Monday, 18 May 2015

Film review: Pitch Perfect 2

Sequels are never better than the originals, right? Well Pitch Perfect 2 certainly gives its predecessor a run for its money.

Following on from where Pitch Perfect left us- with the Barden Bellas reigning victorious in the niche world of a capella groups, the girls have reached their final year of college at Barden (that’s university to us Brits). 

If you haven’t seen Pitch Perfect- think Glee but almost solely focused on the singing and competitiveness between the groups. 

The flick, which was released through Universal Pictures in the UK on 15 May, opens on a dilemma, as Fat Amy, played by the brilliant Rebel Wilson, shows off more than she bargained for during the Bellas’ performance for President Obama. I might add, this scene is cleverly put together with clips from one of Obama’s public appearances entwined with the Bella’s performance.

With heaps of joyful musical mash-ups, and decent performances from standout actresses such as Anna Kendrick (Beca Mitchell), and Brittany Snow (Chloe Beale), Pitch Perfect 2 is bursting with sass and substance.

Screenwriter Kay Cannon, who penned the original, enforces the message of female power thorough her plucky, slightly off centre heroines. With female solidarity by the bucket load, it’s obvious Cannon had it in mind as a key message.

Charismatic director Elizabeth Banks, who also directed the original and stars as Gail- a slightly dim-witted but still giggle-worthy a capella judge, has done an amicable job of overseeing this movie- it’s a predictable continuation that doesn’t interfere with its predecessor but carries a strong story of friendship and loyalty with lackluster romantic subplots in tow.  

Bringing back all the best elements from the first film, while holding up a new plot and allowing for different aspects of the characters to be showcased, Pitch Perfect 2 is a female-fronted comedy with heart. And it’s raucous fun. What it’s lacking is the unique voice of the original, which makes it somewhat flat in comparison. 


Watch the trailer here:  


Monday, 13 April 2015

Theatre Review: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Set in pop-up style pie shop Harrington’s, in swanky Shaftsbury Avenue, Sweeney Todd is a decadent, comical, and heartfelt play, which boasts all the best elements of theatre.

Wedged between Gielgud theatre, where The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time reigns, and Les Misérables in the Queen’s theatre, Harrington’s pie and mash shop is a 69-seater copycat version of a shop of the same name in Tooting, where the musical was originally set.

Due to its vast popularity, it moved to the West End thanks to composer Stephen Sondheim informing his good friend and theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh of the spectacle. Mackintosh’s office then called the producer of Sweeney Todd, Rachel Edwards, to let her know of a venue that might be suitable for the production, owing to the fact that the original Harrington’s was closing for refurbishment. 

Directed by Bill Buckhurst, who recently co-directed the international touring production of Shakespeare’s Globe’s Hamlet alongside Dominic Dromgoole, the darkly atmospheric play’s residency has been extended until the 30 May, and when you experience what the cast, musicians and behind-the-scenes workers have to offer, it’s no wonder Tooting Arts Club’s production has been so successful.

Sweeney Todd tells the tale of London barber Benjamin Barker, who signature villain Judge Turpin transports to Australia for a crime he didn’t commit, because Turpin lusts over Barker’s wife Lucy. Barker leaves his young baby and wife alone and closer to the clutches of Turpin. Some 15 years later, Barker, now a slightly deranged mad-man renamed Sweeney Todd, returns to London to seek revenge on the man who ripped everything he loved away. Bursting at the seems with tragedy, dark comedy and great characterisation, Sweeney Todd is a theatrical masterpiece.

Jeremy Secomb (pictured on the left), who I was lucky enough to see play the title role in The Phantom of the Opera a few months ago, portrays the role of Todd impeccably, yet still brings his own epic flavour to the character. His piercingly strong yet tender voice is a perfect fit for the music, and his chilling, piercing eyes allow him to haunt the audience into feeling part of the play from start to finish.

Mrs Lovett, Todd’s partner in crime, who is played by Siobhan McCarthy, whose fabulous caricature-style make-up, great comic timing and manic obsession with Sweeney is wonderfully illustrated. The rest of the cast, are some of the most diversely talented actors and singers I have ever experienced. Because of the small-scale style of the play, several actors also create sound effects alongside playing different roles in crowd scenes, as well as their main parts.

The majority of the cast has been involved in the production since its Tooting roots, aside from soaring soprano Zoe Doano as Joanna, Sweeney’s daughter.

There’s also a great trio of musicians, with piano underscoring from Benjamin Cox, gnawing strings from Petru Cotarcea, and clarinet from Rachel Ridout.

As my first experience of immersive theatre, Sweeney Todd does exactly what’s expected and really gets the audience involved, making them feel that they might even be on the menu! If you’ve experienced the simplistic scenery, small cast and physiologically creepy staging of The Woman in Black, get ready for Sweeney Todd.

Breath-taking, intensely tragic and beautifully told, Tooting Arts Club truly does justice to the razor-sharp tale of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.


Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Film Review: The tale of princess Kaguya

Released in the UK on 20 March, The tale of princess Kaguya is the latest offering from Japan’s most famous family animation film studio, Studio Ghibli.

As Japan’s answer to Disney, Ghibli is known for offering audiences gripping tales with stunning animation, such as Spirited Away (2001) and My Neighbour Totoro (1988).

The official film poster
With fantastically intricate hand-drawn animation and whimsical characters, The tale of princess Kaguya, which was a decade in the making, has already raked in $24,149,665 worldwide to date. It has also won a total of seven awards, including Best Animation Feature Film at the 8th Asia Pacific Screen Awards and Best Animated Feature at the Toronto Film Critics Association Awards. It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 87th Academy Awards (the Oscars), losing out to Disney’s Big Hero 6.

Directed by Isao Takahata, best known for his fantasy films with an air of expressionism, The tale of princess Kaguya, is a movie that stays with you long after you leave the cinema. It captures the imagination, no matter your age, but strikes a chord with parents who want the very best for their children in particular.

Based on the folktale The tale of the bamboo cutter, the film focuses on a poor, ageing bamboo cutter named Sanuki no Miyatsuko, (played by Takeo Chii and James Caan of Elf (2003) for the English dub) who unearths a miniature girl (voiced by Aki Aadkura and Chloe Grace Moretz in the English dub) inside a glowing bamboo shoot. Believing her to be a divine presence, Miyatsuko and his wife decide to raise her as their own, calling her Princess.

The girl mystically and sporadically grows, earning her the nickname from other children in the village ‘Takenoko’, which means Little Bamboo in Japanese. The ‘princess’ takes a particular liking to Sutemaru (voiced by Kengo Kora and Glee’s Darren Criss for the English dub), an older boy she becomes friends with.

When Miyatsuko comes across gold and fine cloth in bamboo in the same way he found his daughter, he believes it has been proven the princess’ divine royalty. He consequentially forces her to move into a mansion in the capital in an attempt to uphold a lifestyle fit for a princess.

It is this occurrence that will cause audiences to disassociated themselves with the father, given his harsh and brash approach towards his daughter. Particularly as the princess begins to become somewhat unhinged whilst attempting to please her father by becoming a noblewoman with the help of an uptight governess.

When she comes of age, the protagonist is given the formal name Princess Kagua, meaning ‘shining light’, and seems to have been put out by the incomprehensible demands of her father.

 Beautiful and sad in equal measure, the story leads to a startling ending to say the least, but is clearly lovingly crafted. It's not an event-packed tale, given its running time of more than two hours, but some how, The tale of princess Kagua does not outstay its welcome.

The fact that much of the movie is hand-drawn in watercolours reflects the gorgeous detail it evokes, and transports the audience back to the yesteryear of animation.

Although it takes a good few minutes for the average film-goer to get to grips with the free-hand style of the film, it charms you in a way you may not expect.

With themes of love and morality, and a strong heroine, The tale of princess Kagua is a slightly dark but sumptuous feast for the eyes with a dainty yet contorted story. The ending ultimately lets it down but it’s a film that’s rough around the edges in all the best ways.


Watch the trailer here:

Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Zayn Malik saga

As I’m sure most of the world’s population is aware by now, Zayn Malik (pictured), one-fifth of One Direction has left the band.

Announced last night (25 March) through a statement on the boyband’s Facebook page, the news has led to devastation from devoted 1D fans all over the world.

The story began last week when Zayn was signed-off the group’s tour with stress, suspiciously soon after he was pictured cuddling a woman who has not his fiancé Perrie Edwards, singer in girl band Little Mix.

This has lead to some fans implying that the mass of female attention balance with his relationship with Perrie is the reason Zayn quit the band. One fan tweeted: “PERRIE EDWARDS IS THE YOKO ONO OF ONE DIRECTION”, referencing when Beatles’ member John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono being the reason the Beatles ended their career.

One Direction has confirmed they will continue as a four-piece and their current world tour will carry on as planned.
In the statement on their Facebook page, the band said: “We're really sad to see Zayn go, but we totally respect his decision and send him all our love for the future. The past five years have been beyond amazing, we've gone through so much together, so we will always be friends.

“The four of us will now continue. We're looking forward to recording the new album and seeing all the fans on the next stage of the world tour.”

Zayn added: “My life with One Direction has been more than I could ever have imagined. But, after five years, I feel like it is now the right time for me to leave the band. I'd like to apologise to the fans if I've let anyone down, but I have to do what feels right in my heart. 

“I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22-year-old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight. I know I have four friends for life in Louis, Liam, Harry and Niall. I know they will continue to be the best band in the world.”
Zayn Malik and Perrie Edwards
Whatever the reason; stress, the pressures of fame, his relationship with Perrie, the news has hit 1D fans in a big way.

Many have taken to Twitter to vent their frustration and sadness at Zayn’s departure and startling trends such as #ZaynPain and #Cut4Zayn reflect the severity of the pressures from some fans Zayn must have been experiencing, and simply wanted to escape from. 

Online trends such as this illustrate the dangers of obsession with something you cannot control, whether it be a film, book, a band, or something else entirely.

One fan, @jessnoopdogg tweeted: “@zaynmalik U have let me down U have rly let me down”, whilst another,@Robynnmanzo said: “Nobody understands that this isn't just ‘Zayn malik leaving one direction’ this is the end to a huge part of me I'm dying inside.” and @talkdirtylouis posted: “I DON'T EXIST IF WE DON'T HAVE ZAYN THE SUN DOESNT SHINE THE WORLD DOESN'T TURN ALRIGHT.”

In reaction, a spokesperson from mental health chairty Mind said: “Upsetting life events can spark feelings of distress or anxiety and it’s important to seek help if you are going through a difficult time.

“Used in a positive way, social media can play a useful role in a person’s wider support network. However, it is vital to recognise the huge danger created by any site or social media trend that promotes self-harm.

"Self-harm is an incredibly serious problem and should never be trivialised. We urge those using Twitter or other social media sites at this time not to engage with posts that promote harmful behaviour, and to report any activity that causes them concern.”

The ironic thing is, ‘trends’ such as #Cut4Zayn are likely to have pushed Zayn into quitting his life in spotlight. And maybe reactions from the general public have also sparked frustration and the idea that a 22-year-old, no matter his circumstances, couldn’t possibly understand what it is like to experience stress. 

Neil Shah, founder of The Stress Management Society and author of The 10-Step Stress Solution, said: “Stress can affect everyone, no matter of age, sex, career, financial status. If the demand exceeds the person's resources, the person will experience burn out."

In fact, a person’s ability to cope with everyday life is not always utterly dependant on their experiences, lifestyle or situation, and stress, anxiety and depression can occur due to someone’s body and/or mind being unable to deal with life as a whole. The conditions are about a chemical imbalance in the brain, and not how much money you have, or what your job is like. But factors such as these can trigger mental health issues on occasion. 

One Direction
As for the future of 1D, the band’s manger Simon Cowell said: “Fans can rest assured that Niall, Liam, Harry and Louis are hugely excited about the future of the band.”

However, music fans have watched this type of saga unfold time and time again. From Take That to the Spice Girls, many bands eventually part ways after one member becomes suspiciously ill, leaves the group in due course, and the remaining members are unable to cope without the quitting member. 

It’s clear to see that Zayn Malik’s departure has left many One Direction fans devastated. But the fact is, he made the decision to quit and no amount of begging, pleading or cutting for that matter is going to make him re-join anytime soon.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Theatre Review: The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time

Based on the much-loved 2003 novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was brought to the London stage in 2012, and later to Broadway in 2014. Having already own won a mountain of prestigious awards, including seven Olivier awards in 2013, comprising including best of best actor, best set design and best new play, these achievements accumulate to create one the most creative, mesmerising and acclaimed shows to appear in recent years.

The story concerns a mystery surrounding the death of a neighbour’s dog that is investigated by 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who we learn has suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. The narrative also focuses on vulnerable Christopher’s relationships with his parents and school mentor, specifically the struggle for him and others to create and maintain relationships, and the tragic damage that his relationships creates for the lives of others.

The production is one of the most creatively diverse in the West End currently, due to the number of elements to it that work so well. Everything from the acting, to the staging, the script and close relation to the book is so captivating; there is something for all theatre lovers to enjoy.

The set, for example is seemingly simplistic at first glance, but as the story unfolds, the audience is treated to an array of lighting and sound effects, as well as interesting staging which highlighted the quality of acting, and helped the plot to progress, whereas some hinder and distract play components such as acting and lighting.

The staging also assisted in building the tension of the plot, in tandem with the futuristic, heart-pumping music and effective choreography, which fit the narrative like a glove.

The protagonist, currently played by Graham Butler (pictured), was one of the most precise actors I have ever seen perform. Not only was his portrayal honest, it was very consistent and charming, with excellent execution of the comedic parts, in addition to an extremely expressive and passionate performance in the scenes that demanded nothing less. The supporting cast were also fascinatingly diverse, all playing various parts, keeping the story fresh.

In terms of the story itself, drawing attention to the issues surrounding autism is something rarely, if ever, seen on the West End stage. And I am certain it will seldom be carried out in such an enthralling and informative manner as it is in The Curious Incident….

The story is also composed a blend of emotion-forming moments, so there is something for all members of the audience to enjoy and relate to. And being led by a fantastic yet simplistic first person narration style, you are certain to be allows the audience to deeply immerse themselves in the tale and truly understand the struggles of Christopher.

With everything from top-notch acting, to sensory and emotional overload, this heartfelt rendition of an incredibly popular, poignant and powerful book is nothing short of a wonderful representation of the power of theatre done well.


Thursday, 11 September 2014

The Big Questions about Scottish Independence

The time to vote for or against Scottish independence is creeping ever closer. With less than a week until the big ballot day, big names from Rita Ora to Sir Sean Connery are actively highlighting their views on the matter to sway voters. So the question is, what will life be like in Great Britain if Scotland becomes autonomous on 18th September?

According to a new poll, 53% of people will vote for Scotland to stay in the U.K. in next week's independence referendum. If the majority of Scotts were to vote Yes, their government has a set a date 18 months from now, 24th March 2016 for their official independence day.

There would be amendments made to the constitution and the 1707 Act of Constitution would be dissolved but the Queen would remain as monarch of the country. It’s also been said that the Queen has been privately concerned over the referendum, and as for the 2015 General Election, Scotland would still be invited to take part, but their representatives would only potentially serve a 10-month term in office.

Whichever way the poll sways, it’s still yet to be decided what currency Scotland would employ if they separated from the rest of Great Britain. The three main Westminster parties - the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats have ruled out a currency union, although Mr Salmond, Scotland’s  First Minister insists an independent Scotland would keep the pound, take on the Euro or retain their own Scottish pound exclusively. Moreover, in terms of national debt, it’s also yet to be decided how much of the UK national debt would be transferred to Scotland. It’s likely to be worked out on a per capita share based on population.

Additionally, an independent Scotland’s stance on global affairs is yet to be negotiated. The nation would have to negotiate its own entry into the European Union and NATO and with regards to the issue of defense, the strategy is not yet certain if Scotland were to be a standalone country. As NATO is fundamentally a nuclear alliance, and if Scotland struggles to become a member, they are likely struggle to join the EU too, which would have a big impact on their economy. They are likely to have their own defense force, particularly because they have their own North Sea oil and fishing industries to maintain and protect.

Immigration is undoubtedly an immense problem in Great Britain currently, but it’s already been decided that an independent Scotland would control its own borders. However, the Scottish National Party (SNP) aspires to have an open border policy but Home Secretary Theresa May has already warned she will not allow Scotland to be used as a way for immigrants getting into England if Scotland adopts a looser immigration policy.

The laws surrounding passports depend almost entirely on whether Scotland joins the EU; Scottish citizens would be entitled to a Scottish passport, but a UK passport would still be valid until it expires. British citizens who were habitual residents in Scotland would be automatically considered Scottish citizens.

State taxes and benefits would become the responsibility of the new Scottish government, meaning they could potentially create their own policies, and with this and so much else to consider before the poll, it’s easy to see why many English politicians, including David Cameron and pushing the No Campaign.  However, Mr Cameron has insisted his sudden boost in interest in the referendum is not due to a lack of support in recent polls and that he will not be resigned as Prime Minister not matter the outcome of the vote. Some have even argued that the announcement of a second royal baby was tactically revealed to sway voters to remain faithful to the unity of Great Britain.

Furthermore, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) has drawn up plans to shift its Head Office from Scotland, where it has been based since 1727, most likely to Central London, in the event that next week's referendum backs a break away from the rest of the UK. On the other hand, one of the North Sea’s biggest investors, BP has urged Scotland to vote against independence, arguing that oil wealth would best be protected by remaining inside the UK.

Scotland’s ­education system has always been distinct from the rest of the UK, but the future of the country’s schools and ­universities is still a key issue in the independence debate. Questions have been raised about tuition fees, research grants, overseas students, teacher recruitment and exam options as the Yes and No ­campaigns battle it out and with four universities based in the Capital, Edinburgh has a special interest in what independence might mean for higher education.

Whatever the final verdict come 18th September, Scottish and British politicians alike have a great deal of negotiation and debate ahead of them in order to decide how to lead their nations if they do their separate ways. Many aspects of British life are up in the air, but it’s only a matter of time before questions about the vote will be answered. 

Friday, 5 September 2014

Album Review: John Legend- ‘Love in the Future’ (30/08/2014- Columbia)

Actor, do-gooder and 9-time Grammy Award winning R&B/Soul Singer songwriter- John Legend has been gracing us with his presence since 2004. Before becoming a recognised artist in his own right, Legend collaborated with the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West and Alicia Keys.

Legend’s debut studio album ‘Get Lifted’ sold over 116,000 in its first week, but since then, the Ohio-born singer has gone from strength to strength, with his first single from ‘Love in the Future’, ‘All of Me’- which is dedicates to his model wife Chrissy Teigen. The single has shifted more than 4 million copies in the U.S. alone, and has therefore gone 4x platinum. As for the album itself, it’s sold over 500,000 copies in the U.S. and 100,000 in the U.K.

‘Love in the Future'- the artwork

‘Love in the Future (Intro)’ is a simplistic, tender welcome to the record, with elements of seduction, romance and looking ahead, thrown together with an unadulterated golden voice. Right from the word go, John Legend draws you in with his warm and soulful flair and each track is seamlessly intertwined with the next.

‘The Beginning…’ is put together in a timeless manner, combining strings, heavier beats and top notch vocals. The instrumentation of this track is on point, despite the sexual nature of it- proving that writing songs about sex doesn't need to be seedy. John Legend is all about commitment on this album, and ‘The Beginning...’ is no different. It introduces the idea of optimistically planning for the future…babies, a home and o course, changing the world along the way. 

However, I can’t help but feel the record's appeal wanes due to the generic feel of the backings and melodies. But it’s given a lift fine piano playing and minor production tweaks. Yet he does capture intimacy very well, and paints a picture of a long-term couple.

Legend’s dulcet tones in Legend’s cover of Bobby Caldwell’s classic ‘Open Your Eyes’ are the perfect addition to up-beat piano playing weaved into energetic yet light back beats. While some R&B singers can get by on the strength of their voices alone, Legend puts in the extra effort to stand out; he knows how to play to his strengths. 

John Legend performing
These songs are carefully crafted exclusively to his fitting and he performs every one with so much soul and passion that it really is moving at times. Album production is also top notch- creating a record that has a modern vibe with a timeless heart.

The hap-hazard beginning of ‘Made to Love’ forms the pathway to a hook-laden, handclap infested feast for the ears. The track also makes use of djembe drumming and voice-effects that make Legend’s dreamy vocals come across as even more classic, if a little repetitive. It also features Synthpop singer Kimbra- and its clear her musical influences have crept their way into the recording. In fact, towards the end of the song, with the addition of soulful backing vocals, and a sample-like feel, ‘Made to Love’ comes across as a mediocre remix of an R&B classic with a melodramatic ending. 

Speaking of sampling, ‘Who Do We Think We Are’ intertwines Legend’s sublime talent with Jean Knight’s ‘Mr Big Stuff’, creating an example of why sampling is tricky to get right, as this track is a very hit and miss affair and trickles into its lackluster ending of talk-singing. It also features rapper Rick Ross to emphasise that John Legend’s best work is definitely his ballads. 

Legend co-wrote next track ‘All of Me’ the song with Toby Gad and co-produced it with Dave Tozer. It’s easy to see why it was selected as the first single from the record- it’s intricate tones and meaningful lyrics make it radio-perfect and suitable for music fans who are into various genres. It’s stunning in its simplicity, and also highlights the consistency of Legend’s voice as well as his pure talent as a songwriter. His voice is clear as a bell and generates a calm, intimate feel with his velvety smooth style and honest lyrics.

‘Hold on Longer’ is a tender yet dreary track to say the least; even Legend’s focused singing doesn’t overwrite how eerie yet dull this song is. With its funky, modern groove, ‘Save the Night’ makes use of current recording and studio tricks without superseding John Legend’s lush vocal abilities.  It’s also another example of how ‘Love in the Future’ looks at a relationship from different perspectives- the good and the bad, to form a steady theme.

John Legend

‘Tomorrow’ is about seizing the moment and ‘What if I Told you?’ boasts a Motown tone 

against Legend’s husky vocals until it comes to a halt with a cautious trumpet section. Incredibly repetitive, but bursting with cynicism and vigilance, ‘Dreams’ is so dreamy and quietly unapologetic, it almost sends you snoring.

Both ‘Asylum’ and ‘Wanna Be Loved’ are moody and sinister; even when the latter breaks into a section with backbeats, they’re incredibly tentative and timid. Soul/Jazz star from the 70s, Anita Baker is also covered on the record. Her track ‘Angel’ (featuring Grammy-nominated Stacy Barthe) is so short-lived it’s barely worth featuring, especially along with another cover previously.

As for ‘You & I (Nobody in the World)’; it’s obvious this song was composed as a single- with popularity taken into consideration. Having said that, it’s just as vocally haunting as ‘All of Me’ and takes up the theme of being absolutely in love with someone. In complete contrast, ‘Asylum’ begins eerily yet somehow, introduces love song ‘Caught Up’ really well.

Cynical and cautious at times, this record is often the tricky balance of warm, soulful performances with the precision of digital programming. John Legend’s caramel-like voice intertwines seamlessly with the more gentle melodies; however some tracks are so laid-back they practically send you to sleep, whilst others take away from his vocal flair.