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.

 

Netflix’s ‘I Am Not Okay with This’ – Season 1 Review

By Mollie Campbell

Network: Netflix

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Coming-of-age, Horror

Starring: Sophia Lillis, Wyatt Oleff, Kathleen Rose Perkins

Rating: 8/10

 *Contains Spoilers

A funny, coming-of-age, show reminiscent of Carrie and Stranger Things. As soon as I started this show, and upon realising how short the episodes were, I knew I would devour it all in that entire evening, and it didn’t disappoint.

‘I Am Not Okay with This’ introduces the audience to Sydney (Lillis), a teenage girl who is grieving for her father, juggling the trials and tribulations of high school and most importantly…discovering that she has telekinetic powers. Despite its supernatural elements, the fact that it is a comedy over anything else is evident straight away, you can tell by the sarcastic prolonged babblings we hear from the main protagonist that this show was brought to us by the creators of Channel 4 hit ‘The End Of The F***ing World. Throughout each episode, we see Syd displaying much more frequent and powerful abilities, always align with the strong emotion she is feeling in that moment, this show really takes teenage angst to the next level. Syd’s emotions manifest into life-changing situations, as the show progresses, her ability to control her powers quickly spirals. Every episode contains underlying themes of something more sinister, and the mystery of her father becomes more suspicious by the second.

It is near the end that we see Syd really lose control and that is when we are presented with the timeless image of a young girl at her high school dance, wearing a white dress stained with the bright red blood of her unintentional victim. This time, it is Dina’s ex-boyfriend Bradley who has found Syd’s diary and is threatening to expose her secret to the whole school. Whilst we knew that this scenario was likely from the beginning, it still shocked me when Syd’s anger and embarrassment causes her to accidentally make his head explode. This is the moment that she is taken seriously, the focus shifts into more sinister waters, even from the perspective of the eccentric and upbeat Stanley.

Apart from this, and whilst I enjoyed the show and happily indulged in it over the course of several hours, there wasn’t anything that particularly stood out. It was written well and the acting was great but the plot just felt too familiar, full of direction but too predictable. There just wasn’t anything too creative that pushed the realm of a genre that is already so heavily saturated out of its comfort zone. It isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, more of a blend or rehash of many different influences. The Carrie influence is hardly surprising given the fact that the two main characters are portrayed by Stephen King movie adaptation veterans, Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff, the Stranger Things vibe was kind of expected, but I was pleasantly surprised at the Breakfast Club parallels. Whilst cheesy, it was great to see a classic tale retold in a modern way. I also really enjoyed the dynamic they portrayed between Sydney and Stanley, the latter being a multi-layered character who I think is definitely a highlight of the whole show and one to watch if this series is renewed for a second season. Oleff portrays him with such a carefree spirit, yet he encompasses such a big heart and quirky habits, it would be difficult to dislike him.

Moreover, the one thing that I think was a real triumph for the show is the way they handled the main character’s sexuality, there are many shows today that are brilliant for representing a wide variety of people, who really focus on a character’s long and complex coming-out storyline. But with this show, they skip all of that and instead of treating the topic as if it is some great big deal, they almost underplay it as a way of it being viewed in young people’s minds as a scenario just as normal as a straight character. Instead, Sydney realises that she loves her best friend Dina and accepts it straight away, which is actually refreshing to see.

At the end of the last episode, we see Syd talking to the mysterious stranger who has been following her surreptitiously, we don’t find out who it is but we know that they are human. This is an interesting idea within a show I thought was incredibly predictable. Instead of following its predecessors and making the force behind Syd’s powers something sci-fi related, they have stuck to the human path. I mean obviously her powers are coming from something that is somehow otherworldly, but it doesn’t shy away from retaining its sense of humanity, which is refreshing in a time in which movies and TV shows are dominated by sci-fi elements. Overall, I enjoyed this show…the pace was quick and easy, they got to the point straight away. The characters (Particularly Sydney and Stan) were interesting, but perhaps not given enough time to flourish in this bite sized season. And the story, whilst familiar and somewhat repetitive, was still captivating and exciting. I was left satisfied yet wanting more….here’s hoping for a season 2!

Thanks for reading:)

Remembering Kobe Bryant, how he shaped a generation and why the mamba mentality will stand the test of time.

By Mollie Campbell

Kobe Bryant, more than just a basketball player.

Kobe, Bean, Mamba, Black Mamba…a King among men. The first thing I picture when I think of Kobe Bryant is a 6’6’’man leaping gracefully into the air, gliding towards the golden ring that shaped his life, battling for the win, like a painting of some ancient God. My favourite Kobe memory, the same for many, is that final game he played for the Lakers on April 13 2016, it was as if he was being electrically charged by every single game of basketball he had ever played, surging through his veins and seeping onto the court. His feet pounded on the glossy Staples Center floor, exuding power, he harnessed his otherworldly ability one last time, finishing the game with an NBA-Season high of 60 points. It was more than just a game, it was poetic…this sums Kobe up, exceeding expectations for an athlete both on and off the court.

Kobe Bryant was like King Arthur, his thunderous spirit acting as a beacon, a guiding light for his knights…carrying them to victory. But even in those quiet years, in the face of adversity, he kept going. Even though at times it felt as though the Lakers fire was turning to ash, he quietly kept the embers warm, until they sparked and roared again. He encompassed everything that could be great about human resilience, reminding us of the power we have. He relished in it, he pushed the boundaries, until his relentless vision of creating history became a reality. We all know Kobe as the superhero he became, but as with every great hero, the backstory is everything.  The people of Los Angeles and the world watched him as his journey began, a 17 year- old kid from Lower Merion high school with a passion in his heart and a fire in his eyes. They watched him grow from a talented, energetic boy, into a seemingly invincible man.  Quoting Kobe himself: ‘It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.’ His journey included 20 loyal seasons with the Lakers, 5 NBA Championships, 18 All-Star games, 2 NBA Finals MVP Awards and 2 Olympic Gold medals. But it was his equally important life off the court that really shaped Kobe into the Mamba the world knows today.

Kobe became such a hero in the world of sport, but it was his infectious smile, resilient attitude and kindness towards others that gained him the title of hero in his personal life as well. He became a voice for the voiceless, a leader for the lost…somebody for people to look up to, without ever feeling like less of a human being in doing that, Kobe made sure of it. This is why he became so famous off the court too, even countries around the world that couldn’t even access Basketball on TV became fans…it was as if he had become some sort of religious figure in the world of sport and in other realms…the fact that he won an Oscar speaks for itself. And that is the reason the whole world felt as though it had tilted off its axis on January 26th 2020, the man who had turned into a fairy-tale figure, was taken away from us. The worst part is the fact that he had so much more to give than he already had, in the words of Barack Obama: ‘Kobe was a legend on the court and just getting started in what would have been just as meaningful a second act.’ Kobe’s retirement saw him publicly embrace his role as super-dad, inspire multiple generations with his positive attitude, rise up in terms of charity and giving back, and becoming a patron of basketball AND the arts…proving his mamba mentality stood for so much more than just a game.

As an avid fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kobe Bryant, I am devastated along with everybody else. This one hit hard, I stared at the TV for hours, kept refreshing his Wikipedia page, praying it was all an elaborate hoax. He has left a huge gaping hole in basketball, and in the world, this is going to be raw for a while…but we can do this. We can keep moving forwards, harnessing the powerful remnants Kobe left for us, we can all use the mamba mentality, it doesn’t matter which field you are in, strive to be the best you can possibly be, and enjoy the journey. Live every day to the fullest, keep working hard, embrace any failures and let them be what makes you succeed.

I would like to take this time to pay my respects to every life that was lost on that day: Alyssa Altobelli, John Altobelli, Keri Altobelli, Payton Chester, Sarah Chester, Christina Mauser, Ara Zobayan, Gianna Bryant and Kobe Bryant. My thoughts are with every family involved.

 

“Once you know what failure feels like, determination chases success.” – Kobe Bryant.

Doctor Sleep – Movie Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Movie: Doctor Sleep

Director: Mike Flanagan

Based on the Novel by: Stephen King

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran.

Rating: 6.5/10

*Contains Spoilers*

Doctor Sleep was always going to be a tough one to make, written by Stephen King, and following Stanley Kubrick’s classic envisioning of ‘The Shining’, which has become a horror classic. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. That probably doesn’t sound great to you, but Doctor Sleep had a very rich history to delve into, and every film as an art-form is essentially subjective, this is a great example of that idea because it really does depend on your preference and/or viewpoint. Nonetheless, another trip into the snowy Colorado Mountains is hardly a gruelling task for cinema lovers.

The movie begins with an iconic recap of a young Danny Torrance riding through the Overlook hotel on his red tricycle, an aspect from the original that seems the most prominent in people’s memory. Then we are given a brief yet telling glimpse into his childhood after the horrific events that unfolded, until we eventually land on the doorstep of an adult Danny. Plagued with the same struggles with alcoholism as his father, Dan does everything in his power to ignore the sinister and otherworldly abilities he has. Until eventually, he cleans up his act and finally becomes sober. Whilst this is happening he begins to communicate (telepathically) with a young girl called ‘Abra’ who has the same supernatural capabilities as him, or the same ‘shine’ as they call it.

At the same time, we see a group of inevitable bad guys, a travelling circle of vampire-esque immortals who need the essence of the ‘Shine’ or ‘Shining’ to survive. This aspect of the plot is a necessary threat; a traditional sense of ‘evil’ chasing the good guys, textbook storytelling, but you can’t deny its wackiness. Anyway, they end up on a hunt for Abra due to the power of her shine, and this is how she joins forces with Dan Torrance, an unlikely yet touching duo.  This eventual meeting of our two movie heroes sets a trail for a very predictable final 30 minutes to the film. Instead of excitement, this kind of created a sense of restlessness or impatience as an audience member, because now we are just waiting for Dan’s inevitable return to the Overlook hotel.

Furthermore, it all starts to feel a bit surreal at this point, but not exactly in a good way, bearing in mind that the movie had now clocked up almost 120 minutes running time. It really starts to feel like the film was simply made for nostalgic effect, until Dan and Abra make that trip through the mountains. At this point, any criticisms I had started to dematerialise. It starts venturing back into its origin, the snowy grounds and the dominating shadow of this massive hotel, evil still lingering within its grimy walls, it is thrilling. For me, one of the most memorable yet comical moments that completely satisfied my inner film nerd, was watching Dan get served at the same hotel bar as his father, and the bar-tender is…you guessed it, an anti-ageing Jack Torrance himself, complete with the iconic and eerie red uniform, originally worn by ‘Lloyd’. Now obviously he isn’t portrayed by Jack Nicholson, and the use of something like Martin Scorsese’s ‘Youthification’ really would have turned this film into a cheese-fest, instead they used Henry Thomas, aka Elliot from ‘ET: The Extra-Terrestrial’.  But this creepy role pays more homage to his recent character in the ‘Haunting of Hill House’ than ET, with him taking on the hefty role of Jack Torrance, a scene which seemed inevitable from the moment this movie was announced.

As the film reaches its end, there is only one immortal left to fight, Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), who they lure to the Overlook Hotel to get rid of once and for all. There are some brilliant parallels to the original film, with Ewan McGregor dressed in similar clothing as Jack Nicholson, walking up that wide iconic staircase, wielding an axe…seriously. It is comical but great, made for fans of the Shining, but also incorporating the same features as other movies from the Director, e.g.  ‘Before I Wake’ and ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’, this is definitely a step up in terms of horror. The Shining is one of my favourite films, and maintains its rightful place in the horror world, but I never saw it as scary, it seemed more like a psychological thriller with sinister qualities. Whereas Doctor Sleep has a bit of everything, the supernatural element is much more intense, with Dan becoming possessed just like his father, but instead of still looking human, his eyes cloud over as if he is in the middle of ‘The Exorcist’, and there is a lot more gore too.

Overall, the film was made for fans of The Shining, but the added horror aspects have certainly widened its audience. Although, at times it was confusing, I can only imagine how trippy it would be to watch if you’ve never seen ‘The Shining’, there is a very bitty nature to the film. At first the unstructured vibe seemed refreshing, but then it kind of turned into a bit of a chore to watch. And of course, I just couldn’t really help but compare it to Stanley Kubrick’s method in terms of film-making/story-telling. The narrative in The Shining contains a very clever build up, making the transitioning of Jack Nicholson’s character into something sinister, much more believable. This film becomes far-fetched and at times, silly. For example, Rose’s night-time flight in order to find Abra just screamed Twilight, which isn’t exactly the comparison you would want to draw from a ‘serious’ horror movie. Of course, you can’t really criticise, as this film was based on the follow-up novel by Stephen King, the Godfather of Horror. And if this was his vision for the world created in his mind, I can’t knock that. Especially as this sequel seems to stay true to its origin, something The Shining never did, in fact, after its release it was criticised by King for breaking away from the true essence of the book he had written.

In conclusion, whilst Doctor Sleep definitely has its faults, the film was thrilling, satisfying in terms of horror, and made well. The acting was great, specifically Ewan McGregor, and the 150 minute run time was worth it, even if it was just for an extremely overt use of nostalgia.