Month: July 2015

Ant-Man (2015)

Marvel films are lost on me.

During fight scenes or action sequences I tend to glaze over and lose interest. I couldn’t watch the first Avengers film because after 10 minutes I didn’t care about anyone or anything on screen.

Other than Tony Stark’s Robert Downey Jr. delivery I don’t get the humour. Thor I found cringeworthy, and the rest that I saw took themselves way too seriously. I can’t buy into it. I can’t get into that style of acting – that hammy, cheesy croque monsieur of self importance that can inject gravitas into a glance.

That was until Guardians of the Galaxy. Taking an obscure Marvel comic with an absurd premise, attaching a director who had shown his comedic sensibilities and awareness of the superhero tropes in The Specials, and creating something much more subversive. A Marvel film that was self-aware, self-deprecating and funny.

This is what lead me to see Ant-Man. I knew nothing other than Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish had been involved and that it was about an ant-sized superhero. It sounded absurd, surreal and like it would be impossible for it to take itself too seriously. Alas, nothing is impossible in superhero movies.

Whilst the film tried for comedy it felt like it was the ideas, the concepts themselves, that were funny – and so I never really laughed out loud (a couple of exceptions in Michael Pina). The first time Rudd shrinks down to size he is thrown through a series of obvious trials like something out of the Magic Schoolbus or Micro Machines – a bath-tub! a hoover!

I didn’t believe Paul Rudd for a minute. Not as a hacker nor a nimble-ninja cat-burglar. Not a superhero or even a father. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong place for believability but I was never involved in the film. What I found really jarring was the whiplash from utter silliness to sober melodrama which I think is symptomatic of this type of film.

Where Guardians parodied the Marvel format, abiding the rules but taking the piss at the same time, Ant-Man just slots right back into it with endless reams of exposition, the obligatory montage sequence, and a heavy dose of melodrama. It felt painted by numbers and I didn’t care about what picture was being created. It’s funny that the stakes of the film are so much lower than the Avengers films (not funny ha-ha) but to me it just captured the problem that I have with Marvel films – I don’t care about anyone in this world. It feels silly. The fight scene between two micro-sized men on a Thomas the Tank Engine track was funny because it acknowledged the format, how Marvel are reliant on scale as a spectacle, on illusory effects.

I know that I am in the minority for not accepting this film as a bit of fun, but it just wasn’t fun for me. It was boring and lifeless. The concept of going sub-atomic was great and so too were the effects used to capture the microscopic landscapes, but it just wasn’t strange enough. It was just another Marvel film. And Marvel films are lost on me. I’m sorry.

baby

My gruff and indistinct words

bare the mark of resentful lungs

that hate me evermore as I take another drag

on what’s left of my cigarette.

I’m lost to a familiar bliss

and am momentarily out of mind,

vacant to social taboos

that would have otherwise prevented me

from blowing smoke into a child’s face.

She was crying now

I’d need another cigarette.

Birth Experiences

Written for NCT’s The Stork July 2015

After finding out we were having a baby 6 months into the pregnancy, we put together a birthing plan and read everything we could to prevent any more surprises – all the good that did…

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I say ‘we’. Nicole did all the hard work. I was there to offer love and support, to be a calming presence. So when she awoke one night feeling nauseous and the midwife advised over the phone to get some sleep, I led by example whilst she lay restless. Some brownie points lost there.

A week had passed since our due date so the bags were ready by the door and we had ourselves a plan. Once I was awake and making myself useful it became a matter of waiting it out. Warned that many people rush in too early and find themselves waiting at the hospital for hours– we thought it best to wait it in the comfort of home.

Nicole powered through and I stood idly by for near 6 hours before the contractions became more regular and intense. Arriving at the hospital we crossed the path of a new family who looked to us with a knowing smile.

We were in Triage at 6am, the few nurses there were very casual, too calm, they had seen this a thousand times before. We were moved into a small adjoining side room where a young nurse asked questions to a now groaning and breathless Nicole, pacing around the room . The next nurse laid Nicole down to examine our progress when she shot us a look of surprise: we might have to have the baby here – in this small unequipped side room.

Nicole manages to find enough breath to muster the words “pain relief”. Evidently it was too late. I start to panic a little though I daren’t show it as I know how precious Nicole can be and how low her pain threshold is.

I held close to the nurse and Nicole as she was rushed to the ward in a wheelchair, ‎now safely in the care of the mid-wife and with the promised god-send of Gas and Air. Clamped down in-between her teeth I watched Nicole transform, I witnessed her eyes widen, her pain dissipate as she finally relaxed. This meant that I could relax. Until the pushing began.

Nothing is harder than seeing the person you love in pain, knowing that you are powerless and there is nothing you can do to help. I became Nicole’s stress ball as she clenched my hand and gave her first push. “He has his father’s hair”, the words of the mid-wife as I steal the first look at my son with a full head of jet black hair. A few pushes later and finally we were all together. I was truly humbled by how Nicole had handled everything.

We were in the delivery room for around two hours – turns out Nicole was already fully dilated when we arrived. After cutting the cord and taking in the sight of my new family, I was then handed my son whilst some reparations were made.  I was uneasy, nervous but overcome with a sense of pride, and as I sat there with him for around half an hour, all my concerns dissolved and his eventual calmness transferred to me.

On our way out of the hospital the next morning we pass a quiet, heavily pregnant woman beside her doting, helpless partner. We wish them luck and the cycle continues.

Amy (2015)

In the lobby after a sold out preview of  Amy  I was met by a wave of young girls with smeared mascara, not in homage to the feline-Egyptian style of Winehouse, but thick black tear tracks. Luckily I don’t tend to wear make-up in public as this was an emotional and effecting film.

Filmmaker Asif Kapadia remains invisible for the most part, stitching together archive footage from the shaky home videos and mobile phones of Amy’s humble beginning, to paparazzi footage and televised interviews in her later resented stardom – ironically the picture gains stability as Amy loses it.

Over laying these images are audio interviews with those close to the north London jewish-jazz singer in place of the usual talking heads. This gives the film a more natural feel and keeps Kapadia from becoming a subject himself, appearing instead as a collection of artifacts – a scrapbook complete with the thoughts of friends and family. The result is something more human.

The first half of the film tracks Winehouse’s musical inspiration, taking a jazz influence from her father along with a dose of heartbreak when he left the family after a lengthy affair. The following years track her incredible song writing as she captures moments of her life with poetic lyricism that, like her, are both unpretentious and funny, often revolving around the men in her life – forever seeking a father surrogate. Amy is real, saying that she couldn’t write what she didn’t know and so her music became a way of expressing emotion and dealing with darker realities in her life.

I have long been a fan of debut album Frank but it was only in this context that familiar songs would play with new meaning. Each song is presented from a live recording, either on stage or in studio, lending a more raw expressive quality. The lyrics are shown on screen too, emphasising their place within Amy’s story.

What is so sad about the film is that her successes are ultimately framed by her death of alcohol abuse in 2011. With Winehouse garnering most attention from the media in these later stages, exacerbating the existing problems, there is only so much of her life documented beforehand, or on her terms. The Amy that invites the camera is effortlessly charming and funny – greeting her friend at the door in character as the houseboy, or appearing humble and endearing in an interview with Jonathan Ross.

This is the second documentary of recent to focus on one of the 27 club – that group of prodigal talents who died at this early age due to excess of somekind – the other being the Kurt Cobain doc Montage of Heck. Besides their struggles with addiction and inability to deal with fame, there are many striking similarities between their lives and the films themselves.

Both productions began with the permission of family and access to masses of archive footage, until a story began to form that showed them in a negative light, as the potential cause – and so both Courtney Love and Mitch Winehouse respectively withdrew their support and rallied against the films.

Where Kurt Cobain found himself unable to cope with the pressures of fame and so committed fully to a destructive relationship with Love and heroin, Winehouse had her on-again-off-again Blake Lively – the man to introduce her to crack cocaine and heroin. All the while her father booked her on tours, arranged a camera crew to invade her private holiday and as famously captured in the hook of her hit song advised against rehab.

There are parallel scenes using archive material from near the end of their lives that polarised the audiences I was in. When a doped-up, scaggy Cobain sits with an equally messy Love and their baby daughter Francis Bean – he makes passing jokes about rival Axel Rose. Cobain’s sudden turn to matters more trivial within the context is comical but as the audience you feel the grimy reality of the situation and how it will inevitably play out.

Similarly when an up-until-now abstaining Winehouse phones her personal security and leaves a slurring message about her sudden creative surge in writing Wu-tang style battle-raps, her humorous charm comes through, even when under the influence, but we all know where this is heading.

This is what makes both films so tragic – we are fully aware of their eventual demise and so each moment of excess, each lyric pointing to the fact, becomes an ignored warning sign, a foreboding tale of their fate which makes the jokes turn sour.

Amy Winehouse was an amazing talent lost to a frenzy of fame that infected those closest to her and stopped her from ever getting help when she needed it. The documentary, although lacking real flair, is important in relaying this message – holding a mirror up to the predatory nature of the media even if it is guilty of the self-same exploitation.

Nepotista: A prediction

Kanye has spawned a child giving her literal direction in name – carved an image and hatched to a vision of fame.

Manifesting as an extension of her father’s ego, so wherever they point the cameras that’s where we’ll go

we push our noses to the window and tweet from on the grapevine – the culture of celebrity has dispensed with the divine.

we offer them praise but scrutinise them for their flaws, we concede that we will never be them and yet ache for something more

we are empty. we are void.

Our conception of contentment has been distorted and destroyed.

so as long as there’s a stage and the little girl sings

we’ll watch her come apart with her waxy wings

like Will Smith’s kids who stand tall on family wealth,

the wind in Willow’s hair as she whips it back and forth,

we are promised a life in the spotlight of baby girl North.

Likewise

we can think it likely that she will take to music

surrounded by connections, a captive audience and those hungry to capitalise..

The cracks can be painted over now that music is digitised

an auto-tuned lullaby lamenting the day the music died.

Rappers have a tendency to talk about their names

a customised title that speaks to character

both a badge and a facade that divides the person from persona.

A disguise known better than the person inside.

A broken mask and a blurred line.

she is a product, a brand and an opportunity.

she is stock, venture capital,

grabbing attention, gaining interest

nevertheless expect the debut solo: North by North West