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.

 

Bob Dylan’s timeless ‘Tangled up in Blue’.

Bob Dylan’s timeless ‘Tangled up in Blue’.

By Mollie Campbell

Since getting a full time job, I have found it very difficult to find the time to even write blog posts, let alone post them. Now that I have found a good routine in terms of time management, I am hoping to start posting more regularly.

I was trying to write some lengthy, insightful article… but in the end I remembered that sometimes less is more. So for this post, I am going to do something simple. I am uploading my favourite verse from Bob Dylan’s ‘Tangled up in Blue’. And when I think about it, this could well be one of my favourite verses of all time. In fact, I don’t even regard it as a verse; it is prose, a stanza in the never-ending chronicle of Bob Dylan’s stream of writing, something that has seeped its way into every pore of the world we know, even now.

 

She lit a burner on the stove
And offered me a pipe
I thought you’d never say hello, she said
You look like the silent type
Then she opened up a book of poems
And handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet
From the thirteenth century
And everyone of them words rang true
And glowed like burnin’ coal
Pourin’ off of every page
Like it was written in my soul
From me to you
Tangled up in blue

 

I am going to write a deeper analysis/article soon, but for now I will leave you with these words, and hope that they move you as much as they did when I first listened to it.

Vampire Weekend ‘Father of the Bride’ – album review.

Album: Father of the Bride

Band: Vampire Weekend

Members: Ezra Koenig, Chris Tomson, Chris Baio

Genre: indie-rock

Rating: 8/10

Song Highlights: Harmony Hall, This Life, Bambina, Sympathy

A new album after 6 years was always going to be a hard thing to achieve, making sure it was exactly what the band envisioned musically and artistically, whilst simultaneously maintaining their success and living up to public expectation. Not only have they finally released another record after six years, they have decided to release a double album, ‘Father of the Bride’ contains 18 songs, resulting in 58 minutes of what I can only describe as somewhat experimental. It features many different sounds, innovations, and rich lyrics.

The album begins with an unexpected folky venture in ‘Hold you now’, a collaboration with Danielle Haim.  At first it would be easy to mistake this for a positive love song, but as the song goes on we realise that the lyrics are actually quite dark. This is more of a reflection on the revelation that this couple will not stay together forever, but the immensity of their love is still intact. ‘I can’t carry you forever, but I can hold you now’.  The next song, ‘Harmony Hall’ which was released as a single on January 24th of this year is undoubtedly the anthem of the album. I absolutely love this song; everything about it comes together so naturally. The foundation of the song is the light-hearted and nostalgic piano, and a flamenco style guitar riff, the essence of the song. More instruments are added throughout until they all begin to clash, but in a good way, as if all the components are being drawn to each other. The lyrics are quite dark yet the song is very energetic and infectious. The song is honest, reflective and politically charged.

“Anger wants a voice, voices wanna sing, singers harmonize ’til they can’t hear anything, I thought that I was free from all that questionin’, but every time a problem ends, another one begins”.

“I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die”.

There are a lot of different thoughts, concepts and emotions battling it out for a place within this song. Koenig’s song writing is very raw and free, it isn’t forced yet it is incredibly important. The lyrics are somewhat dark; they contrast heavily with the upbeat sound.  I think the song is profound and informative without lacking the components it needs to be played on mainstream radio.

Bambina is a 1min 42 second venture into Koenig’s mind, giving us an insight into what drives him, angers him and what kind of message he is trying to portray. The guitar riffs he produces and the way he sings feels quite classic, or timeless, yet he experiments with modern technology and sounds, adding in synthesizers frequently. ‘This Life’ is a refreshing and vintage sounding song, it is similar to Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ but the lyrics are much darker.

“Baby, I know pain is as natural as the rain, I just thought it didn’t rain in California”.

 “Baby, I know dreams tend to crumble at extremes, I just thought our dream would last a little bit longer”.

The lyrics are sad yet the music is hopeful, a clever juxtaposition and an enjoyable song. Next up is ‘Big Blue’, definitely not a favourite for me. I understand the intent and the inspiration behind this and I like the concept but I think it is possibly a bit too ambitious; it results in a bit of a boring drawl.

‘How Long’ really makes me think that this is a much darker album than people will realise, opening with the lyrics:

“Tough choice? Don’t make me laugh, My life’s a joke, your life’s a gas”.

The chorus is depressing, but you can’t criticise how honest his song writing is:

“How long ’til we sink to the bottom of the sea? How long, how long?”.

The next verse is like a Sgt. Pepper inspired sad memory, it is raw and disheartening:

“What’s the point of getting clean? You’ll wear the same old dirty jeans, What’s the point of being seen? Those eyes are cruel, those eyes are mean, What’s the point of human beings? A sharpie face on tangerines, Why’s it felt like Halloween since Christmas 2017?”

‘Unbearably White’ is a rather melancholy journey into Koenig’s thought process and despair, whereas ‘Rich Man’ is very interesting musically, with retro, crackly sounds that really give it an aspect of authenticity.

‘Married in a Gold Rush’, another collaboration with Danielle Haim, is more of a lyrical adventure than a musical one. The sound is quite similar to the other songs on the album, but the lyrics are poetic. At this point, the album starts to feel a little stale and repetitive, which is why ‘My Mistake’ is kind of a saviour.  The lyrics are insightful, but the sound is at the forefront. The experimentation used here is quite impressive, it is hard to criticise due to the care that went into the creativity in this song. For anyone in this current, bland music industry to make that much of an effort in terms of creativity and experimentation, is a miracle, and this is the very thing that prevents Vampire Weekend from becoming boring.

‘Sympathy’ is another venture into experimentation; it is actually one of my favourite songs from the album. There are so many different sounds and vibes, I love the country infused verses and the haunted vocals surrounded by reverb, the Spanish guitars that intervene in such a clashy yet soothing way, the loud drums and an array of other sounds. This really reminds me of a modern day Sgt Pepper attempt, a bold move to bring the meaning of music back into the industry, and it has worked as this album has soared straight to the top of the charts all over the world.

‘Sunflower’ isn’t a favourite of mine but it still provides some interesting sounds and idea’s, and a lot of summery riffs, it’s the kind of song that I thought I’d never like but actually end up looking forward to it when listening to the album. ‘Flower Moon’ I find very interesting, at first it makes me want to hate it but as I carry on listening I feel more intrigued. I love the combination of sounds, the lyrics and the way in which the verses are sung. ‘2021’ is more in depth, the lyrics are bare but you can hear the message that Koenig really is touching on throughout the whole album, the passage of time and how something that felt so right years before can and will fade with time, just like the objects we see around us, everything is worn down in time, even love.

‘We Belong Together’, yet another collaboration with Danielle Haim really isn’t a highlight for me. I mean sure, it interjects some hope into this pessimistic vibe that has been carried throughout the album, but it just seems a bit out of place to me. I love ‘Stranger’ because it is simply an honest reflection of his emotion and what he is feeling at this point in his life. Things aren’t the same as they were, everything he knew has changed but the sound of the song gives me the impression that he is taking it with a pinch of salt and just sailing through life complacently. I also love the different instruments and the reverb/echoed vocals.  At this point, ‘Spring Snow’ is the narrator seriously asking himself if all of the pain is worth fighting for, he battles with this but the title makes you think that the seasons will change things for the better. But really he is saying that the seasons won’t change a thing, ultimately, the sun will come out again but it won’t do a thing to help the situation:  ‘But here comes the sun, those old toxic rays’.

‘Jerusalem, New York, Berlin’ is the ballad/anthem that the album has been alluding to since the opening lines of Harmony Hall. The lyrics highlight the downfall of humanity throughout points in history, a desperate question in how long humanity will be its own worst enemy. And the fact that more and more, humans are just switching off and turning their backs on important issues within society, becoming even more ignorant over time:

‘Our tongues will fall so still, Our teeth will all decay, A minute feels much longer, With nothing left to say’.

‘So let them win the battle, But don’t let them restart, That genocidal feeling, That beats in every heart’.

It is a politically pleasing and metaphorical end to a wild journey of an album, some songs are monotonous, yet some songs are so far out and experimental it makes you question how this made it into the mainstream charts. There are some faults with this album, but those little niggles are just my personal musical opinions. At the end of the day, they have created a very interesting, innovative and different album that really was worth the wait. Ezra Koenig makes song- writing seem like the simplest thing in the world, but my praise lies within the effort the band have made in terms of creativity. After the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967, it was thought that music would never be boring again. Fast forward fifty years and in my opinion, the mainstream world of pop has never been more boring, maybe Vampire Weekend have noticed, because this is their Sgt. Pepper.

Mid90s – Movie review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Movie: Mid90s

Starring: Sunny Suljic, Katherine Waterston, Lucas Hedges

Rating: 8/10

Written and directed by Jonah Hill, Mid90s is a coming-of-age film following 13 year old Stevie as he befriends an older group of skaters. Set in Los Angeles in the 90’s, the film portrays the experimental, exciting and nonchalant journey of youth but it also shows us a harsher and much more difficult sense of childhood that forces kids to find some sort of outlet, whether it be positive or negative, just as a form of escapism.

Stevie is the son of a single mother is often working, meaning that his older brother Ian is given complete freedom to beat him up as much as he likes. The scenes in which he physically abuses his little brother are very disturbing; I think Jonah Hill did an incredible job with the sheer rawness and honesty of these scenes. There is total silence apart from the loud sounds of a child being beaten up, it is hard not to feel affected when watching something like that. But it all serves its purpose. The film was perceived to be some kind of light-hearted stoner comedy, but it actually turns into a source of education, it is very informative and involves serious issues, not to be taken lightly.

Apart from the complexity of the issues within the film, there are also some very upbeat and funny moments, it kind of feels like a classic before you have even finished watching it. Think of a hybrid between Dazed and Confused and Freaks & Geeks, throw in shades of Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady bird’, and the result is Mid90s. The most important factor in all of these movies is the classic nostalgic time machine that instantly takes us back to a time we perceive as being simpler. Mid90s provided every ounce of nostalgic fulfilment that I was expecting and more, the brands, the locations, the music, the attitude.  And if it wasn’t retro enough, it was shot in an old school style filter, so the whole time we are watching it feels as though we are just looking at our old home movies. There were definitely some moments in which the pace slows down a bit, but the whole point of the movie is merely a commentary on teen life, it shows how much things have changed in the past 20 years, and what things have stayed the same.

It is very funny and easy to watch but it also focuses heavily on the lives we are forced to fit into when we are children, if we are born into a certain life, we have no control or choice as to whether we live in it or not. This is something that many children are faced with, so the film really highlights the bad home lives of some children and how something as simple as skating can stop them from going insane. We see a kid whose family can barely afford to feed him, a boy whose little brother died, someone whose brother relentlessly beats him, and the general sense of loneliness and isolation you can feel within your teen years. The film shows us how children go through their teens, find themselves and how they grow into different versions of their childhood self, it also gives some explanations as to why some people behave in the way they do. It certainly doesn’t glorify or justify the behaviours in regard to certain people like Stevie’s brother, but it does give us an insight.

Overall, whilst it does have some clear faults, the intentions behind this film were good, and for a directorial debut, Jonah Hill has really pulled it out the bag. He mixes complexity with nonchalance, innocence with morality, and highlights the pain within the happiness. It sounds conflicting, but Hill managed to incorporate all of these emotions with ease and simplicity, resulting in a fun, fresh yet familiar tale.

Netflix’s ‘On My Block’ – Season 1 & 2 Review.

By Mollie Campbell

Network: Netflix

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

Starring: Sierra Capri, Jason Genao, Brett Gray, Diego Tinoco

Rating: 9/10

 

Released in March 2018, On My Block is a coming of age comedy set in Los Angeles. The plot centres around four children who have grown up in a poor and crime-ridden neighbourhood, and the struggles they face whilst growing up in these surroundings. Monse, the only girl within the friendship group, is a strong-willed and opinionated girl whose Father is often away working, and whose Mother left her when she was a child. Then there is Rueben ‘Ruby’, a confident math whizz. Jamal, the ‘nerd’ of the group, and Cesar, whose brother has just been released from prison, thrusting him into gang life despite his strong ambition to do something better with his life. Having just released a second season, Netflix is really onto something with this show, it is a very important depiction of poorer neighbourhoods, gang life, and the ‘normal’ trials and tribulations of friendships and navigating your way through high school.

The storylines are often simple yet important and the bigger aspects of the plots are truthful, accurate and incredibly impactful. It is also very educational and informative and prompts people to break through the misconceptions of stereotypes. The acting is natural and very honest; we truly start to believe in these characters, we really feel for them and the type of world that they have been forced to live in. There may be a bit of a grey overcast on their lives, they are always looking over their shoulders or trying to protect Cesar, but there are some truly heart-warming and hilarious moments too, portraying normal teenage life and interactions, and the freedom they have to really find out who they are. Whilst the comedy is the main focal point, this isn’t your usual ‘comedy’; the jokes never deter us or distract us from the issue at hand in each episode, or the arc of the season. And the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the characters and the severity of the situations they find themselves in are never diminished or tarnished by some other contradicting narrative.

The writers clearly understand the importance of the position they are in and they don’t take this responsibility lightly. We are given an insight into this world that most of us have never been a part of, therefore we don’t truly know the ins and outs of this kind of neighbourhood. Honestly, I think there are so many misconceptions about the people who live in these suburbs, just because a gang decided to stay put in their town, doesn’t mean that they are affiliated with it in any way. This show really highlights that, without stepping too far out of the coming-of-age narrative confinements. But that’s just the thing, there are no confinements or limits with this show, the writers haven’t painted themselves into a corner, instead they have pushed the boundaries in terms of genre and storyline. They have included so many varied storyline and situations, and they have all been set up and delivered in a different context, e.g. comedy, drama, action, crime etc.

In terms of dialogue, there are so many important scenes that the writers have clearly worked hard on in order to make it as truthful and impactful as possible. But it never feels forced, the important issues are at the core of the scenes but it is never false, it feels natural, as if the characters are people we are watching from across the street. At times it can be a bit predictable but at other times it is completely unpredictable, almost volatile, the writers catch us off guard and add so many plot devices, and never for affect, simply because it is important and needs to be told. There are also times in which they could have extended the scenes into something more action packed in order to create more of a surge in ratings, or to widen their demographic, instead they keep them short and simple, never taking advantage of the positions they are in, a position in which they have the power to inform young people and create something that actually feels real, and incredibly important.

Lastly, I love the creation of these four characters, they are all so different from each other and they go through a lot together but it only brings them closer. Each character has their own quirks and traits which we as an audience have grown to love so quickly, I should also mention their classmate and almost-friend Jasmine (Jessica Marie Garcia), who is without a doubt the funniest character in the show. The writers have done a brilliant job with these characters, the diversity between them only ignites a stronger sense of unity within the group, which is really important.

On My Block is a brilliant show, the storylines are very important and covers some very serious issues, but it never gets too heavy, it never steps away from its light-hearted core. This is one of the best shows I have seen in a long time, and I can’t wait until season 3!

Netflix’s ‘Dead to Me’ – Season 1 Review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Show: Dead to Me

Network: Netflix

Genre: Dark comedy, Drama, Thriller

Cast: Christine Applegate, Linda Cardellini, James Marsden.

Rating: 9/10

 

This show seems like such a coincidence to me, because it has been released during a time in which I am really delving into the concept of grief, its effects, the differences between how each person grieves, and public reaction etc.

I have recently written articles about grief and how the grieving process is different for everyone; I have also touched upon the weird things people say to you when you are grieving and the different situations we find ourselves in. One thing I forgot to mention in my articles, is the fact that grief, for me anyway, has given me a rather dark sense of humour. I suppose it is how I deal with the pain sometimes.  Ironically, people who haven’t grieved find this sense of humour shocking, it is only ever other people who have been through grief that really understand this viewpoint. ‘Dead to Me’ really contains a lot of this dark humour that grief forces you to have, Christina Applegate’s character uses phrases that are very dark, blunt and cynical because this is how she is coping. But they have also introduced Linda Cardellini’s character; this is one of the reasons why I think the show is brilliant. Straight away, they have introduced two different characters both grieving, but on opposite ends of the grief spectrum. Judy is very positive, open to many possibilities and is very warm and affectionate. The way they have done this instantly gives me the impression that the writers/producers truly understand grief because already they are trying to make the audience aware that no two people grieve in the same way, instantly tearing down this idea of the ‘Five stages of Grief’, something that bothers me massively.

The show perfectly balances the dialogue and genre between drama and dark comedy, it also has thriller/mystery undertones. There are some very funny moments, there are also times of uncertainty and suspense but then there are these incredibly raw, honest and accurate scenes in which the characters are seen as being in such dire pain, the overwhelming feeling that grief gives us is encapsulated very well within this show. The comedy never undermines the importance of the issues at hand, and the dialogue never feels fake.  When I saw the cast list for this show a few months ago, I didn’t really know if the Christina Applegate/Linda Cardellini combo would work, I am a fan of both of their work and whilst the genres of their filmography’s are quite similar, I just couldn’t really envision it working. But as soon as the characters are first introduced, I felt this immense chemistry between the two actresses, the show makes you cherish their friendship even more than the characters themselves.

The first section of my review is what I wrote after the first few episodes, then, the story took an unexpected turn. I won’t spoil what happens but I was a bit miffed that they decided to go with this storyline, because it seems to diminish the importance of the concept of grief. But, the twist is unfortunately what some people have discovered after their spouse has passed away, and we see how much more of a spiral Jen goes into after this, by the end of the show we really start to feel even more sorry for this character, how many more things can this poor woman take? Anyway, I soon realised that this twist didn’t make the writers instantly forget the grief storyline; it actually became even more prominent by the end, despite the other crazy events that unfold. And as someone who lost a parent as a child, I really felt like they did a good job with representing the grief of children. We watch as Jen’s two sons Charlie and Henry, navigate through the dark and messy waters of grief, it portrays how surprisingly mature children can act in times of pain, especially when they have been catapulted into it themselves, and also shows just how much a child feels that pain. As I have discussed in my previous articles, people often stereotype children and presume that they couldn’t possibly have felt the full extent of their grief as a child, when in fact, they feel it all. This show really portrays that well which is what really impressed me the most.

Overall, the writers have done a very good job, some of the twists seem farfetched and silly but it never makes you want to stop watching it. Some of the things that are revealed about Judy are ridiculous and actually very unforgivable but we still root for the Jen/Judy friendship. So whilst the show does have some faults, they have built a very strong foundation in terms of their friendship, and have created a world that instantly feels familiar, I love all of the different characters already. I should also point out that I don’t binge watch many Netflix shows, at least not in a day anyway, but I watched 9 out of the 10 episodes of Dead to Me in one day, that says a lot.

Dead to Me is gripping, dark yet humorous and infectious; I don’t even know if Netflix will renew it yet, but I am already trying to figure out how I am going to wait a whole year for another season. Let  me know what you thought of the show!

Quotes from ‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ that really stood out and impacted me.

By Mollie Campbell.

It is ironic that Nine Perfect Strangers is about cleansing the body and reaching enlightenment, because at the end of this book I felt such a strong sense of clarity it was as if I had been on this transformative retreat, only without the psychotic twist and borderline torture…! Despite some faults, I think this book was written brilliantly, these are a few of the quotes that I liked:

“She got to her feet and looked at the starry sky one last time, but there were no answers up there.”

This probably speaks to me because the grief I have experienced has plagued me with a fair amount of cynicism, especially in regard to religion. It’s funny because personally, I have always felt very tranquil when gazing at the bright blurs of light sitting within the dark sky. Everything feels clearer when I look at stars, but then I get this realisation that we are so far away from them, we will never be able to fully understand them and they will never be able to help us. Maybe that explanation didn’t make sense, but to me it does.

“It was at that moment that Carmel Schneider gave herself to Masha with the same voluptuous abandon that novice nuns once surrendered themselves to God.”

I really liked this quote, whilst I support anyone who chooses to believe in a God, I am not religious and I have always found it fascinating how people are swept up into it. I also find the idea of cults interesting because it is so hard to understand how people are brainwashed so easily, Masha is like one of those cult leaders who prey on the weaknesses or vulnerabilities of the guests, in order to feed into the higher power or knowledge that they think they are conveying or successfully tapping into. This was a pivotal moment in the book for me, how quickly this character has surrendered herself to someone she barely knows.

“The anniversary was tomorrow. Napoleon sensed its dark, malignant shadow. It was irrational to feel frightened of a day. It was just a sad day, a day they were never going to forget anyway. He reminded himself that this was normal. People felt like this on anniversaries. He’d felt this same impending sense of doom last year. Almost as if it were going to happen again, as if this were a story he’d read before and he knew what lay ahead.”

I don’t even need to explain this one, Moriarty has not only described the way grief makes us question ourselves and our sanity, but she has also portrayed the overwhelming impact of anniversaries and milestones and the way they creep up on us, immediately transporting us back to such raw and inescapable pain.

‘Fan through the back’ said Yao. Napoleon fanned through the back and felt his muscles stretch and the sun warm on his face as he tasted the sea from the tears that ran heedlessly down his face. But he wasn’t broken’.

She turned to Masha. She said, ‘Have you been medicating us?’.

‘Do you know what Steve Jobs said? He said that taking LSD was one of the most important, profound experiences of his life.’

‘Oh, well then,’ said Lars, greatly amused.’ If Steve Jobs said we should all take LSD, then we really should!’.

The scenes in which they all feel the effects of the LSD is hilarious, and horrifying at the same time, the fact that they are being drugged against their will is completely insane. I would never have predicted half of the twists and turns in this book, it is thrilling, funny and honest. It is a clever commentary on people and how they see the world, but more importantly on how they see themselves, the difference between male and female body images, and the superficiality of social media.

“Maybe this was how he felt; like his mind, body and soul were shrouded in grey fog. Like there was not much point to anything at all.”

This quote is referring to Zach, Napoleon and Heather’s son who committed suicide. Napoleon is finally starting to try and understand the reason behind why his son did what he did, as opposed to how, or resulting to anger.

There are many quotes I could list here, but these are just a few that really cover some important issues that Moriarty has been brave enough to confront head on. If you haven’t read Nine Perfect Strangers, give it a go. Or if you have read it, I would love to hear some of your thoughts!

‘Nine Perfect Strangers’ – book review.

By Mollie Campbell.

Contains Spoilers

Book: Nine Perfect Strangers

Author: Liane Moriarty

Genre: Mystery, Crime, Thriller

Rating: 9 ½ out of 10.

 

Nine Perfect Strangers, where do I begin? As a fan of Liane Moriarty’s ‘Big Little Lies’, I was immediately attracted to this book. Whilst the blurb was short and concise, I was intrigued straight away. What I really liked about it is the fact that it is hard to really pinpoint it as one specific genre. When I bought it, I thought it would be a contemporary, sarcastic reflection of modern life and the way people live their lives. It was. But later on I thought it was turning into a bit of a murder mystery, then I thought ‘Oh God it’s going to be a soppy romance isn’t it?’ But by the end, it was a low key thriller, bordering on horror. Maybe not, but there was certainly a lot of potential for horror after that twist, that mind-blowing, terrifying, psychotic twist that I never saw coming.

The story is written in different perspectives, all of the nine ‘strangers’ have their own chapters from their point of view, including the wellness coaches at the retreat (Masha, Yao and Delilah), but protagonist Frances Welty is the primary voice in the story, with a lot of chapters being written from her perspective. Set in Australia, Nine Perfect Strangers is about a group of people who travel to an expensive health retreat in order to ‘Cleanse’ and ‘Transform’ themselves. Each character comes with their own set of reasons but the ultimate goal is to change their lifestyles and perspectives. Frances is a published author of romance novels, Tony is an ex- AFL player, Lars is a Lawyer, Carmel is a divorced mother of four, Ben and Jessica are a rich young couple hoping to save their marriage, and Heather, Napoleon and their daughter Zoe are a grieving family who are spending the anniversary of their son Zach’s death at the retreat.

Moriarty’s observations of humans are portrayed so accurately in this book, we all know someone like each of the characters, and we all live in the same internet/technology-reliant way that they do, whether we like it or not. I think she described so many important issues so accurately, from her depiction of grief, to drug addiction, to the thin line within some people’s mentality that simply cannot prevent them from having a psychotic episode, the complete opposite of what I thought I was about to read. The pace is excellent, I was hooked straight away and read it over the course of two days. The dialogue flowed so naturally, and at times it literally made me laugh out loud, which is something books rarely make me do, especially in public! I love the way the characters were created with such ease, Moriarty was able to carve out these characters in such a defined way, it felt as if I knew them all straight away. This is a very hard thing to do, especially given the fact that the origins of the characters are not fully exposed until a much later stage.

When they first arrive at the retreat, they are given blood tests, which led to a paragraph that made me realise instantly that I was going to enjoy this book;

Did this young man currently helping himself to her blood even have medical expertise? ‘Are you trained as a…?’ she was trying to say ‘do you know what the hell you’re doing?’.

‘I used to be a paramedic in a previous life’ replied Yao.

She met his eyes. Was he possibly a little mad? Did he mean he was a reincarnated paramedic? You never knew with these alternative types. ‘You don’t mean, literally, a previous life?’. Yao laughed out loud. A very normal-sounding laugh ‘It was about ten years ago now’.

Masha, the eccentric and controlling leader of the retreat is introduced in such a towering way; she is a complex character, a Rubik’s cube, layered and unpredictable. And I love the sarcasm that is present throughout: “Before we begin our first guided meditation, I have a story to share’ said Masha. ‘Ten years ago, I died’. Well, that was unexpected. Frances sat a little straighter.

As the narrative progresses, things get weirder, as a reader we start to doubt the authenticity of this retreat, at ‘Tranquilium House’. The guests bags are searched, and they are all forced to take part in a ‘noble silence’, things start to look a bit like a cult, and this idea is confirmed at the end of chapter 21, when Moriarty writes: It was at that moment that Carmel Schneider gave herself to Masha with the same voluptuous abandon that novice nuns once surrendered themselves to God. This is so sudden, and truly chilling to think that this person is becoming susceptible to brainwashing so easily.

The plot twist I wasn’t expecting is when Heather asks Masha; ‘Have you been medicating us?’ which leads into therapy sessions with all of the guests feeling the effects of LSD, which they unknowingly ingested. Whilst this is utterly shocking, the result is hilarious. But things get darker when they all get locked in a room; Masha turns psychotic and will not let them out until they somehow reach the ceiling of the room to find a hidden message. As the guests hopelessly try leaping to the ceiling, Masha, who is watching through the surveillance camera, sedates Yao and forces the guests to play a game called ‘Death Row’ in which they all have to defend each other’s lives to be freed. I mean, talk about plot twist, this is not where I thought he book was leading at all. Ben then says to Masha; ‘What happens if – according to you, our judge- we don’t successfully defend our clients?’. To which she responds: ‘Well, obviously we don’t generally execute our guests! That’s not good for business!’ She laughed gaily. I mean, this is a completely illegal, horrific, psychotic and inhumane turn of events, but somehow Moriarty still manages to make the reader laugh.

The only little fault I can think of is a slight decline after the ‘big event’, even though it is thrilling, it feels a bit anti-climactic. There is also a sense of everything being tied up at the end in a perfect happy ending, but I interpret this as the author’s nod to the protagonist Frances, who writes happy romantic endings herself. But also, it is an honest depiction of some people having ‘perfect’ lives, whether they are happy behind closed doors or not, some people will only ever put a perfect image of themselves on display. I think this book has got something in it for everyone; it is funny, witty and completely unpredictable, in the best way possible.

Thanks for reading; I enjoyed this book so much that I will be publishing another article next week, highlighting my favourite quotes and how Liane Moriarty has encapsulated grief, and many other issues like drug addiction and mental health, in such a truthful and important way.