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.'