My 2015 favourites

HI! Hope you all had a lovely New Year, spent with friends, family, a bottle of wine, or perhaps just a comfy bed.

This is just a small post about some of my favourites throughout 2015. Film, literature, music, random little things that made me happy throughout the year. ENJOY!


 

MUSIC

I spend a lot of my time commuting, so having something good to listen to is essential for me.

My first favourite is not actually music – but what I listen to music through.

One of the few perks of working in retail are the discounts companies give to re-sellers of their products. Now, I’ve always been a huge fan of Bose, so when I was able to buy some of the headphones for a ridiculously good price, I jumped at the chance. I now listen to pretty much everything through Bose Qc25s. They have active noise cancellation technology inside them – which basically means they cancel out every piece of ambient noise around me. On top of that, the sound detail is exceptional. Worth every discounted penny I paid for them!

Here is a link to the favourite tracks I’ve listened to this year. Not all of them were released this year, but why should that matter? This was the year that I discovered how amazing Fleetwood Mac are – nothing like being 40 years late to the party.

Enjoy the eclectic mixture!

FILMS

2015 was an incredible year for cinema, and choosing a small number of highlights is a very difficult task. But here are the top 5 films of my year.

#5 SLOW WESTDir., John Maclean

A brilliantly dark-humoured western. To me it was a skewed retelling of the damsel-in-distress story – except the damsel in question was in no need of rescuing from the well-intentioned, but often inept Jay Cavendish, played superbly by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Michael Fassbender also stars, and as we’ve come to expect, is excellent, as the outlaw turned guide to Cavendish.

#4 ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRLDir., Robert Eggers

You would be right in thinking that cancer is hardly a topic that is suited to comedy, but in the case of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, this couldn’t be further from the truth. This film is such an honest portrayal of how shit scary something like cancer can be – and it is hard to watch at some points. However, the darker moments make the lighter ones even more uplifting. The film is sentimental without being mawkish. It is charming without being sappy. It is funny without being cliche. It is a wonderful example of how to rightly portray adolescence on film.

#3 Mad Max: Fury RoadDir., George Miller

I really love the first two Mad Max films. The originals, with Mel Gibson before he got really weird. They’re gritty, and the production levels are so basic, and campy, and hammy, and just so great. So it was with trepidation I stepped into the theatre to see not quite a sequel, but not quite a reboot. Even with the star power of Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy, I was nervous. Turns out, this was completely unfounded. A brilliant film where you can practically smell the grease and petrol emanating from the screen. It’s a physical experience to sit through, hearing the gears grind, metal shearing apart, sand whipping into your eyes – and it is made even better by the outstanding leading role played by Theron. It would not be amiss if the film was called Imperator Furiosa, rather than Mad Max – for nearly all of the film, the male lead is mute, or speaks in grunts. Cinema got the feminist hero we were all waiting for, finally!

#2 Star Wars: The Force AwakensDir., J.J. Abrams

No spoilers. I will just say this film was exceptional. It payed homage in all the right ways to the original trilogy, whilst making me deeply invested in the new additions to the Star Wars universe.

#1 Inside Out Dir., Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen

Not many films make me cry. But this one did. Perhaps the greatest Pixar film ever made, which is quite a tall order, yet I do stand beside that. Beautifully realised, it is deeply touching in all of the right ways. This film made me think long and hard about my own emotions as a child, and where they have led me as an adult. It made me think about how my actions must have negatively affected my parents – we all laugh about how parents worry about us, but it wasn’t until I saw this film I even contemplated the emotional torment I must have put them through. It’s not all emotional contemplation it provokes – like any Pixar film (except perhaps Cars 2) I was laughing continuously throughout. Having Amy Poehler, who is one of my favourite actresses certainly made me laugh all the harder. I want nothing more than for this film to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Not just as it would be groundbreaking as an animated feature has never accomplished this – but for the simple reason that it deserves to!

Special mentions: Brooklyn; Ex Machina; Samba; Still Alice


 

BOOKS

‘YES PLEASE’ – Amy Poehler

As mentioned only briefly above, I’m a big fan of Amy Poehler. Parks & Rec is one of my favourite comedy shows, and as a person, Poehler is pretty inspiring. She is a writer, performer, and has set up a Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls – an online space for women and girls to encourage, inspire, and motivate one another. Her book ‘Yes Please’ was wonderful to read. Part memoire, part advice book, part comedy sketch, it reinforced all the things I believed about Poehler to be true. She is smart, super funny, articulate, and incredibly passionate about what she does. If you need uplifting, this is the book to do it.

Collected War Memoirs – Spike Milligan

My hero, Spike Milligan wrote 7 volumes of his war memoirs, and to my shame I can’t remember which number I started off with this year. However, it doesn’t really matter. These memoirs are a beautifully funny account of one man’s dance with sanity in one of the most insane situations a person can find themselves in – a World War. The 6th and 7th volumes actually take place during peace time, as Spike shuffles around Europe, developing as a performer and finding and losing love, and ultimately, describing his tentative steps in UK show business. These final chapters were incredibly revealing about one of the greatest comics we’ll ever know.

‘Chavs: The Demonisation of The Working Class’ – Owen Jones

This was a incredibly enlightening read. A very detailed and thoughtful examination of vilification of certain social groups within the UK – in this case, the demonisation of the working class through the term ‘chav’. Whilst incredibly interesting in terms of subject matter and analysis, what was striking, was what I learned about myself through reading it. I learned how easy a trap to fall into shaming other people can be – purely out of convenience. It is incredibly simple to target a social group that is not as well off as the one you are in, and mock that. I like to think that I’m far more aware and sensitive to things like that now – and even actively try to help others. I’m glad I read this book, if only for the reason that it has helped me understand how important it is for me to be mindful of other people.


 

2015 felt up and down for me. I’m very happy in the life I’m living – I have a steady, if unfulfilling job, I have a safe home, and a loving family. One of the best parts of my year has been maintaining some great friendships, and making some new, wonderful ones.

In 2016 I’m enrolling in a journalism training scheme, and will hopefully begin a career that I can be proud of.

Fingers crossed.

J.

 

 

I got shamed today

Today, something strange happened to me on the bus. I was shamed, by a complete stranger.

First off, it was pretty innocuous, and I know feel a sense of humour towards their interaction, rather than anger. Also, I by no means think this is anything close to the other kinds of shaming that happens all too regularly to people in today’s society.

I usually read on the bus. Because I work full time I’m more likely to zone out in front of Netflix than tackle a book, because effort, right? Therefore, the hour and a half or so I spend commuting daily, is the perfect space for me to enjoy reading.

The first four A Song of Ice and Fire novels – ploughed through those in a few months. Kerouac? No problem. Not even Tolstoy was safe from my commuting literary feast.

However, today I’d forgotten to put a book in my rucksack. So, like any other human being would reasonably do, I pulled out my nice shiny iPhone 6. The scourge of boredom. So, for the 20 minutes it took for me to get from Newcastle to my bus stop I listened to the last bit of a podcast, set Spotify away, and chatted with three of my friends – one, who lives locally; two – who is currently in London; and three – who is holidaying in Thailand.

As I stood up to leave, a man in front who looked to be in his fifties, turned around and started saying something to me – confused, I lowered my noise-cancelling headphones and uttered a pleasant, yet confused “hmm?” in reply – I mean, what kind of animal talks to another person on public transport?! The animal!

“You really should learn how to better communicate.” he said, motioning with his eyes to my phone.

And off he strolled.

In a split second I went from confused, to dumbfounded to outright pissed off.

I’m guilty as anyone for spending too much time on my phone. But, I’m going to blame modern life. I mean, my life, for better or for worse is attached to a small, overpriced rectangle in my pocket.

I stormed off the bus really angry. First, I thought, “who the fuck was that prick”, the eloquent put down coursing through my internal monologue. I was the victim of a snap judgement that took no account of who I am, what I was doing, or who I was talking to.

All that guy saw was just another person on a phone, mind-dulled by innumerable apps, another symptom of modern society and all it’s ills. Did he look at me and think I was so one dimensional? Do I actually not know how to communicate? Would he have refrained from chastising me had I been actually talking on the phone for 20 minutes, rather than typing?

All of these thoughts ran through my head as I walked home. But as I calmed down, I have begun to brush it off as a random encounter, by a person who needed to mind their own business, whose opinion has no bearing on who I am or how I should continue to interact with my phone.

Like I forewarned you, this encounter is so trivial, it barely feels worth talking about it. However, for me, the after effects feel more profound.

It has given me a first hand account, however small, of how it feels to be victimised. Even though over such an insignificant thing – which I thought about for over 2 hours after it happened.

I thought about how unbelievably hard it must be for people who experience this kind of interaction on a regular basis, except the interactions being so much worse. I have never been criticised for my gender, sexual orientation, religion or lack thereof. I don’t have these barriers up against me every waking minute of the day. And this real-life manifestation made me so much more conscious of this huge issue. I’m bloody well going to try harder to A) ensure my actions and words don’t cause pain against others, and B) to try and make people more aware of how impactful even the most seemingly inconsequential statements, and actions can be.

Anyway. I’ve learned never leave the house without so much as a Where’s Wally book from now on.

J.

Grief

Today France, Europe and the world has woken up to understand the true horror of last night’s events. In the coming months we will come to understand what fully happened, and those who survived, and the families of those who did not will try and piece their lives back together.

I’ve felt a sense of numbness today, whilst I go about my job in a department store. The stream of photos, videos and accounts from the terrorist attacks have had a profoundly saddening effect upon me.

10 years ago, Britain was struck by the 7th of July London bombings. During the previous days, my dad had been in London due to his job, returning home the day before the bombs went off. He travelled on one of the tube lines upon which a bomb was detonated. I was only a teenager at the time, yet I have always carried this near-miss with me. It still makes me tense up to this day to think of what the worst case scenario could have been.

I am lucky enough that this tiny piece of my life is the closest I personally have ever come to experiencing the life-shattering aftermath of a terrorist attack.

What I now feel is grief. Grief for the people who will never see their loved ones again, for people who will be physically and emotionally scarred, grief for those halfway across the world for whom events like this may be a daily occurrence.

Yet, I have also witnessed the beauty of humanity unfold over the past 24 hours. People of Paris opening their homes to strangers, offering them sanctuary as they fled through the streets of Paris. To the fans of music and sport across the world who have offered their sympathy to the victims. To those I know, and to those I don’t on social media who are defending muslims, refugees and others who racists and bigots would wrongly blame for last night’s events.

Earlier today, I was moved to tears watching a video from the French AssemblĂ©e Nationale. Standing in silence, the members spontaneously broke into The Marseillaise. A beautiful moment of sorrow, of patriotism, of grief. It reminded me of the famous scene from ‘Casablanca’, where the French, under the heel of Nazi Germany, unite as one to collectively remember who they are, and what they stand for. I feel that we saw that today. That even though these events will terrorise us, they will kill innocents, and seek to divide – they will fail.

Remember those who died. Strive to be kind, to love, to protect those who cannot protect themselves. If we do this, if we do not change the good people that we are, we will never be beaten.

Vive Paris. Vive la France.

New Opportunities

I’m 25 and I am still struggling to find my way in life.

*CLICHÉ KLAXON*

I know right. What a stereotype I am. I’m not sure if my parents didn’t push me hard enough when I was younger, I mean that would be a convenient excuse. Am I lazy, unfocused, lacking ambition. Probably. Or is this just what everyone else goes through in life?

Whatever the answer to the above question, I have an ambition that over the coming months, I will change my direction and head towards a future that I am happy with.

I currently work in retail, which is actually OK. I mean, the hours are crap and at its worst, it is a monotonous existence, but somehow over the past two years I have overall, enjoyed what I do. I work with great people, and I’m interested in the products that I have to sell. But, let’s not kid ourselves, the work is neither life changing nor fulfilling.

This blog is testament to the enjoyment I find in writing. It’s annoying at times, and I wish I sounded more intelligent than how I perceive I come across.

*NEUROSES KLAXON*

Nonetheless. I enjoy expressing my opinion on pretty much anything. Yet I’ve struggled to find justification to pursue this interest further. I thought about journalism a long time ago, and persuaded myself that it wasn’t worth pursuing, purely due to my perception that the competition within the industry would be so fierce, my status as a hobbyist did not make it worthwhile.

Bullshit.

I’m at a stage now where I’m really pissed off at my younger self for not pursuing my interest sooner, and with even an ounce of determination. But, this is why we grow, and mature, and learn to find our way. 21 year old Jonny was a bit of a wimp, and to my credit, 25 year old Jonny still is. But what I have chosen is to not let that define me any longer.

In the coming days and weeks I will be applying to train with the Press Association to be a journalist. Luckily, the PA run a course in partnership with one of my local newspapers, so I have the good fortune to be able to study in my home town.

There are no guarantees, but I am going to try my damned hardest to get all I can out of this experience.

Stay posted, I’ll let you know how it goes.

REVIEW | Macbeth

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“O, full of scorpions is my mind!”

I walked into the cinema with expectations high. Michael Fassbender is rapidly becoming one of those rare actors whose touch seems gilded. Winning critical acclaim for films such as ‘Hunger’, ‘Shame’ and ‘Prometheus’, he now is given the chance to portray one of the greatest characters on the biggest stage. Alongside Fassbender, playing Lady Macbeth is the mesmerising Marion Cotillard.

So far, so starstruck.

To cut to the chase, I sat through a completely engrossing adaptation. Visually, the film is striking, stunning, even haunting. I have noticed that in screen adaptations of Shakespeare, there is often a great emphasis on the cinematography. In Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 ‘Romeo + Juliet’, we were given a lush, almost cartoonish version of fair Verona.

Starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes, 2011’s ‘Coriolanus’ was a grey, gritty modern day retelling of the titular character’s fall from grace, set in a modern day war-torn state.

In the same way as films before it, the archaic nature of Shakespearean English almost plays second fiddle to the visual. Battle scenes play out in near silence, the screen saturated with reds and yellows. The highlands of Scotland are dour, harsh and unforgiving, you practically hear the gales howling between the cinema seats.

That being said, the powerful delivery that Fassbender and Cotillard deliver is worth of much praise. Both actors play their characters which a wonderful sense of duality. Macbeth begins as humble and loyal, yet descends into madness after the murder of his King, Duncan. Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth may begin as the Machiavellian influence behind her husband, yet soon comes to fear the man she has played a part in creating.

 

I can’t praise this film highly enough. To take a relative Shakespearean novice, and leave such a lasting impression on me is no mean feat. It is a rich, captivating adaptation that will surely spark a revives appreciation of Shakespeare’s works.

5/5

If you’re in Newcastle, get tickets to see Macbeth here.

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ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL: My review

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It’s quite rare to find a film that thoroughly charms you. Although it seems quite an old fashioned term, I love the feeling I get when I stumble across something that I find charming. For me the sensation is like being wrapped up in an oversized jumper on a freezing day, or having that first glorious sip of tea in the morning. It makes you comfortable, makes you feel at ease, and it just makes you feel good.

This afternoon, I watched the film “Me and Earl and The Dying Girl”, and it was, you guessed it, such a charming film. It centres around the three titular characters, Greg, who is the ‘me’ in this scenario. He is a high schooler, content to coast through the whole experience with offending as few people as possible, and making as few friends as possible. Earl is his ‘business partner’, which we find out is code for friend, Greg is just too afraid to call anyone a friend in case they don’t feel the same way. Finally, the dying girl. This is Rachel, a thoughtful, unique young woman diagnosed with leukaemia.

This film is about death, and that is made very clear from the outset, courtesy of Greg’s narration that continues throughout the film. This is one of the many things that charmed me about this film. It is self aware, yet it is not cliche. What I mean by this is that the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, has a clear picture of what this film is going to be about, but does not fall into the tropes that can accompany films that deal with death. It is sincere without being sappy, it is irreverent without being flippant and it uplifting without necessarily having to impart some greater moral lesson.

The films that I found myself thinking of after I left the picture, were two films that I enjoyed greatly, and ones that I feel are similar in terms of tone. “They are 500 Days of Summer” and “50/50” Both of these films are about relationships, and one is certainly about death. If I’m being lateral, perhaps you could argue that “500 Days” is about death, as it is about the death of a relationship…but I don’t know how meta I want to get here.

With themes in mind, the film that we have is a touching portrayal of young adults struggling with issues that they should under normal circumstances never have to deal with. Where this films succeeds is creating a set of fully fleshed out characters that we can enjoy watching react to this situation in their own unique way. Greg retreats, Earl is sincere and Rachel doesn’t need your pity.

This is one of the best films I’ve seen this year, and I left the cinema with a smile on my face when the subject matter actually required tears. It may be strange, but if you want to feel uplifted, go and see this film. You may leave the theatre crying, but I guarantee you’ll also be wearing a smile.

4.5/5

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON: My review

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“You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge.”

The importance of the rap group N.W.A’s influence on the development of rap music is well known. Popularising the genre of gangsta rap, and forcing America’s eyes onto the condition of black Americans living in the suburbs of Los Angeles.

Director F. Gary Gray does a solid job of setting the gritty scene of late 1980s Compton. The guns, drugs, poverty and police brutality are all introduced alongside each member of N.W.A. These themes occur throughout the film, showing that even though the group has managed to make out out of the ghetto, that escape does not necessarily translate into the freedom they imagined. This portrayal of the hardship faced by African Americans is particularly poignant when the recent events in the U.S. are considered. The tragedy that befalls Dr. Dre midway through the film is one that will be too familiar to dozens of families even today.

However, the film is not without its problems. This film is set during a period of huge social upheaval in America, the beating of Rodney King and the following L.A. Riots was a defining chapter in the story of race relations in America. However, this is a subject that the film largely chooses to gloss over, choosing the follow the members of the group in stead. It is understandable as this film is a biopic of the group, rather than social commentary, but it strikes me as such a wasted opportunity. Not only could we see who these men were, but to understand why they sang songs like “Fuck That Police”, and why songs like that meant so much, so so many millions of people.

Missed opportunities aside, the film stands out for positive reasons in many other ways. The casting is excellent, the actors chosen to portray the members of N.W.A are convincing in their execution, as well as looking and sounding exactly like their real-life counterparts. A special mention for O.Shea Jackson Jr. playing his father, Ice Cube, halfway through, you forget you are not in fact watching the real Ice Cube, such is the striking resemblance.

The concert sequences are a treat especially if you are a fan of the group, like I am. Hearing “Straight Outta Compton” through a theatre-quality sound system is a bone crunching experience, the song still hits you in the chest as hard as it did when released in 1988.

Overall, the film was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The director has managed to make the character’s story involving, without it being boring, and if anything, the musical sequences are more than enough to keep you entertained. Whilst I feel that the film could have been so much more in terms of developing the story outside of N.W.A, this shouldn’t detract from what was a good story.

3/5