Wednesday, 11 December 2013

How Artists Sell Their Work

For a creative person one of the most difficult things is to monetise your work. Firstly there is an inherent practical difficulty involved in actually finding people who will pay you enough to do the thing that you love that you can make a living doing it. Beyond that, there is an inherent conflict between art and commerce.

Pretty much everyone would much rather be an author or a sculptor or a film maker than they would work in a call centre taking abuse from people much stupider than them. Unfortunately, there are very simple financial realities that mean most of us are very unlikely to achieve that dream. If even 1% of us were published authors there would not be anywhere near enough readers in the world to make the number of books published commercially viable.

The dream of becoming a financially successful artist – in any field - is made even harder to achieve if you aren’t willing to compromise your vision – at least to a certain extent – in the interests of commerciality. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s very easy for people to fall in love with their work and become blind to its flaws. What a writer or artist might think of as a commercial compromise may often, in fact, be a straightforward improvement to their work. A good example is True Romance, which originally ended in Quentin Tarantino's script with the death of Clarence, Christian Slater’s character; this would have been a needlessly downbeat ending to a pretty light and upbeat sunny film.

Similarly, someone may produce truly great work whilst working for somebody else. Don’t forget Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel under commission.

However there comes a point when commerce gets in the way of art. Where lowest common denominator considerations edge out any inch of nuance or depth to a piece of art. There was a time when we used to blame American teenagers for the dumbing down of film. Now the foreign market is considered the biggest culprit. Everything has to be easily translated and culturally understandable to audiences all around the world. Established properties are considered preferable to new intellectual properties, as they are a known quantity and easier to market. There have been 7 X-Men films in fifteen years? No matter, let’s make some more!

Then finally, comes the snapping point. What if you’re working for idiots? People whose every artistic instinct is wrong? People have no clue what they’re doing but who hold the purse strings and can therefore force you to dance to their tune? Many people, for the sake of politeness, or through a misguided belief that they can overcome these problems and remain true to their artistic vision, plough on under such circumstances for far too long.

It’s understandable. So many of us have dreams of being an artist that we will suffer almost endless indignities in pursuit of our dreams. However, for the sake of the work, and for your own pride, there comes a time when you have to say “Fuck it!”

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

I HATE Adverts!

I used to hate adverts. Now they’re not aimed at me they’re even worse.

Last year my PC developed a malware infection that proved remarkably hard to shift. No matter what site I clicked on I was being offered diet pills and underwear that I really didn’t think was gender appropriate. After a few frustrated weeks I installed Adblocker.

Around the same time, for entirely unrelated reasons, I pretty much stopped watching live television. Aside from occasionally catching the news almost everything I watch is online, and even then its usually on Netflix or iPlayer. The upshot is that, aside from when I watch the occasional episode of something on 4OD, I just don’t see TV advertising.

This is why it came as such a culture shock to me when I was forced to sit through twenty minutes of adverts at the cinema the other day. By God, it’s worse than I ever remembered! The feeling I experienced was not irritation, or anger, or even boredom. I can only describe my feelings as profound despair.

What an appalling, witless void of banality! What utter contempt for the audience! So much money, and seemingly quite a bit of talent, wasting on this empty worthless crap! What hope is there for humanity if this is what we’re willing to sit through, let alone if people think that the lifestyles and behaviours, the sheep like conformity and self involved bullshit shown in these adverts are anything that anyone would ever aspire to?

I know, I know, I’ve just described everything that advertising has always been. Still there was a difference here, and it wasn’t simply down to my lack of exposure to advertising over the past year. The adverts have changed because the times have changed, and people aren’t really bothering to advertise to me any more. I’m 30 and I’m single, and because I’m a male people aren’t using that fact to try to sell me ice cream or white wine (I know that sounds sexist, but that’s because I’m describing sexist advertising). I don’t have any kids, I don’t have any plans to buy a house soon and have no particular need for the more advanced financial services. I’m not young enough to be wowed any more by incremental advances in technology – the existence of smartphones at all is still a technological marvel to me. I have higher aspirations than recovering from a hangover by sharing Doritos or Nescafe with pre-added whitener (urgh!) with my smug hipster friends. No-one even wants to sell me cool stuff any more because I’m too old to be a good advert for it, and I’m too young to be sold stuff that isn’t cool, or mid life crisis stuff. I know what I want, I have the means to afford it and the only things I desire are achievements, not possessions.

It’s strange. On one level it’s nice, but on another level I feel kinda disconnected from the world around me. Like I’m wrong. Like I don’t have the right aspirations, and ideals. Like I don’t fit in.

This is the hold marketing has on us. This has shown to me the extent to which our society is defined by this bilge that is shoved down our throats. I am delighted to finally have the opportunity to cut myself off from it to this extent. I urge you to do the same!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Will everyone please shut up about Miley Cyrus?

According to today’s Guardian, “it seems impossible that anyone with the faintest interest in popular culture could have missed either the song [Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines] or the controversy”. Well, I guess today is the day that I found out I’d finally lost interest in pop culture, because the only reason I was in any way aware of this song (or Mr Thicke) was because of the utterly tiresome Miley Cyrus twerking “controversy”.

Anyway, apparently the song is very controversial, because some people think it promotes rape. Only other people say it doesn’t promote rape, and that the song only sounds as if it’s promoting rape if you assume that the woman Thicke is singing about has not given her consent. In the context of the song consent is apparently ambivalent.

The reason I haven’t tried to get any clarification on the exact details of this situation is that I don’t care. No-one has actually been raped, the song isn’t explicitly about rape, and I can think of at least half a dozen songs that I’ve heard which do explicitly feature rape, and even condone it.

This is just empty meaningless controversy, designed to stir up some shit to sell some records. The media is more than happy to play along as they can fill some column inches or a few minutes of airtime, stir up some manufactured moral outrage, yell “Ban this sick filth!” and get some attention of their own and increase their sales.

It’s the same with Miley Cyrus. I’m of an age where I was, until very recently, more aware of her dad than I was of Miley. Now, everywhere I turn she’s shoving her bits in my face. I’m actually fed up with it. I know you’re all grown up now, and having tits and being able to show them off is a new thing for you, but seriously, they’ve been around since the stone age and literally billions of people have them. Get over it.

It’s not “empowering”, it’s not “post-feminism”, it’s the same old tired, cynical exploitation of a woman’s body in order to sell shit. I really don’t think the fact that Miley Cyrus herself is complicit and consenting in the exploitation changes much. She's not the person being exploited (whatever Sinead O'Connor thinks), it's everyone who pays any attention to it. It’s not that I find it particularly offensive even, so much as it’s just tiresome. Are we really, in this day and age, going to dance to this tune again? It’s not like she’s even the first Disney star in the past decade to go wild once she came of age.

Now apparently Lily Allen’s new video has been accused of racism. Cue more manufactured outrage. STOP IT!!!! Stop legitimising this nonsense. The more people talk about these songs or videos the more exposure they get, the more people listen to their music and watch their videos and the more money the makers receive. It’s not rocket science.

There is a time and a place to make a stand. The BNP, the EDL, blackshirts, homophobes; people who are making a serious intervention in British public life. Not Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen.

These people aren’t politicians. They aren’t trying to reshape the society they’re in, through their art. They’re pop stars and they’re trying to make money by selling sub-standard music to the masses. When they cross a line the best course of action is to simply personally boycott them. Don’t start a campaign to boycott them. Don’t write letters of complaint. Just don’t give them your money. If we don’t allow a controversy to grow there’s no benefit in shock tactics, and the lost sales will outweigh the sales gained through free media attention.

In short, all this tiresome, offensive crap might end.

Gravity – Movie Review

Gravity opens with the most jaw-dropping special effects shot since Sam Neill saw his first Brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park. Planet Earth stretches out before you, whole, three dimensional, real. In one long, unbroken shot we are introduced to our lead characters as they float through the void, above the audience, in an utterly convincing depiction of modern space flight. Instantly the film makes the best use of 3D seen in the modern age – this film needs to be seen in the cinema.

Our lead characters, Dr Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), are doing routine repairs on the Hubble space telescope, when they get word that a cloud of debris from a damaged satellite is heading their way. As the previously routine mission spins out of control the visual virtuosity continues. Director Alfonso Cuaron throws every trick in the book at the audience – space debris flies towards the screen, the camera flows seamlessly through an astronaut’s visor and into a POV shot, and floating water bubbles land on the camera lens. Gravity is an aggressively stylish film that rivals the work of Fincher and Scorsese for flair and audacity.

Praise is also due to stars Bullock and Clooney, as the jittery rookie and smooth old-hander respectively. Clooney, playing to his strengths, slides back into the easy charm shtick that has served him so well since ER, and reminds you what a likeable screen presence he can be. Bullock, meanwhile, is a revelation, in the more challenging of the two roles, and gives a performance which a) finally puts the ghost of Miss Congeniality to bed and b) must now be considered the hot favourite for Best Actress come awards season. (Special mention must go to the scene where she finally breaks down under stress, which had hardened cynics all around – including myself – pretending they had something in their eye.)

Sadly the script, and the science, can’t quite live up to the quality shown elsewhere. There is an inherent tension in the core premise between scientific realism and disaster movie thrills, and the film expends so much energy trying to create a sense of scientific verisimilitude that it’s especially disappointing when it doesn’t live up to its own exacting standards. As the film moves into its third act, implausibility becomes an increasing problem, and it’s sad that a film which impresses so much with its credibility at the beginning, has you crying “Bullshit!” at the last moment.

There are also moments where sentimentality, cheesiness and cod profundity threaten to overwhelm the good that has gone before. One particular moment, where Clooney is forced to spell out a message that really should have been implicit, is awkward and jarring.

It will be interesting to see how posterity treats Gravity. My instinct is that, on the small screen, and in 2D, its flaws will become glaringly obvious. Don’t let that happen to you. Gravity doesn’t reach the heights scaled by 2001, and never really properly makes its mind up as to whether it wants to be a philosophical science drama or an action thriller. It is, however, a towering visual achievement, an overwhelming spectacle, a rip-roaring action movie, and the best fun I’ve had in a cinema in at least six years.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Who Owns Art?

Who Owns Art?

The recovery of a veritable treasure trove of art, confiscated by the Nazis and thought lost for seventy years, raises profound moral, legal and philosophical questions about the ownership of works of art, and the rights and responsibilities of such ownership.

Munich police have recently announced that, in Spring 2011, during a  raid on the flat of one Rolf Nikolaus Cornelius Gurlitt for suspected tax evasion, they discovered a hoard of modernist art confiscated by the Nazis during World War 2 This collection has been estimated at a value of up to €1bn. Since the discovery the police have begun the mammoth task of not just cataloguing and evaluating the lost works – which include pieces by Picasso, Matisse and Munch – but also of ascertaining whom the rightful owners of these pieces are.

Simply in legal terms the appropriate course of action is not crystal clear. International law states only that there is a “moral obligation” to return works of looted art to their original owners. However, this is non binding, primarily because such works may have subsequently been sold on legitimately, and the morality of removing ownership of an artwork from one person who may have bought it completely legitimately in order to return it to another, previous, legitimate owner is somewhat fuzzy.

In moral and philosophical terms the issues are even more vexed. Certainly someone who has been stolen from, under normal circumstances, deserves to have their property returned if the opportunity becomes available. However, I am less certain that the same applies to the descendants of the owners, especially when the property was stolen under such circumstances. Many people lost everything under Nazi rule and during the second world war, and most of them did not start out wealthy enough to own expensive artworks. These were crimes committed – essentially – in the pre-modern era, and the theft of art (or the destruction of art which occurred during Allied bombing raids on Germany) pales, as a criminal act, in comparison with the horrors visited on many people during that period. Very few people were justly recompensed for their suffering in that time. If our goal is to right the injustices of that period I wouldn't start with stolen paintings.

Against the original owners' right to recompense must be weighed the public interest. Many of the lost works which have been discovered are lost masterpieces by some of the most important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. These haven't been seen for at least 70 years. Is it really right that these paintings should be returned to private collectors? Doesn't everyone have the right to see these (perhaps with the descendants of the original owners paid a compensatory sum by museums or other public institutions which would display the works)?

Paintings and sculptures are unique as art forms in that they are permanent yet non reproducible. Some art is ephemeral, like a play or live music performance. Reproducible art – books, sound recordings, audiovisual mediums – have a limited copyright (usually between 50-70 years from publication or from an artist's death, depending on country) before they enter the public domain, and I would suggest that a similar rule should be introduced for paintings and sculptures. The reason for copyright is to make sure that artists and companies are properly remunerated for their work and investment. Copyright does not exist as a permanent cash cow to be exploited for generations to come. It recognises that art is part of our history and our culture and that all of society has a right to access it, once proper payment has been made to its creator.

The point of art is to provoke, to inspire. To explore what it means to be human. Art is how we have a discussion about who we are, as individuals and as a species and a society. It exists to be studied, and examined, and discussed. Though many artists may want to create unique experiences for each individual member of their audience, there are very few artists who would only want an audience of one. That to me is the saddest part of this story.

Imagine being Cornelius Gurlitt. Living in a flat piled high with great works of art, year after year, hiding them from the world. Completely unable to show anyone or to discuss with anyone the beauty and brilliance of these pieces. The art itself, stacked in piles, surrounded by 20 year old tins of beans, was apparently only seen by only one man in 55 years. What is the point of beauty that you can't share? I don't understand why anyone would want that. I'd want to show the world and to hell with the money.

This week the world regained a bit of its heritage that was thought lost forever. I hope we get to see it.

Written by Andy Croucher

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Drinking Buddies - The Future Of The Rom-Com?

As I took myself enthusiastically along my ten minute walk to work a week or so ago I was indulging in my usual morning podcast binge and halfway through the hosts of the movie review show mentioned amongst their usual weekly movie news roundup that Quentin Tarantino had released his top 10 movies of 2013. This intrigued me for two reasons, firstly I am a great admirer of his movies (specifically Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction) and secondly, that despite all his film making genius QT seems unaware years have lasted twelve months since the inception of the Gregorian Calender in 1582.  The fact that Tarantino had released a list of favourite movies wasn’t much of a surprise because this is something he has done for a number of years but I always sit up and take notice when they are released. This year’s list includes the following movies:

  • ·        'Afternoon Delight' (Dir. Jill Soloway)
  • ·        'Before Midnight' (Richard Linklater)
  • ·        'Blue Jasmine' (Woody Allen)
  • ·        'The Conjuring' (James Wan)
  • ·        'Drinking Buddies' (Joe Swanberg)
  • ·        'Frances Ha' (Noah Baumbach)
  • ·        'Gravity' (Alfonso Cuarón)
  • ·        'Kick-Ass 2' (Jeff Wadlow)
  • ·        'The Lone Ranger' (Gore Verbinski)
  • ·        'This Is The End' (Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg).

Now in this list the majority of you will see a few movies that you already recognise such as Kick Ass 2, The Lone Ranger, This is the End, The Conjuring and the upcoming Gravity. Movies such as Blue Jasmine, Francis Ha and Before Midnight are perhaps on the radars of the more cine-literate amongst you but, two movies on this list  may be unfamiliar to the majority of you,  Afternoon Delight (which is still awaiting a release date in the UK) and Drinking Buddies (due for release November 1st). After doing some research (thank you it was the latter which sparked my interest and for multiple reasons. First and foremost, I had seen posters for the movie on the internet and knew the cast included actors who I have enjoyed watching previously such as Jake Johnson (from in-vogue sit-com The New Girl), Olivia Wilde (House M.D., who is also a producer of the movie), Anna Kendrick (Pitch Perfect) and Ron Livingston (Office Space) but secondly in a world where film spoilers are becoming increasingly difficult to avoid it was one I was able to approach without preconceived ideas.

The director, Joe Swanberg, doesn’t re-invent the wheel with his direction, which is solid but workman-like, however it is his script that is special being both engaging and heartfelt. The film is a mumblecore rom-com for the thirty-somethings of this current generation and as a man soon to turn 31 something I can really identify with. The film tells the story of Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson), two work colleagues at a Chicago brewery, and traces their relationships with each other and their respective partners. Kate is trying to play it cool with her music producer boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston) and Luke is in the midst of marriage discussions with his girlfriend of six years Jill (Anna Kendrick). To complicate matters both Kate and Luke are unsure quite how deep their feelings for each other run. The actors give performances that feel genuine, they make mistakes and this vulnerability makes the characters likeable and sympathetic.

I genuinely want people to watch this movie so I will not tell you how it ends but I will say that it is an interesting study of a friendship between a guy and a girl. Understand that I am not naive to the point where I think men and women can’t just be friends but I think many of us at some stage have had relationships where the line between friendship and romance blurs. A few months ago I wrote an article where I discussed the glossy or “Hollywood” rom-com and movies which bucked this clichéd trend, Drinking Buddies, is helping to redefine the rom-com for this generation….either that or the director read my article (  

Breaking Bad - The Finale

Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen Felina, the final episode of Breaking Bad, and you care at all about protecting yourself from spoilers, read no further!!!

So, it’s all over, and we TV fans need to find a new show to obsess over. But, as the dust settles on Heisenberg’s last stand, one question looks likely to be debated at length: did Walter White get what he deserved?
Firstly, let me state for the record, that the following is not intended in anyway as a criticism of the quality of Breaking Bad, in general, or the final episode in particular, but rather as a philosophical discussion of Walt’s fate. I enjoyed Breaking Bad’s final episode. As a viewer it left me satisfied, and I thought that the resolution of each character’s story was well handled and emotionally logical. However, I didn’t think Walt got his just desserts. He managed to save his family – even if it was at the cost of losing it – and he went out on his own terms.
This season was the turning point in terms of our relationship with Walt. However bad he may previously have become, I don’t feel Walt completely lost the audiences sympathy until he decided to go back into the meth business after defeating Fring. In his battle with Fring he was fighting for his life – even if that fight was entirely of Walt’s making. In the first half of season 5 Walt is a hollow, ghoulish, terrifying presence. It says everything that the enemy in season 5 is the Aryan Brotherhood – the only people whom you would now root for Walt over are Nazis! For five years we have watched all Walt’s positive goals and attributes become sucked away, subsumed by his negative attributes; his ego, his greed, his yearning for power and influence, and most importantly his failure to realise that his life as a father and a teacher was significant and meaningful before his cancer diagnosis.
In the past couple of episodes it feels as though Walt’s original character had some what reasserted itself, as he was humbled by his defeat by the Aryan Brotherhood and the DEA, and forced to flee. It seemed to me – even as I watched it – that Walt’s story should have ended ten minutes before the end of episode 15: Walt, on the phone to his son, crying that “it can’t all have been for nothing”, as his son rejected his money and told him to “just die”. For Walt to see the error of his ways – too late – and to be left, alone, waiting to die and contemplating his sins, seemed a fitting way for his story to end.
A special mention here should be made to Jesse Pinkman, who seems, over the course of the story, to have suffered far more than Walt for far lesser crimes. Certainly, his ordeal at the hands of the Aryan Brotherhood seemed to outstrip anything that happened to Walt. It has often been commented that the ultimate story of the show is the story of the fight for Jesse’s soul. Jesse’s ultimate victory was not just his escape, but his rejection of Walt’s order for Jesse to shoot him. In that act, Jesse finally freed himself from Walt’s malign grip.
Ultimately the reason why I felt Walt got off too lightly is a compliment to the show as a whole. Walter White has often felt like a classic Shakespearean tragic character; a potentially great man doomed by his own character flaws. When Walt went to hide in the mountains, still clinging greedily to millions of dollars he had no use for, he had been brought low by his own hubris, ego, and propensity for violence whether necessary or not. That is a fitting fate for a tragic character. Walt’s return to Albuquerque in the final episode allowed him to snatch victory from defeat through his positive attributes – his resourcefulness and intelligence. This was in no way implausible (or, at least, no more implausible than any of his other ‘Macguyver’ moments over the course of the series), but because Walt’s character strengths triumphed over his weaknesses, it felt unjust.
Written by Andy Croucher

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Rich's Televisual Rambles - The Newsroom

I have sat down at this laptop numerous times and tried to write another article. I think on at least two or three different occasions I have begun articles and you might call me precious but I haven’t been satisfied with any of them. To write something that engages with its audience and sparks their imagination is one of the most difficult things you can attempt to do but also ultimately one of the most rewarding. It goes without saying that it is easy for something to be poorly written and so I think you have to respect people that write professionally. Now, I bet you’re all thinking “what’s the he getting at?” My point is this, usually only a couple of times in a generation are there writers who manage to be not only prolific but who manage to keep their output at a consistently high level.  Since it began last year I have been watching a series called The Newsroom written by Aaron Sorkin and he is one of those rare breed of writers. His body of work is extensive and includes diverse projects in both television and film. Amongst these are The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (Which I’d also highly recommend), Moneyball, A Few Good Men and The Social Network but it is The Newsroom which I have found compelling viewing. It has just finished its second season airing on HBO in the US and from the moment I heard Thomas Newman’s opening theme (whose music has moved me to tears since I first watched The Shawshank Redemption), I knew I was about to watch something special.

The Newsroom tells the story of fictitious cable news channel ACN (Atlantis Cable News) and the follows the personal and professional lives of its staff. Although the show features an ensemble cast, the main focus of the show is that of the Network’s lead anchor and managing editor Will McAvoy (played by Jeff Daniels, yes that’s right Harry from Dumb and Dumber). McAvoy has just lost his executive producer, Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), to a rival show on his Network only for him to be subsequently replaced by McAvoy’s ex-girlfriend Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). To compound matters he also recently suffered a meltdown at a college political panel, declaring that “American is no longer the greatest country in the world” and launching into well-reasoned but emotional tirade at a college sophomore. It is this moment which begins McAvoy’s “mission to civilize” and to create, as Mackenzie McHale beautifully states, “A nightly newscast that informs debate worthy of a great nation” with the aim of “Reclaiming journalism as an honourable profession”

Joining McAvoy and McHale on their quest are the rest of News Night’s staff,  Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr), a producer who followed McHale from her previous show after it was cancelled; Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), a young and hungry associate producer whose relationship with Don Keefer is on the rocks; Neal Sampat (Dev Patel from Slumdog Millionaire and Skins), who writes McAvoy’s blog, researches news leads and administrates ACNs social media; Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn); economist and occasional co-anchor on News Night and president of ACN’s news division Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston). 

One element in which this show really shines is the strength of its research and the way in which it weaves recent real life events, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the death of Osama Bin Laden (spoilers?), into the fabric of the show lends a unique sense of realism to the show. Although you know how these stories are going to play out, the characters are experiencing these events for the first time and the viewer, for perhaps the first time in television, knows how these plots are going to play out before the characters do. As Sorkin has put it in interviews, these news events have “become a creative gift, for one thing the audience knows more than the characters” and although he has stated that the show is “not meant to be a documentary” which it most certainly isn’t the reactions have to feel genuine otherwise the show won’t work effectively. Fortunately for Sorkin he has assembled a cast who are more than capable of achieving this.
In the real world media companies are, just like any other corporation, affected by share-holders, profits and ratings. I’ve had many conversations with family and friends about the lack of impartiality in the media; this is counter-productive to the art of reporting news which requires by its very nature impartiality. In reality, no matter how we try to convince ourselves we can be neutral, our reaction and interpretation of situations will be heavily prejudiced by our opinions or feelings. There is something tremendously brave in The Newsroom’s mission statement, it’s something which is refreshing and the idealist in me one day hopes to see this reflected in the Fourth Estate.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Are creatives a non valuable commodity?

The bain of every creatives life... Payment. It seems to be pretty normal for most artists; and I use that term widely meaning- musicians, painters, actors, make up artists, dancers, directors, models, stylists, art directors, photographers, graphic designers (the list goes on), that working for free to gain experience or contacts has become a complete piss take. A good friend of mine has had enough! She has been working for free for years and has more than enough experience to be able to not give a toss if she loses a contact. And sure when you are starting out the more experiences the better but there needs to come a point when we start demanding payment or at least payment in favours or at least more direct opportunities. And it's not even the arts that are suffering. Thousands of people who are out of work and on the dole through no fault of there own are being forced to 'internship' at places as corporate as Superdrug. I.e working for free or lose your payments. Bad times.

Endless amounts of students are spending summers interning at the lose promise that it may turn into a position. Yeah sure if you lucky enough to be given that one position out of hundreds of people, then great. The thing is I constantly ask people to work for free on projects, however I'm not getting paid, and I always try and repay the favour. The minute I start getting paid, so will anyone I ask to work with me. It's fair and it's what I would expect from other people. So come on everyone, lets share those opportunities and contacts and start demanding what we deserve. Otherwise in the end all we are doing is under valuing our own hard work.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Breaking Bad Binging Habits

As Breaking Bad hurtles towards its conclusion, I – like many others – have started doing something I've ever done before: I'm watching the show weekly. A relative latecomer to the show, I watched the first four seasons back to back last year, and held off watching the first half of season 5 until I could do the same with that. But with new episodes appearing weekly on Netflix the temptation to get stuck in to the final episodes straight away became overwhelming, so now I am enduring an agonising wait each week for the next episode. You know what? I'm really enjoying it.

TV binging for me became a habit when I started watching 24. Waiting a week for the next episode of 24 was unbearable, and I only lasted 6 episodes before I snapped and bought the box set. Since then binging on shows has become my standard mode of consumption; blasting through entire seasons in a week has become the norm.

So many of the great shows at the moment are American, and only available on Sky or other channels, that it has become rare for me to actually watch anything on television. Therefore, when I do watch them, I usually have the whole series available to me from the outset. When you can see what happens next straight away, it takes great discipline to wait. On Netflix you don't even have to select the next episode – it starts playing automatically, which is the ultimate temptation.

Now I have to wait a whole week for the next episode of Breaking Bad, and, yes, at times it has been excruciating – but it's also been glorious. Each cliffhanger has real impact, and the excitement and anticipation I feel when Monday evening rolls around and I know I can enjoy the next instalment is something that I'd actually forgotten TV can do.

I also think that watching weekly episodes makes them more memorable. I spent most of the third season of Game of Thrones desperately trying to remember what had happened in season 2, which I had watched a year ago in the space of a few days. When a storyline is resolved within three hours rather than three weeks your brain doesn't commit it to memory in the same way. The entertainment it provides becomes fleeting, with no chance to savour the experience. Seeing as almost nothing memorable happens in season 3 of Game Of Thrones, I doubt I'll be able to understand season 4 at all next year.

The way we watch television has changed. As I said; actually watching a programme weekly is an option that's rarely available to me any more. But I think by blitzing through entire seasons of television we may be missing out on a lot. The structure of weekly programming emerged for a reason, and we would be foolhardy to abandon that. Though I doubt I'll watch another major drama weekly for a while, I'm definitely going to try and watch my boxsets more slowly from now on. After all, everyone knows binging is bad for you.

Friday, 23 August 2013

This movement starts NOW

Where is our subculture? What culturally defines our generation? What sets us apart? We have horribly mass produced clothing led by massive fashion houses with no concept of what real people can afford or want to wear. Where is our music? Bland chart successes that overtly manufacture to reach their maximum audience. What about political decisions made on behalf of us by the rich few who have  had to live off such limited means. Are we going to sit down quietly and swallow this mundanity which is offered to us? What are we waiting for? You need permission? I'm giving you permission, what do you want to do? Make a film? Form a fashion label? Write a play? Start your own business? Band? Movement? What is it, what moves you? Yeah we all need to pay our rent and feed ourselves but bigger than that we need to satisfy ourselves by creating. Creating something for us, a sound, look, image, brand, whatever?! The time is now and we have the freedom. We have the power of the Internet and more knowledge available than ever before. You are not alone, the current economic climate is dissatisfying more and more of us. We are all the result of beatniks, hippies, punks and ravers. A hundred different subcultures have gone before us and we can encapulate and exploit every one of them for inspirational means. I want to hear from you, are you a musician, designer, photographer, writer, actor, choreographer, singer, artist, visionary? Let's join together and coin this movement, lets support, write about, be inspired by and collaborate. Together we have the means to do this. What's your latest idea? Need a creative forum? To meet more artists like yourself? 

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We don't just want you to 'like' what we are doing on Facebook, we want to hear about you and your projects! Act and create NOW.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Rich's Televisual Ramblings - Ray Donovan

You may well have seen a trailer I put on tumblr for Ray Donovan. That was kind of an unofficial preview for my third column. Over the last few weeks I’ve been bombarded by family, friends and colleagues with ideas for my next column. With that in mind I have a confession to make, I am not up to date on the following shows Boardwalk Empire, Man Men and Breaking Bad but perhaps worst of all, I have never even watched an episode of The Wire. These are all shows that have been suggested to me but I’ve always stated that the principle of this column was to spotlight shows that aren’t on people’s radar. Ray Donovan is now only seven episodes in on Showtime in the US and certainly falls under that category. Ann Biderman, the show’s creator (who is best known for the movies Primal Fear and Public Enemies), has flown in the face of the unfair stereotype that the most engaging TV of today is being created by those who are young (Biderman is 62) and male (Biderman is called Ann and therefore a woman) to create some truly engaging television. 

Ray Donovan is the story of a professional “fixer” for a law firm in Hollywood. What does a fixer do you might ask? A fixer is a trouble shooter for Hollywood agents or lawyers but not in the most conventional sense. If you represent a married basketball star that has just had a hooker die in his hotel bed, then a fixer will cover up the scandal and ensure it never reaches the media. It’s not a pretty job but someone’s got to do it right? Well in this case that man just happens to be Ray Donovan.

Played by Liev Schrieber (Sabretooth from X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Ray Donovan, is a man who’s trying to keep his life together while it slowly falls apart. His marriage with his wife, Abby (Paula Malcomson), is on the rocks (due in part to Ray’s infidelity) and his relationship with his children is also becoming increasingly strained. As if that wasn’t enough, his father, Mickey has just been released from the prison. Played by Jon Voight (most famous for fathering Angelina Jolie), Mickey, has a difficult relationship with his son, to say the least, and topping that list is his son’s involvement in his imprisonment. Jon Voight chews the scenery in a way that only a great actor with a role he relishes can do. Mickey is a character full of contradictions, menacing but a coward, compelling yet repellent. Ray’s brothers Bunchy and Terry don’t have it any easier either. Bunchy (Dash Mihok), was sexual assaulted by a priest as a child and this has left him suffering from depression, addiction and with a child-like disposition. Terry (played by British actor Eddie Marsan) is a former boxer turned gym owner who is dealing with the degenerative Parkinson’s disease.

A South-Bostonian through and through, Ray Donovan, is the one child in the Donovan family who has never allowed himself to be manipulated by his father. Ray even went as far as moving with his family from the East Coast to the West Coast for a better life and in attempt to avoid Mickey’s influence. The law firm he works for in Los Angeles is run in part by his closest friend and mentor Ezra Goldman (Elliott Gould) with whom he shares a number of deep and dark secrets. Ezra is struggling with his conscience and his behaviour is becoming increasingly erratic. You feel that at any time whatever secrets he and Ray share, could be revealed and Ray’s life could collapse like a tower of cards.

Ray Donovan is a show with a great ensemble class and an array of wonderful supporting actors.  Biderman has created a show with two enormously strong lead characters, Ray and Mickey, and whenever Schreiber or Voigt are on screen together the feeling is reminiscent of a powder keg ready to explode. This show, even after seven episodes still has plenty of uncertainty that leaves the viewer keen for more answers and compels them to watch. One thing is for certain though, even for a professional fixer there are problems that even they can’t solve.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Censorship Part 1: Moral panics and Kick Ass 2, or Why Jim Carrey Should Have The Courage Of His Convictions

This is part 1 of a 2 part article.
Two films currently on general release have both attracted controversy for their supposedly violent natures. Only God Forgives attracted boos and walkouts at Cannes earlier this year over its violence (something that is becoming a tradition at Cannes in recent years), whilst Kick Ass 2 star Jim Carrey has withdrawn his support from the movie, stating via his twitter feed “I did Kickass a month b4 Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. My apologies to... others involve with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.” I will post my own opinions on these films in the next few days but I want to examine the relationship between real world violence and media violence, and society's attitudes towards that relationship.

Chloe Grace Moretz, Carrey's co-star in Kick Ass 2, suggested in a Guardian interview last weekend that Carrey had felt forced to distance himself from the film as he was involved in lobbying for gun control laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, and could foresee the accusations of hypocrisy that would fly in his direction whenKick Ass 2 was released. This isn't a stance that's without merit; certainly I would agree that doing something to curb the utterly insane right of US citizens to bear arms trumps the importance of publicising a superhero movie (and, indeed, the comic's creator Mark Millar has suggested Carrey's denunciation was worth $30 million of free publicity, so it could be Carrey is having his cake and eating it), but by distancing himself from the film I believe Carrey is tacitly accepting the idea that fictional violence and real world violence are linked, and in doing so he is actually damaging the causes of gun control and of free speech.

Let's start by stating the facts. No study has ever shown any conclusive correlation between exposure to fictional violence and one's propensity for real world violence (a recent US Supreme court decision criticised existing research as inconsistent and methodologically flawed). Moreover, mass shootings of the type seen at Sandy Hook are far too rare to be attributed to any single source. If watching the Matrix and listening to Marilyn Manson caused people to commit atrocities (as was widely argued by apparently sane people in the wake of Columbine) then the turn of the century would have been marked by a level of worldwide bloodshed unseen since 1945. As violence in the media – and the realism of violent video games have increased – levels of violent crime have dropped. In their 2002 evaluation of school shooters, the U.S. Secret Service found no evidence to suggest that these perpetrators consume more media violence than anyone else.

Following the Sandy Hook massacre The Sun and The Daily Express newspapers both ran stories about gunman Adam Lanza being a fan of Call Of Duty (The Sun's front page headline was “Killer's Call of Duty Obsession”). Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik was also cited as being a fan of the game series (in fact, aside from his insane ideology it's almost the only think I know about Breivik, which goes to show how widely this insignificant fact was reported). A quick check on Wikipedia reveals that Call of Duty: Black Ops (released in 2010) has sold 25 million units worldwide. Those are first hand sales – that figure doesn't factor in second hand sales and people borrowing or sharing games. Given that there have been 9 Call of Duty games released in the past decade, totalling over 100 million sales, and that “As of March 31, 2012 there are 40 million monthly active players across all of the Call of Duty titles” (Wikipedia) it seems reasonable to estimate that, in total, somewhere in the region of 50-100 million people have played a Call of Duty game at some point. It's hardly surprising that a couple of those people have done something awful.

There are numerous examples over the past half century of violent media being blamed for the ills of society. As well as the attempts to blame Columbine on Goth culture (and really, doesn't it show the ignorance of the people making these claims that it was the goths whom they found the scariest people in youth culture?), the one that made the biggest impression on me during my youth was the controversy over Child's Play 3, and the attempts to link this exceptionally silly and tame horror film with the tragic and horrifying murder of toddler James Bulger by ten year olds Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. For the record, there is no evidence whatsoever that either Thompson or Venables had ever seen this movie. The only link between the movie and the case at all is that Venables father had rented the movie a few months before the murder. As Venables was not living with his father at the time, and as police psychiatric reports state he disliked horror movies, it is extremely unlikely that he ever saw the film, let alone that it had any influence on his later behaviour.

A toddler is murdered in the most horrific manner by two ten year olds. A lone gunman kills 77 people, mainly teenagers, in a pre-planned killing spree – driven by a hatred of muslims. Two teenagers kill 13 people, then themselves, in a mass shooting. Another gunman kills twenty elementary school children and seven adults before killing himself. Movies and video games are blamed. Why?

I believe that violent media is scapegoated because this act of scapegoating allows our society to avoid having a much more complex and meaningful discussion about the real causes of these awful events. In the Bulger case, the real issues involved were particularly profound. Both boys came from abusive family backgrounds. Both were barely over the age of criminal responsibility and were tried in an adult court – a process that the European Court of Human Rights decided in 1999 had denied them a fair trial. The then Home Secretary, Michael Howard, increased Thompson and Venables' sentence following a campaign by The Sun newspaper (this intervention was later overruled by The House Of Lords as illegal). The Prime Minister, John Major, said in response to the case that “society needs to condemn a little more, and understand a little less". Rather than discuss the appropriate age of criminal responsibility, the causal effects of nature and nurture, how we as a civilised society should deal with children who are capable of such appalling acts and whether social services should intervene more in the case of antisocial families of the kind that spawned Thompson and Venables, the two common reactions (propagated by the press and endorsed by politicians) were to a) blame Child's Play 3 and b) write two ten year old boys off as having been born pure, unmitigated evil. Even blaming a movie makes more sense to me than the latter.

In the case of Sandy Hook the issues were much simpler. Adam Lanza suffered from multiple psychological and neurological issues and had access to a wide variety of firearms. This is not to say that a combination of the two will always lead to mass murder, but if you keep rolling two dice, eventually you will roll snake eyes. Attempts by the right – notably Fox News – to pin the blame on violent media are an attempt to distract from the urgent need for reform of the country's gun laws.

Politicians are only too eager to play into this narrative as it allows them to take quick and decisive action that gives the appearance of effectively dealing with a matter that, in reality, defies easy fixes. These moral panics are always focussed on things that exist outside the mainstream of popular culture - horror films, rock music or video games. These aren't the things that are enjoyed by the opinion formers and elites of society. They are things that are enjoyed by the “other” - by the youth or outsiders in society. They offer easy scapegoats because the people doing the scapegoating – and by and large the audience for such scapegoating (I'm looking at you here, Daily Mail readers) – can place culpability for society's problems on an external force, that is not a part of their day to day existence, rather than examining their own responsibility for the problems of the society on which they live. Politicians can then take steps to ban or regulate these scapegoats without fear of a backlash from the majority of their voters. Note how quickly an attempt to blame the Aurora shooting on media violence foundered – Batman is simply too mainstream these days to credibly blame mass murder on. I believe this is also why video games have replaced horror movies as the default target for such moral panics: the savage cinema wave of extreme horror films started in the early 70s and, as a result, many people now in their fifties and sixties will have enjoyed these films in their youth and know that they weren't corrupted by them.

In Part 2 I will examine censorship itself and why it doesn't work.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Theatre v film?! Discuss.......

We have just started editing our first piece, and I know the film editing process is what truly defines film from photography and also from theatre but you know what? I find it dull! I feel it slows the process of creativity down, makes us rely on technology and removes the very art of it from our hands. The other members of my team disagree with me. The thing is I adore theatre, the fact that you can capture the imaginations of an audience when they are basically sat in a black box. If you can get an audience to buy into the story then, well then you have talent. You have truley suspended reality. That's magic.  Forgive me I love the medium of film but I'm no film buff, I like stories and I like live. As an actor your control over the finished outcome of a film is entirely out of your hands. However when you do a piece of theatre you have an attempt at creating perfection every single evening. Yep I'm biased as an actress and maybe in time I will learn how to edit, to appreciate the process. It as an amazing way to capture the complete moment of perfection. And employing different, more exciting skills other than that which confined by the space of a theatre. Will shall see..........

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Future of Film?

Michael Bay once said “I make movies for thirteen year old boys, and I make no apology for that.” This may seem to some like a valid defence for his woeful filmography, but my instantaneous reaction was that Michael Bay has contempt for thirteen year old boys. It cannot be a coincidence that the only two films he's made which are even watchable (Bad Boys and The Rock) are not aimed at thirteen year old boys. Moreover, do thirteen year old boys really even want movies that are aimed at them? I doubt it.

This summer the crisis that has been threatening Hollywood for the past decade appears to have finally boiled over (please note that, for reasons of length and reader patience, this article intends to exclusively discuss mainstream American cinema). Audience figures so far for 2013 are down, way down, after a season of extraordinarily tired and tiresome blockbusters. Analysts have begun to call it the “summer of doom”. The blame has been put, basically, on the internet – not just online piracy but also the wide variety of alternatives to cinema which are now available to modern teenagers, from social networking to Youtube, and on reduced consumer spending power as a result of the great recession. Though this may have some validity, I suspect it is only part of the issue.

People will only turn to alternatives to cinema if they see those alternatives as better than cinema. This is where I believe the true problem lies. For almost twenty years now Hollywood has focussed relentlessly on the youth audience. The logic was sound. Teenagers and tweenagers made up the largest proportion of the audience, so it made sense to maximise your potential audience by ensuring that your films were not given age ratings that restricted that audience's ability to see movies. The inception in the 1980s of the 12A/PG13 certificates offered the opportunity to do just that – audiences of any ages could go see the films, yet these movies would be, in theory, not so neutered as to alienate an adult and older teenage audience.

There is nothing wrong with this. 12A/PG13 is a perfect fit for many types of movies – in particular comic book movies. 12A is certainly exactly the right rating for a Bond movie, and it allowed Star Wars to go far darker than ever would have been thought possible when the first movie was released in 1977 (it was also far shitter than anyone thought possible in '77 but that's a different matter). The problem arose when the 12A certificate became mandatory for all decent sized films – regardless of the film's suitability for that rating. When Die Hard and Terminator movies are being watered down to 12A (remember that the original movies were both rated 18 when first released in the UK) something has gone seriously awry.

Though in the short term aiming movies at the widest possible audience seems like a smart move, I believe that falling cinema audiences are, at least in part, the inevitable long term consequence of this approach. As a child of the 90s my friends and I were all cineastes. Go round the playground of my (admittedly all male) High School in the mid 90s and ask the kids what their favourite movies were, and they would reel off a list of 18 certificate movies – Terminator, Aliens, Die Hard, Robocop, Total Recall – that they should never have legally been allowed to see. A huge part of the experience of childhood is learning about the adult world, often illicitly, whilst parents and social authority figures attempt to stem the tide in a battle they know they're losing – that in fact they have to lose because the gradual losing of that battle is how children become adults. Furthermore, we knew that there were films in existence that even adults weren't allowed to see. This was a time when Natural Born Killers, A Clockwork Orange, Evil Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and many other were unavailable in the UK. When we were able to get imported copies of these movies we devoured them, because their very illicitness made them attractive.

In today's society children have access to things way beyond what was available in 1995; things which are infinitely more shocking than anything Paul Verhoeven ever came up with. The internet has transformed our society in ways that we are still coming to terms with, and yet at a time when a click of a button can take children to the most extreme material movies are offering them nothing but safe, unthreatening, bland, inoffensive generotainment. When I was a kid we watched movies we weren't supposed to in order to see things we weren't supposed to see. Today's kids don't have any movies they're not supposed to see, so they go elsewhere for their naughty kicks. Sure, studios didn't make much money in the 90s from my love of 15 and 18 certificate movies, but they made a truckload of cash from me in the longer term through a) the love of cinema those movies instilled in me and b) the fact that I've now bought most of them three times, first on video, then DVD and Blu Ray.

With that in mind, is it any wonder that movies have started to seem less interesting to kids of today? Recent audience figures show that adults are now going to the cinema more than teenagers. I would suggest that is because adults are the only people who remember when movies were still exciting. However adult audiences are also down significantly from their peak, probably partly because no movies are actually aimed at adults any more. Movies used to be the premiere entertainment art form. Now they've been overtaken by television and video games.

As audiences dwindle the problem compounds itself. Studios play it safer and safer, pumping out sequels, reboots and remakes as if there were only 20 IPs in existence. As the movies get ever less interesting the audience dwindles further and the cycle continues inexorably.

Fortunately, there are signs now that times may be changing. Last year's Prometheus was the first R Rated blockbuster I can think of for almost a decade. In two days Elysium, Neill Blomkamp's follow up to District 9, will be released in the States with an R rating (the BBFC have classified it 15 in the UK). The British independent movies Dredd and Kick Ass both went for an R rating, and though Dredd flopped Kick Ass 2 is out next week, again with an R rating. David Twohy and Vin Diesel have opted to self fund Riddick, the second sequel to Pitch Black, to avoid the studio imposed 12A neutering of the franchise that scuppered the first sequel, Chronicles of Riddick.

I will go to see these movies, regardless of reviews, because I want these films to be successful. I want to remind Studios that there is an audience out there for this stuff, and that they were making more money when they made films for adults, because a film aimed at everyone satisfies no-one. I really don't want to walk into a cinema in 2023 and have to choose between X-Men 15, the latest Spiderman Reboot and Batman versus Superman versus Green Arrow versus Catwoman. Most of all, I really, really don't want to not be able to go to the cinema at all in 2023 because the audience has dwindled to the point that cinema itself is not viable.

Vote with your wallets people, it's the truest form of democracy we have.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

This American Podcast

Something which I really enjoy is the good old fashioned podcast. Much maligned, I think it’s an unappreciated art form and perhaps surprisingly therefore one of the most readily accessible. You can get hours upon hours a week of entertainment from these little undiscovered gems and the best part is that more often than not they’re free. To me it’s crazy that some people have never even listened to one. The motivating factor for me writing this article is one show in particular, This American Life. This is a podcast that a friend of mine introduced me to a couple of months ago and is something I’ve devouring voraciously ever since.

Presented by Ira Glass for WBEZ 91.5, a public radio station in Chicago, and with over 500 episodes, this is a show I find almost impossible to categorise. Every single episode is about a completely different topic (titles of the shows ranging from Small Scale Sin to Kindness of Strangers and Running After Antelope) and combines interviews, music, radio plays and much more. It is, perhaps, through the interviews though where I feel this show is at its strongest. What I really enjoy about these is the way the sound-bites are interspersed with insightful and a lot of the time witty musings from Glass.  This is a show that provides a truly authentic and unpretentious slice of Americana but goes beyond that, exploring themes that resonate with people throughout the world. I have found myself absorbed by topics as esoteric as growing up in the Jehovah Witness faith to computer hacking.

In a country that is so dependent on the power of advertising, a public radio station such as WBEZ thriving is a testament to the strength of its programming. This American Life is perhaps at the core of that programming and subsequently has become popular not just as a result of syndication across the United States, now with over 1.8 million listeners, but podcasts and the Internet has given this show a global audience with it being downloaded by 900,000 fans worldwide.

I strongly urge you to give it a try and immerse yourself in This American Life. Episodes are available weekly, and are downloadable from iTunes (other stores are available) but if like me you listen to one and have the compulsion to listen to them all you should consider buying the This American Life app from the iTunes store. This awesome piece of software will give you access to all of the 500-plus shows for the ridiculously good price of £1.99. Further details can be found via the website,, if you need any more convincing

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Hollywood’s Relationship Reality Check

Ok so with this column I’m going to attempt to not let it turn into another one of my rambles (but I’m promising nothing). Something has been on my mind recently and that’s the portrayal, in Hollywood, of relationships since the 90s. You only need to look at posters of movies starring Matthew McConaughey from this era. These would usually find him smiling and leaning dreamily against an object or a person (Yes I’m referring to Failure To Launch and How to Lose a Guy In Ten Days).
These films genuinely give you the impression that relationships are easy, lack depth and follow a formula. The plot goes as follows: Guy meets girl and they are effortlessly happy (to the point they are giddy) until one overly dramatic setback leads to them separating, only for some overblown gesture to reunite them and for everything to end happily ever after. This is just not the case in reality. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t subscribe to the whole self-indulgent Sex and the City approach of cast over-analysing the trivial and I’m not a pessimist when it comes to relationships but to say that any long term liaison is without struggle is just naïve!

OK, so I’m single at the moment (surprised?), but many of my friends have girlfriends or boyfriends (or both) and are very happy I might add and I feel I have been in enough relationships to know that this idealisation is poppycock. Yet, modern day screenwriters and directors have consistently propagated this myth. The truth is in order for a couple to be successful there are many factors which are pivotal and people’s attitudes can and will change over time.

The two movies I mentioned previously, Failure To Launch and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, in addition to having ridiculous movie posters are also riddled with clichés and with contrived plots. I should point out I am not bashing McConaughey, I think he’s starred in some great movies since (such as Mud and Killer Joe) and has proved with the right material he is a genuinely a talented actor but his work from this period was that of someone on autopilot. Failure To Launch sees McConaughey’s parents hire an expert (can you call Sarah Jessica Parker that?) to pretend to fall in love with him to motivate him to move out of their home but shockingly she falls in love with him for real and in the end they by a boat to live on and sail away together. How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days sees McConaughey paired with Kate Hudson. In this Oscar worthy script Hudson’s character is a journalist trying to write a column about getting a man to break up with her in, yes you guessed it, 10 days and ironically (oh the irony) McConaughey’s advertising executive makes a bet with his colleagues that he can make any woman fall in love with him. I know what you’re thinking an astonishing plot.

All that said there are some recent movies out there which I think genuinely do justice to the complexities of modern day partnerships. Three of my favourites are 500 Days Of Summer, One Day (based on the David Nicholls book of the same name) and High Fidelity. In the case of “500 Days of Summer”, the couple, (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt and Zooey Deschanel) fall in love but their relationship doesn’t work out in the end and that’s life because sometimes things just don’t! In the case of One Day we have two people who genuinely love each other but are victims of circumstance because despite being compatible relationships have a lot to do with timing (well plus the fact that Jim Sturgess’ character acts like a moron for a large portion of the film). High Fidelity I pick because if girls genuinely want to know how many guys think and feel in a relationship watch this movie. John Cusack’s character’s journey of self-discovery, reflecting on exes, really makes you think about the way your former partners can be romanticised and idealised.

If you watch some of the classic movies made prior to the 90s (Casablanca or Gone with the Wind?), the central relationships are full of depth and pathos but also don’t work out. Key to any convincing screen relationship is having three dimensional characters (Just look at Scarlett O’Hara and Rick Blaine) who go through genuine turmoil and whom you invest. The majority of modern romantic comedies fail to achieve this.

I guess what I’m getting at is relationships are tough. Sometimes they’re successful, rewarding and life enriching but they don’t always last forever. We all need escapism from time to time but Hollywood needs a relationship reality check.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Why is style an under appreciated art form?

Recently I was having a discussion with a very good friend of mine. I made the statement that style was not considered at art form which was ridiculous. She disagreed strongly with this, saying that it was not because it was not a skill or something that you could study, or even something that was very creative as it is often dictated to us by the high street or fashion houses.

I disagreed strongly. Style is a form of self expression, and is that not what art is? Something that expresses what you feel? That brings joy or evokes strong emotions from the creator and the audience. Something that takes time to develop which is constantly evolving, and growing into the next thing.

It defines cultural and political history as much as a painting or style of music. It contributes to movements in culture whether that be the hippy movement, punk, the rave scene.

It speaks out against the politics of the time and defies what people think are the "rules" as much as a controversial installation in a gallery.

Not only this but it is accessible to anyone, regardless of class, race, nationality or whatever. Good and bad style is something that you can view anytime, any place  which makes it an art form which therefore is available to anyone. We can use it to create a statement at any point we choose. Or we can just tired and want to wear pyjamas!

My friend text me the next day and said she had been thinking about what we had debated and now agreed with me, just because she didn't appreciate it in that way didn't mean that it was not a vital form of expression.

So what art will you make today? All you have to do is get dressed.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Rich's Televisual Ramblings - Archer

In my second column I am going to feature the show, Archer. It is an animated series that is similar to other animated shows such as American Dad or Family Guy and is extremely funny. Like these shows it is also episodic in that if you miss one episode you’re not going to sit there pulling your hair out as you contemplate working out what key plot points you might have missed. It is a show which I have been shamelessly plugging to friends for a long time. The show has currently just finished its fourth season airing in the US on FX and in the UK on 5*. It is a co-production between Floyd County Productions, Georgia Entertainment Industries and FX Productions.

Creator, Adam Reed, is a man whose previous efforts Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo are shows that I enjoyed immensely but felt were definitely unpolished gems. With Archer, however, he has created a program which hammers you relentlessly with jokes throughout its twenty-something minute runtime and is much more accessible to the casual viewer (compared to his previous shows). The premise is most noticeably a parody of James Bond, The Man from U.N.C.L.E and a plethora of other 1970/80s espionage shows. These are all comedy tropes to which anyone can relate but the comedy geek in me loves all the off-the-cuff references to obscure pop culture. These take inspiration in everything from Kenny Loggins (the writer of the song “Danger Zone” from the movie Top Gun), who is referenced numerous times to Gator (the 1976 sequel to Burt Reynolds movie White Lightning).

Archer tells the story of International Secret Intelligence Service (ISIS) and the eponymous character is Sterling Archer (who from here on out I’ll refer to as Archer). He is a super spy, who is proficient at all of the skills synonymous with that profession, including weaponry, driving and hand to hand combat but is conversely cursed with a laundry list of character flaws, including, but not limited to, being an alcoholic, a narcissist and a chauvinist. To be fair it’s amazing that Archer is as well-adjusted as he is. To begin with ISIS just happens to be run by his mother, Malory Archer, an overbearing and emotionally cold woman who spends’ her entire time using the company’s resources in the pursuit of one self-satisfying goal or another. To compound matters Malory spent much of Archer’s childhood off on spying missions alternating between leaving him with her butler Woodhouse and some boarding school. Secondly, his partner, Lana Kane, is his ex-girlfriend and despite being the most competent agent ISIS has she is riddled with insecurity due to the fact that Archer’s mother is the boss. This sees her constantly confronted by nepotism and Archer’s own oedipal complex. In addition, there are a litany of supporting characters that are equally idiosyncratic.

There is an astonishing pool of talent providing the voices to the shows characters. H. Jon. Benjamin who plays Sterling Archer is known for voice acting on a number of other cartoons and animation but is perhaps best known for playing Bob Belcher on Bobs Burgers and guest starring on Family Guy manages to make a character who looks like the quintessential chiselled looking spy and through voice alone manages to make him into an obnoxious character. The primary cast is rounded up by Aisha Tyler (Friends) who plays Lana Kane, Jessica Walter plays Malorie Archer, a role reminiscent of her role Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development , Judy Greer (Arrested Development) as secretary Cheryl Tunt, Chris Parnell (30 Rock) plays comptroller, Cyril Figgis. The rest of the cast is rounded off by show creator Adam Reed who plays gay intelligence analyst Ray Gillette, Amber Nash who plays human resources director Pam Poovey who and Lucky Yates who plays Mr. Doctor Algernop Krieger.

Archer is a show that will have you literally crying with laughter and even weeks or months later you will find yourself quoting lines from this show. So in this humble man’s opinion take Kenny Loggins’ advice, “ride into the Danger Zone” and watch Archer.

Below I have linked to a video to some of the shows highlights from the first season: