Audiobook Review: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Audiobook Review: Born A Crime (Stories from a South African Childhood)
Written & Read By: Trevor Noah

Not far into listening to this audiobook being read by Trevor Noah himself, it became abundantly clear that this is a perfect example of the benefits of hearing the author reading it over reading their own words, especially autobiographical ones, over reading from the page for myself. Not only couldn’t I bring all that’s needed to this story, but I’d unintentionally take a lot away from important aspects of it.

An early-years autobiography of Trevor Noah, the South African comedian who was born to a black mother and white father in the Apartheid era. His life is fascinating and much of the focus in this book centers on the key point of the title he was essentially born a crime, being of mixed race in apartheid South Africa, his parents’ relationship was illegal and he was living evidence of that. 

I’ve often enjoyed Noah’s stand up, I saw him on UK TV years ago on a show that features a few 10 minute stand up sessions, he stood out as my kind of comedian, whose comedy is built on a foundation of intelligence and an interesting perspective. When, years later, he was announced as the person who’d be taking over from Jon Stewart as host of the Daily Show I immediately saw the potential, he’s really intelligent, multilingual, multicultural, well-read, and all these things that make his comedy interesting, give him a perspective on current events that’s usually worth hearing. 

Throughout the modestly apportioned chapters, Trevor Noah builds a clear picture of his childhood, the state of the country, the changes it underwent, and the resilience of his mother and himself to make the most of their circumstances, brilliantly detailed though the events recounted are sometimes spaced far apart. The final chapter has some of the most dramatic events that other writers might have at least teased in the opening chapters, if not used as where their story starts.

A key part of Noah’s story is his ability to speak a selection of African languages, and when he reads accounts of his own life he gives the characters what are presumably approximations of their own accents and voices, and even a more minor point is that he’s able to pronounce their names correctly. If I was to read it in my head it would be at the very least inaccurate, if not unintentionally but unavoidably racially insensitive.

Based on Trevor Noah’s stand up I was already looking forward to the feature film adaptation that’s in development, with Lupita Nyong’o already signed on to play Trevor’s mother Patricia, but now I’ve heard the book I’m convinced this is going to be a really enjoyable film and if handled aright it could even be a major awards contender, unlike this cake that was recently made on ‘The Great British Bake Off’ (or ‘The Great British Baking Show’ for all you Americans), that was meant to look like Lupita Nyong’o.

After enjoying the author’s reading of this book so much, I think I may now do this as my routine method for enjoying works of non-fiction. In this instance it was almost vital to have him reading it as anyone else would have been unable to give all the pronunciation, intonation, or accents that brought the account to life and greatly deepened my understanding of his experiences. 

Born A Crime is available in multiple formats, including a child-friendly version of the book for younger readers which I think is a really brilliant idea to bring this story that’s full of lessons on racial issues to a wider audience and possibly even makes it suitable for use in classrooms. My firm recommendation is to download the audiobook read by Trevor Noah himself, it’d be a great use of an Audible free trial for example, as he brings linguistic abilities that few readers would be able to even attempt, that greatly maximizes the enjoyment and understanding of his life and story. 

Podcast Review: An Oral History of The Office

An Oral History of The Office (Podcast, 2020)

I don’t often review podcasts, partly as I only listen to a select few, I’m not someone who adds a lot of new shows to my podcasting repertoire. However, when I read about this one a few weeks ago it caught my attention and on listening to the podcast trailer I immediately loved listening to Brian Baumgartner (Kevin in ‘The Office’) whose voice and presenting style really enjoyable and surprisingly soothing. 

There have only been five episodes released so far, the latest of which I have yet to listen to as I’m finishing writing this early afternoon. I am loving this podcast so much, it’s now something I’m finding myself anticipating the next episode of, a little highlight in my week. Now, on a Tuesday afternoon, I’m finding myself co-ordinating my day so I can enjoy listening to it while cooking and tidying the house. The tone and style remind me quite a bit of the excellent ‘Drawn’ podcast that my brother got me into, which was a particularly good show that tells the story of animation and which is desperately in need of a second season.

This doesn’t take the episodic format like other podcasts about beloved-but-finished TV series, especially as that’s already happening with ‘The Office Ladies’ hosted by Jenna Fischer and Anglea Kinsey. My problem with that format is it makes me feel like I have to re-watch the show at as it goes, I want to refresh my memory of the episodes they’re talking about and so the podcast is a little harder to enjoy on its own merits or at the same pace as I watch the show.

This podcast takes the more easy-listening format of discussing, not the episodes themselves, but the making of the show in general. Episode one tells of the conception, gaining the rights to the British show, and the effort to get it going. Then there are episodes that go in-depth on starting production, the struggling first season, and last week I just listened to the fourth episode which deals with the period in which the show went from nearly being cancelled, to gaining huge popularity, with a perfect storm of events, many of which I didn’t know about.

Some stories and things discussed I was already familiar with, but there has been so much new information revealed too. There have been interesting and entertaining firsthand accounts from the key players, practically all of them, from almost the entire cast including Steve Carrell, producers, writers, casting directors, and even Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant. One of the silver linings to lockdown is that we’re seeing these usually busy actors finding themselves more available to participate in interviews, table-reads, and podcasts, making something like this feel like a more rounded-out and ‘definitive’ account instead of just one perspective. 

I’m off now to ‘clean the kitchen’, a.k.a. listen to the next episode, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who’s interested in the production of television or films, and especially fans of ‘The Office’ as it’ll build your appreciation for the show.

‘An Oral History of The Office’ is available to listen to on Spotify and is essentially unmissable for anyone who loves the show, as well as full of great insights for those interested in television. 

Oscar Nominees List 2019/2020 & Printable Academy Awards Ballot Sheet PDF

Here’s the full list of this year’s Academy Award nominees vying to take home those coveted Oscar statues on Sunday, February 9th, 2020.

Download my PDF ballot sheet here that can be completed digitally or printed and written on old school. Have a go at predicting the winners or challenge your friends and family to do the same. I’ve put my predictions beside the nominees below, my first choice, second chance winner, and where I’ve seen some of the films and have a personally preferred nominee I’ve marked that with a ‘P’.

BEST PICTURE
“Ford v Ferrari”
“The Irishman”
Jojo Rabbit
“Joker”
“Little Women” – my review is coming soon.
“Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”
“Marriage Story” – my review is coming soon.
1. “Parasite” – I know, it’s a bold choice, but I just have a feeling it could win because of the preferential balloting system.
2.1917

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Kathy Bates, “Richard Jewell”
1. Laura Dern, “Marriage Story” – she stands out in a film that’s all about two key lead performances, this is an easy win.
2P. Scarlett Johansson, “Jojo Rabbit
Florence Pugh, “Little Women”
Margot Robbie, “Bombshell

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Tom Hanks, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Anthony Hopkins, “The Two Popes”
Al Pacino, “The Irishman”
2. Joe Pesci, “The Irishman”
1. Brad Pitt, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
1. South Korea, “Parasite”
2. Spain, “Pain and Glory” – It’s pointless picking a second choice, sorry Almodovar, but if Parasite didn’t exist this would win.
France, “Les Misérables”
North Macedonia, “Honeyland”
Poland, “Corpus Christi”

DOCUMENTARY (SHORT)
“In the Absence”
1. “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)”
“Life Overtakes Me”
2. “St. Louis Superman”
“Walk Run Cha-Cha”

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
1. “American Factory”
“The Edge of Democracy”
“Honeyland” – Interestingly also up for ‘Best International Feature’ but I’m not putting all weight behind it on that alone.
2. “For Sama”
“The Cave”

ORIGINAL SONG
“I’m Standing With You,” “Breakthrough”
“Into the Unknown,” “Frozen II”
2. “Stand Up,” “Harriet”
1. “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again,” “Rocketman” – his Oscar after-parties are legendary, the film won’t win anything else, this is almost a lock.
“I Can’t Let You Throw Yourself Away,” “Toy Story 4”

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
“How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World”
“I Lost My Body”
2. “Klaus”
“Missing Link”
1. “Toy Story 4”

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
“The Irishman”
1.Jojo Rabbit
2. “Little Women”
“The Two Popes”
“Joker”

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
“Marriage Story”
2. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
1. “Parasite”
“Knives Out”
1917

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE
Antonio Banderas, “Pain and Glory”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood”
2. Adam Driver, “Marriage Story”
1. Joaquin Phoenix, “Joker”
Jonathan Pryce, “The Two Popes”

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE
2. Cynthia Erivo, “Harriet”
Scarlett Johansson, “Marriage Story”
Saoirse Ronan, “Little Women”
1. Renée Zellweger, “Judy”
Charlize Theron, “Bombshell

DIRECTOR
Martin Scorsese, “The Irishman”
Quentin Tarantino, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
2. Bong Joon-ho, “Parasite”
1. Sam Mendes, “1917
Todd Phillips, “Joker”

PRODUCTION DESIGN
1. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“The Irishman”
1917
Jojo Rabbit
2. “Parasite”

CINEMATOGRAPHY
1. “1917” – it’s Roger Deakins, he’s broken his streak of losses, another win seems likely.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
“The Irishman”
“Joker”
2. “The Lighthouse”

COSTUME DESIGN
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”
1. “Little Women”
“The Irishman”
2. “Jojo Rabbit”
“Joker”

SOUND EDITING
2. 1917
1. “Ford v Ferrari”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”
“Joker”

SOUND MIXING
2. 1917
1. “Ford v Ferrari”
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”
“Ad Astra”
“Joker”

ANIMATED SHORT FILM
“Dcera (Daughter)”
1. “Hair Love” – I just saw this beautiful film this morning and it made me cry into my coffee, available to watch on YouTube and well worth the six minutes. 
2. “Kitbull”
“Memorable”
“Sister”

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
2. “Brotherhood”
“Nefta Football Club”
1. “The Neighbors’ Window”
“Saria”
“A Sister”

ORIGINAL SCORE
2. 1917,” Thomas Newman – I thought it was a bit too prominent at times but it helps it to stand out I suppose.
1. “Joker,” Hildur Guðnadóttir
“Little Women,” Alexandre Desplat
“Marriage Story,” Randy Newman
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” John Williams

VISUAL EFFECTS
1. “Avengers: Endgame”
“The Lion King”
“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”
“The Irishman”
2.1917
Read my thoughts on this category here

FILM EDITING
“The Irishman”
2. “Ford v Ferrari”
1. “Parasite”
“Joker”
Jojo Rabbit

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING
1.Bombshell” – for transforming Charlize Theron into Megyn Kelly alone this will win!
2. “Joker”
“Judy”
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil”
1917

2020 Academy Award Nominees: An Array of Brief Reviews

Here are my brief thoughts on a few award-contending films that I’m probably not going to write a full review of, either because of time constraints or in some cases because my thoughts on them need a more recent repeat viewing, or in some cases there’s not much I have to say. I’ve also given my thoughts on their chances of winning their respective Oscars.

The Lion King (2019) – Visually, it’s a really impressive film, yet somehow it’s staggeringly unimpressive in almost every other way. I don’t have a long-held love of the original from my childhood, I only saw it for the first (and second) time a couple of years ago, but I felt like this added almost nothing to the story and in some ways detracted from it. The photorealistic characters look amazing, they’re of the highest visual artistry but crucially they lack the personality afforded by the more anthropomorphised hand-drawn versions. The voice casting was generally excellent, but no amount of vocal charisma is enough to make this anywhere near as special as it needed to be a worthwhile reimagining of Disney’s most acclaimed animated classic. $1.6bn however means that Disney will continue making these, I just hope they work harder on adapting their classics in a way that actually adds something to each, not like this almost shot-for-shot remake.

Nominated for: Visual Effects. Chances of winning: Oddly low despite being completely made by VFX artists. It should be in the Animated category and people know it, though Disney are determined to package it as ‘Live-Action’.

Avengers: Endgame – I’ve been invested in the franchise from the start, so I was primed to love this and I certainly did. I saw it twice in the cinema, the first viewing being the midnight premiere screening as I couldn’t possibly wait or risk the chances of spoilers. The atmosphere was superb, the film clearly lived up to expectations. Much was said about the long runtime but it really doesn’t drag, there’s so much going on and every opportunity is taken to have fun with the characters, retroactively add extra layers of story development and nicely incorporate some fan service when possible. It holds up on repeat viewing very well and though there are bits that aren’t perfect, it does tie together the strands of the ‘Infinity Saga’ in a way that feels satisfying and complete.

Nominated for: Visual Effects. Chances of winning: Not too bad, it might happen as a way of giving recognition to the accomplishments of the whole franchise and the effects are extensive and varied so showcase many skills.

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker – I have really enjoyed going to see the Disney-era films at the cinema but this was a messy beast of a film. It felt overstuffed, muddled, and like it pushed aside all recent development and much logic in a thankless attempt to tick certain boxes. A minor let down for me, but I’m not a huge fan of the franchise with high levels of investment and expectations. I think it may even get worse on repeat viewing, especially if seen straight after episodes 7 & 8 as part of a marathon. The characters developed in this phase of the franchise are badly let down and it’s a waste of potential that was abundantly clear when I saw ‘The Force Awakens’. Hopefully, now they’ll leave the Skywalker saga completely alone and ensure that any future films or series don’t try to ‘fix’ the problems as it’ll just make things worse.

Nominated for: Visual Effects, Score, Sound Editing. Chances of winning: Low, they release a Star Wars film each year with similar effects, score, and sound, yet this being one of the weakest instalments there’s no impetus to award it.

Missing Link – Another example of beautiful filmmaking as is always the case from Laika, their animation always looks incredible, though I didn’t feel like the story or characters did very much to keep me completely interested. I liked the character of Susan and Zack Galifinakis voiced him brilliantly, especially as the film is more comedic than some of their others, though, beyond that, it’s not a tale that’s going to stick with me for very long. I have seen it twice on Netflix while very tired and kept dozing off, missing different bits both times, so I have seen it through but not in one perfect sitting, which may be more my fault than the film’s but still I feel like the adventurous aspects could be heightened a little more so it’s the exciting adventure it promises to be in the marketing.

Nominated for: Animated Feature. Chances of winning: Very low, while it won the Golden Globe it isn’t going to get the Oscar.

I Lost My Body / J’ai perdu mon corps – This French animation is possibly the lowest-profile of this year’s Academy Award nominees available to stream on Netflix. A severed hand makes its way across the city to get back to its owner while recounting key events in his life from his youth and recent past. This premise sounds somewhat macabre but in practice the film makes great efforts to be heartfelt and charming, effectively counteracting the weirdness of the unusual first-hand perspective. Hand in hand with that is the visual style, really beautiful hand-drawn animation that I found particularly expressive and endearing. No explanation is given for the hand’s agency. It’s not enchanted or extra-terrestrial, not superhuman nor supernatural, it’s just happening and facilitating the beautiful storytelling. I watched it in the English dubbed version for ease, which featured such voices as Dev Patel and Alia Shawkat and it kept me completely invested and entertained throughout.

Nominated for: Animated Feature. Chances of winning: None, there are much more beloved films in this race.