Month: December 2014

The Grandmaster (2014)

Written for RAF News Dec 2014

The Grandmaster follows revered martial artist Ip Man (Tony Leung) as he sets out to the different provinces of a China divided by Japanese invasion, seeking Grandmasters of different fighting styles so that they can exchange knowledge through hand-to-hand combat.

grandmaster

Ip Man was a Chinese Grandmaster whose legacy can be seen in the widespread practice of Wing Chun – a martial art that he popularised – and in his best known student Bruce Lee, though now his legacy has been transposed to cinema: The Grandmaster being the fifth film to centre on him in the last decade.

The fight scenes are met with director Wong Kar Wai’s distinctive aesthetic style. From the inward twisting of ankles of the Wing Chun stance, there is a dance like elegance that accompanies the fight scenes. Though this is not a particularly new idea it dovetails perfectly with the romantic stylisation of Wong Kar Wai, showing the fluidity of martial arts in slow-motion, punctuated with the sound of cold hard thuds as fists connect and bodies are thrown.

Giving very little away, the taciturn Ip Man lets his craft speak for him, possessing a coolness that borders on smug through his permanent half-smile. Those interested in seeing a regular martial arts genre film may be caught off-guard by the philosophical turns in-between fights, and may very well feel cheated when there is no big fight finale, instead presented a montage of a young Bruce Lee.

While the films beauty is undeniable it can feel disjointed when changing pace to the deliberately slow and thoughtful exchanges between characters – perhaps due to the cuts forced on the film to bring down its running time. It may be that the visual style isn’t enough to hold together a film that attempts to cover an entire era in Chinese history.

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festive

I don’t celebrate holy days, bar easter

I’m strictly a coffee drinker

and chocolate bar eater.

not one for eating from a calendar

with time dictating when I have my provisions

I bought the fucking thing

so I’ll make the decisions.

you can keep your cakes

with loose change in

make way for new ideas

the times they are a-best on sunday

like roast dinner and church.

the masses are in

so they can off some merch

necklaces and bracelets

to serve as a reminder

of our one lord and saviour

and to always be kinder;

a silver ring above your ring finger knuckle

or a faggot being stoned on a golden belt buckle

just in case you’re running out of space

I’ll sit at the table but I won’t say grace

because I don’t prey where I eat

I do love a nun’s company

but two’s a crowd

and three’s unlucky if you’re superstitious

write that on the wall stevie

and while you’re there

pin the tail on the donkey and hit the piñata

nan’s left the room cas she’s afraid you’ll cut her

not cas your blind, mind

it’s cas you’re one of those blacks

no it’s christmas

we tolerate intolerance

it reminds us of jesus and turkeys and that.

fuckin crackers.

Prolonged Sentence

When I was a teenager – old enough to know better but young enough to be a bit of a prick despite the fact – I pulled what I thought to be a harmless prank, thinking it would get me out of some schoolwork. Instead it took me deeper than I could have possibly imagined and taught me something about social constructs that effects me to this day.harry-houdini

Once before in school, when I felt unprepared for a French oral exam, I took an impromptu sponsored day of silence. I told a couple of friends to explain this to everyone, Mademoiselle in particular. The pièce de résistance: a note scrawled on the front of a ‘donations’ envelope that would serve as a prop that I could carry around as testament to my lie. I didn’t raise any money but this didn’t matter – I had gained another day of revision. Success.

Confirming my ability as an escape artist, I took it as a challenge when one day a new substitute teacher announced that we would each have to read our work to the class. Though I would often take on the role of the clown, I feared the spotlight when it was out of my control. This underlying nervousness paired with the unfounded confidence provided by my previous scam, led me to take extreme measures to avoid reading out loud. I made my decision and began to warm up for what I was about to do.

Apparently unfamiliar with how classrooms work when under temporary supervision, all of her questions became rhetorical. She was a new face, soft featured with a suitably friendly demeanour. She wasn’t going to get anything from us. Staring out into the silence, she took extreme measures herself and started to pick on people to answer – a pretty uncouth course of action that wasn’t going to make her any friends. The immediate response to a teacher who employs such a technique is to avoid eye-contact. So head-down I stared at my empty page and waited to hear my name called, preparing to make an emergency change to the plan. Then the inevitable – “You there”. Evidently she didn’t know my name. Someone nudged my shoulder as I settled into character. This was happening. I slowly looked up from my book, nervous and hesitant, when the words stumbled out.

“I.. th..thh. I think that from from fromm the book, from the the…”

Each cluster of stammers was broken with a deep sigh as I seemed to refocus and overcome frustration with myself. People had started to turn and face me and as soon as I started to talk again, in broken sentences, they began to laugh. My ruse was up. Or at least I thought it was until their sniggering was silenced by the now stern substitute. Then she encouraged me to carry on… Yes. This was working. “I’m s-sorry” – more laughs from them, more empathy from her. They were all playing into this perfectly. In becoming the timid and tormented I had gained power over them all; they were all part of my game now. The substitute excused me from having to finish my answer and she wouldn’t ask me to read out anything again. I had won, for now at least.the-saint-(1997)

At the end of the lesson she asked me to come and join her up front. I sat at her desk whilst she asked if I was alright, if people had always laughed at me. Panicked and nervous, the stutter became easier to contrive, though I said very little and convinced her I was okay. I was more than okay, I was a genius puppetmaster, but now all I wanted was to get out the room and be myself again. I was starting to feel claustrophobic inside this act. Finally she let me go, so excitedly I returned to the kudos of my peers. Not only had I avoided genuine failure, I had won over both sides – nurtured by the teacher and heralded by the students.

It must have been on everyone’s mind the next week when we had the same class, as those already seated welcomed me through the door with reminiscent smiles. The afterglow of my actions lingered on and my legacy was being born. I couldn’t help but feel puffed up by this, though obviously I tried to not let it show. As I found my place I realised that those knowing smiles knew something that I didn’t. A wave of terror engulfed me as I looked up at the tender, understanding eyes of the same substitute teacher. Her again. There was no escape. It would soon be revealed to us that our regular teacher was actually on maternity leave, meaning: 6 months with this substitute. 2 terms with this fucking speech impediment. the-shawshank-redemption-1994-02-645-75 I needed a way out. Ironically enough this was what landed me here in the first place. I prided myself on my ability to get out of things, so I thought fast and settled on a plan to phase it out. The next few weeks would contain some of the most stressful days in my adolescent life as I would experience the overwhelming anxiety of anticipation before this particular class. I would prefigure my approach to talking – essentially rehearsing how to sound nervous. On top of this I came up with back-up excuses and fail-safe plans. In avoiding petty work I had created a true mission for myself – trying to avoid reading aloud for fear of the pressure and attention, I had made myself the focus of every class as people would sneer and openly comment on the ironing out of my stutter. I had become trapped in a prison of my own creation, and decided to follow in the footsteps of Andy Dufresne, clawing my way out inch by inch with a measly rock hammer. Eventually I’d be free, but I would be changed by the experience.

In this brief window I had acquired and overcome a disability that many have for life, though I’m assuming most sufferers didn’t adopt it voluntarily in order to manipulate a situation.. (I am reminded of Derren Brown’s head-nodding-tic which he did in fact bring on himself through relentlessly trying to persuade people as a hypnotist at college) In half a year I had experienced new depths of anxiety that would make me all too aware of the power in perception and persona. An awareness that has become a true affliction.. but more on that another time.

Kajaki: The True Story (2014)

Written for RAF News Nov 2014

Kajaki: The True Story captures the harrowing events of September 2006 when a group of British paratroopers in Afghanistan found themselves in the middle of an unmarked minefield. Beginning in the mountainous desert of the Helmand province, we are introduced to 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, stationed on a ridge that overlooks the Kajaki Dam. From here we see the vast stretches of sand to the horizon where there has been little activity. That is until a three-man patrol sets out to investigate a Taliban roadblock and a landmine is set off, blowing off one of the patrols legs. Immediately the film is confined to mere millimetres as a rescue mission is put into action, with any movement on the ground possessing the potential to trigger another deathly explosion.

Kajaki

The mines are a relic of the Soviet invasion of the 80s, left behind by Russian forces, ‘God knows what we’re gonna leave behind’ says one of the fresh-faced ensemble cast. This is perhaps the only reference to British occupation in Afghanistan, which is coming to an end this year, but Kajaki has not been made as political commentary, it is a film that shows a single situation – a true story based on the testimony of the soldiers involved – from which we can glimpse the extremes of the frontline, outside of combat even. We see the sheer bravery that is required in circumstances such as these. It shows the comradery and heroism of the British forces without firefights and action scenes, giving them a cinematic presence that has been largely absent for decades.

Though it will undoubtedly collect comparisons to The Hurt Locker, it’s Britishness is evident in the relentless banter and dark humour, especially in times of horror and devastation – you’d be hard pressed to find an American GI writing ‘Gay’ on the face of Private Ryan after having his leg blown off.  The filming style also breaks from the dominant style in Hollywood as largely still, wide angle shots evoke palpable tension without having to jiggle the camera about. Long stretches of silence and focus on the careful movements of those in the foreground invites the inevitable and you can’t help but tense up in anticipation. The blistering heat of the Afghani desert adds to the tension like a Lumet film (think: 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon) growing in intensity as the group becomes more and more desperate. This uncomfortable suspense doesn’t let up, making it impossible to not be involved in the film.

Christmas Survival Guide

Written for TotalJobs Dec 2014

Tis the season to be jolly. Or to try and be jolly at least… against the odds. It is more likely the season to be stressful, as everyone takes on the mad-dash panic of last-minute gift buying and food shopping, and as they prepare to see the people they usually love but this time of year tolerate.xmas

Now let’s spare a moment for those working over Christmas, for those who will suffer the wrath of never-ending customers enduring this annual stress. They need someone to take it out on and reliably it will be those of you simply trying to help. So here is some help for you: a Christmas survival guide based on the advice of those who have experienced the frontline for themselves. (more…)