Super 8

I know this feeling, I’ve had it before. It happened when I saw “Jurassic Park” at ten years old and told my parents I was going to direct films one day, and again when I saw “The Lord of the Rings” movies and realised the place I wanted to make them was in New Zealand. It was in the moments after seeing “Inception” and being in disbelief that someone had made a summer movie requiring the audience to think, or seeing “District 9” and realising big things are possible even from smaller and less costly packages. It was the shiver down my spine in the first “Transformers” movie when I believed I might walk out of the cinema and see robots walking around in the street and so too, was it in “Super 8”. Oprah calls it an “ah-ha” moment. I call it the fire in my belly that tells me to be a filmmaker.

After managing to avoid spoilers, interviews, message boards, film clips and anything aside from the film trailers I had seen, I went to see “Super 8” tonight. I felt this was one film that deserved to be watched as a film without paying attention to the hype . I had been burned by J.J. Abrams too many times before and I was not about to let it happen again. However, I would be lying if I said I went in with low expectations. I had seen some definite signs over the last few days that the film had lived up to the hype and as cautious as I was, it gave me enough optimism to go alone on opening night and buy a ticket.

Let me first say, I think a few moments of silence and appreciation are in order here just for the fact that J.J. Abrams has finally told a complete and coherent story that means something. Not only does it mean something, but it means something to me. I will try to avoid giving too much away in terms of plot, but the story follows a group of teenagers making a zombie film on their Super 8 camera together. One night, their filming location turns to a scene of disaster when a passing army train crashes and derails, releasing something (we don’t know what) into the wilderness.

In talking about this film, I almost don’t know where to begin aside from saying that the overall feeling I took away from it was a sort of “Goonies” for filmmakers. It felt like a love letter to almost every one of the movies from Spielberg’s heyday, and yet simultaneously managed to carve out enough identity of its own for it to be one of those great movies “they just don’t make anymore.

I do have one negative thing to say about the film and I should get that out of the way. It was the occasional blue lens flares in the Cinematography, which I felt had been overdone in “Star Trek”. Yes, it might look pretty sometimes but it was definitely out of place at times in a film like this that isn’t set on a space ship and I really don’t like it when it’s blocking the faces of characters you are trying to look at. That aside, this is brief and takes place at a point early on in the film rather than repeatedly showing up to be distracting.

The movies I mentioned above are all ones that gave me a shiver down my spine and prompted the voice in my head telling me, “this is why I do it, this is why I can’t do anything else, this is why there is no plan B”. Just like my climbing up the back of the seat at 10 years old from the excruciating tension as Velociraptors stalked kids in a kitchen, or when tears streamed down my face at the visual spectacle of an army of men on horses charging down a mountainside at Helm’s Deep; this is what real movies are made of. This too, is one of those movies, one of those movies that will  more than likely make 10 year old boys all over the world want to make films. Perhaps the reason I sense this is because in many ways, I still feel like I am that 10 year old with a childlike enthusiasm who wants to make magic, who wants to create an illusion and suspension of disbelief in others. Sure, I am much more of a cynic and am far more jaded about Hollywood and the film industry than I was when I was a kid, but all it takes is a film experience like this to make it easier to ignore and be worth carrying on regardless. It’s not that watching “Super 8” or others mentioned made me want to make movies just like them, it’s that watching these films has driven me to work on making a film as good as those ones are. I think that’s an important point to make, it’s not about imitation so much as it is about achieving the same level of quality in my own work.

Performance wise, the young leads are all fantastic. I don’t think I’ve seen a young male lead carry a film quite as well as Joel Courtney since Henry Thomas (aka Elliot from “E.T.”). I can’t quite believe this was his first acting role in a film, so much of his performance is in the powerful moments of silence and what is left unsaid. Elle Fanning also proves herself to be just as good, if not better as a more grown up actress than her sister Dakota. Any film has its critics, but the wonderful thing about films sometimes is that two people can see a movie and depending on what has happened in their life, where they are from or how they were brought up, they may react or relate to it in a totally different way and have completely opposite opinions.

In 2005, my dad passed away abruptly from a heart attack; one day he was there and the next day he was not. It was an incredibly difficult time in my life in which I could barely communicate with my mum or brother because they were internalising a lot of their grief. Aside from the first day it happened, I don’t think I saw my mum cry about it again and for a long time that just seemed to be gasoline to a fire of angst, grief, anger and uncontrollable emotions for me. In my opinion, “Super 8” is not a monster movie about a mysterious creature wreaking havoc in small-town America, it’s not even a film about young filmmakers trying to make a Super 8 movie. To me, “Super 8” is a film about loss, a film about the damage that not dealing with that loss can do to the family members left behind and ultimately, learning to let go of those we miss now that they are no longer with us.

A parent’s untimely death is like a train crash, and in the aftermath of that crash, nothing makes sense and weird things happen, people say things they don’t mean or don’t say anything at all, tempers fray and everyone is just trying to get through, trying to survive and live in the hope that tomorrow will be a better day. However, it is only at the point when we face that fear of letting go and allow ourselves to start feeling again, to keep on living life, that the chaos and confusion will end and a sense of calm and peace can be restored.

Thank you J.J. Abrams, that was quite something.

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The Cheryl Cole Factor

Cheryl Cole first came into my life as Cheryl Tweedy, the cheeky Geordie as a contestant on a UK show called Popstars : The Rivals which was a spin-off show of Pop Idol long before the phenomenon that is now American Idol. As one of the audience favourites on the show, she was the first one voted into the girl band and always had heaps of personality and enthusiasm. That girl band was Girls Aloud and they became one of the most successful girl bands since The Spice Girls in the UK but to date, they have not found the same kind of fame overseas.

A couple of years ago, Girls Aloud took a break and Cheryl was offered a place as a judge on The X-Factor and quickly became a crowd favourite. Around this time she married famous UK footballer Ashley Cole and they were soon dubbed the new Posh & Becks. That’s not a good thing though really, it just meant the media had found a new couple to obsess with, write lies about and generally attempt to make as miserable as possible; oh joy. Unfortunately, it was revealed within the last year or so that Ashley had cheated on Cheryl and after taking him back following the revelation, a further four cases of infidelity were the final straw and they divorced. As you would expect, the UK tabloids and gossip magazines had a field day.

During filming of The X-Factor auditions last year, Cheryl fell ill and collapsed after contracting the worst kind of Malaria on a trip to South Africa. Cheryl was literally told by her doctor that there was a very real possibility that she could die and this wasn’t just for headlines or drama – it was the truth.

Over the last few weeks, magazines and blogs have reported about Cheryl Cole and said things like “she told a friend” and then quoted her as saying things she has probably never even said. It would be so exhausting to keep up with denying all the trash talk that I guess you would have to ignore it after a while.

In every interview and on clips on the X-Factor that I have seen, Cheryl seems like the most lovely, charming, charismatic and fun person to be around. She’s cheeky, has a bit of attitude (in the best sassy kind of way) and when people like Rihanna, Katy Perry and LOVE her, then I don’t see how she can be this horrible selfish person the media has made her out to be.When someone is betrayed by their husband multiple times and then almost dies, that kind of thing is dealt with in private instead of on the front page of the daily newspaper.

This clip of Katy Perry confessing her love for Cheryl after doing a bit of irish dancing always makes me smile:

The problem with the world today is that people so readily seem to believe what they read in the tabloids, gossip magazines and online. Many of the articles written about celebrities these days are angled or spun in such a way to bully and induce hatred or envy about them and that is something I don’t agree with at all. The UK tabloid press and gossip magazines are particularly bad at doing this as well as the American media and blogs such as TMZ and Perez Hilton. How Perez Hilton had no idea he was being a bully for so many years is beyond me, but perhaps that hits on a deeper issue which is to say “just because people have money, it doesn’t make them any less human”. 

People have said things like, “oh she’s got a million pounds to fall back on, why should I feel bad for her?”. Well, I do, because I’m human just like her and I appreciate that it’s probably harder to take a fall like that in the public eye than it would be if I lost my job. My friends and family would know about it, but the whole world wouldn’t have an opinion and be telling me what to do.

I’ve also seen far too many people saying “she can’t sing” or “why is she a judge anyway”, “she’s an unknown” and thought I would make a few points if I may:

1. Cheryl Cole isn’t famous enough to be a star in America

Simon Cowell was unknown in America until someone gave him a chance to be a judge on a talent show. I had no idea who Kara DioGuardi was until someone put her on American Idol, the same goes for Randy Jackson. Not everyone has to be a star, it’s more fun sometimes to see someone becoming a star. Isn’t that why we like watching these shows? Why not have a lesser known judge from another country, especially if it’s from the originating hit show?

 2. Cheryl Cole can’t sing

She can sing. Okay, so it’s not in the same league as Aguilera but she is just as good as Britney, if not better at singing live than her. Jennifer Lopez might be more successful right now than Cheryl Cole, but can she sing much better live? Can Paula Abdul sing much better live?

3. Cheryl Cole doesn’t have enough experience

As far as I know, Cheryl Cole is the ONLY X-Factor and talent show judge so far who has herself been a contestant on a talent reality show prior and can therefore understand what each artist is going through better than anyone else. To me, this is the most important thing that makes Cheryl Cole a great judge and also, she is still a pop star, a multi-platinum selling solo artist and a member of a successful girl band. Out of the other panelists on X-Factor USA she was the only current recording artist as the others were to include a record company mogul, a record producer and a former Idol judge who can barely talk coherently and makes me wonder how she is going to be able to mentor people. Something else I should mention is that Cheryl has had the winning act twice as a judge on The X-Factor two years in a row in the UK and last year she came 2nd, so she must be doing something right!

4. Cheryl Cole can’t be understood by Americans

I think this was a silly reason for someone to suggest, especially since the host of the show is a Welsh unknown called Steve Jones. Not all Americans find people who don’t talk like them hard to understand as they have accent variables in their own country anyway. However, even if this was the case, wouldn’t it be a bold and encouraging statement to put someone with a different accent on the show? Many Americans find regional British accents charming.

5. Cheryl Cole lacks personality

In the latest report about Cheryl being confirmed as leaving the show, this was the excuse used to justify it and the one that really made me mad. You can say you want a more successful recording artist on the panel, say anything really, but if you say that Cheryl Cole lacks personality and then replace her with Nicole Sherzinger who is to me, a complete charisma-bypass, then that is just an entirely false and disingenous thing to say. The girl is personality plus, can hold her own with Simon Cowell instead of giggling like a school girl or sitting there with her mouth hanging open. If Simon teases her or is rude to someone, Cheryl tells him “don’t start!” or “no, I think that’s really rude!”. That’s why I love her, she has an opinion and she DOES have a personality.

I have been watching rival show “The Voice” online and whilst I don’t think the artist talent they have found has been particularly inspiring or exciting enough to blow my mind, the one thing I do respect about the show is that it features a judging panel of music ARTISTS. Not only that, but ones who are massive superstars who can sing live very well; Christina Aguilera, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, Cee Lo Green and Blake Shelton. If the X-Factor USA had done something along those lines by having a panel of strong recording artists instead of being such an obvious clone of American Idol then I might have been willing to give it more of a chance.

If you are still having doubts about Cheryl Cole and believe all the press about her, then I highly encourage you to watch this interview she did with Piers Morgan last year. As for Fox and The X-Factor USA, I won’t be watching it now – will you?

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Rip ‘n’ Roll

It was just a few days ago that an Australian friend posted a picture on Facebook of the now infamous same-sex ad posters for “Rip & Roll” which featured two fully clothed men embracing. Their comment was along the lines of saying how heartening it was to see posters like that able to be advertised in the world we live in today.

This was short lived though as a flurry of complaints came in from a small number of concerned people, primarily an extremist group of Christians who objected to seeing these posters in their communities. Such groups do NOT represent the wider views of Christian people or their beliefs, but are a minority of people who somehow decide they can speak on behalf of everyone else and God him/herself and condemn all those who are not like them. It’s all a part of protecting their perfect little bubble world of ignorance and hate. I was so sure that committing hateful acts and doing evil were the work of the Devil and loving someone else and wanting to live your lives in peace as an accepted part of society together was fine.

I made the mistake of sitting down with a cup of tea and reading through some of the complaints people sent in. Perhaps it wasn’t a mistake, I needed a laugh and it was some of the most entertainingly clueless drivel I’ve read in a long time. To think this came out of people’s brains onto a keyboard is both scary and makes it all the more funny to me. If you feel like joining me, go ahead and read them for yourself:

I thought I would go through some of the comments and concerns raised in these complaints and dispel some of the myths and assumptions that have been made in them.

“Kissing the neck is homosexual foreplay”
This is indeed correct, and as you will also find in the heterosexual varieties of homosapiens, kissing the neck is a common technique used in showing affection to a fellow mate. As such, teaching the youth of today about the wonders of neck kissing is hardly going to damage them – that is, if they aren’t doing so already.  

“The only reason homosexual men need condoms is because their sexual intercourse carries with it a very high risk of serious disease”
Again, this might be true to some extent, but the highest infection rates are taking place in heterosexuals these days. Homosexual men are not the only ones who can get HIV, just saying. As such, saying that “the only place this message should be seen would be to practicing homosexuals” is actually completely incorrect. Any promotion of safe sex, no matter what orientation it applies to, is a good thing. Otherwise, the world will end up like THIS, but with less singing and more crying.

“The majority of parents are seeking to prevent their children from being pre-sexualised”  
Is that even a word or term? If it is, it shouldn’t exist because it’s a myth. A poster, a music video, a song or idol cannot determine your sexuality. This is something that comes from within a person, not as the result of some outward force.

Is it? Your children are going to grow up and meet people who are gay, go to school with them, work with them etc. You are making their life that much harder by not allowing sexuality to be introduced as a fact of life early on, if you can’t explain it in simple terms that some girls love girls, some men love men but mostly men and women love each other then I think you’re failing your children as a parent. One day they may well end up hating you for it, or people you never meet will hate you for it because your child picked on or beat up their child coming to grips with their sexuality. Also, if your son or daughter ends up being gay then how will they know what’s happening if they know nothing about sexuality because nobody introduced it to them? I myself got bullied at school by a number of intolerant kids who probably didn’t know any better.

“let parents teach their kids about sex and condoms at the appropriate time”
Point taken, but there is no sex happening in this ad. A young child who sees it might ask their mum or dad why the men are cuddling, and may ask what “sex” is since it is written in tiny writing on the poster. However, since the word condom is not mentioned on the poster and if they haven’t seen a condom before they will be totally oblivious to what it is for. Really, if you’re not ready to explain to your son or daughter what it means yet then just make something up. It’s not rocket science!

“is very publicly, promoting to our impressionable youth & children, an unhealthy lifestyle choice”
My immediate reaction to this entry was: f**k. you. However, that isn’t particularly healthy but I do feel much better having got that out there. What the hell does “impressionable youth” actually mean? If you put up posters encouraging them to jump off cliffs, will they do it? How about keeping their rooms tidy? Didn’t think so. If anyone in this day and age still thinks that being gay is a lifestyle choice then they either don’t have internet access or they have their head stuck so far up their own backside that they can’t hear or read. There really is no excuse for this kind of ignorance anymore and it totally infuriates me when I read these comments, after all, why would I or anyone else choose a life of being an outcast and make life even more difficult when looking for love? Also, how is it more unhealthy than being heterosexual? I don’t see the difference when it relates to health, except in the case of contraception and safe sex applies in equal measure to both homosexual and heterosexual people.

“As a Catholic (along with 25% of the nation) it is quite contrary to my beliefs. I believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman and I feel this ad is advocating for something other than this”
Until gay people have 100% equal rights under law to marry or be in a union that entitles them to all of the same legal rights that marriage affords a spouse, then it needs to be advocated for. Same sex marriage is one of the final hurdles in the civil rights movement, can you imagine banning black people from being allowed to marry each other just because you believe marriage to be between a white man and a white woman? It’s the same thing.

“I do not believe in using contraception to manage my fertility, the man is wearing a cross, the very biggest symbol of Christianity. I feel like this is a direct attack on my own beliefs and is tearing down what we stand for”
They also ranted for another sentence after this along the lines of “for the love of the Children and all things Holy, take the ads down please!”. To this person, I would like to ask one thing : are you saying no gay people are allowed to be Christians? Do you even know what Christianity is about? The teachings of Jesus were about love and acceptance and to not judge others. I personally am not a “believer”, but I try my best to respect the beliefs and views of others. However, to imply that someone who is gay and being a Christian is somehow attacking the religion is just insecurity and bigotry in its purest form. Oh, and even if it were some kind of attempt to “tear down” what you believe in, it’s not going to change your mind about it so why do you care so much unless you are actually just incredibly insecure about your beliefs and feel a need to defend them? I’m pretty sure Jesus would be face-palming right about now.

“Suggests that homosexual intercourse is safe with the use of a condom”
So, how is it unsafe exactly if the right precautions are being taken? Sex of any orientation is unsafe without a condom and with a condom, it is safe. It is correct to say it’s not 100% safe with a condom, but that’s not exclusive to homosexual intercourse.

“promoting the use of condoms to encourage blatant promiscuity and a dangerous lifestyle is a message I don’t wish to be subjected to on a daily basis, much less any children”
Yeah, it’s all drive-by shootings and gang wars in rainbow land for sure, it’s dangerous as bro – I should get a tattoo. Promiscuity huh? The poster does not feature multiple men, and in fact just shows two men embracing and wearing a ring as a sign of commitment. How does one deduce promiscuity from that? Assumptions based on stereotypes that children would know nothing of, and therefore would be oblivious to. If you don’t wish to be subjected to this on a daily basis, I suggest shutting your eyes when crossing the road, perhaps natural selection will work its magic? 😉

“it endangers children’s morality and their health and the subsequent health of our society”
Oh, the humanity! Gay people are such awful human beings, always raping women, murdering people and abusing young children huh? Oh wait, got my demographics mixed up for a moment there. I don’t see how anything in this sentence had any basis in reality so I shall leave it at that.

There are over 25 very similarly written complaints about the ads talking about what an abomination they are, but most of all, I feel badly for any of these people’s children who turn out to be gay and might have been plucking up the courage to come out.

To be around such closed-minded parents and seeing them react this way to a picture of two men hugging will likely scare them into hiding their sexuality even more, or worse, feel like they are a bad person and not want to risk the rejection and end up doing something with tragic consequences.

In summation, I would like to say that if I saw a poster of Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy together at a bus stop, I find it doubtful I would go seeking a relationship with a frog or a pig. Why not you ask? Well, because I’m not attracted to frogs or pigs, go figure!?

Thankfully the ad company who took the posters down after the complaints has experienced even more outrage about them being removed so they have decided to reinstate them again. Still ridiculous and depressing that any of it was even necessary though!

It doesn’t matter if you love him or capital H.I.M – God makes no mistakes.

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And We’re Back…

I’ve been conspicuously absent from the blog this month and must apologise for people coming back regularly. I haven’t felt particularly inspired to blog despite a number of things going on worthy of comment. However, after a year of blogging non-stop and then being on a bit of a creative juggernaught too, I felt it was time to take some time out and just take a chill pill and recharge.

I took part in the 48 Hour Film Festival for the first time this month too and we got the Musical genre which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Luckily, out of all the genres we were in the best position for it in terms of the team members we had access to and so we decided to do a musical comedy/parody that pokes fun at how much America has influenced New Zealand culture. I’m sure we’ll be posting it on YouTube come July.

The heat screening on Sunday night got a hugely positive reaction and lots of people in the audience were laughing, but ultimately we didn’t place in the audience favourite awards. I don’t really know why, but the only reason I took part in 48 Hours was to say I had done it and that I had survived. To have turned in a half-decent short on time that was entertaining is a winning achievement in itself I think. Plus, I always regard audience reaction as being what I take the most satisfaction from, not really the awards or reviews afterwards. Sure it’s nice and looks good on your CV or bio, but what really is heartening is when something you think will make people laugh, and that makes you laugh, does the same to others.

I also got an eye infection the other week which meant I was signed off work for a week and spent most of that time pressing a hot cloth against one of my eyes and not wanting to do much else. The eye is on the mend somewhat but still swells up every now and then, I am just hoping I won’t have to go back and have what I had last time which was a very painful injection into my eyelid of steroids/antibiotics. Here’s hoping!

I attended some of the International Comedy Festival shows in early May including Mark Watson who gave me my favourite new nickname as the “Master of Disguise”, Danny Bhoy who made technical difficulties at his matinee hilarious and the delightful Sarah Harpur. We released a Kate Bush “Wuthering Heights” parody, it’s more like a tribute really, which I directed for Sarah Harpur’s show, check it out below as it’s already up to 1500 views on YouTube:

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A little monster’s review of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”

So, I’ve just listened to a publicly streaming version of the latest Lady Gaga album Born This Way (the standard 14 track edition, not the special edition version which has got three additional tracks on it). I decided to give it the once over and a fan review since I am a huge little monster myself and have been a big Gaga fan for some years now. However, let this review be proof that I am by no means a blind fanatic. So, here goes my take on it having now listened to 14 of the tracks:

1. Marry The Night (6/10)
This song sounds a lot like those cheesy disco songs of the 90s, it reminded me of This Is The Rythm of the Night by Corona and is a fairly generic dance club track. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an enjoyable track and will probably grow on me over time, but it’s not grabbing me the same way Telephone or Bad Romance did the first time I listened to my copy of The Fame Monster on the day of release. 

2. Born This Way (9/10)
As the title song and lead single from the album, I don’t care what rhetoric there is out there about this song, it is one of the best songs from the album and one I still listen to often. The message may seem contrived, but if you look past that and just see it as a pure and well-meaning pop song, it works. There have been many Madonna comparisons, but I personally don’t hear those in the song when the production effects are stripped away and it is just sung by Gaga live on the piano. It has a beautiful and all-embracing message so I say cynics be damned. Positive and empowering songs that also have something to say socially have become a rare find in pop music these days, so I always think it’s important to applaud a song like this for its good intentions even if it is a bit on the nose (and that was intended).

3. Government Hooker (8/10)
One of my personal favourites from the album since I heard it previewed during a Mugler fashion show some weeks ago, this song has a much darker and urban sound to it which is where the songs on this album really excel. Born This Way and The Edge of Glory share this too and it is somewhat reminiscent of the sound and style featured in Bad Romance. Perfect for use in a fashion show, it’s a song with real swagger – a song that was made for strutting down the street like a superstar with it playing on your MP3 player.

4. Judas (7/10)
I have always thought this song has had a jubilant and celebratory sound to it, which is odd considering that it is a song about constantly loving the wrong man. Still, if you take away all the religious symbolism and treat it as a song about a woman repeatedly going back to the guy she knows is wrong for her then it works well as a metaphor. Not one of the best Gaga singles, but it’s certainly still a catchy tune and the video for it was one of Gaga’s best.

5. Americano (7/10)
When this song was played on the piano at a gig in Mexico it had so much more impact than the produced dance track version featured here. It’s still a catchy track, but suffers somewhat from being turned into a club tune with a heavy beat when it would be so much more exciting to listen to as a more subtle and powerful ballad or piano piece. In its current form as a sped up dance track, it loses a lot of the soul and attitude it had when I first heard it played live and gets lost in the production.

6. Hair (5/10)
The first time I heard this song, the production values on the track unfortunately overpowered the lyrics and made it difficult to make out what Gaga was singing. After hearing it now, it sounds better and clearer than the first listen but the synth melody is distracting and obnoxiously happy sounding at times. This track has attracted remarks from many people online that it sounds like the kind of thing on the end credits of a Hilary Duff movie and I can certainly see why people would think that. Since this was a song about identity and defining who you are (I am my hair), the expectation was for something far more rebellious than this. It does grow on you though.

7. ScheiBe (8/10)
A fairly abstract track that starts with lyrics spoken in German, this was used in the Mugler fashion show to play underneath the clothing coming out and worked really well then. If you can get past the parts spoken in German which can feel somewhat pretentious at times, there is a catchy melody hiding underneath it all that rears its head every now and then and makes it quite a fun listen.

8. Bloody Mary(4/10)
A song I would possibly leave playing on the stereo but not really remember or actively decide to listen to, this song is the first song on any Gaga album that I feel is just an album filler. I find that disappointing as there are quite a few other songs and demos floating around online that I wish had been on this album as they are far superior to this.

9. Bad Kids (5/10)
This song starts off showing some promise of being a rebellious anthem with the guitar riffs but ends up swaying between bubblegum pop in the chorus and then back to a darker tone during the verses. Interestingly, the verses of the song sound far more exciting and edgy than the chorus or bridge.

10. Highway Unicorn (Road to Love) (8/10)
Having the mix of great melody and urban sounding electronica, it feels more authentic and part of the songs that belong on this album. The hook and chorus are quite catchy and I can see myself listening to this and not skipping past it on my iPod.

11. Heavy Metal Lover (4/10)
The verses and opening of this song just didn’t really make me feel like listening to the rest of it, it just took forever to actually get started. I did sit here in the hope that a hook or catchy sound was going to emerge but the processed voice effects make it feel like more of a transitional track or another album filler rather than a standalone track.

12. Electric Chapel (7/10)
This song has a strong sound to it and the heavy guitar playing underneath the track is interesting, it feels like this is a road trip song or motorcycle gang theme tune. When listening to the album, this is the track that seems to match the album cover the most. I don’t know if I would intentionally select this track to listen to but it’s perfectly listenable.

13. You And I (8/10)
This track should have been a 10/10 but the hand claps in the background immediately conjure up elements of Queen’s We Will Rock You and detract from the strong melody. This song is easily one of Gaga’s best and should have been my favourite from the album but the production on this song ruined the sound and energy making it far better when it was played live during The Monster Ball. In actual fact, the studio version sung by American Idol Top 3 finalist Haley Reinhart a few weeks ago blows this official version out of the water and is actually, quite shockingly, much better and the one I will likely choose to listen to when I want to hear the song.

14. The Edge of Glory (10/10)
There is no other way to say this other than stating it outright: this is the best song on the album. Not only is it a song written from the heart about the final moments of her Grandfather’s life, but Gaga has given it an uplifting and nostalgic quality that makes sense given the emotional subject matter. This song feels like an 80s throwback tribute song and a great song to describe the moments of realisation that come to a person at the end of their life on feeling at peace with the knowledge that they have lived a pretty good one. The saxophone solo interlude is an inspired addition that merely serves as the cherry on top. The first day this song came out, I listened to it on repeat for two days and consider it a modern-day pop masterpiece.

So what’s the verdict? Is this the greatest album of our generation? No. Is it a good album with some really good songs on it? Yes.

There are around 8 really great standout tracks on this album. Compared with The Fame, which was an album that could be left to play all night and was filled back-to-back with songs that could have been hit singles, this does not feel up to that same standard. I recall a while back Gaga saying that all of the songs here could be hit singles and I don’t see how that’s possible from the final album tracks I’ve heard. As a collective piece, perhaps listening to it as a cohesive body of work all in one go is the way it is best enjoyed, but as separate tracks this is not an album of hit singles by any means.

The Fame Monster had 8 tracks and almost all of those could have been released as great singles (Bad Romance, Monster, Alejandro, Speechless, Dance in the Dark, Telephone, So Happy I Could Die and Teeth). There are still 8 really strong tracks here but they have been diluted and overcrowded by competing tracks that feel more instrumental and experimental in style rather than being songs crafted to stand on their own merits (or in some cases, the production effects have overpowered what could have otherwise been a great song). The leading 8 songs from Born This Way that I think would perhaps have been better as an album on their own are: Born This Way, The Edge of Glory, Government Hooker, You and I, Judas, Americano, Hair and Sheibe.

I have to say that the omission of one particular song called Livin’ On The Radio was quite a big upset to me when the track listing was announced. This was a song Gaga played on tour as a piano ballad similar to You and I and it was a very strong and tender piece of songwriting with a great melody. I only wish we got to see more of that Gaga on this record instead of even more overproduced dance tracks and heavy thumping beats that seem to have started to drown out the talent of this remarkable female music artist.

7/10, but that rating may have been even lower if it wasn’t for the strength of The Edge of Glory, Born This Way, Government Hooker and You and I (ignoring the nasty production on the album version and just judging it on its merits as a song).

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Fear of Forty Eight Hours

After managing to avoid taking part in the V48 Hour Film Festival for the past few years, I have finally succumbed and decided to join a team after being convinced it would be a good idea. I think the reason I have always avoided it in the past is because it’s supposed to be all about having fun, and I knew I would take it far too seriously and also not be happy with what we ended up with; I would want to win and also thought that I would not end up with a film of winning quality given the constraints the competition puts on entrants.

Perhaps it is the competitive spirit in me, but for whatever reason, I found that to be a turn off. However, this year I guess having had some success with “101 Dates” overseas, I don’t feel the same pressure of need to turn out something of artistic brilliance – not so much because I am resting on my laurels, but more because winning the V48 Hour Film Festival would not mean a “big break” and I think I recognise that more now. It’s also meant I don’t have much to lose by taking part anymore because I have had recognition for my work elsewhere and so working on V48 Hours I can just relax and have fun with it. To be honest, if we end up with a film at the end of the weekend I will be pretty stoked just to have achieved that!

In previous years, I have also turned down being involved because the teams I would have been joining were made up of a huge team of people who were going into the competition wanting to win. I don’t believe that is ever the mindset you should go into making a film with, you should always be focused on making the film as good as you can but not think about how well it does until it’s completed. Otherwise, I think you second-guess yourself and end up making a lot of decisions not directed by creative instinct, but because you think they will make the film have more appeal or acclaim. That’s where things can usually fall apart, because making those sorts of decisions often kills the passion you might have for a project and without passion, it just becomes an empty and shallow vessel pandering to the critics.

I also thought that with teams that were taking it too seriously, I would get caught up in the same mindset as them and I knew that this would turn me into a monster, and nobody wants  or enjoys being a monster on-set, except perhaps Michael Bay or James Cameron. As such, I held onto my motto “filmmaking should be fun” and decided that only now, only now that I can enjoy the experience for the silly and frantic hot mess it will likely end up being, only now that I can decide and intend to have fun with like-minded folks, did I sign on and decide to take part. 

To show we are keeping a sense of humour about the whole thing, our team is called Seriously Tanked. It’s a mixture of Seriously Entertainment and Sherman Tank Productions (the company names of me as Producer and team captain Joseph Sherman-Mendez). It’s also a play on words for tanking at the box office, or in the competition. If we fail to get the film made or get cut out in the early heats then we are just living up to expectations created by the name and if we end up doing well, then it will merely be something fun and ironic.

Have you ever taken part in the V48 Hours film festival? Have you ever held yourself back from doing something because of reservations you had about it or it being bad timing?

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American Idle

Well, I’m back. I needed some time to recharge my batteries after blogging constantly for a year, so I decided to take a breather. To get back in to the swing of things, I thought I’d take a look at this season of “American Idol” and what is now their Top 3 as I don’t think I’ve ever got so emotionally invested in a season of “American Idol” since I started watching it.  

Haley Reinhart

I won’t even try to deny it, she is my favourite. Haley has been my favourite ever since Casey Abrams left the competition a few weeks back and I first recall being particularly taken with her vocal abilities when she sang “Blue”. However, I have had her version of the Adele song “Rolling in the Deep” playing on my iPod the most ever since she sang it on the show.  The unfortunate thing is, the judges on the show, particularly Randy Jackson and Jennifer Lopez, don’t appear to appreciate how good this girl really is.

Jennifer Lopez keeps saying “hey baby” which I find to be a rather patronizing nickname since she is now the oldest member of the top 3. I keep waiting for her to turn around and tell JLO to stop calling her that, because I sure want to. Haley Reinhart auditioned for Idol in Season 9 but was not put through at the first stage. However, she came back a year later and this time got through to the Top 10. Along the way, she has been in the bottom three many times, hasn’t cried once or relied on sob-stories to get her votes and has endured some of the most unfair feedback for performances in Idol history for ones that were far better vocally than any of her counterparts (aside from perhaps Pia Toscano before she left the competition).

Haley was allowed to perform an unreleased Lady Gaga track on the show the other week called “You and I” which is my own personal favourite track from the new Gaga album so far. The performance of that song fit her voice perfectly and showed the kind of artist she would be by performing a lesser known song and putting her spin on it. To call it unknown is silly though, most Lady Gaga fans have heard the song by now (she has played it on her tour for the last 6 months). However, judges Randy and Jennifer proceeded to say that choosing an unknown song was a risk that didn’t showcase her voice and Randy said he’s not so sure it’s even that good of a song? I was left with my mouth agape saying “oh-no-you-didn’t?!”.

If Simon Cowell had been there, I’m sure he would have said that the song choice was risky, but it worked for her and showed exactly the kind of artist she could be, she showed herself to be modern and relevant.

However, it was this week where the gloves really came off at the end of the first round of performances by the Top 4. The judges were asked who came out of that round the best and Randy remarked that it was a tie between “James, Lauren and Scotty”. He singled out Haley to the point where she was visibly upset by it, she didn’t cry, but was clearly trying hard not to let it bother her before the commercial break. She has also been criticized by some as having a bad attitude after talking back when Randy had said her version of “Earth Song” needed runs that were outside her range (she told him it was not the top of her range). He also said it sounded like she was shouting the song at the end – but Michael Jackson does the same shouting thing in his version using the same notes she did (she remarked that she wasn’t sure she should even have changed that). Something just doesn’t add up here.

In the process of the feedback and unfair singling out, I’ve lost total respect for Randy Jackson. The judges on this show have been playing favourites (James Durbin only received 6% of negative feedback given by the judges this season vs 46% given to Haley). I actually feel like the only one who seems to be fair and unbiased out of the three judges is Steven Tyler, who is often on another planet but occasionally comes down to Earth and dispenses a few gems.  

Lauren Alaina

When I first saw this girl’s audition, there was something magical about her singing an Aerosmith track to Steven Tyler and I don’t think vocally she has ever got back to that sweet spot. Way back then, she was keen to impress and really wanted to be put through – hence she was willing to take risks. Since then, we have had a string of performances that are okay, not awful, not sublime, just okay. She is a young, sweet girl who doesn’t realize her vocal ability and is also so afraid of failure or not being liked by someone that she seems unwilling to find out.

Taking that a step further, at one point she was worried about singing the word “evil” and remarked “I don’t want America to think I’m evil”. I mean, really? The coyness and effort to try and be universally likeable actually gets sort of irritating after a while, even if she does seem like a nice girl at heart. After all, she was very kind to say in an interview that Haley had the best voice out of the remaining top 4, apologizing to the other two guys in the process. I can’t see James or Jacob having said that, this did show a certain degree of selflessness about Lauren that has to be admired. However, there was the issue of her saying she focuses on the negative when she gets feedback instead of the positive, when you’re out there in the big bad world of the music industry, it’s not all cotton wool and candy – you need to have the ability to take it on the chin, have thick skin and broad shoulders sometimes.

This made me think that Lauren could be in for a very rude awakening and might not be ready for the big time just yet. When she ended up in the bottom two for the first time, she burst into tears on stage when waiting to hear if she made it through or not – so if she can’t handle that kind of pressure, how is she going to cope in the industry if she wins and has even more to deal with? Again, I don’t dislike Lauren, but I just wish she would live up to the potential she showed earlier on in the competition.

Scotty McCreery

Scotty McCreery is the other country singer and only guy left in the competition, no doubt due to a large tween following due to his baby face looks and family-friendly Christian values. At a homecoming concert held for Scotty this past weekend a famous country star called Josh Turner showed up to lend a hand and sing with him (therefore endorsing him in the process). Unfortunately, Scotty was the only one out of the three singers who was blessed with the presence of their own music idol which seems to me like blatant favouritism and slightly unfair for the producers to have allowed it without the others getting something similar.

Scotty seems a nice enough lad and attributed his strength to God for getting him through the last few months. That would be fine but it always feels to me like he has turned himself into some sort of hybrid caricature of a country singer, like one of those impressionists who pokes fun at the genre. Add to this the lip curling, strange facial expressions and curious sideways microphone handling and it makes him somewhat jarring and cringe-worthy to watch, at least to me it does. That’s not to say he doesn’t have a good singing voice, he does, but this voice has vocal range limits and the big 100 million dollar question is – what is so special or unique about it? I can shut my eyes and listen to a record by Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks or Josh Turner and not be able to tell Scotty apart from them. That’s probably where he falls down the most for me, and also the fact that he refuses to sing anything but a country song in the competition – just like Lauren, Scotty seems unwilling to take risks and show any true range for his talents.

As an aside, I also found it somewhat disrespectful when he said he felt like he needed to kiss his cross after meeting with Lady Gaga, who gave him some fantastic feedback by the way. Newsflash: Lady Gaga is not the Devil! Suddenly it left me with this impression of him being some sort of misinformed loony redneck and I suspect it left a lot of other Gaga fans with a bad taste in their mouth feeling somewhat unimpressed too.

The problem facing both Lauren and Scotty here is that Interscope is the music label for the Idol winner this year and they have no country music acts on their label at all, they’re a poor match for each other and either of them winning could actually prove to be detrimental to their careers by being stuck with a more urban pop label like that. Sounding like other country music artists might be a good thing for the country music genre, but is that really what “American Idol” is about? Isn’t it supposed to be about finding the next great recording artist? Isn’t a recording artist supposed to have a voice that is instantly recognizable and distinctive, perhaps their own style but someone who can truly be able to sing anything? Aren’t they supposed to have great vocal range and abilities?

I think that was also the issue facing earlier surprise outcast Pia Toscano, she had an amazing voice, but it did not have any unique sound or flavour to it. When you hear Cher, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Celine Dion or Tina Turner you instantly know it’s their voice on the song. Could the same be said for any of the Top 3 on Idol this year? That was the question I asked myself and the answer I came up with was: Haley Reinhart. That’s why she has became my favourite along with her strong vocals and natural swagger. Fingers crossed America wakes up and smells the Reinharts too!

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