So, April in cinema, then?
When I first came out of The Place Beyond the Pines, I was so angry. Angrier than I’ve been at a lot of films this year. Although a month since seeing it my anger has dimmed, I still find it one of the biggest cases of Emperor’s New Clothes I’ve seen in some time. A film starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper is promising, right? If nothing else, there’s some eye candy there. However, be warned, they don’t really appear together. Instead, this is a three-act film with their characters taking the first two acts. After an hour in Gosling’s character’s company – by far the best part of the film – the narrative switch to Cooper’s is a bit audacious. It might have worked were the storyline for Cooper’s character in any way interesting or novel (the Gosling section is quite watchable) but it’s so dull and derivative, and then, then, you think his storyline is ending and so the film is going to end, BUT NO. There is then a terrible third act, when you go ‘Oh no. They’re not going to go there‘. Oh yes, they do. I’m so sick of seeing films that make out white men’s problems are so important and SO UTTERLY DEEP. If this film were about black or Asian men, or women of any stripe, it would probably not have been made and it certainly wouldn’t have been a big release. The saddest thing is, it seems to think its very, very overdone message (I’d say what it is, but… spoilers) is somehow meaningful. A child’s paddling pool has more depth.
If you watch the DVD, save yourself from throwing things at the screen and pretend the film ends once Gosling’s character’s storyline ends. The rest of it is a complete waste of time.
Perhaps it was seeing it straight after the bore-fest above. Perhaps it was going in with very low expectations after reading some scathing reviews and not being that enamoured with Kids (amazing soundtrack aside) but I found Spring Breakers rather refreshing. We’ve already established my appreciation for the recent use of bold colours in cinema (of which, more to come) and this takes the colour pallette to the next level, with huge blasts of neon adding to the tripped-out feeling of a ‘spring break’ holiday that doesn’t quite go to plan. There are things that are problematic about this film – the lingering on young women’s breasts is rather gratuitous (men are gazed at too but not as much) – and at one point I thought ‘dude, that’s your daughter, you’re being gross’ before discovering Rachel Korine was actually Harmony Korine’s wife. Oops. The film has been criticised for being shallow – which it is, but no more so than anything else on this month’s list. It’s a bit repetitive in some of its motifs as well. However, it’s nice to see a film giving four young women something interesting to do for a change, and for the journeys of each character to be divergent enough that they don’t feel like a retread of other coming of age stories. It’s not going to change your life or revolutionise cinema but I found it quite exhilirating – if I’m going to watch random mindless violence then this hedonistic, beach-dwelling, neon-lit, female-fronted scenario is way more interesting than the gloomy-men-being-gloomy-in-container-yards likes of Welcome to the Punch. This film has a better storyline than that one as well.
You can’t really tell from the trailers, which make it out to be a fairly run-of-the-mill horror/thriller type film, but Dark Skies is one of the most out-and-out batshit crazy films you will see this year. It is utterly demented. The opening third or so sets it up as a fairly routine paranormal domestic type chiller. And then it goes mental. And then a bit more mental. It’s like four genres of schlocky B-movie had a crash. Not necessarily in a bad way although I’m not sure if it’s good, either. It doesn’t make a whole heap of sense, but it’s quite entertaining. I think? It’s one of the most bewildering, bizarre and bonkers films I’ve seen in a while. Not what I expected.
Oblivion is a weird one, too, albeit in a different way. Everything in this film you have seen in other films. The reveal (which you can see coming a mile away) is almost entirely ripped off from another sci-fi film that was released in the past decade – if I told you which, you’d know what the twist is, so I won’t. In fact everything in it is pinched from so many other films that it’s quite outrageous. And yet – it’s great-looking, it’s pacy, it’s got some surprises in it and I found it a really fun romp and enjoyable watch. Worth seeing as long as you don’t expect anything new.
Nobody could accuse Spring Breakers of being shallow when they stack it next to Iron Man 3. In some ways it’s a shame that the promise of Iron Man has never really been matched by anything in the sequels (assuming Avengers Assemble doesn’t count as a sequel because Tony Stark was ace in that). I think this one was a bit more entertaining than the second, but that could be due to seeing this at the pictures and that one on DVD. There are some nice set-pieces, a smattering of good jokes, some racially dubious bits with the villains and lots of SPLOSIONS. There’s also a gratuitous child, which I’m sure a lot of people won’t be happy with although I thought the kid wasn’t too bad as these things go. There’s nothing much else to say about this film – it’s a superhero film. It exists. I’ve seen worse. I’ve seen much better.
All I knew about Bernie before seeing it was that it starred Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey (is he in EVERYTHING at the moment?). In some ways I’m glad I didn’t know too much about it as, like Compliance last month, it’s based on a true story, and knowing that story probably doesn’t diminish the viewing entirely but it would make it much less surprising. So I won’t tell you anything about the plot, but the format of the film features talking heads from real-life residents of the town where the events took place, interspersed with actors playing some of the roles. The three leads are totally brilliant, although I find a lot of the plaudits from the press towards Black incredibly patronising (all along the lines of ‘if Black can make a good film, the world must be ending’ and ‘who knew he could act?’). I’ve never had a problem with him – sure, he’s made some stinkers, and there was a while in the middle of his career when he was so ubiquitous he was annoying, but he’s made several films I enjoyed and I never thought he was particularly bad as an actor – besides, Bernie isn’t *that* much of a leap from his other characters. Anyway, some of the things that are played for laughs are a little uncomfortable given it’s a true story but it’s a quirky and enjoyable film and certainly worth trying out.
I’m So Excited, Pedro Almodovar’s latest, is another film where I don’t really know what to make of it. It’s a real romp, a comedy set on an aeroplane with a small ensemble cast, all of whom are great (don’t be fooled by the trailers, Penelope Cruz and Antonio Banderas are just playing cameos here). The film is deliberately high-camp and daft, and that’s all well and good, but sometimes it’s just *too* dumb to be hilarious. At other times, it’s very funny indeed. And then there are two scenes of rape (they are not necessarily presented as being rape but they clearly are if you take rape as being sex without consent!) and these rapes (one of a man, one of a woman) are treated as a joke – and I’m really not sure you can get away with that – maybe in a film that is deliberately pushing boundaries to provoke, but I don’t think this is that kind of film, and it feels very uncomfortable. They’d both be classed as ‘good rape’ in Hollyoaks standards (this is a Lowculture circa 2006 joke, don’t worry if it passes you by) but, yeah, pretty gross. On the other hand, the alcoholic plane crew are at least more entertaining than Denzel Washington’s grumpy bugger in Flight. I’m not sure if I’d recommend this film – sans rape scenes, maybe, as the cast are so good – but those scenes left me feeling a bit too uneasy. Sometimes ‘genuis’ filmmakers maybe need someone with them to have a word in their ear…
So… I saw some films in March then… I think January remains the strongest month so far this year, not to spoiler what’s coming or anything.
Cloud Atlas was the book of the month for my book club. I read it when it came out and didn’t much enjoy it, other than the Sonmi storlyine and not minding the Luisa Ray mystery. But I thought a few years might have mellowed my response to it. I started again – the tedious sea stuff was as tedious as before and I didn’t care much about any of it. So I decided to stop, watch the film (which I’d planned to see after finishing the book) and start again. I’m so glad I did, as the book was much easier to read after seeing the film (still didn’t enjoy the book that much though).
The film takes the bold step of changing the structure of the stories so instead of the Russian dolls style of the book, all six are interspersed. Some people may find this alienating, especially if they’ve never read the book, but I found it helped – not just to connect the narratives, but mainly to make the tedious sea bits actually quite interesting – no mean feat.
I didn’t mind the casting of the same actors in different parts although some of the racial changing was pretty badly done and there was the added surrealism of Halle Berry in white makeup looking just like Madonna. The gender changing was generally bad – done for comedic and caricature value rather than any serious takes on character interpretation. So, the experiment wasn’t always successful, but I understood the artistic reasons for it and thought it a brave gamble.
The visuals are utterly wonderful, especially in the Sonmi scenes, which remain the best part of it, even if a lot of the detail of that storyline (and all of them, but that one especially) has been removed for the film (and yet it’s still really bloody long!). The standout performer is Doona Bae (Sonmi) although Hugh Grant has fun camping it up as various baddies and Jim Broadbent relishes his two main roles as cranky/eccentric old duffers and Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, David Gyasi and JAmes D’Arcy also put real heart into things. Susan Sarandon is a bit under-used and Tom Hanks chews up the scenery something rotten. Didn’t he used to be a good actor? If so, it was many moons ago…
Oz: The Great and Powerful is a curious beast. I hated the first third of it – it was not only nodding to the Wizard of Oz, it was taking pastiche to its most ludicrous extreme. I haven’t read the books so some of that may have been close to the source material, of course. Everyone was overacting to a chronic degree and I thought I would hate it. But then it eventually finds the confidence to attempt to be its own film and it improves – it also looks gorgeous, something that’s a bit of a theme this month. The final third of the film is pretty good, as Oz realises what he needs to do and what he needs to become – these scenes are much more funny, fast and inventive than the rest of it. Other than that, it’s all a bit cheesy and predictable and the female characters are pretty badly presented (although perhaps this is Baum’s fault), mostly there because of love or hate for a man. But get used to that theme, there’s a lot of it coming.
Side effects is a funny old film. Rooney Mara is excellent, and Jude Law doesn’t annoy me as much as usual, so that’s good. Again, the gender politics of it are somewhat crappy – it’s all a bit reliant on the notion that women are hysterical and manipulative. One of the key twists is made too obvious too early, whilst another is simply ludicrous. Despite that, it’s a good film for keeping you guessing, and, like Flight was earlier this year, one that poses some interesting dilemmas. For the most part, I liked the pace, I liked the mystery… I wasn’t sold on the characters or the resolutions, which were all a bit too tidy for my liking – but it’s one that might be worth seeing.
Robot and Frank is both charmingly sweet and heart-rendingly sad. The story is of Frank (Frank Langella) who is an ex-bank robber with dementia. His son buys him a robot to look after him and the two form a bond. Along the way his warring but distant children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler) fight over how to look after him and he tries to woo the local librarian (Susan Sarandon) whilst railing against the digitisation of books as the library is being renovated. It’s one of those films that is perhaps trying to do too much – the digitalisation of the library is very much presented as a bad thing, yet we fall in love with Robot, so the film doesn’t quite seem to know what it’s saying about technology. The baddies in the film are total caricatures and Frank’s children are somewhat annoying. Despite these misgivings it has some very funny moments in it, some very sweet ones and others that will crush you. There is a twist that some people have said was a bit obvious but I completely didn’t expect it. I wasn’t entirely sold on the ending but this is definitely worth a watch – it doesn’t achieve everything it sets out to but it’s still one of the most interesting films of 2013 so far.
I’d like to tell you what happens in Welcome to the Punch beyond ‘white men running around container yards growling at each other and shooting each other’ but that’s all I remember. There is one female character who shows promise but she’s not in the film for very long, so it’s another one of those where MEN IN LEATHER JACKETS SHOOTING is a rilly important thing (see also: men in suits talking). There were a few men who weren’t white, I think, but the main men were (Mark Strong and James MacAvoy – both usually better than this). To be fair on it, I wasn’t really in the frame of mind to be concentrating on anything when I saw it – hence choosing the action flick – so the fact I don’t remember much of a plot might be my fault. But yeah, if you like people running round container yards shouting and shooting, watch this. If you don’t, then I wouldn’t bother.
If you watch the trailers for Paperboy, you would think it’s a story about an affair between Nicole Kidman’s character and Zac Efron’s character – possibly some sort of coming-of-age thing. And… it’s not, really. I mean, the relationship between those characters is part of it, albeit not exactly in the way you might think. It has some coming-of-age aspects, but Efron’s character is an adult, not a teenager. And there are a lot of other things going on, mainly involving Efron’s character’s brother, played by Matthew McConaughey. (Is it bad that I can rarely remember character names? When characters are played by big name actors I almost always see the actor before the character) or the criminal lover of Kidman’s character – John Cusack playing against type. Macy Gray acts as a narrator/storyteller as well as the housekeeper for Efron’s family. She is being interviewed about the situation and characters although it’s never entirely clear why (unless I missed it). It’s based on a book, so it might be the fault of the source material, but it’s another fil that doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to be. It’s also unremittingly grim, with a lot of sex, violence and sexual violence. And animal carcasses. And swamps. The characters are often a bit caricatured, too – and whilst it’s not the worst film I’ve ever seen, it does feel a little pointless. I didn’t hate it, but I wouldn’t put it top of the recommended list, either.
Compliance is really difficult to discuss without spoiling things but at the same time, in order for it to be effective you probably need to know as little as possible about it as essentially the film is simply a replaying of the true-life events upon which it is based (except for aspects of the ending). If you have read up on the case before seeing it then there is not much in the film that will enhance your response to the events or the people involved. On the other hand, knowing what it is about might be helpful for some – there were walkouts in a number of cinemas and the showing I went to was no exception. Put it this way, whilst nothing hugely graphic happens it contains a lot of trigger material. The acting is great, especially from the two female leads, although I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the direction. Much of it occurs in the back room of a fast food shop and some of the claustrophobia here is well done. However, there are a lot of strange ‘arty’ shots (eg of fries, a very, very long sequence of someone driving) that detract from the realism mode. The gaze veers uncomfortably from getting us to think about our own positions as spectators to considering whether the director himself (and it probably would have benevited from a female director) is a total voyeur. As other reviews have commented, we get a big reveal way too early as well. So overall, it’s an interesting watch to some extent but proceed with caution.
Identity Thief has been resoundingly trashed in all its reviews. Perhaps it was because I went in with very diminished expectations, then, that I found it pretty much the most enjoyable watch of the month. In order to enjoy it you do have to let yourself get swept up in crazy and suspend all disbelief but it’s quite fun as road trip/buddy movie. The thing does derail itself when Melissa McCarthy’s character starts to think about her image and when they decide they neex to give her a backstory to explain things – and the ending is a copout when I was hoping for something much more anarchich and subversive which might not have sold so well to Hollywood but would have carried on the sense of fun from the first half and provided a much more exhilirating ride.
Trance is perhaps the most frustrating film I have seen in ages. It has a lot going for it:good director, cast, soundtrack. Nice enough concept with the whole hypnosis thing, although it owes too much of a debt to Inception, which is a much better film. The look of it is very unusual – the trippy side of it emphasised through this slightly hyperreal world of colourful rectangles. Seriously – these people live in a world of rectangles. It’s quite cool but very weird. The opening third is pretty good-pacey and intriguing…but then it just (bar a couple of interesting twists) becomes annoying -for a number of reasons. Firstly, the Asian, black and gingerish make characters are nothing more than stooges. Secondly, Rosario Dawson’s character is meant to be powerful but all her power is derived through her sexuality and when you discover her backstory, sodme of the things she does are actually pretty repulsive and also seem out of character. She is shown fully frontal nude several times whereas all we get of the men is a little bit of chest. Hardly equal play. Anyway, the twists are just not satisfying enough to cope with the really troubling gender and race stuff going on. It had potential but totally blew it.
Mama is a slightly curious thing. Great performances from the leads (with Jessica Chastain almost unrecognisable) – especially the two child leads. Ropey old cgi, very unlikely plotting, ending that doesn’t make a whole heap of sense but is at least not that predictable. It also has some really neat twists on horror/creepy children tropes. Not entirely sure what we were meant to think of the lead couple though… their motivations didn’t seem to make a whole heap of sense, and the events that kick off the film were too rushed. The whole thing doesn’t really stand up but it’s entertaining enough, if nowhere near the standard of most other films that bandy Guillermo del Toro’s name about.
A few days late for my review of February in film, but I’ve been at the Sci-Fi Weekender (which I hope to review in the next few days). For a while, I thought the theme of this month was essentially going to be Americans being douchebags – as that was certainly the case with a lot of the films watched.
The month started off with Django Unchained. This had terrible, terrible trailers, so I wasn’t holding out a lot of hope. I was quite pleasantly surprised that it was a lot of fun, with Christoph Waltz being truly excellent and thoroughly deserving his Oscar. Like many films of late, it was very long – but take my advice – there is a bit that seems like the climax. If you watch this film, stop watching it there. It goes on for another half an hour or more after that but NOTHING OF IMPORT HAPPENS in that final act – just a repetition of things that have already happened and a hideous abomination of a cameo from Quentin Tarantino before ending pretty much the same as the initial climax but with some more ‘splosions.
Zero Dark Thirty was one of those films where I didn’t really know what to expect. I’d heard about it glorifying war and torture – but I think it’s more complicated than that. Certainly, the torture scenes make you want to side with the tortured, not the torturers, but I suppose you could see the torture as being a key to them getting the intelligence they needed. Jessica Chastain was excellent, but be warned – UNEXPECTED BARROWMAN CAMEO lurks within. It’s not a film I’d rush to see again but it was well made and gripping.
Flight is a curious beast. It starts looking like it’s going to be one thing and then has a huge tonal shift into another. The first act contains a high-action crash sequence aboard a plane which is brilliant – scary, thrilling and visually arresting. The rest of the film concentrates on the alcoholism of Denzel Washington’s character, pilot Whip, and a trial to determine whether his drinking caused the flight accident. He has a half-baked sort of romance with Kelly Reilly’s Nicole, a drug addict with a poorly-fleshed out story. At first the film suggests it will be her story as much as his, but then her plot essentually fizzles out for much of it. Also: the establishing shot of her? A tattoo, so we know she’s fallen on bad times. Oh, Hollywood. In fact, women in this film come out dreadfully for the most part – they’re either a pair of tits (one of the flight crew who, inexplicably, has been having an affair with Washington’s character), a damsel in distress or marginalised – one of the female flight attendants seems like she might be an interesting character… then she mostly vanishes. The rest of the film is men talking and thinking they’re being important, save a token female judge at the end. The moral/legal dilemma at the heart of the film is a good one, the crash sequence is excellent and Washington gives a strong performance. However, his character is utterly unlikeable and the film’s rampant sexism is just not necessary. I’m so sick of films with men in suits talking being lauded. And it’s not the only film about men in suits talking this month…
Warm Bodies was one of the more enjoyable films this month – thankfully. Nicholas Hoult plays a Zombie who falls in love with a human girl, Teresa (Julie Palmer), and Romeo and Juliet style shenanigans ensue. It all sounds fairly standard and predictable, but it has a nice subplot about zombies vs ‘bonies’ (the more ‘extreme’ zombies), is warm and funny and is just a likeable film. I’ve not read the novel it’s based on, but I think I will at some point.
I Give it a Year sets itself up as being an alternative romantic comedy, one where you’re meant to root for the couple to split up – however, they didn’t appear to be ‘wrong’ enough as a couple for the conceit to work, and their ‘alternative’ partners don’t seem perfect for them either – although Anna Faris does a great job of playing a character who isn’t another dizzy blonde. This is a weird film – some bits are very funny indeed, some bits have humour that’s just too crass. Some scenes are realy unusual (one with doves is a stand-out), some are far too bog-standard. At one stage it looks like it might actually go somewhere more interesting than it does – the conclusion it comes to is just not very convincing. There’s also a very funny WTF moment when an Australian (who is famous for often playing Americans) playing a Brit (Rose Byrne) has a conversation with an Australian playing an American (Simon Baker) about the differences between British and American culture. Minnie Driver is great value as a raucous sister to Rose Byrne’s character and it may just be worth checking out for her alone. It’s flawed, but it’s one of those films that will pass the time well enough if you’re looking for a DVD/download.
This is 40, like I Give It a Year, was perhaps not the most conventional of films to release around Valentine’s Day (Warm Bodies neither, but it was the most conventionally romantic). It’s a spin-off/sequel to Knocked Up (albeit one that seems to pretend the lead characters from the first film don’t even exist) and it’s been said that a lot of it is based on Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann’s home life – the daughters in the film are their real-life daughters, who are relishing their roles here. It’s very long – too long, really, given there’s not a huge amount of plot. The characters are often quite horrible, especially Paul Rudd’s character, although I will generally watch Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in anything. If it doesn’t contain Adam Sandler. I quite liked a lot of scenes in the film, but I think that’s the problem – scenes work very well, but the film as a whole is less successful, and the problems are very much rich white people’s problems – which is probably the point, but I think that might alienate people.
Wreck It Ralph is more successful than the last couple of films – for a few reasons. The conceit of a bad video game character wanting to change is good – although the group therapy is a straight and pointless snatch from the Toy Story universe. The cameos from other game characters are exciting, especially in the first half, and the world created in the arcade is lovely and feels very Pixar-esque (unsurprising given some of the creative team are old Pixar hands). The voices are great and there’s a thrill to be had from Sue Sylvester being flirted with by Jack from 30 Rock who play the two main support characters to Sarah Silverman and John C Reilly’s leads. Silverman’s Venelope is a pleasing kind of Disney Princess – if she joins their pantheon, she’d be a welcome addition to counter some of the saccharine – despite coming from the most saccharine of all worlds, a candy and sugar themed world in the ‘Sugar Rush’ game (guess the writers hadn’t heard of a certain Sapphic book/TV show… or had they?). The lack of gaming references in the second half does make things a bit samey, and the plot is formulaic, but it’s fun and lovely and after all the nastiness in other films this month, a bit of sweetness was a nice change.
Like pretty much everything this month, don’t go watching Song for Marion for any spectacularly ‘exciting’ plots. Do go to see the lovely Gemma Arterton being sweet (who is ace in real life going on her Graham Norton appearance), Terence Stamp being a loveable grump, and Vanessa Redgrave being utterly wonderful as Marion, coping with a diagnosis of cancer, the ageing process and the joy of singing in a choir. Part Gareth Malone, part The Zimmers, part Quartet and part Brassed Off, there’s nothing especially original here, but it’s quite fun even if it is sentimental and predictable, and there are cameos from Anne Reid and Porkpie from Desmond’s.
If a film about Americans being AWWSAHM had to win the best picture Oscar/BAFTA, then it was probably better that it was the pacey and suspenseful Argo rather than the tedious worthy-fest that is Lincoln. No denying that Daniel Day Lewis is excellent, but the film itself? Well, it’s mainly white men in suits talking, which, as we all know, is WHAT IS TRULY IMPORTANT IN THIS LIFE. There are some good moments but mostly this is a bit of a drag and both the abolition of slavery and the role of the president have been covered elsewhere and done so far more interestingly.
Inspired by my friend Rachel, who puts a note about every film she sees on Facebook, I thought I’d try to recap all the films I’ve seen this year with a monthly recap. Place your bets now on how soon I give up…
I watch – and like – a lot of cinema. But my all-time favourites tend to fall into two categories: films where everybody sings or films where everybody is miserable (closely followed by films that are funny). Well, January was basically quids-in for me. Lots of misery! Lots of singing! In some cases both of these things! And sometimes some funny bits too!
The first film I saw this year was Quartet, a film that is blatantly cashing in on the grey pound a la The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. It has an epic cast – not just the central quartet of the posters, but also the likes of Michael Gambon, Sheridan Smith, the granddad from Outnumbered and that one from the Vicar of Dibley who goes ‘nononononono’. It’s a bit filthier than you’d expect and plenty of fun, albeit with some serious moments. The ending is something of a cop-out, and it’s hella predictable – but it’ll be worth a watch when it comes on telly in the near future.
This was followed by Seven Psychopaths. Now this was a film I felt incredibly conflicted about. It was, in places, very funny. The performers were very watchable. The seven psychopaths are not actually the seven shown in the trailer. FALSE ADVERTISING! But the knowing post-modern smugness really got my goat. It’s written by Martin McDonagh and stars Colin Farrell as an Irish playwright called Marty – so we’re invited to see this character as a cipher for the writer. In the same way, the story is sort of Marty’s life and sort of the film he is writing, also called ‘Seven Psychopaths.’ Movies that are self-referential always walk a fine line, especially those about writing (Adaptaion, anyone?), and the most annoying scene in the film involves Marty joking how much people criticise his women characters, clearly McDonagh’s dig at his own critics – but saying you’re aware of a fault doesn’t make it any less true: there are barely any women in this and those there are are two-dimensional, unrealistic plot devices. it’s also incredibly white to boot. McDonagh clearly has some talent – but not as much as he thinks he does – and I suspect he’d be really irritating in real life. The film is just about saved by the actors and by the pace – for all its faults (and they are legion), it is still a lot of fun. So I kind of liked and hated it in equal measure… make of that what you will.
The Impossible was the first film I saw this year where, when the credits rolled, all you could hear was stunned silence punctuated by sobbing. It’s not an easy watch – the first film about the tsunami pulls no punches in its incredible special effects. The storyline feels utterly ridiculous – were it not for it being true. The film has received a lot of criticism for being about the struggles of Westerners, by casting white ‘name’ actors and by not emphasising the struggles of local people affected by the crisis. Not all of these criticisms should be conflated. That there is scope – necessity, even – to tell the stories of those who lived in the region is without doubt. Hopefully these kinds of films can now be made. But this is a true story – an incredibly true one – and therefore perfect film material. Having a film with some level of happy ending is also perhaps a good thing for the first one out – the tsunami was so awful that it is good to know some good came out of it. Given that a Spanish family were involved, however, it feels less forgiveable that they didn’t cast actors of Spanish origin and that they changed the father’s name. Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and the kids who play their children are completely brilliant – but I still don’t understand why it couldn’t have been Spanish actors, especially as the people making the film were Spanish. It’s worth a watch, though, as even though you can’t help noticing the white Western bias, it’s a very dramatic, well-shot, well-acted tale that keeps you gripped.
Misery, you say? Singing, you say? Fuse the two together? Well, then, tere’s no wonder that I loved Les Miserables. I love the musical anyway, and I’m not going to comment on the musical or story aspects as the film has to use the source material at its disposal. As for the film, it was visually stunning. I saw it in IMAX and it took my breath away (the second time I saw it was on the normal screen and it wasn’t as good… and I am genuinely very tempted to go a third time before they stop showing it in IMAX – that’s how pretty it is). As for performersm everyone was good – Aron Tveit was a real revelation for me as Enjolras (and was also damn good looking), whilst Samantha Barks has come a long way from being perved over by Dame Edna on Saturday night TV – she was also fabulous, although Eponine has always been a great part – much better than the underdeveloped and sickly Cosette. Hugh Jackman is great – his voice isn’t quite big enough to do ‘Bring Him Home’ justice, but the emotion of it works. Anne Hathaway, looking very Winona-esque in parts, is as fantastic as everyone says, although I am not entirely sure what I think about them filming ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ entirely in the style of the Sinead O’Connor ‘Nothing Compares 2U’ video. I didn’t want to see Russell Crowe in this. I don’t really rate him and couldn’t imagine him singing. I’m sure you’ll have seen lots of reviews criticising him – but, honestly? He wasn’t that bad. He captured the arrogance covering brittleness and pain of Javert very well and his vocal, whilst a bit thin and lacking, was hardly Piers Brosnan in Mamma Mia! dreadful. Perhaps going in with low expectations of him made me enjoy him more – the same is true of Sacha Baron Cohen (Helena Bonham Carter as herself is watchable as ever, even if the role is hardly a stretch). I imagine the film is divisive, but as someone who unashamedly loves films like Sister Act, The Wedding Singer, Evita and even Mamma Mia! this is already one of my all-time favourites, and I doubt my love will change.
That little list of films I love will go some way to explaining why I liked Pitch Perfect a lot too – especially when you add the likes of The Breakfast Club, Heathers and Election to the list. I liked Glee in its first series (series two went off the boil and then it went to Sky so who cares what happened then?) but it could only ever dream of being this likeable. A good mixture of snark, sass and singing – and NO MR SCHUE! What’s not to love? Well, the stereotyping isn’t so great (especially of its non-white characters and its gay characters, who are all a bit underdeveloped and/or mental), the love plot suggests at one point it might go somewhere that it doesn’t, and the lazy references to The Breakfast Club were just lazy. But I enjoyed the songs and it was still damn funny – not as good as it should be, but compared to other high-school films, it holds its own.
I had intended to see something this week but that’ll end up ticking into February, so the last film I saw in January ended up being The Sessions. Now this was a tightly paced film (Wham bam thank you mam indeed – appropriate, given the subject matter) that didn’t outstay its welcome. Everyone in the cast was on great form (and what a gift of a role William H Macy had as the priest), the dialogue was great and you ended up caring about these characters – I say ‘characters’, but it was based on a true story – although I very much suspect certain scenes were fabricated for the film (these will be very obvious when you watch it) as they seemed far more Hollywood than real life.
So January got the cinema year off to a pretty good start for me – but then it’s coming up to Oscar season, that’s to be expected. More of the potential Oscar winners to watch in February – and I’m not convinced the next batch will fare quite so well…
2012 then. It’s been a funny old year in some respects. If 2011 was when all the news in the world happened at once, then this year was essentialy when all the Britishness happened. Or something.
I hadn’t planned to get swept up in Jubilympics fever, but I totally did – aided by my buying a new TV at the start of the Olympics, which made everything look super-sparkly, especially the swimming. I was so caaught up in the Olympics and Paralympics and gutted when they were over, which is why they were my favourite TV show of the year – and I include the evening shows The Last Leg and the thing with Gabby Logan on it in that. The competition was mostly old stuff: Doctor Who only had six episodes, but they were crackers, with Chris Chibnall shocking the world by pulling two decent episodes out of the bag. The Great British Bake-Off is surely due a BBC One transfer and Strictly slew all (or The X Factor, anyway- which was only worth it for Nicole Scherzinger, who was excellent value) in its wake. The new guard of TV has done OK: Call the Midwife feels like it’s been on TV for years already, and Fresh Meat and Bad Education both proved that Jack Whitehall is funnier than you’d have suspected.
Top Ten TV of 2012:
2. Great British Bake-Off
3. Doctor Who
5. Fresh Meat
7. The Killing
8. Call the Midwife
9. Masterchef: The Professionals
10. Strictly Come Dancing
Incidentally, is it just me, or did Channel 4′s who reality/factual/lifestyle arm utterly fail this year?
Music-wise, I’ve felt massively out of touch in that all the albums/singles I bought were either old favourites or huge chart hitters. So far gone are the days of being trendy. And my favourite album of the year is by Lana Del Ray and we’re all supposed to hate her now, right? But I bought fewer albums this year than in some time, and the ones I did buy I didn’t rate too highly. Singles-wise, for ages my favourite singles were Emily Sunday and Gotye but over-exposure has done for both of them although I’ll still give them honorary top ten places. Music fared better on the live side of things, with another epic Tramlines, the fun Sheftival, Kylie’s Anti-Tour, Roxette and Pulp among the highlights. Kylie’s K25 was all kinds of wonderful, even if my gay male friends are utterly divided on the merits of the Abbey Road sessions.
Albums of the year
1. Lana Del Ray – Born to Die
2. Roxette – Travelling
3. Rodriguez – Searching for Sugarman soundtrack
4. Kylie – The Abbey Road Sessions
5. Richard Hawley – Standing at Sky’s Edge
Singles of the Year (yes, I know a couple of these were out in 2011, but 2012 was the year they got big)
1. Roxette – It’s Possible
2. Kylie – Flower
3. Lana Del Ray – Born to Die
4. Gotye feat Kimbra – Somebody That I Used to Know
5. Florence and the Machine – Spectrum (Calvin Harris remix)
6. David Guetta feat Sia – Titanium
7. Emile Sande – Next to Me
8. Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks
9. Kylie – Timebomb
10. Little Mix – Wings
I didn’t read many books that were released this year, but found Miranda Hart’s Is it Me? very funny, the Hunger Games trilogy a good read, Fifty Shades of Grey bad but not as bad as its reputation and I’m enjoying JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy so far. I saw a fair bit of theatre, alongside some acting and directing – but as I mainly saw Sheffield-based performances, it seems a bit unfair to rank it.
I saw a LOT of films, too. The Unlimited card does make me want to get my money’s worth (and I still went to the Showroom plenty in addition to Cineworld) and there were several films I enjoyed, along with some I didn’t so much – including The Artist and The Hobbit, as I’ve blogged about before. I’ve seen few things I will love until I die, but lots that are worth the time, including things I didn’t expect to like as much as I did, such as Skyfall, Prometheus, Ted and 21 Jump Street
Top twenty films of the year
1. Avengers Assemble
3. Searching for Sugarman
4. The Descendants
5. Moonrise Kingdom
6. The Hunger Games
7. The Muppets
8. The Imposter
9. Jeff, Who Lives At Home
10. 21 Jump Street
12. We Need to Talk About Kevin
14. Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
15. Life of Pi
16. The Silver Linings Playbook
17. Ruby Sparks
18. Safety Not Guaranteed
19. Friends With Kids
20. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Beyond all of that, I guess stuff happened. We lost Jo Dunne from Fuzzbox among others, I finally got rid of the PhD, I went to New York, went on the actual TARDIS, put on a few more pounds, failed to buy a house, did bits and pieces… it’s not been the worst year, but it’s not been the best. On a non-sport level, it’s just been one of those nothingy years like 1986, 1993, 2003 or 2009. But at least the world didn’t end
I’m sure that what the blogosphere needs right now is yet another person weighing in on the 48fps version of The Hobbit, but I’m feeling the need for a rant because it was that bad, so forgive me. I’ll have some more interesting end-of-2012 content soon.
I haven’t really read up much on people’s opinions of the 48fps thing – nor have I even read any reviews of The Hobbit. The only things I had heard about it were a) it made some people feel travel sick, b) it made some of the props look rubbish and c) it made some things look super-crisp. So my expectations of it were that it would just be like HD and probably not all that dissimilar to IMAX. I was a bit nervous about the travel sickness thing but other than that I went in with an open mind.
I suppose I should add a couple of qualifiers first of all. Firstly, I’m not big on fantasy. I’ve never read The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, nor do I intend to, because I imagine they’d be super-boring and annoying. I do play D&D sporadically but beyond that, it’s just not my genre. Secondly, I’m not much of a one for film gimmickry. I have only seen three, possibly four, films that I thought were worth being filmed in 3D: Avatar, Prometheus (which looked just stunning in 3D IMAX) and Hugo – possibly also Life of Pi, but I suspect that will also look good in 2D. The first three of those have two things in common: 1) the plots weren’t up to much but the visuals compensated for that somewhat 2) the 3D was used as a storytelling/cinematography element rather than a pure gimmick.
Despite not being a fantasy fan, I watched all three Lord of the Rings films at the cinema and whilst they all dragged a lot and had boring places, they were visually stunning enough to captivate me in places. I was expecting The Hobbit to look even more glorious, given it’s several years since the first trilogy came out. What I wasn’t expecting was for it to look like cheap 90s television.
Seriously, it reminded me of so many TV shows: the opening sequence was like the most meandering episode of Knightmare you’ve ever seen, the fantasy sequences like The Box of Delights or the BBC Narnia serials but with less convincing green-screen, the scenes in Bilbo’s house were like the Vicar of Dibley with less Vaseline on the lens, the scenes in the forest like a gag-lite episode of Maid Marian and her Merry Men, and the shire, which looked like Teletubby land in the first trilogy looked even more like that this time around. The special effects looked so awful in several places that lots of people in the cinema were laughing, including me. These had to be the worst effects I’ve seen in the past twenty years or so, including on TV. And some of the props were so clearly polystyrene it was just daft. The worst offender in this case being a ‘rock’ Gandalf splits.
The whole cheap look of the thing also gives you a feeling of detachment from what’s going on. I’m no expert in cinematography, but there is something about the usual gloss of film that helps you get lost in the world on screen – this just doesn’t happen in this film and as such it’s very hard to care, because you’re just not being drawn in in the same way. That lack of engrossment only serves to highlight how boring and drawn-out parts of it are – not all of it, I grant you, but the travelling, battles and scenes in the shire are dull as dishwater and I suspect they would be much better if they looked prettier. (It would also be much better if it were an hour shorter. Very little actually happens.) There are some terrible, terrible jokes in it, which also add to the feeling of watching a slightly rubbish sitcom.)
(It’s not all bad – Bilbo and Gollum is a great sequence even though it doesn’t look right; likewise Galadriel’s coversation with Gandalf is good and some of the scenes with the dwarves are exciting, especially their affecting song. Sylvester McCoy is a lot of fun, too.)
I will concede that a small number of sequences – 5-10% possibly – look good. This has a lot to do with lighting. The dwarves singing in the light of the fire; Galadriel and co talking with the sunset behind them, the sun rising over Rivendell… and that’s about it.
I didn’t feel especially travel sick, except in the spinny camera sequences, but spinny camera sequences tend to have that effect on me anyway, especially when combined with 3D which used to make me want to hurl when it first came out. The 3D isn’t very well used – it falls prey to that trick a lot of films have of chucking birds and butterflies at you every now and then even though they have no plot purpose (also: the CGI/animatronic animals are bloody awful – if you watch the Life of Pi, you will see how well they can be done – though even that has some clunkers, like the fish).
Maybe I’m judging the new technology too harshly. The first 3D films were lousy – sick-inducing and making scant use of the technology, although I don’t think that many of them since have been much to write home about. Likewise, a lot of early HD stuff looked stupid and some of it still does, especially conversions from SD – Friends is the worst I’ve ever seen, and the HD version of Friends reminds me a lot of the 48fps Hobbit – it looks cheap and weird and detached and plain wrong.
I’m definitely going to watch the second one in 2D but I’m worried now that the 2D will look just as bad. If it does, the third one isn’t going to be high on my priority list. Peter Jackson might think this is the future.
Sometimes the past is just better.
RIP Jo Dunne 12/11/1968 – 26/10/2012
I heard that Jo Fuzzbox (or We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Going To Use It to give them their Sunday name) had died from cancer last night, at the stupidly early age of 43 (43! They really were babies when they started out!) when I arrived at the theatre for the final night of the play (which went very well, thanks for asking). It was weird – feeling stunned and sad and trying to keep upbeat for the show. I was on my mobile phone and I missed being online – the internet and grieving is an interesting phenomenon, and possibly one best discussed on my other website (ha, ‘my other’ as if I had but one alternative blog and not a plethora. Speaking of which, I’m on Strictly Come Bitching as well as The Bitch Factor this year). But when ‘my’ celebrities have died recently – a plethora of Doctor Who companions, in fact (sad, sad times), I’ve been online at an actual computer at the time and been able to read Twitter and forums, share videos and so on. It felt a bit detached being in the dressing room without people who would know who Jo was or would care.
If you read this blog, you know that I love Fuzzbox anyway, but maybe you don’t know just how much. They’re in my holy trinity of pop stars – along with Roxette and Kylie. (All three have also been affected by cancer – and that Kylie Minogue ‘Stand Up To Cancer’ advert totally made me want to blub even before this news).
All of Fuzzbox were my favourites – not always all at once – but Tina was a drummer, Maggie and Vickie were funny and gorgeous and Jo was just the coolest person in the world. My friend Amanda has always reminded me of Jo – not just because they’re both bespectacled brunettes, but because they both radiate that unconventional style with a super-cool attitude. Jo Dunne didn’t look like a pop star (shades aside), which made her even more of one, somehow.
So this is my tribute to Jo, and to Fuzzbox, and to break up a wall of text, I’m interspersing my love with my favourite ten Fuzzbox tracks – and it says a lot that even though they only had two albums, to narrow the love down to just ten tracks was really difficult.
Rules and Regulations
It’s probably heresy to only have Rules and Regulations at number ten on my list. I know it’s most people’s favourite, especially of the early stuff, but this list is arbitrary and constantly in flux anyway.
As an avid Smash Hits reader at the time they came back with International Rescue, I knew from the first time I read about them that Fuzzbox had been around before, using their full name and sporting multi-coloured hair. Smash Hits told me that back then they couldn’t play their instruments. But I don’t know about that, all the songs on Bostin Steve Austin sound pretty good to me. And they were so young! They were teenagers when the first album came out (Tina, the youngest, was 16 and Jo was 17). And what better song for a teenage punk-pop band than one which wants to smash ver system?
For some reason this isn’t on YouTube, but Maggie has a very serviceable SoundCloud. Thanks Maggie!
When I was in year ten at school, I was invited to join in the extra English group with the best students from the year above me. Those were fun sessions, and I’m still (well, again, thanks to the wonder of an open reunion type event before my school got demolished a few years ago) friends with one of the teachers of that class. Anyway, one week we brought in song lyrics and analysed them and gave them marls out of 10. I brought in Irish Bride and it won the vote (when we then listened to it, people were less keen… they liked the music but weren’t so sold on Vix’s voice. Philistines).
Your Loss My Gain
Fuzzbox had three big hits and a hit album in 1989 and then faded away – but more on that story later in the countdown. Suffice to say, it was all WEA’s fault.
Anyway, in 1990, they released one last single and I ordered it at WHSmith in Grimsby, where the record department was upstairs (that shop became one of the new malls in the soon-to-be-built Freshney Place shopping centre and now houses Tie Rack and Baskin Robbins – yup, it’s a 1990s time warp there). I bugged them all the time until it came in, having no understanding of release dates back then (pity the poor shopkeepers in Devon in 1989 – the holiday I bought Big Bang! – in my search for Kylie’s Enjoy Yourself which hadn’t yet been released). Then the precious 7″ was mine. I couldn’t wait for the next singles and the album… but they never came, and the band were over. It’s my firm belief that if they’d released the proper fourth single from Big Bang! then it would have charted well and this would totally have been a hit. Ah well, hindsight.
This wasn’t actually the last we ever heard from Fuzzbox. There were a couple of newer tracks added to Look at the Hits on That! (which you should totally buy at less than a fiver on Amazon right now) and the band had a sort of mini-reform in 2010-11 without Tina but with two other people (so I sort of don’t count it, sorry ladies) and they did a cover of M’s Pop Muzik, played a few gigs (none of which I got to see… sob) and then they disappeared again. *Cries*
Look at the epic 1980s camera effects on this TOTP appearance! Self! is a great showcase for Jo to wham her guitar. Note the gold suits – the Big Bang! era had them wearing the same clothing for the first three singles, in different colours (red for International Rescue, Blue for Pink Sunshine, gold for Self! and the album) – the dismantling of this for the fourth single can surely only have hindered things.
I loved the band so much that I collected every single magazine clipping of them I could and I hunted out all of their old singles at record fairs for several years. In many of the magazine features at the peak of their fame, they wore the gold suits, so it’s what I most associate them with. They wore it when they were on the cover of Smash Hits which was the peak of my fannish experience (well, that, and adjusting the Smash Hits review which gave Big Bang! 6 and a half out of ten so it read nine and a half – not even I could wholly condone Versatile for Discos and Parties). Somewhere buried in one of my cupboards I still have that magazine, along with all the clippings. I wanted to dig it out for this but it would mean a lot of rummaging.
I did, however, dig out the Smash Hits and Number One Yearbooks 1990, both of which feature them. In the Number One yearbook, they’re reviewing personal stereos. Jo was most vexed by the lack of rewind buttons on the majority – what WAS that with personal cassette players? Pretty sure none of mine ever rewound.
What’s the Point
I searched hard for it. I badgered my parents hard for it. But it was not to be found easily. Yes, trying to track down Bostin Steve Austin in 1989 was a difficult feat, and, being in love with Big Bang! and all things Fuzzy I so wanted it. Eventually WEA cottoned on, re-released it and I got the tape for my tenth birthday in 1990. I’ve still never tracked down a CD or digital version but thankfully all the tracks are on YouTube or SoundCloud so it’s not too bad. Would love a copy on my iPod though.
Love is the Slug
One of the 7″s I have has a little comic strip for this song, and little slug cartoons were all over their early releases. This track is pretty damn impressive for a bunch of teenagers to have written. Scuzzy production values, for sure, but that probably adds to its charm. Bloody brilliant stuff.
I don’t know why, but this was the only Big Bang! single I didn’t buy at the time, getting it instead from the newsagents after it had left the charts (remember when they did that? You could always tell it was a newsagents-sourced record ad the central disc was all cut through in a wavy pattern rather than being a solid circle. I seem to remember singles were cheaper this way than when they first came out. A few of my Kylies were sourced in the same way, and I bought a second copy of Roxette’s ‘The Look’ from a newsagent because the B-side didn’t work on my bought at the time original – imagine being denied Silver Blue… although, come to think of it, it was another mix of The Look and not the promised Silver Blue anyway. Thank heavens for Tourism. But I digress).
When I think of Pink Sunshine I always think of Saturday morning kids’ TV – hence why I chose Ghost Train as the clip rather than the official video or their two-count-em TOTP appearances for this single. It’s the song they’ll always be remembered for and the one I usually choose at parties because it’s the easiest to dance to. Try and listen to this without smiling. Impossible.
This is such an under-rated gem. When I was younger and imagined myself as a pop star, this was one of the songs I was going to cover and bring to the public’s imagination because it’s just so good and deserves to be better known than it is. Love the lyrics, love the vibe of it – my favourite Bostin Steve Austin track by a whisker.
I don’t really remember whether I discovered Fuzzbox first in Smash Hits, on The Chart Show or via some other means. It all sort of happened in a blur in early 1989. I think it was the former though – reading about their Barbarella-themed video and then seeing it and hearing the song and I just fell in love, and that love never dissipated.
This band sounded great, they looked interesting, they were both funny and fun. Tina and Jo’s faces in this video still crack me up. Ever since then, whenever I hear new bands, I have always compared them to Fuzzbox. In the 90s, a lot of the bands I liked, including Lush, Skunk Anansie, Catatonia and Belly were all added to my list of favourites because they reminded me a bit of Fuzzbox. I’m so grateful that this song came along and rocked my musical world. Big Bang! came along that summer and is still my favourite album of all time.
Fast Forward Futurama
My favourite Fuzzbox song was my favourite on Big Bang! and should have been a single. It was the band’s choice for fourth single, and had they released it, it probably would have been a decent hit and they may have had a longer career. The band clearly knew their stuff more than EMI, who chose to release Walking on Thin Ice instead, and whilst I like that song and it has a cool video:
…and I bought the limited edition Japanese gatefold edition of the 7″ with free badge, it just didn’t have the same potential as Fast Forward Futurama. They also dispensed with the colourful military-style outfits, which was another mistake.
When they released Look at the Hits on That! they did a version of FFF with Manda Rin from Bis, which you could find on YouTube even though you couldn’t find the original. I mean, that version is OK, but to not have the original up there was criminal, so I had to right that wrong myself.
Oh and look what other gems YouTube throws up!
Go to 2.58 for Jo and Tina doing the Reynolds Girls. AMAZING.
Long blog post is long, but I’m not ashamed. I bloody loved Fuzzbox and Jo Dunne was a huge part of that. It’s the least I can do to honour her memory.
So goodbye Jo, thanks for everything, and much love to Maggie and your family (and to Tina and Vickie and your other friends and former band mates). You had such a big impact on me and I’ll never forget you.
So this summer, we’ve had two festivals in Sheffield – Tramlines, now into its fourth year, and the brand-new Sheftival. I was at both – I did A LOT OF THINGS at both. And before I say anything else, I want to stress that I really enjoyed both events.
So my review of both has to be read in the light of this – I’m a big supporter of Sheffield events, I had a great time overall and although there are a few things I think didn’t quite work (especially with Sheftival – but it’s the first time they did it, of course there would be things that didn’t work), there were loads of things that did, and my review of the two is going to acknowledge both what was brilliant about the two festivals and what was less brilliant. I’ll inevitably say more about Sheftival, because, well, for one thing, you were probably all at Tramlines. You know how that goes. And you most likely weren’t all at Sheftival.
Which brings me to the first, and most important point. Well, really, it’s two points, but they’re inseparable: the timing of Sheftival and the Tramlines/Sheftival relationship.
If Sheftival happens again, they absolutely cannot put it on two weeks after Tramlines. We’re all knackered and skint. The two events come out of the same pay packet for most of us – and let’s make no mistake, Tramlines is free, but it’s also, for many of us, very expensive if we don’t take all our own food and drink to the whole thing. In fact, even including my tickets, I spent much less at Sheftival than at Tramlines. But it’s still too much in one fortnight – and I don’t have kids to pay for. While we’re on the money issue, by the way, there have been grumblings about ticket prices – but I think they were excellent value even if you paid the full £24 – which I didn’t – with the Tramlines voucher code I paid £18 plus a £1.50 booking fee, and then I got a fiver refund for walking to the festival on Saturday, so only paid £14.50 for the tickets. But I compare that to Mychoone, which I attended last year in Derbyshire, which was a bargain price and was still dearer (and had less going on) and other similar local festivals – Sheftival is cheap. Very cheap. However, the timing is a problem here again, because two weeks ago, we all got a lot more stuff for no entry fee. Tramlines spoils us a bit.
So there seem to be four options for the future really – and this ties in with the relationship between the two festivals (further muddied by the ‘Tramlines arena’ not having Tramlines’ branding anywhere on it – and it being paid for, when Tramlines markets itself as free forever):
1) One of the reasons given for Sheftival was that the Saturday pop stage at Tramlines was getting too popular and becoming a health and safety risk (I’m not entirely sure that was solved this year anyway – the Saturday was still very popular). If that’s the main reason, then one option would be to make the Don Valley area another Tramlines venue – you could run the bigger stage at either the bowl or the stadium and have smaller stuff on elsewhere. It’s not an ideal option – even putting the cost aside – as it makes the focus split between town and Don Valley – but Tramlines uses non-town venues anyway, and there could be busker’s trams/barges/buses etc between the two. (It could also be run as the paid for arm of Tramlines, but this would ruin the Tramlines free-for-all ethos and be seen as trying to make a mint out of kids).
2) Another option would be to run Sheftival at another time of the year – say Easter, spring bank holiday or August bank holiday – and keep the Tramlines affiliation in terms of it being run in conjunction with them, but maybe not brand things as being a Tramlines venue. I think this is probably the best idea, as it gives sufficient space between the two for people to have the energy and money, and it stops the spectre of Tramlines looming too large over Sheftival. Sheftival was ultimately a really good event (especially the Saturday, which I will come on to) but the timing was not great – and next year there won’t be the Olympics to tie in with anyway.
3) Reinstate the pop stuff at Tramlines as it was, given the Saturday at Tramlines was mental regardless.
4) Carry on just as they did this year – but I think that will be an issue time-wise… I would certainly think twice about how much I could do at both events in terms of money and energy.
It’s also worth pointing out the problem with the Saturday/Sunday element of Sheftival here – Tramlines’ Sunday main stages put the last acts on at 7.15 and 7.45. Sheftival’s Sunday headliners were on at 9pm and finished at 10ish. This is far too late when people have to get up for work – and the poor Lightning Seeds, who were great, had a meagre crowd – the rain, work and the 100 metres final kind of did for them. Had they played an opening set on a Friday night or even closed the festival at 7ish, they’d have gone down much better.
Anyway, all of this leads nicely onto the next point – who are these festivals for?
One of the nice things about both festivals for me has been that they’ve gathered all age groups and ethnicities. But do they both want to do that? Tramlines 2011 was marketed as being free for all (see above) but this year’s publicity and line-up seemed to aim away from that emphasis a bit – however, this didn’t change the clientele – so do Tramlines want kids and young people there or not? It seems a little unfair that “their” music (i.e. chart stuff and pop) is pretty much excluded from the free festival. The only people I saw moaning about Tramlines on Twitter were the teenagers, FWIW.
However, the paid for festival isn’t solely for them, either, with loads of reggae/world on the second stage and, on both stages, some clapped out bands doing the retro circuit for the 30-60+ year olds (like me). And then there are the local bands, the heart of Tramlines, most of them relegated to the fringes of Sheftival (but more on that later). Pop’s not the only genre excluded from Tramlines, of course – there’s no classical and very little country – but Sheftival wasn’t entirely pop, either. Again, I think distance between the two events – or reinstating the pop stage at Tramlines somehow – would overcome some of these issues. Except the classical one – I’m not a classical buff myself, but I think to have it missing from both festivals was somewhat remiss.
That aside, Sheftival had another big issue, namely: the sport angle. It was a lovely idea to tie in the British and Jamaican Olympic medal hopes with Jamaican Independence and music and sports activities and other stuff but the combination of things was also part of the problem with it. The biggest issue here was probably the relationship between the sport activities ad the music ones. On Saturday night, I wasn’t watching the Noisettes – even though I like them, and I only saw a bit of Toots and the Maytals even though everyone says they were the best bit. Why did I miss the two Saturday headliners? I was watching Jess Ennis and Greg Rutherford and Mo Farrah making history in Don Valley Stadium. On Sunday night, I wasn’t watching the fastest 100m ever, I was watching the Lightning Seeds. In the rain. All of those activities would no doubt have been better if everyone at the festival could have participated in them. This isn’t like at Tramlines, where you’re choosing between a bunch of music acts – this is a festival meant to be about sport and music, about celebrating British and Jamaican athletes, but when the crunch came, you had to choose: sport OR music (and many of those who chose sport will have chosen to stay home and watch sport). Not having big screens in the main arena was a real shame.
As well as this, there were confused messages about the sport. Did you know that there were loads of activities at both Don Valley and the English Institute of Sport that were free, whether or not you were a paid up Sheftival-goer? I suspect not. The staff at Don Valley suspected not too, given the lack of people there in the early afternoon (though it did pick up later). Pre-festival communication was very sketchy on what was free and what was paid for – and I know people who thought even the big screen was a paid-for event.
The EIS events needed some sort of timetable printing out – we ventured in there on Saturday afternoon and though some kids were running round in the athletics arena, nothing else was happening, despite the programme saying there’d be loads of sports in there.
Credit where it’s due though, the sport stuff I did see was great. Loved the big screen at Don Valley – seeing Ennis, Rutherford, Farah and Murray getting gold sitting there with hundreds of others was really special and there were so many activities for kids within Don Valley, EIS and the main arena – and if I’d had kids of my own I totally would have joined in (I do think they could have been clearer about what their classes/activities/etc for adults were for those of us in Olympics-induced-delusions about being sporty). Making ice skating free for pass holders was also inspired – just a shame the friend I was with can’t go on the ice so we never made it. I also really enjoyed the Olympic rhythmic gymnastics rehearsals at the Arena.
There were also loads of things for kids in the main arena that weren’t sporty – drumming, craft, Museums Sheffield – I would heartily recommend this event for families if they did something similar in the future.
One of the things they did at Sheftival which was novel was to (mostly) stagger the action on the two stages in the main arena, which were both fairly close to one another. When this worked, it was brilliant – you could avoid watching dull soundchecks, and as one band ended, another was about to begin. However, it didn’t always work: The Crookes’ final song – a ballad – was interrupted by lively reggae from the other stage, and the Jungle Lions had their set cut short to accommodate main stage bands. There was also a problem with the timings on Sunday afternoon – Marcus Collins came on before 4.30, which probably pissed some people off, and there was therefore a gap on both stages around 4.45 with nothing happening at all. If they get the timings right next time, though, this could be great. The JuJu club stage did have a lot more atmosphere than the main stage – and this was probably a combination of it feeling a smaller space and the more ‘goodwill’ type music. I LOVED that you could see both stages at once and keep an eye on what was happening. (I hated all the comperes, but that’s what happens when you need radio stations to sponsor you).
One of the things Tramlines has nailed in the past couple of years is its sub-stages (with a few exceptions sneaking into the line-ups here and there). The Folk Forest at Endcliffe Park, the Acoustic stage at the Cathedral, the World Music (and Youth) stage in the Peace Gardens, the new Jazz stage in Leopold Square and so on – and often the food and drink available has helped these key sites have their own feel.
The smaller stages at Sheftival needed some work. There was a whole Jamaican bit on the bridge area with a DJ booth and barbecue – and yet there were lots of reggae acts in the main arena on the World Music stage. Surely this is a case of splitting the market? They should have brought the barbecue into the main arena and the DJ tent could have been in a corner somewhere.
The Jettyside stage was a lovely space, but hardly anyone was there – and that’s because it lacked branding. Many of the acts here and on the busker’s barge were local acts, but it wasn’t billed as a local act venue (and some of the acts on the main stages were local too). Some of these acts seemed much less comfortable on the Jettyside than they did at Tramlines (although went down a storm on the barge for the most part).
What might have been better would have been to theme the Jettyside more strongly and theme the bar, food stalls and other activities appropriately. I would have maybe moved the local bands to either where the Jamaican stuff was or within the market place area and had an emphasis on local food produce and drinks there, made it a real Sheffield-focused section. And local buskers about the site would have been wonderful, in the many gaps, especially that central one where all the paths converged and there wasn’t much there.
As for the Jettyside, there are several potential themes which would work better, for example:
Teas, cakes, vintage crafts and tea dances
Jazz, soul and cocktails
Classical music, pimms, strawberries and cream teas
Blues and real ale
…and so on
One of the best bits of Tramlines for me was cocktails and jazz in Leopold Square on sunny Saturday afternoon. That, or something similar, at the more beautiful setting of the Sheftival Jettyside would have been utterly wonderful.
Also – the Jettyside probably shouldn’t have carried on as late as it did (especially on Sunday) – an early finish might have been nice. The dance stage, on the other hand, seemed to be more popular by the end of the night.
One of the gems of both festivals has been the busking transport. Lee has done a cracking job curating the Busker’s Buses and Busker’s Barge (although shame on the bands who pulled out of the Tramlines buses and left them busker-less at times). The Busker’s Barge at Sheftival was nearly always over-full, though, and the confusing queueing/ticketing system did not work at all. If they can persuade another barge company to take part, two barges, each running in a different direction, would be epic. A real shame the barge couldn’t run all Saturday afternoon as well.
And Stagecoach can call themselves a partner of both festivals if they like, but only one tram gig? They should be putting on special festival route trams (Using a colour they don’t use already perhaps? Or no colour?) and have buskers on them – and there needed to be way more hometime trams on both Sheftival evenings. Come on Stagecoach, get into the spirit of things.
The walk to the Sheftival site on Saturday was a nice idea (and saved me a fiver) but I got the impression it’d be led and co-ordinated – it wasn’t. We had to do it under our own steam, and via the canal path rather than Five Weirs – quicker, but narrower and muddier. Having people from the event leading this would have been wise – maybe even a busker or two leading us in sing-songs?
OK, this is proving to be the longest blog post ever, but just a few more points. Organisation, marketing and programmes have been a challenge for both events. The decision of Tramlines to move to a paid programme was somewhat controversial, especially given that if you wanted to get a programme in advance, you had to buy one in town and many venues sold out. This would be simply solved by doing three things: 1) Making the app more reliable and available quicker, 2) selling programmes at non-town venues and 3) Having a paid-for pdf version people could download from the site (this last one is a no-brainer, why on earth they didn’t do it is beyond me). That said, the Tramlines programme was a work of beauty (the app less so – though good idea). The Sheftival programme wasn’t amazing – it needed more info on the sport, particularly, and read like a feature supplement, with the programme element a real afterthought.
The Sheftival map was also kind of rubbish – the graphics were too big and the map bit not that easy to read. In these instances, function over form, not the other way round, please. Sheftival would have benefited from more stewards helping direct people like the ones at Tramlines – the security weren’t briefed on anything and must have been sick to death of people asking them questions.
A shout-out has to go out to the litter-pickers and the council for clearing up both festivals admirably, by the way (and to Domino’s for not flyering Tramlines to death like last year). Tramlines could still do with more bins though.
The portaloos at Tramlines seemed better than those at Sheftival, which stank (and one of the walk ways passed through the toilets which was really unpleasant) – neither site had the loos cleaned or replenished enough – and investing in the portaloos with soap/handwash might be a nice thing in future – or at least having stalls selling anti-bac gel/wipes.
Something else to point out: Sheftival had the most beautiful festival wristbands ever! Works of art!
The Nokia glowing wristbands at Tramlines though? Rubbish. We stood towards the back of Reverend and the Makers and no-one around us had a glowing wristband at all. /sadface. The range of those things should have covered the whole of Devonshire Green, not just a tiny patch.
(And note to both festivals on using Twitter: #shftvl and #lumialive did not exactly happen. A tuny fraction of people used these tags, everyone else was using the far more sensible #sheftival and #tramlines – who wants to follow two hashtags? OK Nokia might have forced the LumiaLive thing upon Tramlines, but the idea of using shftvl was just plain stupid!)
OK, home straight now – food and drink. On the food score, Tramlines generally outperformed Sheftival. The Northern Streats market on Fargate was ace, as were the stalls in the Peace Gardens, even if Jackie from Masterchef’s Hungry Gecko stall was never open at lunchtime. The stalls within the main arena seemed OK too. At Sheftival, there were some really nice food stalls on the market area outside EIS, but the ones in the main area were vile. Why not have local food within the main arena? And why only ice cream vans and not Our Cow Molly and Yee Kwaan? Why not go to the likes of Tamper or other local outlets for coffee, or Whirlow Hall Farm and co for the meat? There was a real opportunity missed for celebrating local and multicultural food (see also the Jamaican BBQ comment earlier on).
There were more bars at Sheftival than Tramlines and they were always empty. People brought their kids to Sheftival. They drove. Far fewer people were ever likely to drink booze there than at Tramlines, which only had two, fairly small, bars in the main arena this year, both of which were a nightmare to get served at. Tramlines needs more bars, Sheftival needs fewer (and I think Sheftival’s bars were more expensive than Tramlines’ – not so good). And the champagne bar was far too expensive – plus, it was apparently the main wine outlet, but was branding itself as champagne rather than wine – and this would have been another good Jettyside bar rather than a main stage one, potentially. The Sheftival and Tramlines ales were both quite nice though.
Overall, then. Sheftival had a lot of naysayers, and it certainly wasn’t the flop many of them anticipated. It wasn’t an unmitigated triumph, but it was a very good start for a festival in its infancy. Tramlines is now strong and established but I don’t think it’s entirely solved the issue of what to do with teenagers and kids and whether or not it wants them (I think they should be welcomed, personally, even if it does cause some problems). But what they both have above anything else, is a lovely atmosphere. Whether it was watching the sports on the big screen at Don Valley, being spellbound by Sarah Mac at the Library Theatre and on the Busker’s Barge, experiencing the rush at the end of 65daysofstatic’s set at Barker’s Pool, dancing to Toots and the Maytals at the JuJu club stage, chatting to young adults attempting the high jump at EIS, seeing kids taking penalties on Don Valley bowl, chilling with a burrito and watching people going mad in the dance tent or marvelling at Oxo Foxo singing a choral version of Whigfield’s ‘Saturday Night’ in Sheffield Cathedral and watching people doing the dance in the pews, these were events that made me proud to be Sheffield – and events that deserve support, respect and love.
But now I need some time off to recover!
A rushed [the most tenuous] Jubilee top ten [ever] because I’ve had a few glasses of Cava and Kylie’s finished…
Not really about the monarchy, but…
I’m not a republican, even though I know I probably should be. But this is probably the best Republican anthem ever. Never mind the Sex Pistols etc.
25 years ahead of its time. Just sayin’.
(Yes, I have had alcohol. What of it?)
Because any excuse.
It’s no Hoddle’n'Waddle, granted. But WHAT IS?
There’s still time as I write for HM to storm the stage with a laser beam. Here’s hoping…
One can imagine HM cutting some rug to this one, no?
What? It mentions castles and stuff. No that’s not a barrel you can hear being scraped…
Nothing wrong with being obvious, right?!
Because you have to…
Happy Jubilee everyone!