‘Writers Choice’ is a monthly segment. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This month’s theme is ‘music’.
Musicals have always been a subject close to my heart. As a child, I bonded with my father over a shared love of the melodies and scores that were scattered across this aspect of cinema, as they ranged from the compellingly sublime to the unashamedly riveting. My first taste of musical theatre came in the form of Bernstein and Sondheim’s finest; West Side Story. To this day, I can still remember the way in which I whined endlessly because I didn’t want to watch such a, and I quote, ‘stupid, boring film’, yet as we reached the finale that, in my opinion, remains one of the most subtly moving scenes of all time, I found that tears were streaking and staining my cheeks with no apparent intention of stopping. Since then, West Side Story has secured itself a place in, if you’ll forgive the cliché, both my heart and home. I have seen the theatrical production itself several times but, somehow, these simply cannot compare to the emotions within me that the movie can so effectively awake.
Plot-wise, West Side Story is an updated version of Romeo and Juliet, moved from a 16th century Verona to a fifties set New York that has been ripped apart by gang violence and racism, where our star-crossed lovers happen to originate from two separate gangs, divided by ethnicity as Maria, a young Puerto Rican immigrant, and Tony, a working-class American, fall irrevocably in love despite the towering surroundings that threaten to tear them away from one another. For me, West Side Story was not only a lesson in the beauty of music and choreography but also in the dangers of prejudice and the idea that when two people are truly meant to be, there is nothing and no one that can part them. –Hannah
Love pop music? Love documentaries? Love cute boy bands? LOOK NO FURTHER. One Direction: This Is Us doesn’t really need explaining. It’s like hanging out with 1D for an hour and a half (aka: living the dream). Though it may be not be a documentary that director Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me, Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden?), will be remembered for; it is a fun entertaining look into the world of boy bands. Who knew that Zayn was almost kicked out? That they based their look on Louis because harry liked his shoes? And of course the most interesting thing about 1D are THE FANS! They are amazing! One Direction wouldn’t exist without them. They are omnipresent throughout the film and it’s just… amazing to see the sheer power of teenage girls with twitter. We could probably bring down the world if One Direction weren’t so cute. The film is total fluff – don’t expect to learn anything meaningful about the life of a pop star or the state of the music industry, but do expect to be entertained and probably get really caught up and squeal in joy for most of the film.
Hairspray is great. Its exterior may be a glossy teen flick but in reality it deals with issues such as race and female image, that were even more prominent than today. Set in 1962, the movie, and I’m chatting about the 2007 version, directed by Adam Shankman – my personal favourite and something I’ve watched countless times, follows the incredible Tracey Turnblad (and I’m writing that in Edna Turnblad’s voice so you better be reading it in that way too) who just wants to dayynce on the Corny Collins Show!!!!!!!!!! Oooooo. Well she ends up grooving her way centre stage, fighting for the civil rights movement whilst she’s at it. GIRL POWER!!!!!!!
I cannot find an adjective to describe the music in Hairspray that would justify the complete tuuuunes that are included. Generally, I’m ambivalent towards musicals, especially those that appear on Broadway (over-acting and notes held for more than five seconds above a certain octave tend to send me over the edge…) but Mark Shaiman balances groovin’ characters such as the Dynamites, Motormouth Mabel, Edna, Tracey, Link and my true love Seaweed, and all their incredible voices with loads of suitably bangingggggggggg tunes. Naturally paired with incredible energetic dance routines (sixties movement is something to really admire) the musical is sensational and kind of infectious. Embarrassingly I don’t think I’ve ever watched it and not boogied throughout the credits and final ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat.’ –Zoe Brennan
There is not much more I love in the world than British cinema. I’m talking British made, British actors, heavily British soundtracks and just good ol’ blighty in all its glory. Add any era from the 50s-early 00’s in there and I am practically weeping with happiness already. The Boat That Rocked encompasses all of these elements (Richard Curtis you are the ultimate babe). Set in the swinging sixties, a rag-tag group of music lovers live on a ship where they manage a pirate radio station. The group of rogue groovers includes Bill Nighy’s Quentin, the leader of Pirate radio and old time mover and shaker, ‘Thick Kevin’ who can be summarized in only two words, and Felicity, the ships cook and only woman who is also coincidentally a lesbian. Pirate Radio aims to provide a generation with the beats they so desperately desire in a time when only classical music was offered on legal radio stations. Rock and soul blast through the airwaves in montages from the homes, workplaces and secret listening spots of people across the UK. As a government official steps in and makes plans to track down the boat and cease airplay the DJ’s go to work to keep on spinning records for as long as they possibly can, with pretty much every character having their own unique and brilliantly funny/heart-warming storylines inter-twined. In amongst The Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, The Supremes and The Who (to name a ridiculously small amount), shapes are busted, friendships are made and romances blossom in this ridiculously feel good flick that makes you long for a time you (probably) weren’t even born, cry over how freaking adorable Young Carl is and groove away till the sun comes up. –Chloe Leeson
Have you ever listened to a song and been immediately transported back to a special memory? Or a certain feeling you had when you last listened to it? The Music Never Stopped explores that special link between music and the brain, the head and the heart. Based on neurologist Oliver Sack’s essay ‘The Last Hippie’, the film tells the story of a father-son relationship under the strains of the 1960s cultural revolution.. Henry Sawyer is at a loss on how to handle or relate to his son teenage son Gabriel, with his long hair, weird psychedelic music and anti-Vietnam political stature. When tensions in the house prove to be too much, Gabriel runs away. Missing for nearly seventeen years, Gabriel returns under the worst of circumstances. Henry and his wife find that their son Gabriel has developed a brain tumor, leaving him with incomprehensible speech patterns, and cannot form new memories.
But through the help of music therapy, they discover that Gabriel can return to his old self, (talking, and able to hold conversations) when he listens to his absolute favorite music from the late 1960s early 1970s era. When he hears his favorite songs, The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, etc. he is able to open up and talk to his family again. This frustrates Henry, however, because he feels that it was this very music, and the hippie ideals that these bands held and sung about, was what turned Gabriel into the hippie that he became and tore their family apart. Eventually, Henry sees that he needs to put aside his differences and listen to the music that means so much to his son. He even grows to love and appreciate the songs, music that he had turned a deaf ear to because of their generational divide. He even goes to a Grateful Dead concert with Gabriel. And touchingly, Gabriel is able to form a new memory. Instead of remembering the fights that he and his dad had over his music, he will now always remember and cherish the day his dad enjoyed the music and went to the concert with him.
Music is very powerful, and the effect it has on the brain is absolutely astounding. Why is it that music can so vividly evoke such strong memories in our mind? Music does so much for people, it gives them memories that they can never forget, and can connect two human beings for the better. I know for myself, my mom and I share a love of Bruce Springsteen. The music she used to lie in bed and listen to on her records is the same music that I listen to on my iPod. We even went to a Bruce concert together, and I know that whenever I hear one of his songs I’ll always remember the memory we made together. The Music Never Stopped shows us just how powerful music can really be. –Caroline
Inside Llewyn strikes a chord. Literally, the latest film from the formidable Joel and Ethan Coen is powered by the music pulsing through it. Raw and honest folk songs penned by the Coen brothers, produced by T-Bone Burnett, inspired particularly by Dave Van Ronk, and performed live by the cast. It’s as much a musical endeavour as a cinematic one, a soundtrack shaping the film. It’s good too, really good. Please Mr Kennedy is funny and sweet, and Fare Thee Well is gripping and sad yet, when paired with the trailer especially, it makes my heart soar.
Yet the music isn’t too loud to drown out the story. Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is struggling to make it in showbiz – he lacks the spark to catch the eye of somebody who could catapult him into the big time. Failing to cope with the recent suicide of his musical partner, there is anger and bitterness boiling under every sarcastic comment he makes to those who only wish him well. Llewyn Davis is also an asshole. He slept with and possibly impregnated Jean (Carey Mulligan), unbeknownst to her husband Jim (Justin Timberlake). But he has no money, no home, and nobody he can truly confide it.
Drifting from New York to Chicago and back again, there’s no sense of direction in Llewyn and sadly no sense of a future. The film has a premise that could have been a crazy hopeful adventurous journey. Instead it was filled with disappointment and toilet wall graffiti asking ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’. Llewyn Davis is haunted, by the ginger cats which find him only to be lost, by the partner, parents, children he’s lost too. Subsequently, Inside Llewyn Davis is haunting, through the emotional music, through Llewyn himself and through the circular narrative which kicks you, even when you’re down and out. –Ashley
The opening of Justin Bieber: Believe seems like the fantasy of a devoted Belieber, and not in the slightest bit real. In the midst of screaming and crying girls pointing their iPhone’s at the stage with J.B initials drawn on their face, Bieber descends from the ceiling, wearing angel wings double the size of him, before breaking out into song. It’s kind of how you’d wish a documentary about one of the most recognisable names and faces in pop culture of this century to enter not only his gig, but also the film. And, here he is, doing just that. It’s a little ironic in a way (which was probably the intention), though, sadly it sets the film up for a tamed idea of Bieber’s life. A funny way to start, sure, but not one that is any different from a 2, 000 word feature written about him or a TV special.
Bieber was the first official guinea pig to show how far internet fame can really go. His worldwide popularity is proof of the power of online leverage. Without social media, Bieber wouldn’t have such a widespread fan base, continuing to support him and buy into his products and music. He wouldn’t be as reviled and reported as a ‘pop brat’ in mainstream newspapers, either, which is the extreme part of his fame and keeps his name on front pages. If YouTube didn’t exist, he would, most likely, never have been found. He’s the first internet celebrity to transcend an online fandom and become famous outside of a video hosting website which, at the time, wasn’t known for producing so many ‘YouTube celebrities’ as it is now.
Bieber’s marketing tool (fresh faced, sweet sounding; the Donny Osmond type) was almost extinct at the time. He resurrected a nearly dead part of the music industry, and since, his success, it has led way to the likes of One Direction.
It’s hard to think that Believe is Bieber’s second documentary, at 20. That’s the thing about filming a documentary when someone is still alive, though, particularly if they are in the heat of their popularity – you’re never going to get a ‘raw’ depiction of them. Studios will get in the way, as will marketing, PR and anyone else who has a string attached to Bieber’s dancing puppet. Making him seem normal almost takes him off that God-like post that he has been held up to for millions of teenage girls across the world.
Believe has many ‘talking heads’ backing up the idea that Justin works hard and that he deserves his success. Look at all the instruments he plays, look at this video that he directed and danced in, listen to this acoustic version of this song – see, he can sing! I don’t doubt any of those things. Like anyone in his position, you have to work hard to some degree to get to the level that Justin is at. He’s proven so many times that he is actually quite talented and can sing. What hurts Bieber the most is the media. His downfall is something we’re all expecting to happen, showing that we haven’t learnt a damn thing from the breakdown of Britney Spears 7 years ago. It’s a bit sad, really.
Even if temporary, there are moments of sincerity in the wish-washy documentary that Believe is. When Bieber is talking about his bum fluff moustache, or the way that he wears his trousers – these are, surprisingly, genuine scenes that actually turn him back into the teenager that he was at the time. Imagine all the crazy shit that Bieber gets into, the sleepless nights, the suffocation and the pain of fame – this is what should have been shown. Not for us to continue to watch Bieber as if he is an animal, but to have some element of understanding to how difficult his position is; to give back that humanity that has been stripped away from him in the last 6 years.
It’s a shame Believe couldn’t be that film. –Cherokee
A film with a plot centred around music, particularly 90s madchester, is Spike Island starring Elliott Tittensor, Nico Mirallegro and Emilia Clarke. Spike Island follows a group of The Stone Roses’ fanboys intent on making it to their infamous gig in Spike Island, as well as handing them a tape of their song they had written as part of their own band. This is a film that proves the greatness of The Stone Roses and carries on the legacy, not by focusing on themselves but by telling the story through the eyes of their fans. The complicated relationships the boys face with girls, their family and each other are all story lines that the audience are exposed to, but we get the sense that the most important thing in their lives is the music. As well as the great performances from the cast and the noteworthy cinematography (during the gig itself, for instance) my favourite part of this film is the way it deals with teenagers. There are thousands of films where the teenagers’ are presented unrealistically, but Spike Island is different. Both the boys and girls are presented as well-rounded people and the film forces you to view things from their perspective as opposed to simply dismissing them. Despite not always knowing how to deal with their emotions, it doesn’t make them any less valid. They make mistakes and they’re not perfect, but this only makes them more interesting and engaging characters. Their devotion to The Stone Roses, and music in general, is significant not only because it drives the plot, but because it is a known fact that the things you are interested in as a teenager stick with you for the rest of your life. And as the film progresses, you can see how the music they love is starting to shape their lives. So even if you’re not a fan of The Stone Roses, Spike Island is still worth watching because of the brilliant story, cinematography and acting. And most importantly, because of the realistic portrayal of teenagers and the validation of their experiences. –Georgia Berry
“What have you done to your hair?”
“It’s called punk,”
“Well it’s not school uniform.”
School of Rock is one of the coolest movies in the whole world. I can’t believe it’s been eleven years since it was released, but it remains just as hilarious now as it was when I was six.
Dewey Finn, Jack Black, is a failing musician who coaches a class of ten year olds to perform in a battle of the bands competition by posing as a substitute teacher. Despite his selfish ambition driving him to teach the kids (and totally creepy means of acquiring a band), Dewey manages to help the nerdy children find some self-appreciation through the power of rock music. Which sounds pretty uncool, but never has a predominately child cast been less annoying.
School of Rock embraces music and the unifying effect it can have on all people, regardless of age (heck yeah!). I got the CD for my 7th birthday and have never looked back, the soundtrack is incredible.
I honestly love this movie so much I once watched the entire thing with the commentary from the kids playing over the top; one of the bizarre DVD extras that no one really wants. –Joey Mason