Cinéma : on fait le point

On est déjà au milieu de l’année, et quelle année ! Les relations entre l’Occident et la Russie n’ont jamais été aussi bonnes ; l’Etat Islamique a franchi un nouveau cap sur la route de la philanthropie et Michel Houellebecq n’a jamais su mieux organiser la campagne de com’ d’un de ses bouquins – et pendant ce temps-là Adam recherche Ève débarque le sexe à l’air sur D8. Bref, de quoi vous redonner foi en l’humanité – j’ose espérer qu’à ce rythme-là Cyril Hanouna sera élu président de la République en 2017.

Mais ne nous égarons pas chers lecteurs et chères lectrices, car s’il y a bien une chose sur laquelle j’aimerais tourner votre attention, ce n’est pas la politique, [ni la polémique] mais les sorties cinéma de l’année. C’est l’heure de faire le point sur les films sortis après Noël dont on se souviendra [ou pas] quand on sera tout vieux et tout moche et qu’on nous reparlera de 2015. Voici ma liste – *feel free to disagree and express your opinion so that we* engageons la conversation :

Birdman-Michael-Keaton
Michael Keaton n’en a plus rien à foutre dans Birdman, alors il claque des doigts.

Chefs-d’œuvre (4/4)

  • Whiplash
  • Snow Therapy
  • Citizenfour
  • Birdman
  • Lost River

Bons films (3/4)

  • Une merveilleuse histoire du temps
  • The Smell of Us
  • American Sniper
  • Love is Strange
  • The Voices
  • Foxcatcher
  • Shaun The Sheep
  • Mad Max
  • It Follows
  • Jurrasic World

Pourquoi Pas (2/4)

  • Exodus
  • A Most Violent Year
  • A Hard Day
  • Cold in July
  • Imitation Game
  • Big Eyes
  • The Falling
  • Clouds of Sils Maria

Non, merci (1/4)

  • The Riot Club
  • L’Age d’Adaline
  • San Andreas
  • Inherent Vice

Vaut mieux oublier (0/4)

  • L’interview qui tue
  • Fast & Furious 7

Note : Remarquez le biais américano-anglais de cette liste – c’est ce qu’on a quand on habite dans une ville de merde dans un pays où on préfère zapper tous les films étrangers que de se faire chier à lire les sous-titres *bravo la mentalité.

General Election 2015: De-United Kingdom

  • An unpredictable result

The people of Britain have decided. They had the choice between a fairer, altruist society that gives a chance to everyone or one that allows the richest to become richer and condemn the poorest to become poorer. Surprisingly, Britain’s electorate has been wooed by David Cameron’s empty promises, vaguely expressed but legitimised by the long-term economic plan rhetoric – an idea suggested by his campaign strategist Lynton Crosby.

Not only did the most unpredictable election in the history of the United Kingdom lived up to its expectation, but it also shocked the country – and choked – the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats, digging Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband’s grave.

  •  Scotland says no to Westminster

What is interesting, looking at the outcome is that it shows that the electoral system benefiting the reigning two-party system in England is no longer valid in the rest of the UK. Scotland, previously heart of the Labour party, being submerged by a separatist wave of yellow is the evidence that Scots are no longer interested in a typical Labour/Tory fight. The Westminster system has always overlooked Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

At the north of Hadrian’s wall, Nicola Sturgeon is dancing to a sweet tune as she celebrates her party defeating Labour and winning 56 of the 58 seats. Scottish Labour party leader Jim Murphy and election strategist Douglas Alexander – the latter being toppled by politically inexperienced 20 year-old student Mhairi Black (pictured below) – are casualties of Scotland’s decision to break up its love affair with the Labour party and Westminster’s system.

Mhairi Black Douglas Alexander

Surely David Cameron will realise he will have to please the freshly elected 56 SNP MPs by devolving more power to Scotland or giving them a second referendum – which probably won’t happen in the next five years.

  •  UKIP and The Greens rise, Lib Dems fall

UKIP and the Greens have solicited together 16.4% of votes (more than 5 million voters), and only secured one seat each. Somehow, figures do not seem to represent the reality of an election, as suggested by Nigel Farage, where the SNP secured 56 seats with only 4.5% of votes (1.5 million voters).

However, if there is something this election has shown, it certainly is that the British political system is not fit for more than two parties and needs to change. Tories and Labours do not make the unanimity anymore. People have voiced their concern at a weak Labour party and the Tories’ decision to go down the austerity road, and turned towards smaller parties.

  •  De-uniting the kingdom

However, that rise translated into something morbid: the involvement towards UKIP massively increased – and made it arrive second in numerous seats – whereas the Lib Dems have fallen to their lowest ever score. it shows that this election was also one of fear, rejection, and selfishness, where foreigners and Europe are as much to blame as the government.

Nigel Farage

This shows that the campaign of both Nigel Farage and David Cameron based on defiance towards Europe and the free circulation of people, has seduced a fearful electorate eager to find a scapegoat.

Not only has this election shown the scission between Scotland and Westminster, but it also shows the rejection of Europe by the British people; it also shows that the south does not seem to be suffering from austerity and the increasing cost of living (Labour-voting London is the surrounded by an ocean of blue) as much as the north – which seem like a world apart.

Finally, this election has shown that a five-year Conservative government has made those that suffer turn towards alternative, radical solutions and the far end of the political spectrum. What will the next five years bring? If the boost of the economy was just a brief illusion, it might be scary to think of where the UK will be in five years time. One thing is sure though, people have had enough and want change! Not sure that is going to happen with a £12bn cut in public services programmed by the Tories…

Elections: tout est encore possible au Royaume-Uni

  • Plusieurs scénarios envisageable

Aujourd’hui, l’électorat britannique doit se rendre dans les « polling stations » déposer des bulletins de vote dans les urnes, afin d’élire les députés qui siègeront à la chambre des communes au parlement de Westminster.

À l’issue de ce vote, il sera possible d’entrevoir quel genre de gouvernement sera formé pour diriger la Grande-Bretagne. En effet, afin de pouvoir former un gouvernement viable, un parti doit atteindre une majorité de sièges à la chambre des communes (326). Alors que les deux principaux partis, les travaillistes (Labour) et conservateurs (Conservatives) sont au coude à coude dans les derniers sondages (tous deux crédités à 34% des voix), il est peu probable qu’aucun des deux décroche une majorité, et le scénario de la formation d’un nouveau gouvernement de coalition reste le plus envisageable.

  •  Un électorat peu convaincu

Le gouvernement sortant, composé des libéraux-démocrates (Lib Dems) et des Conservatives, malgré un bilan économique satisfaisant, ne fait pas l’unanimité. Et pour cause, le fossé entre les riches et les pauvres n’a cessé de s’accroitre, comme en atteste le développement des banques alimentaires et des contrats zéro-heures pendant les cinq années qu’a passé David Cameron au 10 Downing Street.

Ed Miliband, le leader travailliste risque, quant à lui, de se voir privé d’une majorité, notamment à cause de l’implantation du Parti Indépendant Écossais (SNP) au nord du pays. Ce dernier, qui a gagné en importance depuis le « non » au referendum sur la sortie de l’Écosse du Royaume-Uni séduit de plus en plus l’électorat travailliste désillusionné. Par ailleurs, Miliband a annoncé que son parti ne s’alliera pas avec les indépendantistes Écossais lors d’un débat télévisé à la fin du mois dernier. Il les accuse de vouloir démanteler le Royaume-Uni. C’est pourtant la quarantaine de sièges que les sondages prédisent remportés par le SNP dont les travaillistes auront besoin s’ils veulent obtenir une majorité. Ceux-ci pourraient aussi se tourner vers les libéraux-démocrates, à condition qu’ils remportent plus de sièges que les conservateurs. En effet, Nick Clegg, le pragmatique leader du Lib Dems a annoncé qu’il pourrait former un gouvernement de coalition avec le parti qui remportera le plus de voix.

Ainsi, le jour même des élections, tout reste possible et plusieurs scénarios sont à envisager outre-Manche, y compris celui d’un gouvernement minoritaire.

  • Les enjeux

En cas de « victoire » du parti conservateur, une sortie du Royaume-Uni de l’Union Européenne (Brexit) est plus que probable, comme David Cameron l’a promis, afin de se rapprocher des électeurs eurosceptiques de L’UKIP (Union pour l’indépendance du Royaume-Uni) et de son propre parti. Si les travaillistes de Miliband en venaient à sortir vainqueurs des élections, la croissance économique serait ralentie et les grandes compagnies surtaxées – c’est en tout cas l’avis des militants conservateurs. Certains reprochent au Labour de vouloir diviser le pays, en offrant au SNP un deuxième referendum sur l’indépendance de l’ Écosse (ce que Miliband dément en affirmant qu’il ne passera pas de marché avec ceux-ci) et de vouloir détruire l’équilibre économique du pays.

Bien que l’issue reste incertaine, cette élection pourrait bien être la plus importante pour le futur du Royaume-Uni et surtout de l’Europe.

The Dehumanisation of Politics

General election 2015 Candidates
Image taken from http://theworldforgotten.com/showthread.php?t=4666

Increase NHS spending by £8bn; build 200,000 homes; increase public spending by 0.5% a year. All these campaign promises are strikingly similar and typical of this election. They are just numbers. Worse, they illustrate a sad reality: politics is all about numbers. Hence, campaigns need to be built up around them.

After all, it makes sense. During the first half of the twentieth century, people were fighting for their rights –vote for women; strikes. During the second half they fought for social change – education. Today, they fight about economics. The twenty-first century will be the kingdom of numbers.

Politics has become a message that needs to be decrypted by economists. Yes, of course it’s important to base strategies around numbers, but these are dangerous because they can say many things. Or, to phrase it more accurately, anyone can make them tell anything. Numbers have changed their status. They use to attest of governmental success (or failure). They now serve demagogy.

The reality is that numbers have drained the life out of politics. Look at the political debates we’ve had to cope with over the past month; David Cameron justifies cuts in the public service (refusing to tell exactly where) by his long term economic plan; Miliband just wants to balance the books (that doesn’t tell us where the country will be in 5 years time); Farage proposes to cut the foreign aid budget (Migrants dying in the Mediterranean and people of Greece living in poverty are not his problem). Candidates for 10 Downing Street talk about these as though they did not mean anything. These are just dehumanised numbers that are just brought up to legitimate hard decisions that need to be made.

However, there is a danger in doing so. Similarly to the gap between the richest and the poorest in the UK, the gap between politicians and the people is broadening (and the fact that Miliband and Cameron acknowledge that they wouldn’t be able to live on a zero hour contract is symptomatic of that ordeal). If there had been a winner in the past debates, it probably would have been the audience, whom did not hesitate to challenge candidates upfront.

A decade after the first suffragettes, young women do not seem interested in politics anymore (39 percent of 18 – 24’s have voted during the past election). Numbers for young men aren’t much better (50 percent). Perhaps this reflects the fracture and the lack of trust that has occurred between politicians and voters. As a foreigner, I can’t help but wonder if all the relevant questions have been raised over this campaign. Europe isn’t talked about for the correct reasons. The debate on education is roughed up to tuition fees. Housing and health are just numbers.

However, we now live in a world were economy justifies everything (austerity and public services cuts). Maybe it is time for UK politicians to ask themselves if they are asking the right questions. Shouldn’t we talk about what the UK could bring to the EU? Isn’t education about making good citizens? Does the economy legitimise everything?

Maybe one day they will realise their speeches don’t affect the youth and they will decide to change things and make them more human. But, how do you make numbers human?

David Cameron Does Not Know What Being European Means

David Cameron

Thursday 23 April, the European summit on the question of refugees gathered leaders David Cameron, Angela Merkel and François Hollande in Brussels. A decision was made by leaders on what to do with the 3 million Syrians fleeing their country, victims of the civil war – ISIS and Assad’s regime tyranny. Whereas France agreed shyly to welcome 500 to 700 of them, Germany has already opened its doors to more than 70,000 Syrians. Although France’s contribution can be deemed modest if not hypocritical, Britain did not do much better. As a matter of fact David Cameron did worst, declaring he was not ready to welcome any of them. It is as though he forgot Britain signed the Geneva Conventions in 1949, and the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, engaging each signatory to consider asylum demands from war refugees.

This, however, is nothing new. Some might say Great Britain’s Prime Minister – or Tory candidate for the general election next week – is panicking at the idea that he might be thrown out of 10 Downing Street by the “not-so-prime-ministerial” Ed Miliband. Essentially, he wants to scrape votes from Eurosceptics within Conservative voters and UKIP sympathisers. Yes, that may well be so. It is even more likely given the fact that he has pledged to introduce a referendum bill within 100 days was he to be re-elected.

Or, it may well be that David Cameron has no idea what being European means. If Europe is one of the issues in this election and 70 per cent of Britons want a referendum, it is not for good reasons. Britain feels like it is investing too much in the EU, and is not getting enough out of it. Yet, the problem is that the UK has never really shown enthusiasm at being a member of the EU. All it wants is to benefit from it. Just look at the whereabouts – or the where-he-should-have-been-about of the PM. Where was Mr Cameron when Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko were negotiating with Vladimir Putin on the ceasefire in Ukraine? Where was he when France and Germany decided to massively fund Greece so that it could repay its debts? Where was he when the rest of Europe was pledging to participate to Triton’s rescue mission?

The answer is: nowhere to be seen. Because David Cameron wants to be re-elected PM and he would rather spend time saving his own skin than Europe’s. Peace in Ukraine, people dying in the Mediterranean whilst seeking a better life, asylum seekers; all that doesn’t appeal to him because it does not serve Britain’s best interests. To him, Britain’s best interest would be to increase exchanges with the USA, without the constraints imposed by the EU. The sad reality is that Cameron does not get what it means to be European, because he is British and liberalist first. In France, we have a saying that applies particularly well here: “He wants the butter and the money of the butter with it.”

Yes, Europe is not at its best at the moment and it is in dire need of help, but it needs Britain to be saved. However, it does not seem likely to happen if its PM hides whenever he is needed. What if the question of this election was not what can Europe do for Britain, but what can Britain do for Europe? It certainly would not hurt to care a bit more…

Birmingham in pictures: beauty built on water and bridges

  • Is Birmingham ugly?

Birmingham is not a pretty city.

Many people will certainly disagree with the idea, and I’ll concede to them that beauty is entirely subjective. It just takes a few days of sightseeing in Britain’s second city streets to either be conquered – or repelled – by its – lack of – beauty.

The fact is, Birmingham does not seem quite sure where to stand. A walk in the City Centre might convince of this assertion. Victorian buildings stand alongside post-modern concrete three-storeys – making its charm hard to enjoy.

Whether or not Birmingham is an ugly city is an opinion that one can form only upon seeing the city for oneself. The Lord of the Rings’ Shire beautiful landscape and green pastures have been inspired by the namesake country park, at the south of the city, not far from where Tolkien grew up.

What remains a source of pride for Brummies’ is the city’s 36 miles of navigable canals, which is even more than Venice (26 miles), although Birmingham is more spread-out than La Serenissima. I set out to explore Brindley Place and the canals in what I would described as an attempt to capture this overlooked and shunned beauty, built on water and bridges – weak foundations.

  • Brindley Place in Pictures:

Brindley Place Birmingham
Along the canals of Birmingham in Brindley Place
Brindley Place Birmingham (2)
A bridge above the canal in Brindley Place
2015-02-08 17.06.44
A heavenly sight along Brindley Place’s canals
2015-02-08 17.10.36
Water and bridges: edifices upon which lies Birmingham’s beauty
2015-02-08 17.21.49
A reflection in the water
2015-02-08 17.26.01
Sunset on the Mailbox

More on “ugly Birmingham”

More on pretty Birmingham

Metropolis – Fritz Lang – 1927 – Review

After its premiere, Metropolis’ original reel was damaged and changes were made under the third Reich. It is estimated that a quarter of the movie had disappeared. In 2008, an alternative version was found in Buenos Aires, enabling the almost complete restoration of the original version, although the quality was affected by the impaired reel.

Today Metropolis is regarded as a classic and features on lists of movies that cannot be overlooked when going through cinema’s history, notably IMDB’s famous top 250. Co-written with his wife, it is an ambitious project that Fritz Lang set out with Metropolis in 1927. Firstly bashed by the critics, it gained considerable attention later on and is regarded by filmmakers and critics alike as a classic.

I set out to explore Martin Scorsese’s list of 39 non-english films, and share with you what I thought about those that were relevant being mentioned in my eyes. First on the list to be reviewed, Metropolis:

The futuristic city of Metropolis and its skyscrapers is divided into two parts. First there is the city below, where dehumanised, lifeless humans gesticulate restlessly around machines more than 10 hours a day. Above, people live a leisurely life and all pleasures are at hand. Whereas life is gloomy and tasteless down there, it is enjoyable and colourful up here. The split is social and metaphysical : Workers doing hard labour in a darkened setting assimilated to hell and bourgeois living the easy life in a lightened place reminding of heaven. Everything is made to convey the impression: dark/light image, eerie/uplifting music, lively/lifeless humans.

One day, Maria, a girl from below, sneaks through the doors of the city above with children of the workers. They are dressed in ragged clothes, covered in soot : the contrast with Metropolis upper city inhabitants’ white silky trousers and groomed faces is striking. She declares before being ushered out:

Look at these faces, they are your brothers and sisters.”

Freder, Metropolis’ Master Joh Fredersen’s son, is shocked by something he was completely ignorant of as well as awed by the beauty of Maria. He decides to follow her in the depths of Metropolis. There he assists to an horrifying scene : an exhausted worker fails to keep up with his machine, causing an accident that ends up with dozens of deaths.

Baffled if not horrified by what just happened, Freder sets out to talk to his dad, pleading him to release workers from their overwhelming labour. There we meet Josaphat (hebraic name for a King of Judah), Freder’s father’s scapegoat that he eventually releases of his duties and sends below – in hell.

Putting things back in their context, Metropolis was made in 1927 under the Weimar Republic whilst anti-Semitism was starting to spread across Germany. The character of Josaphat, appears as a probable attempt from Fritz Lang, who fled his native country as soon as Hitler was named Chancellor in 1933 to denounce the growing anti-Semitism indirectly.

Whereas Jospahat is being thrown away by Fredersen, the latter’s son compassionately decides to offer him shelter. Freder then trades his position with a worker called Georgy who is identified by an ID number – that I cannot help but assimilate as the dramatic foreseeing of death camps . After work, he follows all workers to a gathering, where they listen to someone – who happens to be Maria – sermonising them about the beginnings of Metropolis from a stage displaying big crosses evoking christianity. Maria’s message is one of peace. She predicts the arrival of a mediator – the heart – who will link workers below – the hands – with creators above – the heads.

Meanwhile, Joh Frederson pays a visit to cruel Rotwung the inventor, who has ‘sacrificed a hand for a life’ in order to build the man of the future : the machine-man – firstly introduced below some sort of five-branched Star of David. Joh, who has been made aware of the workers’ gatherings asks Rotwung to give his ‘robot’ the likeness of Maria to sow discord amongst them. However, the inventor has got other ideas and plans to use the machine to personal aims.

The idea, present from the beginning, that humans are being replaced by machines in some sort of twisted evolutionary perspective is one of the main point the movie makes: is future replacing humans with artificial intelligence? In that regard, Metropolis is one of the first Sci-fi movies ever. It also denounces the conditions of works of the proles, who are often incapable of competing with the restless clockwork of the machines. They are made numb by physical labour, and in the scene they gather around Maria, they all look as though they are asleep, exhausted from slave-like work conditions.

Metropolis is a social fable, a metaphysical story and a call to tolerance. First of all, it is a social fable that denounces the conditions of work of oppressed class, that acts as hands to build the world in which oppressors will live a leisurely life. In a scene, the machine on which Freder works is assimilated to a clock that he cannot slow down. He screams “Father ! Father ! Will ten hours (of work) never come to an end ?” The fight he is intending is one that cannot be won : a fight against time itself.

In another scene, the machine is assimilated to the biblical figure of Moloch, a divinity that feeds with children.

Secondly, it is also a metaphysical story in that religious allegories are recurring. First the allegory of hell and heaven, respectively represented in the lifeless depths and soaring clouds of Metropolis. Alternatively, the city’s creators are assimilated to gods, that worker respect and honour as authority figures. Freder, who is eventually revealed to be the mediator, is also a Christian allegory of Jesus Christ: the one who preaches respect, trades his place with a worker (taking upon him to suffer) and denounces the oppressing of the people.

Metropolis is also a tale of tolerance. Speckled with a christian moral, jewish symbols are ever present directly or indirectly (Josaphat and the banner above the machine-man). Although Josaphat is a character that brings sympathy on him, the robot isn’t and that may be what led critics to see in the movie a tale of anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the genuine idea that can be extracted from the movie is one of tolerance in that kind benevolence Freder displays for the character of Josaphat.

Although the idea of the heart being a mediator lacks relevance and led Fritz Lang to reckon it was a weak one, Metropolis is a film that has acquired a status of masterpiece. It is secondarily one of the first blockbusters ever made: the shooting lasted almost a year, more than 35 000 people participated in it and it cost five millions Reichsmark (£2,5m). Bashed by critics after its release, Metropolis is now one of the reference of Silent Cinema and considered as a must-see for any cinema lover.

An interesting social, metaphysical and tolerance fable foreseeing what Germany was set to face in the years following the great depression. The 150 minutes of the restored version are a bit too long but they are definitely worth it.

Culture: My Best of 2014

That’s it; as 2015 approaches fast and all sorts of lists of things we have enjoyed are bustling on your social feeds: movies, albums, news and much more. I decided to compile an exhaustive list of films, albums, books and TV shows proposing to look in the least objective manner at what marked – my – 2014. Although in my opinion lists are stupid, because they vulgarise information as well as narrow down endless possibilities, I succumbed to the trend. Also, it takes a lot of brashness and self-importance feelings to declare ‘this was better than that’. I do not pretend in any way to hold the absolute truth. Amongst the following, I have not had the chances to see, read and watch all that could be seen, read and watched because my dear reader, as unexpected and shocking as it sounds I am not an encyclopaedia. Anyways, here is what grabbed my interest in 2014.

  • Films

Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal reporting on a crime scene in Nightcrawler.
  1. Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy
    This is the story of a lunatic, immoral jobless thief who decides to start a career in freelance journalism. It is a life-time performance and by far the best Jake Gyllenhaal has ever pulled off. Cynical, hilarious and dark, Nightcrawler is a satire of a world in which human life is worth no more than images.
  2. Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch
    Following the commercial success of Twilight, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries I reckon I was quite scared when Down By Law‘s director announced he was writing a story about vampires. What a pleasant surprise! I feel ashamed and I know better than not to have had faith in Jim Jarmusch. The Akron-born filmmaker’s latest work is a success in terms of photography, acting (hats off to Tilda Swindon and Tom Hiddleston) and sound. Although the action in Only Lovers Left Alive unfolds slowly and its scenario is quite simplistic, it manages to tell a humanistic story where vampires are only here to make us realise the perfection of our mortal condition.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson
    I always thought Wes Anderson‘s cinema was lacking something. Although The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom had the potential to soar up to the status of masterpiece, they probably won’t be considered as such in a decade. Let’s be honest though, Anderson – as was Dario Argento with his Giallo – enjoys creating colourful, lively universes where aesthetic prevails upon scenario. With the Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson takes us to the fictional Republic of Zubrowska. Verdict: what was lacking has been found. The film is well balanced between humour and terror – thanks to the pragmatic and witty Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and the terrifying Jopling (Willem Dafoe) – whilst maintaining the dandy of cinema’s childish narrative. His best work so far.
  • Albums

Caribou Our Love
Caribou – Our Love
  1. Caribou – Our Love
    Dan Snaith, A.K.A Manitoba, Daphni or more recently Caribou is the same man. A simple, nostalgic and versatile Canadian musician born by the banks of Lake Ontario. Snaith opened the doors to electronica in 2010 with ‘Swim‘ and took a dramatic turn towards house with the release, under the name Daphni, of ‘Jiao‘ back in 2012. ‘Our Love‘ is Caribou‘s masterpiece: An introspective album exploring the future, the probable and the desirable.
  2. Tom Vek – Luck
    Maybe ‘Luck‘ is not as consistent as ‘Leisure Seizure‘. Whilst the latter was more some sort of self-proclaimed manifesto of what indie music ought to be, the latter explores the possibilities of experimentation, resulting in an heterogenous batch of songs – The oriental ‘Broke‘, the robotic ‘How Am I Meant To Know‘ or the energetic ‘You’ll Stay‘ – that luckily work out for the best. Tom Vek is definitely a genius.
  3. Kasabian – 48:13
    A lot was expected from The Leicester-based band since it now features alongside big stars of English rock music such as Oasis, Blur or The Stone Roses. Some said when experimental track ‘Eez-eh‘ was unveiled, it is an utter pile of crap. Others glorified Kasabian‘s ability to re-invente themselves with every album… there does not seem to be a middle ground. And indeed, how to resist the string arrangements in ‘Stevie, the house-music-styled solo in ‘Treat‘ or the brashness of ‘Eez-eh‘? You know Sergio worked it like a treat!
  • Books

Although you will quickly notice that these books weren’t written in 2014, I have chosen to share the ones I have discovered this year and have spent sleepless nights literally devouring. I wish I could have fit more than three in this list, unfortunately I had to omit a lot.

A Song Of Ice And Fire
A Song Of Ice And Fire’s first instalment: A Game Of Thrones, published in 1996
  1. A Song of Ice and Fire (1996 – 2011) by George Martin
    When George Martin started writing ‘A Game of Thrones‘ in 1991, I doubt he had any idea how many people he would shock and please; firstly by killing off everyone’s favourite characters; secondly by depicting sexual scenes of extreme violence with such ease (incest, rape…) and thirdly by his creativity and the way he achieved to put together pieces of a world in which readers are sucked into from the first pages. Westeros is a ruthless universe and its crudeness is – and some of you might beg to differ here –  expressed way better with words than by David Benioff and Dan Weiss‘ cameras. Every fan of the TV show should read it, provided they can cope with Martin’s extremely slow writing pace before the release of the next instalment ‘The Winds of Winter‘. Surely, it will be worth the wait in the end.
  2. Shogun (1975) by James Clavell
    James Clavell joined the Royal Artillery at nineteen years old in 1940. He was sent to Malaysia during the Second World War and was captured by the Japanese, who made him a war prisoner. When freed, Clavell set out to write the Asian Saga, a collection of stories counting the adventures of British citizens in Asia over a wide period of time (1600 – 1979). Shogun tells the story of captain Blackthorne (Anjin-san) and his encounter with a world he knows absolutely nothing about: feudal Japan. He is made prisoner and quickly gains importance as a prize that can influence the outcome of the raging war between two feudal lords: Toranaga and Ishido. Shogun not only has an historical value (although names have been changed and plots twisted), but it teaches more about Japanese culture than any other book could. Wakarimasu ka!
  3. La Peste (1947) by Albert Camus
    Alright, it was a close one. If it had not been for the events that occurred when I was reading ‘La Peste‘, I probably would have put ‘1984′ that was much more likely to feature on this list. Unfortunately for Orwell, as I was reading Camus‘ underestimated piece – that he himself regarded as a disastrous piece of work – ISIS was being thrown on media outlets’ front pages, setting out to contaminate countries with bubonic plague. Meanwhile in West Africa, Ebola was killing people by thousands, price of an unstoppable outbreak as is the plague in Camus‘ novel. Clear, concise and highlighting the issues our society is dealing with when facing alarming outbreaks, this book is a timeless must-read.
  • TV Shows

Mad Men 2014
Mad Men’s cast for series 7 (Pt. I)
  1. Mad Men
    The power of Mad Men lies it its ability to tell nothing and at the same time everything, in particular in the way characters adapt and fit their behaviour to the changing environment that surrounds them: the deaths of JFK, his brother and Martin Luther King, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, a post war atmosphere of repression followed by the freedom of the sixties. All along Mad Men, we follow Don Draper, go to the office with him, get drunk with him, cheat and lie with him and eventually go down with him. We also grow up with Draper’s kids Sally and Bobby. Mad Men is a success in that it has the ability to make us empathise with ruthless, ungrateful people we would despise if it weren’t for the show, because after all, they were only victims of their time.
  2. Fargo
    Based on the universe the Coen Brothers had created in the namesake 1996 movie, Fargo follows the fearful Lester Nygaard. His world is going to be shaken up by the arrival in town of an enigmatic killer Lorne Malvo. Hilarious, dark, eerie, uncanny and mysterious, Fargo will please TV series lovers and Joel & Ethan‘s fans.
  3. The Missing
    Last year, it was David Tennant and Olivia Colman‘s investigation following the death of a young boy that shook Britain in Broadchurch, this year it was The Missing. In 2006, in the fictional town of Chalons-du-Bois in the North of France, the Hugh family: Tony, Emily and Oliver (James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor and Oliver Hunt) is going on holiday when their car breaks down. They decide to take a room in a hotel nearby and stay overnight, planing to leave when everything is fixed. Unfortunately, Tony and Emily’s son, Olly, goes missing. Eight years later, a divorced Tony has still not accepted his son disappearance and is desperate to reopen the case whereas Emily seems to have chosen to forget. With the help of former detective Julien Baptiste (The fatherly Tchéky Karyo), they will try to unveil the horrible truth. The Missing offers an interesting reflection around pedophilia, forgiveness, vengeance, love and the fragility of relationships.

Also worth mentioning The Walking Dead‘s lack of consistency, seemingly lacking inspiration, making us all grow tired of watching. It is kind of a weird feeling I have for this TV show – bipolar I would say – hating it one minute and loving it the next one. Also worth taking notice, the announcement of Twin Peaks and Agent Dale Cooper return for 2016.

‘A Rogue Reporter’ review – A film by Rich Peppiatt and Tom Jenkinson

Tuesday night, Rich Peppiatt, former reporter for the Daily Star honoured the Electric Cinema of his presence whilst his first ever movie ‘One Rogue Reporter‘ was screened the day of its national release. The film was co-directed with Tom Jenkinson and appears to be some sort of DIY compilation of archived images, pranking footages and interviews with contemporary figures of the British media landscape, including Hugh Grant, Steve Coogan, Owen Jones, Joan Smith and John Bishop.

On his website, Peppiatt describes himself as a “writer, filmmaker, journalist and comedian.” A writer and journalist he was, in the days he had to write what he calls ‘anti-muslim propaganda’ and ‘fit facts into stories’; a comedian, he certainly his, and the humorous approach he used in the movie has often been welcome by laughter from members of the audience; as to being a filmmaker, one just needs to seat in front of a screen and watch the 61 minutes of journalistic satyre he has just directed to be convinced that he definitely is. Just as a background fact, ‘One Rogue Reporter‘ was part of the official selection of this year’s Sheffield Documentary and East End Film Festivals. If that is not enough, the mighty John Cleese has even dubbed the film as “Hilarious” adding that he “highly recommends“.

One Rogue Reporter‘ explores the issues that journalism – tabloid journalism in particular – is facing nowadays. Amongst the problems brought up: an ideology based on ‘exposing and selling’ rather than telling the truth, newspapers acting as conservative propaganda and the lack of care or compassion towards potential victims of press casualties. The film is structured around seven chapters autobiographically inspired, introduced by a typewriter and all beginning with images of some of Hollywood’s biggest classics by Billy Wilder or Samuel Fuller.

The film’s first minutes see newly made freelance reporter Rich reflecting on his achievement at the Daily Star: hanging around prostitutes, dressing up as a transvestite, Santa Claus or wearing a burqa: nothing to be proud of really. He eventually justifies the reason why he chose to quit a job he had only taken because he needed to pay off his bills – and his student loan.

A cheaply disguised Rich with grey hair announcing to the camera he is going to interview ‘the most hated man in Britain‘. With this evocation, the figures of Piers Morgan or Jeremy Kyle could pop up in one’s head – and Rich actually walks past the Emirates Stadium, wrongly confirming these suspicions. However, it is not till the final chapter that will be revealed the identity of the chosen one: Kelvin Mackenzie former editor of tabloid The Sun. For those too young to be familiar with Mackenzie, he published an article called ‘The Truth‘ in his newspaper in April 1989 following the Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool fans perished when bleachers crushed. In the piece, it was said some Nottingham Forrest fans took advantage of the situation to pick-pocket corpses also going as far as to “urinate on brave cops“. This cruel lack of subtlety partly explains the hatred Mackenzie is still victim of, even today.

In his interview, where he pretends to be working with a Canadian TV documentary, cheeky Rich is going to ask personal questions – hidden behind an innocent unawareness – relating directly to Mackenzie’s life. What is joyful and brings laughter in the audience is the awkwardness in which Mackenzie gets bogged down as he tries answering the questions with hidden shame before he eventually realises he his an utter fool – and as being taken as such.

One Rogue Reporter‘ also pranks famous tabloid figures, notably Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre whose qualities are highlighted when he is wonderfully described by The Guardian journalist Owen Jones as the “Worst human being in the world“. However, Rich would rather help than demonise Dacre, seeing “a man in need“; follows an hilarious conversation with Dacre’s gruff security guard around a dildo on a step door and a special midnight ejacul… projection over the front building of the Mail‘s bureaus. Amongst other targets of Peppiatt’s ruthless vendetta and investigation “weasel-faced” and former News Of The World chief reporter Neville Thurlbeck who bares it all for the (hidden) camera and Daily Express‘ editor Hugh Whittow whose car ends up plastered with newspapers display Madeleine McCann case related headlines.

One Rogue Reporter Peppiatt
Peppiatt just trying to help ‘a man in need’ in One Rogue Reporter

The film is quit populist and Peppiatt is probably the first one to recognise it, essentially because it can be seen on two different levels: firstly a comedy set in the journalistic world and secondly an in-depth criticism of problems surrounding Fleet Street. The issues raised are embedded in a context of cases that shook Britian such as the phone hacking scandal, the Leveson inquiry and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
To sum it up, ‘One Rogue Reporter‘ is a clever satyre, a witty comedy and a serious film that raises more question than it answers.

Brilliant in every ways. To enjoy without moderation.

Reflection on online journalism – December 2014

That’s mad how time flies.”

Although this might be one of the most popular, misused, and agreed upon sentences in the world – and also fills the gaps in an awkward conversation in which the weather has already been mentioned – it sort of rings true to me. I kind of feel like this has been what my worries and negative thoughts have revolved around lately.

I started university at the end of September and since then it’s all been a long succession of days in which work is taking the central spot. To tell you the truth, I don’t feel like I can commit to watching any new TV shows because it would distract me from my journalism path – and when the path is worth ten grands, a few months of abstinence don’t seem that much. To be fair, I am not complaining. I knew beforehand what I had signed for and here are the first things that I have learnt so far.

  • WordPress – Eastside

For our first assignment in Paul Bradshaw‘s module ‘Online Journalism‘, we were all given different online platforms to investigate, including Twitter, Instagram, and FaceBook. I ended up with WordPress. Overall I think I produced a decent piece of work – not terrible though not amazing. Using Birmingham Eastside, I managed to post 9 articles within a timescale of 8 weeks. I am not boasting, far from it – September Robin probably would though – as I come to realise that standards in this field are higher than this, way up there.

WordPress is not a very complicated platform to use. One can get to grips with it just by playing around a bit. In my case, I had already used it with the magazines (music ; cinema) I write for and was quite familiar with most of its functionalities. What I was more or less a rookie with were SMO and SEO. It is true that we had covered these in class and it just all seems like logical and simple steps that would get us more clicks and views. The reality is somewhat different.

  • Search Engine Optimisation:

My biggest failure with this experiment can be summed up with three single words: “search – engine – optimisation”. Amongst the +400 views my articles got, I dare you to guess how many came from the fact that they ranked well on search engines.

If you guessed one, well done. If you guessed more than that, you have truly flattered my ego. If you guessed otherwise, f**k off, you’re a prick. Sorry, this was inconsiderate and I apologise, maybe I am still too touchy about it…

I learnt that you may be an expert on SEO, if you have not got the tools (a website with an already constituted audience and them referring to your blog) then there is not much you can do.

Starting off with the domain name “Birminghameastside” it appeared complicated to optimise stories in which Birmingham was not the focus for search engines.

Unfortunately, according to Bruce Clay’s SEO hierarchy of needs, the thing that matters the most for a blog to rank well on search engines is something that cannot be controlled: referrals and links to this blog. Of course there is still the option to post comments on blogs to engage a conversation (that has never occurred for me).

Bruce Clay's SEO Hierarchy of Needs
Bruce Clay’s SEO Hierarchy of Needs
  • Social Media Optimisation

In terms of SMO, the outcomes of the experiment were not as catastrophic as they were for SEO. Although the links on my tweets only got clicked on when they were relayed by others – I had less than a hundred followers then – I used the techniques I learnt throughout my SMO research. Here is what I found for Twitter:

  • Time:

Tweet around lunchtime and before/after dinner:

Tweet time

Also tweet on weekends:

tweet weekend

  • Characteristics:

The perfect tweet contains between 70 and 100 characters, a picture, hashtags, and a link. Alternatively, to optimise the link’s ‘clickability‘, it does not harm to make your tweet brief, clear, and add a bit of humour.

Alternatively, tweets that are using psychological techniques seem to work well. They would typically be addressed to the readers curiosity. Something along the lines of “This guy is the cleverest person on earth and here is the reason why.” engages your curiosity on two aspects (1) the guy (2) what he did.

If you clicked the link, it proves that the theory is right, not that I am the cleverest person on earth (thanks for making me feel that way though).

  • Lack of contacts equals lack of control?

The biggest problem to one’s progression – and I can relate to this a lot – in this field is something as similarly to SEO there is no way of exerting control over: others. Let me explain. When he writes articles about events, news, or even interview, the journalist needs to get in contact with people who will give him insights on circumstances, details, and feelings that will make the story unique and relevant for others who weren’t there.

How is it possible to be an efficient journalist if people do not reply to one’s mails or do not return calls? Suddenly, Camus‘ expression of the “unreasonable silence of the world” in front of our “desperate call for help” is starting to make sense.I guess a key point here is what is known in the jargon as networking. The more sources one has the less likely he is to get turned down or even worst: ignored. Perhaps it is something that takes time to build, a bit like SEO does.

Fortunately, I came across people who even though they had other preoccupations, had time to spare me. Although sometimes the person you are trying to reach do not respond, it happens that they will come back to you a month later or so apologising for their late reply and proposing an interview time that does not fit your schedule. The article has already been written and long gone from your home page anyway.

  • What it brought me:

The general experiment has been an interesting one, not only because it taught me how to cope with failure but because it made me realise that nothing can be taken for granted in journalism: there is no place for complacency. It also gave me the opportunity to explore social media – in particular Twitter – something that I had only used to connect with friends. I do realise now the potential of using it for professional development and networking and believe me, I plan to use it to that aim from now on. In a way I have already started, but that is a story for later.