Sunday 13 April 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last couple of months, you're probably aware that a certain sequel is imminent. Spider-Man, once the butt of all of our favourite jokes (Tobey Maguire in that dancing scene, anyone?) is rapidly becoming everyone's favourite superhero, thanks to the creative talent of Marc Webb and a helping hand from rising star Andrew Garfield. Thanks to Odeon, I managed to snag a ticket to the World Premier on Thursday, and can promise that the sequel to the 2012 sensation The Amazing Spider-Man is no disappointment to the genre. With sharp thrills, developed villains and the same witty dialogue we recognise from the previous film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 delivers on all fronts, effortlessly winding fast-paced action scenes and gut-wrenching emotion in the 152 minute runtime.
Celebrity Sightings In New York City - May 28, 2013
Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy
Standout performances include Garfield (of course), portraying Parker's new-found confidence thanks to the events of the first film. Spider-Man, a feared menace to the public in the first instalment, now takes part in epic fight scenes around New York to thunderous applause, often under the eyes of love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Stone also shines in her role, rejecting traditional comic book 'damsel-in-distress' roles and cementing Gwen as a character willing to pull her own punches and get involved in the climactic scene (which comic book fans may be anticipating)- the clash of Spider-Man versus the Green Goblin. Garfield and Stone's on-screen chemistry is as powerful as ever, as the two navigate their rocky relationship. Arguing in one scene, teasing about cliché hiding places in the next, the sweet yet complicated love story of the pair is enough to give anyone emotional whiplash.
The choice to replace the familiar Norman Osborn in the role as Spider-Man's most famous enemy with his son may sit uneasy with die-hard fans, but Norman does make an appearance, and rest assured that there appears to be much more to the man than presented. Norman Osborn as Green Goblin will not be happening in this franchise, but his character is undeniably connected to the bomb-throwing madman. The switch between father and son comes as a welcome change- DeHaan is outstanding in this role, not dissimilar from his breakout role in 2012's Chronicle as Andrew, and plays the troubled friend trope with a sliver of hatred that makes his performance unforgettable. Though Jamie Foxx's Electro can probably be considered the main antagonist, DeHaan dominates the film- even James Franco's stab at the role previously is dwarfed.

That said, Electro cannot be ignored in discussion of this film. The weedy Max Dillon's transformation into the formidable villain is the focus of a good part of the action, and his final 'form' shows off some impressive special effects. However, Electro seems in some ways to be a wasted character- his motives are developed, his powers shown, but there appears to be something missing. He is eventually downgraded into a sidekick of sorts, providing the brawn behind the persuasive skills of Harry Osborn. This team-up appears to elevate the villain status of Osborn while downgrading Electro into Spider-Man's first boss level, a rung on the ladder to the Goblin/Spidey fight that is obviously coming. The promise of more adversaries is apparent - Rhino (Paul Giamatti) is introduced in the first scene, but doesn't don the impressive suit, or even re-appear, until the final sequences, and nods to the Sinister Six and Venom pave the way for Sony's announced spin-offs.
We appear to be heading into the age of comic book adaptations - Marvel's wildly successful Avengers franchise, the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy and DC's retaliation in the form of Batman vs Superman promise several years of action-packed films featuring all of our favourite heroes, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2 stands out for me as a cut above the rest. Sony has already announced plans for further sequels in 2016 and 2018, and I'm already counting down the days.
(Hey Sony, any chance of picking up that Deadpool script anytime soon?)

Thursday 6 February 2014

War of the Words: Battling Procrastination

Blank Word documents- striking fear into the hearts of students since '83 

At this precise moment in time I am procrastinating. Unless, of course, attempting to clean my desk, finishing the pizza in the fridge and catching up on far too many TV shows are all extremely productive (hint: they’re not). This procrastination is the worst, as this is the one I've been battling for months on end. Brace yourself, students, the dreaded word is coming. 


Now the dissertation is supposed to sum up all of the things you learned at university. It’s supposed to represent your learning, your development, and your ability to read a hundred books in a year. Mine, on the other hand, will most likely represent a half-drunk, half-caffeine-crazed night of stressing, typing and crying a week before the deadline. Needless to say, this is not a good thing. So far I've managed to put off doing any real work for it for over four months, and now I'm in the home stretch of university it’s like I can feel the full non-existent 8000 words of it looming over me, prodding at me before I fall asleep and attacking whenever I consider writing something that isn't academic. 

Coffee- the secret villain. 
But why do we even bother procrastinating? Sometimes, even if the work is easy or enjoyable to write, we put it off for as long as physically possible. It could be that deep down, we all just have that mentality of ‘I hate homework’, but it seems to be more than that. I think it’s the feeling of just having so much to do, that when you actually get round to doing anything productive, no one knows where to start, and then as time goes on, you still haven’t done it, and you keep thinking about it and getting emails, and repeatedly checking what day the deadline is at two in the morning. Who knew that all that pestering for essay plans in high school actually had a real reason, and that it was to avoid unwise quantities of coffee in your later years? 

I'm going to assume that this happens to the best of us, and if you’re a third year, you’re probably having similar problems right now (unless you are horribly organized, in which case I'm both impressed and jealous). It applies to everyone, that feeling of stress and despair and generally wanting to tear out your own hair. The New Year brings a new war of exams, coursework and final grades, and every year seems worse than the last. This term has won my sleep, my hope and my tears twice before, and I'm determined to fight back this time. So here’s a small (hopefully useful) list of things I do to de-stress, stay on top of things (kind of), and procrastinate an acceptable amount. You know, when I can be bothered. 

1. Fresh air. This is the one that everyone says, but it helps. If you’re in student housing, the confinement, the constant noise and the cold can make your work environment seem terrible, and you’d be surprised how much better you feel after a walk. If, like me, you live in an area that isn't the best for walking alone in, crack open a window. Yes, really. My old English teacher used to say it cleared your mind, and although I've never been so sure on how sane she was, I do know it works. 

2. Talk to someone. A long rant about your course/essay/revision/vanishing tutor? You’d be surprised how much better you feel after complaining about it. You might also be surprised at how many of your friends are feeling the exact same way, and sometimes just being able to scream and swear about it together makes all that work seem a bit lighter. 

3. Dig out a pen and paper. Working at a computer leads me to watching either cat videos or terrible horror films, and having the internet so close to hand can make it dangerously easy to procrastinate. Something about writing on paper makes me feel like I'm back in school, but it does help me pull myself out of the spiral of procrastination. Also does it feel more like ‘real work’ to anyone else?

4. Find a TV series that is simultaneously entertaining yet shallow to put on while you write. You don’t need to focus, you don’t need to actually pay attention to the characters, but it makes good background noise (if you need it). You can also set deadlines to coincide with the show, like planning to finish a page in one episode. Bonus points if you find something that vaguely relates to your subject, or if the characters’ lives are so miserable it actually makes you feel better about yours. 

5. Deep breaths, make a coffee/tea, take a ten minute study break. Rinse, repeat. It’s basic, but breaks make everything seem better. 

And if all of that fails, write a blog post. I've also attached some links at the bottom of this post that might help kick start you into working. Good luck!

RainyMood - background noise, although if you live in Manchester this is probably what you hear anyway.
8tracks Study Mix- I was sold as soon as I heard an instrumental of 'Royals'.
Productive Study Break Tips from people who know better than me, and..
This video. Just because. 

Tuesday 4 February 2014

The Wolf of Wall Street

So I finally got around to watching one of this years most popular Academy Award nominees: Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. I will admit that I was dubious; from what I had seen of trailers, it seemed like a well-made film with very little substance. Luckily I was proven wrong, and the film managed to grab my attention from start to finish. 

However, if you're expecting something that will blow your mind and cast itself alongside the greats, I don't think this is it. The dialogue is witty, but dependent on some creative language, and too often the plot is lost in a whirlwind of sex and drugs. While this is arguably the focus of the film, sometimes it feels that the three-hour runtime was in fact just to include more boobs, rather than to add much to the story. Don't be put off by these downfalls; Leonardo DiCaprio is as captivating as ever in the lead role as Jordan Belfort, and Margot Robbie effectively steals the scene from those around her, showing off some considerable acting skills. 

Fast-paced scenes, sharp dialogue and impressive sets, The Wolf of Wall Street is visually as slick as the millionaire businessmen it portrays. DiCaprio's direct address to the camera is our own little insight into the lives of the characters, a device that impressively changes our view on the film. If we weren't drawn into the film's world through this secret 'friendship' with Belfort, feeling much sympathy with him would be near-impossible. Scorsese's decision to create the viewer as complicit in the action of the film serves to make us a part of this world, to root for Belfort, despite his downward spiral of drugs, alcoholism, and fraud. This is worrying; the character appears to show little remorse for his actions, and his behaviour in regards to his wife and children is shocking. This is emphasised by the knowledge that The Wolf of Wall Street is based on a true story; would we root for Jordan if he weren't played by the ever-charming and handsome DiCaprio? 

Jonah Hill shines in one of his best roles yet, and offers a little comedy amongst the haze of high-class living. One memorable scene (in fact, THE memorable scene) features Belfort and Donnie Azoff (Hill) fighting off the effects of a very strong drug. Surely DiCaprio should get his Oscar for this alone- never did I think audiences would laugh so hard watching a grown man attempting to open a car door. However, the representations of drugs in the film are a little problematic. There appear to be no real consequences to drug use (except for a severely scratched car) and even when having taken a great deal of drugs, no one seems to have any real adverse effects. Perhaps the moral standpoint would have been to show a more negative view, but as the film works from the autobiographical source material, this would have been tricky. Maybe this film should be followed by an immediate viewing of Requiem for a Dream- similar characters, just not quite as good with numbers. 

Verdict: 6/10

Monday 3 February 2014

Team Harry or Team Ron? (Does it Really Matter?)

So surprise surprise, an author has expressed regret at a certain plot point in their novel. This would normally slip beneath society's radar; after all, we are all human- who hasn't looked back at something and wished they could have chosen a different path? However, in this case, it wasn't just your everyday wish that you had, say,  remembered to pick up your bus pass this morning, it was J K Rowling regretting the biggest pairing to have emerged from the Harry Potter franchise. I'm sure this has happened/will happen to other authors (I'm looking at you George R. R. Martin) but the mere fact that it is Harry Potter has caused a shockwave through fans and the media alike. 

Of course, this isn't the first time Rowling has caused controversy in regards to Harry Potter. Her revelation of Dumbledore's sexual orientation as gay in 2007 sparked similar media controversy, and the introduction of sites such as Pottermore have offered ways to shed light on aspects of the novels that she was unable to explore fully, and flesh out characters, places and events. This latest admission of regret therefore can be understood in two ways: first, that Rowling genuinely regrets her decision, and wishes she had followed a more conventional narrative, or second, that as an author of one of the most popular series of all time, she is having some trouble letting go.

After seeing the offending article, in which Rowling admits that the relationship of Ron and Hermione was more 'wish-fulfilment' than anything else, Potter fans swept into an online fury, some rejecting Rowling's change of heart, others embracing it fully. As a beloved pairing of the novels, and one that seemed obvious (at least in the films), Ron and Hermione brought a new dimension to the franchise, toeing that will-they, won't-they line for over ten years. Rowling's rejection of the compatibility of the couple has led to widespread speculation on which pairing she wishes she had chosen instead. While she has admitted previously that originally she planned for Hermione to choose another Weasley, the media has focused on the idea of a Harry/Hermione romance. While this would explain some of the films' added scenes (Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 awkward dance, anyone?) Rowling has never actually stated in the press that Harry would have been the better choice. The author's sudden apparent condemnation of their relationship has therefore left many fans disillusioned and angry with their favourite series- after all, if Ron and Hermione are not as perfect for each other as one may think, what other characters or relationships aren't to be trusted? Should Harry be with Luna? Should Ginny have run away with McGonagall? 

The topic has been causing war among fans, but through the Tumblr bloodshed and the clashing of Facebook posts, I can't help but wonder if perhaps we are arguing for all of the wrong reasons. Whether Harry or Ron is 'better' for Hermione appears irrelevant, because in either case, Hermione is the prize. The concern of some fans, for example, is that if Hermione had chosen Harry, Ron will remain the eternal sidekick, and never be rewarded for his role in the trio's adventures. This seems problematic- we are reducing a character who is (arguably) one of the strongest female characters in a major franchise into nothing more than a pretty girl, the traditional love interest that serves to act as a reward for great bravery and elevate her love interest to hero status, rather than sidekick. Shocking? No. The media loves to do this to our strong characters- Katniss Everdeen, a character written as the face of a revolution, is supposedly trapped in a love triangle in the marketing of another popular franchise, The Hunger Games. Why is it that, as female characters, Hermione and Katniss are valued more for their choice of boyfriends than their ability to brew dangerous potions at the age of 12, or shoot arrows with deadly accuracy? 

Prominent female characters in a genre that isn't romance in the past have been few and far between, but this appears to be changing. For films such as The Hunger Games, the upcoming Divergent film and others, presentation of these films by the media has skewed the public lens towards the romantic aspects of the plot, rather than emotional depth or subtle allusions to the state of society. This latest war of where Hermione's best interests lie robs her of her agency, reduces her to little more than a prize, and disregards her stance as a developed female character. Too often our literary heroines are presented in the light of a romantic conflict, overshadowing their other attributes. Whether it's Hermione Granger effortlessly flinging curses, Katniss Everdeen defending the people she loves, or yes, even Bella Swan punching a werewolf in the face, we need to consider why female characters are so often represented in terms of their men. When will our literary heroines be elevated above 'love interest'? When will we get our franchise without an embarrassingly cliché love triangle? 

When will we stop thinking of our female characters as prizes, and start thinking of them as heroes?

Saturday 2 November 2013

Zombies and Pumpkins and Buses, Oh my!

As a kid, Halloween is the best thing ever. Free sweets, awesome costumes, carving pumpkins- children everywhere look forward to it, and it tends to linger in fond memories for most of us. The memories of lost childhood wonder with the odd spike of terror, however, are absolutely nothing in comparison to a student Halloween. It's well-known that an average university student will do pretty much anything for an excuse to get drunk (me included- I remember very faintly drinking an obscene amount of green 'something' last St. Paddy's day) and Halloween is no exception. Except this is no ordinary night out. This one includes rivers of fake blood, make-up so thick you have to peel it off by the end of the night, and it usually ends with a pillowcase covered in black hair dye and oddly glittering smudges of green and orange, and sprinklings of sugar.

Despite the mayhem it nearly always causes, I do love Halloween- mostly because every year I get very into the costume side of it all. Over the years I've been Gogo Yubari (Kill Bill), the Mad Hatter, Jack Sparrow, as well as the usual last-minute costume choice of witch, ghost or vampire. My costumes have been getting slowly weirder (if I had a picture of the painted-cardboard-box Optimus Prime monstrosity from a couple of years ago I'd probably burn it) and this year was no exception..

I'm not entirely sure what I was supposed to be. The Mad Hatter? The Cheshire Cat? Even I don't know. I think I just wanted to draw all over my face for a night and get away with it. Halloween make-up was my responsibility on Thursday, and I was quite impressed with my two zombies, faces ripped open and blood gushing with the help of a little cheap liquid latex and a £4 eye-shadow set I panic-bought in Superdrug that day.

The most scary part of the night, however (apart from the moment I got home and caught sight of myself in the mirror), was an unexpected one- the bus. I made the (horrible) decision of jumping on the Oxford road bus around midnight and it felt like I'd fallen into The Nightmare Before Christmas, if instead of disturbing animations, you were surrounded by creepy contact lenses staring into space, and far too many twenty-something boys trying to drown out each others' football chants. My friend, for lack of a seat, perched on the lap of the grim reaper while drunkenly asking a mad scientist with blood in his beard questions, while I watched Shaun of the Dead awkwardly chat up a dead nurse in front of me. This was nothing in comparison to the beer bottle nodding off against a window, Mario and Luigi trying to balance on the stairs, and a group of freshers in a glowing crowd of neon fishnet.

I'd walked into a horror film, and walking out of it was even harder- with what felt like two hundred people in my way, the most embarrassing stagger down the stairs and out of the door took place with the encouraging chanting of 'get off the bus' in the background. Manchester buses are always so charming- at least this meant the football chants were over! Eventually I made my way home, ready to collapse on my bed and put all the make-up and blood away for another 364 days. Of course this was the point I caught myself in the mirror and jumped out of my skin.

Bloody Halloween!                                                    

The Nightmare before Christmas © Henry Selik and Tim Burton