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Film Review: 'We Are the Best!' (2013)

Liv LeMoyne, Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin in We Are the Best

In a world of big money blockbusters, sequels and reboots, it is rare to to discover a film that simply represents great film making, fantastic storytelling and excellent acting. Lukas Moodysson's wonderful tale of three early teenage girls who decide to form a punk band despite having no instruments and being told that "punk is dead" is an absolute treasure.

Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne in We Are the Best

Based on the graphic novel by Coco Moodysson, We Are the Best! is set in Stockholm, Sweden in 1982. Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin star as friends Bobo and Klara who are just trying to find where they fit into the world. Teased at school for their punk rocker style and told that "punk is dead", the girls begin to compose a punk rock anthem "Hatar sport!" (“Hate the Sport"!) after a slight altercation in the school gymnasium.

After sneakily imposing themselves into the practice space of a local community centre, at the expense of an actual band with actual instruments, the girls form a punk band with only a cacophony of drums and an assault on a bass guitar to their credit. Despite their assurances to each other that they are ‘really good’, the girls realise that they might be slightly lacking in talent and convince the lonely and outcast Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to give them music lessons in exchange for a spot on the band.

Mira Grosin and Jonathan Salomonsson in We Are the Best

What follows is a thoroughly uplifting film about the highs and lows of the pre-teen years, the agony of first love and the important lesson to never trust the beautiful boy with the incredible eyes. Most importantly, three different and socially awkward girls learn the value of friendship and the power it gives to transcend all situations.

We Are the Best! made me laugh out loud, cringe with embarrassment and smile with glee as the girls portrayed what it was like to be punk in the early 1980s. They gave fantastic performances, remarkable in capturing the ethos of a bygone era and subculture. (Not that I’d accept for a minute that punk is dead, you understand).

We Are the Best Vi Ar Bast

The film is directed by Lukas Moodysson and is presented in Swedish with English subtitles. Don’t let that discourage you from seeing it though, this is the feel-good film of the year and I highly recommend it!

We Are the Best! will be released in UK cinemas on Friday, 18 April 2014. The film will also see a limited run in the United States after showing at both the Montclair and San Francisco International Film Festivals in May.

Book Review: ‘Bird Box’ by Josh Malerman

Bird Box Josh Malerman cover

Whatever you do, don't open your eyes. Malorie stands alone in her house in what was once a nice neighbourhood in Detroit. Her furniture is carefully placed to hide the blood stains on the walls and carpet and her children sleep blindfolded down the hall. Today they will escape.

In Josh Malerman's Bird Box, an unknown terror is so awe-inspiring and terrible that it is causing people to end their lives in the most spectacular ways. Those who remain learn to live in a carefully constructed world of darkness and near blindness in order to survive.

Bird Box is quite simply the most terrifying book that I have ever read. I was merely 25 pages in when I realised that I would not be able to put this book down but more importantly that I should not read it alone or late at night. It is a thrilling read, not unlike the exhilaration of a fun fair house of horrors ride, but at its heart is deeply disturbing.

Malerman makes use of two timelines to weave his story, alternating between the present and the past when the threat first emerged. Yet knowing where the story is going makes the revelations no less horrific or frightening. Bird Box couldn't be creepier if it was woven together with cobwebs and dust using rodent bones as needles.

Bird Box Josh Malerman coverBird Box is a very clever book. There were times when I found myself in denial as to the nature of the threat, only to realise that certain aspects of it had been confirmed already. Without giving anything away, I will confirm that the scariest part of the book was waiting for the 'catch' and then realising that maybe there isn't one?

Published by Harper Collins, Bird Box is a superb debut by Josh Malerman. The film rights have been sold to Andres Muschietti, who directed the horror film Mama but I have to be honest, I don't know if I could watch the film. If it is true to the book, this has the potential to be the scariest horror film ever made.

I give Bird Box five out of five stars and recommend it to even the most reluctant of horror readers. The book is so well-written that it has created an appetite in me for more horror.

You can purchase Josh Malerman’s Bird Box at Amazon.co.uk or pre-order from Amazon.com.


An advance copy of this book was provided to me for the purposes of this review and all opinions contain herein are my own. This review contains affiliate links.

Music Review: Scilla - "Scilla"

Scilla

How gorgeous is this woman? This is Swiss singer/songwriter Scilla Siekmann who has the dubious honour of reaching the top 10 on the Eurovision Song Contest  in 2010 with her song “Barbie Doll”. She is definitely a lot more plastic and mainstream than my usual fare but I took a listen to her new single and it’s really quite good.

Scilla has a honey and treacle voice that sounds like a cross between Betty Boop and Tallulah from Bugsy Malone and she is as cute as a button.

Now residing in the States after receiving degrees in music business and independent music production from the Musician’s Institute of Hollywood and UCLA, Scilla is hoping to break out in the US market. She cites Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse and Joss Stone as influences and I definitely think I hear some Katie Melua and Norah Jones in there too.

Based on her Neo-Cabaret set, Scilla has released her self-titled single Scilla through Amazon.co.uk and iTunes and I’m expecting great things from her in the future. The single features three tracks and I was really impressed by the level of production and the originality of her songs. This is not the usual standard that you’d expect from a music student straight out of university but then Scilla is obviously not your average musician. She has works with Bruno Mars’s producer Steve Lindsey on the single as well as engineer Ichi Suezawa.

If I had to pick a favourite out of the three tracks, I'd pick "Remind Me What Love Is" although I do like the upbeat tempo of "You Can't Break Me".

You can find Scilla on Twitter @ScillaMusic, Facebook ScillaMusic or her website ScillaMusic.com.

Experiencing Nirvana at Proud Camden

Nirvana, Parque El Retiro, Madrid, Spain, 3rd July 1992 © Steve Double
Nirvana, Parque El Retiro, Madrid, Spain, 3rd July 1992 © Steve Double

Experiencing Nirvana Exhibition: Proud Camden
27 March 2014 – 11 May 2014

It is impossible to overstate how important Nirvana were as a rock band. With the decline of punk and gothic music and the break up of bands like Pixies, Nirvana exploded onto the alternative music scene and turned everyone from mainstream music lovers to punk, metal and alternative fans onto grunge music. In an big way, it was annoying at the time – alternative music had once been pretty exclusive (or so we thought) and suddenly everyone was wearing Dr. Martens and plaid shirts.

I don’t think I will ever forget the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Sitting in a car, listening to the radio, I was immediately hooked and thought that I’d finally found a band to fill the void in my heart created when Pixies broke up. 1992 was all about Nirvana and Ministry to me, so much so that I listened to their albums to death.

Kurt Commodore Ballroom Vancouver BC 3_8_91
Kurt being lifted by the crowd, Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, BC, 8th March 1991 © Charles Peterson

It is one thing to remember that era but photographers Charles Peterson and Steve Double were there right from the beginning to capture the meteoric rise of Nirvana. Both began photographing the band in 1989 when the band was first signed to the famous Sub Pop label to record their first album Bleach. They captured the first photos with Chad Channing and went on to capture the introduction of Dave Grohl.

Now, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the untimely death of Kurt Cobain, Proud Galleries, Charles Peterson and Steve Double present the Experiencing Nirvana exhibition at Proud Camden. This fantastic collection of photographs is a must-see for fans of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain and will run from 27 March 2014 – 11 May 2014. Entrance is free!

Proud Camden
The Horse Hospital, Chalk Farm Road NW1 8AH
Telephone: 020 7482 3867
Opening times: Mon-Fri : 11am – 5pm Sat: 11am – 4pm. Main Gallery closes at 4pm Sun: 11am - 5pm
Entrance: Free
Information: info@proudgalleries.co.uk

Photo credits © Steve Double and © Charles Peterson

Book Review: ‘Pandemonium’ by Lauren Oliver

Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver - banner

It's not often that I find myself in a position like this. I was so impressed by Lauren Oliver's dystopic novel Delirium that I put off reading the sequel Pandemonium for some time, for fear that the spell would be broken and that I would not enjoy it as much. The problem I face now that I have read it is what can I possibly say that I didn't already say about Delirium? Like Delirium, Pandemonium is impossible to put down, the events in the novel are devastating, and there is simply nothing predictable about this book (except, perhaps, for the very last page). From the moment I first picked up Pandemonium, any moment spent not reading it was a wasted moment. Meals and sleep became optional and I stole from both in my efforts to race through the book.

Pandemonium is the second book in Lauren Oliver's Delirium trilogy. The events in the book follow on immediately from those in Delirium and begin at the moment Lena and Alec are separated at the fence. We follow Lena’s grief-stricken attempts to survive in The Wilds and this is juxtaposed against her new life in New York City some months later. When Lena attends a rally for pro-cure organisation Deliria Free America, she is kidnapped alongside Julian Fineman, son of the DFA leader and leader of the youth division. Each moment that the couple spend imprisoned places Lena more at peril as Julian digs deeper to discover her true, uncured status.

Pandemonium - Lauren Oliver - coverWhereas many trilogies suffer from a weak second book that is often nothing more than a long, drawn out filler between the first and last books, this is certainly not the case here. I didn’t think it possible but Pandemonium is even better than Delirium and this time I will waste no time in picking up Requiem, the final book in the series.

Fans of Lauren Oliver will not be disappointed and her beautiful style of writing is as present in this novel as it was in Before I Fall and Delirium. I wholeheartedly recommend this book to all fans of young adult or dystopian fiction, especially those who might be looking for a trilogy that is a cut above the normal young adult fare. I give Pandemonium five out of five stars.

You can purchase Pandemonium at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.


Article first published as Book Review: ‘Pandemonium’ by Lauren Oliver on Blogcritics. This review contains affiliate links.

Music Video: Petite Meller - "Icebear"

Icebear - Petite Mellar

And the prize for the most bizarre song / video of the week goes to "Icebear" by Petite Meller featuring Yiddish pop singer Joe Fleisch. The video is creepy and unsettling to begin with, reminding me somewhat of horror film The Ring, but that is nothing compared to how bizarre it becomes when Fleisch begins singing. The weird thing is that it is strangely catchy which is why I had to listen to it five times in order to be sure that I find it quite odd.

"Icebear" is a cover of "Eisbär" by 80s German band Grauzone and yes, they are singing in German (see the lyrics below). Eisbär means polar bear and according to the song, they never cry. I'm not quite sure why that makes me sad but it does.

Petite Meller was born and raised in Paris and is known for her obscure and surreal brand of pop music. Quite frankly, I find her a bit frightening and am not surprised that she once said, "I only make music for the reason that I didn't have anyone to dance with".

You can follow Petite Meller on Twitter @PetiteMeller and Facebook at PetiteMellerOfficial

Once you've finished here, you can pop over to Noisey to see 11 awesome things they love about the video

"Icebear" lyrics

Ich möchte ein Eisbär sein
Im kalten Polar
Dann müsste ich nicht mehr schrein
Alles wär so klar
Ich möchte ein Eisbär sein
Im kalten Polar
Dann müsste ich nicht mehr schrein
Im kalten Polar
Dann müsste ich nicht mehr schrein
Alles wär so klar
Eisbärn müssen nie weinen
Eisbärn müssen nie weinen
Eisbärn müssen nie weinen
Eisbärn müssen nie weinen

And in English...
I want to be a polar bear
In the cold Arctic
Then I would not cry
Everything would be so clear
I want to be a polar bear
In the cold Arctic
Then I would not cry
In the cold Arctic
Then I would not cry
Everything would be so clear
Polar bears must never cry
Polar bears must never cry
Polar bears must never cry
Polar bears must never cry

Music Review: Qiet - 'Pet Driftwood (Composition #8)'

Christoper Vincent - Qiet

Have you ever listened to an album and realised that you simply have no way of describing it? That was my first impression when I listened to Qiet’s Pet Driftwood (Composition #8). The first single "The Indie Song" sounded like the lovechild of ELO and Slade (which might be an obscure British reference to those on the other side of the pond but I’m sticking with it). I have no idea what I was expecting from the cover art and the band name, but this wasn’t it.

I backpedalled furiously and took a look at the original email I was sent about the band. It told me that Qiet was recommended for fans of David Bowie, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and Gogol Bordello and that they perform a mix of vaudeville pop, gypsy-jazz, soul and funk. Which brings me back to my original dilemma because all that tells me is that they cover half the music genres known to humankind.

Quite simply, Qiet defies definition.

Qiet is the brainchild of Christopher Vincent, a rather lovely, possibly winged guitarist and vocalist. He is joined by Lacey Hazel on vocal stylings and theatrics, Alasha Al-Qudwah on violin & viola, Max Venoy on trumpet, James Maddox on bass and Raphael Godfrey on drums, percussion and saxophone. The band are based in West Virginia and believe that their location is central to their sound in both its influence and the desire to escape it.

Qiet Wall Green

Pet Driftwood (Composition #8) is Qiet’s debut album and is a Kickstarter-funded independent release recorded with Eddie Ashworth, producer for Sublime and Pennywise. The album is a sort of a carnivalesque, vaudeville revival with funk / soul breaks and klezmer interludes. Dispatching with the failed attempts at categorisation, Pet Driftwood (Composition #8) is a lot of fun but what makes this album notable is the brilliant lyrics.

The standout track on the album is the manic “Cosby Sweater”, a song that begs to be played on repeat and has me involuntarily snapping my fingers along to the beat. I love the lyrics too, my best being “As I dance with the world, it reminds me of when I was a child, curious and beguiled.  Now, an alien, dissolute, kick step, collapse mystified”.

The track “The Indie Song” confounds me. It is insanely catchy but with the most cynically damning commentary on the current state of the Indie music industry. You’ll find yourself gleefully singing along to lyrics such as “It reminds me of a quarter-note bass drum and two chord songs with a lazy strum” and “No, we know it's not like you to capitalize on misguided youth”.

Qiet

The most epic track on the album has to be “Little Window”. This cosmic, existential blues track channels Jim Morrison and The Doors at their best and the lyrics are pure poetry. I especially liked “Out my little window, lies the unnamed they call the cosmos. Once, I thought I knew, but now I know I know only empty ethos. And life, such a bitter pain, and light only expands. The shade feels so cool and safe, and you're innate. Feeling like the Sun's burst into the wind. The only way to end this is to begin.” This track must be simply sublime live.

Other notable tracks include the nightmare fairy tale “Pretty, Perfect”, instrumental “Rumba” and the speakeasy ballad “Money” and stomping “Splendid Divine”. At just on one hour, the album is a good length and features 16 tracks.

I give Pet Driftwood (Composition #8)  five out five stars and recommend it to everyone. I can guarantee it’s not like anything you’ve ever heard before but it is certainly worth a listen. You can listen to the full album on Soundcloud or you can purchase at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk or iTunes.

You can find Qiet on Facebook, Twitter and Google +.


Article first published as Music Review: Qiet – ‘Pet Driftwood (Composition #8)’ on Blogcritics. This review contains affiliate links.

The Boxtrolls (2014) - trailer and stills

The Box Trolls - one sheet

How awesome does this film look? Starring Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Elle Fanning, Ben Kingsley, Simon Pegg, Richard Ayoade, Nick Frost, Jared Harris and Tracy Morgan, The Boxtrolls is a Victorian fable set in the fictional town of Cheesebridge. In a society obsessed with wealth, class and the stinkiest of fine cheeses, not everybody has a family and not everybody is rich. Beneath the charming cobblestone streets dwell the Boxtrolls, horrible monsters whose sole aim in life is to steal everything the Cheesebridgers hold dear: their children and their cheese. Of course, Monsters taught us that not everything that is monster is undesirable or unlovable and the same is true of our trolls. The hero of the film is little Eggs ((voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright), an orphan raised by the Boxtrolls as one of their dumpster-diving and mechanical junk-collecting own. When the Boxtrolls are targeted for extermination by the dastardly Archibald Snatcher (voiced by Acadamy Award winner Ben Kingsley) Eggs and his rich little friend Winnie (Elle Fanning) must save the day.

Eggs - The Boxtrolls

The Boxtrolls is brought to you by the makers of Coraline and Paranorman and is out in UK cinemas on 12 September 2014.

There are three trailers available at the moment, one of which is an awesome look at the design to plasticine to stop motion process:

This was my favourite of the trailers though:

This film looks super cute and is sure to be a smash hit. There aren't too many stills that I can find yet but I've taken some stills from the trailer. The first is of Eggs:

The Boxtrolls - steampunk

And Winnie screaming...

The Boxtrolls - scream

And a wormy Boxtroll...

The Boxtrolls - worms

Finally, we have the one sheet:

The Box Trolls - one sheet

What do you think? I’m really looking forward to this on so many levels. It appeals to my love of Victoriana, steam punk and England’s grimy, grim past.

Book Review: Scent of Magic by Maria V. Snyder

Scent of Magic Maria V Snyder Cover

Avry of Kazan is a healer in the Fifteen Realms, a land torn apart by a deadly plague.  Healers were once reviled, accused of standing by and doing nothing to stop the devastation of the plague. Now war ravages across the land while the megalomaniac King Tohon leads an undead army in his quest to be sole ruler over all the realms.

Scent of Magic is the second novel in Maria V. Snyder's Avry of Kazan trilogy. The events of debut Touch of Power closed with Avry's close brush with death and in Scent of Magic, Avry and lover Kerrick decide to take advantage of the prevailing belief that Avry succumbed to the plague. They decide to split up with Avry heading south to infiltrate the holy army of Estrid and continue on her quest to reconcile with her sister.  Meanwhile,  Kerrick returns to his realm of Alga in the hopes of mobilising his army to join the fight against King Tohon.

Can they succeed in time to stop Tohon’s evil plan and restore order and unity to the Fifteen Realms?

The Avry of Kazan series is based on such a fantastic premise and no one writes this type of fantasy better than Maria V. Snyder. The problem is that like so many of her other series, this one seems to be suffering from a doomed mid-trilogy story.

Scent of Magic Maria V Snyder CoverI wanted to love Scent of Magic, I really did.  I thoroughly enjoyed Touch of Power and gave it a 5 star review. Indeed, I had waited with bated breath for Snyder to release the sequel but I admit that I was disappointed. I’m keen to read the final book in the series though so I am going to list the five issues I had with Scent of Magic which ultimately ruined the novel for me and I’ll leave the reader to make up their own minds.

I read a lot of series and I’d say the bulk of them are trilogies. There is always going to be a fair amount of info-dumping as the author tries to remind readers of the events of the previous novels and perhaps even snag a few new readers. The problem here is that there is a massive amount of info-dumping in the form of awkward conversations and a fair amount of telling the story instead of allowing it to tell itself.

The next three points all have to do with how much Avry’s character and how her circumstances changed between the first and second novels. I wouldn’t exactly call it character development but rather pretty convenient shortcuts the author took to tell the story.

The entire story in Touch of Power hinged on the fact that healers were outlaws and were subject to imprisonment and execution. Scent of Magic is set in an unspecified medieval time, without the marvels of modern communication. Even if Avry was vindicated at the end of the previous novel, there is no mention of that suspicion, fear and hostility towards healers in this novel.

After spending a relatively short period with Kerrick and his men in the previous novel, we are now to believe that a trained healer has now become a master tactician and is able to teach an entire army about guerrilla warfare and slipping through forests undetected.

In many ways, Avry is just a different person. Gone is her confidence and competence that saved her life so many times in the past. In Scent of Magic, Avry is an unreliable narrator and so much of the story revolves around her frankly paranoid impressions of who does and doesn't like her and the errors in judgement she makes about other characters. Those mistakes would have gotten her killed in the previous book and almost do in this one.

My final qualm has to do with creative liberties and the suspension of disbelief. The Avry of Kazan series is a fantasy series and like all fantasy series, the author is going to take a fair amount of liberties and the audience is going to have to take a leap of the imagination. My problem is that the entire resolution of this book depends on a syringe, a 19th-century invention that is absolutely out of place in this medieval type society.

So there you have it, repetition, incongruous characterisation and inconsistencies, an unreliable narrator and modern inventions in a medieval world all served to undermine Scent of Magic and make it a disappointing read. I am really hoping that Taste of Darkness will be an improvement in the way that Fire Study was but I won’t hold my breath.

I give Scent of Magic 3 out of 5 stars.

You can buy Scent of Magic at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com. This review contain affiliate links.

Brand New Images and Trailer: Maleficent (2014)

Angelina Jolie is Maleficent

I can’t believe it has been over 18 months since I brought the first look of Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. Well, actually, I can. This film has been really long in the making but thankfully it’s finally arriving in the UK and USA on 30 May 2014.

Angelina Jolie as the Evil Maleficent

So what do you think? I think Angelina Jolie looks really terrifying and I have high hopes for this film. I’m hoping it will be an eerie take on the original fairy tale without being as disappointing as Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and Snow White and the Huntsman.

Elle Fanning is Princess Aurora in Maleficient

Of course, this is a Disney film so perhaps I shouldn’t be too eager. On the one hand it might not be as scary as it looks (see the exceptionally cute image of Elle Fanning as Princess Aurora above) but on the other hand, they’ll have a huge budget behind it.

Elle Fanning is Princess Aurora in Maleficent

The brand new trailer released today features Lana Del Rey’s creepy rendition of of “Once Upon a Dream”. The track is available free of charge until 3 February from Google Play.

Maleficent explores the untold story of Disney’s most iconic villain from the classic “Sleeping Beauty" and the elements of her betrayal that ultimately turn her pure heart to stone. Driven by revenge and a fierce desire to protect the moors over which she presides, Maleficent cruelly places an irrevocable curse upon the human king’s newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Aurora is caught in the middle of the seething conflict between the forest kingdom she has grown to love and the human kingdom that holds her legacy. Maleficent realizes that Aurora may hold the key to peace in the land and is forced to take drastic actions that will change both worlds forever.   

The film stars Angelina Jolie as Maleficent, Sharlto Copley, Elle Fanning, Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple and Lesley Manville.

Maleficent is produced by Joe Roth and directed by Robert Stromberg, with Angelina Jolie, Don Hahn, Matt Smith, Palak Patel and Sarah Bradshaw serving as executive producers. Linda Woolverton wrote the screenplay. Maleficent opens in cinemas on 30th May 2014.

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