REVIEW | Macbeth

Macbeth-42621_12040

“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.

screen-shot-2015-06-04-at-10-15-42-am

Advertisements

ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL: My review

maxresdefault

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

NEm2xdTCyow9pr_2_b

“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

 

 

TRAINWRECK: My review

HT_trainwreck_still_mm_150717_16x9_992

 

It was with only a small amount of trepidation that I went to see the latest Judd Apatow-produced film. The last film of his I went to see was Anchorman 2: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, and the less I remember about that film the better..

I was worried that I’d reached my ‘peak Apatow’. Were the films that I’d laughed myself to tears during my teenage years – ‘The 40 Year Old Virgin’, ‘Superbad’, and ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’, only funny because I was young?

As much as my male lizard brain likes fart jokes, and watching grown men blunder in an eternal adolescence, I’ve started to seek out more when it comes to comedy. This is not to say that I haven’t gotten that from Apatow in the past. My favourite film of his was ‘Knocked Up’, which to me was such a heartfelt, bittersweet send up of one of the proverbial man-children coming to terms with what it means to take responsibility.

I say ‘was’ my favourite, as ‘Trainwreck’ has taken its crown. I barely stopped laughing from start to finish, and that was mainly due to the blisteringly funny acting of it’s leading actor, and writer – Amy Schumer. I’m a bit late to the Schumer hype train, which I’ve noticed rumbling on around me over the past year. I’m now truly on board, and over the next few days I plan to binge-watch everything I can find of her on YouTube.

In Trainwreck, Schumer’s character, conveniently named Amy, seems to be an extension of her stand-up routine. A brash, I don’t give a shit feminist who confronts existing standards of how women are supposed to be in real life, and portrayed on screen. Amy drinks, smokes, has a whole load of sex, and works at an FHM-like magazine whose headlines go something like ’30 Ugly Celebrity Babies Under Six’.

What feels very refreshing is that you never feel that Amy is being shamed for the lifestyle that she lives. How she lives isn’t ideal, and introduction of sports doctor Aaron (played by Bill Hader) into her life is certainly a positive thing, he isn’t presented as the stereotypical white knight. He helps Amy discover that she is more than how she sees herself.

It is because that Schumer wrote her character as being more than just the butt of a joke this film works so well for me. Amy is a character that many of us can empathise with. She is potentially every other person on the street, doing ok in life, working at an OK job, she has a good family and good friends around, yet you get the feeling that there is something missing, even if she doesn’t quite admit it to herself. How many of us often feel ourselves in that exact situation.

Just like Amy, the film is not without its flaws. Some of the celebrity cameos seem just a little too shoehorned in, even though Hader’s character is a surgeon to the stars. If you’re nit-picking, is Schumer’s character THAT much of a trainwreck anyway?

This film is a thoroughly enjoyable, and refreshing take on girl-meets-boy romantic comedy. It’s testament to Schumer’s sharp writing that film manages to carry it off so well. It’s full of heart and with some truly hilarious supporting roles, it leaves me thankful that Apatow’s  films may be maturing along with me.

4/5. Go see it now! If anything, for the surprisingly brilliant comic turns from NBA star LeBron James, and WWE wrestler John Cena. Seriously, I was surprised as anyone!

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!

2014: My year in review

Last year I wrote a blog post very much in this vein. I remember it being one of the blogs I most enjoyed writing as it gave me the time to remember so much of the awesome music, films books and culture I devoured during the year.

My taste in pretty much everything is eclectic to say the least. I’m more than happy to have a playlist with some Taylor Swift and Beyonce mixing it up with Mastodon and Slipknot. If a film has subtitles, more the better for it, but hey we all love explosions right. Except when Michael Bay does it. Fuck you Michael Bay. In terms of literature over the past year I have read anything from the Game of Thrones novels to biographies to a study of the year 1913.

I’ve learned as I’ve grown older to try my hand at anything, as being close minded doesn’t do me any favours. I’m glad I have done so, as it’s opened up so many more worlds to me to enjoy.

ANYWAY. Diving right in.

Music

2014 was the year I went over to the dark side and started using Spotify Premium, which inspire of it heralding the death of aspiring musicians trying to make a buck or two… is AWESOME! Every day I get to listen to music I wouldn’t normally come into contact to. So here are some of my favourite songs I’ve listened to this year.

Lana Del Rey – ‘West Coast’

When LDR first exploded onto the scene, I honestly couldn’t understand the hype. Admittedly I thought she had a unique look and sound, but nothing more than that. However, upon hearing the opening toms beat their rhythm on this track I was hooked. The track couldn’t be cooler if it was a picture of James Dean, smoking a cigarette with the ‘Hefe’ filter cranked up to the max.

Sun Kil Moon – ‘Carissa’

I stumbled across the American folk trio Sun Kil Moon on a compilation of some of the best artists so far in 2014. They more than justified their inclusion on such a list with their album Benji. The song ‘Carissa’ stood out in particular for me. The sparse acoustic guitar plays out behind mournful lyrics describing the pain a family experiences after the death of the titular Carissa.

Beck – ‘Morning’

I first came across Beck in an episode of Futurama. In it he was described as ‘a musician-poet who transcends genres even as he re-invents them’. Yep, that seems about right. Since discovering him through that brilliant cartoon, I’ve learned to see Beck as equally as brilliant. Each album I listen to seems to reveal more about him as an artist, yet makes him even more inscrutable. The only common ground appears to be their excellence. On his latest outing, ‘Morning Phase’, the second track ‘Morning’ has been the song that wakes me up since I first heard it.

Mastodon – ‘The Motherload’

Mastodon are the Atlanta-based prog-metallers that have well and truly taken Metallica’s metal crown. Steadily releasing mind-bendingly complex and deep metal albums, their magnum opus was this years ‘Once More ‘Round the Sun’. It’s a rare breed of band that manages to make progressive metal accessible to a wider audience. ‘The Motherload’ is a all out assault on your ear drums. The rattling of the snare drums weave in between the thrum of the bass and the duelling guitars to create a wall of sound that knocked me down when I first heard it, and still does.

Taylor Swift – ‘Blank Space’

So here’s the deal. Until recently I saw TS as just another tween pop star from America, rolled out from Nashville. She sings well enough but I’m just not the target demographic for what she produces. Challenged by a friend to give her latest outing ‘1989’ a listen I submitted. I’m trying to be less of a judgemental person these days, and this would be a great exercise showing how much I’d grown. However, I was not expecting to find the album one of the standout releases of the year. No kidding. It is a brilliant slice of pop. Filled with the echoed synths that wouldn’t be out of place on a HAIM record, but at no point feels patronising, something that a huge deal of contemporary songs are guilty of. Now I’m no die-hard fan (YET!) but I can see that ‘Blank Space’ is Taylor taking aim and knocking down those who have built her up to be a man-devouring psycho cliche. A thoroughly brilliant, catchy track. I’m definitely a converted Swifty now (that’s what we call ourselves you know.) I am now very aware that this TS related paragraph has taken up more space than the previous entries combined. So I’ll stop now.

The War on Drugs – ‘Under the Pressure’

Driving across America, top down on the convertible, sunlight glinting off your Rayban Wayfarers. When I hear this beautiful, epic of a song, that is the image I cannot help but imagine. This song nearly tops 8 minutes, but at no point feels overdrawn. Imagine it as a more ethereal take of Bruce Springsteen. This is the hardest song and album I’ve had to think about over the past year, as it’s truly one of introspection. It represents the best of what music can do to an individual, it makes you turn inwards to feel, and understand yourself better.

Honourable mentions: Taylor Swift – ‘Style’, The 1975 – ‘Medicine’, Kendrick Lamar ‘i’, Beyoncé – ‘7/11’, Foo Fighters – ‘I Am A River’, Aphex Twin – ‘aisatsana [102]’, Jamie T – ‘Turn On The Light’, You Me At Six – ‘Room to Breathe’, Paolo Nutini – ‘Iron Sky’, Black Label Society – ‘My Dying Time’, Lana Del Rey – ‘Once Upon a Dream’, Katy Perry – ‘Dark Horse’, La Roux – ‘Cruel Sexuality’.

Dishonourable mention: Chris Brown – ‘Loyal’. Not proud of this, as the artist is a colossal ass-hat, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the song. Gets me so hyped at the gym. I’m sorry. I’ll go.

I could go on and on (I probably have already) about the music I experience throughout the year. This was just a brief snapshot of the highlights of my year. I’m going to pop a link to a playlist on Spotify so you can listen to them (except the Taylor Swift ones). ENJOY!

Film

2014 was a standout year for film. I honestly can’t remember a better year in which films of such a high calibre were released. For the sake of the reader, I have agonisingly narrowed my best of list down to four choices.

The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson

This is taking the number one spot. I couldn’t not have it as my top film of 2014. I walked out of the cinema desperate to see it again. It is a enthralling blend of the comic and the tragic, all shot in Wes Anderson’s iconic style – the seemingly never ending tracking shots through long corridors, or across the alpine landscapes of the fictional country Zubrowka. One of the greatest scenes of the film involves a chase down a bobsleigh run. Not only does Ralph Fiennes put in a star turn as the joyous M. Gustave, as do many of the other stars dotted throughout this wonderful picture, Christopher Walken especially. It is unconventional, but therein lies it’s charm. Time and again you will watch it and time and again you will discover more ways in which to love it.

The Lego Movie – Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Everything is awesome! And everything WAS awesome in this film. When I first saw this film was in development, I thought it was the death of cinema. Finally, even cherished childhood toys, the fountain of so much creativity was now up for sale to the highest paying studio, ready to be packaged up and thrown at cinema goers for a cheap, cynical buck. How wrong I was. It is a sublime blend of slapstick, clever word-play and sheer childlike happiness. However there lies a deeper message about how creativity should not be stifled by mass consumerism. ‘YEAH RIGHT, IT’S ONLY ABOUT SODDING LEGO’ I hear you cry. Just watch it, and you’ll see the message. If not, hey, just enjoy it for the laughs, and there are plenty of those to keep you going!

Nightcrawler – Dan Gilroy

While 2014 has been the year of the McConaissance, and rightly so, there has been another actor who for me has displayed some serious acting chops I’ve never seen before. I’m referring to Jake Gyllenhaal and in particular his performance in the deeply disturbing Nightcrawler. I’ve always viewed him as a good actor, however in this performance he does what I feel makes a good actor great. He made me forget I was watching him. For the time I spent in the cinema I was transfixed by the odious, slimy yet completely charming man, Lou Bloom. The film explores the darker side of what goes into getting our news, a swipe at the news system that feeds our desires to see the sordid, the depraved and violent. Chilling to watch, but to engrossing to turn away. Gyllenhaal deserves the Oscar, with no reservations.

Guardians of the Galaxy – James Gunn

Seeing the trailer for this I exclaimed “huh?”. Then I sighed, seeing that after milking Iron Man et al for all they were worth, we were now going to be treated to the back catalogue of Marvel. But, like the Lego Movie above, I was proved very wrong. Whilst the bigger franchises involving already well known characters, GotG is allowed to express itself in a much fuller sense, as frankly, I’d never heard of Star Lord until the opening scene, and I’d venture not a great many other people had either. It has been compared to Star Wars, and whilst not entirely a fantastic analogy, it does have the feel of a space epic that could go much further if given the right director and support. Not tied down to conventional planets, I’m looking at you, Earth, there is a sense of fun and freedom that lets these guys do what they want how they want. Chris Pratt, usually seen being hilarious on Parks & Recreation is the ideal lead. Witty, likeable but not the conventional hero. He is, let’s face it, a bit of a douche sometimes. Combined with arguably the best soundtrack I’ve ever heard, it all makes a non-stop joy ride from start to finish.

Literature

I’ve been ashamedly lax during 2014 when it came to reading. My newly discovered Spotify meant that my time was unfairly devoted to music. Not sorry though, see above for the fantastic education it gave me!

When I did get the chance my reading was varied any immersive. Here’s a look at some of the pages I turned in 2014

A Song of Ice and Fire – A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, George R. R. Martin

Like a vast number of others, I came across this series from the TV series (no need to say how good it is, everyone knows by now). I was really taken how engrossed I became so quickly with these novels. Not since I read War and Peace had I felt like that. Now I’m not comparing those novels in terms of quality, as in my option W&P is the greatest novel ever written. However in terms of the desire to read as much as humanly possible, as quickly as possible, my reaction was the same. My reading of this saga is currently is on hiatus. I enjoy watching the TV series for the suspense I feel every episode. I feel that by reading the books ahead of the series I would ruin some of the great moments I’ve experienced. The benefit of this is by going through the books, I get to enjoy just how more richly the text illustrates George R. R. Martin’s vision of Westeros. I can’t understate how much I am looking forward to picking up these books again.

For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway

A harrowing, honest and truly stark picture of modern warfare. Set in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway draws on his own experience of that conflict to guide us through one man’s struggle with the reality he is part of. The book is a juxtaposition of the beauty of nature and the cold mechanisation of modern war. As Hemingway writes, you can almost smell the pinewood forests, feel the wind blow through your hair, tread the rocky ground underfoot. You also hear the click of the metal bolt of a rifle, the whistle of the round cutting through the air, man being rent apart my explosions. This was a tough read for the burden it places on the reader. Hemingway finds a way of writing as if you were the only person his book was intended for. You are force to confront the grotesque position that war puts men into. Yet in it’s darkest pages, there is still beauty to be found, however hard that is to imagine.

1913: The Year Before the Storm –  Florian Illies

In the centenary year of the beginning of The First World War, hundreds, if not thousands of books were newly published documenting every aspect of one of the defining conflicts of human history. However, a fascinating, and perhaps under-looked topic is the years preceding the conflict. It is a tragedy that the youth of the early 20th century were sacrificed across the battlefields of France, Belgium, Russia and further afield. This book takes a look at the richness of cultural achievement that was going on, right up until the beginning of the war. Freud and Jung were battling over the better method of psycho-analysis. Future dictators of the right and left in the form of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin lived within a few miles of one another in Vienna. Artists sought to redefine what art could achieve in the form of Cubism, one of the boldest artistic movements of the 20th century, at least in terms of the schools it preceded. This book is phenomenal for many reasons, if anything, it shows the tragedy of the progress, the wonder and inspiration that the Great War so tragically curtailed.

Well. That’s me done for now. I hope you enjoyed only a small part of the journey I went through this past year. I want to try blogging a bit more in 2015 as it occurred to me that it’s one of the positive outlets I have for expressing myself, short of twitter rants!

Here’s hoping we all have a wonderful 2015! 🙂

J

Track of the day

Image

 

I bought the debut album of The 1975 yesterday, and haven’t stopped listening to it since. It’s a wonderful album, full of catchy hooks that makes it stand out, as least for me, as one of the albums of the year. This is one of my favourite tracks, ‘Girls’. It stood out immediately as it reminded me so much of one of the catchiest songs ever, ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’ by Cyndi Lauper. So give it a listen. It’s awesome.