POSTED BY: MEGAN FOZZARD
Dexy’s Midnight Runners - Come On Eileen
Soundtrack to growing up
My parents were on the whole a bit crap when it comes to the Eighties . Not from drugs; my mum was on the other side of the world and my dad revealed to me he managed to melt a vinyl of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”, which I can never forgive him for. But they pulled it together for this song, which is one of my first music memories. Dad with a beer in his hand, down on one knee and dancing to this with me. He still does it now when we get drunk at family reunions.
My Chemical Romance - Welcome To The Black Parade
Becoming an emo kid
It’s the winter of 2006 and I’m watching Top Of The Pops, ready to eagerly soak up the normal RnB/dance chart shit. On come My Chemical Romance, clad in their faux military gear and deathly pale make up, and the marching band beat begins. This is it, I think. This moment sparks years of too much eyeliner, hanging round in the square in town looking miserable and only-Gerard-Way-can-understand-me angst. Sometimes, I bring out the Meg Massacre photos for a good laugh
The Smiths - This Charming Man
Began listening to decent music
Where would I have been if my friend hadn’t put The Best of The Smiths on my iPod for me? I shudder to think. There is something about Marr’s jangly guitars and Morrissey’s voice that is just perfect on this song. I discovered The Smiths late, when I was about 17 and, like the previous emo kid stage, this sparked years of too many vintage jumpers, hanging around parties drinking wine in the corner looking miserable and only-Morrissey-can-understand-me-angst (a stage that is still ongoing I reckon).
Los Campesinos! - You! Me! Dancing!
Soundtrack all the exams and summers
If I could pick the entirety of LC!’s back catalogue then I would because their lyrics are so witty and they just sing about everyday things like thinking it’s a good idea to dance in a fountain when you are drunk. I think I’ve listened to LC! more than any other band over the past summers and Gareth, Kim, Rob et al have been there with all my made up romances, pre-festival excitements, kissing the wrong person at parties, getting too drunk, break ups and just being really bored. But this song in particular reminds me of being locked in a room revising for GCSEs, AS and A Levels, listening to this song and fantasizing about all the summer fun we are going to have. Of course, summer is never really as good as you remember it when you get nostalgic and listen to songs like this.
Franz Ferdinand - No You Girls
I first heard this song on the MTV “scripted reality” series The Hills. Its catchy/dancey lyrics caught my attention right away and I quickly downloaded Franz Ferdinand’s three albums. I was hooked. Franz Ferdinand have been my favorite band since 2009 and this song really hit home due to the lyrics “No you boys never care How the girl feels”. This song can relate to both boys and girls; boys are confusing to girls and girls are confusing to boys. Because of this song/band, my favorite type of music is alternative rock and Brit-pop. Before hearing this type of music, I’d listen to Kiss 108 and everyone knows that’s not real music anymore. You cannot stay in a bad mood when listening to Franz Ferdinand’s songs. They’re so uplifting and elegant.
Trapped Under Ice - Stay Cold
I started listening to hardcore because of an ex-boyfriend. He was always angry and he said this music helped to release your anger. He and I would always fight and I was sick of it so I downloaded Trapped Under Ice’s whole Stay Cold album. The first song I listened to was the title track; the lyrics “You can’t hurt me anymore/I stay cold forevermore/So alone/But you can’t hurt me anymore” meant so much to me. It taught me that you don’t need a relationship to be happy. You don’t have to let someone in. You can be by yourself and be okay. I understood why my ex listened to that music. After that, I downloaded a bunch of hardcore songs. Hardcore kids stand for something and they come together because they have no one else because no one understands why they’re cold-hearted.
The Beatles - Come Together
Yes, the typical first Beatles song. I was watching Across the Universe, a musical that used Beatles tracks. It goes without saying that these covers weren’t as good as the originals but the lyrics were gained an extra something; they were simple, yet lovely. “Come Together”’s lyrics didn’t make much sense to me, along with many other Beatles’ songs, but who doesn’t love The Beatles? I am now a Fab Four fanatic. My room is covered in Beatles’ posters and I’ve gotten a few of my friends to get into them as well. I have 110 songs of them on my iPod. In my opinion, no one can ever compare to The Beatles. Even the songs that don’t make sense are wonderful. The Beatles have showed me that older music is good too. I love artists such as Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and Frank Sinatra because of The Beatles.
Skrillex - Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites
This is the first electronic dubstep song I’ve ever listened to. At first I wasn’t a fan because I thought a good song had to require lyrics. Dubstep and electronic songs helped me get through depression because I love to dance and these types of songs are great to dance to. The fact that dubstep songs have little to no lyrics helps you because you don’t have to think about anything, you just flow with the music.
Aerosmith - Walk This Way
I’ve been listening to Aerosmith since I was in a car seat. They’re my dad’s favorite band. When I became a teenager, I asked my dad if I could borrow his Aerosmith CDs; the rock legends has opened up the door to classic bands such as Deep Purple, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, and Metallica. On June 26th I’m seeing Alice Cooper/Iron Maiden because of this type of music.
"This is a story of boy meets girl."
So says the narrator in the opening sequence of (500) Days of Summer; “but you should know up front, this is not a love story”. This could refer to any number of themes within the film, such as gender role-reversal between Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) and Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) or the fact that the ideology of ‘love’ in romantic comedies is not adhered to. On the other hand, it could mean that from the beginning of the film, the audience is aware that this is not a classic linear narrative as often found in romantic comedies; it is quite literally not a love story. Instead, those of you who have seen the film will know its non-chronological structure uses each scene as one day in Tom & Summer’s five hundred day long relationship. But is this narrative structure merely a gimmick as some critics have suggested or an innovative choice that refreshes the long-stale romantic comedy genre?
For starters, the characters are quite unconventional in the romcom world. Okay, they’re still young, white and attractive, but that’s Hollywood’s problem. You’ll see very few indie kids/hipsters in a big romantic comedy; there won’t be any mention on The Smiths either, and the lead couple won’t be seen shouting “PENIS!” in a crowded park. Perhaps the ever-growing cult popularity of the film is partially responsible to mainstream taking a bit more notice of alternatives to the norm.
One other thing that (500) Days does differently is that shows the difference between the content of what is told to us in the narration and what is shown onscreen. For instance, very early on in the film, we see a scene between Tom and Summer; they’re sat on a bench, holding hand and smiling at each other with an engagement ring on Summer’s finger. This one shot, along with the evidence that this comes late on in film’s “timeline” connotes the intimacy and the happy ending we’re used to seeing in romcoms. But hang on a second, haven’t we just been told that there is no happy ending for these two? Already, (500) Days is playing with and creating conflict between is shown and told, audience expectations and narrative conventions.
This conflict sustained throughout and also used for comedy value. Take one of the film’s most iconic scenes; after the couple have sex for the first time Day 34, Tom walks to work, soundtracked by Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams”, as passers-by begin a dance number. There’s lip-syncing, cheesy dance moves, Disney birds and a Han Solo cameo; it’s what every guy (would like to) experience after sex with the girl of their dreams. Tom finally reaches work, enters the lift just as the doors close, and when they open again an intertitle transports us to Day 300, giving us a wonderful jump cut to a downbeat, bedraggled, post-breakup Tom shuffling out of that same lift. This has a comedic effect as Tom has gone from overwhelmingly happy to depressed in a short space of time, swung from one emotional extreme to the other; but also creates tradegy and sympathy for Tom. Anyone can relate to that just-dumped feeling. By using intertitles, to pass the time quickly and to compare & contrast, the film undermines Tom’s fantasy of love as fleeting. The notion of everlasting love, which romantic comedies thrive on, has been undermined.
And this is not the only way that the film’s structure undermines Tom’s view of love (gained from a total misreading of The Graduate). The narrator tells us toward the beginning of the film that “most days of the year are unremarkable… most days have no impact on the course of a life”; but because the film is cut up into segments of days, it exaggerates how each day does in fact have an impact on the overall course of the characters’ romance and lives. The audience has more awareness of Tom and his actions than Tom himself. Often this invokes dramatic irony, making Tom’s viewpoint within the film redundant since, unlike the audience, he is not aware of the causality between the different narrative days. For instance, early in the film on Day 154, a montage of images of Summer is narrated by Tom pointing out the different aspects of Summer he loves; “I love her smile. I love her hair. I love her knees. I love how she licks her lips before she talks. I love her heart-shaped birthmark on her neck. I love it when she sleeps” and declaring he loves her. Later in the film, on Day 32, the same montage is repeated, except now Tom hates all these things about Summer he saw positively before ("I HATE THIS SONG!"). As the character of Rachel, Tom’s little sister and probably the wisest person in the film, suggests to Tom, once their romance is over he becomes an unreliable narrator, remembering only the good things, and nothing he doesn’t want to. Perhaps this is the purpose behind the film’s narrative structure; to show the ambiguity and absurdity of the love story through informing the audience moreso than the main characters.
As well as changing the audiences’ ideas of the love ‘story’, (500) Days challenges critics too. One complaint from those who enjoy romcoms is that critics of the genre place too much emphasis and focus on the memorable happy ending, with the rest of the narrative disappearing from critical discussion, especially of the middle section. By placing the events of Tom & Summer’s romance in non-linear structure, the film in fact places importance of the oft-forgotten middle section. Unlike conventional linear films, the audience has to actively link the events in the middle of the film and organise them into a linear sequence within their own minds in order to create the overall story; making some sense of what they’re seeing on screen. A prime example of this is the reappearance of Day 488 at the end of the film. Beforehand, this had alluded to the stereotypical ‘romcom happy ending’ for the couple. It not until this scene is shown again that the true interpretation of the ending and the overall story can be pieced together; we’ve already been told Summer is engaged to someone other than Tom, a short while after the two broke up. When you look at Day 488 for a second time, you begin to notice the mise-en-scene of the autumnal setting; the grey clouds and the character’s black outfits suggests an unhappy ending, if we believe the standard romcom rules.
Yet, in some ways (500) Days is still your typical love ‘story’. I would argue that it can only try to break from the normal narrative structure because the conventions, cliches and tropes of romantic comedies as well as classic linear romances has been so thoroughly repeated, so the audience already has pre-conceived assumptions and expectations. The narrative structure of romantic comedies have been described as tired and predictable, widely depicted as slavish and formulaic, adhering to well-worn and obvious conventions. It’s the simple equation of “boy meets girl; boy and girl face obstacles in their union; boy and girl conquer obstacles to find true love”; it’s essentially Romeo & Juliet… without the suicidal ending. Let’s not forget that the narrator reminds us “this is not a story of boy meets girl” showing the film’s awareness of such narrative conventions through the use of three simple words. However, it is only because an audience is to this familiar narrative structure, and furthermore the linear narrative structure in most films, that (500) Days of Summer can subvert this. Like another alt-romantic comedy of recent years, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind, it eschews the preoccupations of the rom-com even while being understood as belonging to the genre, and this can mostly be accredited to its non-linear narrative structure.
So is (500) Days gimmicky? Toby Young, critic and source writer of another conventional/unconventional romcom in How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, commented that “taking the best bits from other movies and rearranging them in a non-linear sequence does not make for an original film”. Either way, (500) Days of Summer has prompted questions of the love ‘story’ and we can only look at films in the future to see if it will reinvigorate the genre.
More “Highway To Hell” than “Stairway To Heaven”, Rock of Ages might possibly be the funniest film I have seen all year, but not intentionally. First of all, I’d like to apologise to everyone in Screen 12 for the 21:15 showing at the Cornerhouse i Nottingham last night for our whispering, giggling, snorting and generally trying really really hard to suppress laughter, not at the scripted jokes, but during the serious, dramatic bits. I’m sorry. You should ask for a refund for our disruptive behaviour (or for the fact that Rock of Ages is rubbish) but you should have been listening to our commentary.
Because this is the problem with Rock of Ages: when it tries to be funny, on the whole it’s not. But when the film attempts to seriously (albeit slightly cheesily and in a clichéd manner) to talk about how “rock and roll will not die” and “sticking it to the man”, it’s bloody hilarious. The opening sequence in The Bourbon Room looks like how my Nan would imagine a gig to look like or somebody making a very poor music video for Ke$ha. Everybody having supposedly wild, raucous fun, chugging on bottles of Jack Daniel’s and swinging from every available raised surface, but with it all looking a bit too squeaky clean and choreographed; it’s rock with out the edge; it’s the good time that nobody actually ever has in real life.
"Is it going to be cheesy?" whispered my friend as the credits roll up. Well, yeah, I thought, it’s a musical and so you have to give it a bit of leeway in the cheese department and be a bit open-minded. No one breaks out into song any time they show any vague emotion, e.g. Hairspray, director and producer Adam Shankman’s previous song ‘n’ dance affair, which I actually quite enjoyed, and even goth favourite Nightmare Before Christmas has a whiff of cheese about it. But Hairspray got the balance right between the clichéd teenage dream of TV and the serious issue of intergration, racism and not judging by appearance. Plus, its lead character, dance numbers and casting of Zac Efron were targeted at tweenagers without being too close High School Musical. In comparison, I’m left wondering who Rock of Ages’ done-to-death clichés of rock and roll are for. Definitely no one who has actually lived and experienced the late ’80s hard rock scene like main player Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise), who are in it mainly for a bit of a nostalgia trip. You can’t imagine Mick Jagger or even Axl Rose genuinely calling someone his “rock and roll brother”, can you? Instead, it’s probably aimed at those a few years younger than the naive central couple Drew and Sherrie (Diego Boneta and Julianne Hough, respectively), one of whom has just moved to LA from Olkhoma and ends up being a stripper, and the other a wannabe rocker who ends up in a boy band. I still think Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens were more genuine.
Maybe if Rock of Ages had been brave, taking the piss out of itself a bit more and been a bit more satirical, it could have passed for a good film. At times it manages it, like Alec Baldwin’s club manager Dennis Dupree saying to Sherrie “Let me guess, it has always been your dream to sing. In high school, you played the lead role in Sound of Music and someone, probably your Aunt Betty told that you had some ‘real talent’ so you dumped your jock boyfriend and moved to LA to find fame.”
Another big problem with Rock of Ages is that Stacee Jaxx is supposed to “spew out three things: Sex, hateful music, and…sex!”. But Tom Cruise just isn’t sexy. I know he was at some point; I have seen Top Gun and Interview With The Vampire but this is not an ageist thing. Probably because old rock stars don’t have that much sex appeal until you see them perform and Tom Cruise just never quite performs in this film. He walks around shirtless and swaggering, like someone trying too hard to be sexy, and if high school taught us anything, it’s that trying too hard is neither cool nor sexy. Maybe it’s the stiff wife, the Scientology image, the couch jumping, the continuing list of bad films… I just can’t accept him being sexy. I’m now going to list Tom Cruise or any likeness to him as one of my biggest turn offs. And the film tries to be raunchy but just gets it all wrong- take for example the ‘sex scene’ between Jaxx and reporter Constance Sack (Malin Akerman). They gyrate and grope for a bit in an intentionally hilarious manor, and then it cuts to another scene. That would have been all well and good, and complaint with the PG-13 certificate, if they had left it at that. Instead, they then cut back to the two of them still in their underwear, complete with post-coital panting and “that…was….so…good”. Hang about, they managed to achieve orgasms whilst still 100% fully clothed and minus penetration? “Are we missing something?” friend and I whisper to one another. “That’s how you have sex? We’ve been doing it ALL wrong!”. Cue more inappropriate for cinema laughter.
In the end though, Rock of Ages stops being so bad it’s funny to just being bad. As one of the film’s championing songs, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Belivin’ points out, it goes on and on and on and on. The minute the final credits rolled up, me and a friend said right on cue “God, let’s go get a strong drink now” and “I need a cigarette immediately”. Not because we were inspired by the rock ‘n’ roll behaviour but because we were bored.
Some of you will berate me and call me a hater for not being ‘in the spirit of things’ and ‘having a laugh’ which is what musicals are ‘supposed to be all about’ and ‘not taken seriously’. Trust me, I had a laugh, but at Rock of Ages, not with it.
How do a poor, white, trailer trash family in trouble, make $50,000 quickly? Chris Smith’s (Emile Hirsch) answer is to hire the titular Killer Joe (Matthew McConaughey), a corrupt cop with a job on the side bumping people off for a small fee and get him kill his mother in order to claim the insurance money. So far, so predictable crime thriller. That is, Joe claims Chris’s younger sister, the slightly mad Dotty (Juno Temple) as his ‘retainer’ and it all starts to become a bit weird. Not so predictable thriller now eh?
Well, one genre the trailer for Killer Joe doesn’t scream at you is comedy. Yes, it’s a suspense-filled, ultra-violent crime thriller-cum-redneck Western, but it surprisingly tips the balance with genuinely funny moments. Most of these are at the expense of the stupidity of the Smiths, namely the father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church), but the funniest are at the absurdity of this psycho murder mixed in with the everyday. For example: after pummelling someone’s face in, Joe insists they all sit down to dinner as a family and tuck into some chicken wings. Dotty is madly oblivious in her own little world and Chris, noticing his step-mum’s face is covered with blood, simply comments “Sharla, your mascara has run”. There will be blood and, erm, KFC.
It’s as if the psychotic Joe has slowly permeated the family and sent them all a bit mad. Matthew McConaughey, who I have mainly seen strutting around topless in chick flicks like Failure to Launch, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days and this year’s Magic Mike, wouldn’t have been my first choice for Joe based on his track record; I guess being from Texas himself he already had the accent. And yet McConaughey has given what critics are calling “the performance of his career” and I have to agree with them. He plays the part with the cunning of a psychopath who is about charismatic, charming and funny enough for you to laugh at from the safety of the cinema seats, but this merely hides his propensity for violence which ends up being completely shocking. You don’t want to mess with him but, unfortunately, the Smiths have. Emile Hirsch is on form as in the supporting role and Juno Temple doesn’t exactly break away from her ‘kooky’ typecasting, but this is just a minor quibble in comparison to the high standard of acting.
Fans of the sharp, stylish blood, gore and genre-bending styles of Tarantino, Matthew Vaughn and The Coen Brothers will be in for a violent treat. However, what this film highlighted for me when watching was how I respond to violence against women as opposed to violence against men on screen. I had to look away when a woman got punched but I could just about watch a man getting his faced smashed in with a can of Libby’s Pumpkin (an all-American pop culture reference that you will not forget after this). So I’m stuck as to how to describe my favourite film of 2012 so far. The best I can do is: It’s like the modern western world of No Country For Old Men met with the hilarious cartoon violence of Pulp Fiction.
Clicking onto iPlayer late at night, I confess I went into watching the new BBC Three docu-series Don’t Call Me Crazy with a lot of concerns. The trailer seemed to present the series as a kind of reality TV show, exploiting these young people at their very worst for some quasi-psychological insight for the everyman, and with a subject matter all too close to home that didn’t sound like fun viewing at all. But, so as not to judge without knowing what I was on about (and expecting to think very negatively about it), I clicked play.
Based at Manchester’s McGuinness Unit For Adolescents With Mental Health Problems, this first episode focuses on Beth, a teenage girl with issues including self-harm, depression and an eating disorder, as well as her fellow patients with problems such as OCD, psychosis and suicidal thoughts. What the trailer didn’t reveal is that DCMC equally follows the staff who treat them and their ups and downs. Without being sensationalist, the BBC, in my opinion, offer a very realistic and well handled view of what these units are like. There are graphic and disturbing scenes where patients are being restrained and others physically struggling with food, which are the harsh realities of serious mental health problems. If you are looking for some light entertainment, this ain’t it. But what they do not lose sight of is the fact that they are still teenagers, with shots of them dancing to cheesy pop music and playing pool to pass the long hours. The patients mess about with the staff and the staff recount anecdotes about the teenagers under their care.
Although 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime, institutes like the McGuinness Unit and other units that exist for adolescents remain a mystery to most. These are not the institutes of the Victorian past, and yet their locked doors, compulsory observations, and sectionings are enough to evoke these. With no fault to the public, the patients or the staff, these buildings become full of mystery and it is very easy to see their signs and instantly think of negative stigmas. For the many watching at home, I hope that their motive is of general interest towards something they will probably never access themselves, and not voyeuristic or sensationalist. The patients themselves are never treated as typical teenagers “just going through a tough adolescence”, but as young people with genuine problems, with the realities and seriousness of their illnesses on full display.
This is where the series redeems itself from its trailer: instead of being exploitative, it opens up the issuess of mental health and portrays these units neither in a positive nor negative light, simply a truthful one. They show a conversation between the patients in which they have a totally casual discussion about the negative stigma surrounding their mental health issues. In my opinion, there is no better way to show this issue to the general public than the patients themselves describing their problems or the fact that “if you had a cold, nobody would ask ‘Why do you have a cold? You have no real reason to have a cold’.” In general, the subject matter is handled delicately and correctly, with only a few patients giving all area access and others having their faces blurred or only appearing once or twice.
This is not to say that the series is without its problems though. The main one for me is the shots of patients huddled in corners with staff walking by, which suggests a neglect in the health system. Although the series may defunk the stigma surrounding institutes and mental health problems, I can think of two ways in which a young audience might react to this (perhaps without realising it):
- the triggering response - the problem with releasing a programme like this to the general viewer is that it you don’t know what state of mind this ‘general’ viewer is in. The series by no means glamourises mental health, but scenes of a patient with an eating disorder listing her coping methods of not eating, or how someone can self-harm with ‘literally anything sharp and easy to conceal’ could trigger or aid those who already have these issues
- the patients as an example - as the docu-series is not uplifting and shows the harsh reality of mental health treatment, I worry that viewers may look upon the Unit with an ‘I-don’t-want-to-end-up-there’ response, setting patients as an example to be avoided. This gives the idea that mental health issues are a choice that can be avoided, and is counter-productive.
So, do we go back to not making documentaries like this and leaving the general public in the dark? Or will Don’t Call Me Crazy help with mental health stigma? It is indeed compulsive viewing, but whether or not this is for the right reasons remains up in the air. The beginning seems promising, but let’s see what the rest of the series has to hold.
- the triggering response - the problem with releasing a programme like this to the general viewer is that it you don’t know what state of mind this ‘general’ viewer is in. The series by no means glamourises mental health, but scenes of a patient with an eating disorder listing her coping methods of not eating, or how someone can self-harm with ‘literally anything sharp and easy to conceal’ could trigger or aid those who already have these issues
Nobody quite does neurosis like Woody Allen, probably the most neurotic writer and director around (or as his screen persona would have us believe). After over 40 years in the film industry, Allen keeps delivering top quality comedic cinema that increasingly has more to tell than just laughs. His latest offering, Blue Jasmine, contrasts his beloved eastern New York and San Francisco. Cate Blanchett stars as the eponymous Jasmine, an Eastern socialite who is forced to go west to try and start a new life with her down to earth sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) after losing her millions when it turns out that her husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has being committing fraud all along to fund their lifestyle. Jasmine not only brings her Louis Vuitton suitcases, but her Stoli vodka martini drinking, Xanax popping and anxiety ridden ways. She is a woman on the verge of a breakdown as she turns up on Ginger’s doorstep, and it’s not just because of her long, first class flight.
If this is all sounding a bit familiar, it’s probably because I’m not the first to compare this film to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire with many critics calling it an remake, a homage to or at the very least influenced by the classic play. From the plot to the characters to Ginger’s tiny, cramped flat where the present action and tensions leftover from the past unfolds, the similarities are screaming at you in the face. Even Ginger’s boyfriend, Chili (Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale) has the hyper masculine sweat and beer about him coupled with an intensely volatile love for his woman of Marlon Brandon’s Stanley Kowalski. This is not to say you can’t appreciate this film without having read this play, but you might just want to Wikipedia it quickly before you buy your cinema ticket.
Many are calling Blanchett’s role her finest and I can see why. At first Jasmine is utterly detestable, with her drawling East coast accent monologues about her woe-is-me self-obsessed fall from the ultimate 1% lifestyle along with Baldwin who oozes so much sleaze it may as well come in his hair gel bottle (probably at $100 a pop). She is ridiculously critical of her Ginger and her life, looking down on her and her boyfriend with the utmost snobbery both in the flashbacks and in the present. After all, it is really hard to be sympathetic to the super rich. But like Tennessee’s Blanche DuBois, she is not a woman of reality, she is a woman who wants to live in a fairytale; a fairytale that is so far in the past and so carefully constructed that she has even changed her name from the plain ‘Jeanette’ to the name ‘Jasmine’ which her husband claims is one of the reasons he fell in love with her. She is full of contradictions and impulsive actions like ‘wanting to make something of herself’ but dropped out of her degree in her final year to marry Hal for bogus happy life and almost doing exactly the same when another rich, eligible man swoops in before the illusions and lies she has constructed so well come crashing down upon her all over again.
Blanchett not only portrays a woman who is not meant for this lowered lifestyle, but a woman who was not meant for the world outside of her imagination. One could liken her in this sense to the lead of Gil played by Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris as he prefers his fantastical made up version of the city hanging out with Fitzgerald and Hemingway than he does with his real life fiancé. She increasingly stares off into the distance with a glazed look as she talks, hearing the song ‘Blue Moon’ playing when nobody around her except the audience can and talking to herself on the street (much to her own social humiliation).
Of course, Allen manages to find humour in this where it almost feels uncomfortable to laugh, with one of the funniest scenes in the film being Jasmine spieling about her breakdown and all the various medications the doctors have tried her on to her two nephews in a fast food outlet when left to babysit, blissfully unaware that 10 year olds don’t know what Prozac is. You may find Jasmine’s actions terrible to the point of delusional and may hate the extremely affluent with a passion, but Blanchett’s performance strips her down to just another person with problems like the rest of us.
It is not only the 1% that gets Allen’s thorough examination though; Jasmine’s criticisms of Ginger begin to play on your mind too. One would expect in this film that this living off minimum wage and enjoying the simple things way of life would be set up as a much more wholesome alternative. But some senses, she is reliant on male attention and impulsive like her sister, starting up an reckless romance with a man she meets at a party (a fantastic small role played by comedian Louis C.K) and when that all goes to pot taking back the abusive ‘loser’ Chili just as quickly. She is nowhere near as bad as Jasmine, but her own tensions are teased out too.
At times, the dialogue is slightly clunky and it perhaps relies too heavily on A Streetcar Named Desire’s legacy, but these are minor criticisms of what is otherwise a truly strong Woody Allen film, with some critics calling it the strongest he has made in years. The cinematography is crisp and glittering like the super rich world that Jasmine and Hal once inhabited. Not only that, but there is Oscar talk flying around about Blanchett’s performance and all with good reason. It is relevant, funny and heartbreaking all at once, with an ending that will leave you with mixed feelings about its lead. Definitely a must see film for 2013.
It all began with the Great British Bake Off. Well, technically the Great British Menu was the first of the “Great British” stable of shows, but it was indefinitely the success of GBBO that began this current twee trend, often found on The Beeb in the evening when your family are settling down to see what’s on TV . Guided by Mary Berry (the sweet, old one) and Paul Hollywood (the charming, Scouse and strangely attractive old one), we the people of Great Britain have tuned in to witness all the soggy bottoms and good crumb structures of amateur bakers. Not what you would traditionally call ‘must-see TV’, and yet it genuinely is.
The Great British Bake Off began from humble beginnings of just 2 million viewers for its first episode back in 2010, to become an unexpected hit, with a peak of 9 million views in the final episode of the fourth season. From a show with a very, very simple format, the BBC has gained a relatively huge amount of high ratings and this can only mean one thing: spin-offs. The Great British Sewing Bee and now, in the same vein, the Big Allotment Challenge have emerged to cash in on the hangover of audiences waiting patiently for GBBO to return.
Like Come Dine With Me, part of the entertainment of the “Great British” shows comes from the contestants’ skills (or, if we all recall the fantastic, now-infamous Stolen Custard incident of GBBO 2013, the contestants fails), but mainly from the witty commentary of presenters Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc; there are often more gags and innuendos in an episode of GBBO than your average Carry On film. This is where I think the spin-offs are going wrong; they are simply not as funny or enjoyable to watch as GBBO, as their presenting style is far too serious and uptight, whilst their judges aren’t charismatic enough. It’s all a bit too straight-laced in comparison, refraining from having a bit of a laugh both with and at the programme.
And yet slowly, you get yourself sucked into the subject matter. You begin to care about the numerous contestants. The beauty of these shows is that the audience don’t even have to have much knowledge of the subject of the competition to think that they know more than the contestants. Suddenly when watching, we are all experts on what’s going wrong with Brendan’s crème patisserie despite the fact that the majority of us in the viewing public had no idea what a petit-four was about an hour ago and the extent of our baking expertise is to whip up a sloppy Victoria sponge on someone’s birthday. Nods of agreement go round the room when a judge rubbishes a wonky hem on a dress or points out that a turnip batch isn’t quite even and has a few holes. If we can all become temporary baking enthusiasts, then surely we can do the same for other, similarly quaint pastimes like gardening and sewing. And the knock-on effect of these programmes means that these skills are no longer something that only your Nan does, they are cool again. Look! There’s a fairly youngish, fairly attractive person doing it as well as the old people and millions of people are watching! This must mean It Is Cool. So far, the Great British Bake Off has been accredited with the revival of the WI, soaring sales of bakery books and equipment and generally more people spending their Saturday afternoons perfecting the art homemade cupcakes. It’s kind of like what 50 Shades of Grey did for sales of erotic novels and kinky sex toys, only a heck of a lot more PG.
Overall, what these programmes do best is to package and sell a very cosy and cookie cutter version of Britishness that is easy to digest after your dinner. Think of all the bunting on the setting of GBBO and the very middle class idea of owning an allotment that is such a current trend. It’s all very Cath Kidson; retro-looking but modern enough to be part of the vague zeitgeist in the early 21st Century. They hark back to a reinvented, rose-tinted idea of the “good old days” of a pre and post-war Britain where we were still mostly dependent on our skills and on our self-sufficiency to get by - only now, because these skills aren’t necessary, they’ve become hobbies. They are fun to watch, discuss and to compete over, but they don’t really matter like they used to. I’m not suggesting the Beeb have some kind of ulterior motive behind these shows of reinforcing an ideological idea of Golden Age Britain (in fact Ian Hislop of Have I Got News For You is currently presenting a series on BBC2 dispelling the very notion of nostalgia over years gone by), but nonetheless it does feel very institutional and stuffed with a weird kind of national pride. But are these spin-offs successful? The Great Sewing Bee has managed over 3 million viewers per episode of the second series, which is a few baker’s dozens away from GBBO’s record. Only time will tell whether or not these spin-offs will reach the success of Great British Bake Off, or whether they will fall out of fashion as quickly as they sprung up.
The Wind Rises is thought to be the final film from Studio Ghibli’s masterful director, animator and scriptwriter Hayao Miyazaki. The internationally respected auteur claims that "This time, I am serious" about the retirement he has been repeatedly put on hold since the success of Princess Mononoke back in 1997. If this really is Miyazaki’s final film, then a story of a young Japanese boy with a dream to create beauty that is tainted by darker theme is quite a poignant ending to his career.
The beauty that Jiro, the protagonist of The Wind Rises, wants to create is the beauty of aeroplanes. With his eyesight being too poor to be a pilot, he dreams of flying until one night he is visited in a dream by the famous Italian aircraft engineer Caproni, and heeds his advice that “airplanes are beautiful dreams, engineers turn dreams into reality”. This plot is inspired by the career of Jiro Horikoshi, the real life chief engineer of the Japanese “Zero” fighter plane, however it has been made clear by Miyazaki that this film is highly fictionalised and the interwoven private life and love story of Jiro are loosely based on Tatsuo Hori’s short novel The Wind Has Risen. This film mixes reality with fantasy, with the dreams featuring Caproni and the fantastical illustrations that make every single frame like artwork contrasts with the reality of a pre-WWII Japan. Although Miyazaki’s films never shy away from showing darker and more macabre themes (Grave Of The Fireflies and this fan theory about My Neighbour Totoro being prime examples), the setting of this film makes it, in my opinion, one of his more grounding works.
Like in many of Miyazaki’s previous films, we are presented with a morally ambiguous protagonist; Despite a warning from Caproni that planes should not be weapons of war in the recurrent dreams, his aspirations to create planes cannot be as beautiful and naive as they once were as a child, just as Japan as a country becomes more and more modernised to try and level with other worldwide military. Some controversy surrounding this film arose from its subject matter of depicting and almost glorifying the designer of war planes. However, these groups are missing Miyazki’s point of celebrating Jiro’s technical advancements as one of Japan’s most gifted engineers and the loss that Jiro felt that none of beautiful designs ever made it back after they were sent out to fight. The simplicity and childlike nature of his profession is shown through scenes where he gets inspiration for his designs, once where the curve of mackerel bones in his dinner inspire the curvature of the wings, and another where he tests out the design of a plane with a paper plane that he sends to and fro off a balcony to his love interest. The complexity of the film and Jiro’s character means that neither those claiming that it is pro or against war are completely correct; ambiguity is key.
Speaking of the love interest, the romance in The Wind Rises feels genuine and suspends the realism of the impending war, although this love is also marred by death. Jiro meets a young girl Naoko on a windy train as she utters “Le vent se lève!… Il faut tenter de vivre! [The wind is rising!/We must try to live!]” and he catches her hat that is blowing away. Catastrophe strikes Tokyo soon after, foreboding their tenuous meeting. Years later, when Jiro catches a much older Naoko’s umbrella as it flies away, the two are bound on a path that reiterates these lines of rhyme that give the film its title. Miyazaki is a wonderful storyteller that weaves the romance and tragedy of their romance with the romance and tragedy of Jiro’s work in a way that is truly exquisite to watch and utterly captivating.
Unfortunately, Miyazaki could not weave his Oscar magic like back in 2002 where Spirited Away took home the Academy Award for the Best Animated Feature. Despite its nomination in the same category and an outstanding amount of critical acclaim and international accolades, The Wind Rises lost out to Disney’s almighty Frozen in the most recent Oscars. Nonetheless, this film remains a must-see for both fans of Miyazaki’s work and much broader audiences who appreciate amazing storytelling mixed with fantastical illustration.
Considering that it was a big-screen remake of a ’80s TV series shown on ABC that not many people in its target audience had even heard of or cared about (despite starring a young Johnny Depp), 21 Jump Street did pretty well for itself. By “pretty well for itself”, I mean that it had an amazing opening weekend at the box office, came third in rankings for the Spring 2012 figures and narrowly missed out on the top 20 for the year. Personally speaking, “pretty well for itself” meant it exceeded my expectations by being kind of clever but most of all by being genuinely funny.
To understand 22 Jump Street, you don’t have to have seen the first film, but it helps. 21 Jump Street followed the nerdy (are we still using nerdy in 2014? I guess we are in comedy films) Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and jock (again this seems like a dated term but stick with me) Jenko (Channing Tatum). Both left high school to join the police, and both are pretty bad at their jobs. Through a programme that their police department have “revived from the ’80s” (gettit?), they are sent back to high school to infiltrate a student drug ring only to find out that they have both changed from their former high school stereotypes. It’s not too complex, and is along the same vein as many other “bromantic” comedies of late, usually coming from Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow. But it does have more car chases and gun fights and explosions, and some very cheap laughs. It’s feel good. Watch it if you have a crushing hangover if you haven’t already.
Now, moving onto the film that this review is actually trying to critique. One of the long running jokes in 22 Jump Street is that the film is "exactly the same case as before" which should make it fairly easy for Schmidt and Jenko. It’s the same basic plot: drug ring, bromance, stereotypes of young adult groups. Only this time, it’s set at college, where they are going to have a great time taking #selfies and drinking too much because as the tagline suggests “These undercover cops are going to party like it’s their job’”. It shamelessly uses almost exactly the same plot development, twists, characters going their separate ways before coming together for a big fight scene that the first film uses. I reckon if you were to plot out the major events of the film and where they happened in the running on a graph for both films, then lay one over the top of the other, they would pretty much match.
So what, you might think. They used the same format, just like many other sequels in a franchise do. A subtle difference lies here with comedy. You can have some jokes that are based on those in the previous film and it can still be funny, as long as there is a bit of difference. With 22 Jump Street, it feels like the majority of the jokes on top of the plotline in the film are based on the first. Don’t get me wrong, there is some genuinely funny and original content 22 Jump Street that is laugh out loud. But speaking overall, both the plot and the jokes feel a bit overused by the end and don’t exactly leave you excited for a 23 Jump Street. In fact, they should probably put the whole Jump Street thing to rest in peace with dignity instead of dragging it out again and butchering it, a la The Hangover trilogy.
Of course, 22 Jump Street knows exactly why it’s being made and what its purpose is. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that it is a shameless sequel, and is extremely self aware in knowing that they are making a sequel off the success of 21 Jump Street. One of the funniest set pieces to invoke this is in a car chase where the Schmidt & Jenko try and fail to avoid driving through settings on the campus that would be expensive to the film’s budget (like the School of Robotics) because all the money has been blown on hi-tech office setting at 22 Jump Street. In fact, stick around for the closing credits after this one and you’ll see what I mean. To all intents and purposes, 22 Jump Street has succeeded, as it has topped the North American box office in its first weekend. But like many sequels, it just isn’t as good or as funny as the first.
Fargo could have gone so badly. The 1996 film by the Coen brothers is critically acclaimed, won major awards, gained a cult audience following and to top it all off was granted status as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and marked for preservation by the United States National Film Registry. The film was unique in its mix of the "Minnesota Nice" trope with a murderous and coincidental plotline: a ‘homespun murder story’ only very loosely based on true events (if you believe the totally false claim at the beginning of the film). That’s a whole lot of things that Noah Hawley’s TV series could have messed up. In fact, it perhaps prevailed where a previous attempt failed (a 1997 TV adaptation pilot directed by Kathy Bates and starring Edie Falco never made it onto the screens), thanks to the presence of the Coens as executive producers.
For me, Fargo has been a perfect example of the kind of hour-long episodes in a TV series that people are referring to more and more as ‘cinematic’ (the likes of Sherlock, Orange Is The New Black, Breaking Bad, Game Of Thrones, et al). It is something special that sits in between the less distinguished mass of other kinds of shows that are on the schedule, the kind of TV that you look forward to every week and make sure you are comfortable on the couch for. Those who look down on television as a medium - thankfully a dying breed - call it ‘high brow’. Without wanting to shit all over other kinds of TV, it seems like a cut above the rest. Fargo had cinema-esque aesthetics and motifs, outstanding scenery and colour palettes, a big star cast, riddle fuelled dialogue and plotlines on top of plotlines (not too dissimilar from the year’s other anthology debut, True Detective). It normally helps to have a subsidiary of a film production company on board to help achieve this level, and Fargo had MGM Television. This is the kind of show that could have warranted an episode by episode deconstruction and analysis, but I’ll try to stick to the show overall.
Instead of creating a direct sequel, focusing on events taking place straight after the film and reprising roles like the failed pilot, Hawley moved us on to 2006 and a whole new load of murders in Minnesota surrounding devilish hitman Lorne Malvo (Billy Bob Thorton) and insurance salesman Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman). Like the film, the murders were shown on both sides, with Deputy Molly Solverson (newcomer Allison Tolman) and Officer Gus Grimly (Colin “son of Tom” Hanks) handling that side of things. And like the film, we began with a simple plot to kill off one person that the blustering salesmen wants dead that rises into a mounting body count as more and more characters become entwined.
Unlike the film, we began with a different motive to kill. Lester has been ridiculed and put down by his wife, his brother, and his high school bully with connections to a crime syndicate Sam Hess. Although Lester doesn’t outright employ Malvo to kill Hess , he doesn’t say no to the idea. Like a belligerent butterfly effect, this begins a wave of violence that Lester gets more involved with, especially once he decides to jack in his wife with multiple hammer blows to the head in his basement. It has been suggested that it is Malvo’s influence that leads to Lester’s actions, and throughout the series we had Freeman portraying Lester with less and less of the blithering niceness of a man caught up in the wrong series of events (a regular role of Freeman’s), instead becoming a man who was confident, calculating, and willing to do just about anything to anyone to get off scot free. And he did. He schemed his way out of almost everything, despite a birdshot wound in the hand that put him at the crime scene, witnesses linking him to Malvo and Molly being spot on in her suspicions of the case. Right up until the goddamn penultimate episode, he had got away with it, even as we jumped forwarded into a year later. The two big questions of the series for me were: a) can Lester possibly get away with this? and b) is all of this actually Lester’s fault?. I think the now infamous elevator scene in the penultimate episode where we have a coincidental reunion with Malvo and Lester sums up the final question. Malvo - undercover on a hit - asks him “Is this what you want Lester?”. Lester, in all his hubris, replies “yes”, leading to another spate of killings that puts Lester back as both a suspect and a murder target. Although it has been Malvo (mostly) pulling the trigger on these killings, and for all the thematic reliance on fate/coincidence, we can safely say that it is just as much Lester’s fault. And notice how similarly dressed and styled Lester and Malvo are in the final two episodes; to all intents and purposes, Lester has become as bad as Malvo, and thankfully in the finale they both get their comeuppance. Just, I guess, as the fate of the TV programme always intended there would be.
Now onto Malvo. Lorne Malvo was different to the villain of the Coens’ film Gaear Grimsrud. Grimsrud was creepy in his silence, his ruthlessness and let’s not forget that he put his partner’s body in a woodchipper, but Malvo feels like a step up. With way of talking in riddles, calm manner of murder and his way of somehow managing to get out of any situation where you think “well they’ve got him this time, right?”, he reminds me of another Coens villain: Anton Chigurh of No Country For Old Men. These men kill not only for purpose or pleasure but simply because they can. They are predatory animals, unaffected by the systems that are meant to keep humanity safe.They seem like a inhumane force that cannot be stopped - a popular fan theory is that Malvo is some form of the devil incarnate - and, like Police Chief Bill Oswalt (Bob Odenkirk) in the finale episode, they make you question the very nature of humanity. Set next to the neighbourliness and tight knit community of Bemidji, MN (and as an added bonus, the increasing audience attachment to the lives and families of police officers Molly Solverson and Gus Grimly), this is even more terrifying.
Everything (sort of) got tied together in the finale. Even Malvo reaches his end, but he still had a superhuman quality about him, opening his blood-filled mouth after being shot three times in the chest to bare an animalistic snarl, before being shot in the head. That ‘everything’ I mentioned includes just enough references to the original film to keep those who have seen it happy (the sub plot with Stavros Milos as a poor immigrant finding the buried cache of money from the 1996 film and becoming the “supermarket king of Minnesota”, only to be blackmailed by Malvo had me more than happy). The TV series didn’t shy away from its predecessor, with links to the original murders also made through Molly’s ex-policeman father Lou and Chief Oswalt who dealt with the case. And there have been countless nods to the film, from the opening sequence of an abandoned crashed car with a body nearby with unexplained circumstances to the closing sequence of the finale, where Malvo is cooking soup and hiding out in a cabin in the woofs (and was that a wood chipper I heard as Gus approached?). The meandering and sometimes illogical-seeming plot was all tied together neatly, especially as Molly found the tape of the phone call between Malvo and Lester that confirmed that the latter had killed his wife, vindicating her long-held belief.
For me, Fargo not only reached my expectations based on the film, but exceeded them, and the finale skilfully concluded what has been a twisting and turning series. It was another ‘home-spun murder story’, only this time with a little more spinning. Noah Hawley signed a two year deal on Fargo with FX, so thankfully we can look forward to more in 2015. Although, with Hawley confirming the show is an anthology series, the production team haven’t tried to drag out this storyline into a second season, and we all knew some kind of closure was going to come for Malvo and Lester. With Molly Solverson now Chief of Police and after Gus Grimly has proved his bravery, I wonder what more could possibly go wrong in the future for the nice and neighbourly Minnesota town?