What can journalists learn from Sam Smith’s Oscar acceptance speech?

Why would a musician’s Oscar acceptance speech cause an Olympic diver to trend on Twitter? Sam Smith managed to make just that happen this week, and cause quite a stir.

 Poor Sam Smith. It was one of the highlights of his career as he accepted the Oscar for Best Original Song at the weekend. He even had a heartfelt message planned for his acceptance speech.

 But as he took to the stage with his co-writer Jimmy Napes, things all went a bit wrong for the Grammy Award-winning singer as he claimed he was the first openly gay man to win an Oscar.

 In his speech, he said: “I read an article a few months ago by Sir Ian McKellen and he said that no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar.

“If this is the case – even if it isn’t the case – I want to dedicate this to the LGBT community all around the world.”

What was meant to be a dedication turned into a farce, as it turns out this wasn’t what McKellen said. In an interview with The Guardian, when McKellen was asked about the diversity debate surrounding the Oscars, he said that homophobia was just as much a problem as racism in Hollywood. He said, “Why has no openly gay man ever won the Best Actor Oscar?” Read the interview here.

So what can journalists learn from this situation? Check your sources. A journalist could be sued for misquoting. This whole kerfuffle could have been avoided if Smtih had noted the key term “best actor” in the interview.

 In a famous libel case of Masson vs New Yorker Magazine, the Supreme Court stated: “regardless of the truth or falsity of the factual matters asserted within the quoted statement, the attribution may result in injury to reputation because the manner of expression or even the fact that the statement was made indicates a negative personal trait or an attitude the speaker does not hold.”

 In Smith’s instance, not only has he got the facts wrong and casued injury to his own reputation, but he also potentially injured McKellen’s reputation by inferring that McKellen did not know correct information about gay Oscar winners.

 In fact, McKellen’s information was accurate, as no openly gay man has ever won the Best Actor Oscar. So it was just Smith in the wrong for misquoting McKellen, although if McKellen were to take legal action, he could argue that his reputation was temporarily damaged.

 To be fair to Smith, he did say “if” in his speech, but that little word doesn’t matter to gossip mongers. It also didn’t matter to Dustin Lance Black, the winner of the 2008 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Milk, and the fiancé of British Olympic diver, Tom Daley.

 He responded to Smith’s tweet in a scathing tone, along with a link to a video of his own Oscar acceptance speech: “Hey @SamSmithWorld, if you have no idea who I am, it may be time to stop texting my fiancé. Here’s a start: [link to video]”.

 This tweet unearthed more trolls for Smith, as Lance Black inferred that the singer was texting Daley. Smith was then bombarded with tweets requesting Daley’s phone number, which in turn caused Tom Dayley to trend on Twitter.

 McKellen has since come to Smith’s defence, tweeting “I’d said no openly gay actor had received #Oscars – that doesn’t detract from @samsmithworld achievement. Congratulations to him & all others!” 

 And it’s not just Lance Black who’s represented the gay community by picking up an Oscar. Time Magazine has claimed Smith’s speech did ‘disservice’ to the LGBT community by not acknowledging former winners. Past winners also include Elton John and Stephen Sondheim, who both won for Best Original Song, as well as Disney composer Howard Ashman, and Alan Ball who won Best Original Screenplay for American Beauty.

 Smith later defended himself with another series of tweets:

 “Second openly gay man to win an oscar or third or fourth or 100th, It wasn’t my point. My point was to shine some light on the LGBT community who i love so dearly.

“Apologies for the mix up @DLanceBlack I’ll be sure to check out your films now x Belated Congrats on the Oscar x?

 Turns out he could have just dedicated the Oscar to the LGBT community without referencing McKellen’s inverview and saved himself a whole lot of trouble! In the wake of the social media storm, Smith has decided to retreat from social media while the situation cools.

 “​I’m logging off for a while. Some Martinis shaken not stirred are definitely in order.​”

 It just goes to show how things can get of hand so quickly, especially in the age of social media when everyone wants to throw their opinion into the mix. What can we learn from this? If you’re going to reference someone, be it in writing or verbally, always check exactly what they have said to avoid embarrassment for you and all others involved.

 P.S. It in fact turns out that Sam Smith and Daley are friends, after Lance Black revelaed that his tweet was partly meant in jest, but also to shed light on what Smith probably should have just said in the first place.

 “THE POINT: knowing our LGBTQ history is important. We stand on the shoulders of countless brave men and women who paved the way for us.”

“Dear Internet: @TomDaley1994 and @samsmithworld are pals. They text. Thus my surprise Sam took me for a closet case! Feel free to laugh.”

 

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The most exciting prize at The Oscars 2016: Best Supporting Actor

If Leonadro DiCarprio doesn’t win Best Actor at The Oscars, something is definitely wrong. Seeing as he has swept the board this awards’ season for his role in The Revenant, it doesn’t make the opening of the envelope that exciting. Personally, I’m looking forward to Best Supporting Actor being awarded, as it’s not a sure thing.

Christian Bale: The Big Short
Christian Bale took on another transformative role with fake teeth and a glass eye as the eccentrically bright Dr Michael Burry in The Big Short. This film had a strong ensemble cast, but I’m not sure if Bale was the standout for me. He is more like a cog in a greater machine.

Bale has already been awarded for this role with a Critics’ Choice Award, for Best Actor in a Comedy. Personally, I felt Ryan Gosling’s character got more laughs in the film. Bale is held in high regard with the Academy, having previously won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in 2011’s The Fighter. Comparing his performance in The Big Short to that in The Fighter: I don’t think this is his year.

Tom Hardy: The Revenant
Tom Hardy has had quite a year, with great turns in as both Kray twins in Legend, the ten-times Oscar nominated Mad Max: Fury Road, and one of the most talked about films of the year: The Revenant, for which he is nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
Hardy delivers an excellent role as Leonardo DiCaprio’s nemesis, John Fitzgerald, in the film and is definitely in the running for scooping the award. But his presence, of lack there of, has been noted on The Revenant’s campaign trail. He puts it down to filming for his next project, Taboo, but he has admitted before that he is not a fan of the award circuit. “It’s like putting a wig on a dog, or a tutu on a crocodile. It doesn’t look right, it’s not fair to the animal, and inevitably someone will get bitten and hurt,” he said in an interview in October. Unfortunately, the Academy likes actors to parade themselves, so may not look kindly on the fact that Hardy has chosen to withdraw from the campaign process.

Mark Ruffalo: Spotlight
Like Bale, I think Ruffalo is an essential part of a great ensemble cast for Spotlight, but I am unsure if his performance is worthy of an Oscar. I have always admired Ruffalo, and for a long time I thought he was one of the most underrated actors in Hollywood: he always delivers amazing performances (Zodiac, The Normal Heart) and seems like a generally nice guy. But thanks to a role in The Avengers blockbusters, and critically acclaimed films like The Kids Are Alright and Foxcatcher, he is now getting the attention he deserves.
Ruffalo delivers as strong performance alongside a great cast in Spotlight, which is in strong contention for Best Film. But what sets him apart from his co-stars is the compassion that his character portrays: in a scene with a shouting match, you can really feel his anger. But is it enough to win him the coveted award: the third Oscar he’s been nominated for?
Mark Rylance: Bridge of Spies
Next up is Mark Ryalance, the stage thespian turned screen star. He bagged the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Rudolf Abel, the soviet spy in Spielberg’s Cold War epic, Bridge of Spies. Rylance first came to the fore on the small screen in Wolf Hall in 2015, where he played the shifty Thomas Cromwell with great depth. The same can be said for his turn as Abel in Bridge of Spies: he keeps his cards close to his chest opposite Tom Hanks’ lawyer. His acting is subtle, but sublime and is a stand out in the film.

But will he win the Oscar? He has all the qualifications: RADA, RSC-alumni and first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe. But this doesn’t necessarily concern the Academy: look at Brie Larson, first time nominee, who (like DiCaprio) has won nearly every Best Actress award going this year. But he’s definitely in contention for Best Supporting Actor.
Sylvester Stallone: Creed
Finally, we have Sylvestor Stallone, reprising his role as Rocky Balboa for the seventh time. He was nominated for Best Actor and Best Screenplay for the original Rocky film but lost out in both categories. But since then, his films have remained a big box office draw, taking a combined total of over $1bn, proving his popularity with cinema-goers.

Stallone picked up Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes this year and even received a standing ovation: which gives a good indication of what those in the industry (and Oscar voters) think. However, the film itself, Creed, was not nominated for Best Picture, or any other awards for that matter: Stallone is its sole representative at the Oscars. The award should be judged on an actor’s performance alone, but back up from a strong cast and script always helps.

CBS are running an Oscar Poll. At present, Sylvester Stllone is in front with 34% of the votes, followed by Hardy at 26%, Rylance and Ruffalo are tied at 15%, and Christian Bale is in last place with 10%. But this doesn’t necessarily reflect the Academy’s decision. It also doesn’t entirely reflect the awards that have already been picked up.

Winners at (the big) 2016 ceremonies so far:

BAFTAs: Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

SAGs: Idris Elba, Beasts of No Nation

Golden Globes: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Critics’ Choice: Sylvester Stallone, Creed

(Best Actor in a Comedy) Critics’ Choice: Christian Bale, The Big Short

Idris Elba was notably overlooked for a nomination at this year’s Oscars amid the #OscarsSoWhite race row. It seems like he should have been in the running, after standing a good chance at the BAFTAs and Globes and scooping the SAG Award.

Going on past winners and general opinion. Stallone is the favourite to win the award. But it’s not a sure thing. He has been overlooked by the academy since the original Rocky, and Creed itself was passed over for lots of nominations this year where many thought it was worthy. It is a great comeback story, and as ever, everyone loves the underdog story that Rocky embodies. So perhaps this is Sly’s year? Let’s wait and see…

Marketing movies: is there any point?

I always make sure I get to the cinema with enough time to watch the trailers. I love seeing the compilation of what films are on the horizon, and how the studios have packaged them up to sell them to me. Movie posters always catch my eye as I take the tube to work, I take note of the starring actors and the starry ratings. Yet there is one thing that (usually) tells me whether I actually want to spend money on seeing a film at the cinema or not: reviews.

Thanks to the availability of reviews online today, we don’t have to rely on the carefully selected four and five star ratings that are inevitably splashed across film posters. Just Google a film and it will come up with a rating right next to the title, whether it’s a Rotten Tomatoes percentage, IMDB rating/ranking or its MetaCritic score. Not to mention the numerous blogs like my own where even semi/non professional film critics can weigh in.

This is great for the public, as they can get a good idea, according to general opinion, whether it is worth them spending their hard earned money on seeing a film at the cinema – an average cost of £10 these days (excluding travel/parking/popcorn/drinks) or wait until the DVD/On demand release.

But this poses a question for film studios: is there any point on splurging a massive marketing budget on films? Potential audiences can and will make up their minds based on other people’s opinion of the film’s content, not just on how good the marketing department can make it look.

A great example of this is the 2015 Fantastic Four reboot, or Fant4stic as it was marketed. Superhero films were on a winning streak thanks to Marvel and DC, and the film was fronted by up-and-coming young stars like House of Cards’ Kate Mara and Whiplash’s Miles Teller. The film had gone down the darker, more serious superhero route (trail-blazed by Christopher Nolan with The Dark Knight trilogy) as opposed to the family-friendly 2005 version of Fantastic Four with Jessica Alba and Chris Evans: who has since switched comic book allegiance to play Captain America. 

The trailer looked great: slightly gritty, action-packed with break out stars. A good bit of Michael Bay-esque rumbling base line to vibrate the cinema seats and the visual effects were impressive. But there was a fatal problem: the film itself wasn’t very good. At least, the critics didn’t think it was. 

  

  
The film was rated 4.3/10 by IMDB, 9% on Rotten Tomatoes and 27% on MetaCritic. Not exactly enticing numbers. Critics described it as “dull and offbeat”, “a woefully misguided attempt to translate a classic comic series without the humor, joy, or colorful thrills that made it great”, “A jumble of predictable but also incoherent plot turns, dreadful dialogue, and unfortunate visual choices”. The film poster didn’t even carry any words of praise or star ratings, likely because there were none above 2/5 and no positive words to be said.

I’m a big fan of awards’ season: I like to cast my opinion and I love the suspense when the envelope is being opened as much as the elated looks on the winners faces – and the gracious loser faces too. Film marketing really goes into overdrive at this time. But unlike Fantastic Four where the studio were trying to pedal a blockbuster, the films being marketed are usually held in high regard, and they films are being marketed to the boards: The Academy, The Hollywood Foreign Press et al. It’s a competition for which film has the best offering in terms of content and performance and what resonates with critics and peers.

Leonardo DiCaprio and The Revenant has been hitting the Oscar trail hard this year in a bid to let everyone know what he went through during film to deliver his performance. It reminds me of sitcom 30 Rock when comic actor Tracy Jordan turns his hand to serious acting in a bid to win the coveted EGOT with his film Hard to Watch. The films all try to be as serious and important as possible: which one should be a landmark ‘best film’ for that year. This year the trailers and film posters are telling me that Spotlight is: “A phenomenal accomplishment”, The Revenant is “A masterpiece of all in film making”, Room is “a one of a kind must see experience”.

These plaudits don’t come cheap. According to The Independent, the average cost for a campaign is $5m ($3m on advertising and marketing and $2m on entertainment and travel costs) and Stephen Follows reports the cost of a ‘Best Picture’ winning Oscar campaign is around $10 million, half of which will go on advertising.
During Oscar season, the studios aggressively pay for adverts politely reminding Academy voters of their films. Often under the phrase ‘For your consideration‘, these adverts appear in almost every area of the film industry; online, in print, on billboards and even videos. A page 1 advert in The Hollywood Reporter during Oscar season cost one Best Picture nominee $72,000.

But money doesn’t always equal a win. Sometimes the indy darlings prevail, such as Crash, 2005 Best Picture winner, which spent $250,000 on DVD screeners. Or The Hurt Locker, whose campaign cost just $5m, as opposed to Shakespeare in Love which spent $15m ten years before. 

So what’s the point of a marketing campaign for a film? Generally, films are made to make money, to get bums on seats. A good film needs a good trailer and enticing posters, but that often means it needs good reviews so that stars and pull quotes can be splashed across the canvas. If the marketing campaign is then geared towards winning awards, there’s certain people that need to be impressed: not just the critics and the general public. But at the end of the day, it’s down to the majority opinion: democracy wins via word of mouth, and the internet. 

The SAGs: awards’ season answer to diversity. But what’s the real problem?

#OscarsSoWhite has become the hashtag of the 2016 Oscars. The lack of racial diversity has caused something of a stir in Hollywood. Idris Elba, who was widely acclaimed for his role in Beasts of No Nation was overlooked, as was Micheal B. Jordan’s excellent performance in Creed, the latest Rocky instalment. The critically lauded Straight Outta Compton was also overlooked, bar its screenplay. There has been a public outcry for a lack of racial diversity shown by the Academy Awards, which portray the pinnacle achievement in the film industry.

This weekend saw the Screen Actors Guild Award come to town, and not only did the nominations show diversity, but so did the winners. Yes, the ‘big’ awards followed the general industry consensus, awarding Best Actor to Leonado Di Caprio, Best Actress to Brie Larson and Best Ensemble to Spotlight. But winners in other categories went against the grain.

Idris Elba, who was overlooked for a Best Supporting Actor nod for his role in Beasts of No Nation took home a SAG statuette AND bagged a second for reprising his role in Luther. Other racially diverse winners were Viola Davis for How to Get Away with Murder, Uzo Abuda for Orange is the New Black and Queen Latifah for the miniseries Bessie.

Further lack of diversity at awards season comes in the oh so often neglected female representation in any category that isn’t dedicated to women in the first place thanks to the suffix of ‘ess’. Since Katherine Bigelow won Best Director for The Hurt Locker back in 2010, the short list for all the big awards has been distinctly male.

Last year, Patricia Arquette used her acceptance speech to give a voice to women in the industry, calling for equal wages, which was greeted by a standing ovation lead by Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lopez from the front row. But it’s not just wages that are the problem. As Variety highlighted, there is generally a lack of opportunities for women. In 2014, 85% of films had no female directors, 80% had no female writers and 33% had no female producers.

The SAG Awards saw Orange is the New Black win Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series – the picture of this moment speaks a thousand words as these women stand triumphantly on the stage in their gowns, fists punching the air in triumph. It’s refreshing to see a cast of (mostly) women in a show that is penned by a woman with a strong female production team, succeed.
  
Mind you, it’s worth noting that the SAG don’t give out awards for ‘best’ performances, but for ‘outstanding performances’. Perhaps there’s something in that: not declaring that their chosen recipient is hands-down the ‘best’, but simply outstanding and wrothy of an award. I like that. Maybe it’s to do with the new thinking behind the 22-year-old SAGs, as opposed to the antiquated 88-year-old Oscars that still instil the old-school Hollywood values: discrimination, favouritism et al.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the SAGs cover the television screen as well as ‘the big screen’, so there are more awards and therefore more opportunities. The same goes for the Golden Globes (and the BAFTAs, although the Brits do divide the two into different ceremonies at different times of the year).

So what is the fuss about with the lack of diversity at other awards ceremonies? A lot of the problem is based on opportunity: it depends what films are released that year, which in turn is dependent on what scripts are written, approved by studios and given the financial backing, before they can even reach the screen and be judged for their content.

The Big Short has been held up as a mirror to the lack of diversity in this year’s nominations as it is fronted by four white men, with a supporting cast of white men with women only appearing in supporting roles as strippers and waitresses. But director and co-writer Adam McKay defended the film, saying that it is all circumstancial.

“I think we’ve had stretches where there’s been good diversity, but lately it hasn’t been great. So I think if any group on planet earth should be able to deal with protests like this, it should be filmmakers. So I support it…” He said. “The irony is, we had to make a movie about Wall Street, which is mostly white men. So it was a little frustrating for us, but that’s the truth of Wall Street, we had to do it.” And he’s right.

We wouldn’t have been having this ‘white’ Oscars debate three years ago when 12 Years a Slave scooped Best Actor, and breakout star and red carpet darling of the year Lupita Nyung’o won Best Supporting Actress, and deservedly so. Her’s was a moving performance in a powerful and important film. To boot, its director Steve McQueen was nominated for Best Director, and Chiwetel Ejiofor received a Best Actor nomination.

When it comes to a lack of female diversity, much of this is simply to do with limited opportunities for women behind the camera. The film industry is still very much as old boys club. Even in front of the camera, women struggle to find interesting roles with depth, particularly once they are past the age of thirty. There is generally a lack of leading roles for women. Famously, Angelina Jolie’s role in the spy thriller, Salt was meant to be for a man: a Tom Cruise-esque vehicle. But she proved that women can do just as good a job in a man’s role, and even brought another dimension to the role with a feminine sensibility. Not to mention, it was refreshing seeing a woman-lead action film that didn’t involve the heroine wearing lycra or a crop top – yes, Angelina, everyone remembers Tomb Raider.

It is great to see the SAG Awards honouring the underdog, however I am sure that Idris Elba won his two awards for his merit, and wants to be remembered that way: not for being a black man that the Guild took pity on/saw as an opportunity to give a finger to the Academy. Elba is a phenomenal actor, and alongside Redmayne, I believe he is one of Britain’s greatest acting exports of the moment – not forgetting two of my favourites, Kate Winslet and Helen Mirren, who are still both killing it despite their age – yes, even Winslet is considered ‘old’ by industry standards now she has hit the big four-oh.

The SAGs are being hailed as the “pointed counter to [the] Oscars” – thanks Guardian. Yes, the Oscars didn’t even nominate some actors – Idrid Elba has certainly been overlooked, I’m not so sure about Will Smith. But I stand by my comment that these winners are only a product of the material that they are provided with: a role written for a white man can (in most circumstances) only be played by a white man. There needs to be a change in attitudes in the white-male dominated industry that allows minorities through the door, both behind the camera and in front of it. Maybe then we will see a more diverse nomination list come awards season.

Is it time for Leo to win an Oscar?

 
Poor Leonardo DiCaprio has become something of a joke in Hollywood for failing to win an Oscar, and not through lack of trying.

He is one of the industry’s most highly respected actors, having starred in some stellar films throughout his career, which would, arguably not have been as good without him in them. He was won plenty of awards, including Golden Globes and SAG Awards, but that coveted little gold man has always just escaped his grip.

This year, he is nominated for his role in Alejandro G. Inarritu’s The Revenant, a grizzly survival story about a fur trapper left for dead in the wilderness in the 1800s. The film has been lauded as “sublime” by critics, and scooped all the big awards at the Golden Globes earlier this month, including a Best Actor gong for Leo.

But a win at the Golden Globes doesn’t always translate into success at the Oscars: Leo knows this all too well himself, as it happened with The Aviator. But there is so much hype around his role in The Revenant, that you can hardly utter the words “Leonardo DiCaprio” without the word “Oscar” being mentioned in the same sentence. And there’s reason for the hype.

Leo truly embraces the role of Hugh Glass and his battle to survive in the primal wilderness after he is attacked by a bear, buried alive by his cohorts and literally left for dead. The visceral performance shows Hugh’s desperate attempt to track down his nemesis John (Tom Hardy) in his quest for vengeance. The Revenant literally means a person who has returned, supposedly from the dead, and Hugh certainly seems to go through hell and back throughout the course of the film. This is very much a physical performance, there is not much dialogue from DiCaprio, but the challenging scenarios and stunning scenery do enough without the need for words.

“I can name 30 or 40 sequences that were some of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” DiCaprio told Yahoo. “Whether it’s going in and out of frozen rivers, or sleeping in animal carcasses, or what I ate on set. [I was] enduring freezing cold and possible hypothermia constantly.”

  
The bear attack scene is particularly hard to watch. There were rumours that Hugh got raped by the bear, but it is in fact a mother bear protecting her cubs. But the scene is no less awkward and wince inducing. You can see the desperation in Hugh’s face as he grapples with the monstrous creature that mauls him, claws at his skin, flips him over like a pancake and tests the strength of his skull by standing on it. Ouch. Despite it being a computer animated bear, it feels very real thanks to the grunting, heavy breathing and close ups that reveal looks of desperation (that goes for DiCaprio AND the bear). But the bear is in fact a stunt man in a giant blue suit rolling around with DiCaprio before the CGI team added a bear over the top. 

It’s clear that DiCaprio and his PR team are on the Oscar trail. He is letting everyone know how much he wants it. It public knowledge that he ate raw bison liver, slept inside a dead horse and risked hypothermia while shooting with Inarritu in a nine month shoot that was described by crew members as “a living hell”. Bear Grylls, eat your heart out. 

He said in a recent Time Out interview, “I’ll always feel like an outsider” in reference to how he fits into Hollywood, and I couldn’t help that wonder if this has something to do with him never winning an award. He’s not in the George Clooney inner circle of Brad Pitt, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and co, all of whom do well when it comes to awards season. But then he also says that “Marty [Scorsese] was the same. He came from the streets of New York and didn’t feel like he belonged in Hollywood.” And now “Marty” is the toast of tinsel town.   

 
DiCaprio is being widely praised for his role, but he has some tough competition in the Best Actor category at the Oscars: he faces last year’s winner, Eddie Redmayne, for his moving performance as Lily Elbe, the world’s first transgender woman (read my review of The Danish Girl here) and Matt Damon, fellow 2016 Golden Globe Best Actor winner (for a comedy) in The Martian. Also in the category is a post-Breaking Bad Bryan Cranston in Trumbo and Michcael Fassbender for his role in the eponymous Steve Jobs biopic. 

DiCaprio has always been good at embracing a role, and his work with Scorsese has toughened him up in preparation for this mammoth film. My favourite character DiCaprio has portrayed was Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street: again he won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a comedy that year, but he stood no chance at the Oscars as we were in the grips of the McConaissance, and Matthew McCounaughey (quite rightly) bagged the statuette for his transformative role in Dallas Buyers Clubs. I also thought DiCaprio’s turn as Howard Hughes was brilliant, particuarly his decsent into madness. But neither of these roles had the same gruelling process of that of Hugh Glass: and he’s not afraid to let everyone know it. I just hope that eating that raw bison liver pays off… #OscarForLeo 

The Hateful Eight: film review

 

The Hateful Eight was a film of two haves, literally. There was an interval. The first half was slow paced, and slightly tedious, building the tension in typical Tarantino fashion, but everything came to a head in the second half and culminated in a full on gore fest.
Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film (see what he did there?) opens with Ennio Morricone’s Golden Globe winning score rumbling over scenes of a frozen landscape of Wyoming with a stage coach approaching. Onboard is John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter who is delivering the murderous Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Redrock where she will be tried and hanged. Ruth is old fashioned: despite Domergue having a dead or alive bounty of $10,000 on her head, he wants to bring her in kicking and screaming so he can watch her hang, to see justice being delivered and to not cheat the hangman.
Ruth trusts no one. When he encounters fellow bounty hunter, and black civil war veteran Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and new Sheriff Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), both of whom he knows, he is sceptical to let them aboard the stagecoach to give them a lift to Redrock, despite the risk of them freezing to death with an encroaching blizzard on their trail. Under the condition of wearing handcuffs and handing their guns over the the driver, he begrudgingly lets them aboard.
To evade the blizzard, the party take up in Minnie’s Haberdashery, a popular stagecoach rest stop in Wyoming. But Minnie is nowhere to be found. The stopover has been left in the hands of Bob the Mexican, with three residents already being put up for the night: old General Sandy Smithers (Bruce Dern), English hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth) and shifty cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen).
From this point, the film is set entirely within the one-room shack (aside from the odd exterior shot). The 70mm format seems wasted on what is essentially a stage play. It’s a nice cinematography gimmick, and it made for good marketing when the film first launched and toured the US on a 50s style roadshow presentation (hence the 12 minute interval at the cinema) so it could be shown in the special format. 
As the eight residents settle into the one-room set of Minnie’s and get to know each other, Ruth points out that at least one man is not who he says he is, and is likely here to free Daisy before he can take her to hang. In a film where everyone seems to recognise somebody else, there are a lot of unknowns. Once introductions have taken place, something of a murder mystery in reverse unfolds as Ruth and the audience try to ascertain everyone’s motives. 
Samuel L. Jackson is on good form, doing what he does best: having a big old rant and shooting people. He kicks starts proceedings in the second half of the film, and thank goodness, as up until this point I was beginning to wonder where the film was going and when the ‘strong bloody violence’ that warranted the film an 18 certification was going to happen. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also brilliant as the feisty, uncouth Daisy, who’s snarling facial expressions and wild eyes never fail to shine through the blood or bruising on her face. And Channing Tatum’s cameo was a pleasant surprise.
The violence is, as expected, bloody and over the top: with exploding heads, genital injuries and missing limbs. Ruth and Daisy make quite a double act as he dishes out punches and slaps to his captor. It shouldn’t be, but it’s almost comedic thanks to Russell’s delivery and Jason Leigh’s reactions. 
I didn’t think the film wasn’t as good as Django Unchained, and it certainly isn’t up there with Pulp Fiction. This is reflected in the recent award wins nominations: Ennio Morricone quite rightly gets an Oscar nod for his tense, brooding score, and Jennifer Jason Leigh has received several nominations for her performance. But the film as a whole, and Tarantino as a director have been neglected from the shortlists. It did however, gain screenplay nominations at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice Awards and the BAFTAs. But a more notable nomination is perhaps the EDA Special Mention Award: Movie you wanted to love, but just couldn’t.

Shakespeare in Love – play review

shakespeare

Shakespeare in Love is one of my favourite films, so I had very high hopes for the stage production at London’s Noël Coward theatre. Thankfully, the play met, and even exceeded, my expectations. It embodies everything that theatre is about.

The play is well-adapted and sticks closely to the film, thanks to Tom Stoppard’s writing. It is also beautifully staged, with scenery working well to incorporate the surrounding theatre and show the audience both sides of the stage within the performance, which is important in a play about theatre. The stage itself acts as the stage in the play, with the rafters built up around it providing the viewing circle for actors and extras who aren’t acting in scenes to stand and spectate, so there is always an audience both on and off the stage.

The cast is excellent. I almost preferred Tom Bateman’s Will Shakespeare to Joseph Fiennes in the big screen version. He really shows his passion for Viola and his artistic temperament. Lucy Briggs-Owen also gave a great performance as the female lead, with her gravelly voice perfect for Viola: ‘None of your twittering larks,’ as Shakespeare describes her. I had seen her earlier this year in Fortune’s Fool at The Old Vic, and I thought she gave suited the role of Viola better than that of Olga Petrovna, although I am not her biggest fan. She often overemphasises, which makes for great dramatic effect in stage, though I personally find it slightly grating.

David Oakes has a brilliant turn as Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare’s friend, but writing rival. He has a bigger role in the play than Rupert Everett did in the film, and I think it’s a brilliant move. Their friendship is really played up and the banter between the two writers is fantastic, as is the balcony scene, which Marlowe has been written into; feeding Will lines to speak to Viola as he tries to woo her with his poetry.

Mr Henslowe is another great character. He professes that the audience wants love, comedy and a bit with a dog. Which is exactly what this play is. The romance is sweeping and there are laughs a-plenty, especially thanks to Mr Henslowe and the dog.

The music is also very well done, with a four-piece band, including the all-important lute, providing most the music, much like wondering minstrels – strolling about the stage and lurking in the rafters to accompany the players at the Rose theatre.

I can honestly say, Shakespeare in Love is one of the best plays I have ever seen at the theatre. If you enjoyed the film,you will love this stage production. It will make you want to fall in love all over again.

The gay issue in The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.

After watching The Imitation Game, I left the cinema slightly teary and emotional. As the film comes to a close, facts roll up on the screen about how the film’s hero Allan Turing was driven to suicide at the age of just 41 after being outcast by the country he helped to save.

The film has been criticised for not being entirely accurate, particularly when it came to Turing’s personal life. But the facts speak for themselves: between 1885 and 1967, 41,000 men were chemically castrated, like Turing for being gay.

When convicted for homosexuality, Turing was given the choice of going to jail or being castrated in an attempt to quell his gay desires. He chose the latter because it meant he could continue his work. It’s deeply tragic.

I also think it’s tragic that more people don’t know Alan’s story. Yes, Bletchley Park was classified information for 50 years, but people should know what a hero this man is. He broke the Enigma code, something that the Allies had been working on for years and thought to be near impossible to do. This essentially won World War Two thanks to being able to decrypt German communications and use the intelligence against them.

I only found out about Turing last year, and that was simply because I was working for a technology publication and was tasked with writing about him and Bletchley Park. It was only in 2013 when he received a posthumous pardon from the Queen. Turing has since been included in British schools’ curriculum, and rightly so. It may inspire more children to get interested in mathematics, and more importantly, encourage children to stand up to adversity and be who they are now that this country has recognised that being gay is not a crime.

It saddens me that homosexuality was only legalised less than 50 years ago. I think about my friends who are gay and able to live their lives fully and love who they wish openly today, and imagine who tragic it would be if they were born a mere generation earlier.

My best friend at university is gay and he was the brightest person on our course, and is one of the wittiest and most intelligent people I know. He won the course award for being the student of the year, was one of just two to graduate with a first and is now great at his job. Had things not changed in 1967, he would have to live his life a totally different way or even have been persecuted just for loving men not women. It makes me sad just to consider it.

But even today, the gay community still faces discriminations and struggles. The word ‘gay’ has become synonymous with ‘bad’ and ‘loser’ when it used to mean ‘happy’. Even more upsettingly, the number of reported attacks on gay people has risen to an all-time high. While some say this is good because they are being reported, it is still shocking that so many attacks occur in our supposedly progressive society.

It’s much the same with rape. People feel like they can’t report these attacks because they don’t think they will be taken seriously by the police, or are too scared or ashamed to come forward for something that wasn’t even their fault. As shown in The Imitation Game, 60 years ago, it was the police themselves who were pulling people into the station and questioning them for ‘indecent’ behaviour if they were suspected of being gay. Supposedly, some poetic license was used in the film here as Turing was not under investigation for being a soviet spy, but went to the police himself to report a theft, but after the police saw through the lie he told to cover for a man he was seeing, they began to snoop.

Perhaps the film could have had a greater focus on Turing’s sexuality, as it was our country’s ignorant attitude towards to that was ultimately his downfall. The film quietly hints at Turing being gay throughout, particularly in the flashbacks to his childhood, but it is not explicit, it is somewhat sidestepped aside from the 1950s portion when he is under police investigation. In these scenes you see his love for his machine, and his affection for his colleague Joan Clarke, but it is sad he never truly got to love.

Turing proposes to Joan in The Imitation Game because he cares for her and she needs to get married to appease her parents. In real life, Turing did get engaged to Clarke, but was open about being gay.  He could certainly never be with a man he truly loved, so it seemed like a logical and platonic marriage between the two friends. “We would enjoy each other’s minds, that’s more than most couples can say” says Clarke. True though this is, they both deserved better. Nobody should settle when it comes to love, you can’t imitate it.

Fury – film review

fury

Fury is one of the most powerful films I have seen in a long time, certainly the best war film for years (in my opinion). It was Saving Private Ryan meets Platoon by way of The Pacific. There were no rose tinted specs glorifying war: it was laid bare with no detail spared.

For me, the sign of a well-made film is a high level of detail. I am an observant person and tend to wonder off focus in films and observe the background, surroundings and extras. The injured soldiers being attended to in the background at certain points, their guts being stuffed back into their stomachs, at other moments, the photos and memorabilia in the tank: attention to detail makes the film seem that much more immersive and real.

The World War II-set story centres around a depleted platoon of Americans fighting on the front line in 1945 Germany. The team of five have been together through the entire war and are thick as thieves. Unfortunately, their front gunner has just had his face blown off (literally) so young typist Norman Ellis (Logan Luhrman) is drafted in. His naïvety and inexperience is stark in comparison to Brad Pitt’s Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier and his troop of hardened men. Norman has only been in the army eight weeks, has never killed anyone and doesn’t want to be there, declaring his call up as a mistake.

The platoon that operate the tank, Fury, however, are settled into their roles, which they describe as the ‘best job ever’. They take pleasure in killing every last SS member they come across; they even shoot German corpses to make sure they’re dead.

Wardaddy says he started fighting Germans in Africa, then in France, then in Belgium, now in Germany. He is harsh, but cares for his troop. He has promised all of them that he will get them back to their families. These killing machines do have hearts and personalities. They are all religious, especially Shia La Beouf’s character, Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan. Within the tank there is also the abrasive hilbilly Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis and no-nonsense Mexican Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia. They work together with great efficiency, like a well oiled machine. These men have become a family, and the machine that is Fury has become their home.

Yes, they are perhaps a little stereotypical, but it reflects the archetypes of WW2 American troops: the strong leader, the inexperienced youngster, the bible basher, the funny foreigner and the uneducated scruff. The film also reflects the morale that built up between these men in an unoriginal, but accurate way. Norman is the beta to Wardaddy’s alpha, and they play the roles so well. Lurhman spends most of the film looking pale with shock, bottom lip trembling and eyes holding back tears as opposed to Pitt’s strong, stoic exterior.

But there are moments where Wardaddy shows what’s under his armour; like when Norman has to make his first kill with Wardaddy forcing him to go through with it. The despair that Pitt conveys with one look when the deed is done was enough to bring a catch to my throat. And I pretty much spent the last twenty minutes of the film bawling. It’s powerful stuff.

In one poignant moment of the film, when Wardaddy reveals the decency beneath his aggressive exterior, he says to Norman: “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” In my opinion, that sums Fury up pretty well.

Blogfest 2014

mumsnet

I am very much looking forward to attending Mumsnet’s annual Blogfest in London this week.

Having only just relaunched my blog, I am intrigued to get hints and tips from professionals (and non-professionals) including novelist Nick Hornby, comedian Francesca Martinez and campaigner Camila Batmanghelidjh, who have succeeded in the tough online world of blogging.

There are still tickets up for grabs, it would be great to see some fellow bloggers there.