The lack of black authors included on English curriculum reading lists, how it is depriving us of a tool to educate children on black history and how it highlights the clear remnants of systematic racism.

By Mollie Campbell

As an avid reader and writer, I have always devoured literature of all kinds, of many genres, written by a wide racial spectrum of authors. But recently I realised that the only reason I am aware of half the black authors I read, is due to personal research and education in my own time, I never got taught this stuff in school, leading me to question our school’s on a much deeper level.

I have looked back on my time at school and compiled a list of all the works I remember studying, here is the list I came up with:

Romeo & Juliet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream – William Shakespeare

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde

An Inspector Calls – J. B. Priestly

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

The poets I remember studying were:

W.H. Auden

William Blake

R.S. Thomas

Carol Ann Duffy

The one exception I could find was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and bearing in mind that I went on to study further by doing A-level English Literature as well, it is absurd that I never got taught any works by black authors, or even got prompted to immerse myself in a wide range of culturally significant authors, the majority of what I was taught was written by white men. Now don’t get me wrong, the works of Shakespeare are tremendously important, a lot of these books are obviously ground-breaking either emotionally, socially, historically, or politically, so why then, are we failing to include works that were also of huge assistance to political revolution and social change written by black authors?

There are many examples of how literature helped with the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s, one of the biggest being the works of James Baldwin. Baldwin’s ‘The Fire Next Time’ released in 1963, was not only a leading literary work that contributed to the dismantling of an outdated public favouring of racial inequality and segregation, but also helped politically. His works were introduced to then attorney general Robert F. Kennedy and when he met with James Baldwin in person he was incredibly moved by his words and what he stood for. President Kennedy was already very conscious of civil rights and segregation and cared deeply about dismantling it, but there is no doubt that his brother’s meeting with Baldwin only added more fuel to the ever growing moral fire that finally needed to be addressed socially and politically. This is an example of the power of some of these texts by black authors. And something that can have that much of an impact in terms of a whole political operation and social movement, is surely worth teaching in our schools?  

Using works like these in our schools will help to dispel any inkling of racial bias and prejudice from a young age, especially in predominantly white or privileged areas. Using these texts not only educates and informs children, it also opens their world up to a whole new diverse realm of influence and voice in a true light, as opposed to mind-bending, sensationalised headlines in the news. These books are a direct insight of true black experiences, as opposed to a white person falsely recounting a black person’s experience, as if the story has to go through the medium of a white person first to be valid (which in itself is a much deeper issue that also seriously needs addressing).

Some of my favourite writers are black, yet I discovered them because I did extra reading and research, the curriculum is missing some ground-breaking historical works by black authors e.g. Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker and in more recent years, Malorie Blackman. And incorporating works that were actually used alongside music and public protests to create social change in the 60’s is never not going to be important, inspiring and informative, so why don’t we include more of them? This leads to bigger questions, what are the specific reasons for excluding these great black authors? It all stems back to a deep-rooted sense of racism that we still have in this country.

Amidst these black lives matter protests, I have seen many people on social media claim that racism is over and that the UK in particular is not a racist country anymore. How can you possibly say such a thing when 1. You are white and have never had to walk in the shoes of a black person, thus never living through the experiences they have to endure and 2. The evidence is everywhere, in particular, the school curriculum. If our educational board cannot find the courage to add more diverse works from all ethnic groups into our schools, how can they expect us to grow as a diverse and caring generation and country. If there are still white men at the top deciding to only include literature created by other white men centuries ago, how is that racially diverse?  How is that not systematic racism?

I’m sure people will say ‘give them a chance’. But have they not had the chance? When will they finally change it? The fact that in 2014 they decided to remove ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ from the school curriculum is absolutely absurd. So now, not only is there a significant lack of works by black authors, there aren’t ANY books in the curriculum that educate and inform us on black history at all. If that isn’t alarming you to the fact that there clearly is still a racial inequality issue within this country, then you are well and truly asleep. I’m sure some people will try to claim that maybe the books I am talking about are outdated, in which case, are these works by old white men with horrific attitudes towards race not outdated?

In conclusion, I am recounting my educational experience in the South of England; some of you may well have studied more works by black authors, which is great. But having had a look at curriculum reading lists, Southern England isn’t the anomaly, the whole English curriculum needs re-examining. If we want to truly live in a country, in a world where everybody is equal, how can you overlook one of the most fundamental aspects of education…literature. It’s hard to believe that in 2020, this issue still needs addressing, but clearly it does.

Joker – movie review.

By Mollie Campbell

 

Director: Todd Phillips

Genre: Psychological Thriller

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy

Rating: 9/10

 

Disturbing, moving, sad, violent, profound – all of these words could be used to describe Joker, the Taxi Driver of its generation.

Comic book fan or not, chances are you’ve either seen this film or heard a lot about it…it would be rather difficult to miss the hype and the multiple best picture/actor/director wins. If you are one of the latter, watch this film as soon as you can, whilst it is disturbing, the message is more relevant than any other film portrayal in recent years…a direct reflection of the manifestation of human traits deep within us, provoked and awoken by how people are treated.  The film is based solely on the life of Arthur Fleck, despite some very memorable portrayals of the joker in the past, from Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger respectively; this is the first time a movie has made an entire 2 hour space for the one character himself, as opposed to him being a villain in Batman’s story. And the way Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Philips use this space to portray the deep, disturbing personality of one of history’s greatest villains, is true astonishing.

Instead of him just being ‘the joker’, we see the man behind the white paint and red lips, we are given an insight into the timeline of his mind-set and development into this psychotic villain we know so well, the dark yet eerily familiar road he travels on to become the joker, is the scariest part of all. That road isn’t too far from where we are as a society right now, the political system in most countries; the USA in particular, has never been in such turmoil. The battle between the left and right has seemingly overshadowed the utterly consequential battle of right and wrong, demagnetising a lot of people’s moral compasses. This battle between left and right has completely dominated any space we ever had for what truly matters, the party of the people, the idea of putting human kindness and decency before money, politics, power and greed. We, the people who need help, not a political system designed to help a small amount of people at the top, as opposed to the true crux of society. A political system that forces people to act out of character, creating a breeding ground for anarchy and political revolution, whilst Arthur Fleck and the city of Gotham is fictional, this film is accurately reflecting the society we are currently creating. And if we’re not careful, we too will be surrounded by this cloud of darkness that defines Gotham, and the wickedness that lives within its alleyways.

This film is a warning to society on how we treat people, we need to de-stigmatise the shame surrounding mental health, and how the government handles people who fall under this bracket. Mental health has become one of the leading issues we face in our society, and there simply aren’t enough resources and help for people suffering with mental health disorders. The government needs to step up, yes. But we also need to think about what we can do as a society to prevent people with mental health disorders from feeling so isolated, we need to realise how much our words affect and hurt people. In a time of technological rifeness, we have the ability to spread love and positivity, instead we spread hate and anger, which only adds fuel to the fire for some people suffering with mental health problems. This is Arthur Fleck, of course he has some deeply rooted issues, he is a psychopath, but this film makes you ask the question: would his monster have been unleashed if society hadn’t treated him so cruelly? Would he set out on a voyage of revenge if he had more access to proper resources? Or simply, if people would have been kind to him, would he have reacted to society in the way that he does?

In my opinion, Joker is a spiritual sequel to Taxi Driver, in an incredibly similar yet different set of circumstances. In Taxi Driver we see Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, a very troubled young man with clear signs of mental health disorders. Whilst using unconventional and dark methods, he is ultimately a hero, a twisted one, but a hero nonetheless, or vigilante at least. Travis’ unstable mind could easily have developed into a full-on deranged psychopath like Arthur, he is on the cusp. What is scary about Joker is that Arthur is the Travis Bickle of our generation, yet this society seems even worse than Travis’, resulting in a much darker ending, very reflective on modern life. The scene in which Arthur is in his full on Joker gear, standing on a cop car surrounded by chanting looters and criminals is spine-tingling, a thrilling climax to the tale we are all afraid of. But if we ignore it for too long, we will find ourselves in this terrible, dystopian world, full of people we neglected, people with nothing to lose, and by that time, it will be too late to stop it.

Joker is one of the greatest movies I have ever seen, Joaquin’s performance is outstanding, and Robert De Niro’s role is incredible, we would expect no less. The film almost seems like De Niro handing over the baton to Phoenix, one leading method actor of his generation to the next. Travis Bickle transforming into Arthur Fleck, only in this tale, there is a lot more at stake. Todd Phillips managed to deliver a poignant, moving, disturbing and impactful film, in which the character’s presence is bigger than the film itself; there is no doubt that this movie will one day be considered one of the greats, in my mind it already is.

Netflix’s ‘Outer Banks’ – Season 1 review.

By Mollie Campbell

Show: Outer banks

Genre: Teen, Drama, Mystery

Cast: Chase Stokes, Madison Bailey, Jonathan Daviss, Rudy Pankow, Madelyn Cline

Rating: 5/10

 

Outer Banks is a coming-of-age, murder mystery show. The lovechild of Beverly Hills: 90210 and Dawson’s Creek. Or The Goonies meets a much less interesting version of Bloodline.

Set in the Outer Banks islands in North Carolina, the show begins with the introduction of the four main characters who are classed as the ‘poor’ people of the island or the ‘Pogues’, they are ‘John B’ the group’s ringleader whose father went missing at sea months before, ‘Kiara’ who used to be a kook (one of the rich kids), ‘JJ’, a seemingly laid-back guy who actually turns out to be a much more deeply layered character than expected, and ‘Pope’ a local smart kid. The upper class are known as the ‘Kooks’, consisting of ‘Sarah’, Kiara’s ex-friend, John B’s future love interest and the daughter of Ward, a wealthy businessman whose actions and secrets lead to a rabbit hole of mysteries.

The start seems quite solid, four kids fishing, surfing, drinking beers and laughing until the sun goes down, a classic CW style show. But as the episode progresses, things get quite strange, so much so that I actually still don’t really know what to make of the whole show. This is the start of many little interjections of storylines and subplots, there is an ongoing aim for the show, but it is so fragmented it is almost painful to watch. John B, upon searching for his father, somehow manages to find the location of a shipwreck from years before, a shipwreck that was searched for by many fisherman and townsfolk over the years but is somehow discovered in 2020 by a group of teenagers, this is the first of many unrealistic events, so get used to it! In doing this, they discover the coordinates to hidden treasure; gold that has been presumed to be lost for years. This really is the start of a very silly Scooby-doo style goose chase, as the pogues begin a journey into a completely unrealistic world.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t somewhat enjoy it, as I was very interested to see how it ended. But in order to enjoy it, I really had to switch off the common sense portion of my mind. By stopping myself from picking it apart; it made for some mindless entertainment. The acting isn’t appalling and the story has good intentions, but it is so far-fetched it could never be taken seriously. The only storyline worth watching is one that dares to dig deeper, the portrayal of JJ and how he deals with the physical and emotional stress of his father’s abuse towards him. It is acted very well and is incredibly impactful to watch, intertwined with the character’s personality traits and the reasons why he reacts to situations in the way that he does.

Lastly, despite some interesting sub-plots and the beautiful summer scenery, the writers couldn’t quite keep a grip on its originally intriguing plot long enough for it to be the great show it could have been. The scenes become less engaging as the show progresses and the interactions between the characters become so unrealistic that it grows stale just when it needs to be heating up, making it difficult for the show to really take flight. As a lover of all art forms, I really do hate to totally trash a creative effort, I’m sure not everyone feels the same way I do about this show, that is the beauty of art. But personally, I would give it a miss.

Netflix’s ‘Never Have I Ever’ – Season 1 review.

By Mollie Campbell

 

 

Genre: Drama, Comedy, Coming-of-age

Created by: Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher

Cast: Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, Darren Barnet, Ramona Young, Lee Rodriguez

Rating: 9/10

**Contains Spoilers

 

Never Have I Ever is a fresh new drama disguised as a comedy, it is funny, relatable and plunges far deeper into the pool of serious topics than I ever would have expected.

The show begins with Devi Vishwakumar, an Indian-American sophomore student whose father recently died, resulting in temporary paralysis which put her in a wheelchair. The first episode marks her return to school for the first time without her wheelchair and her mission to change her life in order to make her and her friends, Eleanor and Fabiola, rise to the top of the school’s social hierarchy. The show doesn’t hold back on its content, as straight away we see Devi trying to secure boyfriends for the trio, in order for her to take the next step sexually. By openly discussing these topics in the show from the word go, it instantly sets a realistic yet sensible tone to the whole series.

It instantly expresses real thoughts and feelings that teens are facing in the 21st century, and portray the situations and scenarios that they go through. And instead of this resulting in a negative impact for young people watching in terms of teen pressure, it actually creates a safe space for kids to think about the things that these characters are going through, allowing them to relate to these situations and encouraging them to openly discuss these things with their friends and parents. As the show progresses, Devi gets into a rabbit hole of a situation by asking Paxton (a.k.a the hottest guy in school), to have sex with her. This doesn’t end up happening but she lets her friends and her peers think it is true in order to become ‘popular’. This is also shining a spotlight on the consequences of teen pressure and how things can become twisted, and whilst it doesn’t praise Devi for her poor choices, in fact, the whole storyline is sort of a guide on what not to do in High School; it also continues to make you see things from her perspective.

Moreover, as this storyline is happening, Devi is seeing a therapist who is trying to help her delve deeper into her feelings about her father’s death. This is also handled well because it shows that just because someone may not want to open up about their grief with a therapist; it still impacts their life on a daily basis. Despite all of the other things that are going on in Devi’s life, a lot of these scenarios lead back to a memory of her father. The show covers a lot of ground, just in little 22-30 minute episodes. It tackles some pretty hefty and serious issues, all whilst maintaining its image as a comedy, the writing continues to be witty and hilarious, often just moments after very insightful and impactful scenes. The writers manage to weave many different topics in out of the shows core so effortlessly, it all flows impeccably. There is one scene in which Devi goes out to the garden’s vegetable patch, she is feeling ok when all of a sudden she gets this intense memory of her father growing tomatoes in the exact same place where she is standing, she drops the tools and runs back into the house. To me, this perfectly sums up the strange waters of grief; the tide can change in mere moments. Often, it’s not always the big stuff that triggers you, but simple little memories that have the power to make you randomly cry your eyes out.

Another scene is when Devi is sitting on a school bus and sees an ambulance shoot past her; this instantly takes her back to the night of her father’s heart attack, showing just how many painful reminders there are after you have lost someone. As Devi gets dragged deeper into her white lie, her friends are left behind to face their own issues that she is completely oblivious to. Through all this, we learn more about Eleanor and Fabiola. Eleanor, an aspiring actress, has recently learned that her mother (who left her to pursue a career in acting as a child), has been living 20 minutes away from her for the past two months. We watch her storyline as she finds her mother, lets her back into her life, and is disappointed once more when she leaves her again. Meanwhile, Fabiola has realised that she is gay, she comes out to Eleanor and attempts to do the same with Devi, but she assures them that the ‘shit’ she is going through is bigger than theirs. This causes a complete shift in the dynamic of the friendship group, as Devi’s pain and grief is causing her to treat her friends horribly. Grief makes you kind of selfish, so wrapped up in your own pain that you forget about the ones around you, and some people cannot tolerate it forever.

This represents the messy factors of grief and also portrays a difficult family situation with Eleanor and a well-handled coming out storyline for Fabiola. And somehow, even within this entire messy situation, the show still manages to portray issues from other minor characters like Devi’s cousin, who is set for an arranged marriage, and her mother who is struggling without her husband and is finding her identity lost in a place she wasn’t born in. The writers really give insight into Indian culture, and how it integrates into American society (and the many ways in which it doesn’t), whilst still maintaining respect for both cultures. Eventually, Devi realises the mistakes she has made and patches things up with her friends, and finally, the true extent to her grief unfolds.

In the closing scenes of season 1, Devi, her mother and cousin, scatter her father’s ashes into the ocean in Malibu, this really got to me in an unexpected way. The only issue I have is the implication that the grief goes away due to scattering the ashes. Maybe that happens for some people, but when I scattered my father’s ashes, it was therapeutic, but it definitely did not banish my grief forever. If anything, it got worse as the façade of the initial, intense grief went away, the cloud of shock dissipates, leaving the earth shattering realisation that he was gone forever, and the lifelong grief that came with it. I am very interested to see how they handle season 2, if it is renewed. I sincerely hope Netflix decides to continue this show, I am struggling to find any faults, and the only negatives I took away were completely minor things not even worth mentioning. I am incredibly impressed with this show and thoroughly enjoyed its characters, storylines, relatability and diverse representation, highly recommended!

 

 

The Sun Is Also a Star – movie review.

By Mollie Campbell.

 

Movie: The Sun Is Also a Star

Genre: Teen Drama, Romantic-Comedy

Director: Ry Russo-Young

Cast: Yara Shahidi, Charles Melton, John Leguizamo

Rating: 6/10

 

The Sun Is Also a Star, (adapted from the book written by Nicola Yoon), is the latest teen rom-com to land on Netflix. Initially, it screams cliché, it seems so familiar, a story that has been portrayed so many times, wrapped in the same paper but with a slightly different coloured bow. And it is just that, but it still somehow manages to blaze a trail, as small as the path may be.

This story, set in the beautiful summer backdrop of New York City, introduces us to Natasha Kingsley, a Jamaican immigrant who just so happens to be leaving the following day, due to her entire family’s deportation. We watch as she frantically tries to set up meetings with the immigration office to prevent her from leaving the city she has grown up in, the film instantly does a good job in portraying the complexities of immigration. Yes, her parents are presumed to have come to work in the United States illegally, but the tone that is laid out to us is that of an empathetic one. She never chose to be catapulted into a new country, but she was and this is now her home, complete with an American accent. Meanwhile, Daniel Bae, a Korean-American high schooler who is preparing for his college interview at Dartmouth, with hopes of becoming a doctor, is seen nonchalantly travelling through the city as if it was just a normal day.

Disclaimer: this movie will melt the hearts of true romantics and call a dramatic eye-roll to action for cynics of love, dreamer’s vs realists. And if you’re like me, somewhere in the middle ground, this movie is probably perfect for you. Sometimes it is ridiculously pie in the sky and at other times, it is tender, insightful and honest. You have to accept the film for what it is straight away if you have any hopes of enjoying it. The true essence of this movie is the idea of fate, and how things come into play in our lives without us realising the true extent of its origin or meaning. And this one day in the city that never sleeps proves to be an example of this ‘fate’ that the main characters keep harping on about. On this particular morning, Daniel see’s Natasha and is instantly convinced that he is meant to find her and fall in love with her (the scene in which this unfolds isn’t nearly as corny as I just described it).

The problems I have is the classic structure of the movie, the girl who is critical of love and anything to do with the subject being whisked away on a fairy-tale adventure by some hopelessly romantic man trying with all his might to make her fall in love with him. And the speed with which this happens is so farfetched it is comical, but despite these unrealistic aspects, the onscreen chemistry is heart-warming. What makes it different from the rest is that the romance isn’t the only focal point, it also provides insight into a wide range of issues and whilst it may not tackle them, it brings them to light whilst seamlessly weaving it in and out of the plot’s core. There is a scene in which the camera pans out across the summer sunset skyline, the Statue of Liberty standing tall within the centre of the shot, this beacon of hope for millions…the city of relentless hope. This scene is inspiring, relevant and pieces the puzzle of the film together.

Lastly, the film does actually get better as you go on, the plot becomes more realistic, as the characters realise how unfortunate their timing is, harshly showing us that sometimes life works out in ways that we cannot control, love is something that asks us to navigate through choppy and unpredictable waters, even if it is fate. As the minutes are clocked up, you can really see the vison of the film and what the final aim was.

At the beginning, I was rolling my eyes, but by the end I was thoroughly enjoying it, it is inspiring in ways I didn’t expect. This film may be a tad unconventional, but it is a harmless 1 hour and 40 minute journey into a heart-warming world in which one moment of openness and truth, changed everything, igniting an unwavering sense of hope in these two young hearts forever. And in times as uncertain as these, maybe we need to cling onto that hope with all that we have left.

 

Bob Dylan’s new chilling and retrospective song ‘Murder Most Foul’ and how it confirms the eternal genius of a masterful poet in a modern world.

By Mollie Campbell.

When I woke up this morning, I didn’t think I would be in for a treat this big…a brand new Bob Dylan song. And after one listen through, it is, in my opinion, one of his greatest works since he burst onto the folk scene in the 60’s.

As a lifelong fan of both Bob Dylan and John F. Kennedy, I was never going to dislike this song. The moment those keys start, a Moonlight Sonata-style within itself, you can already feel the depth of the song in your gut. The stripped back beauty of the keys, that iconic singing, the sheer conviction in his voice is a tale within itself, and the haunting beauty of that solitary violin, a continuum of sound, abruptly drawing emotions from deep within your soul.

The fact that he released this song during a time of such chaos, uncertainty, conflict and the most human solitude we have encountered as inhabitants on this earth possibly since World War II, is certainly telling. This song was written a few years back, but choosing this time to release it, it is clear that the situation we are currently in, has taken Dylan back to the same set of emotions or perspective he felt during those solemn days in November of ’63. It reflects upon those raw emotions that are still very current in terms of the Kennedy assassination, the nation’s grief and a loss of America’s innocence that has never truly been healed. Not only does it show how prominent and shocking the Kennedy assassination was, it also acts as a short movie, a glimpse into the whole of Dylan’s life, and every trend in popular society since the 1950’s. It is almost a love letter to Bob Dylan, by the man himself…a nod to all of the previous issues he has ever written about, social change, political movements, human injustice, crime, pain, suffering, love etc. Dylan himself has never gone into too much detail about JFK, in his memoir ‘The Bob Dylan Chronicles’ (One of my favourite books), he mentions that President Kennedy visited his hometown in Minnesota when Dylan was in his late teens, he said he wished he’d have been there to see him, but he has never gone into too much detail in terms of emotion.

In this song, he delves right in. He doesn’t sing in an overly affectionate way, and he doesn’t sappily portray Kennedy as some huge hero, instead he talks of the injustice of his killing, how it was essentially prophetic from the first day he was elected into the White house and the sheer horror of the whole situation, ‘a murder most foul’. He also starts namedropping tons of pop culture references, song lyrics, famous names, places, everything that was an after-effect of the JFK assassination ripple. In my opinion, he is speaking directly to Kennedy, telling him not to worry, his life’s work was carried out vicariously through millions of people, carrying his legacy forward, retaining this peaceful mantra filled with equality and human strength. He mentions The Beatles, Woodstock, the Altamont Free Concert, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Gone with the Wind, Wake up Little Susie, Dizzy Miss Lizzy, Patsy Cline, Etta James, Don Henley & Glenn Frey, Karl Wirsum, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Lindsey Buckingham & Stevie Nicks, even Shakespeare. He also mentions a lot of places within the Dallas area and the state of Texas, alluding to the idea that the Kennedy assassination was always meant to happen, as if it were somehow set in stone, just down from the crossroads and the Trinity river, as if it was a prophetic blues tale from Robert Johnson, or a folk-lore song from Woody Guthrie.

The fact that Dylan is still producing such masterful, poetic and truly spine-tingling songs like these is astonishing, he manages to write with the same infectious pulsing rhythm, chillingly relevant lyrics and haunting truthful vocals, as if we were right back in ’63 listening to him sing ‘The Times they are a changing’, recorded merely a month before Kennedy’s assassination. And for his first original release in 8 years, it is pretty overwhelming. It delivers that same sense of shocking honesty we’d expect from ‘The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan’. It ends with ‘Play the “Blood-stained Banner”, play “Murder Most Foul”. This is most likely a reference to either the ‘Third Flag (e.g. the Blood-stained Banner)’ which was an unpopular new flag designed to represent less of the ‘Yankee Blue’ and more of the confederate states (introduced in 1865). Or it could be the African-American hymn ‘We are soldiers in the Army’ also dating back to the American Civil War, with the lyrics:

‘We are soldiers in the army, we have to fight although we have to cry, we’ve got to hold up the bloodstained banner, we’ve got to hold it up until we die!’

This would be alluding to African-American slavery, and the fight for justice and equality leading all the way up to Kennedy’s run for president, and his famous backing of African-American communities… he fought mercilessly for Civil Rights, essentially holding up the bloodstained banner as a symbol of what came before and what mustn’t happen again, the ‘sacrificial lamb’ mentioned early in the song. Slain due to his beliefs, yet Dylan is assuring him and his ‘lost soul’ that his work was carried on, things did get better (somewhat at least), leaving the listener with a tiny shred of hope. The hope we all need to hold onto during these strange times we find ourselves in at the start of our generation’s 1920’s, the potential lead-up to our own great depression, and the pained yet magical blues songs that came out of it. Deep within those songs, resides hope.

After we make it to the other side of this pandemic, let us never take the beauty of life for granted again.

By Mollie Campbell

Throughout this surreal period of self-isolation and social distancing, I have been re-reading some of my favourite poetry books/authors. Despite this pandemic, I don’t want to take this time for granted, so instead of going on social media/using technology every 10 minutes, I am going back to basics.

We may not be able to control what is going on outside of our walls but we can control how we react to it and what we do during this time. Take this time to remould your view on how you want to live your life, teach yourself how to enjoy the sheer beauty of living. Start ticking off goals from that list you made on New Year’s Day, the one currently gathering dust within a pile of notes by the door. Control how you react to the situation and learn from it. This is a time to grow, instead of taking a step backwards…as with many things, it’s all about perspective.

Whilst I have the ability to communicate with the entire world at my fingertips, I am actually using this time to limit my internet use. Instead, I think this is the perfect time to really work on ourselves, spend some time in the silence with our own minds. Set some goals, do what you love, read some books, make something, create some art, express yourself. Most importantly, know that you are not alone. As I said, I have been re-reading a lot of my favourite poets and authors over the last week and feel the need to share this one:

” We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” – T.S. Eliot.

This prompted me to write my own little piece:

“When all of this is over, let us rejoice in celebration for this beautiful planet we call home…the planet we have neglected for far too long. Let us be kinder to one another, let us feel in our guts the true beauty of living, in every deep breath we take. Let us preserve the beautiful blue crystals we call oceans and the bright green forests we used to call home. Let us never take life for granted again” – Mollie Campbell.

Thanks for reading:)

 

‘Hunters’on Amazon Prime Video – Season 1 review

By Mollie Campbell

Genre: Crime-Drama

Cast: Al Pacino, Logan Lerman, Lena Onlin, Carol Kane, Dylan Baker

Rating: 9/10

 

****MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD******

 

Hunters…what can I say? This show is full of twists and turns, highs and lows, violence and depression, with just a hint of downright silliness. It is meaningful, complicated, emotional, explosive, mysterious and thrilling. Despite some criticism, I think this is one of the most exciting, intricate and impactful shows ever released, especially in recent years.

 

***FINAL SPOILER WARNING

 

The story begins in June 1977, this wacky and psychotic series opener aims to shock, and it sure does succeed. A couple head to the barbecue of their neighbour, the wife, who is Jewish, recognises the host ‘Biff’ (Dylan Baker) as a Nazi, the Nazi who killed her family, posing as an All-American father in a big house in Maryland. Within moments, he kills everybody there, including his own American wife and family. He grins and begins speaking in a harsh German accent, recites a little speech about Nazi’s, their power and his disgust for Jewish people and then gleefully kills her. A man ‘Travis’ (Greg Austin), who we know later on as a complete ego-centric psychopath, visits Biff at his home to clean up the bodies and shoot him in the arm, so as not to blow his cover. The opener sets the tone for the whole show, honest and important, but very strange and trippy, almost silly at times.

Meanwhile, in Brooklyn, we are introduced to Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman), a clever 19 year old kid who resides with his beloved grandmother Ruth (Jeannie Berlin), who raised him when his parents died. That very night, Jonah hears some noise downstairs in the living room and discovers a stranger, who then shoots his grandmother. He races to her aid but she dies soon after he gets there. Her death, as well as being an emotional, grief-ridden journey for Jonah, turns into a literal journey too…a deep, dark, mind-boggling journey that he starts to wish he had never gotten himself into. It starts with the introduction of Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), who comforts Jonah at his grandmother’s funeral. He claims to have been in the camps with her, but even this early on, we question his honesty, adding to a strange hunch we start to feel about him right until the end of the tenth episode. But in the meantime, he acts as a role model for Jonah, guiding him on his way and eventually introducing him to a jaw-dropping new way a life. The revelation that there are still Nazi’s living in 1970’s America, and that he is the leader of a group of Nazi hunters who track down and brutally torture and kill Nazi’s.

As a massive Al Pacino fan, I’m a little biased but I can honestly say that in my opinion, this show is one of the greatest pieces of work he has done in recent years. The show itself, whilst silly and somewhat bitty at times (in terms of the flashbacks), is phenomenal and so multi-faceted it is actually kind of overwhelming. The time spent in pre-production, the pinpoint precision used during creation from writing to production is simply astonishing. From the research used when creating the story, to the time the actors spent perfecting their language and pronunciation of German, every base was covered.

Logan Lerman shines, here he has really been given the opportunity to further cement his career, proving just how solid he is at his craft. The fight against injustice and what happens to us as humans when presented with an opportunity for revenge is given a spotlight here, and we see Jonah struggling to adapt to this new brutal mission, he doesn’t take to torturing ex-Nazi’s because 1. The ways in which he is told to kill them is incredibly disturbing and 2. It makes them just as bad as the Nazi’s in question (despite the totally justifiable need for them to be held accountable for their actions). How could you simply overlook the amount of pain these people caused? And the barbaric acts they committed in the feeble vain of their psychotic leader. The confliction is conveyed with such emotion, it’s quite distressing and very heavy to watch. This certainly isn’t a show to binge watch in my opinion, it is doable but the content of the show deserves to be taken in with care and honest perception, as opposed to rushing through it as if it meant nothing.

Although, there are definitely lighter moments, it still manages to convey that laidback beach-bum vibe of the 70’s, particularly the amusing scene in which Jonah and his friends smoke a huge joint at Coney Island. This is followed by a rather trippy scene that involves the trio of friends dancing to the music of the Bee Gees, however strange it may be to watch (I cannot erase it from my memory), it does serve a purpose. As the scene unfolds, he starts to picture his grandmother standing in front of him; he suddenly cannot escape from this nightmare. This results in a haunting image of her wearing those immortal stripes, following him wherever he goes. It is at this point he realises that he cannot get himself out of what he has started, the need for justice for his grandmother overtakes his fear and trepidation.

As the series unfolds, the violence is turned up a notch (and the silliness at times) and things start to unravel in a fast yet slow nature. Some scenes have a major build up, others are unexpected and shocking. A particularly sad scene is when Jonah finds his best friend has been murdered, during a shift at the comic book store that he was supposed to be working himself. He sees his grandmother stood in front of him again, the light of the scene changes subtly, getting darker…showing us that this is the final straw…Jonah is truly a part of the fight. As the episodes go on we get an idea of just how many Nazi’s there are, we are shocked to find out just how embedded they are into society. Whilst this is happening we are given a bit more history about Ruth, how Meyer was tortured by the barbaric Nazi ‘The Wolf’ and Meyer is revealed to be Jonah’s grandfather. This naturally solidifies their bond and creates a nice dynamic that is interesting for the audience to see, Meyer is proud of Jonah, yet he criticises his ‘weakness’ when he fails to kill Travis when given the chance. At this point, it is very difficult to figure Meyer out; we are still asking ourselves if he is good or bad. Fast-forward, and after endless ups and downs, in a spine-tingling twist …Meyer is revealed to be the wolf, much to ours and Jonah’s utter shock.

Moreover, it turns out Al Pacino’s character murdered the real Meyer, changed his appearance (with a little help from a plastic surgeon) and started again in New York. He explains that his story isn’t justifying what he has done, but helping to redeem a sense of goodness. He explains that by living as a Jew, he has realised just how barbarically he had acted back in Germany and that hunting for hidden Nazi’s was his way of finding the light. The cinematography when this scene unfolds is astonishing, just the simple altered lighting in the background, drastically transforms the whole scene and the entire show within seconds. The following scenes are almost Shakespearian, Jonah finally lets go of that very ‘weakness’ that Meyer previously pointed out to him, and stabs the wolf right in the chest. All of our suspicions about Meyer have been confirmed, but definitely not in the way we initially predicted. The acting is incredible, nothing less would be expected from the great Al Pacino himself, it is always thrilling to see him play a villain. As Jonah informs the rest of his Nazi-hunting group the news about ‘Meyer’ or ‘The Wolf’, they agree to stay together and keep on hunting.

The final scene takes us to South America… have you guessed it already? I am usually very astute and intuitive when it comes to predicting content/twists etc.… very early on in a series or film, I did see a lot of foreshadowing in this show, some hints were acted upon, some were red herrings but there was one scene at the end that I didn’t predict until seconds before it happened. And it was the moment we see four blond-haired, blue-eyed boys running from a corn field towards a beautiful big house in Argentina, and upon seeing an old man’s shoes that I finally realised what the ending would be.

Adolf Hitler, alive and kicking in South America, as predicted, sat next to ‘The Colonel’ a.k.a …Eva. Now if you haven’t watched the show yet (in which case you just spoiled the whole thing by reading this), I can see how this would sound silly, but it’s not, it’s deadly serious. I was blown away, my mind imploded at the end there more than any show I have ever seen. The fact that they don’t show Hitler’s face, simply his chin and grey moustache, is what prevents it from being viewed as a farce or a comedy.  Everything comes down to Hitler, the corn syrup, the fourth Reich…it all falls into place. There were obvious hints of course, and the mysticism that surrounds Hitler’s death is still taken very seriously to this day, with numerous conspiracy theories, but the fact that they actually went there is quite thrilling, the kind of shock you expect from a Grade A show.

Overall, this show blew my mind; it is one of the best drama’s I think I have ever seen. I understand the criticism it has created, especially around the concern for it ‘welcoming future deniers’ but this show is trying to highlight just how awful and barbaric the events at Auschwitz were, and reminds us that it should never be forgotten, which is the most important thing.

Johnny Cash ‘At Folsom Prison’ album review – how the record has stood the test of time, and why its legacy will never be diminished.

By Mollie Campbell

 

Whilst the back-catalogue of Johnny Cash is full of endless iconic songs and albums, the first thing that comes to my mind when thinking of the Man in Black is the album ‘At Folsom Prison’. Its zestful energy, the courage behind the creation, its indescribable infectious spirit…all results in a 45 minute recording that the musical world will surely never be able to shed. The rambunctious essence of this album will forever live in the minds of people whose worlds were changing, recorded near the end of a revolutionary decade, ‘At Folsom Prison’ was never going to be forgotten.

From the moment you hear that famous deep twang of an introduction ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash’ followed by thunderous cheers and an old-school riff, you know you are going to be in good hands for the remainder of the record. He begins with ‘Folsom Prison blues’, a timeless example of his growing outlaw image, set in stone with this album. The ease at which Cash writes his introductory song, with such simple yet gritty perspective is just one of the many reasons why he is spoken of with such high praise. What fellow young listeners have to remember is that this song and album was released in a time in which this classic country/outlaw/blues style of song-writing was being disregarded, instead listeners were making room for more extended songs and sounds, The Beatles Sgt Pepper had just been released the year before, the experimental sounds of Pink Floyd were starting to makes waves, and The Jimi Hendrix experience was injecting some energy into a genre that was perceived as old news, having a huge impact on the way musicians wrote their songs. This old-school rock ability style was going out of fashion, yet Cash kept it alive with this very album. Retaining the good old fashioned spirit of what rock, country and the blues were based on… the sheer spirit of humanity and what binds us together as inhabitants on this earth.

The haunting conviction of his voice never falters in terms of energy, despite singing the whole album live, giving us an idea as to why Johnny Cash’s legacy will always be set in that same stone of excellence it has since he burst onto the scene in the 50’s.  But what makes it so special to me is the fact that it isn’t flawless…something that is expected too often in the modern music world. Not everything needs to be flawless, it is music…it is raw, unpredictable, human and even if the notes aren’t perfect at all times, the essence of the music is there, the soul and the meaning, something that seems to be lost in the modern mainstream music industry. The sheer audacity of this album, the courage, the unapologetic defiance of fulfilling his creative vision is what makes it stand out. The mix of covers and his own raw, emotional song-writing made it timeless from the moment of its release. He manages to be political without necessarily intending to be, he shines a spotlight on history, lighting it up for the younger generation to see, he revitalises mythical tales and characters, bringing them back to life, ironically singing of their lives to the very people who have lived through them, the prisoners in front of him. He effortlessly pens a love letter to the blues/country and western genre, shooting blood back into its marble veins, reminding everyone of where this type of music came from, and the honesty of the song-writing that came with it.

Cash made no attempt to soften the blow of the themes he was singing about. He was singing these tales to men who were living through it… he knew that if he tried to diminish anything or cheat them of the truth that they were all painfully aware of, it would be seen as a hoax or a sham. The honesty from cash is clearly greatly appreciated as we hear endless chants from the invigorated prisoners. By singing their truth, while in no means justifying their actions, it connects him with his audience on a spiritual level, they are all being taken away on the same level of energy. This is the special connection that makes the album one-of-a-kind, and despite the listeners not being able to necessarily relate to the lives of the prisoners, we can all relate to the natural sense of human loneliness within the songs, and cash is filling that void, even if just for 45 minutes of our lives.

Overall, this is arguably one of the most famous albums in history; he ended the decade as it began but with a newfound grit.  It is relatable for any generation, Cash reminds us of our human connections, the deep emotions within…our bodies may be fragile but our minds are full of strength. And in reminding us of these qualities that we all share, he helps us escape our own Folsom Prison, one song at a time.

All the Bright Places – Movie review

By Mollie Campbell

Title: All the bright places

Network: Netflix

Genre: Romantic –Drama

Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Virginia Gardner

Rating: 8/10

* CONTAINS SPOILERS

Having never heard of the book, when I saw the title for ‘All the bright Places’ on Netflix, I thought I was just signing up for a cliché rom-com. Yet, mere moments into the film, I instantly realised that I had completely judged a book by its cover, because the next two hours were filled with emotional highs and lows that left me thinking deeply, long after the credits rolled.

All the bright places is the story of a teenaged girl ‘Violet’ (Fanning), who is grieving intensely for her sister, and ‘Finch’ (Smith), a fellow student who is instantly portrayed as a multi-faceted character, one in which we spend the whole film trying to decipher.  They are drawn to one another because of the dark places they are clearly in, and are able to find pure love and happiness with one another, seemingly journeying into the light, hand in hand. The first half of the film we watch as Finch tries desperately to safely bring Violet back out of her bubble of grief, he becomes infatuated with the thought of helping her and being with her. There is a focal point on Violet, her pain and how others react to her pain. Having lived through the nightmare rollercoaster of grief myself, I resonated strongly with the way they portrayed her emotions. It felt real, the kind of representation we need to see more of.

As the film progresses, Finch and Violet become closer and start a class project together, which involves visiting different locations and attractions around Indiana. This is where their love story blossoms and we get to see some of that classic Netflix romance, full of the cheesiness that we mock yet secretly love, but there is a subconscious shift in the focal point, we start to really see the world through the eyes of Finch, a set of glasses we were convinced were painted in rose, but we begin to see that they were self-made, and that the viewpoint of Finch and his reality is much darker than we thought. He becomes even more hyper and passionate, this extreme emotion can switch in a matter of moments and he becomes more withdrawn, clearly suffering. His issues are foreshadowed right from the start, every time Violet thinks she is on the cusp of gaining an insight into his past, he backs away. This is followed by his complete disappearance, which nobody seems to find weird apart from Violet.

Eventually, he begins to open up more and attends an anonymous counselling session, where he finds out Violet’s seemingly fine on the outside friend Amanda (Gardner) is seeking help. This was one of the main highlight’s of the film for me, not the main characters, but Amanda‘s story, it is simple yet incredibly impactful. We are conditioned to believe that because the two main characters are showing signs of mental health issues that nobody else around them are as well. She wasn’t even on our radar of possibilities, it is so out of the blue and confirms what we are all beginning to learn as a society, the fact that some people who look fine on the outside, are going through an intense and life-changing battle internally. This tie-in really worked well in my opinion; at this point the film really begins to forcefully tackle the wider issues of mental health. This is a real sink or swim moment and instead of using the platform it created, I do feel that the writers built it up and then suddenly cooled it all off…we never get to understand the full extent to Finch’s mind-set before he shockingly takes his own life.

Moreover, of course we can see this type of scenario on its way, whether it was Violet or Finch, but the abruptness of the way they handled Finch’s final scenes were quite distressing. It seemed as if they had just completely brushed over the monumental final decisions the character was making, thus diminishing the complexity of the content. On the other hand, I like the way they handled it due to the sheer unpredictability of people who are suffering such intense mental health issues, there aren’t always massive signs in bright neon lights telling you that someone close to you is about to commit suicide. Not everybody says goodbye, makes any final arrangements or leaves a handwritten note, in reality people that choose to end their lives aren’t living out some final, romanticised moment on a big screen to the delicate notes of a beautiful soundtrack, they are committing suicide…that is the brutal truth. So, despite brushing over the moment, I think this is actually what the scene and movie required to be taken seriously, the abruptness is honestly portraying just how quick and finite it actually is.

The film ends with Violet losing the one person who helped her live again after the death of her sister, whilst this seems harsh; this too is raw and honest, truly portraying just how fragile and cruel life can be. Violet finishes her school project talking about Finch and everything he helped her to do that finally brought her into the bright places, despite him being gone. I really liked the ending, it didn’t diminish the undeniable pain the character is feeling, but it left a flicker of hope, showing us that there are bright places and sometimes it takes the help and perspective of someone else in order to reach them. Overall, even though the film certainly has some issues, the acting was great and the story was meaningful. It really sends a message in terms of how we live our lives, every second is fleeting and we need to cherish the memories we make as we are creating them, because they might never be felt again.

Thanks for reading.