“Choose Watching History Repeat Itself”: T2 is a Love Letter to its Original.

It’s been 20 years since that loveable group of Scottish misfits from Trainspotting took the world by storm and defined a generation. It’s 1996 and a group of rebellious heroin addicts come up with a scheme to earn some dough by engaging in a lucrative drug transaction. We are all familiar with how this ends: betrayal. Now, it’s 2017, Cool Britannia has come and gone and we are left in a post-brexit, post indy-ref world of chaos. If Trainspotting captured the zeitgeist of an era and became an instant cult-classic/pop culture phenomenon with its controversial yet profound look at youth subculture, is T2 going to provide a gripping social commentary on the modern digital age of Facebook and Instagram? The answer – pretty much no. T2 is almost neurotically obsessed with its former self to the point where it begins to feel almost like a documentary about the original film. Most of the dialogue is recalling events, conversations and memories from their younger years and the film repeatedly uses vignettes from the original. Nostalgia fuels the film and, for the most part, our interest in it as viewers. It is the audience’s love for these characters, their sense of humour and plight, that forces us to engage with the sequel.

Renton is back in Scotland after stealing the money and travelling to Amsterdam to live out his dreams, we find that a broken marriage and disappointment in life has brought him back to where it all began (so he says, but we sense that an overwhelming sense of guilt is the real reason). He finds Sick Boy/Simon has opened a pub and is using his girlfriend-cum-business-partner Veronica as a prostitute to catch high-end business men in kinky and compromising positions, extorting them for cash to fuel his cocaine addiction. Poor Spud is still a heroin addict and struggling through life after the collapse of his marriage. Finally, Franco/Begbie has been locked up in prison this whole time which has done nothing to calm his burning rage which has now reached new levels. All in all, we find the characters mostly unchanged, older, perhaps more cynical, hardened by the disappointments of life, but still the same bunch of oddballs trying to claw their way through life.

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Stylistically, the movie is quite out there. Trainspotting had its unique and quirky moments such as ‘the worst toilet in Scotland’ scene where Renton climbs into literally the worst toilet in the world and emerges the other end in a blissful sea; or perhaps you recall the terrifying hallucination scene involving a dead baby crawling along the ceiling (yikes!). These iconic film moments are iconic because they meant something within the context of the film, namely, a film fuelled by heroin abuse. In T2, the eccentric stylistics of the film feel redundant in a movie that is mostly concerned with the perils of aging and the disillusion of middle-aged masculinity. The use of the freeze shot is often quite successful but is certainly overused. The bright colours that saturate the whole film, while being visually stunning, are used to no real purpose compared to the garish wallpapers and bright carpets of the first film and the camera spends more time canted than it does straight in this movie, which adds an eerie effect but feels too wacky for these washed-up men. That said, there are some great moments in T2 where all things seem to slide back into format and it is mostly due to the strength of these characters and the actor’s performances that this succeeds. At one point, Renton and Simon are speaking excitedly about their various memories and words flash up on the screen at break-neck speed, capturing some of that fast-paced wit we remember these characters for. One truly golden moment comes about half-way through the movie where Renton and Simon must improvise a song in a protestant pub. This scene is utterly hilarious and well-played by both actors, for a second it feels like we may have entered a time-machine right back to 1996.

There are still some cracking moments of comedy and humour within this film and the characters really do bounce off each other like nothing has changed. However, one thing seems missing from this movie – where are the girls? We all remember the fantastic performances of Shirley Henderson and Kelly Macdonald in Trainspotting, they were central to the plotline and truly fantastic characters. It seems like there is no space for them in T2 and this is more than a little disappointing. One scene catches us up with Diane who is now a lawyer. This scene has no weighting, in terms of plot and only really serves to up date us on the success of Diane’s character in contrast with her male counterparts. As for Gail, she is only given one measly line. It seems they have really missed an opportunity to bring the (full) gang back together in a new and exciting way here.

Furthermore, Begbie’s character seems to have become a little one-dimensional and exaggerated. We all knew he was a messed-up psychopath (“that lassie got glassed, and no cunt leaves here till we find out what cunt did it”) but that seems taken to the extreme in T2 with his character descending into the cartoon villain category. While this does have great comic value and ultimately provides the plotline for most of the film, it is stretched out a little too long and a little too thinly. Some sympathy, however, is attempted when he apologises to his son (a budding hotel manager) for his anger, explaining that they just didn’t have opportunities like he did when he was a kid, highlighting the generation gap.

T2 lacks the controversy of its original which shocked audiences world-wide with its graphic depiction of misspent youth and drug abuse. There is nothing too shocking about T2. The iconic ‘Choose Life’ speech is updated to comment upon twenty-first-century life-style but mostly feels awkwardly placed as Renton descends into a spontaneous speech mid-date. Whilst the rest of T2 does not really attempt to update its original commentary on urban British life, the speech which focuses on ‘reality TV, slut shaming, revenge porn’ and ‘zero-hour contracts’ seems only to brush the surface of contemporary life in an unrevealing way. At one point in the film, Renton and Simon mess around using snapchat filters and voice changers, while this does attempt to capture the actions of a generation and is ironically funny, there is something undeniably cringe-y about watching these middle-aged characters use the app – like receiving a text message from a family member who has just discovered the existence of emoji’s.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge a sequel so harshly against its original but with a film as popular and loved as Trainspotting, it is hard not to draw comparisons when the stake is so high.  That being said, T2 is not a car-crash. It’s witty, it’s funny, it still has that dynamism that drew you in in the first place and it is engaging throughout. There are repeated throwbacks to its original which are sometimes doubled or repeated, for me this just felt a little heavy-handed and unnecessary. Instead of creating something new, T2 is constantly pulling back to its younger self just as each character desperately wishes they could re-live their misspent youth. Spud even jokes about what he should have brought with his share of the drug-money: a ‘time-machine’. A funny, moving and entertaining sequel that doesn’t utterly disappoint but doesn’t possess that same magnetism of its original. T2 delights in much the same way as re-uniting with a group of much loved old friends.

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“Apes Together Strong”: War for the Planet of the Apes is the Best Yet.

Planet of the Apes is back with an equally clumsy title that somehow feels like a tongue-twister when repeated a few times. War for the Planet of the Apes is the third instalment in the Planet of the Apes reboot that follow Caesar’s journey into total warfare – or does it? While War for the Planet of the Apes does open with a fantastically shot war scene as human armed forces attack the apes’ base in the woods, this is only one of a few scenes depicting military combat. Any audience members hoping for an action-packed ‘Michael Bay’ style war-film will be disappointed when they realise the ‘war’ in the title seems to refer more to a personal war, a war of morality and emotion. The main narrative strand follows Caesar’s internal conflict between morality and the dark, primal need for revenge that haunts his soul. A war of identity, as Caesar, consumed by grief and fury, enters on his quest for revenge to kill the Colonel, leader of military group Alpha-Omega.

War is the first film in the series to shift its central focus from human to ape. While Caesar has always been present in the story and we have watched his development from child to adult, he was not the central figure in Rise and Dawn. James Franco took the starring role in the first and Jason Clarke in the second. In each, the narrative flits between the human and ape perspective. In War, we are totally on the side of the apes, we view the narrative from their perspective and ultimately root for their cause which will lead to the extinction of the human race. For a movie like this to work, we need to be totally allied with the simian characters and hence, pitted against our own species. This is something that War achieves easily. The apes are lovable, intelligent and ultimately kinder than any human character we see. Additionally, the movie relies heavily on the believability of the CGI animation. Perhaps at its best in War, the apes are unique, the detail mesmerising and their physical presence on screen, unparalleled. They are so spell-binding that you essentially forget to notice the genius of the motion-capture work at play within this film, accepting the characters as if they were truly real. At one point the Colonel even states: ‘My god. Look at your eyes. Almost human’. Here, Andy Serkis’s performance deserves commendation. This subtle and unique style of acting captures the form and movement of the animal completely, endowing his performance with personality, creating a memorable and recognisable performance as Caesar.

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The movie, however, seems to take on more of  a revenge-western narrative as an unforgivable act by the Colonel sets Caesar off on his path of reprisal. Caesar and a few of his trusted close friends, Maurice, Luca and Rocket, journey into the wilderness, through dark forests in the snow, in search of his enemy. The landscape, here, is very beautifully shot and the CGI does not pull from the scenery, it only serves to enhance it. On his quest, Caesar and friends encounter a few new characters who join their mission, namely, a young girl made mute by a mutation of the virus that killed off many humans in Dawn. The apes choose to show sympathy and bring her along with them on their journey. Extreme close-ups capture the expression of Maurice’s face as he looks at the young girl, acknowledging her innocence and vulnerability. It is amazing how much emotion you can read on the face of his character and this shot adds much sentiment to the scene. The young girl serves to highlight the essential humanity of the apes, something the humans in War ironically don’t possess. The other character introduced is an intelligent speaking ape who lived in Sierra Zoo before the spread of the virus. He calls himself, ‘Bad Ape’, a name he must have repeatedly heard from his keepers and takes on as his own. Bad Ape is a fantastic character and brings with him warmth, friendliness and child-like humour to an otherwise grim and depressing world. Dressed comedically in a body-warmer and cute bobble hat, there is something very dobby-like about the character who calls everyone he meets ‘friend’. Additionally, the introduction of Bad Ape suggests there is much more to the dystopian universe than simply Caesar’s army of apes. There is now the potential for the existence of other intelligent apes who could progress the story in a different way if the series were to continue.

A clever plot twist mid-way changes the tone of the film from revenge-western to prisoner-of-war movie. The film becomes darker, more oppressive and terrifying as the cruelty of the Colonel becomes clearer. He uses fear to rule his army and appears to resemble the famous performance of Marlon Brando as ‘Kurtz’ in Apocalypse Now (cleverly payed homage to in a piece of graffiti that reads ‘Ape-pocalypse Now’). His dark musings on the meaning and purpose of humanity are exceptionally performed by Woody Harrelson who commands the role. His appearance, with dark sunglasses, seemed to recall the iconic imagery of cold-hearted Boss Godfrey in Cool Hand Luke, another exceptional movie villain. What works best about the Colonel is his symbolic significance from the eyes of Caesar. If Caesar follows his path of revenge, if he lets that seed of darkness take place in his heart, what would separate him from his nemesis? The colonel is, therefore, a reflection of what Caesar could become depending on which path he chooses and we see Caesar battle with this decision throughout the movie.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the best instalment so-far, it draws you in and keeps you strapped in for the dark yet entertaining ride. Alongside some typical ‘movie-moments’ to be expected in a blockbuster this big are some clever twists, beautiful shots and an emotional, heart-warming fight for life. War manages to map complex themes of humanity, morality, identity, love and revenge into a smart and engaging narrative. It is emotional from start to end and will almost certainly leave you hoping for another chapter in the Planet of the Apes universe.

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Dunkirk: Slow, Subtle and Suspenseful War Epic that is Original and Immersive

When a new Christopher Nolan film is released, expectations are unusually high. Dunkirk, however, does not disappoint. A mammoth and weighty topic handled with great care and sensitivity, Dunkirk does not sway into melodrama or indulge in graphic gore and at a modest 106 minutes long it is much shorter than other war epics within its genre. Dunkirk aims to do something different and utterly unique in its war-thriller category by taking a non-linear approach to narrative story-telling. Any film-goer familiar with the work of Nolan will recognise his obsession with time and memory. Memento (2000) cuts and splices action in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards with the story only emerging when all the pieces begin to fit comfortably together like a puzzle. Additionally, Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) experiment with how time moves at different speeds in different scenarios. In each case, time for Nolan does not simply follow from A to B and events do not rely on simple causality. In its place, Nolan views time as a complex web of narratives in which each element relies on other elements for meaning. For Nolan fans, this experimentation with time is engaging, dynamic and ultimately illuminating, for others it is unnecessarily artsy and pompous. Whatever your stance, this narrative technique seems aptly fitting to the topic in Dunkirk where multiple narrative threads weave together to create a consolidated picture of an infamous event from various perspectives.

The narrative follows Tommy, a young British soldier trapped on the French beach and surrounded by German forces for the period of a week, Mr. Dawson, his son and friend who tackle the unruly ocean in their yacht for the period of a day and RAF pilot, Farrier, who battles in the skies for an hour. Rather than following a central hero figure through their narrative journey, Dunkirk focuses on a multitude of characters who face different challenges but are all ultimately connected by the perils of warfare. Each narrative strand intertwines to form the full picture and seem tied together by Navy Commander Bolton who surveys the scene from the pier. This vantage point allows him to view the shore, the sea and the sky and we have a central cluster of characters occupying each. There is, however, no narrative arc in the traditional sense of the term and it is hard to decipher an established beginning, middle and end. Rather, we are confronted with a collection of imagery, a soundscape and a beautiful and terrifying one at that.

What emerges from this directorial decision is a rather subdued form of story-telling. There is no build up to a single moment where the movie will explode into action or force you to tears. What we are left with is absolute tension throughout. Each scene as anxious and on edge as the one before, the movie is a battle of endurance for both character and audience alike: how much tension can you take? Another point of interest is the way the film is full of sound and chaos but also strangely quiet, subdued and held-back. There is little dialogue within this movie; the camera lingers on facial expressions, on moments of humanity or emotion. The focus is on the stunning visuals that lean towards the arthouse in their expressionistic creation of paralysis and fear.

The film may have little dialogue; however, it certainly isn’t a silent film. Dunkirk’s score connects each narrative component together with its haunting and lingering presence. In moments of extreme tension, the music pounds like a heartbeat, a ticking bomb that could explode at any minute, a timer that counts down every second. Hans Zimmer’s score is eerie, other-worldly and constant throughout the film, ensuring each scene is underscored by tension and a sense of being in the present moment. The movie is made both powerful and terrifying through its unflinching focus on the immediate moment, there is no sense of political history, the camera does not shift its focus to politicians in the UK or armies in Germany, we are unwittingly stuck in this very moment of history alongside the characters – trapped, engulfed and overwhelmed. As Nolan directs all focus to the immediate action at Dunkirk, nature seems to take on an ethereal power of its own. The ocean, the physical barrier between the soldiers and their homeland, becomes a character in its own right, proving just as dangerous as the swarming fighter planes taking over the skies.

Additionally, for a war film, Dunkirk is surprisingly bloodless. Nolan doesn’t indulge in the graphic body horror that many war films are bombarded with; he attempts to communicate terror through isolated expressions on character’s faces and through the chilling imagery of a warzone. Due to this, the colour palette is full of greys and browns; it is muted, capturing natural light and appearing almost like a painting. One moment that stands out is when soldiers, crushed onto a ship, pass around slices of bread spread with strawberry jam. The colour pops onto the screen and provides a stark contrast to the dull tones of the ocean and beach. The red, that would normally be associated with blood in a typical war film, is displaced by the stereotypically British iconography of jam. In this moment, the film chooses to celebrate Britishness and the unlikely victory of Dunkirk rather than dwell on the horrors and losses of war.

An immersive and epic history narrative, Dunkirk packs its punches in a much shorter time than most war-films, making for a poignant picture of a proud moment in British history. Dunkirk harbours fantastic performances across the board, from the brooding Cillian Murphy, whose character name is merely ‘Shivering Soldier’, to Tom Hardy who manages a heroic performance whilst having most of his face covered by an oxygen mask, even Harry Styles doesn’t seem too out of place and his acting debut is certainly commendable. Dunkirk’s success is in its subtlety, while for some this may fall short of the epic action war-film they were expecting, for me, it is a refreshing, unique and rewarding take on the genre.

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Okja: A Meaty Movie about a Girl and her Pig

Unsettling dystopia, adventure fantasy, modern fable, but perhaps most of all, Okja is a story of friendship and love. CEO of the Mirando Corporation, Lucy Mirando (played by the fantastic Tilda Swinton who also featured in Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer) has delved into the controversial territory of genetic mutation to breed a new brand of enhanced ‘superpig’. These mammoth, hippo-like pigs have been shipped off to twenty-six farms across the world to be cultivated and cared for until ten years on, when one lucky porker will be crowned the winner, the ultimate superpig. This exposition is provided in the opening scene in the form of a business announcement by Lucy Mirando who unveils her new scheme to the delight of the audience and press.

Soon, however, we are whisked away to the haven of rural South Korea and are introduced to Mija, a young strong-willed famer girl, and her very own superpig, Okja. The greed and gluttony of the Mirando Corporation is easily forgotten as we enjoy learning about Mija and Okja’s peaceful existence and the unbreakable bond the two seem to share. Okja, herself, is a CGI masterpiece that somehow straddles the delicate balance between hulking, great beast and adorable, gentle pet. These idyllic opening scenes are important in grounding the viewers trust and support for Mija and her pig. We see that Okja is no ordinary hog, she seems to possess complex human emotions such as empathy, intelligence and humour. If, however, this jovial first act leads you to believe this film is going to be an enjoyable family romp, much like Babe or Charlotte’s Web, then you will be in for a nasty surprise as the film slowly slips into darker territory.

When Okja is forcibly taken back to New York, the drama really begins to unfold and we realise this plotline is much bigger than just a girl and her pig. The Animal Liberation Force are thrown into the mix and frontman Jay, played by Paul Dano (admittedly one of my favourite actors), provides a contrast to Lucy’s eccentricity with his cool, calm demeanour. Dano’s muted, toned down performance is powerful and he commands the screen with his presence, even revealing a darker streak in his personality when he callously beats fellow ALF member, K, for mis-translating. The Mirando corporation launches a vast marketing scheme, planning to unite Mija with Okja on the world’s stage and create a gut-wrenching moment that will win back the hearts (and wallets) of the nation. This is Lucy’s last chance to keep a stable hold of the business and assure the budding customers of the morality of her company.  Although, with the forces of the ALF working behind the scenes, this scheme is sure to be a PR nightmare.

Okja presents an array of fantastic characters but Gyllenhaal’s character, Dr. Johnny Wilcox, comes close to up-staging everyone, even Okja herself. His performance is highly eccentric, both exceedingly hilarious and strangely haunting at the same time. Wilcox, the celebrity face of the Mirando corporation, is hungry for fame and fortune, deluded about his star potential and perhaps, slightly unhinged. In one of the darkest scenes of the movie, we watch as Wilcox sadistically tortures Okja, forcing her to breed with other superpigs, ranting, raving, beating her and removing portions of her flesh to be used for taste-tests. This scene allows us, as audience members, to gain an insight into the insidious underside of the meat industry. The film cleverly makes us all complicit to Wilcox’s sadism as he claims: ‘I’m an animal lover. Everyone knows that about me’. This line seems to resonate with many of us who nuzzle up to our pets while tucking into a bacon sandwich.

If this scene isn’t traumatic enough, the violence escalates in the harrowing final scene at the mass-killing plant which is enough to make any meat-eater question their ethics. The plight of these innocent animals arises so naturally from the film that their slaughter feels exceptionally cold-hearted and cruel. This scene could easily have felt a little corny, intended merely as a tear-jerker, but Bong avoids this and creates a truly distressing image of the modern meat industry. Watching these ethereal animals line up for slaughter and seeing the human look of recognition within their eyes is a truly powerful moment within this film.

Bong’s Okja is a unique film, as comical as it is terrifying, constructing that ingenious type of satire that is both humorous and ironic yet startlingly close to home. Bong masterfully maintains an otherworldly quality alongside the terrifying realism of consumer capitalism, embedding within this world a beautiful relationship between child and animal. This film is worth a watch for those interested in the movie’s politics and those who just want to be entertained by a giant, loveable pig.

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Baby Driver: An Action Movie you can Dance to

Fun, fast-paced and fuelled with fabulous performances from an all-star cast, Baby Driver is the thrilling action heist movie-cum-musical that everyone is talking about. Edgar Wright’s newest film keeps all the aspects of a cool-crime movie but combines them with a killer soundtrack to create a musical action movie that appeals to lovers of both genres. Getaway driver, Baby, played by The Fault in our Stars lead Ansel Elgort, is wrapped up in business with crime boss ‘Doc’, played by the incredible Kevin Spacey. Indebted to ‘Doc’, Baby is always ‘one more heist’ away from paying what he owes. This seemingly simplistic plot thread would be dull and conventional if not for Baby’s quirk: he listens to music all the time. With constant headphones dangling from his ears and an array of iPod Shuffles at hand ready to provide the soundtrack for his every mood, Baby is the unconventional hero that everyone can root for. Add a pair of sunglasses and we have the hip, baby-faced heart-throb that oozes desirability and rallies our support.

The opening scene is a perfectly choreographed musical masterpiece and plays out with the clarity and excitement of the opening scene of La La Land. Set to The Jon Spencer Blue’s Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’, Baby is at one with the music, feeling the beat and dancing along before calmly performing an epic getaway at break-neck speed. Rapid editing emphasises the skidding hand-break turns and short reaction shots capture the element of shock in his crime-mates faces as Baby effortlessly escapes the chase. From the opening scene, we realise we are quite literally in for the ride of our lives. This is the first of many scenes in which the music and action are perfectly synchronised. At times, Baby even pauses and re-winds the music to ensure the action is kept in time with the beat. Baby seems to be engaging with the film-making process itself by creating and implementing the soundtrack to his own life. His other quirk seems to be recording clips of live conversation and remixing them at home to create funky hip-hop mixtapes which he stores in a box. This element of his character, however, is hardly developed and serves more as a plot point for later in the film than as an insight into character.

Baby’s quirk, though, is not simply the weird habit of an unhinged and mysterious character but is supported by a tragic backstory that deepens our sympathy for the innocent-at-heart protagonist. Revealed in flashback, we see the catastrophic car-accident that orphaned Baby and left him with permanent tetanus, a buzzing in the ears, hence justifying Baby being constantly plugged into an iPod. Ironically, his foster father is deaf and the pair’s relationship is touching; his ‘Pops’ feels Baby’s music through vibrations.

If our sympathy for Baby and his situation isn’t already flourishing, Wright throws in a love-interest and adds a whirlwind romance to match the speed and dynamism of the car-chases. Deborah, portrayed by Lily James, is the adorable waitress who has her own dreams of heading West and finding a new life full of music and joy. In a potentially creepy twist, Deborah works in the same café as Baby’s mother did and flashbacks reveal a startling similarity of appearance. I’m sure Freud would have something to say about this connection between his lover and deceased mother but I’ll leave the oedipal drama for another day. Indeed, the pair’s romance begins to take hold during the second act of the film. The scene in which Baby accompanies Deborah to a laundrette, whilst containing generic and potentially forgettable dialogue, is visually stunning as the washing machines spin an array of multi-coloured garments in the background. If at any moment during this movie the dialogue falls flat, it is at once re-ignited by the vibrancy of the colour palette. In Baby Driver, the colours absolutely pop, perhaps a classic example of style over substance.

All these elements blend and combine to create the climactic third-act. Baby and Deborah’s love is put to the test and Baby comes up against even more absurd characters in the form of Darling, Buddy and Bats. These characters feel like they jumped straight out of a comic strip with their cartoonish appearance and stereotyped behaviour. Wright, however, plays on this stereotype in that post-modern pastiche way that always seems to delight audiences. This Tarantino-esque style is playful in just the right way and still manages to pull out a few surprises to keep the audience on their toes. My only criticism here is that the good guy versus deranged villain narrative goes a bit too far and becomes slightly pantomime. Ultimately, though, we sympathise with Baby and his redeeming and moralising features excuse his criminal actions.

As someone who doesn’t like car-chase films (I’m thinking the Fast and Furious and Mad Max franchises), Baby Driver is an original take on the genre, adding a swooning romance and electric soundtrack to sew together the narrative.

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Why am I here?

The title may sound like I’m having an existential breakdown but do not worry, it’s just a blog.

As a recent graduate I have suddenly found myself with endless free time and almost nothing to do apart from going on Netflix binges (House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and most recently Glow ) and using my new-found freedom to read books that I actually choose! As an English student, the last 3 years have been dedicated to trying to keep up with a never-ending reading list that leaves no time for pleasure reading.

So, as I am inundated with time and choice I thought I would share a few of my thoughts and opinions on some of my favourite things: books, films and TV shows. I hope you enjoy!

Lauren x