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All posts for the month October, 2012

Chantelle Houghton – Celebrity Culture

Published 31/10/2012 by crimsonghad

So I was at work minding my own business at lunchtime yesterday and I looked on Twitter. Lots of journalists I follow were saying things like, ‘Chantelle Houghton. Bloody hell.’ So, for the first time ever, I took a look at this facsimile of a celebrity on Twitter. Wow. Take a look yourself for 30 October, she hasn’t deleted it (correct at time of writing). https://twitter.com/chantellehought

I feel sad for her. She has had to put up with this terrible man who has, ironically, become famous for his association with famous people. I remember watching Chantelle on Celebrity Big Brother as a non-famous person pretending to be famous. And she became famous (well, sort of) because of it. She has used this association to make money. Good for her. If people are willing to pay money for this then I won’t criticise the celebrities for exploiting this niche. I will criticise the society we live in for accepting that and buying in to it.

 

As this is a blog about writing I’ll comment on that. Surprisingly good spelling. Congratulations.

 

In a wider context it says more about privacy and content laws. Twitter has put people in prison for racism and bomb hoax jokes, as well as getting overpaid footballers whacking great fines. However, it also allows us mere mortals to contact celebrities and cross our fingers that by some luck one might just reply. It’s a matter of time before Twitter becomes the new YouTube and some sensation is discovered. This is a good thing but it can also be used as a tool far too personally as in this case. I don’t blame Chantelle for her reaction. She’s obviously been trolled by people telling her what a bad person she is and cracked.

On a more serious note this type of violence – be it physical, mental or other should not be happening to Chantelle. Or people like Rihanna. Or even Tina Turner going back. Here is a great appeal from Sir Patrick Stewart (featuring my friend Anna by the way) on behalf of Refuge.

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Inspire A Generation: American Beauty

Published 28/10/2012 by crimsonghad

“Remember those posters that said, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”? Well, that’s true of every day but one – the day you die”

1999 was a brilliant year for films: Fight Club, The Matrix, Eyes Wide Shut, Toy Story 2, The Blair Witch Project, Dogma, American Pie, Magnolia, Boys Don’t Cry and Being John Malkovich. Amazingly, none of these were even NOMINATED for Best Picture at the Oscars the following year. And yet, whisper it quietly, the Academy may have got it right for once when American Beauty won the Oscar. Sam Mendes rightly drew praise for his brilliant directing and with Skyfall in cinemas this week the timing of this review is quite purposeful. However, it is writer Alan Ball and his Oscar winning script that I will seek to concentrate on.

At its heart American Beauty is a darkly comic study of suburban America. Our preconceptions often get the better of us as one person may be a successful in their career but a horrible person in their home life while the other may seem a failure in their career but a wonderful person in their home life but as Ball says, ‘the truth is somewhere in between.’ The mundane nature of these characters’ lives is such that we wouldn’t normally think about caring about them because we all know people who are like them. The subtlety of the work is in making us care.

The piece is a character driven marvel as each of the five (sorry Colonel Frank, Buddy, Barbara and the Jims) principal players begin a journey – which always invokes memories of cheap talent show tricks in my mind but please bear with me – that takes them from one spectrum of our expectation and beliefs right through to the opposite side. The best way to examine this film is, perhaps, by studying how each major personality changes.

Lester Burnham – the main protagonist who embodies the film. He begins the film in narration by warning us of his impending death, ‘I’m 42 years old. In less than a year I’ll be dead…of course I don’t know that yet. And in a way, I’m dead already’. A perfect way to start a film. It’s not a whodunnit by any means and yet by the end of the film we can see why all of the characters may want to kill him.

Lester himself begins as a man without a cause, “I feel like I’ve been in a coma for the past twenty years. And I’m just now waking up”. His despair at his job leads to a midlife crisis of epic proportions encapsulated by his early remarks to Buddy, ‘Oh, it’s ok I wouldn’t remember me either.’ He becomes selfish and ego driven but ‘happy’ alienating his family to the point where Lester’s obsession with his daughter Jane’s friend Angela leads to her derision and hatred. His life implodes and everyone hates him. There is of course a call back to his conversation with Buddy when he says, ‘we’ve met before but something tells me this time you’ll remember me’, after catching Buddy and Carolyn having an affair at the drive-thru. This happiness was a mere facade and by the end Lester realises true happiness was Jane and Carolyn.

Carolyn Burnham – a woman who seems to have everything perfectly under control. Fantastic salesman, loving wife and mother with a perfect house. Underneath the surface, however, she is in turmoil, ‘I refuse to be a victim!’ She is not the best salesman and seeks solace with The Real Estate King, Buddy Kane, who becomes her illicit lover in comically aggressive sex scenes. The repetitive dinner scenes are representative of her life in microcosm as she likes everything to be what she wants until eventually her husband and daughter snap and her life disintegrates. Eventually Lester persuades her with passion but her unwillingness to allow Lester to potentially ruin her sofa brings it to an abrupt halt indicative of her nature, ‘This is a $4,000 sofa, upholstered in Italian silk. This is not just a couch.’ She cannot change her nature but all of her family change and her lack of control drives her to despair and potentially desperate actions against her husband. Her selfishness is another factor in her daughter’s voyage, ‘Honey, I’m so proud of you. I watched you very closely, and you didn’t screw up once!’ This drives Jane on towards leaving.

Jane Burnham – she begins by hating herself, her family and the ‘freak’ across the road but her journey is almost the entire basis of the film. She discovers beauty in the form of love and happiness. She claims to hate it when her parents attend her cheerleading, ‘My parents are coming tonight. They’re trying to, you know, take an active interest in me’ and yet this is the attention that she yearns for. They, though, are too interested in their own feelings (Carolyn) or Jane’s friend Angela (Lester).This is the void that Ricky fills. The scene where Ricky, her neighbour, films her undressing should be disturbing as she is underage and he is essentially a voyeur, and yet it seems beautiful. She learns not to care about what others may think of her because she is beautiful and there is someone who recognises it. Her relationship with Angela throughout is also indicative of this approach as Angela tells her once more that Ricky is a freak, ‘Then so am I! And we’ll always be freaks and we’ll never be like other people and you’ll never be a freak because you’re just too… perfect!’ However, Angela is envious of what Jane has.

Angela Hayes – ‘There’s nothing worse in life than being ordinary’ says Angela, perhaps conscious of the fact that that is exactly what she is. And yet, this is not a conclusion reached for a long time during this film. She is the object of Lester’s desire. ‘Spec-tac-ular’ says Burnham as he daydreams of Angela, covered in roses. The use of vivid red imagery is striking throughout this film where the colour is often used to enhance the scripts more surreal and critical moments, such as the roses, the blood and the plastic bag. Angela portrays herself as the experienced grown up, desired by all around her and yet her journey is one of introspection. However, she is plagued by self-doubt and the genuine interest of Lester in her merely gives her real confidence and allows her to confide in him. She reverts from fake grown up to real school girl in what may seem like a horribly tragic regression but is shown by Ball to be magical and inspirational. As well as Lester’s obvious influence on Angela this is largely caused by Jane’s complex beau, Ricky Fitts.

Ricky Fitts – possibly the most interesting role in the entire film is Ricky Fitts. A young man who has serious problems and seems to most outsiders to be beyond repair. He has been thrown out of school and his parents have given up on him to point where when he and Jane are considering running away Jane muses, ‘My parents will try to find me’, Ricky replies, ‘Mine won’t’. And yet he is, in some ways, the heart of this film as he sees beauty all around. He films Jane because she is beautiful and not in a sycophantic teenage caricatured style but a genuine belief underpinned by his other actions. He films a dead bird due to this and, of course, a plastic bag in one of cinemas most famous scenes saying, ‘it was one of those days where it was a minute away from snowing and…this bag was just, dancing with me…’ Ricky is the fulcrum for four main characters. He does not change his views or outlook but his actions and influence change Lester, Angela, Jane and Colonel Frank Fitts.

You are probably wondering why I have not highlighted the influence of Colonel Frank Fitts since he plays such an important role. Well, I find him the least interesting and complex person in the piece. Even his moniker of Colonel makes it fairly obvious he is an authoritarian presence in counterpoint to his browbeaten, depressed wife and they are more there to highlight why Ricky has become the man he is.

Alan Ball says, ‘It is about searching for meaning in your lives.’ This is achieved by all of the individual characters going on a voyage of self discovery which converge at the same time. The other nominations for Best Picture in 2000 were: The Insider, The Cider House Rules, The Sixth Sense and The Green Mile in addition to those well-known movies mentioned earlier. Other movies from 1999 may have had more unusual and grander ideas than this list the Academy chose. However, when you look back at American Beauty it does not seem dated because it resonates so markedly with anyone and everyone at almost any time in the last 30 years and will continue to do so. Ultimately, the film is about beauty. This film is there to prove that beauty is all around us. From a young girl who hates her body, to a boy who can film a plastic bag. Those who can’t see it may have it staring them in the face and realise it all too late.

If you liked this:

Recommendations by this writer:

  • Six Feet Under
  • True Blood

SPOILERS

3 top scenes :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=Qssvnjj5Moo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=ED7_y4jETo0

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=VGiI-MuTWf0

A True Story

Published 25/10/2012 by crimsonghad

This is a TRUE story about something which happened to me literally hours ago and could easily have taken place in How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory or Peep Show. Enjoy.

I was making a wonderful homemade bacon cheeseburger for dinner when from out of our top floor window I observed one of our neighbours standing outside his kitchen door, strange given the time of 8pm and the cold of the night. I stared listlessly at him for a few seconds mesmerised by this half-man, half hobbit before he turned around and saw me. I immediately slinked away – the spell broken by his piercing gaze. I thought nothing more of it.

10 minutes later as I was eating my food there was a knock at the door. My flatmate and I flashed a confused, slightly panicked look at each other. I had been to my parents’ house earlier and assumed that perhaps I had left something behind.

‘I’ll get it. It might be for me.’

As I descended the stairs I switched on the lights unaware of what was awaiting me.

I opened the door to find my unnamed neighbour whose bizarre visage had haunted me merely 10 minutes previously.

Now I have spoken to this man once before when I was on the way to get my hair cut. He stopped me to ask the about the weather – when we were both standing outside – and various other slightly disturbing, mundane questions in a mildly simple manner. He waited there outside his house. And waited. I returned from my hair cut and there he was looking like a clean-cut version of Cousin Itt from The Addams Family and with a fragrance of stale smoke, sweat and something that can only be described as weirdness. I walked around town for a further 20 minutes just to avoid this man. I came back. He was still there. I went for another 20 minute detour and he was gone. I had escaped. But not this time…

‘Hello,’ He greeted me.

‘Hi,’ I replied.

‘I’m your neighbour and I saw you a few minutes ago looking at me and I felt I should explain,’ My first thought, of course, was, ‘Explain what?’ But he continued.

‘I was urinating in the corridor beside my house because my toilet had too much tissue in it.’ Alarm bells started to ring at this point. ‘ I feel I should apologise because I wouldn’t normally do it but, you know, there was too much tissue in the toilet and I didn’t think it would flush so I just had to go outside. I feel bad that you had to witness that.’

‘That’s ok,’ I said, ‘I hadn’t actually noticed. I wasn’t looking that closely.’

I didn’t ask him why he had not tried to flush his toilet to get rid of the tissue paper that was blocking it – the last time I checked that was the sole purpose of a toilet – as it didn’t seem like the right time to question his logic. I also failed to ask him why he had not used his own bath or shower, rather than an alley, to relieve himself. Again, I was not prepared for such a situation to arise. This is my fault. I freely admit this.

It continued.

‘I’m Tom, your neighbour,’ He attempted to engage me in a non-urinating context which given the news he had just provided me with was not high on my priority list.

‘Well,’ He said, ‘I’m sorry. It’s Ollie isn’t it?’

‘Erm…No,’ I replied, since that isn’t my name.

‘You’re Ollie. You live here right?’

‘No, I’m Gary,’ I corrected him.

‘And you live here with Ollie?’

‘No. I live with Robbie. My flatmate,’ Who was (hopefully) listening upstairs ready to save me at any minute.

‘Oh. Ok Ollie, well, sorry once again. I don’t normally urinate in public it’s not like me but the toilet was, er, full of tissue.’

‘Yeah, Ok,’ I desperately tried to end the conversation as the end game suddenly flashed in to my mind.

A slightly awkward pause ensued as I tried to usher him away like Jehovah’s Witnesses were on my doorstep. Surely he wouldn’t? After what he had just told me? No chance. I tried to pull away with a petrified smile on my face half closing the door.

‘Well, ok, Gary. Good to meet you.’ And there it was. He reached out his piss soaked hand toward me.

So what was I to do?

Can you just shut the door on someone who had the balls – pun intended – to confront their indiscretion in such daring terms?

Or do you shake the hand of someone who has just admitted to weeing outdoors by their own house for reasons that I will never understand?

I did what ANY of you would do. I shook it…then slammed the door and ran upstairs to wash my hands. Many, many times.

Robbie was waiting upstairs and, needless to say, he had the last laugh.

Jimmy Savile: A Tragedy

Published 24/10/2012 by crimsonghad

In the last 3 weeks I’ve seen two documentaries, hundreds of news reports, thousands of newspaper articles and what seems like millions of people who ‘knew about it’ but actually did nothing.

I feel absolutely terrible for all of those involved and my background as a Sociology student, having read about lots of such cases, means that I empathise more than your Average Joe.

However, in all of this I fear that we have completely lost sight of the biggest tragedy of them all…

Not the hundreds of victims of abuse from Savile and his ‘paedophile ring’ for years.

Not the mental patients so clearly let down by the system that allowed this monster to abuse them.

Not the unwitting charities, now closing, that bore Savile’s name unaware of the consequences.

Not the living celebrities whose reputations are going to be ruined by association with Savile and the inevitable investigations in to a cultural chauvinism that still exists today.

Not the BBC executives who lost out on a huge story and are now in danger of being torn apart by a Tory government already intent on their destruction.

Not the fact that I realised I’ve been spelling Jimmy Savile’s name with two ‘ls’ incorrectly for my whole life.

No. The biggest loser in all of this is…

Yes. Hugh Dennis. This is the end of his career.

Presidential Debate 2 – Review in buzzwords

Published 18/10/2012 by crimsonghad

Mitt Romney                               Barack Obama

I know what it takes                                  Romney is a LIAR [paraphrased]

Grow jobs                                                    Trade deals will grow jobs

5 point plan                                                 He has 1 point plan for folks at top

He’s had 4 years                                         I’ve had 4 years to clear up Bush’s 10

Balanced budget                                        He cuts Planned Parenthood

When I was Gov. of Massachusetts        I was raised by a single mom

Middle class: ‘crushed’, ‘ruined’               Middle class: ‘relief’, Bush ‘squeezed’

I wanna help small business                      98% hostage for top 2%

Energy independent                                  Increased coal, oil, wind & solar

Add jobs                                                       My grandmother…

President has had 4 years                        My grandfather…

Find some women that are qualified     Not the kind of advocacy women need

Binders full of women                              Lilly Ledbetter Fair Play Act

Of course (my numbers) add up            $8 trillion cuts. How?

Grow jobs                                                    Double exports will grow jobs

I ran businesses                                         I cut taxes for middle class

I came from small business                     I cut taxes for small business

I know what it takes                                  I saved auto industry

I ran Olympics                                            I ended Iraq War

Road to Greece                                           I killed Osama Bin Laden

My priority is jobs                                     I reigned in Wall Street

Look at your pension                                 My pension is not as big as yours

14 days to call it a terrorist attack        I said it was terrorism day after

President culpable for Benghazi             I don’t play politics with US lives.

He went to fundraisers next day            Not what a Commander-In-Chief does

No new legislation for guns                     Ban assault weapons

Educate using nuclear family                  Romney flip-flopped on guns for NRA

Immigration: Pathway to citizenship    Immigration: Pathway to citizenship

Punish offenders and deport them        We need to create the new Google

Lower corporate tax rate                          Lower corporate tax rate

Canada has 15% tax. We must match    We will remove loopholes to compete

China’s been cheating                                 We are tough on China. He is not.

Government does not create jobs          He said 47% of you are victims

Regulations have quadrupled                 Reducing deficit a moral obligation

I know what it takes to grow jobs           Create good paying jobs

And the winner is…

The Sapphires – Review

Published 16/10/2012 by crimsonghad

I’m going to make a prediction: The Sapphires will be the sleeper hit of 2012.

Last night saw the UK premiere of this enchanting film charting the trials and tribulations of the first female Australian Aboriginal vocal group. I was in Australia during September and watched a film that had been hyped as ‘The Australian Dreamgirls’ and ‘the film Dreamgirls wished it could be’. While Dreamgirls was probably a more rounded Hollywood style movie, The Sapphires ticks many of the same boxes but with a story far less well known and does it in a more pleasing manner for me.

It is based on a true story of four talented Aboriginal girls (in real life this included writer Tony Briggs’ grandmother) who suffer from the segregated society pervading Australia in 1968. The film juxtaposes powerful imagery and footage of the US Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War and Australian unrest at the time to great effect as it creates an emotional link inside of the audience.

Standout performances come from the continually impressive Chris O’Dowd as the gloriously ramshackle Dave Lovelace who provides wonderful comic relief throughout. He also maintains real gravitas in spite of this and to his credit never roams into hackneyed drunken Irishman territory. However, equally as good is the matriarch of the group Gail McCrae, played by Deborah Mailman, who brings a fabulously tender intensity to an at times dislikeable character.

At times the writing seems clichéd and takes a simplistic linear approach but this should not detract from what is a wonderful experience as a viewer. Indeed the audience I saw it with ranged from the very young to the very old, albeit with a heavily female dominated demographic. The dramatic scenes are not for the faint-hearted and some of the racism is hard to watch – indeed the reveal that the government stole Aboriginal babies that could be ‘turned white’ genuinely shocked me. That said the film generally kept a light-hearted attitude and the cinema abounded with laughter throughout. The woman sat next to me (in her late twenties to early thirties) had a fixed smile on her face almost entirely throughout.

As things stand The Sapphires is due for release in the UK on 7 November and has no release date in the US, although, with the backing of Harvey Weinstein and a gathering momentum of praise expect that to change. While not the most groundbreaking piece of film making in history – despite its unique subject matter – I highly recommend viewing what is a wonderfully uplifting cinema experience that I guarantee will leave you smiling all night long.

Inspire A Generation: Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno)

Published 15/10/2012 by crimsonghad

“Hello, I’m Princess Moanna and I’m not afraid of you”

Fairytales are very important to us. We all heard them as a child. We all tell them to our children. We all smile when we remember our favourites. Pan’s Labyrinth, put simply, is a fairytale. However, it is so much more than that. I could concentrate on many aspects of this film: cinematography, acting, special effects, costume and set design, score etc and while I will touch on them I am going to concentrate on Guillermo del Toro’s wonderful writing and the many levels on which he manages to engage our emotions. He does so through a set of themes that I shall touch upon.

The film is a Mexican/US/Spanish production set in 1944 Francoist Spain. Del Toro has described this as the sister film to The Devil’s Backbone – also set during the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War – in that a child’s experience of war is often left out of Hollywood films because they do not take part in actual fighting. And yet it can be just as important and compelling. The film centres on Ofelia, a young girl who is suddenly caught up in the guerrilla war waged after the official end of the Spanish Civil War as her pregnant mother, Carmen, is forced to move in with the child’s father, the fascist leader Captain Vidal. This causes Ofelia to create a world (or is it real?) filled with magical and mystical creatures such as the faun (not Pan as the English title suggests), fairies and monsters.

Ofelia’s innocence is immediately demonstrated by her clutching a book of fairytales but her mother dismisses it as, “Fairytales. You’re a bit too old to be filling your head with such nonsense”. Inevitably Ofelia sees/believes she sees a fairy like creature emerge which then follows her to her new home with the sinister Vidal whom she immediately dislikes due to his indifference and superiority towards her, “He is not my father. He’s not my father. My father was a tailor. He died in the war. The Captain is not my father.” This protest was aimed towards Vidal’s head servant, Mercedes, who gradually becomes a surrogate mother to Ofelia as the film progresses.

A theme of disobedience and rebellion runs throughout as the all of the main characters reach an impasse at certain points where they must makes decisions. Ofelia has to decide between obeying her mother and new father or believing in the faun and fairies.  At one point Doctor Ferreiro says, “ …to obey- just like that- for the sake of obeying… without questioning… that’s something only people like you can do…” Of all the characters the two most juxtaposed are perhaps Carmen and Mercedes. Carmen obeys everything Vidal tell hers to do without question, partly because of her pregnancy but also as she is afraid and tired of fighting a life of loneliness. Mercedes meanwhile is perhaps the most disobedient as she decides to hide her true feelings and motives from the one real monster, Vidal. The allusion of the two sides of the war is present here as are the transfer of motherhood responsibility from Carmen to Mercedes.

The idea of motherhood and fallopian imagery is another recurring and powerful theme used by del Toro in the film. The obvious pregnancy of Carmen is the obvious example and the lullaby hummed by Mercedes has a powerful effect throughout the film enhanced by the vivid pictures that often accompany it. The bleeding of Ofelia’s storybook begins a downward spiral in her and Carmen’s lives as it mimics reality. An image of a fairytale rose growing early in the film references child birth and the fallopian shape of the faun’s horns also does so along with the imagery of a tree Ofelia enters in a show down with a magic toad. The emphasis of nature is crucial to the understanding of the film as we are all subject to its forces.

Greed and gluttony are symbolised by the toad in the tree which is also an insinuation aimed at the fascist regime and Catholic Church of the time that were both rampantly corrupt. This voracity is also shown by the barn full of rations that Vidal keeps locked away from the people who need it as well as the unnecessary amount of food on the Pale Man’s table in spite of his diet not requiring it. Ofelia also fell foul to it on a lesser level as she ate from the table causing her problems, although, her repentance reaction perhaps shows that we are all capable of mistakes and can overcome them.

The idea of bravery vs. cowardice is another subject matter running through the film as all the characters are at a crossroads in their life. Carmen has to decide whether to fight on alone or rely on a man who doesn’t care for her. Vidal has a literal war to fight but he prefers to torture those cannot fight back. Mercedes is working for a man she despises and finds it tough to carry on the charade as does Ferreiro. Ofelia herself is faced with the ultimate decision at the end of the film.

In the end the film is a dark fairytale but, as del Toro puts it, he’s created a “fantasy world as real or scary as the real world”. He believes the point of the film is to have the violence and fantastic together at the same time. The colours of the scenes are important as they signify Ofelia’s journey. The red warm colours show her journey in the fantasy world whereas the cold blue palette is a reflection of the real world. She is reborn during the film and the fantasy and reality almost become one with devastatingly moving consequences. Del Toro has created a masterpiece of juxtaposition with far more symbolism and connections than I could possible go in to here or even understand. A work of pure genius that has to be seen multiple times to be truly appreciated.

http://www.bizarremag.com/film-and-music/interviews/4570/guillermo_del_toro_on_pans_labyrinth.html

If you liked this:

3 recommendations by this writer:

  • The Devil’s Backbone
  • Cronos
  • Hellboy

SPOILERS

3 top scenes :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkGn7UdSVmU&feature=player_detailpage#t=26s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VEp1qeITow&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhSjnG5pMOY&feature=related