Category Archives: Reviews

12 Years A Slave

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A few hundred words to review 12 Years A Slave will simply not do it justice; posing the question where on earth to begin with a film that evoked such an array of emotions? One thing I will say, to me this film was flawless in its portrayal of the characters, the setting of the plantations and most importantly in the stark reality of the hardships and brutality faced by the slave population. To miss out on such a moving, powerful film would be doing a great disservice to yourself.

Steve McQueen, British director of 12 Years A Slave, has already won himself an award for best director from the New York Film Critics Circle alongside a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture with this film. It is rumoured he may soon become the first black film-maker to win an Oscar for best director. McQueen is also known for his first feature length film, Hunger which won him the Camera d’Or award. Again starring Michael Fassbender, it is another uncomfortable yet poignant watch and after having seen both films, the parallels between them are numerous.

So what is the film about? The plot, with screenplay by John Ridley, follows the true 19th century memoir of Solomon Northup played by Chiwetel Ejiofor. Solomon is a musician, husband, father and educated citizen of New York State who in 1841 is betrayed, kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South. From where his journey begins, being sold to plantation owner, Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) to his run-ins with Tibeats, Ford’s cruel farmhand (Paul Dano) and finally to his sale and subsequent torment at the hands of plantation owner Epp’s (Michael Fassbender). Solomon Northup is deprived of his identity, unwillingly renamed ‘Platt,’ his dignity and most of all his humanity.

Similar to McQueen’s Hunger, and what contributed consistently to the raw poignancy of 12 Years A Slave, were the long single-take scenes. From a lengthy close up of Solomon’s pained face, to being cruelly strung up to a tree, left to dangle on the edge of his life whilst the plantation quietly ambled on around him. The minutes seem to drag by as some of these single scenes made for an extremely uncomfortable watch; however their purpose is subtly yet powerfully evident. Undoubtedly what is most shocking and what appears to be the driving force behind this emotional powerhouse, is the brutality. One scene, that I can’t seem to shake off and which left me feeling sickened to the point where myself and a couple of other people in the cinema had to look away, was the whipping of Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o). The uncensored and unflinching violence inflicted on Patsey during this scene as well as over the course of the film, remained just under the level of gratuitous but simply realistic stopping the film from becoming just another Hollywood blockbuster.

Whilst the majority of the focus may be on the brilliance of Chiwetel Ejiofor and rightly so, Michael Fassbender’s portrayal of Epps is what struck me most. Having seen a great deal of what he’s already starred in such as Inglorious Basterds, Eden Lake, A Dangerous Method and Hunger, this is the best performance I’ve seen from him so far. His character, Master Epps bordering on psychotic and sadistic was frighteningly unpredictable, creating almost unbearable scenes of suspense. Fassbender personified the barbarianism and cruelty capable of plantation owners and did so with terrifying ease. At the other end of the spectrum, Solomon Northup alongside Patsey brought to life the suffering and struggle of the slave population. Solomon especially so with his heart-wrenchingly pure facial expressions of utter anguish and despair. Chiwetel Ejiofor skilfully never underplays or overdoes the role of his character, bringing an unquestionable and relatable quality to Solomon.

Whilst 12 Years A Slave is not an easy watch by any means, it has brought back to the forefront of people’s minds a topic that we may have become desensitized to over time. This beautiful yet harrowing film left me feeling emotionally drained and somewhat disillusioned with human nature’s brutal capabilities, yet also with reaffirmed faith in the unbelievable strength of human spirit to overcome all the odds, at all costs.

Elin Morris
@ElinMorris2509

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CBSO Friday Night Classics: ABBA Symphonic Spectacular @ Symphony Hall

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What does one get when they mix the hits of ABBA with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra? An absolutely fantastic evening, that’s what.

A little apprehensive, having never been to view a performance at the Symphony Hall, I wasn’t quite sure of what the night would entail, yet what a truly wonderful event it turned out to be, nostalgia was in the air and it reminded the audience of just how powerful the music of ABBA can be.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has had recent seasons involving tours of Germany and Switzerland and a prestigious seven-concert tour of Japan and Taiwan. The Orchestra is loved across the globe and exists to inspire the next generation to participate in music. The evening was conducted by Stephen Bell and the vocals were performed by Capital voices, directed by Annie Skates.

I entered the auditorium with an idea of the grandeur I was about to witness, I was amazed as expected, at the spectacle in front of me. Galleries and tiers leading up to a high ceiling – a wonderfully regal and grand sight to behold.  The air of elegancy soon disappeared as the Orchestra entered the room, all dressed head to toe in 70s fancy dress. This immediately lifted the atmosphere and reminded the audience what a fun and cheesy evening this was going to be.

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Stephen Bell, conductor

Before the vocal group arrived, the Orchestra provided us with a spectacular ABBA montage that was utterly breathtaking to listen to, the music soared above and beyond the auditorium. After this, Capital Voices entered the stage, also dressed in ABBA themed costumes, beginning their opening number with ‘Waterloo’, this upbeat hit immediately had the audience clapping away and swaying. The night then followed accordingly, before each track the group would give a brief background to the song, this altogether made the interaction between them and the audience more personal, and allowed the audience to loosen up.

Many performances stood out across the evening, ‘The Winner Takes It All,’ for example, was a wonderful rendition that Annie Skates performed with incredible emotion, touching the hearts of many in the room. ‘Dancing Queen’ came before the interval, leaving the first half of the evening with an upbeat, buzzing tone. Capital Voices opened with ‘Lay all your love on me’ in the second half, and were greatly aided by the incredible orchestra, as they seemed a little pitchy at first and the orchestra upheld an empowering rhythm that blotted out any vocal issues. The evening ended with ‘Thank you for the music’, which had the audience swaying and singing along in a heart-warming fashion.

Though this wasn’t the end, the group and the orchestra, spurred on by the excitable audience, performed an encore of ‘Waterloo’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ which had the entire auditorium (including myself) on their feet, dancing, swaying and clapping along to the beat of the music. Looking around at the older generation of people in the audience, this spectacular finale gave off a sense of nostalgic happiness, whilst looking at the younger generation, you could see how the love of ABBA had been past down by parents and grandparents, similar to myself, as my passion for ABBA was the result of my mothers constant blasting of their classics through the house in my childhood.

Overall, the night was a success. Capital Voices were great performers, though a little cheesy, it added to the buzzing atmosphere. The CBSO, as predicted, were mesmerizing, and were the real stars of the show. The Orchestra echoed through the auditorium with every song, but both the CBSO and Capital Voices, bounced off each other brilliantly and gave the audience a night to remember!

Thank you for the music, CBSO!

By Jessica Green

Grizzly Pear Ft. Bohdan Piasecki @ Bristol Pear

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I think I might have attended every Writers’ Bloc open mic night since starting university; I’ve probably reviewed about eighty-five percent of them too. When you go a long time without something, it’s quite easy to forget what you’re missing: that old saying: ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ usually isn’t wrong. I feel a little like that about Grizzly Pear: each time the next one rolls around, I’ve usually forgotten that it exists, and I attend, not with reluctance, but with a sense that it all might just be the same again.

Of course, I am generally wrong. Yes, there are a few who unfairly use the stage in the Bristol Pear as a soapbox for their opinions and promptly leave after their turn is over, but, overall, the people who attend and perform at Grizzly Pear reignite my love for poetry. Last night I met people who had never attended before, and saw poems and prose pieces performed by complete strangers, old friends and familiar faces. Grizzly Pear succeeds in creating a sense of community in just a few hours.

It is also easy to forget what a feat Grizzly Pear actually is to pull off. The Writers’ Bloc committee, full-time university students, have to fund, organise and promote the night, and somehow secure a top-class headliner. I have seen Grizzly Pear move from strength-to-strength and through a few rough patches, but if last night was my first night, I would have been utterly impressed. In fact, I still was.

One of the best and simultaneously worst things about compere Ben Norris is that he can’t say ‘no’; if you go to Grizzly Pear, you’re in it for the long haul. As a result, I won’t be providing a play-by-play of the open mic; I’ve had quite enough of 4000 word essays for this month.

Georgia Tindale kicked off the first half with three poems. My favourite was undoubtedly ‘The Medic’s Wife’, a poem about an unsatisfactory marriage, explored through images of a post-mortem. It was disturbing and performed brilliantly. Death seemed to be a popular topic with the performers in the first half: two readers who had travelled from outside the realms of Birmingham shared pieces about attempted suicides. Brenda Read-Brown’s poem about a New York City bus driver and a woman was touching and well-crafted, while Andrew Owens read a piece inspired by a conversation with his friend. His piece was compelling and well-written.

There were several poets who performed for the first time at Grizzly Pear: Louisa Robbin’s poem, intended to be accompanied by music, held its own with a narrative about an unsuccessful relationship wrought in excellent images. Daisy Edwards’s prose piece, ‘My Mother’, was a sentimental look at being the ‘brown cow’ in a family of ‘white mice’; the piece was confidently performed and lovely to hear.

There were also spoken word/ poetry regulars in attendance: Seasick Fist returned to the stage to show that he has been working hard on his craft. The refrain: ‘I want to live in a world where,’ was used to set up a series of internal rhymes, witty puns and a constantly shifting rhythm; it was a hit with the audience.

 Of course, it wouldn’t be Grizzly Pear if things didn’t get a little bizarre. Writers’ Bloc President Charlie Dart read a hilarious poem about his hat becoming more famous than himself. Leaving the hat on the mic stand, Charlie moved to sit on the edge of stage to perform his satire of fame and poetry. Jack Crowe read a poem about a possibly apocalyptic world in which everyone is a fish; his surreal images and deadpan delivery were reminiscent of Rob Auton’s style, and made an entertaining contribution to the evening. The audience was also treated to (and roped into, on some occasions) a play by Ben Jackson and Ali Moore, with narration from Joe Whitehead. There were strippers, literary in-jokes and Writers’ Bloc in-jokes; the duo certainly knows their audience.

Grizzly Pear attendees were also treated unexpectedly to a performance from UK National Story-telling Laureate Katrice Horsley. She gave a captivating, exuberant performance of two poems from a sequence of her work. Seeing her work was privilege.

Finally, attention must be moved onto the evening’s headliner, Bohdan Piasecki. It is unusual to see Bohdan perform in Birmingham; as organiser of the fantastic Hit the Ode and as the West Midlands co-ordinator for Apples and Snakes, Bohdan is usually on the administrative side of things. His performance at Grizzly Pear, then, was not one to miss.

Growing up in Poland informs a lot of Bohdan’s poetry, which is wrought with emotion and beauty consistently. His work is quietly devastating: from poems about his sister, to rap music, to the difficulty of growing up under a decaying Communist rule, Bohdan is able to make his audience laugh and cry within a few minutes.

I must admit that I was a fan of his poetry before Grizzly Pear; I have taken a wander around his little-publicised website and found the ‘George poems’, a series of increasingly surreal poems about a character taken from the tapes Bohdan used to learn English. I was therefore delighted to be able to hear more from this body of work.

Working as a compere has evidently influenced Bohdan’s ability to interact with his audience, as he asked the crowd to chant the Polish word for ‘yes’ (‘tak’), while he performed completely in his mother tongue. This poem highlighted Bohdan’s talent: not only does he write and perform largely in his second language, the poetry is exquisite.

Bohdan ended his set with a personal favourite, ‘Almost Certainly’. I believe strongly in the heresy of the paraphrase, and this intelligently crafted and emotionally devastating poem needs to be heard or read to be truly explained.

Grizzly Pear did it again: it won me over. With a complete committee overhaul in the near future, I hope that this poetry event’s legacy will be continued. Until then, there’s two more for this academic year, with appearances from Katie Bonna and Dizraeli. While I’m sure I’ll be blown away by them, I think they’re going to have to work extremely hard to knock this Grizzly Pear from the top of my list.

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake

Wolf of Wall Street

wolf of wall street

Scorsese’s latest picture is a three hour drug-fuelled, sex-driven marathon, with Leonardo Dicaprio taking the helm as a modern day Caligula. With one of his best films since the likes of Goodfellas and The Aviator, Scorsese gives us unadulterated access to the world of avarice, lust and amorality: Wall Street in the 90’s.

Based on the real life antics of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo Dicaprio), a stock broker, who manages to scam clients into buying stock to make millions a week for his own company Stratton Oakmont. With the likes of Danny Porush (Jonah Hill), Belfort’s right hand man, and Naomi Lapaglia (Margot Robbie) Belfort’s wife, the supporting cast itself is worth the fee of admission. The often dark, comedic wittiness between Dicaprio and Hill, reminiscent of some of Robert De Niro’s and Joe Pesci’s most memorable scenes in Raging Bull and Goodfellas, captures the enticing nature of the debauchery these men led their lives with.

Though there are no moral judgements passed. There are no real consequences and comeuppance for these characters, which has led to outcries in America. Contrary to these claims of Scorsese glamorising this world, more likely it is that we are left to bring judgement to these characters as adults. We are not told to condemn or do anything except watch Belfort’s antics through his own eyes and judge for ourselves.

With the Wolf of Wall Street getting five Oscar nominations, and with other heavyweight contenders this year such as the powerful 12 Years a Slave, or the less masterly of them, American Hustle, there is no chance that the film will do a clean sweep. The best hope lying with Dicaprio is his best actor nomination. More importantly, as most of Scorsese’s films have attempted, this film is like a mirror being held at our society right now, which is why there have been so many damning critiques about its amorality and debauchery. We all accept that this level debauchery happens daily, but find it hard to accept it when shown to us on a screen.

But, as is the case, you’re left in awe and feel guilty for it. After the economic downpour we still suffer from, why are we left with this mixture in our mouths?  Or as we leave the cinema, or throughout the film when you’re titillated, and at times go along with the ‘bad’ man, why does that happen?  Maybe what best describes this is from one of the many monologues Dicaprio recites in the movie: “There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor, and I choose rich every f*****g time. At least as a rich man, when I have to face my problems, I can show up in the back of a stretch limousine, wearing a two-thousand-dollar suit and a twenty-thousand-dollar gold watch! And, believe me, arriving in style makes your problems a helluva lot easier to deal with.” Maybe this is the message to be left with, all of us have that side to us, but it’s the Jordan Belfort’s and Danny Porush’s who can keep on pushing against restraint and trust. And many of us, with the right circumstances and changes, could potentially do the same and pick the rich life, the so-called good life.

By Shantok Jetha

Hetain Patel: At Home exhibition @ mac

at home‘Family’, one of the most obvious subject matters in the world, is filled with secrets and traditions. A side that no-one else in the world will ever see. The most universal topic in the world, yet rarely can its complexities be unravelled, if ever. Hetain Patel with this exhibition gives us a glimpse inside small characters, and scenarios involving his family. With a combination of video and photography he attempts to show us the personal with his own life being the centre of it all.

The exhibition includes the video ‘The First Dance’ which involves Patel’s wife as one of the main protagonists. She is involved again in the self-titled photographs ‘Eva’, showing us a glimpse into the couple’s relationship. Another installation, called ‘To Dance Like Your Dad’, focuses on the father – son relationship, and reminds us of our family legacy with its points on imitation.

Probably the most moving of all installations was the five-channel digital video titled ‘Mamai’. A portrait of Patel’s own grandmother going about her daily ritual of prayer every morning. It is quite affectionate, and in all of them she exhibits Patel’s recurring notions of faith and tradition, displayed through clothing in ‘The First Dance’ too. But, it’s Mamai which will pull on your heart. Perhaps because of the melancholy and sadness that is displayed on all of the screens, as through it all this is just an elderly lady sitting on a couch by herself singing hymns. After the decline of the body and memory with old age what is so poignant is the passion we witness as she is singing. This idea that keeps on coming up that our lives are our homes and families, and it is the small (considerably mundane) things we do daily is what define us. Mamai herself is a testament to this; she wipes her eyes one moment, picks at the seam of a nearby blanket and even fidgets with a napkin which never leaves her hands.

In 9 minutes with ‘Mamai’ Patel nearly brings you to tears, and a man who could do that in one installation is probably going to dwell in your mind, as with others who have seen the exhibition, for a long time.

By Shantok Jetha

The Best in Live Stand-up Comedy @ The Glee Club

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One of Birmingham’s best loved comedy nights is definitely at the Glee Club; situated in the Arcadian only a few minutes’ walk from New Street station and so is easily accessible by train. The Arcadian itself, however, is nothing like New Street or the Bull Ring. As a London lover, the Arcadian, though small, reminded me of a cross between Soho and Camden; with its quirky boutique stores, individually owned restaurants and interesting bars. In stark opposition to the hyper-commercialised nature of the majority of our city, the Arcadian is something just that bit different. Walking down the street toward the Glee Club you feel the atmosphere, and when I went I was kicking myself that I had not left enough time to eat at one of the restaurants as they all looked and smelled amazing. The Arcadian also boasts night clubs, and so is a different night out for those who are bored of Risa and Gatecrasher.

The Glee Club itself is a great place for an evening out that doesn’t revolve around the same clubs on Broad Street. We arrived early in order to soak up the feel of the place and waited in the lobby. Although it looks small, you feel as if you are in a secret little bar tucked away from everyone. The dim red lighting, comfortable armchairs and relaxing music makes everybody feel at ease. There was a bar here, but we decided to wait to get a drink in the room where we would be viewing the main performance. Once doors opened, we were quickly and efficiently taken to our seats and shown a menu. The room boasted a menu of averagely priced drinks, (around three pounds for a pint and four for a glass of wine) but it was the food on offer that really impressed me. There was a large selection and all at very competitive prices. The service of the waiters and waitresses is one of the quickest I have ever seen.

Around an hour after we arrived, the compere came on stage; a Mr Mikey D. I had not previously heard of any of the comedians performing on the night, but all were hilarious and had us in stitches. Mikey D was an Australian man who used accents hilariously and interacted with the audience, but only those who wanted to be interacted with (he didn’t pick on people). After a twenty minute set, he introduced the next comic, Ivo Graham. In his mid-twenties and with a posh London accent he reminded us both of Jack Whitehall, but was hysterical in his own right. Following this there was an interval, and then the other two comics, Carey Mark and Josh Howie performed. Every single comedian on the night was of a high quality, and even if they do not yet have high fame levels, I’m sure one day they will. The glee club also books incredibly famous comedians; Russell Howard has performed there and the legend that is Lee Evans is set to perform later this month.

Going to the glee club for the stand-up comedy night was an excellent evening out. If you want to eat, drink and laugh at the same time, I would definitely recommend it!

Josie Boston

Kill Your Darlings

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Allen Ginsberg is the man that made me love and write poetry. Not only did he introduce me to my biggest love, his opinions regarding literature, politics and sexuality often reflect my own, so to say that I revere him is an understatement.

Howl, the film about Ginsberg starring James Franco, is phenomenal. I was blown away by Franco’s ability to capture Ginsberg’s voice, intonation and mannerisms brilliantly. When I heard, then, that Daniel Radcliffe, master of wooden acting in the Harry Potter franchise and The Woman in Black, was taking on the role of my favourite poet, I was outraged. I’ve known about Kill Your Darlings for quite some time, and have been waiting for its release with trepidation. I expected that my experience of it would be riddled with disgust and a sardonic running commentary.

Contrary to popular belief, I like it when I’m proved wrong: just only when it’s for all the right reasons. Radcliffe was, quite honestly, great, and I’m not even ashamed to admit it. His accent was spot on (perhaps he didn’t quite reach Franco’s standard), and I was endeared by his performance of a young, impressionable Ginsberg.

What is Kill Your Darlings about, then? It follows Ginsberg after his acceptance into Columbia University, where he meets Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan), an anti-establishment literary revolutionary, and some of the earliest members of the Beat Generation, including Jack Kerouac.

Of course, when you think of the Beat Generation, you think of sex, drugs and alcohol, and you get that in Kill Your Darlings: Ginsberg and co. write during Benzedrine binges, attend underground parties and never really seem to suffer from the consequences of their actions. It is common for this generation to glamorise the exploits of a former generation, but I do think that it is at least used carefully in this film: the glamorisation isn’t to the level of Great Gatsby, and the sex scenes are poignant, emotional and raw, not gratuitous.

These scenes, emotional or humorous (in fact, I was surprised at how much I laughed during this film) were carried by an incredible cast. DeHann, known for his appearance in The Place Beyond the Pines and his upcoming performance in The Amazing Spider Man 2, had incredible onscreen chemistry with Radcliffe; the sexual tension was palpable, and their bond was entirely believable. DeHaan’s angelic look is at odds with his character’s actions, and this only contributes to his allure.

Jack Huston also made an excellent Kerouac, embodying the man I have imagined since reading On the Road: at times he was excitable and frivolous; at others he handled the film’s more serious tone deftly. I also particularly enjoyed Ben Foster’s portrayal of William S. Burroughs; it was a far cry from his disturbing (but excellent) performance in Alpha Dog, indicating his talent. Michael C. Hall made a superb David Kammerer: he was unnerving and frustrating. It is easy to overstep the line when playing an obsessive character, but Hall handled it very well.

While the film concerns a literary movement, this is actually a film with love at its core – however clichéd that sounds. The film explores the difficulty of being homosexual – not only socially, but within the eyes of the law – and the troubled nature of relationships. The writers’ possible addiction to drugs is mirrored in their addiction to one another: romantically or intellectually, the friends become embroiled in difficult and messy relationships, to the extent that their morals are incredibly questionable.

Circles play an important role in this film, so the fact that the film’s structure and shots reflect this subtly is a display of the craftsmanship behind it: scenes are often played in reverse, and then replayed to mimic the movement of a spinning record. On the subject of music, the film’s soundtrack is excellently selected, mixing 1940s jazz, classical and modern songs (which didn’t actually feel anachronistic at all).

I was pleasantly surprised by Kill Your Darlings. I thought that I would have to compare it to Howl, and that Howl would inevitably win. However, I have now realised that to do so would be unfair: these films are entirely different and attempt to achieve something utterly unalike. This is a film that is beautifully and intelligently shot and features some excellent actors. It is an accolade when a film makes it onto my DVD shelf; I think Kill Your Darlings will be joining Howl very soon. 

By Jenna Clake
@jennaclake