On Edge: Anticipating Iron Fist

This article was first published by The Edge on 14th March 2017

Despite its arrival on the 17th of March, less than a week away, the excitement surrounding Iron Fist has long been wanting. I’m very unsure of what this show will be*. We’re four seasons into the Netflix-Marvel experiment, which shows no signs of slowing down, despite some obvious flaws. Two seasons of Daredevil, one apiece for Jessica Jonesand Luke Cage (the last of which debuted just last September) have brought us to 2017, with the last of the Defenders set for his own show, before their coalescence in the summer. So, what do we know, and what might we expect from the debut of Danny Rand? Continue reading

Review: You Me Her (Season 1)

This article was first published by The Edge on 9th March 2017

There’s a great question at the heart of You Me Her – exactly how much can one person love two people? Jack (Greg Poehler) and Emma (Rachel Blanchard) are a suburban couple in Portland, Oregon, suffering from unsatisfying sex. Through a series of increasingly bad decisions, including dumb advice, betrayal, and cyber-stalking, the couple meet Izzy (Priscilla Faia), a 25-year old law student moonlighting as an escort. They quickly become enamoured with her, and vice versa, but suburban Portland might not be ready for a polyamorous relationship such as theirs.

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Review: The Chainsmokers & Coldplay – “Something Just Like This

This article was first published to The Edge on 23rd February 2017

Jesus, are we still doing it with The Chainsmokers? I hate to bring white supremacy into the discussion less than two sentences in, but just because someone has a smash summer hit doesn’t give them the right to suddenly be appearing on awards shows, performing with once reputable acts – they ruined Halsey less than a year after her debut album blew up, and now they’ve come for Coldplay, the dukes of safe, warm pop. I don’t remember this happening for that OMI fellow when the dull ‘Cheerleader’ remix came out fifty years ago. Why, back in my day… nope, white folks have always got tons of airtime for the stunningly mediocre.

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Review: Moonlight

This article was first published to The Edge on 13th February 2017

There’s a song that plays at the very beginning of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Before anyone is seen, over the company credits only, we hear the refrain of Boris Gardiner’s ‘Every N****r Is a Star’. It’s a cut that’ll be familiar to anyone who heard Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, where it is also the very first thing the listener hears; the film the song originally came from, and its soundtrack album, were flops upon their initial release, but the power of Gardiner’s words has resonated long in underground music circles. Continue reading

Review: Hidden Figures

This article was first published to The Edge on 7th February 2017

Based on a true story, Hidden Figures follows three African-American women at NASA, their contributions to the space program, and the battle for civil rights fought within their workspaces. Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is the mathematics savant working on calculations to return astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) from orbit, with the project leader Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons), and the somewhat distant department head Al Harrison (Kevin Costner). Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) are Katherine’s closest friends; the former is a Jane-of-all-trades, as the supervisor (in all but name) of the “computer” team of African American women; the latter is an engineering genius who is prevented from advancing in her field at NASA due to segregation laws. The work of these three women would prove integral to the space program, while the very same hard work and intellect helps them tackle the race-based challenges.

In lists of so-called boring subjects for films, assembled by writers without the imagination to try, mathematics and paperwork will always appear. It is understandable however, given that many of us go to the movies for escapism, not to be reminded of the most workaday aspects of our existences. Striking the right balance between compelling, accurate, and insufferable displays of intellect is a real challenge – just look at how Sherlock, once lauded for the same, became a frequent punching bag because of its more overt editing choices.

But as we’ve seen in all too many sub-par blockbusters, sometimes enormous explosions have all the cinematic impact of a stroke on a chalkboard in real life. In the case of Hidden Figures, the opposite is true: with Katherine Johnson’s story in particular, writer-director Theodore Melfi’s effective staging and framing gives the calculation sequences a purposeful rhythm and the right balance of tone. It’s practically imperceptible, feeling instinctive as it does, which is probably the secret strength of Hidden Figures – using what appears simplistic and formulaic to great effect, in service of the acting and writing. There’s a recurring sequence where Katherine must run to the only coloured women’s bathroom, that’s beautifully paid-off at the film’s climax, through only the repeated camera movements. It’s a small, unnecessary flourish that bolsters the story and performances.

There isn’t an actor out of place here: Costner gives great stoicism as the fictitious Al Harrison, with his working attitude and evolving responses to Katherine borne by a core morality in tune with the actor’s old school American style. Mahershala Ali (Oscar nominated for the upcoming Moonlight) turns up for a love story subplot that isn’t thematically relevant (true to life or not), but through solid writing and his sheer charisma it blossoms into a relationship that never feels distracting. Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst (as a manager above Spencer’s Vaughan) ooze an arrogant superiority, Melfi’s script with co-writer Allison Schroeder tying its very modern, subtle observations about racism to their characters most of all.

The real stars are the three women at the centre of every poster – Henson, Spencer, and Monáe. Three very distinct black women, at once familiar, yet never too broad as to tumble into bad parody of the one-dimensional sassy or angry black woman. Henson gets the most to do (her role the most linked to John Glenn’s launch), and she owns every minute of it. She makes her vulnerability, her intellect, her dedication, and her (mostly) bottled anger all in tune; the craziness that made Empire’s Cookie so iconic is far removed, but Henson’s perfectly at ease in the lead role. Spencer again proves that she’s probably the best in the business at delivering a specific type of commanding, take-no-shits attitude that’s also positively ordinary, with her principled take on Dorothy Vaughan – it’s thanks to Spencer that the resolution to her story lands the strongest. Janelle Monáe (also in Moonlight don’t you know?) would steal the entire show if she was in it more. Mary Jackson is an outright badass, the most fun character in the entire film, with enough dimensions and unique personal doubts to remain safely distanced from the feisty black stereotype. It’s a star-making role that’s undercut by her reduced presence as the focus shifts from the trio to Katherine, and a resolution that feels distanced from the NASA specific achievements.

It’s true, Maths isn’t easy to make cinematic. What we’ll always come back to are strong characters, and interesting stories. If, in the case of Hidden Figures, you already have an important one, you could likely get away with an average film. But that’s not enough for Melfi, or the stellar cast. The triumphant result of their work shows that sometimes the simple and formulaic approaches work the best.

Hidden Figures (2017), directed by Theodore Melfi, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox. Certificate PG.

Review: The Autopsy Of Jane Doe

This article was first published to The Edge on 31st January 2017

I’m by no means the person to ask about the history of horror in film, but you don’t have to be an expert to notice the subtext trend in the genre’s most recent successes. The Babadook is about depression and grief. The Witch is about fear of femininity and powers that a masculine worldview doesn’t understand. The Invitation, also about depression and grief. Last summer’s surprise hit Lights Out is concerned with the same, and the pain that families both hide and pass onto each generation. The Autopsy Of Jane Doe touches on all of these and more. It’s far from the best of the bunch, but it’s a punchy addition to the canon, bridging the gap between eerie chamber pieces like The Invitation, the atmospheric restraint of The Witch, and inevitably the more schlocky, booming crowd-pleaser tradition of Lights Out. It makes for a compelling, somewhat jarring stylistic and thematic cocktail. Continue reading

Two Months In, One Week Down

I spent almost eight full weeks looking for a place to live in Madrid. I assumed that having a secure base would allow me to finally establish a more permanent routine of learning, earning, and burning money & free time doing fun things in the capital of an incredible country. But instead I spent three out of four of my working days this week in bed. And Friday  and  Saturday too for good measure. Continue reading

Film Review: American Honey

This article was originally published to The National Student on 10th October 2016

When Star (Sasha Lane) meets Jake (Shia LaBouef) he proposes that she join him and his friends in their work as a travelling magazine sales crew, in Andrea Arnold’s latest Cannes triumph. 

Their instant spark convinces her to abandon the broken and impoverished home life she leads in Kansas, and set out with the team. Under the watchful eye of the white trash queen bitch Krystal (Riley Keough), she travels the south and Midwest of America, selling subscriptions and experiencing a greater amount of life than she previously had. But as she pursues a relationship with Jake, her newfound freedom and family is placed in increasingly precarious situations.  Continue reading

Review: White Lies – Friends

This review was originally published to The Edge on October 6th 2016

There’s a lot to say about the influence of the 80s on modern culture. The decade’s sounds resonate in acts like Blossoms and Bastille, who appear to be balms for people who aren’t fans of the prevalence of electronica and R&B in modern Pop. This nostalgia is in the text, context, and metatext of so much media: Stranger Things drips with it, whether or not it’s a positive thing for you; Sing Street, set in that decade, emanates a deep love of the music and experience of youth; the number of modern teens who continue to love John Hughes’ films, usually because they tend to capture a sense of the extremes and angst of youth and relationships, speaks for itself. (Sidebar:Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a badly made and evil film.) Continue reading