Jurassic World – film review

By Tola Onasanya

Our favourite pre-historic predators are back in this latest adrenaline-fuelled offering from Isla Nublar.

Colin Trevorrow’s new dino epic has taken a giant bite out of worldwide box office takings – it’s the third highest grossing film of 2015 so far, but movie-goers expecting an improved version of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic, may be disappointed.

In the film’s opening sequences all the makings of a great ‘Jurassic Park’ movie are present. A dinosaur hatches from an egg, two young brothers getting ready for their trip to the resort, instilling a sense of impending doom in the viewer. It’s all there.

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22 years on from the disaster of its predecessor, the Jurassic World theme park is running like a well-oiled machine. Business is booming and park director Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) is running a tight ship. Elsewhere, protagonist and 2015’s sweetheart; Chris Pratt – who plays velociraptor trainer (yes really) Owen Grady, is brought in to assess a new ‘asset’ that is set to boost the parks ratings.

As impressive as the CGI critters are, the script lets the 2-hour flick down. At best the writing is juvenile, and some of the character clichés are so bad that the 1980s called to ask for their movie tropes back. The workaholic parent-figure with no time for the kids, (Howard) feels overused and cheap.

The kids are just annoying; it feels like they were thrown in for symmetry with the prequels’ other “essential” child characters. When younger brother Gray (Ty Simpkins) announces to hormone-fuelled brother Zach (Nick Robinson) that their parents are getting a divorce it feels tacked on. Complaints aside, Howard comes good and steps up as the über-aunt – despite outrageously running around a tropical island in heels.

It’s a fast paced adventure that keeps you wanting more, with some impressive solo stints from Jake Jonson (New Girl), who is the cinematic embodiment of the 93’ fans, from his dinosaur toys, down to his classic Jurassic Park tee.

Verdict: Jurassic world is a highly watchable summer action movie that delivers on action but is a little light on intellect.

Reading Lolita in Tehran

By Tamara Gates

 

“What do people who become irrelevant do?” This question underpins Azar Nafisi’s memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, her journey of identity displacement set in revolutionary Iran.

After losing her job as English lecturer when fundamentalists seize Tehran’s universities in 1979, Nafisi sets up an illicit book club for seven of her former female students, inviting them to her home every Thursday to discuss forbidden Western literature.

Joining is a bold act of resistance for these young women, who are determined to learn under a Republic that condemns independence of thought; and searching for beauty and meaning in a society that cruelly punishes expressiveness.

Nafisi divides the novel into four parts- Lolita, Gatsby, James and Austen- shaping the narrative with literary works that become windows into the lives of her book-club members. Reading The Great Gatsby, Lolita and Madame Bovary leads the young women to scrutinize their restricted freedoms and they come to learn that under the Ayatollah’s regime, their lives are characterized by a tragic ‘lack’. Glimpses into their worlds, marred by abusive partners, arbitrary flogging, controlling brothers and unfulfilling love matches, can be frustrating. These insights are often swamped by Nafisi’s own extensive literary analysis: Reading Lolita is as much an insight into the daily humiliations suffered by women under the Islamic Republic, as a deeply personal work of literary criticism, which sometimes counters the promise of narrative depth.

Packed with literary references that reveal little unless you are well-versed in a few classics, the most accessible feature of Reading Lolita is its evocation of a longing for beauty. At the heart of the memoir lies a search for beauty as the women’s native Tehran is brutally stripped of the same during a ‘senseless’ war: bookshops are burned, films distorted by a ‘blind censor’ and its women driven-not always unwillingly-behind the veil.  As rockets and violent protests tear down the city, Nafisi sharply pulls to focus the everyday beauty that can-or must-be found amidst conflict: great novels, coffee and pastry rituals, or philosophical debates with the man she calls Magician feature regularly throughout.

Nafisi documents in Reading Lolita an unkind reality from which literature offers liberation for the young women- each novel they study becomes a portal through which they can examine their own personal disappointments, and aspirations. They resist systems of oppression by placing themselves in the worlds crafted by of some of the most celebrated writers of the twentieth century, encouraged by Henry James’s belief that in order to survive, “we must for dear life make our own counter-realities.”

Definitely ‘The One’ – A Chorus Line, Palladium, running until January 2014

Claire Naik

By Claire Naik

A Chorus Line has opened in the West End after a very long absence –  the last London production was in 1976.

A Chorus Line, which debuted in New York in 1975, became the longest running show on Broadway until surpassed by Cats in 1997. It has been nominated for and won numerous awards and accolades and remains for many one of the all-time great musicals.

The idea for the show was born out of workshops in New York run by choreographers for Broadway dancers.  Michael Bennett both directed and choreographed the first production which is set around seventeen dancers auditioning in what for many may be their last job.  We hear each individual dancer’s story through their audition piece with the staging of the show helping us to further immerse ourselves into the audition process.   The creative team purposely leave the stage bare, a solitary white line for the dancers to stand on and some mirrors behind them which cleverly reflect the audience back to themselves.

What unfolds has not dated and is still a truthful, funny and sometimes touching window into the lives of dancers. Lives which are so often plagued by self-doubt and paranoia but these emotions are overwhelmed by the sheer love for what they do. They are all aware that their careers can be over in a heartbeat, whether from injury like the character Paul San Marco (Gary Wood) the Puerto Rican with a troubled child hood or old age as with Sheila Bryant (Leigh Zimmerman) the mature dancer in the group.

John Partridge (best known as Christian from EastEnders) takes on the all singing all dancing role of Zach, the Director who we see intermittently but hear more often as a voice in the auditorium.  Not having seen the show on stage before my only experience of Zach was Michael Douglas cast in the 1985 film version, Douglas does not sing or dance in the film (Richard Attenborough who directed obviously knew to play to Douglas’s strengths which we can only imagine are not in song or dance).  Partridge however is a consummate all-rounder belting out the songs and effortlessly executing the dance routines.

Another standout performance comes from Victoria Hamilton Barritt who plays Diana Morales, like Paul a Puerto Rican whose powerful performance of “What I did for Love” sends waves of emotion through the audience who indeed laughed, cried and spontaneously showed their appreciation continuously throughout the show.

The show’s big number is ‘One’ which does not disappoint; younger audiences may recognise this from Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy.  As each dancer emerges from the wings, all teeth and projection, we want to be down on that stage with them top hat in hand and not wanting this audition to end.

So grab your fishnets and sequins and high kick your way to the Palladium as A Chorus Line is back exactly where it belongs, in the West End, and packing them in.

 

THE SEX CLINIC, EPISODE 1

The Sex Clinic comes to Channel 4

You know what you don’t see enough of on TV? Genitals. Unless you’re watching Channel 4 on a Thursday, of course, where lately you’ve been spoilt for choice when it comes to strangers’ bedroom bits. We’ve had midlife cherry-popping in 40 Year Old Virgins and woodland bonking in Dogging Tales; now, The Sex Clinic pants into C4’s stable of all things saucy.

The series promises a behind-the-seeping look at Britain’s busiest sexual health centres; “warts and all”, the narrator intones as the first show begins. She’s not joking. There’s full-frontal swabbing, ‘needle play’ and someone having what appears to be a large foghorn popped up his dark and stormy in the opening credits alone. It’s a conveyor belt of putrid privates; by the time the title appears, I’m googling the nearest convent.

The show follows a handful of itchy visitors at NHS centres in London and Birmingham, supposedly to ‘gauge the temperature of the nation’. It’s an interesting, if uncomfortable premise – discharge over dinner, anyone? – but one that falls victim to its own over-excitement.

Clinic staff come across as unfailingly warm, sturdy types with unflappable blow-dries and reassuring knitwear, but they’re reduced to bit players; it’s those naughty shaggers we’re after. True, we get a broad range of stories across age, race and inclination, but as the program hones in on nipple-piercing dominatrix Mistress Jezebel and transgender (that’s putting it simply) best buds Tomisha and Damien, it all feels rather desperate.

That’s The Sex Clinic’s central pickle; once the shock of all the bare bum bombardment wears off, it’s hard to maintain an interest. By the time we crash-land (bafflingly) into Mistress Jezebel’s ‘dungeon’, not even her box of anal play accoutrements can shake a distinct sense of ennui.

It’s a shame, because stories like that of Wayne, who’s lived with HIV for 20 years and speaks movingly of his “survivor guilt” are genuinely fascinating. But any emotional response evaporates as we jump to Damien whopping his fake knob out in the street whilst Tomisha vogues in a doorway. She’s an escort, doesn’t always use protection and rarely asks if her clients are HIV positive. They cackle in the drizzle; I feel vaguely ashamed of my generation.

Singin’ in the Rain at the Palace Theatre

Journalism courses LondonBy Abra Dunsby

It’s arguably the world’s favourite movie musical. Iconic and euphoric, the 1952 MGM smash hit Singin’ in the Rain is famed for its title scene in which, infantilised by love, Gene Kelly dances and sploshes mischievously on puddle-strewn streets. Creating a similar impact for the West end stage was never going to be easy, as proved by the lukewarm reception following the London Palladium’s 1983 adaptation. However, following a critically-acclaimed run at Chichester Festival, Jonathan Church’s current revival at the Palace Theatre definitely makes a splash.

The action takes place in pre-depression Hollywood, as the rise of the ‘talkie’ deals a hammer blow to Silent Film. Movie star Don Lockwood has it all; success, good looks and a studio-contrived romance with his beautiful co-star, Lina Lamont. But with the release of ‘talkie’ The Jazz Singer, and following a brief encounter with a talented new kid on the block, Lockwood’s life is about to change.

Church’s adaptation is faithful enough to the original to keep the swarms of die-hard fans happy in their seats. However, Andrew Wright and Simon Higlett shake things up – Wright with gloriously enthralling choreography, and Higlett with a dazzling set.

There are some sterling performances; Cooper is spot-on as likeable cheeky-chappy Lockwood, Daniel Crossley’s Cosmo Brown delivers an effortlessly funny rendition of ‘Make ‘Em Laugh’, and Jennifer Ellison is gratingly squeaky as dimwit diva, Lina Lamont. Although there is a lack of chemistry between Lockwood and Kathy, derived from an absence of acting aplomb from Scarlett Strallen, she more than makes up for it in her musical numbers and sparkles when she sings.

Church’s Singin in the Rain’ is an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza that is flecked with nostalgia for the innocence of a bygone age. Yet it is the visually wondrous staging of the title number that truly steals the show. As the rain spills onto the stage and a gleeful Cooper splashes majestically to the soaring sounds of the orchestra, even the most cynical members of the audience will find themselves shivering with pure delight.

Coronation Street

London Journalism Centre

Wednesday’s episode of Coronation Street failed to add much to the gaiety of the nation. It was an episode of aftermaths – apart from the ongoing saga of Maria and Marcus, of course, writes Jennifer Truelove.

 

Lewis  must have found it a stiff climb to the moral high ground, but he’s made it to the summit and planted his flag.  Despite his former career relieving women of a certain age of their money, and abandoning Audrey twice, Lewis is indignant that she could doubt the sincerity of his attachment. Audrey’s crime was standing by whilst hamster-faced daughter Gail and bare-faced fantasist Gloria dangled before him the carrot of Gloria’s mythical money, and presumably sexual favours.

Lewis passed this test but has dumped Audrey and is out for vengeance. He’s already seen off Gloria, costing the Rover’s pub of the year award, and clearly has plans for Gail. His pantomime villain expression could indicate nothing else. Still, it looks like more fun than domestic bliss with Audrey.

Ken Barlow has a  similar hairdo to Lewis and has been known to be a bit of a philanderer  - though Deirdre is no slouch in the area of marital infidelity. You think they’d simply have declared it an open marriage by now.  In this case, Ken has been proved innocent of the accusations brought by  woman-scorned Wendy, and harmony is restored at number one. Deirdre is very orange. We can only assume there is a tanning salon round the corner in Rosamund Street, frequented also by Tina MacIntyre.

As for Maria, she’s in love with Marcus, even though he’s her gay lodger, and she’s only recently shacked up with thick builder Jason, who apparently only exists to be dumped by women.  Audrey is dismissive of this “silly crush”.  She’s wrong on this, as on so many things – see Lewis.

Rushing home to confront  Maria about interfering in his relationship with boyfriend Aidan, Marcus inexplicably falls in to a “passionate” embrace with her instead. Neither seems to particularly be enjoying this and there is a strangely grim air about their progress hand-in-hand towards the bedroom as the familiar Corrie theme plays over the closing credits. Roll on Friday.

 

 

Elbow – Wembley Arena, November 27, 2012

Music JournalismBy Patrick Widdess

In recent years Elbow have had to learn to think big, so big that a weeknight gig at Wembley Arena is about as low-key as it gets. The band are relaxed on this second date of their one week arena tour seamlessly blending the immense and epic with the intimate and informal.

Guy Garvey pounds along to rousing opener ‘High Ideals’ on an upright piano that looks like it’s been brought in from a Northern pub. He hails “Wembley” before charging down the walkway to greet fans thronging the front row, then switches to the more affectionate “Wembles”, addressing the masses like a drinking buddy for the rest of the night. ‘Grace Under Fire’ is a huge karaoke sing along with the chorus lyrics displayed on the big screen. Drummer Richard Jupp rounds it off with a rock n roll flourish and is caught looking sheepish on camera.

Crowd participation is a regular feature of Elbow’s performances. At festivals Garvey initiated Mexican waves and sing-alongs like a pensive wizard testing the extent of his powers. At Wembley he confidently conducts the amassed choir of fans in a variety of renditions of the ‘whoa…’ refrain from ‘Grounds for Divorce.’

These are the band’s final shows before they take a one year hiatus. They claim to have six songs for the next album and one is performed tonight. ‘Charge’ is a built around a moody organ riff and angsty lyrics; “Glory be these fuckers are ignoring me” Garvey proclaims in the song’s slow climax. It has all the hallmarks of an Elbow song and is performed assuredly as though it were already a classic.

In a more intimate moment the band assemble round a couple of keyboards for ‘The Night Will Always Win’, after which Garvey remains, repeating the opening line of ‘Weather To Fly’, encouraging individual fans and the audience as a whole to sing it back.

As the main set draws to a close Garvey thanks everyone for their warmth unaware that many upstairs are shivering beneath the air-con on a cold November night. The temperature rises as they return, performing ‘Starlings’ and ‘One Day Like This’. As the band put their instruments down, the chorus “throw those curtains wide / one day like this a year’d see me right!”reverberates around the arena making you feel that if there had been a Mercury Music Prize for the decade The Seldom Seen Kid would have won it; the band celebrating with a pint and a sing-song down the local pub.

Elbow leave the venue and will soon go their separate ways. Garvey, now used to thinking big, is off to New York to write for a musical adaptation of King Kong. When they return, ‘Wembles’ and other arenas full of fans will be ready to welcome them back with open arms.

RODRIGUEZ live at the Roundhouse, Camden, London, Wednesday 14 November

By Ben Wood

The story of Sixto Rodriguez is one of the strangest in music history. The self-effacing Detroittroubadour made two albums (1970’s Cold Fact and 1971′s Coming From Reality) which melded Dylanesque diatribes and ‘power to the people’ politics to styles from fuzz-heavy rock-outs to baroque folk-rock.

After both albums flopped, Rodriguez retired into obscurity, dedicating himself to family life, blue-collar work and left-wing politics. But, black-market tapes of these albums made him a counter-culture hero in apartheid-eraSouth Africa, though he never saw a penny.

Even after the albums were re-released in 2009, few knew the man’s work, outside South Africans and music anoraks. But this year’s moving documentary Searching For Sugar Man means he’s now better-known in the West. This gig is the first of hisUK tour, which includes three nights at the Roundhouse – and there’s a lot of love in the room.

Rodriguez, now 70, is helped on-stage looking every inch the 60s survivor, rocking leather trousers, wide-brimmed hat, an impressive mane of hair and dark glasses. But it wouldn’t be a Rodriguez gig without sound problems. He’s using a portable mike, and while his band is sounding good, his vocals sound faint and occasionally cut out – until a roadie sets him up with a microphone several songs in, to widespread cheers.

The set spans the majority of both albums and the occasional cover, including rock’n'roll chestnut ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, a bluesy take on Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ and reflective Sinatra ballad ‘Learning the Blues’, his final encore. A swinging drummer, Dan Moore’s rich Blonde on Blonde organ sound and some fluid country-tinged guitar from Stew Jackson provide able support for his occasionally hesitant vocals.

Musically, the songs cover a lot of ground and have aged pretty well. ‘Only Good For Conversation’ rocks like a bastard, anthem I Wonder sparks a mass singalong, and a lovely jazzy ballad mid-set showcases some of his strongest singing. There is angry finger-pointing  (‘Hate Street’, ‘Cold Fact’), Santana-esque Latin jamming and wounded-lover melancholy.

He’s pretty funny, too, in his laid-back way, telling an unrepeatable joke about Minnie Mouse and wearing his hero status lightly. He may be fraying slightly at the edges, but after all these years, Rodriguez has finally achieved recognition. Let’s hope that, this time round, he gets paid.

Links:

sugarman.org (official website)

Discovering ‘Sugar Man’ Rodriguez: www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-18974892

www.facebook.com/SearchingforSugarmanUK

Khan Has Struck Gold…

By Henrietta Mensah

Natasha Khan aka Bat for Lashes has returned with her long awaited third studio album ‘The Haunted Man’. London born singer Khan has previously released two studio albums, Fur and Gold (2006) and Two Suns (2009), both of which have been nominated for the Mercury Prize. Fur and Gold, Khan’s harmonious debut, welcomes an interesting fusion of atmospheric, powerful vocals accompanied by an experimental instrumentation which draws comparison to artists such as PJ Harvey, Kate Bush and Bjork.

In Khan’s follow up album Two Suns, we’re introduced to alter ego Pearl, described as “a destructive, self-absorbed, blonde, femme fatale of a persona who acts as a direct foil to Khan’s more mystical, desert-born spiritual self.

The Haunted Man is collection of dreamy synth pop songs mixed with emotional, poetic stripped back melodies. Memorable track All Your Gold produced by Dan Carey – who has worked with artists such as Róisín Murphy and Santigold is an upbeat track which mixes a blend of interesting drum rhythms and Khan’s elegant vocals over an exciting and eclectic instrumentation. The debut single off the album, Laura, co-written with Justin Parker (Lana Del Rey and Ellie Goulding) is a dynamic, beautiful ballad where we hear Khan’s stunning and emotional vocals accompanied by a simple piano melody and faint strings – “You say that they’ve all left you behind, your heart broke when the party died”.

Each track on The Haunted Man is elegant and well written. Khan has succeeded to deliver a collection of 11 diverse, beautiful and experimental tracks.

Bat For Lashes – The Haunted Man

Thomas Howe

Natasha Khan stamps her authority as Britain’s quirky songstress writes Thomas Howe

The image of the alluringly unorthodox Natasha Khan standing naked on the cover of The Haunted Man is immediately dazzling. It’s an illustration of the idiosyncrasies that have propelled her to stardom, suggesting that she has nothing to hide.

On the back of two Mercury prize nominations the maturing 33 year-old Khan has evidently been teetering on the edge of global success for the latter part of the decade. The release of 2009’s Two Suns emphasised her status as an unconventional multi-instrumentalist but the follow up appears to be a more obvious pursuit of mainstream success. The amalgamation of sensual pop and habitual art rock will live long in the memory.

The bulk of the record is largely influenced by eighties electro-pop. Marilyn is a thumping ballad with a drumbeat reminiscent of Ultravox’s timeless classic Vienna. Similarly, the percussion for A Wall is a faithful replication of Running Up That Hill, subsequently stoking the fire for the continuous Kate Bush comparison. In contrast, All Your Gold and the magnificent Laura are the theatrical pop songs that will circle round your head and propagate success. Josh Parker, co-writer of Lana Del Rey’s equally enthralling Video Games, was enlisted for his composing aptitude on Laura. The delicate piano arrangement and triumphant chorus assert its authority as the album’s stand out track.

Whilst it may unsettle loyal fans The Haunted Man depicts the blossoming Natasha Khan in subtle transition, from vulnerable songwriter to triumphant popstar, seeking the long-awaited recognition that her irrefutable talent deserves.