

My favourite book that I read last month was If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin, which is about a young black couple falling in love and their struggles when one of them is wrongfully imprisoned. This is so beautifully written, it weaves back and forth in time, from character to character but I never felt lost in the narrative. The characters are well realised and themes handled delicately, and powerfully. Like most of Baldwin’s work, the issues surrounding racial inequality are unfortunately just as relevant today as they were in the 1970s, it does not feel dated, though it absolutely should. He is fast becoming one of my favourite writers, I had previously read Giovanni’s Room, and whilst I enjoyed the prose, the story and characters did not stick with me in the way they have in If Beale Street Could Talk. I definitely need to start working my way through his back catalogue.

Somewhat related to fiction, my favourite Youtube video of the month was a video Matthew Sciarappa made on poetry, and why you absolutely can read and understand it. He made some brilliant and encouraging points that I think really need to be made about poetry, a written form that is often seen as something only ‘intellectuals’ can enjoy and broke down that very idea. It’s a great and emboldening video, which I hope has gotten a few people to give the art form a go.

February was a pretty film heavy month for me, as I tried to watch as many of the Oscar-nominated films I could before this year’s ceremony, but despite having watched twelve films – which is more time-consuming than you might imagine – I found most of them kind of disappointing. At best, some of them were just enjoyable films, without much to note, at worst, they were Bohemian Rhapsody (seriously why is this film so adored? Is it just because of the soundtrack? Is it because of Malek? Is it because we all wish we could have been at Live Aid?) But thankfully, there were a couple that I absolutely adored.

The first of which is First Reformed, which is about a Reverend who begins to grapple with his own spirituality and past while trying to counsel a radicalized environmentalist parishioner. It is a film about guilt, grief and the many causes and forms it takes and how we deal with complacency in the face of large issues. It is what I would describe as a ‘quiet’ film, it moves slowly but steadily and is more of a character study than a plot-heavy film. That said, I’d really advise not watching a trailer for this as it gives a bit too much away – I went in blind, and I’m so glad that I did because by the time the final act kicked in I was genuinely on the edge of my seat, simultaneously feeling like I had no idea what was coming but also an intense dread that I did. This film is masterful, everything from the way it is shot, the script and the performance from Ethan Hawke; is so well done, I don’t think it is a stretch to call it Paul Schrader’s magnum opus. Think of it as Taxi Driver for modern times – which is to say, if you didn’t get along with Taxi Driver, you probably won’t like this. It isn’t a film for everyone, I think the ending especially will leave some feeling unsatisfied, but for me, the whole film was damn near perfection and an instant favourite.

The second film is The Favourite, a period piece about two women’s rivalry for power and favour from Queen Anne. I’m sure I don’t need to go too much into this, we’ve all heard about it, and if we weren’t all completely besotted with Olivia Coleman before the Oscars, we are now. I loved how darkly funny and odd and tragic this film is, but again, not a film for everyone. I’m genuinely surprised that most of the people who I know who have watched this film didn’t think much of it. I don’t know if it’s because of the ending that it’s throwing people off or people were expecting something… different? Funnier, maybe? I don’t know, it was everything I expected and wanted and more, the only real criticism I have is that the score was too repetitive and began to get on my nerves after a while, but that is just me being picky.

Honourable mention goes to At Eternity’s Gate for containing one of my favourite performances of all time in Willem Dafoe as Vincent Van Gogh. He was robbed of an Oscar, that’s all I’ll say on that.

Finally, a beauty favourite of the month was the Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm. This isn’t actually new to me, but I ran out of it in February and replaced it with a sample I had of the Fresh Soy Face Cleanser, which I immediately regretted once a string of painful spots appeared on my chin. I swiftly placed an order to replace my Clinique balm and have been happy ever since. To compare the two (and they are very different products), the Fresh cleanser had more of a gel texture, was difficult to apply and felt more drying in contrast to the Clinique, which turns into more of an oily texture when applied, and never leaves my skin feeling stripped. And it doesn’t break me out. I was a fool to stray away, and I won’t be making that mistake again!

So those are my five favourite things from February, hopefully I’ll figure out a way to tone down the wall of text by next month!

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