London Grammar ‘Nightcall’ single review: ‘Massive Attack-esque’
Ever since its appearance on the Drive soundtrack in 2010, Kavinsky’s ‘Nightcall’ has been almost unanimously praised for its nostalgia laced ’80s new wave synths and thumping pitch-back bassline that, at the time, felt like a proper revival of vintage electropop. As such, trip-hop minimalists London Grammar had a mammoth task on their hands when they decided to cover it.
Fortunately, the results are far from disastrous. It kicks off in typical X Factor piano-ballad fashion, but as soons as Dot’s falsetto kicks in midway through verse two, the track takes flight and hurtles towards a stunning, Massive Attack-esque finale. The result is different enough to sound distinctive, but retains everything that made the original so brilliant. - GW
Charli XCX: ‘Superlove’ single review: A strong bid for pop stardom
After spending the last two years on just about everyones ones-to-watch lists and generally owning the pop blogosphere, Charli XCX recently said that she wants her next album to take her music career to the next level. “I’ve learnt how to take control of what I’m doing and making sure it happens,” she insisted, before describing her new material as a mix of Icona Pop’s ‘I Love It’ and “those Lolita-esque bratty French girls and other girl power heroines”. How could we not be excited?
Better yet, her latest offering ‘SuperLove’ more than lives up to its ambitious billing. “You’re whisky, wasted and beautiful dancing through the fire/ You’re such a vision to see,” she sings over a jaunty guitar line, swirling electronics and addictive cheerleader claps before unleashing a tongue-twister of a chorus that immediately knocks you over the head and commands your to dance along. And given Charli’s current ambitious mindset, who are we to argue with her? - GW
Britney Spears: ‘Britney Jean’ review: ‘Surprisingly un-Britney’
Given everything she’s been through, Britney Spears labelling her eighth album as her “most personal” yet is an exciting prospect. After 14 years in the biz she’s certainly got a lot to draw on; from being catapulted to worldwide fame to divorce, a breakdown, rehab, court orders and more recently the end of her engagement with her former agent and co-conservator Jason Trawick. By all accounts, Britney Jean has the potential to be seriously juicy.
Despite claiming a co-write for every song on the album, its lead single 'Work Bitch' - a slice of throbbing EDM-pop co-produced by Swedish House Mafia’s Sebastian Ingrosso - doesn’t offer much hope of Spears living up to her promise; though that doesn’t detract from its other qualities as an exhilarating and undeniably ‘Britney’-sounding pop song.
That said, the big (and ironic) surprise on Britney Jean is just how un-Britney it sounds. In the past, Spears has created albums packed with the kind of forward-thinking production and robotic vocal tics that only she could pull off, whereas now she seems to be imitating those who once looked up to her.
The Sia-penned piano ballad 'Perfume' - easily the most personal thing here - feels like it was once optioned for Rihanna, while she switches into Katy Perry/Kelly Clarkson mode on 'Passenger', a fists-in-the-air anthem co-penned by Perry that is one of the LP’s strongest tracks but somehow still feels like it doesn’t belong.
Elsewhere, she reverts back to EDM-ney with the help of the record’s executive producer will.i.am on the wafer-thin tranceathon 'It Should Be Easy' and menacing Euro-pop banger 'Til It's Gone' - a song that should have served as a blueprint for the entire album - while her much-hyped alliance with William Orbit on the soothing opener 'Alien' isn’t quite as swoopingly epic as he’s capable of. Still, its refreshingly honest lyrics (“There was a time I was one of a kind”) and fragile delivery are a mere hint at what could have been. - GW
Rebecca Ferguson: ‘Freedom’ - Album review
It’s very rare for former X Factor stars to receive both commercial and critical acclaim for their debut album. That said, one such moment did occur back in December 2011 when Rebecca Ferguson released her first collection Heaven. As well as getting five star reviews for its soul-drenched balladry, it found itself being certified double platinum and making ground on an international scale. I loved it - and still do - but it left me wondering, ‘How the bloody hell does Reb Ferg top this?’
I don’t know what they put in the water in Liverpool, but somehow she has done it. Don’t be fooled by your first listen of lead single 'I Hope'. The lyrics might leave much to be desired for an uplifting ode to moving on, but on repeated listens its pounding beats, rousing piano and repetitive hook get lodged in your brain. That’s the point though. Rebecca’s moved on from the heartache in her debut, and she’s not afraid to parade her new-found confidence throughout the remainder of Freedom.
Whether she’s tackling issues with her former management on 'My Freedom' (“You won’t take the freedom out of my life”) or proving a point using questionable tactics on 'Fake Smile' (“Put on your short skirt and show him what he missed/ We’ve all done it anyway”), Rebecca’s voice - which still remains seductively smoky - is determined, strong-willed and a far cry from the shy quiver during her time on The X Factor.
That voice continues to be in the spotlight throughout the record, whether it’s splashed with gospel and brass on album highlight 'My Best' or euphoric Massive Attack beats on 'We'll Be Fine'. What’s more, it blends perfectly with John Legend on duet 'Bridges'; a heart-tugging ballad complete with slowly building strings and piano. It’s a credit to Rebecca’s talent and firm identity as a modern soul artist that she is able to work with a respected figure in the industry.
While Freedom is proof that the critical applause for Ferguson’s debut wasn’t down to a fluke, it also cements the idea that talent show contestants don’t have to be a flash in the pan. We all knew Rebecca had an incredible voice from her very first audition, but since then she has developed into an artist who can produce incredibly good albums - and now we’re left wondering once again, ‘How the bloody hell is Reb Ferg going to top this?’ - GW
If the title hints at a frilly chick flick about love and forever, then the opening two minutes of Bridesmaids quickly and very wittily knocks aside those expectations. Kristen Wiig (the virginal Ruth Buggs in Paul) is thrashed about the bedroom by Mad Men's John Hamm wearing little but a weary expression. That turns to despondency as she's shown the door and ends up riding it like a carousel horse because she doesn't want to bother him with showing her out. It's the start of a deliriously funny nervous breakdown exacerbated by news that her best friend is getting married.
Wiig, who cut her teeth on Saturday Night Live and co-wrote the script, is merciless in her portrayal of Annie. She appears to suffer from an involuntary masochistic impulse and Hamm (stupid as well as smug in a departure from his adman guise) is just an extension of that capacity for self-harm. Best pal Lillian (fellow SNL member Maya Rudolph) is the voice of better judgment, urging Annie to stop taking those booty calls. Of course that’s easy for her to say with her shiny new wedding ring, but the friendship feels warm and genuine, even as they profess their mutual love with raisins stuck in their teeth. Then Rose Byrne comes along as co-maid of honour…
Unlike her brassy turn in Get Him to the Greek, Byrne is all grace and elegance as Helen, Lillian’s new gal pal and a threat to Annie who grudgingly shares the task of planning the wedding. Their face-off at the engagement party is brilliantly droll as each strives to get the last word in a toast to the happy couple. But however annoying Helen is, Wiig resists lapsing into bitchiness by making herself the butt of the jokes. Her life is falling to pieces, but it’s her own drunken flailing that makes a bad situation worse and threatens to drive Lillian away. Stepping in to take some of the flak is Melissa McCarthy, hilariously butch and frisky as Lillian’s future sister-in-law Megan.
At times this plays like an oestrogen-fuelled spin on The Hangover, or one of Judd Apatow’s bromance comedies (he’s one of the producers), only because the group dynamics are more finely tuned than in the average rom-com and the laughs stem from that interaction rather than a contrived situation. Where the women must usually play it straight to irresponsible men, they have licence to goof off here, even stepping out for a hen party in Vegas (though free booze on the plane means they never get there). Toilet humour is factored in too, which wouldn’t feel so inspired except for the rare disclosure that women don’t always smell of sugar and spice.
Wiig’s brand of comedy is loud, proud and just gosh darned funny. Her crowd is also more mature than we’re used to seeing onscreen (in age only!), but she avoids the self-important pseudo-philosophising of Sex And The City. Even so, the film is no less shrewd in subverting gender roles. Having older women in the frame (Byrne aside) also means their emotional baggage carries more weight and makes for harder hitting punch-lines. But the dream of true love is not entirely dead either. Our very own Chris O’Dowd plays the man who might save Annie from herself, but their romance is only a subplot in a bigger picture. Ultimately it’s up to Annie to realise her true value. Certainly, as regards comedy, Wiig is worth her weight in gold. - GW
'Homeland' season 3 review: Brody returns in 'Tower of David'
Anyone who read my disgruntled review of las week’s Homeland will know that this episode didn’t have a lot to live up to. Even if ‘Tower of David’ hadn’t been a detailed, intriguingly downbeat episode in its own right, it would be an improvement in my book purely by virtue of not featuring any heinously out-of-character racism or a single moment of Dana.
But these parallel stories of Carrie and Brody hitting rock bottom, having both glimpsed hope and had it extinguished within a day, were genuinely compelling.
That’s right: Brody! Brody’s back! And he’s more fun than ever!
The reintroduction of Damian Lewis at this still-relatively-early stage was a welcome surprise, since it was becoming easy to picture a scenario where he was kept as a mid-season trump card. I still don’t know where his travels have taken him over the past few months, but I know where the end of the line is: an unfinished Venezuelan apartment building full of squatters, junkies and perverts. And an improbably glamorous girl in Daisy Dukes, natch.
The entire subplot with Esme’s crush on Brody felt pretty hokey - I know Lewis is hot, but as far as she’s concerned this is a bald, possibly insane stranger who’s mostly bleeding all over her floor. And yet within 24 hours she’s begging to run away with him. Brody has got some moves.
But in all seriousness, Lewis was firing on all cylinders here, beautifully selling the absolute physical agony of his wounds and later the emotional anguish of his situation. He knows he will die in this place if he doesn’t get out, and although his sudden mosque epiphany felt a little odd, it made sense that he’d be just desperate enough to convince himself that a safe place still existed. And in one of Homeland's most expressly bleak turns to date, his escape attempt only gets a mosque full of innocent people gunned down.
So having initially refused to take more heroin because it kept him from thinking, Brody ends the episode taking it willingly for exactly the same reason. His pleading “It’s like the hole in Iraq, I can’t do it again,” really brought home just how horrifying this particular end of the line scenario is for him. We know Brody isn’t going to die here, but the writers have literally (and doubtless intentionally) written themselves into an intriguing corner where it’s hard to conceive the way out.
And while I wasn’t sold on Esme, the Tower did bring with it one fascinating new addition in Erik Todd Dellums’ enigmatic underground doctor. He’s initially just a charismatic and entertainingly deadpan presence, and seems to have some real sympathy for Brody, but by the end of the episode we’ve learned he’s a pedophile and in that final speech he becomes almost demonic, condemning Brody to hell. Genuinely disturbing.
As Brody accepts that he will “die here”, Carrie is offered an unexpected escape route from her own cell in Virginia. Her response? “I would rather die in here.” ‘Tower of David’ was the last episode co-written by series stalwart Henry Bromell before his death this year (he won an Emmy posthumously for last season’s outstanding 'Q&A') and these small, shrewd parallels are where his stamp is felt most clearly.
We’ll have to wait to discover exactly who the lawyer is working for, but the prospect of Carrie being placed in Brody’s shoes – having an enemy exploit her vulnerability and try to turn her against her country - is intriguing, even if I can’t see her ever seriously considering it. But the psych ward is being drawn in such a cartoonish way that that possibility feels more plausible than it should.
I complained last week about the unnecessarily cruel use of Thorazine, an older antipsychotic with severe and sometimes permanent side effects. This week, we had the weirdly played session with Carrie and her psychiatrist, who seemed to be taking a faintly sadistic pleasure in provoking her despite her obvious improvement. Being dismissive is one thing, but saying “You’ll have to be a bit more cooperative than that” and openly threatening her with medication is borderline abusive.
But for now, Carrie isn’t desperate enough to consider turning on the CIA, and so we’re left with a very dark episode ending indeed: Carrie and Brody both in their dimly lit cells, both numbed out on their own forms of medication, both resigned to their fates. - GW
- My latest prediction is that Quinn, having declared himself “out” at the CIA last week, will be the one to track down Brody in Venezuela and bring him back. If anybody could pull it off, he could, and we already know he’s sympathetic to Carrie. And honestly, we just need more badass Quinn in our lives, particularly after this downer of an episode.
- I promise I’ll get over Breaking Bad eventually. I will. But it was impossible not to see the parallels between this ending and Breaking Bad's 'Granite State' - Carrie and Brody linked by their separate states of imprisonment much like Walt and Jesse in that penultimate episode.
- “Must be some favour,” the doctor says regarding El Nino’s loyalty to Carrie, and he’s right. What kind of history could Carrie have with this apparent lowlife?
- Bankers are really getting it in the neck on Homeland this season, between last week’s evil HLBC suits and this week’s egomaniacal David, in whose unfinished tower Brody has been left to rot.
- Was the law firm paying off Carrie’s nurse, or was she just genuinely sympathetic to her plight?
Jessie J: ‘Thunder’ - Single review
"We just started writing and had it finished in about half an hour before I went to the airport to fly home from New York," Jessie J recently said about the making of her new single ‘Thunder’. After a lukewarm reception to her second album following the tremendous breakout success of her 2011 debut, the singer is all too aware the she needs to win over the masses with another “big moment” once again. With that in mind, is her latest power anthem really the song to help her achieve her goal?
We all know Jessie J can belt out a note or two, but the gliding electronics and cloud-rumbling beats on ‘Thunder’ allow it to soar higher than ever before. “You make my hands shake/ I watch the glass break/ Around my guarded heart tonight,” she confesses in a lovelust whirlwind of ’80s pomp, resulting in a storming piece of atmospheric pop forecast to climb the chart. It’s proof that sometimes the best pieces of work really can come about in a lightning bolt moment of creativity. - GW
'Atlantis' episode 3 review: A bull leap in quality for BBC's drama
Sometimes, it’s good to show a little faith - and I’m not talking about prayers to the Greek gods. Just as this week’s Atlantis sees our heroes forced to vault slathering beasties, so the show itself also takes a big leap.
Jason (Jack Donnelly) lands himself in trouble when he leaps to the aid of an old peasant being beaten by Heptarian - a sneery noble of royal blood. Dragged before Alexander Siddig’s ruthless King Minos, our hero - plus his erstwhile chums Hercules and Pythagoras - are sentenced to serve as bull leapers and must dodge the deadly beasts in the city arena, for the entertainment of the baying masses…
Warriors facing death, arena politics and the ever-present threat of violence - ‘A Boy of No Consequence’ sees Atlantis transformed into a PG-rated Spartacus, right down to Sarah Parish filling the Lucy Lawless role of saucy schemer.
The bull leaping scenes are impressively staged - the odd moment of Mark Addy slapstick aside - and overall, there’s a much-needed sense of action and peril present here that previous episodes of Atlantis have lacked.
The brutal murder of Cyrus (Ciaran Griffiths), for example, is genuinely shocking moment. Series masterminds Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy have spoken of their desire for Atlantis to emulate big-screen family blockbusters and this week, tonally, the show truly hits the mark for the first time.
'A Boy of No Consequence' also boasts a terrific guest cast - with Christopher Obi a clear standout as Nubian prince-turned-powerful warrior Shabaka. A comeback for Shabaka is a must - as a character, he certainly has more mileage than the smarmy, one-dimensional Heptarian.
Generally, the character work in this week’s Atlantis is much-improved on previous week’s efforts. Hercules was in real danger of becoming a one-note comedy buffoon, so it’s a relief to see Mark Addy given a wider breadth of material to play here - the scene in which he passionately defends Jason to Minos is exactly the kind of thing I’d like to see more of.
Aiysha Hart - who until now has been required to do little except look pretty and regal as Princess Ariadne - also gets some meaty scenes this week, while Jemima Rooper’s Medusa - though all-but-absent from the episode’s first half - is neatly worked into the narrative later.
Atlantis hasn’t ironed out all of its script bugs, of course - Pasiphae practicing black magic doesn’t exactly help quell criticisms that the show is a poor man’s Merlin.
You’d think that Greek mythology - with its gods and monsters - would be a rich enough source of inspiration that Atlantis could avoid delving into the realm of sorcery that its predecessor already ploughed so thoroughly.
It might also have been more satisfying if writer Howard Overman had had the confidence to kill off Emily Taaffe’s tormented Elpis, while Jason is still a lad from the 21st century who speaks like he’s from the 16th, with his modern-day roots feeling so irrelevant at this point that you almost wonder why they were included as part of his back-story at all.
But ‘A Boy of No Consequence’ remains the strongest Atlantis offering yet - a solid slice of Saturday night family entertainment, devoid of many - if not all - of the problems that have plagued the show in its previous two weeks. - GW
Leona Lewis ‘One More Sleep’ single review: Sweeter than a Christmas pud
As Mariah, Wham! and Slade will tell you, if you record a popular Christmas anthem, you can basically guarantee an annual end-of-year bonus for life. It’s a wonder more of the world’s biggest artists don’t try their hand at an original festive number, but with the current culture of X Factor winner’s singles, novelty sing-alongs and Gareth Malone’s choirs dominating the Christmas chart, maybe there’s good reason for them to not waste their time.
It’s ironic then that it’s a former X Factor champion who heads up one of the best original Christmas singles in recent music memory. “I’ve got five more nights of sleeping on my own/ Four more days until you’re coming home,” Leona Lewis trills over a Motown sway of xylophone and jingle bells; her angelic tones perfect for the season of goodwill. “Three more dreams of you and mistletoe/ Two more reasons why I love you so,” she adds, anticipating the return of her beau. It results in a twinkling ditty more heart-warming and sweet than a Christmas pud, which has every chance of becoming a festive staple itself. - GW
'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' review
How many faithful literary adaptations are also great movies? The Venn diagram intersects less often than you think; as a rule, the most celebrated big-screen translations are those that dare to take liberties with their source material, the most famous example still being Peter Jackson’s loving but substantially reworked take on The Lord of the Rings.
For director Francis Lawrence, who takes over the reins here from The Hunger Games’ Gary Ross and will direct two further sequels, Catching Fire is a lose-lose scenario. Change too much from Suzanne Collins’s beloved, nuanced second novel and he risks alienating a passionate fanbase (what few omissions there are have already rankled some). Change the bare minimum and he’s left with a structurally problematic story of two halves: a slow-burn political thriller that U-turns jarringly into wall-to-wall action set pieces for its third act. As an adaptation of Collins’s Catching Fire, Lawrence’s film is close to faultless. As cinema, it’s solidly engaging but consistently underwhelming.
That’s not to say Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt’s script isn’t written with depth and clear love for its characters – Jennifer Lawrence remains a compelling and grounded presence playing a newly skittish, haunted Katniss, who’s struggling to adjust to a life of plenty after winning the Games.
Her defiant joint victory alongside Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) having sparked a revolution amongst the oppressed citizens of Panem, she becomes a target of the Capitol and in particular Donald Sutherland’s creepily avuncular President Snow, a man from whom the phrase “I want us to be friends” sounds terrifying.
Peeta has thankfully been tweaked into less of a damp squib, and there’s some shrewd deepening of his previously lacklustre relationship with Katniss – forced by Snow to carry on their fauxmance for the Capitol’s cameras, the pair simultaneously forge a genuine bond over their shared trauma. Similarly compelling is her more paternal dynamic with mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), and Capitol lackey Effie’s (Elizabeth Banks) growing conscience. Among the new recruits, only Jena Malone stands out as the straight-shooting Johanna, whose pragmatism goes some way towards compensating for Katniss’s newly sentimental streak.
But where The Hunger Games had a strong self-contained narrative, Catching Fire plays ultimately like two and a half hours of setup – its downbeat cliffhanger of a climax was a perfect gut punch on the page but here leaves you aching for emotional resolution. The pair are ultimately thrown back into the arena to fight against fellow victors in a very special anniversary edition of the Games, but the survival instinct that made Katniss such a potent protagonist before is watered down here in favour of a half-baked desperation to keep Peeta alive ahead of herself.
What Lawrence’s direction does deliver is a physical dexterity that pays off in the third act’s onslaught of assorted peril, and a visual lushness that emphasises the importance of water throughout the story. There’s also a paranoid tone to the dystopian horror; Snow and the mysterious Plutarch Heavensbee (played by an unengaged Philip Seymour Hoffman) check in intermittently on our heroes via surveillance footage, in a trope that becomes crucial to Katniss’s eventual quasi-victory.
Catching Fire succeeds on a great many fronts, not the least of which is pacing – despite its hefty running time it never feels less than lean and efficient. But it strays too often into unearned melodrama and by-numbers plotting, with even Lawrence struggling to sell some of Katniss’s more abrupt emotional shifts. Fans who want to see a story they already love brought vividly to life won’t be disappointed, but there’s nothing here to engage the uninitiated. - GW
Calvin Harris & Alesso feat Hurts: ‘Under Control’ - Single review
It’s undeniable that Calvin Harris is the current king of British dance music. Oh heck, he’s fast becoming the top dog across mainstream music in general, after achieving nine Top 10 hits from his latest album 18 Months, bettering a record previously held by Michael Jackson. While his new cut doesn’t feature on the aforementioned album - take a breather, Guinness World Records - his chart dominance isn’t showing any symptoms of slowing down.
As we’ve come to expect from a trademark Calvin number - which this time hears him team up with Alesso and Hurts frontman Theo Hutchcraft - it’s a blood-racing club anthem that will have you reminiscing over Instagram snaps taken in sunnier circumstances. “I might be anyone/ A lone fool out in the sun,” Theo muses, before the track launches into a thumping chorus destined to soundtrack rounds of Jägerbombs come New Year’s Eve - or in Calvin’s case, celebrating yet another chart hit to round off 2013 with. - GW
Marvel’s ‘Agents of SHIELD’ episode 2 review: ‘A fun, glossy package’
It’s an unfortunate truth that soon after it becomes trendy to like something, it becomes trendy to bash it, and last week’s debut episode of Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD had its fair share of naysayers.
Personally though, I loved it. The pilot episode was, I thought, an epic genre treat - the Marvelverse meets Buffy - and my only concern was whether the show could keep up the quality week in, week out.
Week two’s outing ‘0-8-4’ - which follows new consultant Skye’s “first day at school” as SHIELD uncover a powerful piece of forgotten tech - is all about Coulson’s new team. Fractured and frequently at each other’s throats, our heroic sextet break apart before uniting against a common threat and coming back stronger than ever.
It’s a tried-and-tested device - as is the ‘Skye as reluctant mole’ sub-plot - but it works here, repackaged with a new and very pretty lick of paint.
The flaws in the show that critics picked up on last week are, it has to be said, present again in ‘0-8-4’ - Clark Gregg remains great value as Coulson, Chloe Bennet ‘s Skye is as sparky and fun as she was last week, while Iain de Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge are an adorable bundle of fun as charming duo Fitzsimmons.
But Brett Dalton is a little bland as hard-headed Grant Ward and Ming-Na Wen’s Melinda May might get more of a chance to unleash her kung-fu skills this week, but never threatens to develop anything approaching a personality - she’s a bad-ass blank slate.
Still, the whole thing is put together with such finesse, in such a fun and glossy package, that you find yourself forgiving the show its flaws. Hopefully the few problems the series has currently will resolve themselves, but for the time being, there’s more than enough here - action, laughs and geeky nods to the wider Marvel universe - to keep us watching.
It may essentially be a glossy procedural, but there’s nothing else like Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD on TV - at least not currently. It’s a weekly comic-book thrill-ride and two impressive weeks in, I’m going to keep on saying nay to the naysayers.
Oh, and I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning Samuel L Jackson’s fantastic Nick Fury cameo - as much fun as it is to name-drop Iron Man and the Hulk, scenes like this really help to solidify the link between Agents of SHIELD and the Marvel cinematic universe.
A movie / TV crossover on this scale has never really been attempted before - it’s something genuinely new and exciting, and how often can you say that about something on US TV these days? Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson… I can’t wait to see who turns up next. - GW
Make mine Marvel! - This week’s Marvel easter eggs include… references to Captain America, Tony Stark, Thor’s hammer, the Tesseract, HYDRA *and* gamma radiation.
Coulson lives! - More hints this week about Phil’s big comeback. The way he keeps repeating that Tahiti mantra (“It’s a magical place”), it feels almost like a pre-programmed response. Almost… robotic?
Rebecca Ferguson ‘I Hope’ single review: “A smooth soul number”
It’s been a turbulent couple of years for Rebecca Ferguson since she placed second on The X Factor back in 2010. While her debut album Heaven was certified double platinum in the UK and allowed her to travel the globe, she has also faced love life woes, been conned out of money and parted ways with her previous management - so it’s no surprise to hear her in a reflective mood on the lead single for her second outing.
Musically, ‘I Hope’ continues the star’s penchant for a smooth soul number, but lyrically, Ferguson has more fire in her belly. “‘Cause after a time you realised that it ain’t easy/ ‘Cause after a time you realised that you should’ve believed in me,” she tells her past flame, rising above the ashes of a messy relationship to forgive his neglect.
Ferguson’s smoky tones are tinged with heartbreak, but with a new-found defiance and another chart-worthy midtempo track in her possession, she is burning brighter than ever before. - GW
'X-Men: First Class' review
Prequels to successful franchises are a precarious proposition. Who can forget the turgid mess of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace? The key, as with almost every triumphant movie, lies in the script. Fortunately, X-Men: First Class possesses quality writing that wrings out every drop of emotion and exhilaration from the superbly structured story, deftly interweaving epic action with an undercurrent of social and political themes spawned from its mid-20th Century setting. The wisely character-driven script is done justice by the outstanding casting choices of the fledgling mutants, while Matthew Vaughn’s direction is appropriately kick-ass in nature.
The childhoods of the future Professor X and Magneto provide the starting point for the movie, as the young boys are depicted in wildly contrasting environments in the 1940s. Charles is enveloped in a life of affluence when we first encounter the mind-controller, showing compassion to the future Mystique and Smurfette lookalike Raven. Concurrently, his future nemesis Erik Lensherr is tortured in a Nazi concentration camp by the cruel Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), who is intent on unlocking the traumatised lad’s metal-bending powers.
The action jumps forward to 1960s America and the backdrop of the Cold War. Charles and Erik first meet each other in the dampest of circumstances during an imaginative nautical set piece - and a close bond forms between them. The superpowered duo set about finding fellow mutations around the globe, but the deftly established emotional differences in their upbringing soon come to the fore. Charles is only too happy to turn the other cheek, while Erik is very much an ‘eye for an eye’ kinda guy. Revenge is certainly on Erik’s mind when his former tormentor Sebastian Shaw shows up in town, embroiled in a nuclear war plot hatched in his Hellfire Club alongside his own pack of mutant cohorts. I can’t really say much more without hitting the Spoiler Overload button, but explosive confrontations lie ahead…
The decision to cast Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy as the leads was a masterstroke. The gravitas they bring to the production is palpable and enables the movie to intricately balance the psychologically authentic with the aesthetically fantastic. One of the movie’s standout scenes occurs when Charles delves into the mind of Erik and experiences the suffering he endured as a child. The pain and tears etched on the faces of both actors lingers in the memory long after the end credits have rolled. Yet the pair’s differences form an increasingly prominent part of the plot, with the mesmerising and intense Fassbender juxtaposed with the low-key pensiveness of McAvoy. Their interplay also delivers much of the witty script’s humour, especially during a blistering montage of their mutant hunting that includes the immortal line - “More tea vicar?”
Kevin Bacon was a fine choice to play the villain, wisely steering clear of camping it up and instead exuding understandable - if deplorable - motivations for his dastardly deeds. Jennifer Lawrence also excels as the troubled Raven, who is less than happy in her blue skin. Someone should have told her that she has a great career lying ahead as a performer in Eiffel 65 music videos. Tedious pop culture references aside, the character’s development during the narrative is fascinating, bolstered by her ‘will they/won’t they’ romantic subplot with Nicholas Hoult’s ‘Beast’ (which is not a euphemism!).
As with his direction of the pacy Kick-Ass, Matthew Vaughn instils a dynamic edge to proceedings with his sublime camerawork. The action sequences grow in stature and scale as the movie progresses, culminating in a breathtaking battle of the skies and the waters between several warring factions. Splitscreens are also well used at certain points, although the gimmick-free moments of understated poignancy are when X-Men: First Class really soars. Crucially, Vaughn’s direction is unobtrusive at these points and foregrounds the actors’ skills, rather than falling into the trap of trying too hard to push the audience’s emotional buttons by being heavy-handed and overwrought with his mise-en-scène. Henry Jackman’s magnificent score also plays a vital role in enhancing these moments in a subtle manner, and waiting for the set-pieces to ramp up the volume.
The only notable flaw in this fabulous production is the miscasting of Mad Men’s January Jones as Sebastian’s telepathic ally Emma Frost. The gorgeous actress will undoubtedly be responsible for puddles of drool (amongst other fluids) spewing forth in the cinemas this summer, but she simply lacks screen presence and exudes total blandness. It’s like watching a lobotomised Betty Draper walk around in a bikini. Still - cracking eye candy.
X-Men: First Class has noble intentions beneath its glossy sheen, as its impressive subtext confronts what it means to be different in a society in which conformism prevails. This loosely mirrors its own identity as a movie, being an all too rare beast - an action blockbuster with rollercoaster thrills and laughs that has a fundamentally intelligent core. Fine acting, perfect direction and a couple of audacious cameos work wonders too. Oh, did I also mention that it adds masses of extra routes in the Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon game? - GW
One Direction’s new album ‘Midnight Memories’: What’s the verdict?
The trouble with being a pop phenomenon adored by teenage girls everywhere is that a majority of the audience outside of that core fanbase refuses to take the music 100% seriously.
One Direction received scoffs and sarcasm when they teased a more “mature” and “rockier” sound for their third outing in as many years. We all know the boyband’s latest collection will top charts globally no matter what, but the question is, does it deserve to on musical merit alone?
When I first heard lead single 'Best Song Ever' back in the summer, those claims of maturity seemed dubious at best, despite the track being a sugary, addictive treat. A more serious singer-songwriter approach was notable on follow-up 'Story of My Life', a folk-washed and reflective anthem that warmed hearts across all time zones.
The remainder of Midnight Memories falls somewhere between the two, allowing One Direction to echo past hits while embracing their place as five growing adults in the world of pop.
1D’s proven formula of a soaring chorus and just the right amount of cheekiness is highlighted perfectly on title track 'Midnight Memories' as the group flag down an Addison Lee cab for a night of partying antics in the capital. Along with the pulsing electronics of 'Diana' - complete with its heart-reaching sentiment - they are primed for an explosive reaction at Wembley.
Where One Direction show growth, it comes arm-in-arm with beats and banjos. 'You And I' is a rousing guitar-led declaration of defiance (“Not even the Gods above/ Can separate the two of us”), while 'Don't Forget Where You Belong' chronicles the group’s ascent to global stardom while they assert that their feet are still firmly on the ground. This time out, the emotion has more depth, the lyrics feel more personal, and the songs sound more considerate to their own personal tastes.
As for that “rockier” sound they promised, fans don’t have to go much further than 'Little Black Dress'. “I wanna see the way you move for me, baby,” the guys chant over jaunty electric guitar that results in stomping British rock for the YouTube generation. It’s proof that if you’re willing to look beyond the pop phenomenon hype and teen-focussed sheen, the music isn’t half bad. -GW