Pop Arts Recommends…Gregory Porter

This month’s Pop Arts Recommends subject is the sublime Gregory Porter.

I first encountered Gregory via the Alex Lester show. Lester regularly plays some lesser known artists and the first time he played a Gregory Porter track, I fell in love. Porter has easily the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard (I will totally stand by this) and the way he soars, tiptoes and glides through his songs is still mesmerising to me.

Below is ‘Be Good (Lion’s song), the first Gregory Porter song I ever heard and still one of my favourites:

Porter has a gift of making jazz seem more accessible. Lots of people are put off by the mechanics of jazz music, but something about the honey in Porter’s voice makes it seem warm and easy. His songs are stories; they are creative, interesting and vibrant.

Gregory talking about his career and love of jazz

Read some chats with the man himself, at NPR and at Stiehl/Over. It’s impossible to feel bad and listen to Gregory Porter. Just try:

Being awesome on Later…with Jools Holland

I hereby challenge you to have a fully functioning soul and not be moved by Gregory Porter’s voice. Listen and spread the word.

Culture Vulture (Or: Meanwhile, on the Internets)

Hello and happy Thursday everyone! Below are some links to culture-y stuff I’ve enjoyed recently. Go forth and click away…

Have you read the brilliant Anne T Donahue’s amazing Old Lady Movie Night series for Hello Giggles yet? Anne watches the great ‘classics’ of her youth and her commentary is both accurate and hilarious. Her viewing of Jurassic Park is a highlight.

Following on from the first Pop Arts Recommends being Friday Night Lights a couple of weeks ago, take a look at Matt WatchesDefinitive List of the Best characters on Friday Night Lights.  I am in total agreement with his top 10 – great choices.

I’m a bit of an infographics geek, so this new exhibition at the British Library looks amazing. Beautiful and informative!

The Brit Awards are always a tad on the cringy side; I generally spend the whole time bracing myself for secondhand embarrassement. I managed to get through this year ok, with only Katy Perry’s English accent causing pain (thank you TiVo fast forward) and I enjoyed the BBC’s rundown of the night even more.

And finally, in connection to last Thursday’s post, read Kerry‘s description of what sounds like the best Galentine’s Day ever.

Film Review: Safety Not Guaranteed

Safety Not Guaranteed is a typical indie film in that it contains all of the following: misunderstood central character, oddballs, nerdy guy/girl getting some love action, tragic backstories. It was also sweet, weird, funny and magical and I have to say, I really enjoyed it.

I came to the film by way of the cast: Aubrey Plaza plays the central role of Darius (I’m a massive Parks and Recreation fan), with support from Mark Duplass and Jake Johnson (of ‘Nick Miller, Nick Miller’, New Girl fame). The basic plot was as follows: Darius is an unhappy, lonely 20-something, interning at a local magazine. There, the opportunity to help writer Jeff (Johnson) on a story about an ad placed in a paper’s classified that reads:

Wanted: Somebody to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. P.O. Box 91 Ocean View, WA 99393. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before

Intrigued, they (along with fellow intern Arnau) seek out the would-be time traveller, who turns out to be local eccentric Kenneth Calloway (Duplass). Kenneth is secretive, awkward and completely committed to the idea that he can (and will) travel back in time; specifically to 2001. Darius volunteers to go undercover, getting to know Kenneth and his plans. As she is more accepted by Kenneth however, the more drawn in by his ideas she becomes.

I liked the central conceit of the film (anything that involves serious suspension of disbelief usually works on me) and I also really enjoyed how Kenneth’s unswerving self-belief in what he’s doing begins to affect the other characters. They all began to look at their lives and question what (if anything) they were as passionate about. Darius has spent her whole life feeling isolated and disconnected and with Kenneth, she begins to open up. As she gets deeper into the adventure and her feelings for Kenneth develop, she starts to wonder whether he’s telling the truth.

The film keeps you guessing until the very end as to what will happen when Kenneth actually tries to time travel. Little nuggets are revealed throughout that add credibility to the story, but it’s never clear whether that is coincidence or fate. As the film goes on, however, you begin to feel that credibility isn’t really necessary; Kenneth believes and that’s all that matters. The loveliest thing about the film for me was the meeting of minds between the two leads. Both Darius and Kenneth have been chronically misunderstood and overlooked their whole lives. They have regrets about the way things have gone and in meeting each other, find someone who understands the desire to change things and who appreciates them for who they are. It’s a nice reminder that however awkward and out of place we might feel, we always have people waiting for us somewhere.

Culture Vulture (Or: Meanwhile, on the Internets)

Twice a month on a Thursday, I’ll be linking to my favourite pop cultures articles and features. Let the linking commence!

I was so sad to hear about Philip Seymour Hoffman. Read some reflections on his work

I LOVED the introduction and development of Mary on the BBC’s Sherlock. Read Vulture’s interview with the lovely Amanda Abbington

I’m a complete nerd about ‘actor spotting’ which is what I call my remembering actors from a five minute guest appearance on Law & Order and then spotting them when they show up in a crowd scene in The Avengers (Doesn’t everyone do this?) Anyway, this article at Refinery29 consequently made me very happy.

We’re planning a Veronica Mars celebratory highlight/marathon/quote-fest in anticipation of the movie coming out, and this guide will definitely come in handy.

And I know this has been everywhere, but I still love it: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Tina Fey.

Theatre Review: Ellen Terry with Eileen Atkins

When: 27th Han 2014 / Where: Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe

Shakespeare’s Globe has recently added another performance space to their site: the Sam Wanamaker playhouse, so named for the man that started the campaign to rebuild the Globe. One of the first performances to be shown is Ellen Terry with Eileen Atkins, which I went to see last Monday.

First off, the playhouse is utterly beautiful. It has been painstakingly designed and built and, in true Globe fashion, is built in the mould of a 16th century playhouse. It is an intimate, candlelit venue that apparently seats 350, but seems smaller than that.

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 (contraband photo taken from my seat)

I sat in the ‘pit’ which had benches that curved around the ‘pit’ space, meaning that all audience members sat there had to turn to see the stage. Luckily for me, I had the seat at the end of the row, so could completely turn to face the stage. I was also less than a metre away from the edge of the stage, which was a little intimidating at times! The performance was Eileen Atkins, playing Ellen Terry, giving a lecture on Shakespeare, and particularly Shakespearean roles for women. The source material is a series of lectures actually written and given by Terry in her lifetime, which Atkins has combined into an impressive one woman show stopper. What we frequently got was the rather magical trick of Eileen Atkins playing Ellen Terry while also playing Juliet. Or Rosalind. Or Desdemona.

From the moment Dame Eileen (as I will refer to her from now on – it’s more fun) strode on stage, with a magnificent grey curled wig and wearing an electric blue velvet suit, I had a feeling we were in for something a bit special. We were treated to Ellen Terry ruminating on her acting career from a child onwards (including a wonderful story about a miscalculated stage trap door) and talking about Shakespeare and the roles he wrote for women. From there on in, we get a Shakespearean lady acting masterclass, both from our imagined version of Ellen Terry and from Dame Eileen, who performs at least 11 major female roles (plus a few of the major male ones too, and some more minor characters). She doesn’t just stick to monologues, but enacts whole scenes before us, switching from character to character, making alterations in voice, stance, body language, mannerisms, accent and attitude to convey the differences. Dame Eileen (who is 79) convincingly manages to portray Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing), Rosalind (As You Like It), Viola and Olivia (Twelfth Night), Portia (Merchant of Venice), Cordelia (King Lear), Ophelia (Hamlet), Desdemona and Emilia (Othello) and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet). She also includes portrayals of Othello and Lear, along with several others.

Watching Dame Eileen move from character to character is extraordinary. She snaps right back out of character very suddenly and often to comic effect, which just adds to the impressiveness of her performance. There was a very real sense that we were watching an actress still at the top of her game at nearly 80. The audience hung on her every word and the electric effect of her presence endured throughout (despite mobile phones ringing and some sort of odd beeping coming from the ceiling). An unusual performance, in an unusual space; the performance was a brisk 75 minutes and well worth a watch, if you get the opportunity.

Book review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor & Park has to be one of the loveliest books I’ve read in a long time. I bought it as a Christmas present for myself (What? People can do that) and took it away on holiday, consequently staying up half the night to finish it.

Eleanor & Park is primarily a love story between two teenagers, neither of whom feels like they fit in, either with their families or at school. Eleanor is the new girl at school and Park is begrudgingly kind when the other kids turn on her. This kindness turns into friendship between them and gradually into a tentative romance.

The story is set from 1986/’87 and alternately told from both Eleanor and Park’s points of view. Park’s dad is American, while his mum is Korean and he feels slightly separate from his peers due to his mixed ethnicity. Their casual racism only heightens his feeling of distance. He feels like a disappointment to his father, for not being as traditionally ‘macho’ as his dad.

Eleanor is a tall (the description of her makes me think Amazonian, truthfully), eccentrically dressed redhead who is living with her four younger brothers and sisters, mother and step-father. Eleanor has recently returned from living away for a year, kicked out by her step-father, who is a constant menacing presence. Both Park and Eleanor feel isolated and unable to be themselves. After Park allows Eleanor to sit next to him on the school bus, they begin to bond over a combination of comic books and music, Park delighting in sharing all of his favourite things with someone who appreciates them as much as he does and Eleanor giddy that someone would so willingly share with her.

The slow drip feed of friendship into love is realistic and incredibly sweet. The excitement each gets from just holding hands is evocatively described and Rowell beautifully captures the aching agony and joy of teenage romance. What’s really brilliant about this book is that this is more than boy meets girl, happily ever after hurrah. Both characters gain something from the other; become better and stronger. They each love the other for all the things they dislike in themselves.

Park finds strength from Eleanor to come out of his shell and be who he wants to be. Eleanor finds in Park some self-belief and reliance, reminding her that she is special and doesn’t deserve the cruel taunts she gets at school or the terrifying malevolence of Richie, her step-father. Rowell builds the aura of fear surrounding Eleanor’s home and Richie slowly; dropping hints here and there, each new bit of information more awful than the last. The more you know of her home life, the more you feel the warmth of Park’s family, who are kind and loving. The more you understand what Eleanor is hiding from, the more precious her time with Park.

Rowell has written not only a great love story, but a great story about what it is to be a teenager and to feel alone and how much brighter the world seems when you find someone who understands and makes you that little bit less lonely. The story is funny, moving and intelligent and lingers with the reader long after you’ve finished.

Pop Arts Recommends… Friday Night Lights

A new feature for a new year! On the last Friday of each month (although, technically this post just missed that Friday deadline), I will be posting a recommendation of stuff I love; TV, film, music, books etc. We kick off with what might be the greatest TV show ever – Friday Night Lights

For the uninitiated, Friday Night Lights is a US TV show that was originally a film, which was based on a book (Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H. G. Bissinger). The show ran from 2006 – 2011, lasting five seasons. It was – ostensibly – about a high school football team in rural Texas. Oh, but it’s really about so much more than that!

People who watch FNL tend to be fanatical. It’s not a show that you tune into when there’s not much else on, it’s a show you watch an entire season of in one day, not stopping until 3am (true story). One of the wonderful things about the show is how utterly involving and compelling it is, despite seeming not to be about much in particular.

Our central dynamic is the Taylor family. As the show opens, Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has been appointed head coach of the high school football team, the Dillon Panthers. In the town of Dillon, this team is the heart of everything. It is the pride, their glory and builds a sense of community. As with all things people are passionate about, there is some ruthlessness to the lengths fans will go to, to protect ‘their’ team and what they feel it stands for. The show does a great job of exploring why the success of that team means what it does to the wider community and how dangerous it can be to forget the players (the oldest of whom would be 18) while thinking of the ideal of the team.

And this is why Coach Taylor is our way in, the show’s true hero: because he never forgets that the kids he’s coaching are still kids. As much as he’s teaching them how to be great players, he’s also teaching them how to be adults. Friday Night Lights has become famous for Coach Taylor’s inspirational speeches and there is a danger they could be cheesy, but somehow, they always seem unforced and kind, rather than grandstanding. I think much of this is due to Kyle Chandler being totally brilliant in this role, for which he (eventually) won an Emmy.

The foil to our Coach is his wife, Tami (beautifully played by Connie Britton). Tami is never just ‘the wife’ character, there for our hero to tell his problems to. She has her own career, which progresses across the duration of the show, a complicated relationship with her teenaged daughter, Julie (Aimee Teegarden) and is juggling the strains and stresses of being the coach’s wife. Coaching the team brings with it a bright spotlight, not just for Coach Taylor but for his whole family.

They are our central point, our anchor throughout. For the purposes of the show, the rest of Dillon exists around them. This means that many of our other lead characters are high school footballers. But as I said, this is not really a show about football. How they behave on the field and within the team often correlates with what’s happening elsewhere in their lives. These are young men, glorified for their sporting skills, but struggling to cope with the demands of the real world. We have Jason Street, former star quarterback, navigating a life very different to the one intended for him; Tim Riggins, bad, lacklustre attitude towards…almost everything, more concerned with partying than his future and with only his older brother around, he lacks any sense of responsibility – except on the field; Matt Saracen, shy and sensitive, caring for his ailing Grandmother and nursing a crush on the coach’s daughter, Smash Williams, full of bravado and ego but carrying the weight of expectation and Vince Howard, criminal record and a troubled background, but with the opportunity to make a better future for himself.

But it’s not just about the boys: Lyla Garrity, cheerleader, perfect girlfriend, now struggling to cope with major changes; Tyra Collette, self-styled ‘bad girl’ who nobody expects to do anything with her life and Julie Taylor, rebelling against her image as the coach’s daughter and carving out a role distinct from her parents’.

I could go on and on; other major and minor characters that populate the team and town throughout the run of the show, each one fully realised and nuanced. The show does it’s best to show the complexity of human nature – characters frequently make decisions that you know will cause problems, but are true to their nature. Things don’t always work out, because in real life, we don’t always get what we want or live up to our full potential. But somehow, this isn’t depressing and FNL remains one of the most uplifting shows on TV. The show advocates for kindness, fairness and the idea that people can change and achieve, if given the opportunity. In the Taylors, the show has two people who are simultaneously realists, while maintaining great optimism for the young people they look after.

This is not a show about football. It’s a show about real life and real people. With a wide and talented ensemble cast, there really is something for everyone to relate to. I really, really love this show and I will continue to tell everyone I know how good it is. Plus, it has the best opening theme ever:

Go watch it!

Don’t just take my word for it, see below for more parise for Friday Night Lights

The Guardian

Women and Hollywood

HuffPost

Boston.com