Last night saw the airing of the last episode of Channel 4’s super-stylish, mind-bending drama series Utopia. But, fingers crossed it will not be the last we see of this intriguing creation from the mind of Dennis Kelly. The series followed a group of misfits who all had an inkling for more knowledge about the Utopia manuscripts they fall together through an internet forum and when they meet up at a pub shit starts to get real. I’m slightly worried that if I say anything more I’ll give away one of the shows many, many twists and turns so I’ll try not to divulge any more of the story.
Basically, this series has been quite simply the best British-made drama series I have seen in a long time. It’s shot with hyper-focussed alarmingly bright colours in almost every scene giving the whole thing a unique and gripping style, mixed with the unusual but tonally perfect score the scene is set for Kelly’s scripts to realise their true potential. Scenes of graphic violence are a signature from the off, with a Tarantino-like zest for seeing our protagonists as well as our antagonist torture each other. And that’s not the only way in which this show had shades of Tarantino, the dialogue although shaky at times, at other moments doesn’t seem a world away from Pulp Fiction. There are some great characters here too, of the gang my favourite was easily Wilson played by Adeel Akhtar, who you may recognise from Four Lions. Wilson is a paranoid computer whizz who has a conspiracy theory for almost everything and is portrayed so well by Akhtar it’s hard to remember how much of an idiot he was in Four Lions. Aside from the main group though, the shows greatest character is Arby (Neil Maskell), a man who seems to have no conscience and throws his weight around killing an torturing anyone in his path to get to Jessica Hyde, ‘Where is Jessica Hyde?’ He speaks drolly and that is his only line for about two or three episodes.
It does have its flaws, at times it felt as though as there’s too much going to fully comprehend all the plots twists and reveals, some of the scenes between group members feel forced and at times unnecessary and I felt as though the Jessica Hyde character never quite lived up to the elusive person we were expecting. But as a whole this really works, I want to go back to the beginning and watch it again to pick up on bits I may have missed and that in itself says a whole lot. This series has raised the bar of not just British TV but TV as a whole, in my opinion, perhaps it’s time for auteurs to make their names in television, let me know what you think on that. And let’s all keep our fingers crossed that we get a second series and that those pesky Americans don’t get their hands on this gold dust and try and re-make it.
Since I’ve reached the end of my Biffy Clyro album reviews it’s the turn of another of my favourite bands, probably my favourite of them all, to have their discography discussed. These reviews will contain added excitement since I’ve recently booked to go and see them at Wembley in July. So, we head back to the beginning of The Smashing Pumpkins history with their debut LP, Gish.
Released in 1991 the Pumpkins joined the scene at the rise of grunge along with Pearl Jam and Nirvarna but the Pumpkins didn’t hit in the same way those bands did. They’re a far more complicated band and to describe Gish as a grunge record would be rather diminutive. Although it is easily the bands grungiest effort of them all I still feel it would be accurate to call it anti-grunge. To unpack that, what I mean is that they’ve taken the guitar sound and song structure from that sub section of music but added a grnader scale and ambition to the project. Gish is the first example and perhaps the most subdued as with Siamese Dream, the bands second album they up the weirdness to different level than they have here. But even knowing what the band became it’s still hard not to notice the distinctive sound that is to be found on this record.
It certainly is a very strong debut album although I wouldn’t say it stands up fully against the greats that were to follow it, its still a record that I will happily put on from time to time and witness the birth of one of the greatest bands of all time. The bonus tracks on the second disc of the re-released version are all interesting listens too if you fancy checking that out.
Well another week has gone by and this week in terms of media consumption has been one of the most interesting for me in a while. I decided it was time to give manga a go. So far, as a beginner, I’ve been reading the first volume of Death Note which has literally blown my mind and I’m only halfway through the first book! I’ve also watched Ghost in the Shell for the first time and intend to get through all the spin-offs and sequels as well and tonight Akira is on the cards. But all this immersion in a new form for me has already begun to inspire me in new ways creatively. It’s these moments that make me wish I could draw but all I’m going to say on here is that I’ve got an absolute killer idea for my own graphic novel/manga series, I guess keep your eyes peeled because as I come up with more developed ideas for the story I’ll out some extracts on here, so keep watching this space.
This week has also been a hectic one since my first deadline of the semester is next Wednesday, unfortunately motivation has been at an all time low, but fortunately for you guys it has meant that I’ve had plenty of stuff to write about on here. My first review was of Spielberg’s Lincoln. Then in advance of series two starting on Monday I gave my views on the first series of Black Mirror. And finally a big discovery for my iPod was realised this week in the form of Pretty Lights and I felt compelled to share the discovery with you on here, go check it out.
So in terms of a video this week I think I’ll leave you with this huge song:
Dubstep is dead and gone, murdered and trampled into the ground by pop music and Skrillex taking the form and bending it into something it never should have been. However glimmering out from the gaps in the clouds you get a few artists who still take dubstep to new levels the best of which I have ever come across, conveniently for this metaphor, goes by the name of Pretty Lights. I’ve heard the odd track of his being banded around our house for the past six months or so and had always been impressed until yesterday I finally got down to listening to him extensively, so far I’ve listened to probably just over half his discography and pretty much every song has blown me away.
The first record I put on was his second album, a double LP called Filling Up the City Skies and I was greeted with something I didn’t quite expect. The album was a lot more chilled than his newer stuff that I’d heard before and it seamlessly combine hip-hop rhythms with warbling bass creating some of the most atmospheric tunes I’ve ever heard, the whole two discs of the album doesn’t contain one bad song and it creates a mood that I could, quite happily, just sit in all day every day with.
Then I moved on to some of his more recent EP’s all of which came out 2010 there was, Spilling Over Every Side, Making Up a Changing Mind and finally, Glowing in the Darkest Night. Every EP had it’s aura but all still managed to encompass the distinctive flavour I’ve come to love. Interspersing pumps of rhythm from electric guitars with dubstep bass and hip-hop beats, it literally doesn’t get better than this.
As I write this I am listening to his first album, Taking Up Your Precious Time, and am hearing a very different sound still. Much less electronic and much more jazzy with more rolling bass lines and synth tones being sprinkled over the top. It just begs the question why this guy is not huge? Why is he not a household name? He creates music unlike any other on the scene but yet it’s Skrillex who becomes the breakthrough dubstep producer, it just doesn’t compute but anyway before I go into a rant about the hideous state of the world go and listen to some Pretty Lights post me a comment to let me know your opinion.
Well series two of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror begins this evening and luckily I watched series one just in time. The three part series tells three separate stories all centring around the idea of technology and how it’s taking over our lives. The first episode is probably the closest to home being the one set in the modern day. It tells the story of a girl being held hostage and the Prime Minister being forced to shag a pig on live tv as a ransom for her return. The speed of video uploading on the internet is how the word of the situation spreads around the world in a matter of hours prompting everyone to be wondering if the Prime Minister really going to go to such humiliating lengths to save the girl. The episode takes a lot of influence from The Thick of It, it’s clear to see and there are moments of humour to counteract the truly bleak plot-line and Brooker’s characteristic razor sharp writing lends itself perfectly to the situation.
Episode two takes us into the future in a bland world where people live in rooms with nothing to do but stare at the screens that surround them, they work cycling on machines to earn credits to pay to watch or play more when they’re back in their cells. The biggest programme is an X Factor style talent contest where judges and viewers alike supposedly make contestants dreams come true. When our hero spots a new girl with an amazing voice he buys her an audition but is sickened when he sees what they do to her after putting her through and he is moved to do something about it. The episode really tells a lot about Brooker’s fears of reality TV and how this X Factor culture is affecting the way people interact with each other portraying a bleak possibility of where it all could lead.
The final episode of the series offers perhaps the most intriguing concept. Set in the future again the premise here is that everyone has a chip behind there ear that records all of their memories. in the opening we see that a security guard at the airport rewinds a persons memory to check what they’ve done in the past week before letting them on the flight but this episode focusses more on a personal level of what this invention could do to us. The protagonist becomes obsessed with the idea that his girlfriend has been lying to him about an ex boyfriend and the ability to be able to analyse certain events drives him crazy.
All of the episodes are some of the best written drama I’ve ever seen on television and they all pose serious questions about the way in which culture is going let’s hope nothing ever gets bleak but let’s the ideas are just as good in the new series.
Spielberg’s latest film tells the story of America’s sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln in the fight to pass the thirteenth amendment and abolish slavery in the USA. The film has so far, as far as I’m aware, received nothing but praise which has materialised in the form of a number of Oscar and BAFTA nominations including the coveted Best Picture award. Daniel Day-Lewis plays the central figure while support is provided in the form of Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The story is of course a great one but let me tell why I think this film has got it completely wrong.
Let me start by saying that I didn’t hate this film it had it’s share of good moments, the majority coming from Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens in the courtroom scenes where he insults everyone in the most intellectual way possible. Day-Lewis portrayal is excellent as always, as an actor it appears he can literally do no wrong. And at the end of the film when the amendment is passed it’s hard not to feel how big the achievement really was. Unfortunately, though, this is where my praise reaches it’s end and leads on to why the film really isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
We all know the story of the abolition of slavery and I was looking forward to the ins and outs of what happened being put up on the big screen but I instead found that the film taught next to nothing I didn’t know already. Every scene seemed to be saying exactly the same thing until the last half an hour, all that was made clear is that Lincoln needs 20 votes from the Democrats in order to pass the bill, that is literally all that is established in getting on for an hour and half of film, it seems no progress is made, nothing much is done just a group of politicians umming and arring about the fact they need these votes. When it comes down to the wire there is one short scene in which Lincoln goes round to the houses of these Democrats that had previously been written off to vote for the passing of the bill says a few sentences changes their minds and that’s it, job done. The character of Lincoln isn’t even particularly celebrated here either despite Day-Lewis’s performance there are perhaps two scenes in which he is really given the chance to shine but for the pivotal courtroom scenes he is not even present and it is left for Jones to steal the show making him the real stand-out of the film. Once the bill is passed in what is by far the best scene of the film being the only one that really has any kind of tension or emotion there is still another fifteen to twenty minutes of running time to go that seems utterly pointless. His assassination is done within five minutes and you don’t even see it happen, nothing is really said about it it happens and then that’s the end of the film. The Gordon-Levitt character makes no sense as well there is one scene in which he is shaken up by seeing a load of limbs thrown into a pit and then for the rest of the film he is almost completely forgotten about.
While Spielberg got the casting right there is not much else to love about this uneven and bland, half-biopic, it would be a great shame if this took the Oscars.