Glorious Gloria – A Killer of a Play (Theatre Review)

5 STARS

GLORIA. Glorious Gloria.

There is no other way to describe this marvellous play from the hugely talented Branden Jacob-Jenkins that is showcasing at the Hampstead Theatre in North London. It runs until July 29. I urge you to go and see it. You will not be disappointed.

Jacob-Jenkins is in a rich vein of London form. His wonderful play, An Octoroon, has just ended an incredibly successful run at The Orange Theatre in Richmond where Ken Nwosu – quite rightly – received rave reviews for his portrayal of the playwright and the play’s two main characters, George and the evil M’Closky.

Having immensely enjoyed An Octoroon four evenings earlier, I never thought for one moment that Gloria could match it. But it did.

At its heart are key issues – ageism, career burnout, the fracturing of journalism as we know it and self-aggrandisement uber alles.

The play is a slow burn, seemingly ambling along in amusing fashion as a series of characters who work for a magazine display their frailties and egos. They are an eclectic bunch of young individuals, constantly sniping at each other. Verbal sparring par excellence.

There is the hard drinking, wannabe author and socialising Dean, the self-centred and free spending Kendra, put-upon intern Miles and inquisitive Ani.

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Add in stressed fact-checker Lorin who detests noise and complains all the time and Nan (the boss) who we initially do not see  apart from a bag of her vomit – and the jigsaw is complete, apart from Gloria. A moody Gloria who the night before had held a party which only Dean from among the office had bothered to turn up to (he got horribly drunk, explaining his tardiness that morning).

The office exchanges are fierce. ‘How do you get away with this?’ asks Dean as Kendra offers to  go out on a Starbucks coffee run. ‘Get away with what?’ she snarls. ‘Doing no work. You just got here an hour late, called China or something, monologued about baby boomers for fifteen minutes, and now you’re leaving on a coffee break.’

This verbal punch up continues with Kendra stating that their industry is dominated by privileged straight white men. Dean’s response is deliciously spiky. ‘Kendra, you’re a rich Asian girl from Pasadena with a degree from Harvard. That is essentially a privileged straight white man.’ Killer words.

What happens next  is unexpected and shocking. But as the play’s title suggests, Gloria is at its epicentre.

The second act switches to a Starbucks’ coffee house and then to the offices of a television production company. The scenes are dominated by yet more vitriolic (and violent) exchanges between Kendra and Dean – and the attempt by both of them and Nan to further their careers as a result of the Gloria ‘incident’.

A lonely (and age aware) Lorin, temping at the television company, is bemused by those who he is working for as well as belittled when he meets up with Nan who fails to recognise him. An individual whose time has been and gone. Too old (late thirties).

The acting is outstanding with all six actors contributing to the play’s magnificence. Apart from Bo Poray (brilliant as earnest Lorin), the others either double or triple up.

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Kae Alexander plays a laid back Jenna (an executive at the television company) to perfection. You could boil a kettle by the time she ends a sentence. She is also the spitting, snarling Kendra.

Colin Morgan is superb as an ever more desperate Dean and marvels in a cameo role as an angry IT worker at the TV company.

Completing the cast are Ellie Kendrick (excellent as Callie, Jenna’s assistant), Bayo Gbadamosi (whose eyes do all the talking as a Starbucks’ barista) and Sian Clifford (doubling up as Gloria and Nan). There is not a weak link in this production directed by Michael Longhurst. The set design (Lizzie Clachan) is sublime – and of course we have the musical accompaniment of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (Gloria).

What a shame that this superlative play is taking place just as the Arts Council has slashed Hampstead’s Theatre’s funding by 14 per cent. A reduction that Edward Hall, Hampstead’s artistic director, has described as swinging a ‘wrecking ball’ through the theatre’s future plans.

What would Jacob-Jenkins say? Maybe a trigger point for another play that in time will become a Pulitzer Finalist for Drama – as Gloria was last year while playing Off-Broadway.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Sibling Rivalry as the Aussie Bacon Cooks to Sizzle – Food (Theatre Review)

Hair-Raising Australian Horror – Hounds of Love (Film Review)

The American Dream in the Dark – Nightcrawler (Film Review)

Dean/Devin: Colin Morgan

Kendra/Jenna: Kae Alexander

Ani/Sasha/Callie: Ellie Kendrick

Gloria/Nan: Sian Clifford

Miles/Shawn/Rashaad: Bayo Gbadamosi

Lorin: Bo Poraj

Writer: Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Director: Michael Longhurst

Designer: Lizzie Clachan

https://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/

Gloria runs until July 29

Sibling Rivalry as the Aussie Bacon Sizzles – Food (Theatre Review)

1 STAR

FOOD is one of two appetising plays currently playing at the ambitious Finborough Theatre in London’s Chelsea (the other is Mr Gillie).

As its title implies, the backdrop to the play is food, (not quite) glorious food – cooked in a takeaway situated along an Australian highway, beside a river and north of a big country town. But it is no more than an appetiser because the crux of the play centres on the difficult relationship between sisters Elma (Emma Playfair) and Nancy (Lily Newbury-Freeman).

Separated by two years, the sisters are polar opposites. Elma, the eldest, is all anger and resentment – the sibling who stayed at home and ran the takeaway while Mum went from one relationship to another.

In contrast, Nancy gives off more pheromones than can be found in a Sydney brothel and attracts men without trying. Sadly, some abused her when she was a mere teenager (giving rise to a comment that she was the one with ‘two arms and three holes’). Indeed, at age 17, her mother’s boyfriend Craig locked her in the bathroom – ‘He kissed me and I kissed him’.  Consensual, yes,  but it was a relationship that triggered her moving away, leaving Elma to soldier on and hold the proverbial takeaway fort.

In the present, Nancy has returned home. The relationship between the siblings is fraught and as the play unfolds we learn why it is so powderkeg- as we are taken back to key defining moments in their childhood and teenage years.

Into the frying pan is tossed Hakan (Scott Karim), a delightful (and good-looking) Turk who turns up on their doorstep and persuades Elma (through Nancy) that he can help the two transform their takeaway into a restaurant serving such delights as corned beef, lamb shanks and roasted scallops.

Hakan is a charmer who proclaims to be ‘above average’ as both a kitchen hand and photographer. He is also quite happy talking about his love life and the eleven lovers he has enjoyed on his travels (two together in one night and Anthea who took to weeing on his chest).

Predictably, Hakan falls for Nancy but, seemingly out of guilt for the hardship Elma has endured, Nancy encourages him to look towards her older sister for conquest number twelve.

It all makes for 90 minutes of good fare although the ending is a little unsatisfactory. Newbury-Freeman is splendid as the sexy, sultry and somewhat foul-mouthed Nancy while Playfair plays the downtrodden older sister manfully (if you know what I mean) and comes out with some splendid lines. Especially when she accuses Hakan of looking at Nancy as if she were a ‘steak’. I also love her bluntness. ‘I want to kiss you,’ urges Hakan. ‘Fuck off’, she replies.

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But it is Karim who steals the show with his devilish good looks, charm and self-deprecation. He endears himself to the audience even more by talking to them directly, handing out mints (breath fresheners) and bread (as do Elma and Nancy). ‘I like to make each meal a gift’, he proclaims. You cannot help but fall in love with him.

The play, written by Aussie Steve Rodgers, is expertly directed by Cressida Brown while the staging is imaginative. Ladders are used for the actors to escape up when they do not form part of the dialogue. A fridge, cooker and deep fat-fryer are wheeled across the stage – on occasion cleverly used to frame certain scenes (Nancy’s encounter with five lustful men).

The Finborough rarely disappoints – and so is the case with Food. Not worthy of a Michelin star but a good night out nonetheless.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

For more information about Food, visit the Finborough Theatre website

Also read: Hair-Raising Australian Horror – Hounds of Love (Film Review)

The American Dream in the Dark – Nightcrawler (Film Review)

‘ALL OUR CHILDREN’ – CHILDREN. OUR WONDERFUL CHILDREN (THEATRE REVIEW)

 

Elma: Emma Playfair

Nancy: Lily Newbury-Freeman

Hakan: Scott Karim

Playwright: Steve Rodgers

Director: Cressida Brown

Designer: Hannah Wolfe

The American Dream in the Dark – Nightcrawler (Film Review)

Check out my review of brilliant Australian horror Hounds Of Love. Out in cinemas on July 28

THE American dream does not sleep, nor does it have a moral code.

Lurking in the sinister shadows of a Los Angeles night is Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an opportunist on the hunt for success – at any cost.

One evening, a bloody accident at the side of the road introduces Louis to the world of freelance crime journalism. This profession involves filming the immediate aftermath of the night’s most compelling – and bloody – incidents, ready to be sold and aired on the next morning’s news. 

It is a world director Dan Gilroy paints in particularly murky and morbid fashion. One that manipulates crime, markets blood and stokes fear – all for profit. 

As told to Louis: ‘If it bleeds it leads.’ It is part of a mentality which means entertainment and ratings take priority over both factual accuracy and credibility. (We only have to glance at the pantomime that surrounded the 2016 US Presidential Election – exploiting fears and manipulating truths – to understand this approach.)

The moral ambivalence of his job does not discourage Louis. Instead it lights a fierce determinism which pushes him to darker and riskier deeds.  

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There is certainly a hint of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman in Louis – from his medium length, slicked back hair to an unnervingly mechanical approach towards  life. There is also a pent up aggression which threatens to boil to the surface at any moment.

Louis also talks in rehearsed formalities. As though he is regurgitating a copy of Business Management for Dummies. Unsurprisingly, he later admits to being self-taught on the Internet, another probe from Gilroy at the ever-dehumanising direction of our culture. 

Gyllenhaal brilliantly embodies this driven, on-edge and creepy character. His physique appears slim and slumped, a far cry from his muscular look in Southpaw a year later.

But the real window into Louis’ character lies in his face, which Gilroy’s camera takes every opportunity to lock in on. His expressions often teeter captivatingly between a boyish excitement and Bateman-like psychopathy.

It all comes through in the size of his grin and the intensity or softness of his eyes.

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Louis is not the only disturbing creature in Nightcrawler. Nina (Rene Russo) runs the morning show that Louis sells his footage to. She too will sacrifice morals if it means job security and a larger pay-cheque.

Frank (Kevin Rahm), the network’s voice of reason, is one of few within the film to oppose this outlook.

Likewise, Louis’ likeable assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed) – who brings the film’s biggest laughs – often voices his shock and disapproval at his boss’s actions.

In one chilling scene, Louis and Rick show up to film the horrific aftermath of a crash involving a familiar face. While Rick is struggling to come to terms with the situation, Louis leers over the victim like a gaunt-faced, camera-wielding grim reaper.

A comparison which Louis later reinforces by saying: ‘I like to say, if you see me you are having the worst day of your life.’

Of course, the gloomy setting of the film reflects Louis’ cold outlook. Los Angeles, recently seen energised by the vibrant colours of Damien Chazelle’s La La Land, is instead engulfed in darkness.

Bright murals make way for dull street and car lights. Bold primary colours are non-existent. Rather, we see the film’s characters lit up by the ominous glow of police and ambulance beacons.

Tellingly, Nightcrawler opens with a shot of an empty advertising hoarding on a desert road at night. The American Dream in the dark.

This image marries the opportunism of American life, reaching back to the frontier days, with a disquieting menace. The type of menace which saw frontiersmen brutally wipe out and displace the natives in the name of commerce, destiny and – as they saw it – progress.

Louis has similar instincts.

Yet, as the sounds of James Newton Howard’s drifting and uplifting electric guitar suggests, Louis’ story can be viewed as an inspirational one.

At a time when millennials are criticised for having a passive, lazy and expectant approach to life, Louis demonstrates a willingness to craft his own destiny. Even if it comes at the expense of others.

He is an entrepreneur. A survivalist. A winner.

Keep in mind the role and impact (or lack of) of the police and Frank in this film when you reflect on this.

Whatever way you read it, Nightcrawler is a fascinating watch with a mesmerising performance from Gyllenhaal. 

A brilliant film of our time. Gloomy, yes. But pertinent. A must see.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also Read: Hair-Raising Australian Horror – Hounds of Love (Film Review)

Wrestling With Reality – The Wrestler (2008)

Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

Nightcrawler – 4/5

Dire & Scre: Dan Gilroy

Music: James Newton Howard

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, Kevin Rahm

DOP: Robert Elswit

Hair-Raising Australian Horror – Hounds of Love (Film Review)

5 STARS

HOT on the trail of Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Julia Ducournau (Raw), Ben Young is the latest talent to cut his directorial teeth in fine fashion with an inventive and hair-raising horror film.

His debut feature, Hounds of Love, is set to the backdrop of a sweaty (not snowy) Christmas in 1987 Perth, Australia.

Schoolgirl Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is taking her parents’ separation hard and, after a row with her mother (Susie Porter), sneaks out of the house late at night to attend a party.

Dolled up and alone, Vicki makes prime prey for psychopathic couple, Evelyn (Emma Booth) and John (Stephen Curry), who trawl the suburban streets in search of vulnerable teens.

As the title suggests, these are savage predators. They lure Vicki to their home (and part-time dungeon) before sadistically chaining her to the bed. Bloodied tissues and bent coat hangers littered on the floor act as chilling indicators of what may be in store for the teen.

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As signs of friction between Evelyn and John begin to show, Vicki is left in a desperate – and unlikely – race against time to escape her captors’ clutches.

Young has plenty of tricks up his sleeve to hold the viewers interest and, when necessary, crank up the seat-gripping tension. Perhaps the most effective of these is a snail-paced crawling camera paired with slow motion.

The film opens on this note, as we see lingering, sexualised close-ups of schoolgirls playing netball (later on we will see close-ups of Vicki’s terrified and tortured eyes). Young then reveals we are watching through the creepy voyeurist eyes of the psychopathic couple laying in wait.

It’s an unsettling sequence which sets the tone for the cold-blooded action still to come.

When we move into the horror house, Young utilises the tight layout and open doors to show there’s no room to hide. We are often left watching Vicki from one room to another, just out of our reach, only adding to the hopelessness of her situation.

This layout also allows the camera to slowly drift around, at times stretching out the suspense to great effect.

All of this tension is underlined by Dan Luscombe’s eerie and pulsing 80’s synth score. Likewise, the soothing sounds of Cat Stevens’ Lady D’Arbanville and The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin cannot escape the disturbing context given to them.

With a captivating central performance from Booth that delves into issues of cyclical abuse, Hounds of Love has depth beyond its surface scares.

For that, Young deserves acclaim alongside Peele and Ducournau. Hounds of Love is a brilliant showcase of the horror genre. Clever and impactful.

One for the hounds of cinema to dig their claws into – and feel sated.

Hounds of Love is out in cinemas on July 28

Thank you for reading. Please like, comment and share!

Also read: Q&A with Raw director Julia Ducournau  

Wrestling With Reality – The Wrestler (2008)

James recommends: Chronicle (2012)

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

Hounds of Love – 4/5

Dire and Scre: Ben Young

Cast: Emma Booth, Ashleigh Cummings, Stephen Curry, Susie Porter, Damien de Montemas, Harrison Gilbertson

Music: Dan Luscombe

Cinematography: Michael McDermott

Wrestling With Reality – The Wrestler (2008)

5 STARS

‘The real world is faker than professional wrestling.’

These are the playful words of Mick Foley, or, as you may know him better, Mankind. A mask-wearing, sock-wielding masochist who was once infamously thrown off a 16-foot cell by The Undertaker.

Yes, it is time to talk about the zany world of wrestling, but not as many of us know it. That is because director Darren Aronofsky, in 2008, decided to point his lens at a shadowy part of this multi-billion dollar industry.

Far from the bright lights and corporate atmosphere of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), a litany of performers, from young up-and-comers to grizzled veterans, toil away on the independent wrestling scene.

Previously spotlighted in Barry Blaustein’s fascinating documentary Beyond the Mat (1999), this grittier realm is largely marked by small audiences, unreliable pay-cheques and dingy locker rooms.

That is exactly where we find broken-down star of the 80’s Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson (played by Mickey Rourke).

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In one telling early scene, Randy hobbles and wheezes his way out of a venue, as Aronofsky’s camera pulls back to reveal his underwhelming surroundings. He is long separated from the big leagues of his chosen profession.

The Wrestler follows Randy as a heart attack forces him to reassess his reckless life – inside, outside and after the ring.

Aronofsky utilises a documentarian style with handheld cameras and natural light adding an unwavering sense of realism to the story.

He is also not afraid to lift the curtain on some of wrestling’s trade secrets. This includes Randy piecing together the details of his match backstage and preparing a ‘blade’ to draw his own blood in the ring.

For most of the film, Aronofsky’s camera trails behind Randy, as though the wrestler is constantly performing his ring walk-out. It is part of a losing battle to move away from his wrestling persona and transition him back into the ordinary world.

This struggle is brilliantly epitomised by one sequence in which Randy makes his way to work at a supermarket deli counter.

The sound of a cheering wresting crowd builds, but just as ‘The Ram’ goes through the curtain – in this instance through the PVC strips – silence prevails. Reality hits home. His days of performing for huge crowds are over.

There are also notable parallels drawn between Randy and his favourite stripper Cassidy (played by the magnificent Marisa Tomei), who is also questioning her future.

Their ageing bodies have left them on the scrap heap of their superficial professions. Where do they go next? Where indeed.

One way Randy looks to reconnect with the real world is with his estranged daughter (Westworld’s excellent Evan Rachel Wood). It is in these moments that Aronofsky finally shows an intimate close-up of Randy’s face.

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Perhaps there is life beyond his ridiculous tights and brutal headlocks.

The Wrestler is an undoubted triumph for Aronofsky. This is no better demonstrated than the rehabilitating effect the film had on Rourke. Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson is a role made for a jaded star who brings his own turbulent history to the character.

Wrestling fan or not, The Wrestler is a film worth grappling with.

Thank you for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: James recommends: Chronicle (2012)

Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

The Shepherd (Film Review)

James recommends: Chronicle (2012)

1 STAR

HOW do three high schoolers react when they are gifted the heady responsibility of superhero powers?

That is the question director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis concisely pose in this engaging and bold movie.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is a greasy haired, weary eyed introvert chronicling his life through a camera (yes, this is another found footage flick).

At home, his mother is bed-ridden and racking up unaffordable medical bills. His father (House of Cards’ Michael Kelly) is a retired fireman who has hit the booze and, when he has had enough of that, hits Andrew.

Unsurprisingly, the camera-wielding outcast finds no refuge at High School. The glum Seattle skies paired with the graininess of his student camera only reinforce Andrews cheerless situation.

That is until one evening when Andrew is led down a mysterious hole in the woods, along with cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and popular high schooler, Steve (Michael B Jordan).

They emerge with newfound powers and soon begin testing them out in the trivial ways you might expect from teenage boys. Levitating legos and supermarket mischief ensues.

But, as established by an earlier reference to the pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, this comedic tinge does not last long.

Trank and Landis throw an abrupt – and dark – curve in the road, which builds towards an ambitious finale.

It is all well-designed and compelling enough to see through the lean 89 minute runtime.

Trank also wisely manoeuvres around some of the found footage trappings that have made the subgenre tiresome to many. Different perspectives, including a love-interest vlogger (Ashely Hinshaw) and CCTV cameras, prevent visual stagnation from setting in.

Likewise, the casting and performances deserve recognition. In particular, Jordan, who demonstrates the likability and swagger he will knock us out with in Creed three years later.

Unfortunately for Trank, his recent chance at a big-money superhero franchise, Fantastic Four (2015), brought him back down to earth with a thud. Meanwhile, Landis’ best work since has been his brilliant YouTube short Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling.

With hindsight, Chronicle works as an allegory for gun control in America (the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred ten months after the movie’s release).

It demonstrates the danger of allowing potentially lethal powers to fall into the hands of those who do not necessarily have the maturity, support or mental stability to handle them.

Discussion-provoking stuff. Not bad for an unashamedly low-budget pursuit (it overachieved massively at the box-office).

Chronicle is a movie well worth visiting – or revisiting – in these difficult and dangerous times.

Thanks for reading. Please like, share and comment!

Also read: Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

The Shepherd (Film Review)

Falling in Love with La La Land

Chronicle – 4/5

Dire: Josh Trank

Scre: Josh Trank and Max Landis

Cast: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B Jordan, Michael Kelly, Ashley Hindsaw

 

 

Grief and Isolation in Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea

Spoiler warning. Our In-Focus series takes a look at Manchester By The Sea. 

OVER the past year American cinema has given us some beautifully tender and moving moments. The kiss in Moonlight, the planetarium dance in La La Land and the closing revelation in Arrival.

But none more heart-rending than the ‘stroller scene’ in Kenneth Lonergan’s magnificent Manchester By The Sea.

A moment which brings together former husband Lee (Oscar winning Casey Affleck) and wife Randi (Michelle Williams, another Oscar winner). Two broken hearts that are stranded at different stages of an unbearable grieving process – the loss of their three children in a house fire caused by Lee’s negligence.

It is a difficult, uncomfortable and emotionally compelling scene. Three minutes of cinema that will remain ingrained in my brain forever.

Speaking at a Curzon Q&A earlier this year, Lonergan explained the thought process behind the scene. He said: ‘I said to Casey: you cannot bare to speak to her, but you also don’t want to hurt her feelings for asking. To make her feel bad for trying to speak to you. But you also have to try and get out of the conversation.

‘I said the same to Michelle: you have to reach out to him and pull him out of the hole he’s in, but you don’t want to hurt him by doing it.’

The scene arrives with Lee, still at the bottom of his irreconcilable pit of anguish, and Randi, now re-married and ready for some form of reconciliation. All the while the stroller, a signifier of Randi’s progress and her willingness to continue with life by creating another human being, sits as a silent barrier between them.

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Moving away from the stroller scene, Lonergan reinforces Lee’s self-imposed isolation with his framing.

Lee is often shunted to the side of the screen or captured slightly out of our reach. When Lonergan’s camera does get close, Lee’s eyes drift to one side or, even more evasively, to the floor.

Likewise, Lee’s posture is rigid and guarded. His shoulders are hunched in defeat and his arms rarely move from his side – unless he is ready to throw a few fists. Indeed, Lee seems willing to make any excuse to get in a fight and, better still, get beaten up.

The brawling, partially a result of his Bostonian machismo, also acts as an outlet for self-harm – in many ways a less definitive punishment than his attempted suicide in the police station.

The life Lee has set out for himself is akin to a prison life-sentence.

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His desolate mourning is only underlined by the people around him. The film opens with janitor Lee (a jack of all trades) attending to customers who have issues going on in their lives. One moment, we view a grandmother making plans to attend a Bar Mitzvah. The next, we see a flirtatious woman on the phone to her friend seemingly infatuated with Lee.

Lee, for the most part, remains emotionless or is provoked into losing his temper, triggering a rebuke from his boss. He returns to the solitude of his barren room to fall asleep while watching hockey with a beer in his hand.

But is it his relationship with nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges) which make his grieving most apparent.

When the two return home from visiting Joe’s body (his brother and Patrick’s father), Patrick immediately asks if he can invite his friends over. Patrick’s friends lift his spirits with aimless chat about Star Trek, while Lee retreats, once again, to spend the evening alone in his room.

This was not always the case for Lee. Manchester By The Sea is told in a non-linear fashion, adding a sense of mystery and dread to his story.

The most tragic flashback occurs as Lee finds out he has been chosen as Patrick’s guardian. Lonergan cleverly pairs together the haunting moments which have prompted Lee’s isolation with a moment, at least intended by his brother, to help pull him out of this state. To give him responsibility and purpose – something or someone to live for.

These flashbacks also offer a window into the kind of character Lee was before the tragic incident. A warm family man with many friends. A love for fishing, booze, weed and sex with his wife.

But in the present he has stripped himself of the right to a personal life. Even when Sandy’s mum (Sandy being one of Patrick’s girlfriends) invites him in for a friendly chat, Lee cannot bring himself to muster up thirty minutes of small talk with Jill (Heather Burns). Upstairs, Patrick is trying in vain to get into Sandy’s briefs (Sandy is flirtatiously played by Anna Baryshnikov).

Patrick’s grief, more manageable because of the inevitability of his father’s passing (Joe had a long standing heart condition), does not prevent him from continuing his life. As he points out to Lee, he has a band, many friends and at least two girlfriends.

Lee, on the other hand, has become a janitor, undeserving of anything else.

The closing moments of Manchester By The Sea show Lee and Patrick fishing on the family boat. This appears to be the only place Lee truly feels at ease.

The sea offers him respite and evokes memories of a better time. It allows him to be detached from the town where his children perished and out of reach from the locals who still gossip and judge him.

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Indeed, in an earlier scene, he had even cracked a smile on board before bumping into Randi back on land – a meeting marked by the thumping halt to the upbeat and promising sounds of Ella Fitzgerald’s I’m Beginning to See the Light.

Manchester by the Sea is a magical film which has deserved all the awards that has come its way. But that stroller scene will linger long in my mind. It deserves an award in its own right.

Thanks for reading. Please like, comment and share!

Also read: “I just burst into tears” – Q&A with Manchester By The Sea director Kenneth Lonergan

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

Falling in Love with La La Land

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

 

MTV, GTA and Britney: Nightmares of Popular Culture in Spring Breakers (2012)

DO you remember a time when MTV was the edgiest – if not the coolest – channel on television?

Well those days are long gone now. Turn on MTV and you will likely be watching re-runs of Catfish or some show about teenage pregnancy.

No longer at the cutting-edge of youth culture, the channel seems content churning out relatively safe and formulaic reality shows.

But there was a time when MTV, as blogger Amanda Marcotte put it, had the power to open up ‘a whole new world of possibilities’ – particularly for those living in secluded areas where conservative values are fiercely guarded.

MTV could expose small town religious folk to cosmopolitan, inner-city progressive thinking in a fresh, youthful and vibrant manner. It pitted old against young. Teachers against television. Bible against Britney.

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This, of course, was every strict conservative parent’s worst nightmare and many fought back to censor such vulgarities.

Harmony Korine’s film, Spring Breakers, envisages a realm where these parental guidance fears and insecurities have been actualised in the most outrageous fashion. A culture of young people raised on the morals of Britney Spears, educated by the laws of Grand Theft Auto and pacified by MTV music videos.

Spring Break is all about kids in bathing suits’ – Bob Kusbit, MTV Senior Vice President of Production (1999)

The overt sexualisation of celebrities, especially in music videos, continues to be a fiercely debated subject.

Figures such Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj have come under fire for setting poor examples to their younger audiences. In Spring Breakers, Korine parades former Disney stars in bikinis as they tote guns, toke bongs and lustfully lick phallic objects.

Korine sets this tone from the opening sequence, confronting the viewer with a barrage of naked and out-of-control bodies to the equally abrasive sound of Skrillex. This sexualised imagery immediately becomes part of the aesthetic, which includes black and white camcorder shots that evoke thoughts of MTV Spring Break specials and Girls Gone Wild.

Our bikini-clad protagonists (played by Ashley Benson, Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez and Rachel Korine) are clearly influenced by the music videos they grew up with.

Early on in the film, they sing Nelly’s It’s Getting Hot in Here as they mess around in their underwear. The focus of Korine’s camera switches between voyeuristically distant shots and, momentary, hyper-sexual close-ups.

This connection with the music they grew up with also seeps through in more subtle ways, such as the repetitive voiceovers which keep returning, hypnotically, like the hook of a pop song. Moreover, Korine uses iconography that we might expect to see in music videos, like the lifting garage, the mopeds through the streets or the silhouetted girls standing in the pouring rain.

My loneliness is killing me (and I) I must confess, I still believe (still believe)
When I’m not with you I lose my mind
Give me a sign
Hit me, baby, one more time – Britney Spears, 1998

Later on, music from the young women’s youth is more closely linked to their moral decay. They sing Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time and dance around a parking lot, at one point trying to mimic the dance moves from the music video.

Their fun peters out and they begin to recreate the earlier robbery scene. This time they make Faith (Gomez) – who was not there and represents the must innocent figure in the film – the victim.

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Korine interjects with images from the robbery, this time showing perspectives from inside the diner. The effect second time around is strikingly different and deeply unsettling. The women show an intense raw aggression – and perverse enjoyment – which clearly upsets Faith.

This detachment from their violent actions is established as the girls hype themselves up for the robbery by saying: ‘just pretend like it’s a video game.’ Certainly, the ease of at which they commit violence acts, especially in the closing scene, mirrors video games such a Grand Theft Auto.

As highlighted by the gun sound transitions Korine uses, this violence lingers unapologetically around every corner of Spring Breakers.

This one’s by a little known pop singer by the name of miss Britney Spears. One of the greatest singers of all-time, and an angel if there ever was one on this earth.” – Alien, Spring Breakers

It is no surprise that the most memorable scene of the film provides the most direct and disturbing link between their popular culture upbringings and their corrupted behaviour.

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The young women (minus Faith, who has returned home in terror) sit around a piano to hear Alien sing a cover of Britney Spears´ hit Everytime. More unnervingly, they are clutching guns and donning fluorescent balaclavas reminiscent of punk feminist protest group Pussy Riot.

Once again, Korine interjects, this time with a montage of violent robberies. It as though they are sitting around the church organ, worshipping their perverse and chilling hedonism to the sounds of their ‘angel’ Britney.

Yet when all is said and done, they return home largely unscathed and ready to sink back into the routine and conformity of their lives. The violence and the partying have all just been part of the fun – an escape from boredom so as to indulge in a culture of taboo and chaos.

Korine simply observes, sometimes too close for comfort. He does it in a way that is provocative and layered, mindless and pleasure-filled, repulsive and exploitative. It all depends on the viewer’s disposition.

Regardless, this is one hallucinogenic, stylish, neon-lit thrill-ride I recommend that you take a chance on.

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Also read:

The Shepherd (Film Review)

THE LEVELLING – FAMILY TURMOIL AMID THE FLOODS (FILM REVIEW)

More In-Focus:

Falling in Love with La La Land

Kaufman’s Puppet Show: Alienation in Anomalisa

Cinematic Poetry: An In-Depth Reading of Jim Jarmusch’s Film Paterson (2016)

Subversive casting: Introducing Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers