Kicking off the New Year in style, you can see my latest fashion editorial in this month’s issue of Féroce Magazine! Celebrating the 55th anniversary of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, this shoot reinterprets some of Audrey Hepburn’s most iconic looks through the lens of men’s fashion. Shot in New York, and utilising the actual filming locations from the movie, John was styled using a combination of modern and vintage pieces to recreate Holly Golightly’s timeless style from a male perspective.

You can buy the magazine in digital or print form now over on MagCloud!

Mark Liddell 2017 | Facebook | Flickr | Instagram | Website

Happy New Year! 🎊🎉 Here’s to the extinction of 2016.

T. rex necklace by The White Fire.
Conroy leather jacket from AllSaints.

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Averaging about 6 movies a month (and 75 in total), it’s fair to say I got my money’s worth out of my Cineworld Unlimited card in 2016. What’s less clear is whether I was blown away by any of them in the way I was in 2015 with Still Alice: a solid 10/10 in a way that nothing last year really came close to. (Indeed, if I were going purely by films I saw at the cinema in 2016 vs those released that year, I’d probably appoint The Force Awakens my favourite on account of seeing it again for the third time in January.)

Categories that typically shine were uncharacteristically dull: Oscar-bait drama Room was marred by a clumsy soundtrack whose every chord was calculated to dictate what the viewer should be feeling at any given moment; The Danish Girl was commendably gorgeous to look at (and shares a cinematographer with Room in Danny Cohen), but while people were divided on the subject of casting a cisgender actor in the lead role, it unquestionably denies transgender people the ability to tell their own stories by adapting David Ebershoff’s highly fictionalised retelling of Lili Elbe’s life and not her own (readily available) notes and letters. With the exception of the hilarious Deadpool, even superhero movies in 2016 were pedestrian: Marvel’s other efforts were entirely forgettable, and it’s hard to say which major DC franchise audiences hated more. (For my money, Batman v Superman was infinitely worse, but that’s hardly a compliment. You’d think Suicide Squad screenings came with a mandatory waterboarding the way people reacted, but it would be a kindness to describe it as anything beyond “watchable”.)

Adjusting the judging criteria then to films I enjoyed purely for enjoyment’s sake, it fell to a different genre entirely to pick up the slack: which is why – in ranking the movies of 2016 – I’m awarding my top pick to:

Best: Moana

In a year of Brexits, Trumps and the statistical probability that one of your childhood heroes died in 2016 (RIP Carrie Fisher), it’s perhaps unsurprising that I found so much comfort in the escapism of animated movies. Admittedly, Moana might not be the most original entry in the Disney ouevre: a plucky outsider with an animal sidekick sings her way through a quest narrative, with echoes of (to name a few) The Little Mermaid’s cloistered princess longing for a wider world, Mulan’s (im)perfect daughter railing against familial expectations, and The Lion King’s reluctant ruler with a deceased relative spirit guide. If there’s a certain familiarity to the storyline, however, it’s executed so masterfully that you’ll soon find yourself swept along on the journey regardless. Moana eschews the archetypal lynchpins of a princess narrative (she’s perfectly capable of saving herself, and the love story is one of self-acceptance and empowerment), and while I could easily praise the beauty of the animation, its greatest strength is in the telling. It unfolds so delightfully that I laughed, smiled and, yes, cried my way through the entire thing (minus one overlong sequence involving a villainous crab) and have been singing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s soundtrack on a daily basis ever since.

Runner-Up: Kubo and the Two Strings

For almost every reason I loved Moana, but with my personal kryptonite from a childhood of Ray Harryhausen movies: stop-motion animation! Bonus points for a kid’s movie that dares to go darker.

Honourable Mentions: tapping into that other outlet for escapism: mindless violence – Green Room (tense, claustrophobic, brutally droll, and unapologetically violent) and Don’t Breathe (which cost me the majority of my fingernails).

Worst: Midnight Special

Choosing the best movie might have required some thought, but the same definitely can’t be said for the worst, which goes – unequivocally – to this dreary, shambling, plotless pile of crap. With each passing minute, I became further infuriated with the complete lack of storyline masquerading as the film’s central “mystery”, and the only improvement that could have been made is if I’d gone with my gut instinct and walked out after the first half hour. Just the absolute worst.

Runner-Up: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Here partially facetiously (but also kind of not), perhaps Rogue One wasn’t the second-worst movie I saw last year, but it was definitely the biggest disappointment. Despite having two elements almost guaranteed to win me over (to wit: a female lead, and having Star Wars in the title) one could argue that Rogue One was a victim of its own self-generated hype – trying and failing to live up to the success of the blindingly impressive Episode VII – but truth be told: it’s just not very good. From the opening sequence onwards, the movie jumps with no real focus from one forgettably-named planet to another like some faceless masturbator on Chatroulette, and never really finds its footing from there. Every actor feels like they’re starring in a different movie, with special mention to Forest Whitaker who leaves no piece of scenery unchewed, and the rest of the cast so bland and forgettable that I quite literally struggled to recall anyone’s name besides Jyn’s the minute the credits rolled. Chirrut Imwe (whose name I had to google to write this) is a blind martial artist who not only feels utterly out of place in a galaxy far, far away but is a character trope so clichéd as to have his own category on TVTropes.org; and not since Jinkx Monsoon’s “Water off a duck’s back” have I been so irritated by a repetitive and monotonous catchphrase as “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me”. He’s also a victim of the script’s second worst offense, when – after having a bag placed over his head – he responds: “Are you kidding me?” [OK, that’s pretty funny] “I’m blind.” [Sigh. The writers didn’t place enough faith in the audience to assume they’d get the joke without someone spelling it out for them.] though that doesn’t even begin to compare to Darth Vader’s actual. fucking. pun. of “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director” whilst Force-choking said character. (Not for nothing: the director of Rogue One would do well to have heeded his own advice during production.)

Problems like these contribute to a movie which ultimately just doesn’t feel like it belongs in the same universe as the established movies (discounting the prequels), and the frequent parade of cameos (everyone from series mainstays R2-D2 and C-3PO, to Cantina extras Ponda Baba and Doctor Evazan) feel crammed in and tacked on to remind the viewer: “no, really – you’re watching a Star Wars film regardless of what you might be feeling.” Maybe the alarm bells should have been ringing the minute George Lucas – notably outspoken about The Force Awakens – voiced his approval of the finished product.

Even if I could have forgiven the film it’s many other faults, however, its greatest crime is reserved for the indignity it inflicts on the late Peter Cushing and (now, tragically) Carrie Fisher: with some of the most horrendously ill-conceived, suspension-of-disbelief-shattering CGI since that digital baby in the last Twilight movie. Plumbing the depths of the uncanny valley, Grand Moff Tarkin and (young) Princess Leia are resurrected so unconvincingly as to jar you out of every scene they appear in, jerking mechanically through the sets like they’ve just crawled out of the movie’s inevitable video game tie-in. With the film happy to recast Mon Mothma and – soon – Han Solo for his own tie-in movie, it’s an inexplicable choice not to have another actor play the part: not least because Cushing-alike Guy Henry not only voices Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One but provided all of the motion capture for the monstrosity which eventually appeared on screen. Equally, Princess Leia – for the one line she utters – could just as easily been shown from behind: the white robe and distinctive hair buns alone providing even the least Star Wars-knowledgeable audience members enough to gather who was speaking. Beyond just this movie, the ramifications for what it means for Episode VIII onward in Fisher’s absence is a chilling thought.

Dishonourable Mention: Storks, which I walked out of but will forgive on account of being marketed to 10-and-unders.

Here’s looking ahead with more hope for 2017!

Wherein my family kept the Disney Store in business for another year.

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Seasonal round-up, mostly featuring cat pictures.

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Mark Liddell 2016 | Facebook | Flickr | Instagram | Website

Last night, I had the tremendous joy and sadness of celebrating the life of Mrs Nora Bartlett at the School of English in St Andrews. The number of people in attendance, and the memories and passages read in her honour, were a testament to the love (and hilarity) she inspired in all of us. This is the story I shared:

I had the great privilege of studying under Nora for four years at St Andrews, though it wasn’t – ironically – until our first disagreement that I had the infinitely greater pleasure of becoming her friend. During an otherwise unassuming tutorial session, our group digressed from the subject of contemporary fiction to classical cinema – in particular, It’s a Wonderful Life: which you might know as the James Stewart Christmas movie classic, but might not know as one of my most hated films of all time. Well, I made the mistake of vocalising this opinion to the group; which caused Nora to stop dead in her tracks and tell me, in no uncertain terms, that I was “perfectly wrong” on the matter and required immediate edification. No sooner had I got home that evening than I checked my emails to discover a missive from Nora that began with the phrase “I hate to see such a clever person languishing in the outer darkness”, and followed with a lengthy critique of the movie in question; enumerating the myriad ways in which I’d misjudged the film and should revise my opinion immediately. (She also sent a follow-up email the next day which read, “Mark, just to check if I said anything manifestly insane about IAWL yesterday. I was getting ill and also trying to get it all down before I got interrupted; which perhaps explains what happens to commas and full stops in undergraduate work.”)

Now, it was a very compelling argument, and a valiant effort to make me see the error of my ways; though sadly unsuccessful because I confess that, to this day, I still find the movie saccharine to the point of cavity-inducing. But, whilst that was the one subject Nora and I were never able to agree on, it did have the happy side effect of leading to years of subsequent correspondence on the many other things we did share: chief among them our love of animals. Just to preface that, I have no greater life’s ambition than to become a crazy cat lady, and Nora had written, in her own words, “encyclopaedically”, about the passing of her cats over the years (including one named Lionel after the actor who played Mr Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life). Describing one visit to London, she told me that her greatest highlight was the discovery of a monument at the Animals in War Memorial depicting all the animals who have won the Dickin Medal (which is the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross): including 32 pigeons, 18 dogs, 3 horses, and – we both thought rather unfairly – just one cat.

We also continued to exchange our opinions of movies (she told me, for instance, that’s she’d learned of the “distressing existence” of a 1997 made-for-TV remake of It’s a Wonderful Life called Merry Christmas, Mr Bailey: and noted, “How I hate remakes. The cast list is like a horror movie in itself.”) and of course literature; where I learned that she used to hate Shakespeare’s sonnets until she taught them and afterwards liked them immensely: especially the rhyming. “I’m crazy about rhymes,” she said, “but you may be amused to know my sister considers the ability to produce or enjoy rhyme a form of brain damage.”

I also came to learn of her endlessly fascinating life prior to her teaching career, including her time as a salesgirl in a Jenners Department store, a social worker in Manchester, a travel agent, and such wonderfully non-sequitur biographical details as how she was taught to cook by a dwarf. Similarly, I now owe a great deal of my own more colourful CV-builders to Nora; like the years I spent in Japan as a teacher with the JET Programme, which I’d never have known about were it not for my mentioning my love of Japan to Nora who told me that her daughter, Penelope, had gone out there with JET, and helped me through the whole, year-long application process; providing advice and references throughout.

And, as invariably happens when you experience life alongside someone for long enough, we talked about loss. Nora told me she thought the loss of animals particularly terrible, because their lives are so brief and without guile; and because very few people outside the family get to know how monumental they are. And in that sense, I think it’s wonderful that her life was so abundant with stories, and that generations of people, ourselves included, were able to experience the gift of her company.

When I was notified of this event, I read Dr Jones’ request that we read a poem or passage that made us think of Nora. I’ve been thinking about it in the weeks since, and, in spite of everything, what I keep returning to is this quote from the movie which Nora so loved, and I so vehemently did not: It’s a Wonderful Life. In the words of the angel, Clarence:

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”