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Film Review: Northern Soul


15 (102 min)
Director: Elaine Constantine
Cast: Elliot James Langridge, Josh Whitehouse, Antonia Thomas, Jack Gordon, Steve Coogan
English | 2014

Northern Soul is a cracking British film. It achieves its aim superbly of invoking the spirit of the generation. The dissolution and anger of the Northern youth was depicted effectively as they found an escape route in American Soul music on northern dance floors under the influence of narcotics. This was the backdrop for a charming and funny, if a little predictable coming of age film. The performances are great, it’s a gripping ride and there’s even space for Steve Coogan. Nice one.

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Cannon Hill Collective Week Four: Mindfulness

Plant your feet. No really, plant them – feet placed in line with your hips and anchor yourself there. Empty your lungs before we begin, breathe in through your nose for 4 seconds.

1, 2, 3, 4… and then hold it right there, for another 4 seconds.

1, 2, 3, 4… and then exhale for 8 seconds.

Might not sound like much but this incredibly chilled out and grounding meditation session might be the reason that mine and Louisa’s minds are so fuzzy over the individual details from the beginning of our Cannon Hill Art Collective Meeting. We are now getting into the Collective swing of things, this time focusing on mindfulness. Mindfulness can be described as a mental state achieved by focusing your awareness on the present moment; using meditation as an agent to find inner clarity, insight and understanding.

Lou:

Upon entering the Foyle Studio at our home away from home mac Birmingham, we were presented with a table of random small objects e.g a tiny shovel, a napkin ring, a feather. All of which were adorable interesting things. Preya, our meditation leader introduced herself and her “random item” then invited us to follow suit.

Individually we picked an item off the table, anything that called out to us, we were then asked to introduce ourselves, our items and why we chose that said item. I picked a cylinder of glitter; representative of my excitability and potential, over the top was a big thick cap, reflective of how I felt trapped within myself.

Jess:

I’m going to be honest here guys, I went for the pebble. I nearly faltered and chose a sea shell instead but I just couldn’t choose between them and to be truthful, nothing seemed like a nicer solution than just holding onto a cool, smooth pebble whilst learning how to chill out.

 The shapes and what they represented were really just physical permissions for us to share how we’d been feeling. Since joining the Collective we have been asked to share again and again our creative processes and inspirations. Coming together to talk about our final resolved ideas has been exciting but has also made us closer. After voicing our needs to not find a meditation process that allows us to continue doing this, but instead relax and ground ourselves was a decision that we all supported for each other.

Lou:

Yes! Well aren’t you just a jar of greatness?

Jess:

You make me blush!

Lou:

Thus, on that mutual basis we were introduced to the next exercise; Conscious embodiment. A technique used to access to our bodies, as our bodies and even energies have an effect on the way we view our surrounding world and in turn how that world views us.

Jess:

Which brings us back to planting… I always think of meditation as a lone process, so this experience of being guided through gentle breathing and mental exercises wasn’t the only reality that was evidently different from my expectations. It was sharing our meditation process with another person. We practiced breathing and grounding exercises whilst being gently pushed by another member of the Collective. This quiet element of communication, checking if it was okay to lean against someone else’s’ arm, when to begin pushing and when to stop were all subtle roles of communication that we felt easily able to establish with each other.

It’ll be interesting to see how these practiced roles of support and testing will reappear as we embark on our collaborative project.

Again, the specifics and breathing techniques may appear here as kind of vague. But whilst I do find myself still repeating my 1, 2, 3, 4 breathing exercises and urging others to give meditation a go – please do not find my vagueness any kind of indication that you shouldn’t try it out. If anything, I think you should all go and find out for yourselves the benefits of meditation. No really, you should. Or pick up a pebble, that was a rather relaxing option as well.

Lou:

Through the lengthening of our spines and the roots we planted through our limbs and into the ground, individually we unveiled a great sense of more-ness. More strength, more control, more focus and more peace. It was beautifully settling. The session left me with the means to love, evolve, create.

Jess:

They will just have to trust us on this. We were left with all of the good vibes.


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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Little Angel Theatre

I felt like a little kid again, all excited to see one of my childhood favourites ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’. The show is the current puppet adaptation of author Michael Rosin and illustrator Helen Oxenby’s 1989 classic. It is just as popular today as the kids where quoting the lines before it had even started!

The show is absolutely beautiful, and is quite easy to get absorbed in their world. For those of you who don’t know the story; it follows a family on an adventure to find a bear and how they get around the various obstacles that come before them. The text is translated to the theatre through long musical numbers performed by the puppeteers. The performance was powerful enough to enchant an initially wriggly audience.

I couldn’t help but stare in awe at how beautiful and simple Little Angel’s puppets where. They moved so gracefully and realistic, it was hard not to fall for their enchantment. I have been a fan of their work for a long time and it really didn’t disappoint. The set was also rather simple, adorably transforming to meet the need of the next obstacle. There was a beautiful scene where Bertie the youngest child decided to go swimming with the fishes.

I think what made the performance was the multi-talented performers. Not only did they puppeteer, but sang, played instruments and changed scenery very well. They handled the puppets amazingly and I was quite awe-struck at how gifted they were.

The climax of the show for the audience was undoubtedly when the bear appears. I personally found him quite cute and felt sorry for him when they locked him out of their house. Overall the performance is well worth a visit, by the UK’s leading puppet company. There is something for everyone whether you’re a tiny tot or an old Biddy. Do be warned, the songs are so catchy they will be stuck in your head for a long time to come!

We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going to catch a big one, what a beautiful day! where not scared!


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Film Review: Gone Girl


18 (149 min)
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris
American | 2014

Gone Girl is David Fincher’s latest piece, adapted for screen by Gillian Flynn from her book of the same name. When a much loved local woman Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, suspicions of murder arise and all eyes turn to her husband Nick (Ben Affleck).

Gone Girl is by no means a flawless movie. Having not read the book, I cannot judge on how true it stayed to the source material. But at nearly two and a half hours, I’m guessing it didn’t leave much out. Similarly, smashing Hollywood barriers by showing a woman receiving oral sex and having Affleck’s best-friend character being his sister, Margo (Carrie Coon) leads me to believe that the film didn’t conform to studio norms. If it did, it would have probably been a two parter because, as I said before, this film is really long.

Of course, it’s not as long as epics such as The Wolf of Wall Street or The Deer Hunter, but it does feel longer. This is largely due to the twist being revealed half way through the film, changing the dynamic of it completely, and rendering it almost impossible to talk about without spoiling…

Despite the films length, each scene was an integral cog in the overall machine and, although it churned slowly along, each piece was as every bit important to the end product as the last. Gone Girl injects enough suspense in the first half that it stays coursing through your veins for the remainder; the set up is enough to retain your interest and keep you absorbed in the film’s twisted world

The way Fincher picks up the intricacies of the actors and the environments is something to be celebrated. We as the audience pick up on things in the film that may or may not be important to working out ‘whodunnit’, like picking your favourite sweet out of a Haribo mix. We are blinkered, looking beyond the environment around them, but without them being shoved in our face with glaring signs and bells attached. However, it doesn’t mean we don’t see everything else. We can simultaneously take in the pale beauty of Gone Girl, while inspecting it through a magnifying glass.

The film’s editor, Kirk Baxter (Benjamin Button, The Social Network) should also be commended. Flashbacks mingle with the present day, weaving in-and-out of one-another at different rates throughout the film, becoming a ‘clue’ within themselves.

I cannot talk about the actors performances without giving too much away, but both provide a startling realism in their depictions of two very flawed individuals. Initially I thought the opposite, but as the film progressed… Well, that would be surely saying too much now, wouldn’t it?

The film is multilayered within its narrative and what it feeds the audience, slowly building upon itself. The tone of the film reminded me of Fargo; it’s balance between humour and thrills provided by Detective Boney (Kim Dickens), the sure-handed direction, even the colour palette. Although Gone Girl doesn’t quite hold up to the Coen Brothers’ masterpiece, it’s an enjoyable, savagely well made film that deserves a watch.


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The Paper Birds: BLIND

A few of us from the Canon Hill Collective had the privilege to attend the most recent performance by The Paper Birds (see trailer above). As we all shared this experience we decided to amalgamate our blogs into 3 short reviews of the night … enjoy!!!

Review 1:

Blind invited us into the mind and world of the incredibly, bafflingly talented Grace Savage. She can beatbox (UK champ), she can sing, she can act and she can definitely make powerful theatre. We were guided through the influential and decisive moments and relationships that have come to form and define the 25 year old woman that Savage has become. This was done through some times hilarious, some times dark and some times moving story telling, beatboxing, shadow puppetry and music produced live that utilised her vast range of sounds. We were even treated to a quick beatboxing lesson. I was captivated for the jam packed hour. Things explored included Savage’s obsession with imitation, unconventional motherly advice, the influence of the media on young people and the sexism that Savage has had to contend with in her line of work. A wildly entertaining and honest show. Savage and members of the company that devised and produced the show, The Paper Birds graduated from my course at the University of Leeds before I arrived. There’s hope for me yet.

Review 2:

Blind by The Paper Birds theatre company is one of those productions that reminds me why I am interested in theatre in the first place. Performed by Grace Savage, Blind explores the influences throughout her life that have led her to be the person she is today: an actress, singer and two-time UK Champion beat boxer. A gripping, moving and brutally honest piece, we were taken through important influences in her life such as her mother’s unconventional advice, what she hears on the news growing up, as well as more emotionally gripping stories of violence. There was also an educational element to the performance, as Grace explained a brief history of beat-boxing and even gave us our own beat-boxing lesson which was both entertaining and amusing. A range of different performance techniques were used effortlessly to keep the audience gripped throughout, from multimedia to physical theatre. Having gone into the performance knowing next to nothing about beat boxing and unsure as to whether I was even interested in the form, I found myself completely transfixed by Grace’s talent for beat boxing, particularly her use of a loop machine to create entire multi-layered songs using just her voice. However, what struck me most was her self-assurance as both a performer and as a person. Seeing some of the sexist and degrading comments she receives on her beat boxing videos and hearing about her response to this had me leaving the performance feeling an immense sense of empowerment. Seeing such a likeable, talented and inspirational performer do exactly what she wants rather than what she feels she should do is a lesson that everyone who sees Blind will surely take away with them.

Review 3:

I had never been to a Paper Bird production before but after going to see Blind – a theatrical piece comprising of mix media, acting, beat boxing, puppetry (to name a few) – I can tell you they have certainly caught my attention. This piece, which was performed by the UK’s top female beat boxer and all round talent Grace Savage, brought more than just music and stories to the table. Grace used all the art forms that were at her disposal to bring us into some of the most vulnerable parts of her life and herself. Through the performance she relived her childhood and her up bringing, her first beat boxing battle and an emotional experience on a train, and we relived it with her. The more she unraveled about her journey made me grasp how hard she has worked to become who she is today and how comfortable she is being herself. As a musician/singer/music maker, for a long time I have not left a performance so inspired with music as an art form. The way Grace Savage used her vocally created sounds to paint pictures, tell stories and disprove stereotypes re-invigorated my passion to do the same, and the fact she is still growing artistically reassures me that as long as I moving forward, I am moving in the right direction.


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Film Review: Le Jour se léve (Daybreak)

jour-de-F
PG (92 min)
Director: Marcel Carné
Cast: Jean Gabin, Jacqueline Laurent, Arletty
French | 1939 | Subtitles

If Michael Bay films are 90 minutes of action sequences strung together by dialogue spewed out of a random word generator, then Marcel Carné’s Le Jour Se Léve (Daybreak) is the antithesis of these movies.

Le Jour Se Léve is a painting, its brush strokes: the words of writer Prevert. His mastery of the written medium creates a tapestry, woven in the poetic discourse between lovers and rivals.

The subject matter is held in great stead by the talented hand of Carné, and it is easy to see why Le Jour Se Léve is considered by some to be his masterpiece. Although the film is a work of realism, the direction preempts the form of the American noir that would boom in the following decade. Staple tropes of noir filmmaking come into play to create some beautiful uses of light – back when films treated shadow with as much respect as they did its counterpart – as well as bringing an air of suspense and sexuality to the piece.

The film is about a man, Francois (Jean Gabin), who has recently committed a murder and is looking back on the events that lead to him to taking such actions. To say the film is about a murder (as I was told before watching it) is like being told Pulp Fiction is about two guys sent to collect a briefcase. It is about two guys sent to collect a briefcase, but that synopsis hardly does justice to the content of the film.

Jules Berry plays the murdered Mr Valentin, and does a fantastic job in creating a reprehensible villain in a film full of grounded, realistic characters. An almost Jack Nicholson level of manic creepyness helps bring to life this original role.

The main issue I have with Le Jour Se Léve however, is that I’m not sure what it wants me to feel. Do I feel sympathy for Francois as he sits on his bed, alone and confined, surrounded by bullet holes? Francois, the jealous, womanizing thug? The murderer? Do I feel for the women he has hurt along the way but who are ultimately the catalysts for his actions? Do I feel sorry for the murdered Valentin who beats and mistreats animals for a living?

Throughout it’s 93 minute run time, as strong as the dialogue is, it’s power starts to wain when you realize it’s the only thing holding the film together. The intimacy between characters is captured with a genius subtlety, and techniques such as long establishing shots and extended flashbacks shown via dissolve transitions show a maturity beyond the films years. But when there is little else waiting for you at the end of your journey than the murder scene from the beginning? Well, ones attention can’t help but wonder…

Ultimately, Le Jour Se Léve will probably be a love/hate film for many people. If you aren’t invested in the characters, you’ll be bored to death by it. But if you’re a sucker for meticulous camera movement, gorgeous dialogue, fantastic acting and exposed nipples (approximately two whole seconds to be precise), then this film is most certainly for you.