Spike Island, review

Shane Meadows, known for his exploratory directorial motives – often into the realms of British sub-cultures – released documentary The Stone Roses: Made of Stone in 2013. The feature was a look into the legendary Stone Roses gig that took place in May 1990. Similar to this, but non-fiction, director Mat Whitecross made, at the same time, Spike Island; a dramatised picture based on the same concert. An indie pic, the film features an ensemble cast, all of whom were relatively unknown at the time. Today – just two years on – we know Emilia Clarke as Game of Thrones’ Daenerys and Nico Mirallegro as My Mad Fat Diaries’ Finn. Small on budget (and even smaller on box-office takings), Spike Island is a whimsical tale of adolescent friendship, first time love, and a time in music that was pivotal within the British industry. It’s almost definitely a little hap-dash – some could even use the derogatory term flimsy – but if you too inhabit any kind of urgency to live life to the fullest (like the characters here do), Whitecross’s feature is the film for you.

the cast of spike island

the cast of spike island

The film takes place over the space of 72 hours, as a spectator you watch as a group of teenage lads attempt to attain tickets to the Spike Island ‘Stone Roses gig that took place in May 1990 in Widnes. The premise is simple, and the characters involved, including Elliott Tittensor as Tits, Jordan Murphy as Zippy, Adam Long as Little Gaz and Oliver Heald as Penfold encounter a number of diversions along their road to being gig-happy. In terms of narrative and script, its all very, very British, and perhaps a tad cliched. There isn’t much room for an American audience due to, one) the Manchester setting which means all actors involved talk in a strong accent that even people who don’t live ‘up North’ will struggle to understand, and two) the humour is based around a English wit that is hard to tap into unless you inhabit the UK. The Britishness of the feature is what makes it so strong, but this too is what limits its audience – the film took just under £100,000 at the box-office, likely due to a limited release. Though it’s an unappreciated – and barely seen – film, Spike Island isn’t a bad movie.

The group of male friends have a genuine chemistry, bouncing off of one another’s youthful energy, the atmospheric half hour at the gig is truly engaging, and director Whitecross genuinely manages to make those watching wish they could of been at that classic moment of  music history. Spike Island will, for some people, sit on the brink of greatness. These people will likely be fans of The Stone Roses and might of even been to the gig, in this way the film serves as a zeitgeist of the time. Others will cast the film to one side, seeing it as yet another Brit comedy-drama that holds so many similar themes to a number of other movies of the genre. Despite the split that Spike Island likely creates amongst its audience, it should first be seen – and then, hopefully, be loved.


Game of Thrones, season five

HBO, what have you done to us? Ten episodes. Ten weeks. Now another year to wait until the events of season five can be further explained. Will we see Jon again? Did Stannis really get his head lopped off? What of Sansa and Theon? And the biggest shocker of them all; will we continue to feel sorry for Cersai? Seriously, who saw that one coming? But, enough with the rhetorical – or, perhaps, not so rhetorical – questions. Time for reflection.

Series five has probably been the best of a bunch that have all been pretty stand out. Never a show to follow the pace of a snail, we move from one narrative to another, one set of characters to the next, as the battle for the Iron Throne continues. Foul language, gratuitous violence, unexplained events that make our skin crawl and our hairs stand up on end – this is, and probably always will be, what Game of Thrones is all about. It’s a bit much, really. But who would have it any other way?

While season four was Peter Dinklage’s AKA Tyrion Lannister‘s show, season five has successfully focGame-of-Thrones-Season-4-Logoused on an array of pivotal characters in each episode. Emilia Clarke as Daenerys, Sophie Turner as Sansa, and of course Kit Harington as Jon are just three in a cast of many who have engulfed us in original – and compelling –  storytelling that never treads the line of samey.

From the dark, cold and atmospheric locales of Winterfell and The Night’s Watch to the sun-drenched planes of Marine and King’s Landing, these ferocious tales of war, honour and deceit have never been told so damn well. Which is rather odd, really, when we remember that source novelist George R. R. Martin didn’t partake in this season’s teleplay writing. While we move on from what that might suggest, we should quickly – but dutifully, and meaningfully – thank Mr Martin for creating A Song of Fire and Ice. So thank you, and thank you Westeros for being fantastical and not real.

Upon reflection, there are several reasons why series five stands out as the greatest yet. These are simple elements but when combined produce a basis for greatness. And GoT is now firmly in the realms of such a status. One; bad has never prevailed over good so often before now. We, as fans, don’t want that to be the case – we all miss and remember you Rob Stark – but it indicates a kind of scary realism despite the mythical themes of Martin’s world. Two; the CGI has come on leaps and bounds and the brief, but impressive, scenes which feature the Dragons are really rather triumphant. Dany riding one was pretty awe-inspiring (if a little over-the-top). Three; The Night’s Watch give us epic scenes of battle that can rival the best of the big-screen. The Crow/Wildling/White Walker conflict certainly won’t be forgotten any time soon.

The enjoyment of GoT is definitely not limited to the above things, but it certainly lends a hand. Bold and unafraid to scare its audience away with moments that really stay with you, D. B. Weiss and David Benioff have created something truly special. It’s hard to imagine how series five could be outdone, but of course we know the creators behind this masterpiece will manage it.


a television round up (of sorts)

Television dramas – of all kinds – are totally rocking my world right about now. I’m a broke ass student which means cinema trips are lacking. Who needs the cinema on the regular when you have film worthy T.V. on the small screen? Now, I say ’round up of sorts’ because this is going to be a brief (if you read regularly you’ll know I have no idea what the word brief means) review of three series’ that are all currently airing. It’s extra exciting because said shows couldn’t be further removed from one another which makes for diverse watching and some hella’ interesting reading for you guys too – hopefully. Let the television bashing (or reviewing as most call it) begin.

Nashville, season 3

First up: you don’t need to love country music to enjoy ABC’s smash hit musical drama. Full to the brim with catchy songs and original narratives, Callie Khouri’s stab at the basically unexplored world of American country is one of the best shows on T.V. right now (no, seriously). Nashville‘s ability to stand out as both an up-beat and mellow series, with a healthy mix of both seen in each episode makes it a satisfying watch. Its rare you’ll finish an episode feeling like you need a glass – or two – of wine to cheer your sorry self up.

Unlike most television series’ that revolve around a musical premise, Nashville escapes the cliches that often lead to many a cheesy scenario – ahem Glee. It has sass, and series three – currently on it’s mighty eighteenth episode – continues to promote the talent of cast members Connie Britton, Sam Palladio, Oliver Hudson and a host more. Britton has been a stellar force in previous cult shows such as Fright Night Lights and season one of American Horror Story and to see her embody a Faith Hill-esque character – and give an acting master class in the process – is always a treat.

A unique and refreshing drama which never takes itself too serious but successfully manages to lift the lid on the previously un-seen world of country music.

Game of Thrones, season 5

It’s back. Unfortunately for HBO, it was back one day early and four episodes too soon. I felt sorry for them, for they are producers of some of the best small screen fare, and for that we must applaud. When someone swiftly reminded me the millions (probably billions lets be honest) of dollars they rake in each year, I felt less sorry and quickly ran home to watch all four episodes. Plus, Game of Thrones was the most pirated television series of 2014 so I’m not the only one. What followed was some face-clutching, deep in-depth plot analysis and then the thought of oh yeah…another four weeks to wait now’ (common sense has never been my strong suit).

natalie dormer and lena heady as margaery and cersei in game of thrones

natalie dormer and lena heady as margaery and cersei in game of thrones

Without giving too much away – as not everyone has rushed to download – so far, so good. With episodes all at an hour long (or just short of), fans are able to delve straight back into the lives of the Lannister’s and co’ as they await the winter Jon Snow keeps reminding us is coming. Slow and steady seems to be the general theme, while we wait for the warring houses to finally come to a head. Oh, and Sansa is suddenly so bad ass. Season five of HBO’s Game of Thrones is the first to feature episodes without a little help from source writer George R. R. Martin, as he pens his latest novel as part of A Song of Fire and Ice.

We waited a year for this fantasy drama to return, and now we have to wait as the remaining six episodes air. Its worth it.

Bates Motel, season 3

Bates Motel began as a contemporary homage to one of Alfred Hitchcock’s most beloved – and watched – films, Psycho. The classic film set the tone, and genre, for horror’s to come and has been referenced in popular culture many times. A&E brought the 1950’s to twenty-first century America and intelligently placed the Bates family in a realm of their own within their old-school motel, juxtaposing Vera Farmiga’s Norma and Freddie Highmore’s Norman against the locals of new home White Pine Bay.

The enigma and interest that came with the first two seasons of Bates Motel, as well as the sub-plot of a cannabis-related economy that engulfs the town, has been left behind. What dominates now are moody conversations and under-thought story-lines. Don’t get me wrong, Highmore in a woman’s dressing gown embodying the spirit of his mother and making waffles is certainly a sight to see – and for the first time we were able to see the real talent he possesses as an adult actor – but, beyond the presentation of great acting, there isn’t much else being explored.

Vera Farmiga as Norma has taken hold in season 3. With a back-story coming into play that has been building bit by bit since series one, Farmiga dominates the screen and the show is less about Norman‘s psychotic tendencies and more about his mother’s tragic past. The tables have turned and we now find ourselves defending her, despite her wrongdoings.

It will be interesting to see if A&E continue their foray into the lives of the Bates family pre-Psycho following the end of season three.

Television series of the year (2014)

We were overwhelmed by a number of fantastic television series’ last year. From cinematic values to production budgets and big screen actors taking on roles in T.V. drama; there were a selection of stand-out programmes that continue to entertain and impress audiences. My show of the year premiered with its fourth season in 2014, and it was by far it’s best. With a legion of fans and a plethora of critical acclaim, it wasn’t difficult in deciding what would take the title. It is, of course, HBO’s Game of Thrones.

With only ten episodes (and each outstandingly good) Game of Thrones sealed its title as show of the year. Upping the anti GOT reminded critics and audiences each week why this series remains firmly at the top. With a strong cast (the majority of whom were relatively unknown before season one) and a unique fantasy element that never treads into corny territory, series four gave audiences riveting entertainment on the small screen. And, it’s just damn cool.

Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Kit Harrington, Peter Dinklage, Charles Dance and co (the ensemble cast provide talent from all ends of the world) all returned to make the fourth season a masterclass in television greatness. With a narrative that follows George R. R. Martin’s beloved novels, we were able to indulge in episodes containing mythical creatures, sexy warriors and some head-twisting enigma that had us all ask ‘Seriously, whaaaat?’. Whether you sit down to follow Daenerys in her battle to free all slaves or you enjoy the British banter that Tyrion and Bronn (played by the wonderful Jerome Flynn) bring to it, or perhaps are secretly rooting for Jaime (don’t worry, we all understand) GOT seems to spark with a unique personality that has an element of entertainment for everyone. Oh, and its never afraid to offend – and that’s always something to be celebrated in television

Its controversial, it follows an almost uncountable amount of main characters and has been graced by some of the best British acting talent in its run so far. With a stand-out episode last year, simply titled The watchers on the wall, fans can relish in the fact that with Martin still writing source material, Game of Thrones will be around for some time to come. Below are three reasons why this fantasy drama pipped the post and received the title of television series of the year:

1) Peter Dinklage as Tyrion: From series one Tyrion has been a character on everyone’s minds – he’s the underdog that has viewers talking, and in the latter half of season four Dinklage firmly took centre stage in making Mr Lannister the main agenda. With Tyrion‘s season four story ending in brutal death and a swift escape, fans can’t wait to see what series five will bring. Dinklage brings witty humour (much appreciated in a programme dominated by death and heads lopping off) and a general humanity to Tyrion that appears to be missing in the rest of his family members (the main culprit being Cersei).

promotional still from game of thrones

promotional still from game of thrones

2) The show’s cinematography courtesy of Jonathan Freeman, David Franco, Anette Haellmigk, Rob McLachlan and Fabian Wagner. Five director’s of photography should ultimately lead to fantastic scenery and damn good looking locations – thankfully, it did. From season one, the cast have been supported by locales to work with that set the tone of this fantasy drama perfectly. Beyond the picturesque imagery GOT features it also gives viewers contrasting settings, from King’s Landing to Winterfell – from the low-key lighting and gritty atmosphere the latter brings to the exotic aura of Westeros’ capital. Each episode lends to a specific vibe, and the photography is central to that.

3) D.B Weiss and David Benioff’s writing abilities lend to quote worthy dialogue and some awe inspiring monologues (everyone has to love a bit of “Winter is coming”) . Season four gave audiences two stand-out scenes that were driven by the teleplay and owed to plenty of re-watching. Speech one was a pre-battle prep talk from series veteran Owen Teale as Allisser Thorne, while generally loathed, Thorne came up trumps with his echoing words that seemed so natural its easy to forget The Nights Watch is part of a fantasy world. Speech two was delivered by Tyrion and his slandering of the stuck-up inhabitants of King’s Landing was enough to make anyone clap their hands together like an excited seal (just me then…?). Slick and intelligent, together Benioff, Weiss (and a host more) give Martin’s novels a run for their money, and stand firmly as their own works.

Westeros, dragons, enough supporting characters to shake a stick at, and an original narrative that can easily rival any television series out there today –  Game of Thrones is a phenomenal fantasy drama that is unabashedly over-the-top (but wonderfully so), and we wouldn’t have it any other way.


Game of Thrones: Watchers on the Wall

Four seasons in and HBO’s (the kings of cinematic television) Game of Thrones is as good, if not better, then it was in the first. Blood, guts, humor and compassion were all on display in this weeks haunting episode which explored just how dark the inhabitants are north of the wall. Kit Harington was on top form as always as the loveable Jon Snow; fighting hard (literally) to defend Castle Black. But this week I found a new, perhaps respect, for a character I’ve never had time for. Said character is Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), who before Sundays episode has only come across as a self-righteous know- it-all. In this weeks episode he showed his loyalty to the wall, and his obvious admiration for the men he leads and serves with. His pre-battle speech was short but very poignant, and is some of the best dialogue of the season. Teale gave Thorne a superb send off, and he certainly wont be forgotten (that is if Thorne passed on, this was left open for anyone’s guess!), it is moments like this, with characters that don’t necessarily register up until that brutal moment that exemplifies just how good Game of Thrones is.

This was a strong episode, considering it only focused on the Nights Watch, whose story lines can often tread the line of dull. The CGI was pretty awe-inspiring, as always, and the arrival of Mammoths and Giants was a great visual element to a show which is never short on shocks. The battle between the ‘free’ Wildlings and the men of the Watch has been a long time coming, and one of the biggest build-ups of this season. ‘Watchers on the wall’ serves spectacularly well as a penultimate episode (the second to last episodes have become notoriously known as the ones that hold shocks for those watching). The endearing Sam Tarly (John Bradley) provides light humor, which in an episode focused entirely on a bloody battle is certainly welcomed (but in moderation, something that the makers of Game of Thrones have perfectly on point).

I don’t wish to spoil the episode entirely for those who are yet to watch, so some things ill leave unsaid. What I will say is that season four, episode nine: ‘Watchers on the Wall’ stands out as a phenomenal episode in a series of epic proportions. Game of Thrones perfectly balances character development with war and relationships, and certainly ranks high among some of the best television ever created. Only one more episode left, and I’m already waiting for season five.