Saturday, 26 March 2011


Best known to mainstream audiences as Keith Richards inspired Captain Jack Sparrow; Johnny Depp makes his latest outing one for the kids as the voice of Rango, a lonely lizard who embarks on an adventure in the Wild West. We meet Rango as a lizard living in a water tank surrounded by a host of friends that include: a plastic Goldfish and a headless doll torso. Our protagonist has successfully deluded himself into contentment until the wider world intervenes and a bump in the road tips the water tank into tiny pieces of oblivion, with Rango finally left alone in the real world. After somewhat of an existential crisis Rango meets an armadillo who is seeking the mystical spirit of the West and encourages our hero to do the same. A nasty tangle with a hawk soon after demonstrates the ruthlessness of the food chain and Rango manages to escape by bumping into a fellow lizard by the name of Beans, voiced by Mrs Ali G – Isla Fisher. Beans is a feisty, fiercely independent rancher’s daughter who gives Rango a ride to her nearby town, imaginatively named Dirt.
As the name suggests the little town of Dirt is anything but pretty, inhabited by desert animals and run by a sinister tortoise mayor in a wheelchair. If there is one thing Westerns have taught us it’s that strangers never live long and Rango is immediately confronted by the townsanimals. Afraid to admit he is simply a lost domesticated pet, Rango reinvents himself as a hardened drifter, gun-slinger and all around tough guy. Dumb luck in the form of a hawk seeking revenge allows Rango to qualify his claims with the animals as he inadvertently crushes it under a water tower. Quickly appointed Sherriff and revered by the residents of Dirt, Rango revels in finally finding the self he wants to be; however this doesn’t last long as he is challenged as town protector to solve the mystery of the drought that is plaguing Dirt and threatening the survival of all who live there.
What is immediately striking about the film is that there are no cute and cuddly graphics at play here. Creatures such as iguanas, moles, chameleons and gila monsters are shown on screen true to form, not that this isn’t the case in other depictions, but the attention to texture showing rough, dry, hardness is truthfully pretty ugly looking and a little scary. The beginning to mid stages of the film are somewhat lacklustre with the wise-cracks and belly laughs we expect from animated films few and far between and it becomes a battle of paying attention, something that challenged me, let alone a fidgety bunch of primary schoolers.
Just as one begins to ponder what to have for dinner the film suddenly picks up and begins to re-engage the audience.  Rango has finally carved a place for himself in the town of Dirt, albeit through lies, luck and deceit but endearingly so. The film begins to turn around with Rango’s absent minded mistake as he naively gives a gang of robbers directions to the bank as well as tools to break into the vault. The animals discover the last of their water has been stolen and it’s up to Rango to finally earn his stripes as Sheriff by rounding up a posse brave enough to get to the bottom of the mystery once and for all. The journey towards the truth is what starts to endear not only Rango but the rest of the animals who previously just looked a bit icky. There are twists and turns aplenty and the film doesn’t shy away from bumping off one of its characters. The most interesting aspect of the latter half of the film is its distancing from the children’s genre. In place of belly laughs are subtle, witty lines that sail over the heads of the kiddies and proudly so; in particular Rango’s justification of his being related to a rattlesnake, ‘my mother had an active social life.’  I bet she did.
The inevitable moment (to teach the little ones right from wrong) where the lies of our hero are exposed just as he truly earned the trust of his peers arrives and we as the audience have suitably renewed our interest in the film and although it’s a scenario played to death in films, it is still emotive and we find ourselves just a little devastated as Rango is cast out back into the desert to resume is existential meltdown. But you can’t keep a good lizard down and finally the long awaited show down arrives, amidst a rather confusing explanation revealing the perpetrator of the villainous H2O heist. Rango squares off against Rattlesnake Jake in scenes reminiscent of any western flick you care to mention and all is saved.
Johnny Depp is extremely well cast in the film, managing to emote more in a single line than his entire onscreen presence in The Tourist. Rango is wacky, amusingly simple minded and always entertaining; importantly his vulnerability revealed in his loneliness is something an audience can identify with in terms of wonder where in the world you fit in. Although where most of us fit in is not a desert adventure narrated by Mexican owls, we can still take something from it. Isla Fisher does well as Beans; her entire manner of bolshie independence as well as fierce southern twang is very similar to Mattie Ross of True Grit. A final strong point of the film was the depiction of the relationship between Rango and Beans. We all know they’ll get together, I’m sure even the kids have seen enough Disney to know the score, yet it is not treated in a generic, formulaic manner that most films adhere to. Instead of filling the film with guy-chases-girl banter and adding a dollop of guy-and-girl-have-tender moment, the final showdown lets Rango’s actions show that he likes Beans rather than 50% of the script. It is handled in a clever, low key manner than doesn’t try to compete with the ‘western journey’ that is the theme of the film.
Overall the film was very much one of two halves, with the first half probably putting a few kids to sleep; however I’m glad I stayed tuned and warmed very quickly to both the premise and the characters. The only weakness to the film is perhaps the confusion between whether it is a kid’s film after all. A little animated lizard on a wild, west adventure certainly drums up interest on the playground, but much of the film is rather dry in its humour and then becomes almost an animated parody of western films in general. An entertaining and funny film but in being confused about its audience it may capture neither.

I am Number Four

 We’ve always been curiously entertained by tales of other worldly creatures arriving on earth, although admittedly they haven’t been the friendliest of guests (Independence Day anyone?) As much as we love a good cinematic blow em up, save the entire planet alien slay fest, we’re also quite enthralled by aliens who visit earth in disguise and have the good grace to look extremely attractive. The most famous of this kind is Clark Kent, but TV shows such as Roswell have also offered up some easy on the eye extra-terrestrials.
The latest offering of supernatural fun is I am Number Four ; the story of John Smith, played by Brit Alex Pettyfer, an alien from the planet Lorien who escaped along with eight others to earth in order to survive the destruction of their planet by the Mogadorians. The film begins right with the action as Lorien Number Three is tracked down by the Mogadorian Commander and killed. The news reaches John and knowing that the escaped Loriens can only be killed in order, he goes on the run with his Guardian Henri from sunny Florida to the small town of Paradise, Ohio. The film heavily emphasises the sadness we must feel for John; never being allowed to make real friends or be noticed, moving from place to place…all a bit sad really.
Upon moving to Paradise (so ironic that it’s commented on just in case we were too thick to get it ourselves) John starts a new school and immediately meets Sarah, a quiet, pretty, loner girl played by Glee star Dianna Aragon. John and Sarah click instantly as they are able to both relate to being invisible; Sarah has no friends and hides behind her Nikon Camera and John….well he’s an alien on the run. Lonely heartthrob lead guy and pretty, sensitive lead girl –check. Soon after meeting Sarah, John witnesses high school politics at hand as the Jocks led by athlete Mark terrorise nerdy science geek Sam. Social group bullying – check.  John is initially befriended by Mark but things soon turn sour between the pair when it emerges Sarah happens to be Mark’s ex-girlfriend and he isn’t that much into sharing. Male rivalry centred on a girl – check.
The high school movie cornerstones continue with a fairground scene and lots of lovely candy floss moments before Mark and his goons come to ruin it all. A fight ensues and Sam who has decided to attend the fairground fashionably alone catches John using his powers or legacies as they’re termed. Tired of running and decidedly rumbled, John comes clean to Sam and the two become best friends. Good looking lead guy and his nerdy best friend sidekick – check.
The film rumbles on with the John – Sarah love story and the impending threat of the Mogadorians on John’s trail. Twists and turns? There aren’t any. Eventually the residents of the town become suspicious of the trouble that seems to follow John and suspect him and Henri as his ‘Dad’ to be terrorists. Trouble being John having a fight with Mark and friends, owning a high tech surveillance system and John being unable to control his powers in the form of flashlight hands…okay the last one is a little dodgy. John refuses to leave Sarah but he won’t have to as the Mogadorians have kindly come to him. The final scene is an admittedly impressive show of special effects as well as introducing us to Number Six (Number Five was washing her hair) a sassy blonde vixen who knows how to kick ass. Unfortunately she knows how to make silly sexual innuendos every few minutes too. The film is open ended, with the surviving characters setting off to find the other Loriens hidden on earth.
There is much wrong with I am Number Four, the bulk being that there is a lack of originality overall. Much of the high school dynamic is more or less borrowed from 90s teenage flicks like She’s all that, with the relationship between John and Sarah trying to be portrayed in a sort of Twilight lonely souls manner. The special effects are amazing and make the final fight scene very entertaining but with the weak characterisation, the effects overwhelm the film and whilst we’re enthralled by all that is blowing up, we don’t particularly care who lives or dies. A glaringly poor script is perhaps the reason for the shallowness of the characters, in particular Henri who was extremely one dimensional. Congrats to Dianna Aragon for being the first Glee-clubber to make it to the big screen but she doesn’t stand out as much as she should because her part of isolated outsider into ‘deep’ things like photography is a role that has been done so many times there is nothing new for her to bring. Aragon does her best with her character and manages to give us a drippier version of her cheerleader Quinn Fabray.  Alex Pettyfer suffers from the same problem as Aragon in not being able to make the role his own but does a convincing job and hopefully next time more depth will be added.
Despite the number of problems with I am Number Four it does have the potential to be a very good teen movie saga. Hopefully any further instalments will stay as far away from slushy teen clichés as possible and the script overall will be tightened. Not as original as films gone before but not as terrible either. I couldn’t help feeling like if I was in my early teens I’d have found the film amazing and not realised it was a tiny bit four-mulaic.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Jamie's Dream School

Week four at Jamie's Dream School and chaos is as rampant as ever. This week the kids were introduced to former poet laureate Andrew Motion as well as Classics professor Mary Beard. As with many of the teachers Motion was very obviously used to standing in front of young people who have chosen to get three grand into debt to hear him speak. Coming across less pompous than David Starkey who seemed to be shocked to meet people not immediately enamoured by the words coming out of his mouth, but neverless a fish out of water eaten with a side of chips by the Dreamschool kids. Mary Beard fared no better when an outside the classroom argument derailed her lesson and pitted against the overpowering tones of the kids, Beard was left with no option other than to smile and politely listen whilst the kids slagged each other off.

What pray tell was this argument about? Someone called someone a racoon face. And someone threw a pen. It is at this point that holes in Jamie's good intentions start to appear. The fighter of social ills has shoved Dreamschool at us in order to illustrate the fact that many children with behavioural problems are being chewed up and spat out of the system with no qualifications and no one to do anything about it. We desperately need to reach these children as there is potential in each of them that just needs to be reached in a more unconventional way with more perseverence. The whole point of the programme is to get us to see the vulnerable, human side of kids we'd otherwise label as little sh*ts - which is increasingly difficult when each week is filled with petty arguments of this kind. Any eighteen year old can't handle being called racoon face doesn't particularly deserve to meet some of the best minds in the country.

The rest of Dreamschool consisted of Hurricane Harlem kicking off over a lost bag and Headteacher Dabbs having a cry but it also managed to highlight pupils such as Nana Kwame who despite having a far from rosy ride in life so far, stayed positive and if you forget he tried to choke a girl last week he seemed like quite a sweet kid.

 Dreamschool does possess a handful of those who really want to turn their lives around, however by placing them amongst a hell of a lot of kids who couldn't give a monkeys it becomes impossible to learn - this being the issue that landed these bright kids with no GCSEs in the first place. So far Dreamschool isn't working and no matter how many clips of the children coming to class with inspirational background music Jamie tries to throw at me I remain unconvinced. Jamie believes Dreamschool has some 'powerful things to say to education' but short of indulgently preaching to the school system, telling them to have lessons outside and more or less bend over backwards and beg the children to play nice, he has said enough.

Tune in or turn over? Meh. It's not painful to watch but don't expect miracles.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Finally getting somewhere

Well that was exhausting. Uploaded all my previous work and bothered to trapse around Google for pretty pictures. My work varies as the pieces have been written for different magazines and come with varied restrictions on word length, subject matter and writing style yadda yadda. Some I absolutely love. Some I don't mind. A few....bleh. But I've put the good, the bad and the poorly written up to at least show some growth.

9am lecture and it's 2am so off to bed but new reviews coming soon as well as the development of random rant pieces ect.

Finally getting somewhere.

Archives: Celebrity Naked Ambition - March 2011

The celebrity world is certainly a strange one, the fight to become a star and the battle to remain at the top is a feat managed successfully by few. Good looks and great acting chops don’t necessarily guarantee longevity but Channel Four have decided to celebrate the time honoured celebrity method of flashing the flesh to gain notoriety. Hosted by FHM favourite Kelly Brook, Celebrity Naked Ambition gave us the top 25 celebs who had furthered their career and become significantly known for stripping off. Just to be technical, points were given based on bankability and popularity versus the flesh shown. Kicking off the list was Hollywood treasure Halle Berry and how her nudity in the 2001 film Monster’s Ball although graphic, was well placed and truly deserved of the Oscar that placed her in history as the first woman of colour to win.
The list upheld equality in the shape of its ‘nude dudes’ with silver haired heartthrob Richard Gere becoming something of a man candy in the 80s and 90S as well as Ewan McGregor making the grade for his sheer enjoyment of being on equal par with the ladies and never objecting to dropping his draws when the role requires.  There were legends of glamour such as the late Charlie’s Angel star Farrah Fawcett whose infamous pin up poster and enviable hair catapulted her to fame; as well as original Bond girl Ursula Andress who proved that leaving a little to the imagine can still drive the men wild.
The programme showed variety in illustrating that not all nudity had the desired effect and in fact ill received nudity sunk the careers of household names such as Demi Moore and also Sharon Stone, who became so well known for her leg crossing scene in Basic Instinct that it defined her. Figure such as Sienna Miller came under attack as well as queen of pop Madonna for less than impressive acting skills, yet more boobs than you can shake a stick at on screen. The top five saw Pamela Anderson beaten to number four as surprisingly yet rather logically Dame Helen Mirren took the crown. Mirren from a young age had enjoyed quite a successful career from showing her skin and it was her move from being known for such roles yet still gaining the respect of her peers and going on to win the Oscar playing the ruling monarch herself that gave her victory.
Queen of the clothesless
Celebrity Naked Ambition was quite an enjoyable insight into the fame game, although graphic pictures of nether regions that shouldn’t be seen were aplenty. Kelly Brook was also a poor presenter, simply reading her autocue with zero personality and reminding us why she got the boot from Britain’s Got Talent. Crop out Kelly and the show is well worth a Saturday Night giggle. 

Archives: Never Let Me Go - February 2011

Based on the2005 novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go is a drama set in a dystopian society in which in 1952 a medical breakthrough permitted the human lifespan to be extended to well beyond a hundred years. The film begins at Hailsham, an isolated, idyllic boarding school tucked away in the English countryside where we meet Kathy H, Ruth and Tommy. The children play happily and innocently but it soon becomes apparent that they are imprisoned through horror stories of what will happen to those who venture outside the school gates. Hailsham is straight laced and firm as the cheeky bit of smoking that most of us managed to get in at the bottom of the playground has much higher consequences than a slap on the wrists. Children are gathered for an assembly on smoking and berated for selfishness in their actions and reminded: Hailsham children are special. The message continues to hang in the air unnoticed by the children until a sympathetic teacher goes against the rules and tells her class the truth. Human lifespan is able to be extended due to the successful creation of clones who have the sole purpose of donating vital organs until they ‘complete’ meaning that the children of Hailsham will never live long enough to accomplish anything other than giving themselves.  Amidst this chilling revelation a love triangle unfolds between Kathy, Tommy and Ruth. Best friends Kathy and Ruth are extremely different; Ruth is the confident leader of the pack, whilst Kathy is quiet, withdrawn and sensitive. Tommy is also very emotionally fragile and warms to Kathy after she takes pity on him in the face of bullying by the other girls. Just as it appears Tommy and Kathy will become childhood sweethearts, Ruth uses her confidence to snare Tommy and Kathy is left in the cold (the kind of move that will have women shaking their fists!)
The film then moves to the three children in their teenage years, Tommy played by The Social Network star Andrew Garfield, Kathy H played by An Education’s Carey Mulligan and Ruth manages to become even more unlikeable by morphing into Keira Knightly, star of any stiff period drama production you care to think of. The trio have been moved to cottages on a rural farm land and live with other donors who have accepted the inevitability of what is to happen to them. The film shows its strength in illustrating how removed from society the clones are; what was previously thought to be drama lessons at Hailsham were in-fact practice for being allowed into society upon leaving Hailsham. On an outing into the nearby town to see if they can spot ‘original’ versions of themselves a rumour emerges that if two clones fall in love they can apply for  a deferral that will give them a few more years together before they start the process of donation. 
The rest of the film follows Kathy H as it transpires that jealousy over Tommy between herself and Ruth has destroyed their friendship and a lonely Kathy applies to become a carer; a clone who has their donations delayed due to looking after other donor clones as they continue to give vital organs. Ruth and Tommy have split up after Kathy has made this choice. The trio are once again united but much has changed and the slightest happiness for any of them hinges on the rumour of deferral being true.
The film despite being about such controversial subject matter is very quiet and understated in how it progresses. From the isolation of the school to the muted countryside backdrop of the cottages and small, grey, hardly populated town they inhabit in later life, the film never becomes loud or busy and whilst this is a strength that allows the story to be told with subtlety and great poignance it can also cause the film and viewer to drown in the depressiveness of the character’s fate without any vibrance to break things up.  Another strength of the film is the casting of Carey Mulligan as Kathy H; in the same manner as her childhood counterpart, Mulligan plays timid, vulnerable and accepting to perfection without sliding across a thin line into being pathetic which can happen in most films where the character in not required to be overtly ‘strong.’ Garfield does a decent job as Tommy, particularly in expressing angst and aggression at his situation. Knightly although permanently mardy and with a style of acting that meant I never made it past the first Pirates of the Caribbean, does well as Ruth, who in contrast to Kathy and Tommy is vocal about the despair and anger she feels at knowing she isn’t a ‘real’ human being and her actions within the film illustrate what the notion of never living life may push someone to do.
Attention to detail is critical within the film and very well done as from the beginning it adds the sinister tone to all that occurs, from the haunting atmosphere at Hailsham to the wrist bracelets they are all required to wear to check in and out when they are supposedly ‘free’, the film manages to make the concept very real to the point where it doesn’t seem so impossible of a future. Where the film perhaps falls down is the whilst we are shown from different angles how the fate of the clones affects them, there is no real engagement with the world outside their own community, we are left unsure if people know this is donation process is happening or if they care about the clones and see them in any way to be human. The pace of the film can sometimes be slow as it remains inside a bubble where because of the acceptance there is no uprising and action; however this is also a strength in that the film is devoid of the generic Hollywood explosions and government cover-ups that usually surround films with subject matter such as this.
Overall Never Let Me Go is a quiet, haunting and very poignant film that is approached well and avoids many of the pitfalls of being too loud and dramatic as well as being too preachy about the morality of medical developments. Mulligan is superb in her role and to an extent carries the film but Garfield and Knightly do put in performances that are convincing. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend as a film to watch on a bubbly Friday night out, it is refreshing to see a film that refuses to bend to the expectation of a happy ending.

Archives: 10 o' clock Live - February 2011

Providing an alternative to Question Time and the other political shows doing the rounds each week, Channel Four brings us 10 O’ Clock Live. In a model similar to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, 10 o’ Clock Live mixes comedy with hard-hitting political issues and interviews. The show is presented by a comedic dream team consisting of Jimmy Carr, David Mitchell and Charlie Brooker, with Lauren Laverne adding a female touch to round off the satirical shenanigans. Despite the presenters having worked together on Alternative Election Night last year, nerves were evident on the debut transmission and the show drew criticism for coming across too rushed and rough around the edges.

The second week brought a marked improvement with Carr kicking off proceed­ings with a skilful and extremely funny rundown of ‘The week and what’s been in it’; including a provocative joke about 9/11 accompanied by a careless shrug: ‘It’s live, what can you do about it?’ Peep Show’s David Mitchell appears to have been selected as the Dimbleby of the bunch, interviewing the likes of MP David Willets and master of spin Alastair Campbell. Whilst Mitchell lacked the smoothness and confidence of Dimbleby his manner was much more relaxed than the previous week and markedly more colloquial than the political interviews we are used to, but enjoyably so. (Sometimes the term really is ‘pissed off’ rather than ‘terribly upset.’)
The show then moves to Brooker who more or less gives us the Screenswipe magic, commenting on the sexism furore caused by Andy Gray and Richard Keys, playing us the video tapes in question just in-case it passed anyone by. The team then gather at a round table with Laverne keeping the boys in check as they comment on Mitchell’s interview; this part gets slightly sloppy, with the comedians jostling to get a laugh amongst the odd serious comment. Meanwhile Laverne seems to ask the questions but shies away from answering without the obligatory wisecrack; however feels much more at home in a comedy sketch parodying the Gray-Keys sexism row. A highlight of the show was the second interview by Mitchell on the issue of control orders, in which a terrorism expert and a former terrorist suspect come spectacularly to blows. It was a shame when time had to be called on the row in order to move to the next slot as a fair amount of sniping and squirming continued to take place. 

Overall 10 O’ Clock Live was an enjoyable piece of entertainment that mixed politics and the comedy we love successfully. The show manages to fit in an impressive twelve pieces yet it could benefit from a smaller number with more time given to Mitchell’s interviews or Brooker spitting venom. Laverne jars slightly but her presence brings a little more than comedians just trying to outshine each other. Despite its minor teething problems, 10 O’ Clock Live is a very watchable format which provides a refreshing alternative to more serious programming.

Archives: Waterloo Road - February 2011

Fresh from winning a National Television award last week Waterloo Road is back; picking up from the dramatic return of new head teacher Karen Fisher’s missing daughter Bex. All appears well with the Fisher family as they seem to have come to terms with the moving out of their father Joe, each getting ready for a new term at school. The cheerful mood doesn’t last long however as Bex receives a chilling text from mysterious stranger Hodge. It quickly becomes clear as she delays leaving the house that Bex hasn’t been honest with her family about what happened in the time she was away…
We re-join the school overall amidst a controversial new move from Karen to boost the low grades of the boys by separating them from the girls. In heavy opposition to this change is the new head of pastoral care Adanna Lawal. Adanna is similar to her popular predecessor Kim Campbell in a number of ways, the most obvious being her headstrong nature and natural opposition to any measures that single out students. Adanna differs from Kim in being so outspoken in her opposition that she comes across as almost rude to Karen in a way that is a little unbelievable.

Also introduced is new troublemaker Kyle Stack, played by Britain’s Got Talent winner George Samson. The cute little boy who won the nation’s favour by dancing in the rain was certainly not present in his character Kyle; George looked tall, gangly and greasy-haired, complete with ASBO looking mum and scary dog. Kyle is immediately set against Waterloo Road top troublemaker Finn Sharkey and comes out swinging quite literally. Kyle also manages to clash with Bex, who after being scared out of the house by Hodge, falsely accuses him of sexual assault. The episode concludes with Bex coming clean about her lie and results in a rather silly scene in which Kyle chases Bex through the school with his dog, scaring both pupils and teachers. Kyle shows his sensitive side as his beloved pet is taken away to be destroyed and cements George Sampson as both a talented actor and a character that is sure to bring entertainment in future. The mystery behind Bex’s stalker remains unsolved as she is unable to hide her fear yet cannot bring herself to tell Karen what has happened.
Overall Waterloo Road is a welcome return to TV schedules and the first episode back expertly drew us into Bex and has us eager to know her secret. As well as dangling Bex’s secret in front us of subtle hints have been laid in relation to developing storylines such as Janeece’s promotion to teaching assistant and the comedy her partnership with straight laced Ruby will bring. Also the brewing sexual tension between heartthrob Jonah and Miss Montoya that is certain to cross lines. Hopefully the series can develop Adanna and remain fresh in the coming weeks.

Archives: Gnomeo and Juliet - February 2011

Shakespeare is being forever remade these days, from teen classic Ten things I hate about you based on The taming of shrew  to Amanda Bynes’ turn in She’s the man based on Twelfth Night. Parodied by even the Simpsons, Shakespeare’s plays have taken many forms. One of the most popular plays is that of star crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet; forever immortalised on screen by Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, but this year they step forth….as garden gnomes.
Set in an anonymous pair of back gardens in Britain, a rivalry rages on between the two primary colours; the blue Montague gnomes led by Lady Blueberry wage war against the red Capulet Gnomes led by Lord Redbrick. Placed between the two fighting factions are Blueberry’s son Gnomeo, voiced by James McAvoy and Redbrick’s daughter Juliet, voiced by Emily Blunt. We meet Juliet placed quite literally upon a pedestal and kept from exploring the world by her overprotective father. Keeping her company is best friend Nanette, voiced by Extras’ Ashley Jensen, a bubbly, shrill voiced and eccentric garden frog. Our destined two finally meet after Juliet decides to break free from her father’s coddling and goes off in search of a prized orchid; meanwhile Gnomeo is on a revenge mission against the Reds with his best friend Benny, voiced by Matt Lucas. The moment of meeting finally arrives, tiny porcelain eyes meet and it’s love at first sight with rather cute scenes of the pair chasing each other for the elusive orchid. Juliet finally finds a guy who can handle her fiery, determined manner and Gnomeo manages to find a gnome that doesn’t look like an elderly person.
Alas the course of true love never runs smoothly and Gnomeo and Juliet are devastated when they realise their gardens are mortal enemies. Equally as gutsy as their Shakespearean originals, the love struck gnomes meet in secret and come across lonely garden flamingo Featherstone who urges the two not to let their love be ruined by hate as his own was. Leading the feud between the two gardens is Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, a burly, menacing gnome with intimidating anger; although you would be if painted on permanent rosy cheeks seemed to get in the way of the true villainy. Caught up in family loyalty Gnomeo struggles to choose between the girl (or gnome) he loves and his duty to continue the cycle of revenge against the Red’s attacks. This dilemma leads to a tragic lawnmower fight in which a gnome loses his life and it appears Gnomeo has lost his too, sending the opposing gardens into mourning before swiftly moving into a fight to the death that is set to destroy them all. 
The film has many strengths, one being the way in which it forges its own path but still manages to stay true to the original play. For any English students watching there were several rewordings of famous lines such as ‘a weed by any other name is a weed’ and ‘a hat for a hat’ yet amongst these nods to Shakespeare there are lines taken from Disney’s Bambi as well as contemporary jokes to please all preferences. The setting is also a refreshing touch as the film feels quintessentially British without feeling like there has been a compromise on the quality of the animation that big budget Pixar films have access to. Clever casting also plays its part in the film’s quality as originally it’s rather disconcerting to have Juliet looking no older than sixteen whilst Gnomeo contractually obliged to have the trademark little grey beard looks like a handsome fifty-five year old. This issue is solved thanks to James McAvoy’s ability to sound playful, boyish and rather like an Essex boy. Emily Blunt is also well cast as gutsy Juliet, feminine but with an intelligent and explorative nature. The voices of the side-kicks of the film are also spot on, in particular the casting of legendary rocker Ozzy Osbourne as dozy Fawn; a slow Brummie drawl that was used to comedic effect. Jason Statham also manages to prove himself as one of the ultimate hard men by being able to still made Tybalt formidable beneath the rosy cheeks.
Overall if there is a fault in Gnomeo and Juliet it would be that whilst there are laughs to be had, it is not as funny as other animated films in the market. Generally animated films have gotten slicker in the way they address the audience, pleasing the children with slapstick elements but also have jokes that sail over the kiddies and tickle the funny-bone of adults. Whilst there were references to Shakespeare that most children would not be able to tell, as well as most children being unable to pick up the reference to Bambi, there wasn’t much in the way of banter to keep parents engaged. Gnomeo and Juliet is a pleasant, comical and entertaining film with a strong vocal cast. It may not be remembered a few months from now but it’ll keep the kids still for a few hours over half term.

Archives: Black Swan - February 2011

Spoilers contained!
I’ve never been a fan of horror movies nor have I been fond of psychological thrillers that twist my brain into a pretzel then seem to laugh at me as I run home to ask Wikipedia what on earth just happened. Yet Black Swan directed by Darren Aronofsky sells itself as a psychological thriller/horror set in the world of ballet and has been talked about so much that I simply couldn’t resist. Armed with a reluctant male companion as a shield against terror I braved the Orange Wednesday queues.
Black Swan is the story of ballet dancer Nina Sayers played by Natalie Portman; a timid, fragile, sheltered young girl who dreams of dancing the lead role in a production. Joining Portman is Frenchman Vincent Cassel as ballet director Thomas Leroy who is looking for a Swan Queen in his new production of Swan Lake. The film centres around Thomas’ need to find a girl who is able to dance both the White Swan and the Black Swan. The White Swan represents innocence and vulnerability whilst her evil twin The Black Swan represents sensuality and seduction. Nina is the embodiment of the White Swan but Thomas feels she will be unable to dance the Black Swan due to her stiffness and need for precision and control. After a disappointing audition Nina is unexpectedly given the part after showing a little bite (literally) when rejecting the advances of Thomas. Throughout the film we are given insight into the cut throat world of ballet in many forms. The most obvious is the presence of Winona Ryder as former queen bee Beth McIntyre, the lead dancer who is forced into retirement when she is considered too old to perform amongst the fresh flowers poised to reach the top. Ryder is given little screen time but plays the jaded starlet well, waspish and snarling at a startled Nina before promptly trying to end it all by walking in front of a car. A further example of the pressures of the dance world is the extent to which Portman had to slim down to near skeletal form in order to be authentic. We are treated to jutting rib cages, pre-pubescent chests and injury after audience flinching injury as Aronofsky’s aim to really place us within the ballet environment continues.
 The film begins to gain depth as Nina realises almost immediately that the biggest battle is not to reach the top, but to remain there and with the memory of Beth hanging in the air she meets her competition. Best known in Forgetting Sarah Marshall or as the voice of Meg Griffin in Family Guy, Mila Kunis shines as Lily, a new dancer to the company who serves as the antithesis of Nina; in other words, the Black Swan. Lily is sexy, confident and carefree in her dancing yet possesses as much skill and beauty as Nina. The establishment of such completion weakens Nina’s mental state further as she spurns Lily’s advances to become friends initially but is finally worn down. Kunis does an expert job as the bad girl and as the audience we care enough about Nina to feel wary towards Lily and suspicious of her motives. Cassel as Thomas comes into prominence with his charming yet overbearing and lecherous manner of teaching. Thomas gets under the skin of Nina, exposing her sexual naivety and urging her to expand her boundaries and let go in order to illustrate the freedom of the Black Swan. Cue a few awkward but I assume artfully intended scenes of Portman having some ‘one on one’ time. As Thomas tries to more or less intimidate and sometimes terrify Nina from her shell, a clash arises between the sexual awakening she must undergo to become the Black Swan and the pink infantilised prison of life at home with her mother. Played by Barbra Hershey, Nina’s mother plays a large part in the sheltered child-like nature of her daughter. A small claustrophobic flat and a bedroom filled with fluffy toys and china dolls is the scene for some of the quite sinister exchanges within the film. Hershey reveals bitterly whilst preparing Nina for performance that she gave up her career as a ballet dancer when she fell pregnant; this gives the basis for extreme suffocation and tension as Hershey again serves to represent the ruthless, unforgiving dance scene in which a child is the beginning of a life but the end of a career.
Now we get psychological. Scarily so. From the outset it becomes clear that Nina is extremely fragile and to achieve her dream she must become the Black Swan; the pressure mentally, physically and sexually begins Nina’s downward spiral into darkness. Aronofsky revels in expertly serving up the chills as the audience become one with Nina in the way that we are as terrified and confused as she is to what is real and what isn’t.  The mind games begin with a mysterious scratch across Nina’s back that appears to deteriorate as her mental state becomes more twisted. The film comes into full stride in the final twenty minutes as Nina’s paranoid hallucinations come to a head with talking paintings and evil twins in mirrors; what follows are shockingly gruesome scenes as the Black Swan begins to literally emerge within her.  The Swan Lake performance is the centre piece of the film and Aronofsky triumphs in his depiction of the beauty centre stage set against the horrors behind the scenes. Portman’s portrayal of the female breakdown is exquisite as violence erupts between herself and Lily when it becomes apparent she had come to take the role of the Black Swan. A genuinely jaw dropping moment follows in which Nina’s mind fractures and a flash of rage against Lily ensures this will be Nina’s first and final performance.
The major strength of the film is its cast. Every role is played to delicious perfection, from Hershey’s sinister mother to Casell’s ballet director, who moves slickly between leering lech and provocative genius. Mila Kunis shines as Lily, truly epitomising female sexual freedom and being likeable even though we suspect darker motives. The star is undoubtedly Portman who is untouchable in her role. As Nina she gives us fragile and naïve, at times bordering on pathetic which makes Nina unlikeable initially; however by the time Aronofsky syncs our view as the audience with Nina’s mind view we are captivated and are as equally afraid and desperate for the truth as she is. Portman shows a new level of maturity as an actress as her performance when dancing as the Black Swan is haunting and her evolution could not have be captured better on screen.
One of the criticisms of Black Swan is its melodrama that is cranked all the way to hysterical and this is very true. In most of the film there is the overpowering booming of the orchestra that seems almost like it wants to take over the scene completely but this is the one film where drama is needed, hysterical frenzy is needed. The music accompanying each chilling moment heightens what is already sickening drama and pushes it over the edge; it allows each scene to play like a performance on stage and I believe that without this shameless mania we would believe less in Portman’s terror.  Black Swan is chilling, shocking and downright uncomfortable to watch at times but Aronofsky’s vision on screen makes ensure that is also beautiful and exquisite in its disturbance.

Archives: Ant&Dec's Push the Button - February 2011

Last year I reviewed Geordie duo Ant and Dec’s new Saturday night offering Push The Button; slapstick silly but addictively entertaining, it got the big thumbs up for highly creative and hilarious games such as Simon Cowell’s teeth as well as good wholesome family fun. The boys returned this week with a number of changes, the most exciting being the new live format. Gone was the pair surprising families on their Monday morning doorsteps; our selected families were picked and raring to go. This week saw the Strauns from Kent and the Levers from Manchester go head-to-head, with the Levers taking an early lead in games such as ‘spot the baldie’ and a rather amusing game in which family members had to guess the song title from props such as a wolf in a dress (Shakira’s she wolf) and Margaret Thatcher as a calendar girl (Rod Stewart’s Maggie May). Other alterations included a more interactive touch with viewers at home; entitled ‘The people Vs. Dave’ in which viewers rang in to answer colour related questions to win prizes ranging from a trip to the Maldives and a pair of trainers. There were more audience giveaways in the shape of the ‘happy hundred’ with two members winning £2500 a-piece.
 The noticeable layer of changes to the format altered the programme significantly as it felt somewhat like a mash-up of both Push The Button and Saturday Night Takeaway with the hosts departing from playing it neutral and each taking up a team to support and rivalling each other. In scenes reminiscent from Saturday Night Takeaway’s popular ‘Ant Vs. Dec’ family members were asked to guess who could parallel park a stretch limo the quickest. The show had clearly aimed to expand with family members going against each other and performing on Dancing On Ice as well as celebrity participation from Alan Shearer who was challenged to kick a football over a house; however this served to add to the split personality of a show trying to be two things at once. Whilst the variety of games appeared less creative, new creation ‘The accumulator’ proved to be an exhilarating game changer with the down and out Strauns managing to overtake the Lever’s with a £38,500 leap of faith.
Overall I felt like I didn’t recognise Push The Button amongst the ambitious changes that had been heaped upon it. The live element took away from the shiny, sleek game show effect and whilst Ant and Dec are no strangers to live television I felt it didn’t work on this occasion. The introduction of the audience into proceedings affected the game show in the way that less family members participated than last year and games were shortened. Although Push The Button is still an entertaining Saturday night watch, once the game show ceases to be the main focus, things become muddled and the original format did not need changing. Something to watch if you happen to be indoors rather than a must-see.

Archives: Glee - January 2011

I hate happy people. Those who feel the need to sing and dance at a moment’s notice, with chirpy little attitudes, smiling little faces and a warm shiny outlook on the world. Yet when Glee burst onto our screens just over a year ago I joined the millions who were utterly enthralled. We download every song that appears in every episode, we mime the funny little song that plays when the credits roll and we never, ever stop believing. We are Gleeks.  Set in a high school in the small Midwest town of Lima, Ohio, the show revolves around a group of misfits who make up a glee club by the name of New Directions, led by charismatic Spanish teacher Will Shuester. Just as the formula was sounding a little too pitch perfect, thrown into the mix is Coach Sue Sylvester with ideas more suited to dictatorship than cheerleading. Sue is hell bent on the destruction of the glee club and spits venom from the side lines as the talented teens manage to keep their club together and go from strength to strength. 
The first episode inevitably drew comparisons to High School Musical with the establishing of characters Finn Hudson and Rachel Berry. Finn the kind hearted but oafish quarterback with a singing secret and Rachel the twee looking glee club singer with dreams of becoming a star. From this point there is a distinct departure from the teeny-bopping franchise in the way that Rachel is far from timid and mild mannered; she is fame hungry and self-centred to the point of becoming unlikeable. Whilst Finn’s unique singing ability isn’t discovered because of an Efron-like need to listen to his heart and choose his own path; a desperate Mr Shue plants Marijuana in his locker and blackmails him into joining the New Directions. With our leading couple established we meet the other members of the uncoolest club at McKinley High; Mercedes, the diva with a voice to match, wheelchair-bound Artie, stuttering Goth Tina and flamboyant soprano Kurt. Each of these characters can indeed be seen as clichés of committing to being ‘representative’ i.e. the ethnic minorities, the overweight, the disabled and the homosexual; but the programme uses them in a way to acknowledge that these are the very people who are often excluded in High School life with no popular representation of themselves on television. There are episodes that focus on the issues around these characters such as ‘Wheels’ which dealt with Artie’s disability and included a rendition of ‘Dancing with myself’.  Whilst some critics have found it inappropriate to have an able-bodied actor play the part, Kevin McHale who plays Artie gave a convincing performance that felt realistic and although it verged on being sugary sweet it struck the tenuous balance between being too idealistic and too depressing. 
The first season followed the New Directions trying to recruit more members to their club in order to be able to compete at regionals then progress to nationals; the final prize being not just a trophy, but the acceptance of their High School peers. Mr Shue doesn’t quite have enough Marijuana to blackmail anymore students into joining but through Sue’s incessant scheming, the glee club’s ranks swell with the addition of cheerleader ‘cheerios’, bitchy Santana, bubble headed blonde Brittany and girlfriend of Finn, Quinn. (The show even manages to stop me pouncing on the ridiculousness of a couple with rhyming names. It must be good.) 
Whilst issues such as teenage pregnancy, pill-popping, divorce, disability, sexuality and virginity came at us full force over the season, the show has produced a number of standout stars from a crop already fresh and high in talent.  Matthew Morrison, better known to the theatre going community has been catapulted to world-wide fame in his role as Mr Shuester. The heart and soul of the glee club, Mr Shue serves as the creative force and moral compass to the teens. Morrison is perfection within the role, playing a fresh-faced, optimistic teacher but also managing to show range as he carries the club, attempting not only to shield the teens from the hurtful criticisms of their peers but also encouraging them to be themselves in every wacky and wonderful note their mouths can warble. Mr Shue serves to be a little deeper than wholly clean cut and on a number of occasions can be accused of forcing his musical vision onto the teens rather than the other way around. The breakdown of his marriage to controlling wife Terri (some may recognise her as Claire’s mum in Heroes; or find it too painful to remember Heroes) and overlap with his attraction to mysophobic school Councillor Emma (some may recognise her from Heroes and Ugly Betty; again painful memories from the TV graveside) illustrates that Mr Shue isn’t as innocent as he’d have us believe.
The rising star within the young actors of the glee club is again difficult to choose from in light of much talent and character development; however Chris Colfer as Kurt Hummel manages to rise a hair above the rest. Colfer plays out and proud gay student Kurt; with voice enough to compete with Rachael and a dress sense that would make Lady GaGa proud. Kurt goes through the same motions as many of the gay characters that have made it onto our screens over the years; merciless bullying and the struggle to feel accepted. Where Kurt becomes loveable is in his relationship with his father. The pair are bonded together over the loss of Kurt’s mother years previous; however a strange dynamic exists between the obviously effeminate son and his father who is a rough around the edges, butch, blue collar worker. The episode where Kurt comes out to Burt is both funny and touching as his father makes clear that he had is suspicions when Kurt started walking around in heels at the age of four. This is taken further then Kurt deliberately sabotages himself in an audition for lead against Rachel to spare his father the embarrassment and threats he has been receiving.
Glee has contributed many things to popular culture; it has revived Journey’s ‘Don’t stop believing’ for a new generation, made it okay to sing our favourite songs from musicals we pretended not to know the words to, as well as reinventing well known songs, such as Mr Shue giving it the white boy swag with Kanye West’s ‘Gold-digger’ in the opening episode. One thing Glee will be forever remembered for is the creation of Sue Sylvester. Played by comedian Jane Lynch, Sue Sylvester is a creative stroke of genius as the arch-nemesis of Mr Shue and the glee club. Adding a new level of sinister to the head to toe Addidas tracksuit, Sue is mean, manipulative, conniving and a bully to staff as well as students. Sue competes with Mr Shue for the limited funding available to the school and sees destroying the glee club as a way to provide the best to her Cheerios. To say Lynch plays the part well is an understatement as her unashamed spite and sarcasm is just a delicious as her barrage of insults about Mr Shue’s perfectly coiffed hair. Like Mr Shue, Sue does not remain one dimensional and carries chinks in her armour; such as her defence of the glee club whilst judging nationals in the season finale. Also her picking of Down syndrome student Becky to be one of the Cheerios, despite rejecting girls based both on looks and weight, reflects her soft inner shell as it is revealed that Sue’s older sister suffers from Down syndrome, spurring Sue to give Becky a better High School experience than what her sister had to endure. Although Sue takes herself extremely seriously, she manages to treat us to her restyling as Madonna in ‘Vogue’ as well as becoming an overnight sensation with Olivia Newton John to ‘Let’s get physical.’ If Will Shuester is at the heart of the glee club, Sue Sylvester is at the heart of Glee itself.
So what does season two hold? An indication of the meteoric popularity of the show is the wave of cameo roles from the rich and famous. Audiences finally saw the much talked about episode ‘Britney/Brittany’ guest staring Britney Spears and re-enacting her most popular songs with cast member and dancer Heather Morris who plays child-like bimbo cheerleader Brittany. John Stamos also pops up as the new boyfriend of Emma, setting the stage for tension between himself and Mr Shue; Gwyneth Paltrow has also been confirmed for a guest role as a substitute teacher. Glee has effectively become a bandwagon for ‘cool’ celebrities to get new fans by appearing on the show and championing the misfits; even a few thoroughly uncool politicians have been clinging onto Glee as a way to be down with the kidz and show a ‘fun’ side. My hopes for the coming season is the further development of lesser known characters such as Tina, a little more spotlight on Mercedes, more topless shots of new character Sam and bad boy Puck as well as a love interest for Kurt. (I have a feeling it would make my year…)
Glee succeeds as a show because it unashamedly embraces the uncool. It takes the irritation of singing and dancing school children then humanises them so much that we take them to our hearts and before we know it we’re singing ‘Can’t fight this feeling.’ Indeed the show can suffer from being sickeningly lovely and Rachel Berry can genuinely annoy the living daylights out of us, but Glee speaks to the little part in all of us that dares to be optimistic as well as the part that loves to sing in the shower.

Archives: Unstoppable - December 2010

Spoiler's contained!         Sometimes we see films to escape from the chaos of our ordinary lives, to throw ourselves into worlds unimagined, to lose ourselves in characters so deep, believable and complex that they change our lives forever. Or just to see shouting, flashing lights and things smashing into each other.
Tony Scott, best known for directing high speed thrillers such as the latest remake of The taking of Pelham 123, keeps Oscar winner Denzel Washington on speed dial and teams him with Star Trek hot property Chris Pine to play two train operators who find themselves caught up in the drama of a runaway train.

The film set in rural, working class Pennsylvania , begins by setting out the theme of conflict between the two leads; Washington as veteran engineer Frank Barnes and his middle aged friends have been working the railways nearly all their lives and openly resent the influx of fresh, younger blood such as Will Colson, played by Pine. Frank is particularly unwelcoming to Will due to the fact his family own the rail company and this is what has secured his job.  So the rookie and the old dog are teamed together with Frank instructed to train Will as a new conductor; cue banter steeped in harsh quips as the power struggle begins, but elsewhere across town trouble is brewing. Perhaps one of the only actors who have made a career out of playing an overweight, simple-minded everyman (Jack Black comes a close second) Ethan Suplee, best known for playing dim-witted but strangely loveable Randy Hickey in My name is Earl, makes an appearance in the film as Dewey another…train person responsible for setting trains carrying good and substances safely in motion.  Dewey decides not to do his job properly and doesn’t connect an important hose relying on the brakes for the time being and waiting till the next available moment to connect the hose (I don’t get it either but go with me here.) Setting the train level to slow automatic Dewey leaves the train to walk alongside and connect the hose but in typical annoying film fashion, an unknown force moves the lever to full throttle and the train takes off at full speed unmanned and onto the main line.  We get a few giggles (or squirms) at fat-man-running-after-something time before the film draws to our attention the seriousness of Dewey’s cock-up. The train happens to be carry chemicals with names too long to remember but really bad ones that pretty much nuclear if hit with heavy impact; very unfortunate but what could hit a train carrying explosive chemicals hard enough to cause missile-like damage? Another train. Full of cute kids. Oh Dewey.

Adding some girl power to the film is Rosario Dawson as Connie Hooper the yardmaster who finds herself trying to control the chaos. When Hooper realises the severity of the error cue a bunch of stubborn, older male officials (another role obscure actors seem to make a career from) debating the best way to stop the train, each one failing miserably. At this point we are suitably panicked as children can be right little annoyances but we wouldn’t like them blown to kingdom come. The film here is incredibly skilled at making an inanimate speeding object look incredibly menacing and as the runway train comes onto the same path as the children the tension is high. Just as it looks like Pennsylvania parents will be receiving some distressing phone calls, one of the train controllers is able to throw a switch and redirects the children away from the main line at the last second. Victory, triumph….hang on…we’re only 15 minutes into the film. Rather puzzled we watch on to find that whilst the children will live, the train has still no way of stopping and now has a far more dangerous target….the entire town of Stanton, Pennsylvania – population four thousand and something. Oh Dewey.

We return to Frank and Will who are still sniping at each other and Frank reveals after 28 years he has been fired by the company and forced into retirement; Will also decides to share and reveals he has a restraining order against him after accidentally hitting his wife after suspecting her flirting with someone on her phone.  Hooper back at the yard becomes aware of Barnes and Colson’s presence on the main line and tells them to leave immediately; the pair come close to colliding with the train but make it off line just in time. Then suddenly Denzel gets that glint in his eye, the ordinary accidental hero type we love him for and comes up with a plan to chase the train from behind, connect to it then slam on the brakes to slow it down. Hooper is against this hair-brained scheme but Denzel is badass – no one tells him what to do.

The film builds speed and brings more menacing train shots, sometimes with trees in front to add that extra mean look. Barnes and Colson now have the attention of the media as everyone (including us) watches with baited breath. Incredibly the pair manage to catch the train and slow it down enough to make it round the Stanton curved track that would have caused destruction but that mean train is just relentless to kill (I think some are born that way) and picks up speed once more. This allows Denzel to put his action man hat on as he and Colson leave their train and roof jump onto the runway; Colson saves the day ultimately by climbing into the controller’s cab and finally fixing that pesky lever before jumping off to join Barnes in a speeding car that has been running alongside them.

The train is finally halted and the pair are hailed as national heroes; Frank is allowed to keep his job and Will’s wife arrives with his son ready to forgive the little bit of domestic violence in light of the situation. We also find out that Dewey is fired and now works in the fast food industry. Given that the film is based on a true story I find it amusing to know in a McDonalds out there somewhere, the guy offering fries with your burger nearly caused a national disaster.

Unstoppable is a brilliantly fast paced and suspense filled film that does what it says on the tin. There is little character development but that is just what is needed for a film like this; the focus remains solely on how the disaster will be averted which is really what we paid to come and see. I was also a fan of the curveball the film threw in relation to the train full of children; advertisements for the film sold itself with the innocent little cherubs at the centre of destruction, somewhat cheesy I thought but turned out to be a clever ploy to get seats filled then give us something more. A great popcorn film with a cast who are convincing whilst not drawing too much attention from the main event.  I’m a firm fan of Denzel Washington as America’s everyman hero and whichever scenario he saves the country or even the world in is fine with me.

Archives: The Family - December 2010

The Adesina family have been on our screens for five weeks now delivering the nation a slice of modern family life Naija-style. Parents Sunday and Vicky run a busy household with four children; oldest and aspiring musician Ayo, painfully organised Julie, relaxed and comical Olu and the youngest, clumsy but loveable Ola. The family run a business – restaurant Aso Rock Food in Hackney East London and life revolves around keeping it going amongst other activities such as church.
Too much mouth!
The first few episodes of the series raised the issue of the generational gap within the family between the Nigerian born parents and their Nigerian-British children. The younger Adesinas having very diverse ideas on love, marriage and general behaviour whilst Sunday and Vicky remain keen to enforce traditional ideals. Although Sunday and Vicky may appear strict their carefree and comical side becomes evident as we progress, with Vicky frequently seen dancing and singing to music each morning and Sunday giving us a moment of TV Gold in the first episode when admitting to Ayo that the family have been celebrating his birthday a month late for many years and urges him not to tell Vicky. The format of the series showcases all of the family but certain episodes zoom in on certain members of the family and their dynamics. Julie Adesina has become a key character as we get to know her more in the second week’s ‘Top of the tree’ in which her power struggle for control in the absence of her parents becomes more apparent. Although younger than Ayo, as the oldest sister Julie is extremely outspoken and carries a large need for control, this impacts most on her younger sister Ola who is only 15 – a sizeable gap from her siblings all in their 20s. Julie seems to boss Ola around from time to time leading inevitably to arguments as Ola tries to rebel and it can seem like communication between the sisters is at a low. Although not everyone has such a substantial gap between siblings the power struggle is relatable and whilst we empathise with Ola who seems at the mercy of everyone’s demands, we also indentify with Julie who finds herself at odds with her parents about modern family life. Week three’s ‘She’s too Western’ illustrates Julie’s struggle to adapt to being back at home after living by herself for six years. Julie’s obsessive cleaning habits lead to dispute and results in her loading her parent’s favourite china into the skip outside!
The next Tinie? ^^
Ayo has his starring moments as the series throws light on his attempts to become a musician. It immediately this irks me as it appears that every black male shown on reality television these days harbours the desire to become the next Tinie Tempah (Javan from Seven Days) however in the context of the series with so many other family plotlines and dynamics to offer I found it bearable. The series shows Ayo making music and performing under the name MC Darkie with lyrics such as ‘I’m young and I’m black surrounded by crack’ being crammed in some way into each episode. Luckily we see a different side to Ayo in ‘Single Black Male’ where we see him thinking about settling down and he reveals a very private and vulnerable side of himself when speaking about a girl from his past.
Baby of the family
The star of the show so far is Ola, the youngest who is spending the summer back at home after being away at boarding school. The series explores the dynamic between Ola and her older siblings as a further separation of generations in the way that Ola has been able to benefit from her parent’s business as it funds her private school tuition. The older Adesina siblings all attended a state school in Hackney and believe that Ola is spoilt; this is debatable but what is apparent is an element of division between Ola and her siblings as they have grown up under different circumstances. Ola never fails to bring a smile to the viewers face as she burns eggs, burns church clothes and manages to spill milk over Ayo and his computer; she is the entertaining yet young and awkward member of the family.
The one member of the family I don’t feel I know is Olu, who is described as ‘the golden boy’ of the family with dreams of owning the restaurant someday but so far he serves as the cheeky, relaxed younger brother who is hooked to his game console leaving only to continue his happy slap war with Ayo. I very much hope the series features episodes where we can unpick him like the rest of his family.
Overall The Family is a very enjoyable piece of reality, although the Adesinas are aware of the cameras I believe in the truth of every situation from the good times to the bad. The series is clever in its portrayal of family life and the themes and issues that run within one household. Finally it is refreshing to see black culture shown on television raw and honestly. Whilst not every person watching is Nigerian and will not understand every custom, I myself being Caribbean; we all have friends whom we recognise in the Adesinas and I have met people who know them personally and assure me what you see is what you get.