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.

 

 

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My Week in Film.

In the past week I’ve journeyed twice to my local independent cinema, the outstanding Tyneside cinema. Firstly, if you live in Newcastle I’d implore you to start going to this venue more often. If the wonderful decor, deep, cushioned seats and charming staff aren’t enough to persuade you, the adjoining Tyneside Café’s array of delicious food should.
The kind of experience you get here leaves you questioning why you ever set foot into a generic, sticky-floored multiplex of doom that dot our high streets.
That’s my plug over.

So anyway in the past week I’ve been to see two of the films that are battling it out for Oscars this season. Based on the performances that I saw, I understand why. Thought provoking and engrossing, these films left me pondering some profound questions.

The first film was Wild. Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and starring Reese Witherspoon in perhaps the performance of a career. Vallée was the director of the Oscar winning film Dallas Buyers Club, which as we know started Matthew McConnaughey – we know how his career has gone since that.

I don’t want to spoil any of the plot, but Wild is about grief, redemption and the anger that the loss of a loved one can cause. Witherspoon’s portrayal of Cheryl Strayed – whose memoir this film is based upon – is one of a woman completely lost. I think one of the best things a film can elicit from a person is when it makes you contemplate your own emotions and fears. As the credits rolled I was forced to contemplate the inevitable feelings I am going to have to face when my parents die. Needless to say I walked away quite upset.

Hopefully you can go and see this terrific film, if anything to see Reese Witherspoon’s fantastic performance, or at least to enjoy the beautifully shot landscapes and hear the memorable soundtrack.

The second film I saw was Whiplash. First of all, wow. It’s a punishing film to sit through. The very tight style in which this film is shot, and the throbbing nature of the soundtrack trap you into the very intense experience that viewing this film is. I happened to see this in the smallest screen (Roxy) the Tyneside has to offer, which only increased the atmosphere.

J.K. Simmons seems a dead cert for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar – surely deserved. His performance is a brutal one. As a teacher he is more Gunnery Sergeant Hartman than anything. Some of the expletive filled (and brilliant I might add) rants that pepper his performance both induce laughter and horror.

It won’t matter if you are a fan or not of jazz or drumming in particular as this isn’t a film about either. It’s a film about how far one is willing to push, and be pushed in the pursuit of ‘greatness’. It makes you wonder at what point does the end stop justifying the means.

There are some exceptional films on release at the moment, it’s amazing that we’re only one month into the new year.

In the next week I’d like to try and see the much hyped Inherent Vice, A Most Violent Year and perhaps Birdman. Fingers crossed.

Happy watching!

Ramblings on Remembrance

Today is a day that many spend in remembrance. We remember those who’ve lost their lives in all conflicts, but before that, it was a day of remembrance for those who fell in the First World War. Today marked the 95th anniversary of the day that the war finally drew to a close on the Western Front.

“Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible.” – Unknown, Verdun, May 1916.

I’ve always been fascinated with this conflict in particular. From a very young age I was very interested in history, and I believe that watching the brilliant programme ‘War Walks’, presented by the sadly late Professor Richard Holmes, had a huge influence on my later interest in World War One. I can’t pin down exactly what it was, but he managed to capture my young imagination with his tales. A truly passionate historian his representation of the Battles of Mons, Le Cateau and The Somme stood out especially for me. He helped communicated perhaps the most important thing about the war – what the men who fought it went through. I think the horror of the conflict was an aspect of why I’ve always harboured an interest for it. The sheer scale of death and carnage is still hard for me, and many others to comprehend. It defies comprehension how men and in many cases, boys, mustered the strength to climb ‘over the top’. We will never be able to truly understand the gut-wrenching terror they experience. Photographs, however stark they may be, can only portray half of the story. Since June of 2011 I’ve been listening to a podcast produced by the Imperial War Museum called ‘Voices of the First World War.’ It has been an incredibly informative documentary of the many varied aspects of the war, told by the men and women that experienced them. I highly recommend listening to them. Each episode is roughly 20 minutes long, they really bring across what the war meant to those who fought it – http://www.1914.org/podcasts/. I really hope that you listen to this – the First World War had such an impact on the rest of the 20th century, it is important that it’s legacy continues to be explained.

As much as I have a passion for the First World War, I try not to get caught up in the now ritual of Remembrance Sunday. I spend two minutes in silence to remember the abject horror of what men and women far braver than I willingly went through. I think of my Grandpa, who left for France in 1939. He spent three days on the beach at Dunkirk, not knowing if he was going to be rescued, or killed by a German shell or Stuka dive-bomber. I remember how lucky I was to have briefly known him before he sadly died. He made it through the Evacuation of France, the campaign in North African, and Italy. He came back and married my Grandma, had my Dad and here I am today. This is what I do in the 11th of November.

Usually I would buy a poppy but I’m no longer comfortable with how Remembrance Day is, at least in my eyes, becoming increasingly jingoistic. Words such as pride, honour and glory are bandied about with abandon, but I don’t believe there is a need to take pride in war. I don’t believe that there is any honour or glory to be gained from conflict. Perhaps, once, capturing a Spanish galleon was an honour, and the Duke of Wellington’s Peninsular Campaign was glorious. But not any more.

Heaviness aside, I thought I’d share some songs that are fitting today.

A song performed by folk artist Eric Bogle, ‘And the band played Waltzing Matilda’ is a song about a young Australian man that signs up to fight in the First World War and is sent to fight at Gallipoli. A beautiful song, it has since become the unofficial national anthem of Australia.

Boston band, Dropkick Murphys covered an Eric Bogle song ‘The Green Fiends of France’, also known as ‘No Mans Land.’ It tells the sombre tale of the men that went to France and never made it back, lamenting over the futility of war.

The opening credits of Band of Brothers never fails to give me goosebumps. A beautifully scored piece of music by Michael Kamen, it fits perfectly with the heroic, yet incredibly sad themes found within the series.

In the gym today, the radio went silent for 2 minutes at 11 o’clock. The song that was played afterwards was Sting’s ‘Fields of Gold.’ I thought this was a great choice, as what song do you open with after spending 2 minutes remembering the dead? I though that it was fitting that now, the battlefields that men fought and died upon are now fields of wheat, barley and poppies blowing in the wind.

Here are the links for the WWI episodes from Richard Holmes’ ‘War Walks’. I hope you give them a watch.

Mons and Le Cateau – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lahW_etCwuw

The Somme – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=72wUyowkfQA