The Perfect Short Story

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Books. I love ’em. But only the good ones. Only the unputdownables, whose brilliance has you gasping/ salivating/ doing a bit of a sex wee. 

But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: I don’t have time to read for pleasure any more. What with reasons and stuff and things, the only sort of bookage my eyes get to see is that-which-I-am-being-paid-to-edit. 

And then last week happened. I took a basketball to the chops, stabbed myself in the foot with a fork, and the laptop threw a six. What’s a gal to do when she can neither walk nor work? 

And so, I started a sentence with ‘and so.’ Then I regrouped and decided to delve into the pocket universe of Steve Shaw’s Black Shuck Books; specifically, the Shadows collection. T’is a darling l’il assortment of tasters —micro-gatherings that showcase individual authors. Or, y’know —single-author collections, as they’re more commonly known. 

Gorgeously designed by Steve himself, and complimenting one another like blackcurrant ‘n’ liquorice and pineapple on pizza (what?), these wee bookies are a delight to behold.  And once beheld, they shall be reviewed. And the reviewer should read a book in its entirety, right? Because unputdownable, remember? 

Nope. Nuh-huh. I just read a story so fucking good I just had to put the book down. I had to leave it alone while I did a rather ungainly thigh-wobble of a jig, and immediately messaged seventeen-thousand-and-thirteen friends to tell them about it (the story, not the wobble). 

This was a first for me —virtually nothing impresses me these days— but Gary McMahon just.fucking.floored me. The fucker. 

I couldn’t think straight. I could barely breathe. And no —I’m not exaggerating. I was bouncing off the walls and squeeing ’round the house. I just wanted to savour the taste of those words —that idea— a little longer, so I didn’t —couldn’t—move on. What I’d just witnessed was, well, perfection.  

I’m talking about *Text Found on a Defunct Webpage; which opens Gary’s collection, At Home in the Shadows

Jesus. Hermione. Christ. How on Kepler-452b has this work of art passed me by for eleven frickin’ years? And how the HELL am I supposed to do it justice without spoilers? I dunno, like. But I’ll try. 

Originally published online as ‘Under Offer’ (The Hub, 2008), this story is smarter than the average bear. It is, as they say in those parts where they use terms like ‘a fucking diamond,’ a fucking diamond.  

Not every story has to be story-y. Not every beginning has to begin with a start. IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, FOLKS! I’m not talking about clever choices of tense here, or ‘surprise’ dog-POV, or anything of the sort. I’m talking unique. Despite its originality, the piece is deceptively simple. And yet, this dude is writing so far outside the box that he isn’t even in the vicinity of the forest where the trees are felled to make the cardboard.  

I’m not gonna do that fucking annoying comparison thing. McMahon isn’t the next so-and-so, and neither is his work reminiscent of such-and-such in their finest hour. But what I will tell you is this: it’s impressionism at its best. Monet didn’t paint every leaf, right? He painted GREEN; your brain fills in the rest. 

From conception to execution, Text Found is one of those sinister AF pieces that stays with you for yonks afterwards. Why? Because omission, my friends. Because ambiguity. The power of suggestion —literally (and I mean ‘literally’ literally, not figuratively, before you say it, pedants). Take an idea, suggest the events, hint at the characters, and tease the reader. Be subtle; leave ’em wanting more —brevity is the order of the day.  Be sneaky; be wickedly funny. And be out-and-out creepy. Be everything on the list of must-haves and definitely-dos, and do none of the don’ts. Be. Just be. 

And Gary McMahon has beed, indeed. And that ending —damn.  

 

The Obligatory Link (i.e. the BUY EEEEET) Section: 

 

Black Shuck Shadows on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07NRKT4M5/ref=dp_st_1913038114

Gary’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gary-McMahon/e/B004B6NN3A?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1565956801&sr=1-1

And, for Steve Shaw’s freelance design: http://www.white-space.uk

Black Shuck Books: https://blackshuckbooks.co.uk/shadows

 

 

 

 

POETRY REVIEW: You Took the Last Bus Home – by Brian Bilston

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On Brian Bilston and why he rocks and stuff and things.

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I’m not one to compare writers. I hate that. Yuk. Sure, it’s great for marketing, I suppose – if you must market. “Fans of such-and-such will love this novel by so-and-so…” YAWWWN. That sort of crap is lazy and unclever, and has never once given me that I JUST GOTTA HAVE IT vibe.

It’s somewhat pissing on the author’s skills, too: when the blurbage tells me that Writey McScribe is the next Clive Barker, all I hear is “this guy is wholly unoriginal, having re-hashed some dying old trope or other.” Talk about damning by faintstuff.

What I will do, though, is tell you who my own particular boat-floaters are, just so you know where I’m at; this *chick is notoriously hard to impress, particularly when it comes to those who poe. If you’re gonna rhyme your way straight to my heart, buddy, your wordplay is going to have to…

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SPEAK WHAT WE FEEL – REVIEW: KING LEAR – Shakespeare’s Globe, London

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King Lear: Shakespeare’s Globe

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Nancy Meckler’s take on King Lear sure ain’t perfect. Far from it. But it’s certainly inventive, and whilst it’s perhaps over-confident in parts, it offers an innovative (if inconsistent) glance at the ultimate dysfunctional family.

We see the stage, which all the world is. Only here, it’s covered with sheeting, and is to be gradually revealed throughout the performance. Dotted about the blank canvas are a number of pretenders to the throne that is The Globe: painted vagrants having a doss as the real action is happening. Perhaps a nod to current conditions (or, indeed, our shocking attitudes towards them,) I’m not sure this device adds anything positive to the production. Lear is enough of a play on its own without adding extra layers or weaving contemporary subtleties into its fabric.

KING LEAR is getting on a bit, and is contemplating abdication or retirement or foot-putting-up or whatever you wanna…

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SECOND DO NO HARM

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Your stories need you

As is the case every single day that ends in y, you pick up a book. And whether it’s just-pressed fresh, or hills-old and tattered, it looks and smells delicious – each individual page tempting your nose towards a sniffywhiff, and collectively, begging you to fan them towards your face just so you can snort their entire essence right up the ol’ snout in one go. Shaven, pulped wood feels more natural to you than the trees whence it came; books just make you happy, gosh darn it. Good ones – happier still.

Some books are bookier than others, though: they were not all published equal. The one in your hand now, for example, has certain majestic qualities from its smart artwork to a title embossed in tall metallic lettering.  And until you unshelved it, it had just been sitting there lording it over all the other little books, knowing it looked…

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SPEAK WHAT WE FEEL – REVIEW: KING LEAR – Shakespeare’s Globe, London

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Nancy Meckler’s take on King Lear sure ain’t perfect. Far from it. But it’s certainly inventive, and whilst it’s perhaps over-confident in parts, it offers an innovative (if inconsistent) glance at the ultimate dysfunctional family.

We see the stage, which all the world is. Only here, it’s covered with sheeting, and is to be gradually revealed throughout the performance. Dotted about the blank canvas are a number of pretenders to the throne that is The Globe: painted vagrants sitting off and having a doss as the real action is happening. Perhaps a nod to current conditions (or, indeed, our shocking attitudes towards them), I’m not convinced this device adds anything positive to the production. Lear is enough of a play on its own without adding extra layers or weaving contemporary subtleties into its fabric.

KING LEAR is getting on a bit, right, and is contemplating abdication or retirement or foot-putting-up or whatever you wanna call it.  Late-life crisis dude has a massive realm, and decides to split it between his kids, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril. He’s gonna give the biggest slice of Kingdom Pie to whichever daughter has the arse-kissiest response:

….which of you shall we say doth love us most?

GONERIL comes along and kisses said fatherly arse, proclaiming that she’d rather go blind than live without this breathtakingly graceful and honourable man, beyond all manner of so much. He’s just like, SO AWESOME, goddammit, this king of everything. But, so two-faced is she that she declares her love the bringer of speechlessness, despite using wordy insincerity to get her point across (Shakey, mate: I see what you did there).

Her sis, REGAN, is made of the same crappy fabric. She declares her love superior to her sibling’s, and is, ergo, surely the ONLY one who loves him how he deserves to be loved, what with him basically being God ‘n’ all. Lying cow.

But then there’s my girl CORDELIA, who, despite her initial contemplation that she should keep schtum and just get on with loving the crap out of him, confesses:

I love your majesty according to my bond; no more, nor less.

Ouch. Very ouch. I mean – damn if she ain’t sincere, but Daddy, being so far up his own posterior ‘n’ all, simply hasn’t an igloo about true love. He gives her a chance (and then another…and another…) to speak again, because she’s his JOY, his blue-eye. But —damn it— she can’t lie, DAMN her damn honesty. So, Lear banishes her –very dramatically– from his kingdom, which he then divides between that arse-kissing pair.

Kevin R McNally ain’t half bad. Not half bad at all. Despite certain instances in which he and his character are let down by cheap laughs and even cheaper props, there are moments I swore I was looking at Lear himself; the madness worn on his face like a badge of dishonour. Fragile, commanding, and altogether bonkers, we see Mac delivering a right ol’ smorgasbord of demented torment, tainted only by the aforementioned playing for laughs thing. Yes, we get the irony of certain lines. Yes, the phrasing and timing and delivery is all-important, but for goodness’ sake, let’s not forget that this is a Shakespearean tragedy here. I could’ve done with the whole comedy aspect being taken down a notch or twenty; although it could be said that it was the audience themselves who didn’t understand that dementia and/or mental illness just isn’t funny.

[Consider inserting names of the sister-actors here, but move off the subject ever-so-gracefully because not a single one of ‘em floated my proverbial – we don’t wanna go giving scathing reviews, now, do we?]

Lear’s parallel-character, his Tyler Durden, the EARL OF GLOUCESTER, has two kids —Edmund The Bastard (really) who’s a bit of a bastard, really … and Edgar, who is pretty much a stand-up guy. Top bloke. To even up the ILLEGITIMACY 0 LEGITIMACY 1 score, Edmund plots to bump off his legitimately-sheeted brother. Burt Caesar is a strong Gloucester in parts, somewhat amateurish in others, although he was possibly let down by the naffness of metal trolleys and the insufficient eye-gouging that just wasn’t gougey enough [Dude-Wot-Played Edmund: totally forgettable. Soz].

Saskia Reeves – what can I say about Saskia Reeves? That woman was on fire. And I mean FI-YUH. The very definition of ACTOR, the lass was so skilfully versatile and sob-inducingly restrained, that she controlled her gift and kept the audience up in the air with it. It would’ve been pretty easy – and obvious – to play Kent-in-a-Dress. But, thankfully, Reeves didn’t go there —instead opting for the refinements only a true artist can display.

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Saskia Reeves as Kent / Photo: Marc Brenner

Joshua James is a stand-out Edgar/Poor Tom, giving his very self to the role whether slathering himself with mud or delivering one of the finest lines ever written, as he summarises everything we’ve just witnessed.

Lear is dead. And we know this, thanks to Eddie baby:

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

In line with this guidance, I feel that this production, whilst a worthy effort offering some powerful performances, was let down by a dash of over-ambitious imagery and a peppering of Trying Too Hard. That said, seeing Lear come to life on ANY stage —particularly this one— is always a plus, particularly when he is realised by and reanimated through such an accomplished and perhaps under-rated performer as Kevin R McNally.

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Kevin R. McNally as Lear / Photo: Marc Brenner

 

 

 

We Have Such Sights To Show You

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So – you’re a movie buff. Me too. But for those of you still in the filmfreak closet, here’s a way you can quote your favourite lines ALL….DAY….LONG….and nobody need ever know (unless you want them to – I assure you, it’s a great pulling technique if you want to gather yourself a nice, smart movie geek).

Technically, any flick with a half-decent script is a quotemine, so this list is compiled with that in mind; to show you just how easy it is. Quotes you didn’t know you knew, lines from films that are usually overlooked when it comes to “Best Quote” lists. It’s especially thigh-slappingly amusing trying to crowbar a line into a conversation at work. With a customer. On the telephone. And yes – I have. Many times.

So fly, fly – engage in a little of your own project mayhem that only the true enthusiast will espy. Let’s explore how we can take oft-overlooked statements and make them work for us (Work it, baby, work it…)

Ah….We have such sights to show you….

The Terminator (1984)

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Why it’s so quotable – with a Duel-like chase, the story becomes all the more sinister as Arnie’s Terminator takes on the voice of Sarah Connor’s mother to track her down at the sleazy motel. You too can be equally menacing if you need to know where someone lives:

“Give me your address there”.

OR…..run from that spider crawling towards you, at the same time maniacally exclaiming:

Why me? Why does it want me?

When trying to haggle at a market or garage sale, turn to whoever is next to you and tell them, referring to the vendor:

It can’t be bargained with, it can’t be reasoned with.

(Using this one makes you truly awesome.)

This will all stand you in good stead for the day you need to borrow someone’s clothes, boots, and motorcycle.

Withnail and I (1987)

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Why it’s so quotable- the greatness of the nothingness of every single thing that happens in this movie owes itself to Bruce Robinson’s uber-screenplay. He provides us with a truly juicy superabundance of utterances which can be easily levered into everyday speak.

The finest hangover line available to humanity?

I feel like a pig shat in my head.

Feeling a little paranoid in a new office or hotel room?

You’re not leaving me in here alone. Those are the kind of windows faces look in at.

When you experience poor service at a local establishment, it’s super-fun to yell:

We are multimillionaires. We shall buy this place and fire you immediately.

(Of course, they won’t believe you, but your pure awesomeness makes that a moot point).

When you’ve haggled with the vendor at the aforementioned garage sale, you do of course need to tell them they’re out of their mind. But it only makes sense when you get down to two quid.

Fight Club (1999)

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Why it’s so quotable – With their screenplay, the deities that are Chuck Palahniuk and Jim Uhls make things secretly obvious. If you’re anything like me, by the end of the movie your head is spinning with the incredible dialogue you’ve just heard.

To console someone about a break-up:

It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.

If you want a slap in the chops, wait until someone you know gives birth to a girl and utter:

We’re a generation of men raised by women. I’m wondering if another woman is really the answer we need.

(The mere danger/stupidity value of using this quote means you’ll receive extra cool points on your awesomeness chart).

It’s the ideal movie for paraphrasing purposes, too, where you can create endless phrases inspired by Chuck and Jim: “I am Philip’s sense of utter rejection” or “I am Maria’s total lack of responsibility”.  I am Linda’s lack of fuck-giving. That kind of stuff.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)

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Why it’s so quotable – it’s fucking Ferris fucking Bueller’s fucking Day Off. That is all.

Customer service agents leaving you frustrated on the telephone? So many choices: but to start with you could ask them

Do you know anything?

(Or simply tell them to stick their finger up their butt).

Worried about being fired for using Terminator quotes on the telephone? Talk about your boss thus:

If I’m gonna get busted, it is not gonna be by a guy like that.

And if you are clever enough to crowbar:

I did not achieve this position in life by having some snot-nosed punk leave my cheese out in the wind

into a real life situation, then I may need to marry you a little bit.

This will imbue a sense of greater purpose and confidence: If you need to call across the office to your colleague Grace, you KNOW how it must be done.

Beetlejuice (1988)

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Why it’s so quotable – If you ever wanted to prove yourself strange and unusual, this film gives you the chance.

Not into the person trying to pull you down the local boozer? Refuse to tell them your name:

If I tell you, you’ll tell your friends…

..and go on to say it’d make your life Hell, ok? A living hell. (Disclaimer: at this juncture, if they get it and laugh hysterically, you may have to have a rethink – they might just be The One).

Viewing a new house? Not too keen? Tell the estate agent:

Oh look! An indoor outhouse.

Of course, there is the one you HAVE to use whenever you try on a new outfit:

This might be a good look for me.

Extra points for saying it after sucking on some helium.

Dave (1993)

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Why it’s so quotable – because it rocks. Simple.

Excellent insults abound:

You’re LINT! You’re a FLEA! You’re a BLIP!

Try on a sweater vest and complain in your best Voice of Ving that it makes your neck look too thick.

Take the kids on a museum trip just so you can say:

We’re walking, we’re walking…and we’re stopping.

(This could only be made cooler if Frank Langella were to bustle past).

Be Dave. Because Dave is just wonderful. Fess up to everything:

I take full responsibility for each one of my illegal actions.

If you know anyone called Ellen (or with the initials LN), you do of course have to thank them for doing this at every available opportunity. It’s the law.

Robocop (1987)

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Why it’s so quotable – because it’s essentially a comic lavishly portrayed by real people. It’s also one of the finest movies ever made.

Assure your friend that their upcoming surgery will be a success:

They’ll fix you. They fix everything.

Made a typo on a document? As you delete it, you MUST say out loud:

Now it’s time to erase that mistake.

(Come on! Say it with me!)

There ARE a lot more quotes from this movie…..I can feel them… but I can’t remember them.

Austin Powers(s) –  (1997 et seq)

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Why it’s so quotable – because it’s such a well-rounded collection of Mmmmmovies.

Don’t go for the obvious YEAH BABY nonsense. But if you’re about to go for surgery to correct your vision, you HAVE to do air quotes when you say LASER otherwise it’s just a wasted opportunity.

Channel Scott Evil wherever possible, with as many, like, whatevers as you can. And always refer to the French language as Paris talk. It’s like, cool.

Being that you’ll often hear people using the boring old in-a-nutshell phrase, you can liven things up. You know how – get on your back and be you, in a nutshell.

As you do this, laugh inwardly at your own genius, point to someone and tell them that’s where they are. They’re there.

Casablanca (1942)

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Why it’s so quotable – it’s set in a gin joint. There’s booze.

Enter a casino and declare that you are:

..shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Next time someone calls you a piss-head, explain that that makes you a citizen of the world.

Confuse the enemy: explain that somehow,

just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.

You could also tell someone that you are looking at them, kid, but this may just cause confusion.

School for Scoundrels (1960)

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Why it’s so quotable – watch it. Just watch it.

Tell someone you’ve been married a long time. Perhaps almost

Be utterly charming and patronising at the same time, translating everything on the menu. Even if it’s in English.

Point to some tomatoes in your local store, and state what they are.

If you’re being berated for trying to get one over on someone, explain that:

he who is not one up, is one down.

Speaking of one-upmanship, get one over on your local garage by convincing them that your piss-poor excuse for a heap-of-crap car is actually a rare automotive gem.

See? It’s easy when you know how. I’m off for a game of golf now, but it’s snowing. So I’ll use red balls.

REVIEW: A MIRACLE IN SPANISH HARLEM

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Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you A Miracle In Spanish Harlem. Do be sure to catch this film; It’s like watching a poem.

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This is not an exclusively Hispanic story – it’s just a story that happens to people who just happen to be Latino. The story is timeless, crossing boundary and culture, its main language LOVE. And that is what translates. It is for this very reason that I could see MIRACLE being adapted for live performance, and being that all the world IS a stage, then you could take this piece anywhere, for anywhom.

Director Derek Partridge seems to have gifted his ensemble with a vision of his own; a pragmatic approach enabling some really real  performances. Five minutes in and already, I’ve identified with TITO. This is a guy whose eyes are as crucial as the script in telling us the story. As Luis Antonio Ramos draws us in with those peepers, so he lets us see his world through them.

This is a world whose genetic make-up began with an extract of Carlos Bermúdez, whose screenplay gave birth to a pretty awesome bunch of people. (I refuse to call them characters when they’re as real as this). It is this writer’s DNA that acts as a catalyst here, setting off a series of events that allow the production team and performers to deeply reach within themselves. And then, they decorate our screen from the inside, painting in wide, free brush-strokes with their own souls. Their palette? STORIES.

We see Tito’s Mom, (Priscilla Lopez) having a rant for his shamelessly blocking the love of God from his girls’ lives. And just how true is this performance? Well – for starters, Ms Lopez would appear to have studied my own (Irish Catholic) parents for inspiration. For the most part, she underplays – thus underpinning the very nature of a parent who thinks they know what’s best for their children. (And they’re usually right, damnit).

Back to those eyes. There’s stories behind them; we know this much already. As Tito’s single-parent status is established pretty early on, so it’s apparent there’s a lost love behind them. And we’re dying to find out more; we eventually do just that, through the heart of Mr Ramos, which he wears on Tito’s face. Ramos pours everything he has into the pressure-cooker of Tito, to be released in drip-feed motion as the vapour is released. The revelations of the depths of his soul are conveyed both with words, and without.

Gradually, we’re GRACED with EVA (Kate del Castillo) as she glides through the store, eventually meeting us face-to-face at the checkout. We immediately warm to her, so it’s unsurprising that Tito feels likewise. From the get-go, Eva’s established as a feisty lass, with just the right amount of charm and a healthy sprinkling of pluck – this is Miss America right here. She recognises a good ‘un, too, as she acclaims Ernie as “something-else” in exactly the right way. (Ernie – sensitively observed and displayed for our viewing pleasure by the super-talented Adrian Martinez – is a man whose presence tells us a lot about the others; this is great use of the sidekick narrative device).

Then there’s the kids -the gorgeous kids. Confidently performed by Fatima Ptacek and Brianna Gonzalez-Bonacci, Amanda and Samantha are two little girls hopeful for their Father’s future. They’re part of him, and they don’t let him forget it.

There’s a bit of ACTION, too, which I won’t spoil for you. The MAIN EVENT is something we as the audience aren’t privy to, but the resultant aftermath is displayed. Whether this was intentional or a result of budgetary constraints, it worked. If it was the latter, then Serendipity was at work.

It’s far from a perfect movie, but if truth be told, the minor flaws kind of added to its charm. I’d liked to have seen more realism –tighter direction might have been the key – when the girls met Daddy after the aforementioned occurrence. Apart from beautiful puppy-sad eyes, there wasn’t much difference between their reaction here and the more everyday scenes.

I could have done without the canine back-story and Eva’s au-pair revelation; we’d already endeared ourselves to her, so this felt like a sell-out. It kind of felt like an addendum, the white lie itself a deliberate flaw-of-sorts sellotaped on to Eva’s character. To have kept her as Miss 90210 would have only added weight to the love story – and would have actually been a nice Cinderella twist – she with the princely wealth and he, scrubbing the floors.

The Miracle itself was a bit of a MacGuffin – I’m talking the actual miracle here, not the miraculous finding yourself/finding love/finding happiness theme. I blame the REST of the movie for being so damned good that it sucked me in and made me want to forget the supernatural edge. It gave me PEOPLE to believe in, so I didn’t need a Power, a Glory, or a Holy Ghost. Is divine (or Tyronian) intervention the reason things turned out for our couple? I’m pretty sure that with the strength of our two lovers, supported by one heck of a loving family, things would’ve worked out anyway for sure.

So is it true what they say? That they don’t make them like that any more?

They just did.

Pass The Tissues rating (out of 5):

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