February Culture Round-Up

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Watching…

 Love (Netflix)

After watching 10 episodes in 12 hours, I can safely say I was addicted to Love.

Veering away from the much-chartered and turbulent 20s that forms the epicentre of Girls, Love focuses on Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) and Gus (Paul Rust) as they grapple with their early 30s.

Created by Judd Apatow, Love reveals a contentedness to revel in his comfort zone, surrounded by slackers, stoners and lost souls. The comedy is perhaps less provocative or smutty as in some of his projects and there are moments that feel a bit ‘been-there-done-that’, but it’s perceptive and subtle humour nevertheless. A kind which probes, but never taxes.

It’s not easy to watch characters so intent on self-sabotage. Mickey is a radio programmer who sleeps with men way below her station and drinks away her self-hatred for doing so. Gus, meanwhile, wants to be a writer on the show where he tutors, but lacks any of the ambition or the guts to make it happen. Woe is them.

Yet in each episode, I found myself won over. The chemistry between Jacobs and Rust is well, a little bit rusty. I’m not sure if I’m rooting for them to figure it out as a couple, or just as individuals. But for Jacobs’ detached, destructive performance alone I’d stick with it. Through her, the writers very effectively disseminate the ‘cool girl’ trope and create a character as messed-up as Hannah Horvath but whose issues are dealt with in a thoroughly authentic and original way.

Highlights include: Bertie, as brought to life by the adorable Aussie comedian Claudia O’Doherty, is one of the most fully realised ‘best friend/roommate/supporting’ roles I’ve seen in awhile. Though winsome and eager to please, she’s also admirably astute. The date scene between her and Gus is one to relish. Also look out for Andy Dick playing himself in a wickedly wacky and emotionally stirring cameo.

Love isn’t the kind of show you fall head over heels for, but you’ll be glad to have let it into your life.

 

Show Me A Hero (HBO)

I don’t need any cajoling to watch 6-hours of Oscar Isaac. See below for evidence as to why:

But if I did, mentioning that it entails a New-York set miniseries, penned by The Wire’s David Simon and helmed by Crash’ Paul Haggis would probably do the trick.

That along with a Bruce Springsteen themed soundtrack, 80s costume design and complex politics undercurrents surrounding Mayor Nick Wasicsko and the public housing debacle, make for a charged and compellingly multi-faceted drama. It’s exactly the kind of drama that serves TV’s reputation so well.

RoomReading…

Room – Emma Donaghue.

The potent, poignant and expertly crafted novel upon which the dark horse of the Oscar’s Best Picture category is based. Room is written from the point of view of 5 year old Jack and details his experiences of the 12-foot-square room that forms his existence. Since his ‘Ma’ was kidnapped 7 years ago, Room is all they have ever known.

It’s a harrowing fairytale of sorts. One which celebrates the cavernous potential of a child’s imagination and the triumph of the human spirit, but without first exposing the trauma and suffering it takes to unleash that will to survive. With delicacy, ingenuity and a mastery of language, Donaghue – who also adapted the film’s screenplay – creates a world that is at once vivid and claustrophobic, both inside Room and after Jack and Ma are set free.

Listening to…

Serial.

I’m so late to the party that this recommendation serves little besides my memory. Still, if this is the heads-up to push you over the edge I’ll be glad to have done it. Serial is a brilliantly addictive and concise account of a mysterious murder in Baltimore.

Spearheaded by journalist Sarah Koenig, the investigation drip feeds a meticulous presentation – and dissection – of interviews, interrogations, phone-calls, observations and recreations that relate to a puzzling crime committed in 1999 and culminated in the supposedly wrongful conviction of Adnan Syed. It’s riveting stuff and you often forget this charts a very real case.

The best thing about the podcast format; aside from really forcing you to engage and concentrate and listen, is that you can unleash your inner True Detective AND at least make as if to be doing other things too.

OppoEating…

Oppo Ice-Cream.

The brainchild of the Thullier brothers, Oppo – which refers to ‘opposites’ – is a brand of ice-cream like no other. Blending the taste of a luxury dessert with superfood ingredients, such as lucuma and baobab, as well as replacing sugar and cream for stevia leaf and coconut oil, Oppo is a mouthful of magic. It’s hedonism for the health-conscious. Whether or not you can justifiably consume a tub in one sitting is very much up for debate, but believe me, after one spoonful, you’ll want to.

Doing…

Painting the Modern Garden at the Royal Academy.

Traversing modernist landscapes from Monet to Matisse, this intricately curated exhibition is sumptuous, salient and surprising in its depth. The context of World War 1 provides a harrowing and ironic backdrop to canvas’ that are alive with colour. Structured around Monet’s career, the exhibition delves into the inspirations behind his paintings and the influences they would subsequently have.

From his much-loved water lilies to photographs of the artists themselves – trowels in hands – this is an immersive, compelling experience,  offering healing powers as much in a time of suffering as they do today.

From 30 January to 20 April.

cd3b4cfbf2268f1c0b5bada6f9378d4fBuying…

Bloom & Wild flowers.

Perhaps inspired by my sojourn to the Royal Academy, for Mothers Day this year, I’ve decided to try out online florists ‘Bloom & Wild’, a startup that picks, arranges and sends flat-pack bouquets direct to your door. It’s a bloomin’ great idea for those who want to gift fresh flowers without the hassle of carrying them. I’ll admit I was predominantly swayed by the idea of 3D flowers springing from an envelope as if in a magic show. I’ll have to wait until the 6th March to see if they deliver.

 

 

 

Review: Room

A film ‘inspired by’ the notorious Josef Fritzl case and warning of a ‘strong abduction theme’ could easily be dismissed as harrowing awards fodder, replete with tearful reunions and traumatic flashbacks.

But Lenny Abrahamson (last seen unleashing quirk in full throttle with Frank) is a smarter director than that, and screenwriter Emma Donoghue knows the source material better than that (she did after all pen the novel it’s based upon). Together, they’ve stripped the story back to its most gripping core and Ma (Brie Larson) and Jack’s (Jacob Tremblay) story is ultimately one of survival.

Despite assumptions, it’s not all desperately sad. At its heart, Room is about a mother and son, and if nothing more, it tingles with the triumph of the human spirit.

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Room immediately depicts a sense of claustrophobia, using tight close-ups to showcase the sparsely-furnished prison – objects all personified by 5 year old Jack – and to illustrate the startling intimacy of a mother and her child, obligated to breathe the same squalid air day in and day out. However, by envisioning the space from a child’s perspective it becomes a canvas for his imagination, as yet unburdened by the agonising circumstances of his existence.

As a result, their relationship is both fraught with the frustrations of their limitations (Jack is mad at Ma for forgetting the candles on his birthday cake, not awed by her ability to whip one up at all), and the site of overwhelming tenderness. Ma has lovingly created a routine (involving ‘track’, reading, play, tea and bath-time) and a sense of normality for her son. In some regards she has sacrificed her own sanity to enable her son to live freely and contently, for Room is all he has ever known.

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When their captor ‘Old Nick’ – a man only ever glimpsed by Jack through wardrobe slats, as he pay regular visits to restock their cupboards and rape Ma – reveals his on-going struggle to provide for them, Ma knows his ‘kindness’ wouldn’t extend to keeping them alive. It’s at this point Room becomes a story of gripping intensity, as Ma hatches a plan to escape, reliant on Jack’s ability to both understand and operate in a world he has never been a part of, let alone knew existed.

Despite assumptions, it’s not all desperately sad. At its heart, Room is about a mother and son, and if nothing more, it tingles with the triumph of the human spirit.

Brie Larson avoided the su64176n and lived on a protein-rich diet to gain the pallid complexion and sinewy limbs of a young woman forced to spent 7 years of her life in an 100 square foot room. But her transformation runs deeper than the appearance of obvious deprivation. For an actress predominantly seen in comedic supporting roles (21 Jump Street, Trainwreck), you could be forgiven for describing her performance as revelatory. More than that, it’s astonishingly layered. In Ma’s eyes, we witness every strain and every patience tested. We feel the urgency of her revealing the truth to Jack and we glimpse her remembrance of a life outside of Room, of a childhood innocence brutally snatched away. Even in acts of seeming cruelty – wrapping her son up in a rug as he plays dead and willing him to repeatedly roll himself free – we sense nothing but unconditional love. Ma is a woman on the brink and Larson imbues her with a tenacity and shrewdness, conveying both her devastating vulnerability and bristling with a maternal fierceness.

Of course the very nature of the plot requires a young actor able to hold his own against Larson’s powerhouse performance. And Jacob Tremblay does just that. It’s not surprising he calls Larson his ‘best friend’, for the closeness they exude is remarkable. At every turn Tremblay manages to express Jack’s innocence, petulance, curiosity and finally, his wide-eyed wonder in experiencing a series of firsts.

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Joan Allen and William H. Macy provide reliable, understated support as the parents having to adjust to their daughter’s return and taking small steps to introduce their grandson to the realities of the world. The clever design of their home and the suffocating presence of the media also hint at whether Ma and Jack are just as much captives outside of Room.

RoomLennyAbrahamson1We’ve seen Abrahamson achieve a balance between absurdity and hilarity with the wondrous Frank and with Room he proves himself adept at crafting an intelligent and intense drama from a child’s perspective without succumbing to mawkishness. He never milks Jack’s naiveté, but rather carefully harnesses it to create moments of severe poignancy and potency. Tremblay’s scenes with the underrated Allen (who isn’t seen in enough movies) are particularly wrenching, as Jack innocently reveals details of the torment he and Ma endured.

As agonizing as the transition process is for all involved – the audience especially – it’s a testament to all involved that you can never tear yourself away. In a malevolent and unpredictable world, where Ma’s kindness was met with an act of unimaginable cruelty, Abrahamson finds a beauty and solace.

Verdict: Disturbing and absorbing in equal measure. Whether or not it takes home the Best Picture Oscar, Room is a real win for independent cinema, and a brilliant showcase for how a film – small in scope and budget – can have a big impact.

Review: Short Term 12

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               DIR. Destin Cretton. Starring: Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Remi Malek

Hands down one of my favourite films of the year so far.

ImageShort Term 12 sees Brie Larson (21 Jump Street, Spectacular Now) give a raw and thoughtful performance as care-worker Grace, struggling with her own suppressed parental issues. Likened to Jennifer Lawrence’s breakout turn in Winter’s Bone, Larson too gives bare-fared-bravery-conquers-all a go, and she too shades it with vulnerability, courage and moments of understated perfection. The smiling through the cake scene is perhaps the exact moment when she won me over.

The audience are inducted into the chaotic and colourful world of the foster care institution alongside newbie Nate (Rami Malek – 24The Pacific). He’s wide-eyed, naïve and full of good intentions – ripe for mal-adjusted teenagers to rip apart. His learning curve becomes ours, as we get to know the characters in the facility and see them as more than ‘underprivileged’ kids with problems. Cleverly, the narrative divides most of its time to exploring the stories of two kids in the facility. One whom has just arrived – surly teenager Jayden, and one whom is just about to leave – budding rapper Marcus. It’s through their eyes and on their journeys to what we hope is recovery that we learn about the ups and downs of the care system.

ImageHowever, the film doesn’t just stop there. It’s allows many of the peripheral characters moments of narrative intrusion and quiet potency, giving us a rounded interpretation of the foster community. It also acknowledges the system possesses flaws – where the therapists don’t always make the best judgments, where the hierarchy can let vulnerable people fall through the cracks and where emotion or personal experience can overwhelm those who should know better.

 The theme of cyclicality is foregrounded throughout. Deployed in the comings and goings of residents, and emphasised during a symmetrical ‘frame’ scene that also gives way to the most uplifting finale I’ve seen in a while.

Moreover, it tries to explore the wider impact and offshoots of the system. Mason (John Gallagher Jr.), Grace’s boyfriend and colleague, for instance is part of an extended and loving foster care family, depicting the positive effects of human generosity in the face of adversity. Gallagher Jr. also manages to traverse the fine line between understanding boyfriend and pushover, taking all of Grace’s doubts and hesitancies in his stride. Theirs is a relationship you root for – just two people trying to overcome the obstacles life throws their way.

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Problematically, Short Term 12 does suggest there are cures for everyone’s problems and that the current care system will eventually reach out to all and encourage them to speak about their issues. And equally indulges in a few character clichés – black kid Marcus with aggressive tendencies, expresses himself through rap (though the close-up camera work and amazing lyrics during one performance are indelibly poignant and heartfelt) and smart-ass Jayden, who is rebelling against the world with kohl-rimmed eyes and sinister diary drawings. The cynic in me could call them clichés. But the performances given bring another dimension to these characters, and they become people rather than stereotypes.

Director Destin Cretton turns in an impressive debut film, handling the content and his actors sensitively, and circumventing the mawkish or melodramatic elements of the material. What he lacks in originality, he makes up for with charm and good intention. Overall it’s a wonderfully positive film, where the light conquers the darkness. Indeed, the ending is almost too good to be true, and comes very close to saccharine where the rest of the film has managed restrain. However, I think the film suggests the story told can be fictional and true at the same time – as long as we believe in the potential for it to be true, then the film has done it’s job.

Verdict: Nuanced, powerful and mesmerising. See it for Brie alone. It’s one that will stay with you for the long term