Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Florence + The Machine - Brixton Academy

I had been looking forward to this gig for months; ever since I received an email one day with a 'performer alert' for tickets going on sale the next morning, ever since I got up early and sat waiting for 9 o'clock to come so I could tick the 'buy' button, and ever since I managed to buy as many tickets as possible, not quite sure who was going to come with me.

A couple of months had gone by since then, and the night had finally come for a couple of friends and I to make the chilly journey to Brixton Academy, with my one spare ticket just in case I could find someone deserving to take it off my hands. Seeing the crowds of people, however, I realised the chances of finding a lone fan and making their dream of seeing Florence come true were quite slim, so I caved in and sold it to a smokey ticket tout for a tenner. Oh well.

So we wandered into the dramatic sloping room under the staircases of Brixton Academy, where, in between the grand castle and turreted effect either side of the stage one of the support acts 'Frankie and the Heartstrings' were playing animatedly. We had to sort out the essentials first though, and headed to the bar.

Unfortunately, by the time we'd got some beer, Frankie & co had finished their set, but we were just in time for the second act - who were a pleasant suprise for me - 'The Temper Trap'. I had been fairly obsessed with their single 'Sweet Disposition' all summer, so the surprise to see it live was a very welcome one. The Melbourne band played a set of about six songs, with their singles 'Fader' and 'Sweet Disposition' were definitely the highlights as a few of the other tracks seemed to get a little lost and the vocals were sometimes difficult to comprehend. I personally think it would have been worth leaving 'Sweet Disposition' until the end of the set, as it definitely energised the crowd and would have ended it on a high, rather than bringing the atmosphere back down with an unknown album track.

But, enough of the support, what I really went to see and want to talk about is Florence + the Machine; stage name for bright-haired young London girl Florence Welch. She emerged on to a stage that was littered with bird cages, had a background of birds and twigs that changed colour, in a shiny silver leotard (that was revealed later, much to the delight of the male audience members) with a full, fluffy skirt that looked to have been made out of lots of light pink feather boas. She looked sweet and ethereal, juxtaposing with the booming voice she let loose in the opening song 'My Boy Builds Coffins'. She continued on to perform most of the current album 'Lungs' as well as some lesser known tracks consisting of unreleased material and B-sides, which gave it all a bit of variety.

Florence was joined on stage by, as well as her normal band, a choir, string orchestra, and a harpist. They all gave a much richer sound and it was great to watch them play, and watch Flo skip around them. You could physically see where the money for your ticket had been spent; on these extra people, as well as a host of special effects. For 'Cosmic Love' the stage was transformed to reveal a moon and stars as a new backdrop, and when playing 'You've Got the Love' a mass of heart confetti erupted and poured over the audience (which, incidentally would have perhaps been better suited to the encore finale, as all that followed it seemed a bit surplus). It was spectacular. And this is all without mentioning much of the main woman herself. Florence is an innate performer, you can tell she loves every minute of it. She dresses for attention, she blasts your ears with her voice, she dramatically pauses and stares out into the crowd, she chats to us about how weird it is to see her name headlining at Brixton. On stage is where she is supposed to be, and she completely and deservedly owns it. Watching her is mesmorising, and as her songs take you on fantastical journeys you realise that you are watching someone who, at just 23, is really very, very good.

I left the venue, tripping over the odd plastic cup, on a real high. I thouroughly enjoyed every bit of the performance, Florence along would have put on a great show, but everything else mixed in made it even better.

Florence + the Machine - 5/5

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

Even just hearing the title of this film strikes a deep, nostalgic chord with thousands around the globe, who exclaim 'That was my favourite book when I was little!' I'm quite jealous, I never had it read to me, and have never read it myself, but it seems to have such a profound meaning to those that grew up with the story. In this way, I think the deeper childhood link that the film touches was lost on me, as I viewed the whole thing in a completely new light. But, at least I can be fairly detached on viewing the film alone in its own right. Hopefully.

From what I've gathered about the book, 'Where The Wild Things Are' by Maurice Sendack tells the story of Max, a young boy who has been misbehaving at home, running around in his wolf costume, and is sent to bed with no dinner. His imagination transforms his room into the land of the Wild Things; scary creatures that he conquers by becoming their king. Eventually, Max becomes homesick, and returns back to find his supper warm and waiting for him. It's no caterpillar eating stuff, but it sounds like the kind of thing I would've liked. Much deeper than just a book with strange creatures and flights of the imagination, the story won critical acclaim for its view on the physical representations of anger and fear that the Wild Things represent, and the fact that Max leaves them for the comfort of his home and parental love. However, despite the great reception the book received, it was banned from several countries for a while due to the fact it does not exemplify any particular morals or values, like children's books are 'supposed' to do. Max is a naughty child, he does not apologise for his behaviour, and instead of trying to sooth him and teach him the right way to behave, he is simply sent to bed without dinner.

The film carries on in a similar vein, Max is a horror of a boy at times; loud, aggressive, attention-seeking and inconsiderate. But it is an accurate representation of being a child. All children lack the self control and understanding of how to not be all of those things. Director, Spike Jonze, said himself, that his film is one about childhood; the state of flux between fearlessness and fear, where anything seems possible but at the same time everything is a threat.
Jonze has included more of a rounded backstory that triggers Max's trip to the land of the Wild Things, he is a lonely, often bored child - he has no father at home, his sister hangs around with older boys who bully him, and his mum is uptight about work, money, and a new man she is seeing (who came in the form of a slightly random cameo part by Mark Ruffalo!). Max craves attention, and devises a way to get it by dressing up in a wolf costume and climbing on the kitchen counters, much to his mother's horror as her bemused date looks on the chaos. Max's wild actions, particularly biting his mother's shoulder, make him run away, find a boat and sail off to an unknown land of Wild Things. Jonze said this was the one sticking point between he and Sendack, who wanted the film to show Max's room morphing into a jungle like in his book, this way, however, Max's anger and stubborness is physically represented as he actively takes himself away from home and safety.
Once Max has found the Wild Things, the wonders of CGI and elaborate costumes are revealed. Unlike many film makers, who may have made the Wild Things completely computer animated, Jonze wanted them to have a believable physicality, so that Max could touch and interact with them, and so that the element of danger under the surface is very real. You can see how their fur is dirty and matted, how their immense weight and size makes Max so vulnerable. The CGI facial expressions then works to bring the characters to life and exemplifies the various emotions that each Wild Thing represents; anger, rejection, frustration etc.
As a whole, the film definitely runs in peaks and troughs. This may be competely intentional to show how things are when you are a child - like the peak of Max's snowball fight and the trough of getting trapped in his igloo. The high points are wonderful, Max's unabashed happiness and freedom, especially when reinforced with the crazy soundtrack by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, makes you want to get up from your seat and run along with him. There are some cinematically brilliant shots, too. But there are also some moments that are just sort of static and slow. And, while he is with the Wild Things, not a lot actually happens. Max does begin to appreciate the monsters and develop a level of empathy for those other than himself, which leads you to believe he may utilize this once he is back home and perhaps stop giving his mother such a hard time, but who knows.
This is certainly an impressive film, and despite my lack of childhood connection with the original story, I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. As for the new generation of children who may encounter the film before the book, I'm not really sure who it is aimed at - it is rather violent and menacing at times for small children, but then would older kids really want to watch big fluffy creatures? If it is in fact just a film about childhood, one would say it is then perhaps a bit of an indulgent film for adults to fuel their nostalgia. Either way, I'm sure the buzz surrounding this movie will continue now that it has been released.
Where The Wild Things Are - 3.5/5

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Weekend of Wild Things...

It's been a long time since I've slumped to my desk on a Monday morning and felt like a lot has happened since I last dragged myself up from my generic swivelling chair on the Friday afternoon. Today, this is the case, and while my eyelids could do with a car jack to keep them open, it was worth it! So, my original plan for the weekend was to drive on over to Cardiff to visit a friend and go to see White Lies at the Cardiff Student Union, stay the weekend, and have a relatively nice, chilled out time. The first part of the trip went to plan, and White Lies were really rather good - but they belong to another blog post.

What was responsible for the disruption of my weekend? Well, me, really. But I'm going to blame the superpower that is Twitter. Basically, one of the people I follow are Little White Lies magazine (which, if anyone has any interest in films, they should most definitely give it a read) and I happened to see a tweet of theirs along the lines of 'keep sending us your best childhood cinema memory, they're great so far!' I thought this was just for general chit-chat, and was instantly reminded of when I went to see 'The Lion King' with my Dad, and finding it fairly hilarious that he cried when Mufasa died. So, I shared. The next day, to my great confusion, I saw I had been tweeted back with the news that 'Congratulations!' I had won! 'Won what?!' It turns out I had won two tickets to see a preview screening of the hotly anticipated 'Where The Wild Things Are' at the BFI Southbank cinema, with an exclusive Q&A session with the film's director, Spike Jonze. Wow! I was shocked, excited, confused and anxious all at the same time. While it was incredible to win something, and be given an opportunity that I would never usually get to do, how on earth could I go when I was supposed to be in Cardiff all weekend?!

................With a frigging long train ride!!

Yes, in order to not miss the Sunday plans in Cardiff, and to save a bit of time, I got the train from Cardiff to London and back again. To go to the cinema. And even then, we were so short on time that - in true classy style - we ate our dinner of M&S pasta on the tube under the watchful eyes of changing passengers, which was pleasant. Totally worth it though, even just for the fact that I could walk into the BFI, bypass the queue of people waiting for tickets, and tell people sitting at the desk that my name was on the guestlist. For about 3 minutes I felt important!

Entering the sloping cinema I immediately noticed something that would have made me beyond excited if I hadn't already bought it for myself, on every seat was a shiny copy of the current Little White Lies magazine, dedicated to 'Where The Wild Things Are'. I kept a second copy of it anyway, even just to remind me that in those three minutes of being important that I got something free, like important people do. So, settled in my slightly reclining seat (which was a little disconcerting as all the way through the movie I was convinced it was broken and that my head would end up the lap of some poor unsuspecting person behind me!) we were greeted by a BFI representative who informed us that the movie would play first, and Spike Jonze would come on stage shortly afterwards. Then the lights went down.

There is so much to say about the film that I will have to just post about that separately to stop this becoming a full on essay. I can say, though, that it was certainly unlike anything I have seen before, which is probably why it has caused such a stir. The audience clapped loudly when it had finished, and though I couldn't tell who were the journalists and critics and who weren't, it seems the film had been well received by the majority of people there. Events like this must be a little nerve-wracking for Jonze, as the film has been so long in the making, and he does not have many successful films under his belt, so his reputation and prospects for film making in the future really do hang in the balance of how well this movie is received.

For the question and answer session - something I have never witnessed before - Spike Jonze, a petite, mild mannered man, who speaks with hesitation verging on a stutter, entered the room and awkwardly took his seat, sitting on his hands for the majority of the time. With cameras, an audience, and an expectant microphone all looking intently at him, I didn't envy the guy. But, he slowly eased into it, and managed to maintain a level for enthusiasm for the film that had taken up years of his life, and the same questions he will undoubtedly have already answered continuously for the past few months. That is, all of the questions except one, 'What was your favourite sandwich to eat on set and how do you think that contributed to the film?' I'm not sure if this was pitched from some new, edgy food magazine, or just a random 'hilarious' question. Jonze handled it well, however, and for those that want to know, he preferred a ham and cheese sub with olive oil, and it contributed by making the film 'hammy'. How I did chuckle.

Despite all of the questions that were asked, I still cannot quite grasp how this slight, quiet man managed to make such a face-slapping film, full of the drama of childhood, with such particular and complex special effects to boot. Judging by what he says, when you have a circle of friends like Spike Jonze, you can do whatever you want - his friends are involved in nearly every aspect of this movie. I shall just have to wait for mine to get to the top of their fields so they can do stuff for me too!

As a further souvenir for my day, I managed to add a little scribble to my Little White Lies magazine. It reads 'To Danielle. Hello. Spike Jonze.'

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Twilight - New Moon

It's the film that's sent ripples across the globe, causing hysterical excitement in teenage girls at the prospect of seeing Robert Pattinson (or 'RPat' as he's now being called. Not the most inspiring nickname...) on the big screen again, and sarcastic guffaws from everyone who deems themselves far too sophisticated to be interested in the same things as teenage girls. I think I fit somewhere between the two. After the first 'Twilight' film, which I thought was okay but wasn't blown away by, I had been intrigued by the release of the sequel but not necessarily psyched for it. A number of my friends were very much looking forward to it, however, having read all of Stephanie Meyer's books, and so I found myself in a pre-booked cinema seat in a very very full screening.

So, for those who don't know, the 'Twilight Saga', as the series of books and films are officially called, follows the story of Bella (Kristen Stewart) - a 'normal' girl who falls in love with Edward (Robert Pattinson), a pale boy at school. Except he's not just 'a pale boy at school', he's a hundred-and-something-year-old vampire, who comes from a family of 'vegetarian' vampires that only eat animals. But they still really really want human blood, and think Bella is ever so tasty, which gets her into all kinds of scrapes.

'New Moon' begins at one of these scrapes - Edward's brother goes for Bella after she suffers a pretty severe paper cut. This is one scare too far for Edward's conscience, so he decides to leave her in order to protect her. Although his reasoning is blazingly obvious, Bella thinks he doesn't love her any more and spends (literally) months moping, not speaking to anyone, and having screaming nightmares. She sounds fun, huh? She also repeatedly sends emails to Edward's sister, Alice, even though they never get delivered. It's all a little bit bunny-boiler. To take her mind off of all this pining, Bella tries to distract herself from Edward with newly-buffed-up friend Jacob (Taylor Lautner), the other reason for the teenage girl frenzy (and I can't blame them, phwoar!) But he isn't all he seems either...
So is this a quality film? Well...I'm not sure it'll be winning any Oscars. The script is pretty wooden at times, and the 'intense' looks between Bella and Edward sometimes just end up suggesting that they could do with a bit more fibre in their diets, if you catch my drift. Bella is also incredibly irritating, this isn't down to the acting particularly, just the fact that she's an adrenaline-seeking idiot, as dangerous situations seem to trigger a vision of Edward. This is something that is never explained, which is rather annoying. But, despite a few problems, it is damn entertaining. You've got action, a bit of gore and horror, action, romance, and some rather hot people to look at. In the full cinema, every time a shirt was removed, a kiss nearly happened, and especially at a certain cliffhanger at the end, the whole audience screamed, clapped and cheered. They were loving it. Although it may not have had quite the same effect on me, this film is a big deal to a lot of young people, and as it promotes a lot of good values - accepting those who are 'different' etc - maybe some of the critics should give it a break.
Twilight New Moon - 3.5/5

Monday, 16 November 2009


Often I try to pretend to be a bit of a film geek, and so I first I heard about this latest release from Disney and Pixar some months ago when it was shown at Cannes Film Festival. Ever since the Cannes screening I have read review after review about how spectacular and moving this film was, 'the best Disney film in years' yada yada yada. Reviews like this are great for generating a positive buzz, and definitely persuaded me to (eventually) spend my fairly hard earned cash to go and see it - especially since there wasn't a huge amount in the way of advertising. Anyway, while the reviews are great for getting people into the cinema, they're not always so good once you're there. I had such high expectations - that I was going to be crying with sadness one minute and with laughter the next. I wanted big, unexpected, amazing things. I'm not sure what Disney could have done to fulfil this, but they just didn't quite reach the mark.

It's not that this is a bad film, far from it, as the reviews said, it did have moments that were actually quite harrowing, and parts which really did make me laugh, but it just was not up to the hype. One review, for instance, described the beginning of 'Up' as being sadder than Bambi's mother getting shot, Mufasa dying in the 'Lion King', and Dumbo's mother being locked up...what kind of horrendous carnage can really live up to that?! Nothing that would pass a PG rating, that's for sure. So, yes, it was sad, I felt sorry for the old cartoon man, but my tear ducts stayed dry.

Downfalls aside, there is a lot about 'Up' that is rather good. I only wish I had seen it in 3D, as that would have enhanced the experience even more. For a quick summary, we meet Carl and Ellie Fredrickson, how they meet as children, fall in love, grow up and grow old together. Sadly even a love like theirs cannot last forever, and so Carl is left old, alone, and in danger of losing his house and his independence. What does he do to overcome this? Well, what anyone would do, ties hundreds of helium balloons to his house so that it lifts off and so that he can take it to South America. Yes, you read that right. From a fairly realistic beginning you do have to utilize your imagination as the story takes several sharp fantastical turns; chocoholic birds, talking dogs, death-defying stunts by two OAPs...but it's fun, it's exciting, and gives hope to Carl's once bleak outlook, which would be a comfort to anyone that has lost someone close to them.

Highlights of the movie would have to be the stowaway boyscout, Russell, who is both annoying and adorable, and the talking dogs - any dog I have seen since this movie I can totally see speaking like the ones in the film!

It's a good family film, but don't expect it to be as life-changing as some of the critics might have you believe!

Up - 4/5

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Nostalgic fm - Radio For The Unfulfilled?

I have just been spending the spare minutes of my working day in between phone calls perusing the various news sites to find out what's going on in the world, and in between which celeb got fat this week and what new superfood will save us all, I came across a little story about a new radio station. Absolute Radio (formerly known as Virgin fm) are launching a new station, called Absolute 80s, which will be playing - yes you guessed it - music from that magical shellsuit-filled era of the 1980s. This station will be dedicated to the likes of Duran Duran, Prince,
Madonna...Chris deBurgh(?!) and expressly aimed at a group termed 'reluctant adults', society's 30-54 year olds, who want to regress back to memories of their youth that has been preserved in the cheesey music around at the time.

The chief operator of the Absolute Radio chain, Clive Dickens, said there is a gap in the market for this kind of station, that listeners of this age group 'have responsibilities, are members of families but still want to participate and have fun and be involved in music', and this radio station - which will have no DJs and be run on a dukebox type system - is the way to offer this.

There are a number of things that struck me about Dickens' statement. First of all, that those around the middle aged bracket with their responsibilities and families need something provided to them to enable them to 'have fun'. What a depressing prospect! Both that hitting middle age means you're going to be bored and unable to appreciate modern music, but also that the invention of a mere radio station will be able to solve such pining! At 22 I do already appreciate the memories that can be brought back through music, but to think that I will eternally crave for the music of my youth because it holds the only memories worth remembering...shall I just slit my wrists now?! Surely responsible adulthood holds some opportunity for fun? Surely 'the noughties' haven't brought that much disappointment?

Also, despite only being alive for 2 full years of the 80s, I and many of my friends would love to tune into such a retro radio station. True, it does not bring back many memories to speak of, but we would listen because we have been influenced by our parents' tastes, and - as with the slightly questionable return of shoulder-pads shows - because the 80s is very cool right now. It's a cheesey kitsch dream and allows for the most horrendous of dance moves. Dickens hasn't thought of this in his 30-54 year age range, either because us young 80s lovers are an unknown pocket of radio listeners, or because he wants to cover up his possible desperation. You see, the reason Absolute 80s has come to be is to fill in the gap left by Absolute Xtreme, which was dedicated to rock music but has been largely outdone by the other rock giants such as Xfm, NME Radio and Kerrang. So, are there really this large group of adults who are so disappointed with grown-updome that they wish to lose themselves in times gone by? Or is the Absolute group clutching at straws when there are so many other radio stations who have taken almost every niche going? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

I personally hope it is a success, then we can get a 90s radio station going when I too am middle aged and discontent...Spice Girls, 5ive, Backstreet Boys, N*Sync...

(Original story at www.guardian.co.uk)

Monday, 19 October 2009

What The Folk Is Going On?!

Is it just me or is the hippy-folk constabulary starting to take over the world? There are fur gilets in the shops, people wear hairbands across their foreheads, and there are indie-folk bands emerging everywhere you look...Noah and the Whale, Fleet Foxes, Howie Beck, and one of the newer additions Mumford and Sons, whose new album 'Sigh No More' I impulsively bought a couple of days ago. Now, I used to think of folk music as being made by a lot of hairy people with tambourines. I suppose this can still be the case, but it's not always the benign pro-tree-hugging thing I thought it was. Sometimes these 'folk' folk get angry!

So, if I had such a limited knowledge of folk, why did I buy this album? Well, for one, the title track 'Sigh No More' was an i-Tunes record of the week last month, which is often a sign of something interesting as they tend to have a pretty good pick of new bands. This was coupled with my listening to Dave Berry's Xfm show where the band's first single 'Little Lion Man' was played every day as I drove home from work, and it kind of wormed its way into my head and wouldn't leave! I have to admit I wasn't crazy about the song the first couple of times I heard it, but now it cannot be on the radio without the volume being cranked up - because it's a very good song, and so that I can shout 'fuck' really loudly! I hoped that perhaps the rest of the album would provide as much fun, but before I decide on that, just who are Mumford and Sons? (I just know you were wondering the same thing...)

Mumford and Sons are a four-piece band from west London, comprised of Marcus Mumford (vocals, guitar, drums), Winston Marshall (vocals, banjo, dobro), Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards, organ), and Ted Dwane (vocals, double bass). You see that? A banjo, dobro, organ and double bass! Amazing! All that's missing is maybe a xylophone and an accordian and they will have featured all of the coolest musical instruments. The variation makes for a much more original and richer sound than the standard drums, lead and bass guitar combo, particularly in the musical interludes which are surprisingly powerful - I never thought it would be possible to rock out to a banjo, but there you go. They formed late in 2007 and have supported acts like Laura Marling on tour, but after the acclaim they have received so far they are now touring Europe in their own right.

So, back to the album. I can sum up my reaction to it in one word - impressed. It's not folk as I knew it from my old hippie idea, or even from contemporaries around at the moment. It has the ability to shift from calm to uplifting, from a thigh-slapping hoe down to angered heartbreak. 'I Gave You All' is like folk music that's been made after someone has tried to steal the band's favourite tambourine. Or banjo. 'Sigh No More', in contrast, is very uplifting and life affirming. Mumford has an incredible voice, that is both powerful and raspy, but also capable of being soft and soothing, with some of the harmonies sounding as velvety as Fleet Foxes before launching into an auditory onslaught that is more like Kings of Leon. It is impossible to get bored when the tracks have such peaks and troughs like this, so while a few of the tracks start off quite slowly and you find yourself considering switching to the next one, it's so worth bearing with the build up as they are all superb once they get going.

All in all, then, I would congratulate Mumford and Sons with a very successful album, which I can honestly see joining my staple car CD collection - only the best ones make it there! And, from my previously less-than-enthusiastic view of folk music, there is no one more surprised than me that they have made it there. The next step is for me to don my fur gilet (well, I'll have to buy one first) and chunky-knit jumper and go see them do it live!

Mumford and Sons, 'Sigh No More' - 4.5/5

Thursday, 17 September 2009

(500) Days of Summer

So, I haven't done a review in a little while and thought it was about time for another! For reasons I can't quite explain, I was almost beyond excited to see this film. I suppose for one thing I am yet to see a bad review of it, and those I have read described it as a vibrant, touching little indie movie - my kind of film-nutshell! I was also attracted to the story's twist, when so much of Hollywood tells us that when you meet 'the one' you just know it instantly, you know they are the only person who can make you happy. So what happens when 'the one' doesn't actually feel the same way? What if someone's 'one' was the other person's casual relationship? This is the case with Tom and Summer, the girl who filled 500 of Tom's days.

The witty tone that runs throughout the film is there from the off, before you have even seen any characters or any credits. There is a disclaimer stating that the film's content is purely fictional and any similarity of characters or events is purely coincidental. Well that's fair enough, right? And then, 'Especially you Jenny Beckman. Bitch.' Ouch! With an outlook like that, and a warning from a God-like narrator that 'this is a story of boy meets girl, but it is not a love story', you start to get the idea that this is a bit different from the usual films frequented by Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. Finally.

Now, after seeing the disclaimer and seeing the brief flashback of Tom and Summer's childhoods I was a little worried that this could be a totally bitter portrayal of one of the writer's failed relationships, changing Jenny Beckman-the-bitch's name to Summer and exorcising his demons. But it is kind of refreshing to see that, even though she breaks Tom's heart, it is not because Summer is a bitch; she was actually very upfront about what she did and did not want from the relationship. Whilst the majority of the film centres on Tom; his feelings, his point of view, his reaction after the break up, you still get to see enough of Summer's side of it so that you don't hate her. As in life, they both have their faults. In terms of gender roles and stereotypes this is a bit of a quirk on the general trend, and it is both refreshing and interesting to notice how 'normal' the film would be if the roles were reversed.

Another aspect setting the film apart from the rest is it's non-linear structure. I loved this. You see the excitement of Tom's first glimpses of Summer directly juxtaposed with the wreck she left him when their relationship ended. The things he loved become the things he hates. I have read that the structure is supposed to show how certain memories are triggered by small things, like a card, or a song, and how Tom constantly re-runs events with Summer to try and see where it all went wrong. The audience and Tom have to piece it all together until it makes sense, and this can only happen once Tom takes his little sister's advice - not to just look at the good memories, the bad ones are just as important.

Coupled with the non-linear structure are the film's occassional quirky effects and tangents, they all reinforce Tom's feelings and are appropriate to his character, but have been done in ways I had never really seen before. I won't give them all away, but there is a certain dance sequence following a certain event that had me literally crying with laughter! Another scene I think really captures something I imagine most of us are guilty of - having our expectations of a certain situation shattered so completely by what turns out to be the reality. Universal experiences like this are what make the film so relatable, and you just know that genuine feeling and real experiences have been poured into the script to be able to come up with it. In my opinion this is what so many films are lacking at the moment, if people made films because they really believed in them then the quality would be so much higher.

Now, I cannot write about this film any longer without mentioning the soundtrack that it has been widely commended for. Music features in the storyline itself as it is Tom and Summer's mutual liking for The Smiths that gives the first spark to their relationship, so their songs often crop up, as well as a mix of Wolfmother, Regina Spektor, Doves and Feist - to mention a few - and also, my 'song of the moment', The Temper Trap's 'Sweet Disposition', and the fact that it is in the film makes me love the film and the song even more!...But I do realise that's probably just me...

With the heavy influence of The Smiths, along with the characters' vintage indie dress sense, there is an interesting mix of old and new, giving a sense of nostalgia to a modern world. I liked this effect in 'Donnie Darko', and I suppose here it is presumably for the benefit of those who can still vaguely remember their first love, or 'the one that got away', and the clothes and music help to travel back and remember that time.

So, if you hadn't guessed it, I kinda liked this film! Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt fit the roles perfectly, there are great songs and quirks galore, and anyone can relate to it, the perfect film if you are happily in a couple, have just been dumped, or are still optimistically on the lookout for 'the one'. Just remember, it might not be who you think.

500 Days of Summer - 5/5

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

It's Not Exactly Shakespeare, but...

...I've written a play, and it was performed to an audience! Well, by 'play' I mean a three minute sketch, and by performed to an audience I mean it was performed by those involved in a small company called 'Behind the Bike Sheds', an artistic collective who were looking for short sketches for their recent production, and I happened to have a few spare minutes in between phone calls at work and gave it a try! But, whatever, it had a script, there was a stage, so, it's a play!

Now, in case this is all sounding a bit random, I shall confuse you even more. The specifications for this sketch were that it had to be around three minutes long, and had to either have a chair as the main focus, or mention a chair at least three times. The performance's title was 'A Room Full of Chairs', and that was what all thirteen featured sketches were about. I had a look on the organisation's website, and in the past their shows have been about the word 'Crunch', 'One Flew Over the Looking Glass' and 'Unidentified Luggage' - all of which invite a lot of thought, imagination and the opportunity to be pretty abstract and 'out there'. The group's aim is to be a platform for artists of various disciplines to showcase their work, be it artists, writers, actors, set designers, dancers etc etc. In the performance I watched, which took place at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen (lovely part of London!), there was certainly a lot of variety in the way people interpreted an item as simple as a chair.

My sketch was on first (which I took as a pretty good sign, maybe?) and had a chair as the sole focus. I only featured two characters - both male - and one starts the conversation with 'Do you remember what we were talking about the other day? Well, I did it in the chair!' and a series of crossed wires and double meanings follow, in which one character and the audience believe he is detailing having sex with his girlfriend in the chair, when in fact it is something much more innocent. Yes, I laughed to myself at work as I wrote it, and even got a couple of laughs from the audience too! (I was expecting awkward silence...!) Some of the other sketches were much more inventive - one in which a rather desperate man had bought a conversation about chairs to use on a date, one where a group of people in a waiting room discuss and argue about 'chair rights' once one person declares that a chair is not taken, and one musing how a chair always seems to be lurking in the background in every case they have seen of spontaneous combustion. I'm sort of quite glad I wasn't able to come up with the last one myself, my mother would be worried.

All in all, the experience lasted for about an hour, in which I laughed, was confused, and at times a little freaked out, but always entertained! The actors that brought the scripts to life were all very talented, as they carried off even the strangest ideas well, and with my script the actors and directors made it just as I had imagined! It cost just £3 to watch and was a really interesting way to spend an afternoon, I will definitely be keeping a lookout for their future performances.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

New York - The End!

The time had finally come for us to say goodbye and go back to the land of cows and marmite and short buildings, but before heading to the airport there was still time to have just a little bit more fun. In a library. Oh yeah! New York Public Library, to be precise, the one that appeared in 'The Day After Tomorrow' and 'The Sex and the City Movie' - and it seems anything I've seen on a television screen can't fail to be exciting! The building is very different from those surrounding it, with its' detailed heavy stonework and columns making it look very traditional. This is continued inside, but is much more ornate, and honestly breathtaking - the films do not do it justice, and I don't think my writing can either - just go and see it, it's awesome! We wandered through the marble halls and staircases until we found the long study rooms with walls covered in books...and pretended to be studying there for the sake of a photo. A bit sad I know, but I don't care!

We also stumbled across an exhibition of the Declaration of Independence that the library was holding for a short time, which we could view for free - very important at the end of the holiday! It showed the personal letters from George Washington and the various newspaper articles at the time as the declaration was being finalised. I have to admit to being fairly ignorant of the ins and outs of American history, but even I found it really interesting, especially to think of how different the world would be if America had not been granted its' independence...international business folk would not be fuelled by Starbucks' skinny frappuccinos, or the like, for a start!

As the time ticked away we just about managed to fit in a final New York experience, shopping on 5th Avenue...unfortunately it was only window shopping (especially in Tiffanys!) but it's nice to see how the other half live. And I was only a little bit jealous. For us, our purchasing power only stretched to one of the delightful stores full to the brim of nearly every imaginable item with an 'I heart NY' sign stamped on it/ made into a Statue of Liberty or Empire State building shape. Tack galore but it has to be done! I spent a disgusting $60 on presents my family probably didn't want - but I believe that everyone secretly wants pens, keyrings and fridge magnets as presents.

Unfortunately it was time to go to the airport and fly through the night back home. It had been a wonderful holiday, and although it was not my first time to New York, I think this trip really showed me what the city was all about - an eclectic mix of everything you can think of, with a little of what you can't. Even if you lived there I don't think it would be possible to find all the gems the city has to offer, but it would be really fun to try!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

New York Day Five

This is it, time ticked away to bring us to our final full day in the Big Apple. By this point we had been on 4 tours of the city, winding through the streets, and now, it was time to take to the water! Our main reason behind this was so that we could get a good view of the Statue of Liberty without having to queue for hours, and because the tour went around the whole perimeter of Manhattan. We sort of forgot about the fact that it was hot - really hot - and we would be on this boat, in the sun, for three hours. Ouch.

It was all very scenic and interesting, but the most memorable part of the tour was our guide, and even now his name has been seared into my brain - Malacky Murray. I shudder. Perhaps it was him that made the three hours really feel like three hours. Murray is a 6 foot-ish, sunglasses wearing, moustache-sporting, ponytail-haired, relentlessly-speaking creature of a man, who - without fail - mentioned his new book 'Unique New York' and the fact that it was now able to buy from Amazon, at least every twenty minutes. He also credited New York with about seven wonders of the world - the Empire State, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, Ellis Island...a fairly big tree...forgetting that maybe the pyramids or Great Wall m
ight like to get in on the list too. Oh, and the fact that New York was the greatest city in the world - he liked to tell us that a lot too.

Old Malacky was full of wisdom, he felt he owed it to his audience to help them 'Find their genius' - as apparently only 15% of people ever find their true talent. Everyone who designed or built the Brooklyn Bridge had found theirs, that's why it was one of the great wonders of the world...? Firstly, the statistic - how it was calculated and how you can quantify it just baffles me. Secondly, how gutted would you be if it turned out that bridge-building was your life talent? Any aspiring poets or future presidents would be very disappointed. But, then if you are in the 85% of people who don't 'find your genius', it's okay, because according to Malacky 'you are who you make people believe you are'. He repeated this several times too. And I can't even be bothered to argue with his strange logic any more, I'll just hope he smoked something very strong before he boarded the ship. Anyway, he certainly made an impression!

After the boat trip we headed to Hard Rock Cafe for some lunch, trying not to dribble over the iconic band memorabilia, and then went back to the hotel to get ready for our evening out. We had to prepare for Broadway, yea
h! We had to prepare for...The Little Mermaid! This was my favourite Disney film as a child (I really wanted to be a mermaid, but not ginger) so I had very high expectations, particularly as to whether or not the songs would be carried off or not. I am happy to say that I really enjoyed it - Ursula could have been a bit more scary, but I suppose there were small children in the audience - the original and new songs were all great, costumes were amazing, and the sets all looked great. I won't go into too much detail as it might be brought over to London. And I was SO glad they kept in the song where the French chef sings to the fish as he cuts them up, 'hehehe hohoho'!
To cap our day off
we went to a diner that I had been to on my previous visit called 'Ellen's Stardust Diner'. It was set up like a traditional American diner, but it isn't really the food that people go there for - i
t's the staff. The diner's employees all work there whilst they are waiting for their big break on Broadway - and what better way to practice, and perhaps impress a prospective casting agent who happens to visit - then sing to the customers? This is what they do, all the time you are in there the microphone gets passed to every member of staff who chooses a song from a musical and performs it, often climbing around the restaurant as they do. The great, and sad, thing is that they are all incredibly talented. Great entertainment for us, the humble customer, but sad for them - that they are so close, yet still so far for their dream that you can feel they are so desperate for. And the worst thing is, you can sort of tell who is and isn't going to make it. Sure, any of them could at least make it to some sort of chorus role, but those who aren't the lean, classically good-looking types - there aren't many casting directors who would make them the face of their production. Of course it's the same in so much of the entertainment industry, it's just that it isn't normally singing and staring you in the face while you're drinking your milkshake.

Friday, 21 August 2009

New York Day Four

This was the day that had been planned for some time, the one day that was set in stone. The pinnacle of our New York experience. But, that's not until the afternoon. So, to fill our time in the morning we headed to another tourist honeypot; Grand Central Station - where so many film characters have run around in their time of crisis - did he/she get on the train?? Well, we didn't. We pretty much got in the way of commuters by taking photos and wandering around in awe of the station - the architecture and decoration puts London to shame!

A friend of mine had read about a 'whispering gallery' in the station, which was to be found outside an oyster restaurant. The name 'gallery' is a little misleading when you are looking for this place, as it is more like a whispering walkway, which we only managed to find as we saw mad looking people talking to corners in a wall. It is such a surreal experience as you speak into a corner of marble and hear back voice that sound as if they are coming from just behind you, but in fact are several feet away with a bustling stream of people moving inbetween. Apparently it is a popular place for marriage proposals...my friends weren't interested in mine!

When we'd had our fill of the station we walked through the humid air down towards Central Park, and waited at the fountain outside the Plaza Hotel as we'd been told that this was the exclusive meeting place for our experience. What was this 'thing' that I've been annoyingly going on about for ages? Well, something that probably only girls are interested in and so can fully comprehend our excitement...the official New York 'Sex and the City Tour'! This was the culmination of our hours of dedication to the show, we'd ploughed on through the entire six series boxset when we were supposed to be writing essays and the like at uni, and then there's the movie too. Now we were there being driven around filming locations that had been made to look so exciting and glamorous on our teeny tiny tv screen months before. And we could even get off the coach. We started with a bang at a hilarious/disgusting/slightly scary sex shop, let's just say there were a lot of batteries in a fairly small room, and we even got a free wooden spank stick, wayhey! We also had a look around a quaint little book shop that I could have looked around for hours, as well as looking around the more exclusive little shopping areas, a playground popular with celebrity mothers, and the very yummy magnolia bakery with its' famous cupcakes. And finally, as it is a must for anything SATC related, we went to a bar that was featured in the programme for the cocktails the women made famous; the cosmopolitan. It was a great way of seeing some lesser known parts of the city, and realising the sheer scale of how much there is to do and see there.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

New York Day Three

So I hope you're not getting bored yet, because there's lots more!! Lots and lots, and it must be read. But first it must be written, so I'll get on with it. On day three and we got our fourth recruit who caught the Greyhound bus up from Virginia to meet us. We ventured into Times Square - which was our local for the week as our hotel was literally around the corner from its' chaos, which I never got used to - to buy some tickets for a Broadway show. I shall divulge our choice later. After our purchase we noticed a large gathering of people, in the middle of which was the legend that is...The Naked Cowboy. This man, in boots, Y-fronts and a hat, brought about the same reaction I get in a theme park. A sense of dread, but the knowledge that you have to do it - go on the ridiculous new ride, have a picture and be embarrassed in front of a large group of people whilst getting groped by a middle-aged cowboy m
an. The man is a total nutjob, and clearly loves the attention and working the crowd. He intermittently bursts into country songs, one of which mentioned his running for mayor - that would be awesome and I really hope he gets it - he of all people knows what it is like to be in the thick of New York rather than hiding coveted in an office somewhere.

Anyway, so the rest of the day was devoted to exploring some more of Downtown, beginning with the elusive Soho. I loved this area - it was everything I'd heard about, fairly small streets scattered with exciting looking shops - most of which I couldn't afford to even look at for too long - but exciting nonetheless! We found what I can only guess was some kind of micro-bakery selling the smallest cupcakes I have ever seen, and I don't understand how so much amazing flavour could have been stuffed into them! We managed to eat these bitesized treats just and find a shop to shelter in just in time, as I then witnessed more rain than I have ever seen in my life - and I've witnessed a hurricane! The rain was merged together to become a continuous sheet of water, that hammered against the window in the shop, even trickling in between the frame. Staff rushed to the leaks, but there was no stopping it. People from the street trickled into the store too, dripping on the floor and displays. For us, luckily it was an Urban Outfitters shop and we happily spent nearly 2 hours looking at the clothes, books and quirky home accessories - so long, in fact, that we all felt the need to buy something - my friend opting for the best book EVER - a flip book of creative swearing. I can't stress enough how funny combinations like 'crap jacket' and 'slut farm' are after a few cocktails!

All the shopping gave us quite an appetite, so we headed to Chinatown for an authentic Chinese meal. When the taxi dropped us off, there was no mistaking where we were - the Chinese immigrants must have made some Manhattan banner maker a fortune! It was decidedly more run down than most other parts of the city, with slightly delapidated looking buildings, rubbish in the street, and faded, ripped signage above most of the shops. Because of this, we headed to the restaurant with the flashing lights - if they can afford that, they can afford not to be serving us dog or cat! There was a wedding reception in a sectioned off part of the restaurant, where I learned my new fact for the day - Chinese weddings also end in drunken renditions of Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive'. Who knew?!

Cocktails fueled the end of our day, the first of which we had in a bar that truly followed its name; 'Soul Bar'. We ran inside to escape the rain, and found a dimly lit room with very few people and a small stage at one end. We decided to get a drink, and then found ourselves part of a very small audience to an incredibly talented soul band, with a lead vocalist who had very similar velvety tones to Luther Van Dross and a drummer that looked like the happiest man in the world just to be able to drum! I don't know if the rest of the audience were friends or relatives of the band, but they certainly deserved to have a fuller bar than that!

New York Day Two

Our second day in the Big Apple had us flocking towards the tourist beacon that is the Empire State building - I have a theory that the only reason it
is so tall is to house the rows of meandering people inside that are queuing just to get to the top and come back down again. But, clever things that we are, we got a sneaky queue jump ticket from our friends at the hotel concierge that meant we could smugly walk past all the bored ticketless citizens. Still took bloody ages though! But, after two escalator trips that swelled your ear drums, and a couple of queues that even our nifty tickets couldn't get us out of, we were there, level 86, with a complete 360 view of the city that had been towering over us. You wouldn't have thought it possible about a concentrated pile of concrete, but it's pretty breathtaking. Much to my surprise, we even met a pigeon who felt the same way!

After a spot of shopping (in which I found that the internationally renown Macy's store is, actually, a bit rubbish!) we power-walked a few blocks to catch the final bus before our tickets ran out, and headed - a bit sweaty and out of breath - uptown. This, like Brooklyn, did not feed the New York preconceptions of being filled with famous landmarks, but was no less interesting. I liked seeing where the 'real' people lived. The streets became gradually cleaner as we moved up the streets, with the additions of small preened trees, bushes and balconies - these are the things you can get around to buying when you have enough money to live uptown I suppose! Then, it all morphed again as we reached Harlem. The litter and graffiti returned, but so did the atmosphere, a bustling atmosphere that was different to how it was downtown - it had a togetherness, a sense of community. As the bus drove past residential streets I saw something I thought only happened years ago, or in films - an actual block party. All of the residents were sprawled in the road and on the pavement, one house had its stereo propped up to the window so it could fill the street outside. People stood around chatting and dancing, and all I wanted to do was go and join in! So much now people don't know who lives down their own street, don't speak to their neighbours or make any effort to involve themselves in their community. There would not be half the amount of crime and loneliness if there was more of a connection between people and those that live around them.

When we eventually returned, we decided it was about time to conquer the jet lag and sample a bit of night life in the city. As advised by Carlos - a man who spent his day dressed as a toy soldier, having pictures taken and giving directions outside the FAO Schwarz toyshop - Greenwich Village was the place to go. So there we went! And what interesting places we found! Firstly, a pub endearingly named 'The Slaughtered Lamb', where you could sit accompanied by spider-webbed skeletons - some of which were embroiled in what must have been a very long game of chess. I loved it, but after watching Sex and the City, it wasn't exactly what we were expecting! We were offered some shots, which came not in a shot glass, but a plastic syringe. There's nothing like nearly choking on some strange vodka mixer after nearly spurting it down your wind pipe! And to continue with the macabre theme, not on purpose, we then ended up in the Jekyll and Hyde bar. This was brilliant - there were picture frames and figures that would suddenly erupt and begin talking and mechanically moving around, like a Disney nightmare. However, after being made some more shots and cocktails, this was where our night ended as my fellow explorers were nearly asleep on the bar.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

A Bit of Jet Setting...Day One

Well here's something new for my little blog, a travel diary! I haven't got quite enough to do a full on Bill Bryson, but I went to New York for 5 days and crammed in more experiences than I would normally manage in a year! And I don't just mean the touristy sights, one of the things that struck me most was how much more open people were to actually stop and have a conversation with you - maybe the English accent was the way in? So, to record all of these little scraps of memory, I guess it would be best to be chronological.

Day One
Well, technically day two, but no one wants to hear about how uncomfortable plane seats are, so I'll cut straight to the New York stuff! As advised by the hotel concierge (a great woman who couldn't have looked more 'New York' if she tried, with big curly hair, big make-up, and an accent that pronounces it 'cwoffee') we bought a two day ticket for a hop-on hop-off sight seeing bus, and began with the Downtown route that took a loop around the south of the island. Here we encountered the first of our tour guides; a balding man in his sixties with thin wispy hair that floated around the sides of his head, who spontaneously burst into song on his harmonica. His name was Dave. I have to admit, I was hoping for something a little more exotic. Dave asked everyone where they were from as they boarded, adding extra facts that were relevant to each group - he even knew Korean. For our benefit, Dave recounted his last visit to London, which was so recent that he still had an Oyster card in his pocket!

Next for the Brooklyn tour, which we caught down by Dock 17. I was really intrigued to see Brooklyn, it is not as filmed and has none of the landmarks of New York, so I couldn't understand why it is so often talked about. In Sex and the City, for instance, they all voice their disgust when Miranda announces she is moving there - what was the big deal?
Well, to be honest, there is no big deal! Brooklyn was nice - there is only one skyscraper and one massive road, a
s after both were built, 'Brooklyn' decided it didn't like it. What 'Brooklyn' does seem to like is narrow streets with flourishing trees on both sides, and quaint steps leading up to a sturdy wooden front door - lovely, but lacking the buzz that goes on across the bridge.

So, what else would a group of three girls do on their first day in New York? Go on a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride around Central Park of course! The sun shone, the birds sang, and our Turkish carriage driver told us all about New
York. I'm sure they're not usually Turkish in the movies? Like so many people in the city, this young Turkish man had left his family to venture to the promised land and find his fortune, his destiny, and here he was driving a white carriage with red velvet seats around a small circuit of a park, past relentless walkers and joggers, with the aid of a pretty yet rather smelly horse, and all for the twenty minutes' amusements of tourists like us. One of his carriage-driving-friends had given lifts to Brad Pitt and Adam Sandler, but he didn't even have a celebrity sighting to fuel the fact that he hadn't seen his family in years and could not afford to go back and visit them. He was one of thousands, maybe millions, in the same position. The magnetic force of that old American Dream still seems to be alive and well. I hope he finds it.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

I think I must have one of the only blogs, anywhere, ever, that hasn't made comment on the turmoil the world of celebrity has experienced recently with the death of Michael Jackson. What can I say, I guess I'm just a bit slow. Unbelievably it has nearly been two weeks since the 'King of Pop' died, and I think the event probably will be one of those where you remember what you were doing when you heard the news. I was in bed, vaguely considering dragging myself downstairs, when my sister thundered up to tell my mum and I what had happened - 'Michael Jackson died.' I had to ask her to repeat this several times, I didn't think I'd heard her properly - Michael Jackson was one of those people, so far away from 'normal' that surely he would be around forever, he was too different, too famous to die like the rest of us. But, unfortunately he did.

While I have always been a fan of 'MJ', I am not one of these people who are only realising now that buying his greatest hits might be a good idea, he was not a huge part of my childhood - I just remember trying, and failing, to learn the various dances he does in his videos - particularly 'Thriller', to this day I still find that video absolutely amazing! To me, especially recently, he was more of a source of intrigue and pity, if I'm honest. That good looking little boy from the Jackon 5 had grown up and cracked under the pressure of Hollywood. I watched the documentary with Martin Bashir and the inconceivable ramifications that followed it, leaving the nagging question in everyone's head - did he or didn't he? In my opinion, no, he didn't. Not that it counts for much, or has any evidence to back it up, but then neither did the tabloids who pretty much labelled him a paedophile from then on. This is one of the things that has got me about Jackson's death - alive = child abuser, freak but death = legend - like the former never happened. Why has this man had to die for the media to stop bullying him? And not only stop, but to make such great tributes to him - have the journalists actually found a conscience?

Obviously not everyone sees Michael Jackson's death as a tragedy, or really any big deal - when I logged on to Facebook the day after it happened it was littered with both positive and negative comments - the bad press had managed to permanently sway some people. And then there was those incredibly witty minds who decided that making jokes out of someone's death just hours after it had happened was a good thing to do - even just a day's grace would have been nice. And, let's be honest, just because you put the term 'kiddie fiddler' into a joke, it doesn't make it funny.

Hopefully Jackson's memorial service yesterday would have silenced all of those cynics out there - love him or hate him, there was no getting away from the fact that Michael Jackson was an amazing, legendary performer who has left a huge legacy behind him, and the fact that he was just a man. A man who was a son, a brother, and a father. If people cannot have respect for that, then hopefully they can at least find some for his daughter, the brave young girl who stood in front of all those people to tell them that out of the ridiculous celebrity bubble, he was 'the best father'. No one can argue with that.

Friday, 3 July 2009

Karima Francis 'The Author'

I first came across Karima Francis as her single 'Again' was featured as iTunes Single of the Week, and therefore free to download - well worth checking out, by the way, as it is always brand spanking new music, and is a good way of finding some real gems! Anyway, I added it to my collection on my iPod, and a few weeks later it came on shuffle as I was walking to a lecture in the sun. Well, I listened to it once, and had to repeat it several times just to try and take it all in, I loved this amazing new voice and wanted more. By chance, my sister bought the album a couple of weeks later after seeing Francis as a supporting act at a gig - I sort of had to 'borrow' it right away. This was all a couple of months ago, and I'm still hooked. 'Again' is probably one of the more commercial, upbeat songs on the album. The majority of the album takes on a slower, more soulful feel where Francis showcases her amazing voice that can change in a second from sweet and ethereal to gutsy and full of emotion. Her lyrics match her voice perfectly, both of which are particularly heartbreaking in the song 'Remember Your Name', in which Francis seems to be desperately trying to connect with an alcoholic mother - I must point out I don't know if this song is autobiographical, if not, then she can add an amazing capacity for empathy and imagination to her melting pot of talent.
At only 21 years old, Birmingham-based Francis has been on an 18 date tour, some of which was spent supporting the likes of James Morrisson, and the Daily Mail has already tipped her as 'The Next Big Thing'. Whether other singles from her album are going to be marketed more aggressively, or she is simply going to take the music industry by storm with album number two, I think Francis is sat on the precipice of a hugely successful career. She will be joining a very busy market of alternative female solo artists, but unlike many, Francis does not try to make herself noticed with an impressive array of costumes and awards outfits. She is very unassuming. While a huge, theatrical stage presence is great, there is certainly something endearing and refreshing about Francis' concern with just keeping it about the music - no sequins, feathers or latex needed. Thank goodness.
I would really recommend giving this amazing voice some ear-time, you won't regret it.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Hangover

I have been very neglectful of my blog recently, and for that I must apologise. For reasons that I may write about at some point, my head has not been in a healthy writing place. However, I have still managed to take a trip to that big dark room where you sit transfixed to a big screen, ignore the people you are with, and pay stupid prices for drinks, popcorn and ice cream - the cinema! The unsociable escapist's dream, I love it!

So, as my title suggests, I went to see 'The Hangover'; a state I am unfortunately quite well acquainted with, but, after seeing the trailers on television, none of mine, so far, have included a tiger in my bathroom. I was intrigued.

I went along with my housemates, all of us girls in the 20-21 age range. I mention this because the film follows a group of twenty-something men on a wild stag weekend to Las Vegas - so the characters, setting and circumstance were not something any of us were familiar with. Women in this film, in general, are pretty much exposed as a problem - an irate fiance waiting at home, an evil, controlling girlfriend, and a rather clingy hooker. But, I'm not going to go and get all feminist - it's not my style - because, when you're on a boys' weekend, I imagine women are simply just temptation, or a pain in the...neck. And if they had been any more of a feature, it would have ruined the focus on the strained interaction between the misfitted group of men.

Those that experience this almighty hangover are as follows; Doug the bridegroom (Justin Bartha) with his best friends Phil (Bradley Cooper) and Stu (Ed Helms), and his future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifianakis) who's amazing warped one-liners steal the show.

The group vow to go have themselves a night they will never forget, only to wake the next morning to discover that they have all forgotten everything and lost Doug along the way. With time running out before the wedding, all Phil, Stu and Alan can do is retrace their steps to try and work out where they could have left him. Their trail takes them all around Vegas with babies, lost teeth, and trapped Chinese men - it is full of surprises, and manages to maintain originality from other 'sick humour' films whilst keeping the audience laughing.

I have to admit, as a huge fan of the film making machine that is Seth Rogan and his chums in the likes of '40 Year Old Virgin', 'Knocked Up' and 'Superbad' to name but a few, I was a little worried that 'The Hangover', being in the same vein, would not be able to live up to them. But now, if I hear that director Todd Phillips is making another movie - I'm watching it! I'll be keeping a lookout for Zach Galifianakis too, for that matter.

The Hangover - 4/5

Saturday, 23 May 2009

"Open The Door"...

...Were the words I had been dreading reaching my ears for some time now. When I did finally hear them, gruffly shouted from somewhere behind me by a bearded man in his sixties, I was not as horrified as I had imagined.

This particular moment had been swirling around in the back of my mind since the dark days of winter, when I was sat in my cosy room, idly looking around for some form of escape from the pending essay sat before me on my laptop. Nothing on tv, the world of social networking had nothing left for me...cleaning? Well, no, always a silly option left only for the very tedious work exercises. That's when I remembered, the little red card that had been sat on my desk since my birthday - my 21st birthday to be exact. It was a present from my stepmother, a voucher for the Virgin 'Red Letter Days'. It was worth quite a lot of money - she had bought it in the hope that I would book the same experience she had done a few months before; diving in a tank full of rather large sharks, with two trained divers beside you. While I'm sure this was great, and you are assured the sharks have been recently fed, what could the instructors do if they fancied my hand as a snack? I mean, even after the biggest dinner, I could always probably manage a KitKat...

So, I had a look on the website and browsed the different options that were available for the value of my voucher. Spa treatments...could be nice, but perhaps a little boring, car racing...I can barely control my Ford KA...that's when I saw it - on limited special offer for restricted time only - tandem skydiving!! It was perfect, it was exciting, dramatic, and got me away from those bloody sharks! When should I book it for? Well, lets see, I will have given in all of my work by May 18th, so how about the weekend after that? It's not for months, that seems perfect. And so, it was done.

All of those months passed an awful lot quicker than I was anticipating, however, and before I knew it, I was struggling to roll myself out of bed on that sunny Saturday morning. I think I had managed a grand total of an hour's sleep the night before. For one reason and another I found myself in the car with an audience of my mother, my auntie and my nan, all of whom cried out and nudged me whenever a plane flew overhead, or we drove past a sign for Swindon (where the airfield was.) This did not help my nerves.

After a few minor direction malfunctions we found ourselves pulling up at the airfield, which consisted of a field - oddly enough - a huge open sided shelter littered with parachutes being rolled back up and nervous 'students' wandering around, a mobile greasy-spoon cafe, and an array of picnic benches. We especially thanked the good weather after it transpired we had to wait for several hours on these picnic benches.

I went through the obligatory training, sitting in a circle with other pale-looking parachutists-to-be, it was like some kind of cockney-man-yoga to the angry sound of propellors rather than calming, twinkly background music. It all seemed quite simple in theory, but seeing my nan in the distance continually winking at me made it a little difficult to concentrate, clearly she had taken a shine to the instructor. Once this was done, I was ready, the nerves were gone and I was ready to DO THIS! But unfortunately, due to large numbers of people I had to wait four hours. For me, they were somewhat uneventful so I won't plague you with them. Let's skip to...

...I heard my name being shouted across the crowd of picnicers by a stocky man, probably in his thirties, with the top half of his jumpsuit trailing around his waist, the arms dancing as he walked. I had seen him do a jump with a girl who's family had been sitting behind me, at least she had come back in one piece. My instructor, Ash, introduced me to my jumpsuit - I had been hoping for one of the garish multi-colour pieces that were hanging on a clothes rail, the ones that must have been based on an eighties shellsuit. No such luck, I had to settle for black, with some nice red and yellow racing stripes down the side - I would've been cool if I were a car. We walked through the long grass towards the plane - it didn't look much bigger than those I've seen teenage boys flying with remote controls. This pilot, however, was no teenager, and certainly no gentleman. As soon as I had reached within speaking distance he shouted over to me, 'Well, you can tell she's got a big arse!' (I was the only 'she' in the group, so there was no mistaking it). After a good sixty years of existence, how does he not get that you just don't say that to a female?!

Anyway, since he was the man in charge when I was at 10,000ft, I decided to let it slide. We all climbed inside the aircraft, the space inside was no bigger than the inside of a van. As there were seven of us - and all, apart from me, quite large men, there is only one arrangement of bodies that works - in between each other's legs. Bodily contact is certainly not shied away from in the parachuting business.

It took around twenty-five minutes for the plane to climb to the desired height, and I was strangely calm. I looked out at the views of the English countryside, admired how the fields looked like a patchwork quilt of various greens and yellows, watched with wonder as we passed effortlessly through the clouds. I was less panicked in this tiny, rickety plane than on a commercial passenger jet.

This is when those words came.

I was told to pull down my goggles as the door was slid open, and a wealth of noise and air flooded the inside. Two parachutists who were jumping alone went before me - the first literally shuffled to the edge and rolled out on his side. By this point, yes, I was rather terrified, but there was nothing I could do as my instructor began to move himself, and therefore me, towards the door. I remembered the training; as he reached the door I had to swing my legs out and hook them underneath the plane, hold onto my shoulder straps, and lean my head back - at least I couldn't see the ground outside. I don't remember falling out.

On rollercoaster rides, I always remember the sickening, stomach-flipping feeling that comes from falling a long way - I had been expecting to experience this for the thirty seconds I would be falling, but it never came. The speed made the air become some kind of buffer beneath me, and instead of falling at 120mph, I just felt like I was lying down in a very very windy place. The noise was literally deafening, and when the parachute was inflated the silence that followed was almost ghostly. It was only once we had slowed down that I could sort of comprehend what had just happened, and realise that I had done the scariest part. I had done it!

I think I laughed all the way back down to earth as I reminded myself of this, with the late afternoon sun beating on my face, and the air rushing through the few strands of hair that had come loose in the fall. I can't go into much more detail of the experience itself; like I have heard so many people say, somewhat irritatingly, it is simply indescribable. Only doing it yourself would allow an understanding of what it is like, and after the day I have had today, I would strongly recommend that you do.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

And It's All Over

Well, as of yesterday I officially finished and gave in my last pieces of work for my degree. It's done, I made it, now I just have to wait for it to be marked (hopefully generously) and I'll have some form of a degree! Somehow I managed to choose my modules wisely and wriggled out of doing an exam; it's quite a sore point with my housemates, some of whom have three or four to revise for...I'm quite hated, but now I have absolutely no idea what to do - with the next couple of weeks before everyone finishes exams and can party, with the summer, with...life! I would have thought I'd be the most excited girl around, being free to watch all the films I put off when I was working, read books, draw stuff...but already I have itchy feet and it has only been a day! This wasn't helped by the fact that I need to start emptying my room of stuff as it's going to take a few trips to get it all home (where it's going to go is another matter...perhaps for another time) and placing all my books and things into boxes just reminded me of how excited I was three years ago in halls, taking them out, finding somewhere for them to go, making a space for myself.

Perhaps this is what I'm most scared of - losing independence. It's been a little daunting sometimes the amount I've had at uni, but, it's great! I can do the living-without-my-parents thing! And I don't know how it will work going from this to sharing a room with my sister again. Obviously I've had to do it over the holidays, but I think there's a different mindset when you know that it's only temporary. Hmm. 

The English Department (legends that they are) organised a talk for us finalists after the last pieces of work had been given in, and it was lovely (despite my needing the toilet for the duration) as they outlined what we had all achieved in our time on the course. I had never really thought about it, but I have worked bloody hard at this - most of the time - and I couldn't help but feel proud that I'd seen it through to the end, and so far done a pretty decent job. What did not help, however, was everyone around me raising their hands when asked 'Who has solid plans for when they leave?' I'd like a plan. The free wine following the talk helped make me forget about this for a while though, which was nice. Especially as it was poured by my lecturers (one of which I think may have made a start on the wine beforehand, she's great! I seem to like brackets in this post.)

This was another thing that hit me - it's just typical that, unlike secondary school which I got so bored of, couldn't wait to leave, and unfortunately run into people that went there all the time, I have to leave university after a much shorter time, where I have loved being, met some amazing people, and finally just about feel like I know what I'm doing...what's up with that?! Oh well, if I try to put a good spin on it all I suppose I've been so lucky in experiencing any of this at all, and I can stay in touch with the people that matter once it's all done. Yes, I like that thinking.

For now though, I will try and take advantage of my freedom watching some crappy TV whilst doodling whatever comes into my head, as I miss it. After that, I guess I should spend some time thinking up one of these plan things that everyone else seems to have...I wonder what I was doing when they were all thinking of theirs?

Friday, 8 May 2009

For this award, I'd like to thank...

As my title suggests, I have recently won an award! How very exciting. Unfortunately, an acceptance speech thanking my parents, my friends, my neighbour's cat etc for their support was not necessary as I'm not that important that people want to listen to me ramble and cry on stage, but, hell, I got an award! What for what for I imagine you are crying at your screens? Well, I'll tell you. 

Last night I attended a university ceremony for the EVAs, aka the Excellence in Volunteering Awards, organised in recognition of all the hard work people in the university have put into running societies, events, and raising money for charity. The latter category is where I came in, as I have been part of the university RAG committee for the 08/09 season, and got awarded an honour for my efforts. I received an email a couple of weeks ago to say I'd been nominated, I never found out who by, but I'm very grateful! I've never won anything like this before, I suppose because I've never really done anything before that might deserve it. Even though a new committee has been elected now, and I'll be leaving soon, I'd really love to continue volunteering - and not just because everyone tells you to do it for the sake of your CV. Like I said, I've never really done anything like this before, when people told me they ran for a charity/helped out at a charity shop for free/visited old people's homes, I thought it was nice of them, but, didn't feel enthused to give up my own time for it. With RAG, the main aim was to raise money, by any means we could think of, so that we could give it to the various charities we were supporting. We organised a Christmas Ball, a community day (which Desmond Tutu came to - the man is a legend and has the best laugh...ever!) and sometimes just plain, old-fashioned stood in the street with a bucket. Oddly, the latter is the volunteering effort I think I will always remember and feel really good about. 
I'll set the scene.

It was a cold Saturday morning in December. I had to race eager, already angry, shoppers to one of the last parking spaces town had to offer. I couldn't wear a proper coat, because I had to wear a bright pink 'Cancer Research' t-shirt, with a bright pink bucket to match (which, by the way, I wasn't allowed to shake...apparently bucket shaking is deemed to be aggressive. who knew?) and follow busy people on their way to overcrowded shops, laden with shopping bags, and ask - even though we had all just been told we were in a recession and people were spending more than they would at any other time of year - for money. But, instead of strongly worded versions of 'go away', they happily parted with their cash - coppers, pounds, sometimes notes. I was surprised to say the least. When we had been there for about 3 hours and were starting to lose feeling in our fingers, a middle aged couple came up to us and gave some money. They began to walk off when the woman approached myself and a fellow collector, she had tears in her eyes and told us we were doing a great job, and that she was currently suffering with cancer herself, and was so grateful that people were trying to help others like her. We didn't know what to say. I felt awful for how much I'd been complaining that I was bored, cold and hungry all morning - none of that mattered any more because we had come face to face with the real reason we were there. And I think after that I would have stayed all day and all night trying to help that woman. So, I guess what I'm saying is that volunteering isn't just something that helps get you a job, or something that only greenpeace hippies do - it can make a difference. And the little award I got just makes me remember that I did...which is particularly useful when you're in the university 'bubble', separated from the real world and wondering what the point is in writing yet another essay!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife

I have been wanting to read this book for the better part of two years now, but haven't allowed myself until I was free from reading the many, many, many course books for uni. Over easter, however, I finally took the plunge. And I think it quite possibly shot it's way up the list to definitely being one of my favorite books of all time - with all the hype surrounding it I was so pleased that the book itself was not a let down. 

It is Audrey Niffenegger's first novel - I can't wait for more! - following the unique lives of Clare and Henry, a couple destined to be together when that is the one thing they cannot be, as Henry has a genetic condition which causes him to randomly time travel. Niffenegger has cleverly structured the book so that it jumps backwards and forwards in time, exploring memories and giving a slow release of information whilst mirroring what Henry's life is like, as he constantly finds himself in different times too. 

The themes of destiny and fate are explored, as although Henry can travel through time, he cannot change anything from happening unless it has already happened. He meets Clare when she is six, and visits her as a middle aged man throughout her childhood. He does not meet her, however, until he is in his twenties when she finds him in her real time and they are the same age. It takes a while to get your head around sometimes, but that, for me, makes it even better.

The characterisation and description throughout the book are wonderful; the likeablility of the characters makes their difficult situation even more heartbreaking, along with the fact that they simply couldn't be with anyone else. 

Niffenegger's references to music and art enrich the writing and give the different times a sense of authenticity - Henry is young and wild, and often gets to relive, the time in Chicago at the time of the New York Dolls and The Talking Heads, when punk was truly alive. 

The significance of the book's title does not really come into focus until the end. Although narration is split between Henry and Clare, as a reader the interest tends to fall on Henry - he is the one who is 'special', who experiences the extraordinary, who encounters danger. Clare is just normal, who stays at home, waiting for him. As a time traveler's wife, though, that seems to be all one can do, and the realisation of this, for Clare and the reader, is heartbreaking.

As with any popular book at the moment, there is going to be a film released soon. I suppose my curiosity is going to force me to see it, but already I am a little sceptical. Firstly, because the leading roles of Clare and Henry are going to be played by Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana - both perfectly fine actors - but I always had someone resembling Cate Blanchett in my head when I was reading it, so already she doesn't look right! And how can 'The Hulk' be Henry?! But anyway, I shouldn't dismiss it before I've seen it, so I shall just wait patiently, and hope that the director has done justice to this wonderful book.

The Time Traveler's Wife - 5/5

Friday, 24 April 2009

The Monumental Day...or not so much

Today was the day, the defining moment in a student's university experience, the moment all of your time of (sometimes questionable) learning has lead up: The Dissertation. After a year of deciding on a topic, going through hours of research, trying to form some sort of comprehensive argument, and trying to get my head round how to reference all of these witty quotations I'd come across - today was the day I finally handed it in.

Now, I know larger and larger proportions of society are going and getting themselves one of these degree thingies at the moment, but with the amount of stress, worry and sleepless nights some of my housemates and I went through over these projects, it was like we were the first people ever to do them. And we're the fairly organised ones that have given them in early, who knows about these others that have been rumored to be living in the campus library now; their skin pale and oily, rings around their eyes, and shaking hands from an overload of caffeine having only just started to research their topic a couple of weeks before the due date. 

No, I wasn't one of these people, I could have stretched out working on it until Monday, but the truth is I'm so sick of the sight of the thing that I just wanted it out of my life. And did that bring me relief? Well, not really. Firstly, I'm still worrying about the damn thing even after I've given it in - is there anything else I should have done? Why don't I have as many references as other people? Secondly, the feeling of being free from this weight that has been pulling at the back of my mind for so long is a little unsettling - I sat watching some celebratory daytime tv earlier feeling like a naughty schoolgirl - surely I should be doing something else? And thirdly, even though I was organised enough to give it in early, the very thought of doing so made me forget all of my things for my afternoon seminar, which put an extra 40 minutes of very speedy walking time home and back to campus, and quite frankly, rather than going out to party I'd rather collapse in bed!

So much for Britain's youth of today being manic and out of control, I'll be asleep by 11!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Turn Up For The Books!

Well, this blog was not only intended to be a string of review ramblings, but also about the experiences of a student graduating into a seriously messed up work place. I haven't had anything to report, as despite sending my CV to lotsss of job listings on various graduate job sites I hadn't heard a peep. Until now. This morning, in fact about ten minutes ago whilst I was leisurely browsing through my junk emails, I got a phone call in response to one of said applications. As excited as I was that someone had finally got back to me, it was unfortunately regarding the position I knew least about...in video games. I have been asked to attend an interview next week, so will of course be scouring the web for as many interview tips, do's and don'ts, and all the rest of it - but I doubt there will be tips for feigning an interest in video games. What to do?

Well, I guess, like most people do at some point in interviews, I'll just lie. And, like most people who lie in interviews, the interviewer who is used to people lying and catching them out, will catch me out. Pessimistic? 

And then, my other dilemma, what if they actually offer me the job? It is minimum graduate salary but if I accept it would probably mean I have to live in London...and after rent and graduate loan payments have been taken out of my salary, I'll have about £5 left to play with. And then, what if they offer me the job, I accept, and a couple of weeks later I get a response from a prospective DREAM job - right now I'm not even sure what that would be - but I can't accept it because I'm already busy moulding my hands into claws from playing video games all day? (Will I even get to play the video games?)

I think I liked it better when no one got back to me...