Me Before You

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Me Before You is a heartfelt romcom with great performances from its two main actors, Emilia Clarke (Louisa ‘Lou’ Clark) and Sam Claflin (Will Traynor). Lou, the small-town English girl with an individual dress style becomes the carer of, and eventually falls in love with, her quadriplegic employer, Will. Things do not go smoothly, however, and it is endearing to watch the once stoic Traynor gradually open up to Lou and let some happiness into his life. 

The film is not without its problems though, and the press has more than adequately covered Me Before You’s notorious backlash for its depiction of disability. The notion that life is not worth living without the full operation of one’s limbs is both misleading and demeaning, and this is becoming somewhat of a cliché in films with characters suffering from paralysis; Alejandro Ameábar’s The Sea Inside (2004) springs to mind. Furthermore, serious subject matter such as euthanasia and depression become marginalised in favour of the romantic plot, and reactions to (and discussions of) assisted suicide are shown only in a superficial manner. 

What saves this film is the convincing characters and family relations the story has. Every family has its problems, whether they are incredibly wealthy or a struggling working class. The film is not without its comic moments, some of which are helped along by Patrick (Matthew Lewis), Lou’s sporty and self-absorbed boyfriend. Me Before You is a real tearjerker of a movie, and a must see for any Richard Curtis fan.

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The Gospel of Loki

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The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris is an incredibly fun read. Told from the first person perspective of the norse god Loki, it follows him from creation outside of Chaos until Ragnarok, the world’s end.

The novel serves as a good introduction to norse mythology, or a fun retelling for those with some prior knowledge of it. It includes most of its main events, such as the cutting off Sif’s hair, the theft of Thor’s hammer and the death of Balder. Each chapter gives a new “lessons” from the Lokabrenna, Loki’s gospel from the novel’s title, and it includes such fun sayings as: ‘A bird in the hand will leave you with birdshit on your fingers’ and ‘Killing the fans. Never the most efficient way to build on your public image’.

With the popularity of Marvel’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston) the novel could not be more aptly timed. Through his eyes we see the antihero sympathetically, and he often breaks the fourth wall by addressing his readers directly as ‘Yours Truly’. Loki is lonely, universally disliked and he invites us to join him in making the world pay for his mistreatment.

Whether the novel is original is debatable. Apart from making the norse myths more accessible, it does not add any new character dimensions or interpretations. Most of the characters are strikingly one dimensional, and only Thor and Odin feature prominently enough to be noticed. Neither does it expand on any world building beyond that which is strictly necessary. Due to the nature of the narrative, these things may not be necessary, but for those interested in a more expansive fantasy world, this is slightly disappointing.

The novel is fast paced and entertaining, yet Loki will always be known as the trickster god, the liesmith.  Can he be trusted in his own version of history?

Brave New World

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5 stars

Based on the book by Aldous Huxley of the same name, Brave New World has been masterly adapted for the stage by Dawn King. Set in a dystopian future of a constructed society consisting of genetically engineered people, the play raises several emotional, scientific and moral questions about progress and about what it means to be human. In a world where ‘everyone belongs to everyone’, are ‘conditioned’ to act in a certain way and to like and dislike specific things, the play holds back no punches.

The set consists of sharp lines, squares and parallel geometric structures. These emphasise the underlying structure and nature of this futuristic society, where deviants and deviant behaviour from the norm are not tolerated, and anything that sets you apart from the rest of society is possibly catastrophic. It is a sterile world, where individuals have very little individuality. Transitions between scenes are fluid, and the same surfaces are instantly transformed for a new purpose.

Although there is a lot of explaining taking place, particularly in the first half of the play, it does not grow wearisome. Combined with the lighting and sound effects, which are used to perfection, it adds drama and a sinister feel to the New London setting. In fact, the visual and audial representations of the effects of the Soma (a drug that induces feelings of happiness and lust) and the Solidarity Group class (a space for eliminating inhibitions and boundaries between people) enhance the realism and the consuming effect of the reality of the play. The play is incredibly dynamic and physical, with many sensual and provocative moments, yet the characters themselves are emotionally restrained.

William Postlethwaite does a fantastic job of acting the role of John the Savage, a man caught between the two opposing realities in the play: the New Londoners and those on the Savage Reservation. Born naturally by Linda, an abandoned New Londoner among the savages, John is the only character in the play with familial bonds. Because of his heritage, the Savages reject him from their society; in New London, he is educated, but not conditioned. Brought into New London, his attempts to rebel and cause changes to the society he finds himself in fail because he is displaced, being nether a part of nor excluded from their society. Growing up he immersed himself in the world of Shakespeare, and his frequent quotations of the Bard are highly amusing and satirical, mocking the attitudes of those around him. Yet the strict morals and teachings in these works make him unable to respond to, or accept those of, the conditioned people, and this ultimately leads to his shocking end.

The play challenges its audience to engage with issues raised in the play, and its cyclical nature leaves the spectators with an uneasy feeling. Brave New World is an edgy, slick and perfectly executed piece of theatre, and the beauty of Brave New World is its universal and timeless relevance to modern society.

 

Love is Strange

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Love is Strange tells the story of a same-sex couple whose lives become difficult after getting married. As a time which should be filled with joy and happiness, George (Alfred Molina) instead loses his job as music teacher at a catholic school, and he and his financially dependent partner of thirty nine years Ben (John Lithgow), are forced to move out of their apartment. Taking refuge with their family and friends, they must live separately in a type of enforced separation. There is no happily ever after, and there is a distinct feeling of deep humiliation for the later in life couple. It is almost like a love story told in reverse, despite the initial marriage.

The film offers an examination of love and relationships put under stress, not only for Ben and George, but of their family and friends as well. The focus lies on the day-to-day, where the realities of life and of living in love is in focus, rather than the coming together. Ben and George are portrayed as individuals in a relationship, existing without co-dependence, reminding us that which we all are: committed individuals. The film also offers a social commentary on the legalisation of gay-marriage in the US: it may be permitted, but it is still not condoned by all levels of society.

Love is Strange is sweet, sad and humoristic in parts, with the actors giving heartfelt and honest performances. However, the film feels slow and disjointed, and the omission of a key scene (arguably its most dramatic moment), makes the audience feel oddly removed from the action of the plot. The film’s pathos is not realised to its full potential, which is a shame, given the portrayals the actors deliver. Overall, the Love is Strange is perceptive and sophisticated, offering plenty food for thought.

One Man, Two Guvnors

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One Man, Two Guvnors is an explosion of farce that leaves you in stitches. Set in the sixties, with a complex but simple plot, it tells the story of Rachel (Alicia Davies), who is posing as her dead twin brother in order to get the money owed to him. With the money, she can escape with her boyfriend, Stanley (Patrick Warner), who is also her brother’s murderer. In the middle of this is Francis (Gavin Spokes), who takes up a job with Stanley for the chance of a decent meal, and he must keep Rachel and Stanley apart so that they won’t discover that he’s working for them both. He is one man, with two governors.

Although the start of the performance is slightly dull, consisting mostly of exposition and introduction, it picks up pace in the third scene. Initially the Brighton dialect is hard to understand, and some cultural references are lost on the younger audience. There are, however, plenty references to The Beatles.

The transitions between the scenes are very good: with a band named ‘The Craze’ taking the stage with 60s style rock music, occasionally joined by the cast, filling the time between the impressive set-changes.

None of the characters are particularly likeable, although Alan (Edward Hancock), the would-be actor, stands out for his over-dramatic flair. At times the play resembles a pantomime rather than a National Theatre production, with cross-dressing and involvement from the audience; something the ensemble themselves remark upon. The cast, especially Francis, break the forth wall, and there are striking elements of meta-theatre. Francis, who is motivated by hunger in the first half, starts the second half by asking the audience if anyone has contemplated what his character’s motivation will be in this part of the play, considering he has now been fed.

One Man, Two Guvnors is a manic, highly satirical and self-satirising play, leaving you with the overall impression is that it is perhaps all a little overdone, but it is done purposefully so.

 

Ride Along 2

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3 stars
Michelle Mackie

Ride Along 2 is a classic cop movie which adds nothing new to the genre. It features the stereotypical “good cop, bad cop” routine, where the bad cop is terrible at his job. The two stars of the movie are Kevin Heart (Ben) and the rapper Ice Cube (the “good cop” James).

The film itself feels like a longer version of a hip-hop music video: it objectifies beautiful women, particularly during the time the movie is set in Miami, features expensive cars (which it is highly unlikely that police officers could realistically afford), and the soundtrack consists mostly of hip-hop songs. Sometimes this works very well, as Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is used ironically for comic effect. However, most of the comic scenes in the film fall flat, although the Kevin Heart tries valiantly to make a fool out of himself by doing over the top things, such as falling into a chicken-pen when he is trying to catch a criminal.

There is one strong female character in the movie, Maya (Olivia Munn), yet she is portrayed as an angry and sullen homicide detective. She is James’s love interest in the film, and they bond over their mutual dislike for Ben. Unfortunately, the romance does not convince the audience.

Furthermore, it is a movie of questionable morality, as the two cops are seen breaking and entering, gate-crashing a party, forming a partnership with the criminal A.J. (Ken Jeong), and destroying several cars and properties. They are also very trigger happy, and a line that stands out in the movie is “say that again and I’ll shoot you in the face”.

What saves this movie is its director, Tim Story, whose use of cinematography is very efficient and cool. An episode that particularly stands out is the use of video-game graphics during a car chase, which ties in with a scene earlier in the film when Ben plays Grand Theft Auto. In the end, Ride Along 2 is basically a movie where Kevin Heart and Ice Cube are being Kevin Heart and Ice Cube.

Sue (Or in a Season of Crime) – David Bowie

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4 Stars

David Bowie’s latest single, ‘Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)’, was debuted on BBC Radio 6 Music on Sunday 12.10.2014. Released in connection to his forthcoming greatest hits compilation Nothing Has Changed, the piece acts as a statement for Bowie’s continued experiment with different music genres, which has defined his career. The seven-and-a-half minutes of experimental jazz has rock undertones, and is reminiscent of Bowie’s Station to Station period. Although the vocals sound slightly strained and operatic in places, ‘Sue’ is an odyssey for the ears. The lyrics are brave and thought provoking; expressing love, insecurity, drama, loss and heartache simultaneously. The tune of the song itself can be hard to decipher, swelling and ebbing like the sea, and its uniqueness challenges the listener. Bowie is not complacent and the song is much more experimental than anything on The Next Day.