DC’s latest superhero film Aquaman reviewed and discussed!
The Star Wars franchise is in a strange place at the moment. As fans, we’re getting more content than ever before, across a wide array of mediums (comics, books, television and of course, the films) yet the fanbase is more divided than ever. The last major blockbuster releases have both been met with less than positive results, with some outraged at The Last Jedi and others (like me) simply not impressed with Solo.
This is where the novels come in. The now “canon” books that are being churned out are for the most part simply brilliant and can quench the thirst for good Star Wars fun quite well in my view. I recently finished the much-anticipated novel Thrawn, which was released in 2017 and it certainly did not disappoint and offered more than thrills and fun; a realisation of a beloved character from the “legends” era of Star Wars fiction that goes beyond the usual character creation.
The author, Timothy Zahn is responsible for creating the character of Thrawn through his trilogy back in the 90s, with Heir to the Empire being the first appearance of the blue-skinned alien. It’s here I offer a confession; I haven’t read these books and didn’t know much about Thrawn. Shocking, I know, but despite this, I was still vaguely aware of the character which is mostly down to late night deep dives into Wookiepedia and stumbling across the charismatic Grand Admiral through various links. So, when Thrawn was scheduled to appear in the Rebels TV show, my interest was piqued. I’d already been well invested in the programme and the introduction of a character from before the Disney takeover was interesting to me, as it provided a link of the “old” Star Wars lore into the new era.
What followed was the novel we’re here to discuss, simply titled “Thrawn”. The term “origin story” often gets a bad rap for the negative connotations of repeating a story we already know (Sony’s Amazing Spiderman for example) and not seeing a character in their full glory. While this is an origin story, the author manages to subvert these expectations by instantly showing the reader Thrawn’s tactical nous and brilliance with our introduction to him. It’s from this point onwards that Zahn never takes his foot off the gas and as the plot weaves a tapestry of adventure, scheming, downfall and battle expertise, Thrawn shines throughout and the beloved character is explored in great detail.
There are two plots in the novel which interlink and eventually combine into one, the first of which follows the titular character and then the second plotline has the reader observe a newly discovered female antagonist in the Rebels TV show; Governor Pryce and her ascendancy to power. In all honesty, the plot itself isn’t of much consequence and it’s simply a vehicle used to take us to our destination; the arrival of Thrawn as Grand Admiral of the Imperial Navy. However, that in itself is an intriguing throughline as for one, the Empire in which he serves is racist against Aliens so seeing a being of Thrawn’s lineage serving as an officer is impressive enough, let alone Grand Admiral. Therein lies one of the layers of interest in the character; just how did he manage to climb the ranks when all the odds are stacked against him so heavily from the outset, there must be some brilliance to him.
Indeed, there is just that and in abundance. What Thrawn may lack in political nuances (which we’ll get to) he more than makes up for with his tactical mastery and flawless execution. This is where Zahn shines as he cleverly develops battle plans and enemies for Thrawn to exploit in ways which seem so obvious after the fact, a thought that the reader has reflected to them by many of the characters, not least of which is Imperial cadet Eli Vanto, who acts as the reader’s eyes and ears throughout the tale as he follows in Thrawn’s shadow as aide and interpreter. There are numerous instances where Thrawn is seemingly cornered in a predicament and it’s so entertaining to watch everything unfold and see how he once again outsmarts his opponents and embarrasses his colleagues, earning him much disdain amongst high-ranking officers.
Thrawn however, is blissfully ignorant of the political undertones and ramifications of his actions and this is again where the novel shines. The prequel films were much maligned for their overbearing political scenes that offered little more than a chance to top up on snacks or go to the toilet, but in the novels, the Star Wars political landscape is afforded the room to breathe and blossom. Other examples of this are seen in the novel Bloodlines by Claudia Gray and give credence to the notion that the politics in Star Wars demand to be explored in the correct way. There are so many layers of corruption to unpack and delve into that it’s no wonder the prequel films didn’t manage to successfully entice audiences; there’s just too much to fit in. Within Thrawn, the politics and manoeuvring of players in the elite of the Galaxy’s capital, Coruscant make for interesting reading and give new-found depth to characters such as the aforementioned Ahrinda Pryce and the legendary Grand Moff Tarkin.
I went into this novel curious about a character that was so beloved by the Star Wars community and I finished the book absolutely desperate for more adventures from the bold Grand Admiral that Rebels could only answer in part. Thankfully, Zahn has released a new book, titled Thrawn: Alliances which I’ve snapped up and already begun to dive into. Needless to say, I am enraptured with it and cannot state enough how impressed I am with Timothy Zahn as a writer and creator of characters.
Kenny Corner Rating
4.5/5 Stars – A near flawless page-turner that has you begging for more antics and brilliance from Thrawn.
Just in time for Halloween is the latest in a long line of Netflix success stories; The Haunting of Hill House (which I’ll refer to as HH from here on out!)
I’ll start off by saying it’s unusual for me to watch something so soon after it’s released as I’m not normally on trend with TV (for example I still haven’t seen Game of Thrones) however this one really caught my eye, firstly due to the buzz it was receiving online in forums and on social media and secondly because it was a new horror story to sink my teeth into. I’ve been dying for a creative, yet grounded horror show that doesn’t go completely off the rails, I use the film Sinister as an example of this, in that it begins as many traditional thrillers would and the plot takes you down several alleyways of intrigue before slapping you in the face with a lacklustre and anti-climatic ending. Since then I’ve been quite put off by the genre in its entirety, the recent iteration of It, however, did bring me back in and from there, Stranger Things followed. These aforementioned titles had horror elements in them but nothing to truly frighten me and keep me awake at night and the landing light firmly on, but HH did and in a big way.
Spoilers for the entirety of the show from this point onwards.
As a horror, HH absolutely does its job; it’s creepy, atmospheric and has a twist that will make your blood curdle and keep you awake at night for days on end. If you’ve seen the show, you know what I mean already; the Bent-Neck Lady. The mid-season reveal that the spectre haunting one of the children, Nell, is, in fact, herself blew my mind and I had to stop my binge for a good few minutes to process what I’d seen. Yet it wasn’t completely unexpected and that’s what the show does extremely well; it drip-feeds you information and allows you to make certain assumptions, without giving the game away completely. I personally thought the Bent-Neck Lady was the mother, Olivia, as we weren’t actually aware of how she died on that fateful final night in the house, so it wasn’t too much of a leap for my brain to assume she hung herself and was now haunting Nell, preying on her already fragile mind in order to coax her to her own demise (which was sort of true in the end, it’s the evil spirit of Olivia who literally pushes Nell to her death).
A trope of horror is that there will be no shortage of jump scares, which of course HH employs as well. But the way they’re done isn’t obnoxious or over-the-top, for nearly every occasion there is a solid storyline reason. One of the most memorable from the series occurs in Episode 8, where siblings Shirley and Theo are arguing in the car and in the middle of their frenzy, Nell pops up between them screaming (almost a “shut up) and then the car runs off the road and we get a truly tender moment between the two. The jump scare achieved the goal of not only making me wet myself but also driving the story further and adding additional layers to both characters, which is truly outstanding.
What else makes a horror truly succeed? The atmosphere. The sheer amount of unease I felt whilst watching the show simply cannot be rivalled in anything I’ve seen before. Even when there’s nothing to come of it, the way shots are filmed and how the music changes has you on edge and expecting something to happen when actually, nothing does. Take Episode 6 (Two Storms) as an example. Apart from being a masterclass in cinematography, with a mere 4 cuts in the entire episode, one method of camera work is having the view pan around characters in a 360-degree arc, constantly showing in the background the open casket of Nell. I was viewing this with the constant fear that something would be by the casket (i.e. the Bent Neck Lady) on the next pan and as tensions between the family only escalated, so did my nerves and the anticipation for something to happen. This heightening of the mood was also elevated with darker music, which was very present in the series finale, the family really put through the proverbial mill during their time in the mysterious Red Room.
Speaking of family drama, the show certainly has no shortage of that. It’s this theme on which other details of the story are hung and allowed to develop, from jump scares mentioned above to truly heartwarming moments like the child versions of Luke and Nell speaking to each other about never leaving one another, it’s all allowed to feel more impactful due to the carefully woven dynamic between them all, that is shown not in a linear fashion, but scattered across time. For example, in Episode 1 you meet Luke the junkie and had the show continued with that progression of the character in a linear aspect, there wouldn’t be much room for sympathy or feeling when something happened to him. Grounding the show in this way kept the supernatural elements feeling legitimate and never too much, it was all believable and it was always relatable in one way or another. Yet the show does bend the rules of reality and treats time as nothing more than a plot device to be manipulated and as we learn more about each character, we become more understanding of their circumstances and therefore, more affected when something happens, good or bad.
When tragedy does strike, in a big way with Episode 1 (further developed in Episode 5), it’s repercussions are felt through every family member and scenes thereafter (which occurs. On face value, it’s a tale of someone losing the will to live, with nobody to talk to about it. The show itself is arguably a giant metaphor for mental health and its issues that must be tackled, one of which is communication. This is shown when Nell is at her lowest, alone in a hotel room, calling various family members who all fail to answer her call or cry for help. The show succeeds here as a poignant reminder of the need to speak up about mental health and once again, touches on a subject many can relate to and empathise with, giving the series that much more depth and intrigue.
Another subject that branches off the family drama tree is Olivia (the mother) and her desire to keep her family safe from the horrors of the outside world. Episode 9 (Screaming Meemies) is where we get the case study of Olivia’s degeneration from typical housewife, to unstable and twisted phantom of her former self. The house manipulates her into believing the only way to keep her children safe from the jaws of life is to kill them so they can be in the house forever, safe and sound. The logic of this sounds incredibly flawed here, but the show twists the thought in such a way that, from a certain point of view, it can make sense and therefore, the “evil” mother becomes yet another tragic figure who failed to speak out about her problems and address them and ultimately, paid the price.
The Ending and What’s Next?
As we know, all good things must come to an end eventually and that, of course, is the case with HH. 10 episodes that took us on an emotional rollercoaster and the finale still had plenty to answer for and deliver. Questions lingered on about certain characters, aspects of the house and how the insatiable appetite of the house would be quelled. Now, while these questions were certainly answered and there were heaps of distressing scenes, the ending felt a little too happy for my liking. The house itself, which had been presented as a monster of its own accord, feasting on the lives of innocents, was suddenly turned into a benevolent entity that acted as a museum of sorts for dead loved ones that you could see at any time. Take the scene with Mr Dudley rushing his dying wife into the house as an example; yes it was beautiful and heartwarming to see his family completely reunited before his eyes, but where was the horror that was present before? The sense of dread that a ghost could be around any corner and startle both the character and viewer? It was gone and I believe, tarnished by this decision. This was further spoiled by the ending, which showed all of the remaining family members celebrating Luke’s two-year sobriety and with everyone seemingly living perfect lives. For my money, it would have been far more impactful to have this same scene play out, but as the camera pans out, there is the distinct window of the Red Room hovering in the background, suggesting that they are all still trapped (possibly dead) and this is just another fantasy cooked up by the malevolent house.
In spite of this, however, the show still stands firm in my list of “must see TV”, offering moments of incredible dialogue helped by show-stealing performances from many of the cast, otherworldly atmospherics that ramp up the tension to insurmountable levels and visuals that scare, enlighten and bring joy. I’ve been obsessed with the show since watching it and every episode had me craving for more, so despite a finale which could have tipped into a darker finish, it’s still an incredible ride that demands to be watched.
So what happens next? Nothing. Leave it as it is, a one and done. It would be simply impossible to capture lightning in a bottle twice and I firmly believe The Haunting of Hill House should remain the one season wonder that showcases the true diversity and range the genre of horror can provide.
At a loose end on a Sunday evening? Need some inspiration for what film to relax to? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.
First of all, I should be clear; this list will not be a rundown of my favourite films (although some do make an appearance) but rather flicks that I can put on if I’m at a loose end. Like picking up the phone and calling that friend you haven’t spoken to for months on end, you find you’re right back to where you were. Well, these films offer that same familiarity and essentially provide a comfort zone to ease into for me. Don’t get me wrong, there are going to be eyebrows raised at a few of these picks as some of the choices aren’t exactly what you’d call modern classics, but I trust we all have our guilty pleasures, which is why I’m sharing this with you today to remind you that you’re not the only one. Now, let’s get into it with the first barnstormer of a movie;
If you’ve just rolled your eyes, fair enough. This wasn’t universally loved on release, despite gaining praise for its visual presentation, which at the time was really remarkable and stylistic. The plot is relatively formulaic, characters are serviceable but without many dimensions to their overall persona, but for some reason, I keep coming back to this film. The score, which was overseen by Daft Punk is one reason. It seamlessly blends with the futuristic setting of the film and perfectly compliments the on-screen action when those moments do arise. There’s plenty of callbacks to the previous film from the 80s and even a nice little plot twist, which I won’t spoil here, and overall there’s just something about this film which pulls me back in time after time and provides a visual attraction to “zone out” to and enjoy.
The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift
Okay, I promise there will be films on this list that are universally accepted as being “good” or even great films and I recognise that this is yet another film that probably falls short of that yardstick in many people’s opinion. However, for me, this film is an absolute riot. Nowadays, the Fast and the Furious (FAF) franchise is a juggernaut, with billion dollar films to its name and A-List actors seemingly queuing up to star in the series. However, back in 2006, this was not the case and along came this film, which seemed almost to act as a spin-off in many ways. Gone were lead actors Paul Walker and Vin Diesel (save for a small cameo towards the end) and instead, we had one of the most wooden actors I’ve ever seen in a lead role, of any film. But, this is such an important bookmark in the FAF lore. For one, it was the first film in the series which Justin Lin worked on. It was his direction on subsequent films that re-launched the franchise and propelled it into the mainstream once again and arguably he helped revive the career of Vin Diesel. Secondly, we were introduced to the character of Han, who has been beloved ever since, garnering a cult following that earned him additional roles in subsequent films within the franchise, and giving us one of the series’ more compelling and complex characters. That aside though, this instalment has such a diverse range of cars and introduced us all to the Japanese style of tuning, styling and of course, drifting. I was captivated by this and it’s definitely left its mark on me; I have owned a black Mazda RX-8 for 8 years now. So why do I love this film? Apart from the soundtrack, which is as good as all FAF releases, for me it just has this otherworldly feel about it; Japan is such an interesting culture to me and I think the film perfectly captures the “fish out of water” experience that a Westerner would go through upon arrival. Aside from this, I just love the cars, the atmosphere and how this film, which was so overlooked previously, became a lynchpin in the FAF timeline.
See? I told you there would be films that are absolutely undeniable in their quality, execution and legacy. Goodfellas is one of them. If you haven’t seen this film, I implore you to make time for it. Based on a true story, which for me, immediately adds a compelling layer to any film right from the off, this 1990 crime film ticks every single box for me in terms of being a perfect film. Beginning with the characters, it was as if every single actor in the role was born to play their respective parts. Ray Liotta as Henry Hill managed to give us, as viewers, the inside look into life as a gangster and even had us rooting for him, before reminding us that he is indeed a villain and has moments of sheer madness, which see him spiral out of control in the end. Robert De Niro as James “Jimmy the Gent” Conway masterfully showed us the multitude of personalities one might expect from a ruthless mafioso; on the one hand kind to his peers, yet he could easily have you “wacked” the next day. Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito perfectly portrayed the lunatic of the bunch, a loose cannon who often acted before thinking and the scene which perfectly encapsulated all of their traits was the murder of Billy Batts. The rolling narrative is given from the perspective of Henry Hill and has a very “Scorsese” feel about it; long cuts, personal close-ups, fast introductions to characters, it’s a living, breathing vibrant collection of personas that live in this world and you feel every single one of them as real as you would a friend. The rags-to-riches story is as dramatic and enthralling as you’d expect and it’s honestly one of the greatest films of all time. Hands down.
Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 was lovingly recreated in 2006 with director Zack Synder at the helm. Miller himself served as executive producer and consultant for the film and his influence is felt throughout the stunning action movie, with some scenes pixel for pixel recreations of the comic. The movie boasts over the top action sequences with hyper-violent and stylized deaths that are matched with stunning visual effects to provide the unique colour palette of the imagined world. Whilst the story is based within History, liberties have of course been taken to dramatise the reality. The result is scantily clad shredded Spartans vanquishing wave after wave of would-be-invaders, spouting quote after quote all the while revelling in the fury of their attack. I simply love it. It’s so over the top, so easy to enjoy, it just demands sweets being thrown into the face. I’ve seen critics take this movie apart and I can’t fathom why; of course it’s stupid. Of course, it’s silly fun. It’s not meant to be a historical masterpiece, it’s just good action, an easy plot and a damn good time.
The year is 2000. Leonardo DiCaprio is at the absolute peak of his popularity with teenage girls after his roaring success in Titanic and director Danny Boyle wanted to take full advantage of that. What transpired though is many audience members went into this film expecting heartthrob Leo to be as charming and innocent as he was in the aforementioned blockbuster. What they got was a dark tale depicting the descent of a character into the depths of madness and saw a side of Leo that many never experienced before. His acting here is superb, as it would be for many years afterwards, but even this early on you get hints of how great he would be that is echoed in later films such as The Wolf of Wall Street. The film itself is strange in that to me, it can be perfectly dissected in half and almost treated as two separate identities, much like the main character (Richard). At the start, we have an optimistic, bright-eyed American traveller seeking adventures that differ from the norm and the film follows this journey. Richard reaches his mythical destination, along with his two accomplices and it’s not long after this that things go wrong. The lifestyle of the insular community of those who inhabit the island turns the narrative around and suddenly we see this film takes a dark spin with the death of a character. It’s here things drastically shift in tone and we are hurtled towards a bitter end. A favourite of mine, as it reminds me of my own spectacular travels in Thailand (where the film is set) and it’s an easy watch, in that you can appreciate some great acting and dark screenplay.
Crazy, Stupid, Love
The title of the film acts as a good breakdown for love itself and also for the actions within the film. It’s at times crazy, sometimes stupid and I love it. A star-studded cast blend effortlessly together and create nothing but magic, as this tale which starts off with a bang, weaves and unfurls into one of the best romantic comedies of all time, in my opinion. Normally, those words (shortened to “Romcom”) have connotations with another genre of films; “chick-flicks.” Well, I’m here to tell you as a red-blooded male that this is anything but. The comedic aspect of this film works incredibly well, helped massively by the lead (Steve Carell) portraying a charming, yet slightly bumbling middle-aged man seeking to find himself after a split from his wife. Ryan Gosling enters the fray and acts as a mentor of sorts, guiding Cal (Carell) in the ways of womanizing. Gosling, however, is eventually matched with Emma Stone’s character and the two have electric chemistry, which was later rekindled with the smash-hit musical, La La Land. It’s here where the movies’ heart shines through as Gosling’s character shifts from one night stand to one man girl. Offering a different spin on the Romcom genre, I love this film for its light-hearted, yet realistic look into relationships and their complexities. This film, like its main character, has a heart of gold.
Someone who certainly does not have a heart of gold is Patrick Bateman. A sociopathic serial killer from New York and thriving in the Go-Go 1980s, a life of decadence and more money than sense has led Patrick to become bored. He has it all; rich friends, an easy, well-paid job, any girl he wants and yet he can’t fill the void in his life. American Psycho is the adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel of the same name and whilst the movie leaves out some chapters and reimagines characters, it’s a very accurate adaptation. For me, this is Christian Bale’s best performance. The method actor gets into the best shape of his life to slip into this role and he attacks every scene with such an explosion of emotions that it’s impossible to see anyone else in this role. The film is filled with dark humour and is honestly one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen. The way Bateman lurches from one emotional space to another, over minor events, is hysterical. The narrative is given from the perspective of the clearly unhinged Bateman, so immediately we, as the viewer, can question the authenticity of what we see. Are the horrific murders really happening or is this all just a figment of Bateman’s imagination? That’s what I love about this film, the sheer ambiguity of it all. There are clues littered throughout the production that can either be for or against the theory that this is all really happening and every time I watch it, I spot something new.
The Lord of the Rings – Extended Editions
Very rarely is the word “epic” used in the correct context, but here, there is simply no other way to describe Peter Jackson’s trilogy. Stunning visuals, an iconic soundtrack, some of the best CGI ever seen and a cast that is as enormous as it is talented. It’s almost impossible to note down why I love this film so much in a short paragraph or two, so this is something that will undoubtedly be explored again on another day. For now, though, it’s my duty to explain why I not only love this film but how I can watch it over and over again. The answer isn’t as long-winded as you may expect, it’s just I simply love being transported into Middle Earth. It’s as easy as that and the film makes that transition just as simplistic. Thanks to some expert directing, real-life locations and storytelling, it is incredibly comfortable to sit back and allow myself to be fully immersed in this multi-faceted universe. Of course, it has to be the Extended Editions as to me, they add so much more to the story, such as additional dialogue to further flesh out characters, or interesting action beats that were unfortunately cut due to time constraints. There’s such a charm to this film that’s quite intangible and difficult to explain, but I’m sure many of you feel the same way. Timeless and classic, The Lord of the Rings is in my view, the greatest movie trilogy in history.
Pumping Iron/Raw Iron
The docu-drama that launched the career of one Arnold Schwarzenegger, I was introduced to Pumping Iron after I began my fitness journey back in 2012. I’d always loved Arnold of course; films such as Terminator, Predator, Red Heat and many more had been on my DVD shelf for years. This, however, was one that had escaped my viewing, due in part to my ignorance of bodybuilding as a sport. How I wish I had seen this earlier. Rather than being a pure documentary of the 1975 Mr Olympia competition, it is a showcase in how Arnold dominates the screen and can portray any character he is asked to. For in this, he is not himself. He is a reimagined, overboard caricature of Arnold Schwarzenegger, which is exemplified in his one on one interviews throughout the film. Arnold admits this in the follow up “making of” documentary, Raw Iron which itself is as intriguing as the film. I typically will watch one or the other, but both have been never far from view, as they are so relevant to me now and so thoroughly entertaining. Indeed, Pumping Iron served as a wonderful motivation for me during the days leading up to my first competition (which you can read about here) and helped me truly get into the zone for my big day. So, this is quite a niche and personal reason for inclusion on the list, but nevertheless, I’ll not grow tired of watching Arnold’s antics anytime soon.
My final entry and something that is dear to my heart; Aladdin. This film gave me my first nightmare that I can remember (the scene where the cave closes in and Aladdin is trying to escape on the carpet, yeah, that) but also my fondest memories of watching this with my parents and sharing in the joy of the brilliant storytelling and voice acting in particular by show-stealing Robin Williams. Back in the 90s, Disney was positively killing it with their animated films. This, along with Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Hercules and Pocahontas are in my view compulsory viewing for children and make for excellent films to be enjoyed by all ages. Aladdin takes the mantle for me, however, thanks to iconic songs, another rags-to-riches story and as mentioned; an amazing cast. The back and forth with Jafar and Iago is hysterical, Aladdin sounds like an authentic and atypical hero, whilst Jasmine set the tone for female characters in Disney films to no longer be damsels in distress, but independent Princesses who could dish out some punishment when the time arose. The main reason though I can watch this time and again is simply Robin Williams’ character; the Genie. Exuding life and personality that is simply not seen from animated characters this is once again a case of someone being born to play the part. Williams is able to add so much magic into this role with his intoxicating personality and the comedy is an absolute hit; there’s nothing cringe-worthy or anything that falls flat, it all works and it certainly puts a smile on my face.
That concludes my list. I hope there has been something in there you might want to watch on a dreary Sunday evening or any other time! I’d be interested to learn what your go-to film or collection of films are as well, so why not leave me a comment below or send me a message on Instagram or Facebook?
When 7:30am rolled around, it was time to mobilise. With a last look cast upon my hotel room, I laughed to myself at the state of the bedsheets, courtesy of my spray tan (apologies Premier Inn for that one!) I travelled to the show once again with Tim and Lucy and we stopped off for a coffee at a really great place that was diet friendly, dog-friendly and on another occasion, would have been a nice spot to whittle away the day at. Yet there was business to attend to so with the last sip of our beverages, Tim was off to go and train and Lucy and I continued on to the Middleton Arena. We were hours early for the show to start, but Lucy, who was going to be the one announcing the event and playing the role of host, had to prepare her jobs and for me, it was time for spray tan round two.
In order to get to where the tans were taking place, I had to walk through the auditorium where in a few short hours I would be showcasing myself to a few hundred people. Seeing the steep seating arrangement angled down to the barren stage made me feel nervous more than excited. I took everything in and tried to visualise myself standing at the front, exposed to all and running through my poses. There is simply nowhere to hide on the stage, all eyes are on you, even more so than the arena in Margate, as the seating arrangement there is relatively flat, so the gaze can wander a little easier. However here, I felt as if every single eye would be fixated on me when I did eventually arrive on stage and this really did make me feel, all of a sudden, very nervous. Pushing these thoughts aside though, I continued my mazy walk towards the tanning area.
This time the tan felt a lot less frantic, as there were far fewer of us around. I was specifically called in as the team wanted me to look darker. Now against the normal lighting of the day, the tan looks so dark and out of place, however once on stage, the benefits are clear, as muscle definition is enhanced and you don’t look “washed out” under the harsh lighting. With the second coat applied, it was time to once again get back to the all-important waiting around. I can’t honestly remember what I did with this time afforded to me; not much is the likely answer. The next item on our itinerary was registration and Athletes meeting, which is where we would receive our numbers (I was #47) and be informed of how the day would proceed, as well as getting some general tips on how to correctly eat during the day (i.e. don’t suffocate under a mountain of sweets in an attempt to fill out or look more vascular).
With the doors flung open to the public and stage appropriate clothing on, it was time for the opening Athletes Parade. Now I’m not sure if the intent here is to get everyone on stage in an effort to calm the nerves before going for your individual categories, but that is certainly what happened with me. I wasn’t nervous for the parade, however being out there, with the bright lights shining and the crowd roaring, it fired me up and squashed any thought of fear. I immediately loved it, the reception, the energy the entire feel was something I’d been craving for years and I was now excited for my categories. Straight after the parade was the Men’s Tattoo Muscle category, in which my friend John was competing. So I quickly threw a hoody on and made my way into the arena to see how he’d get on. He did so well and looked great out there and it was so pleasing to see this, as we’d been talking a lot in the leadup to the show about how we felt and what we were going through, it was nice to think that we’d made it here finally. With that done, I proceeded up the steps to sit with Ollie and relax a little. My first category, Beach Body, would be after the interval, so I had a couple of hours to kill first, but boy, did that time go quickly. Before I knew it, I was backstage, eating rice cakes and swallowing sweets (sour wine gums in case you’re wondering) and using my recently purchased resistance bands to pump up.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole backstage process and got myself into a place where I was comfortable with how I looked, but not exhausted from the effort. When we were called up to line up for our grand entrance, I did get the nervous feeling again, however, it was mingled with excitement and anticipation for what was to come; this was it. Months of dieting, years longer of training and so much time consumed with my love for this sport and dedication to my body was about to be exhibited to all present in just a few short moments. I couldn’t wait. I put myself into a different mindset altogether, I basically became a character. This character would walk on stage, brimming with confidence and prepared to show everyone exactly what he was about. With this mantra guiding me, I stepped into the light at the announcement of my name and ran through all that had been practised. I couldn’t really see the audience, as the lights were so bright and pointed directly at me, but I could hear noises of appreciation, as well as shouts of support. After completing my T-Walk routine, I waited at the back for the other competitors to finish their individual routines. What followed was us all being called to the front to execute our quarter turns, where we would be “posing down” in direct comparison with one another. Things can certainly get a little tight on stage and space is limited, so it’s vital to make your presence felt and give yourself as much exposure as possible. When the judges made their decision, we were free to go and the first of my three categories was completed.
Next up, was Men’s Fitness Model Under 75kg. This was an extremely tough category, with some incredible guys involved. The process was the same as before, however this time I was first out. I had a lot of nervous energy, so I was literally bouncing up and down on the spot and focussing on the task at hand. If you’ve ever seen Brock Lesnar in a WWE ring when he’s being hyped up by Paul Heyman, it was this sort of “bouncing around” that I was doing, except I’m about 150lbs lighter than Brock, so probably not quite the same look. Anyway, as I said, it was largely more of the same as Beach Body, however, my wait at the back was extended due to the sheer amount of competitors we had. Let me tell you, it was excruciating trying to keep my entire body tensed and looking good for that amount of time. Eyes will always be on you, be it judges, audience members or other competitors, so just because you’re not front and centre, you need to still be keeping things tight and looking your best. When we were called forwards for our quarter turns, it was a relief for me as I had a moment of reprieve during the short walk. The standard was very high and we were kept on stage for a long time before the judges made their call and it was like a wave of pressure had been lifted off; the two “big” categories were done and now it was just International Model left.
International Model is something I think every competitor should do. It’s so much fun, you get to come out all suited and booted, it’s a more relaxed posing routine and leans more towards a catwalk style presentation than the aforementioned T-walk. Here is where I got the best crowd response, likely due to the fact that I was in a pretty sharp suit if I do say so myself and also because I was absolutely loving every moment out there. I think that translates to the crowd and people can feel whether you’re genuinely enjoying it, or faking the emotion. Before stepping out, however, it was a real mad dash to get ready, as the International Model is split over two rounds. First round you walk out in underwear, however, the second round requires evening wear (typically a suit) to be thrown on in record time, which adds another dynamic to proceedings! After an exhilarating round, it was results time and International Model category was up first (so we could stay in the suits.)
Results and Aftermath
So, how did I get on? I placed Top 5 in Beach Body, I came 2nd in International Model and I didn’t place Top 5 in Fitness Model.
Am I happy? Reasonably so, yes. I think it would be remiss of me to declare myself unsatisfied with the results, as this was my first show after all. At the end of the day, I’ve come home with two trophies and lots of fantastic memories, which is certainly enough for me. It’s given me the spark to better myself further, come back and see what I can do.
What’s next then? Well, after the show I had a photo shoot with the very talented Matt Marsh at my local gym in Sutton, GoGym. This was another chance to don the spray tan, get my muscles out and see what I could bring and I’m very happy with the results. From here, there’s plenty of opportunities to showcase myself within this industry, so it’s a case of being patient, planning ahead and seeing what works best for me. In terms of competing, the plan is to go again in April, which gives me ample time to craft and hone a better overall shape and bring a tighter package to the stage.
So with that, it’s time to draw a close to the Prep Diaries for now. There’s no more show, no more diet, just back to the grind, back to working hard and keeping myself moving forward. One thing you can guarantee is that I’ll not be standing still or settling for mediocrity, not a chance in hell.
Friday 20th of July. A peculiar day in many ways, it began with a relatively early wake-up call as I clambered into my method of transport for the day; a VW Polo. I travelled up with good friends Tim and Lucy to Manchester and we had a seamless drive, bar one moment where we very nearly wiped out by an “elderly” driver (to put it kindly), but apart from that, no dramas!
Upon arrival in the North-West, we elected to spend the next few hours shopping and grabbing a bite to eat before finally checking in to our hotel. At this point, we’re over halfway through the day and it would be easy to forget I had a show at all; I was relaxed and distracted in a good way and cruising through the day. However, check-in signalled the starting point for things to get serious, it would only be a few hours until I got my first tan before the show. After unpacking and catching 40 winks, it was time to get myself over to Middleton Arena, which is where the show was taking place, as well as playing host for the tanning squad to do their thing. As I sat in the cab, the reality of the situation was beginning to sink in and with it, nerves bubbling to the surface.
Arriving at the venue for my first tanning session was an experience I’ll never forget. I remember stepping in line, awaiting my turn and striking up conversations with other competitors, thinking “is he going to be against me? Will he beat me?” That’s my competitive streak. It’s difficult to suppress, but I managed to bury those thoughts, as I didn’t want to appear like that, instead I elected to be friendly, supportive and showcase myself in as positive a way as I could for the simple fact that we’ve all worked so hard to get here, it really becomes irrelevant where you place.
The tan itself was certainly something to go through. Six or so tents crammed into a changing room which was populated with virtually naked guys (a sock covering our modesty left nothing to the imagination), a vibrant and boisterous team of tanning girls and air swirling with the scent of biscuits that only a spray tan can bring. I thoroughly enjoyed having a good laugh with everyone, and finally seeing some colour doused on my skin was a welcome sight, plans to hit sunbeds in the lead up to the show fell well and truly by the wayside, so I was in desperate need of a good tan. With this applied, it was time to get back to my room and make final preparations.
I’m fortunate to be surrounded by kind-hearted, supportive and truly incredible people. One such person is my dear friend Ollie, who travelled straight from Barcelona to Manchester to see me compete. It’s honestly something which has still left me speechless many weeks later, as I’m so grateful for this act of solidarity and companionship. Having someone who I’ve grown up with and shared countless memories with being there on one of the biggest and most important days of my life is truly special and something that I’ll never forget. Also, it was Ollie who first introduced me to lifting weights, way back in 2012, so it was extremely poignant for me that he would be here to celebrate and witness my debut on stage. True friends are hard to find but I’m incredibly lucky and it’s upon reflection that it’s truly sinking in how selfless and special this act of support was.
So, after catching up it was time for me to check in and see how things stood before my last meal and get the rundown for my eating plan throughout the next day. Upon receiving my instructions, I again felt a surge of nerves as I settled into bed. Here’s a tip for you if you’re competing; don’t forget to bring your own bedsheets/pillowcases. The poor hotel staff must have thought I’d either had a huge accident in the night or murdered someone and launched the body out of the window. Not good. As for the sleep itself, I woke up at 3am and couldn’t get back to bed right away, so ran through my poses, which did anything but settle my nerves! I did manage to settle down a little bit however and sleep through until about 6am. The alarm blared like a siren, I bolted out of bed and sorted myself out. Careful not to wash my tan off after brushing my teeth, I took my allocation of water with meal 1 and sat, motionless for a good ten minutes. It was now time to put months of hard work, years of preparation and countless hours of lifting all into one day, a few moments and the opportunity of a lifetime.
That’s a wrap for this part of Journey’s End; next time I’ll discuss what it was like actually stepping on stage, how things operated backstage and of course, the results. Stay tuned and thank you for reading!
Welcome everyone to the final edition of The Prep Diary!
Yes, it’s true, the big day came and went and now it’s time to reflect, analyse and plan for the future. There’s so much to discuss and talk about that it’s actually difficult to pinpoint a reasonable place to begin, so I’ll recap what brought me to the stage in this, the first of three parts.
2016. It began as a difficult year for me personally, which is perhaps a topic for another day. As many of us do after a devastating turn of events, we delve into a new hobby, passion or whatever it may be in order to distance ourselves from the pain and reclaim our own identity. That was especially true for me and not for the first or last time, the weights were my salvation. I’d been “lifting” for roughly four years at that point and was beginning to take an interest in the competitive side of the sport, spurred on by seeing friends and others blaze their own path by winning trophies and putting their bodies on display for all to see. I didn’t realise at the time, but I’d been badly missing a competitive facet in my life, as I no longer took part in gaming seriously, football was all but given up and those were my two main competitive outlets for years.
Bodybuilding opened up a new opportunity for me. To preface, I don’t consider myself a “bodybuilder” as to me, that phrase is reserved for those in the same conversation as the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s, Franco Columbo, Frank Zane and so on.
Back to the point, I looked at what I had at my disposal; my body, my gym, my friends, those I trained with and my mindset. Two years. That’s the deadline I gave myself to transform my physique from average to show ready. Within those two years, a lot changed and my life moved on as it does, but my goal never shifted. I had no doubt that I would step on stage in 2018. Originally, I was thinking about competing in April of 2018, but that would have been far too soon for where I was. At that point, I had put the relevant mass on, but my condition was nowhere near ready.
Witnessing several of my friends compete at Pure Elite, Margate in April 2018 gave me a real mixture of emotions. I was excited to think that in just three months, it would be me in their place, but then I was also hit with a brief moment of trepidation as I realised my goal, which was set all those years ago, was finally approaching reality and it would be my day of reckoning. Yes, that may sound wonderfully over the top, but that was honestly how I felt. I would either be proud of myself on stage or think “I could have done better.” Margate was a true turning point for me and made an already focussed prep turn up a notch into an unwavering, unfaltering grind to the finish line, where, unfortunately, sacrifices had to be made.
Sacrifices come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Whether it’s your diet and all of the “fun” things you like to eat, your relationships, both personal with friends or a partner and with your work. Being in a calorific deficit, yet expending more energy than you ever have before, with intense training, cardio exercise and a day job, things have to take priority and this is where the aforementioned pieces of your life can suffer, and did for me. You have to turn down social invitations, family dinners, time spent with loved ones and in general, just completely immerse yourself. It’s not for everyone, and not everybody will understand or support you. It’s a selfish sport and lifestyle, there’s simply no getting away from that. There’s no team, nobody else to hold accountable, just you.
That being said, motivation and encouragement can be found in abundance from the right people and those who are also on the same journey as you. I’m very fortunate to train in two gyms (GoGym and Kings Gym) that offer an environment filled with like-minded individuals who spur me on with kind words, impressive physiques and just general camaraderie. It’s a handshake and a genuine, positive comment from someone that helps push me through a workout and keeps me focused on the goal. Suddenly, I didn’t feel isolated and I was able to shift all of the focus from myself outward; I didn’t want to let anybody down who had supported and encouraged me. That may seem like I’m putting myself upon a pedestal, but that’s not what I mean; I allowed myself to get out of my own head and become part of a team, where I had a part to play. Yes, of course, the reality is, that it’s my show, my body and after a few weeks when the dust has settled, the hysteria will die down and all results, good or bad, will likely be forgotten. But for the run-up to the show, every advantage, particularly mentally, was snatched with both hands.
That concludes Part 1 of Journey’s End, hopefully, this helps put things a little more in perspective for you all. Part 2 will explore the events leading up to the day, the Friday before the show and of course the show itself. See you all next time!