Joseph Calleja: A Night in Malta

A thoroughly enjoyable concert it’s clear why Joseph Calleja has huge ovation in his home country. An excellent operatic voice with vast range accompanied by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Malta who added magnificent instrumentals.

Singing many operatic classics including La Donna E Mobile (as a fantastic concert opener), La Vie en Rose and O Sole Mio, Calleja never failed to capture audiences’ attention with this fascinating spectacle. This concert also offered a variety of music with guest performers Zucchero and Rebecca Ferguson. I felt this was a wise decision as it gave the concert more appeal.

Adding more rock to the concert Zucchero was charismatic and energetic. He engaged audiences in full flow with his growling vocals and guitar playing. Rebecca Ferguson was clearly the commercial option (as a former X-Factor contestant) performing songs of the pop variety. Ferguson did not have influence over audiences as Calleja and Zucchero did, but her performance of I’ll Count the Days was strong enough to justify her presence.

On the production side this concert was well-produced with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Malta and Children’s Choir molding with Calleja and his fellow performers in continuous harmonic flow. The various firework displays gave extra impact to the performances concluding an impressive musical event.

‘Inspiring’ Chick-Flick… : And While We Were Here (2012)

If you asked me to summarise And While We Were Here briefly, my answer would be inspiring chick-flick. Though using the word inspiring is solely theoretical. In practice And While We Were Here does not deliver as it emerged itself in a cliché we’ve seen time after time.

Set amongst picturesque Italian locales, freelance writer Jane (Kate Bosworth) is searching to complete her first book in the company of husband Leonard (Iddo Goldberg), a touring classical musician. Though their visit to Italy takes a back seat as their relationship is explored. It’s established early that their relationship is lacking fullness from Jane’s perspective as Leonard has contrasting interests and opinions. Jane’s dissatisfaction, highlighted by an unsensual sex scene, tells us all we need to know.

This begins the build-up to Jane’s journey of life’s meaning, attempting to inspire the audience. During a day of sightseeing Jane meets free-spirited Caleb (Jamie Blackley), a younger man whose zest for life puts a spring in Jane’s step. In typical click-flick procedure Jane feels she has met the man of her dreams excited by Caleb’s knowledge of culture and life. Inevitably Caleb causes a three-way tension between himself, Jane and Leonard leading to predicable sentimentality and drama.

Reflecting over And While We Were Here there are criticisms to be made. Firstly Jane’s lust for the younger, exciting Caleb is a worn concept. Does life’s fulfilment always have to result in seeking adventure with strangers? This platitude continued with Jane occasionally listening to her Grandmother’s war experiences where she learnt to make the most of life in dire circumstances. We get it…

It was hard to see what Jane saw in Caleb beyond his rebellious nature. This is not to say Caleb was not portrayed well with Jamie Blackley giving an energetic performance. Despite Caleb’s personality relating to And While We Were Here‘s theme of fulfilling life, I could not to disagree with Leonard reference of Caleb as “that child”. If Caleb seems immature then why should audiences emote towards Jane?

In addition Jane and Leonard’s deteriorating relationship was one-sided. Only Jane’s side is portrayed with Leonard’s reasoning being antagonised rather than explored. His only defense comes in a revealing confrontation near And While We Were Here‘s climax. Whilst we’re supposedly meant to sympathise with Jane’s raw emotions, Leonard did make some convincing arguments which lent sympathy towards him. Rather it’s Jane who comes across as hostile. She conducted herself harshly towards Leonard and her reasoning within their argument did not deliver. Either this was the fault of Bosworth, the script or both. This only adds to my argument of And While We Were Here trying but failing to be inspirational though it was certainly a chick-flick, by no means a positive praise.

The Anonymous People (2013)

Lecturing audiences with a straight-up, honest attitude The Anonymous People aimed to challenging perceptions on alcoholism and other drug related addiction. According to The Anonymous People such addictions must be seen as an illness rather than moral weakness.

Interviewing those recovering and affected by addictions offering audiences personal insights. Every interviewee is stripped bare of inhibitions unashamedly discussing their experiences at face value. How addiction affected their lives and once in recovery forced to handle their past. Having to deal with social prejudices of addiction and in some cases political pressure to simply make good their errors by promoting progressive thinking. They have to be admired for openly sharing their experiences to further addiction awareness in spite of monumental opposition.

The historical context behind addiction and its activism to make addiction recognised as an illness was well covered. The formation of Alcoholics Anonymous, Marty Mann’s prolific campaigning, celebrities and politicians coming together. There has been extensive efforts to widely recognise addiction as a health problem which needs treatment rather than persecution. The historical knowledge The Anonymous People conveyed was compelling and delivered intelligently by comparing history with present day ethos. So with a rich historical framework why is The Anonymous People having to expose these issues?

The media is portrayed as a primary culprit for to their lust of sensationalism, “a sexy story sells” as one interviewee noted. The ‘War on Drugs’ crusade which dominated the 1980s was also referred to in formatting negative attributions upon addicts. Despite this acknowledgement The Anonymous People did not push their criticism far enough. It would have been beneficial to note the specific policies the ‘War on Drugs’ enforced that mistreated addicts and more crucially noting commercialism’s’ role in addiction. Considering The Anonymous People‘s context, from an audiences’ viewpoint it was screaming for criticism against commercialism’s relaxed approach in selling alcohol as seen in dozens of global advertisements. This was an argument sorely missing which would have evaluated The Anonymous People as a more hard-hitting documentary.

Imagine…McCullin (2013)

Being an admirer of Don McCullin’s photography, this recent BBC documentary certainly appeased my viewing satisfaction.

Chronologically charting McCullin’s career photographing local teddy boys, Cyprus’ civil war, the Vietnam war and secular conflicts in Beirut, there is a deep appreciation to be had for McCullin’s extensive work in dangerous environments. Understanding the back-story of McCullin’s photographs was key to contemplate the situation he placed himself in as McCullin explained throughout the documentary. In particular lying to the CIA was a potentially hazardous decision but McCullin got the images he wanted. Such actions emphasis what a war photographer has to be for their work to be a stories’ core. It only goes to show McCullin’s bravery.

Simply learning about the locates of McCullin’s photographs would have been interesting enough but McCullin explained his working psychology. McCullin seemed to be a conflicted personality that only fascinates my interest more as McCullin felt the thrill of being amidst violent conflict yet horrified by his subjects’ reality. As he explained “it’s a very fine line” between his work and the subject’s lives which from time to time blurred McCullin’s reasoning.

This is a compelling documentary about the psychology, morality and contextualisation of McCullin’s work that is equally satisfying as an admirer and a brilliant introduction for those unaware of McCullin.

Don McCullin

The Legend of Ward Allen: Savannah (2013)

Reflecting upon my viewing of Savannah there is a great sense of dissatisfaction. It was formulaic of local legend stories containing numerous clichés anticipating what’s ahead before the narrative does. I am not undermining the sentiments Savannah had for its lead character but I can instantly recollect dozens of films which contain similar concepts.

In the twilight era of rural ideals before modernisation Ward Allen intends to stem change, a noble but vain effort. Told in flashback Allen’s role as a duck hunter with loyal friend Christmas, a freed slave, is portrayed as vital to Savannah’s economy. Occasionally halted into court for disregarding gaming laws, audiences are treated to Allen’s Shakespearian rhetoric. Assumingly meant to charm us I felt indifferent. Despite this one character clearly held the opposite viewpoint, Lucy Stubbs. Charmed by Allen’s demeanour their bond is soon formed unsurprisingly into romance.

Here lies one of my personal critiques on Savannah. Though Jim Caviezel and Jamie Alexander’s chemistry was evident, their characters’ relationship developed within standard plot formula. Small glimpses of affection blossoming into marriage before slowly deteriorating. Typical dramatic flair. More so with Allen himself. Described by some as peculiar for rejecting his wealthy background for simpler means is meant to strengthen viewer identification. Yet his characterisation was in overdrive. Allen transforming continuously between respected duck hunter to raving drunk made me wonder what Savannah wanted to undertake. This extended to his relationship with Lucy and friendship with Christmas amongst other areas. Savannah dealt with too much content rather than narrowing down to a solid narrative structure.

Savannah’s problems lie in its contextualisation. Falling upon recognisable clichés with characters and plot points by overlaying with them caused Savannah to suffer. The only saving grace was the capabilities of Jim Caviezel, Jamie Alexander and Chiwetel Ejiofor who despite Savannah’s narrative structure, adequately convey their characters.

Intensely Compiled Drama: Mother (2009)

Where to start with Mother? During my intense viewing experience I was astounded by Mother‘s multi-layered narrative where characterisation and plot twists have striking effects.

In an unsettling story Madeo (Kim Hye-ja) and her son Do-joon (Won Bin) live in societies’ bare margins. She is under pressure to keep her workplace in order while Do-joon clearly suffers mental health problems and easily mislead by his ‘friend’ Jin-tae (Jin Goo). These factors make the pair looked down upon by their neighbours. If social stigma wasn’t enough Do-joon becomes the primary suspect in a local murder case. So begins the catalyst of Mother‘s multiple layers unfolding.

There is no singular viewpoint Mother takes. Instead every character (of significance) has their pros and cons revealed to make one question their motivations. Are social perceptions coming into play? Is there an element of denial covering up the truth? Where does the guilt really lie? Mother is no holds barred experience where perspectives are challenged.

As Madeo leads her own investigation into the murder case, more personality traits are revealed. If casting Kim Hye-ja was a conscious choice regarding her small stature, frailty and advanced age during filming then the casting director was correct. Naturally seeing an older woman fight against the odds provides a sense of weakness on her part but Hye-ja’s conviction of vulnerability as Madeo is manipulated by Jin-tae into exchanging money to prove Do-joon’s innocence lends sympathy towards her plight. Though Madeo’s cryptic nature slowly became exposed only emphasising Mother‘s dynamic narrative.

Mother is definitely a note-worthy film for those seeking serious drama and complicated characterisations that provided compelling insights and twists.

An Examination of Life: Low and Clear (2012)

“The biggest mistake about fishing is about catching fish. Instead it’s an examination of life itself”. A curious concept to contextualise whilst viewing Low and Clear. Not only does Low and Clear capture two long-time friends’ passion for fly-fishing, this documentary explored the undertones of their subjects characteristics. Analysing J.T. and Alex’s basic human yearnings and their search of perfection.

Low and Clear did not simply let J.T. and Alex be filmed to make personal statements about themselves, it eloquently conveyed their sense of self. J.T. is an admirable person seeking to connect with his surroundings. Submerging his consciousness into fly-fishing by interacting with nature to instigate a common trust between himself and the fishes. J.T.’s expressions warranted my respect for him. Low and Clear’s relaxed acoustic sounds and observative cinematography made my consciousness fuse with J.T.’s. This made contemplating his every word and action extraordinarily enlightening.

Just as my relaxation had been acquainted Low and Clear turned the air blue thanks to Alex, destructing nature by logging as his livelihood. Up-tempo music and shaky camera movements followed as Alex’s rugged personality seeked to “freeze frame that moment in time” by encountering various breeds of fish. Quite astounding to later know that Alex was J.T.’s mentor in previous years considering their opposite personalities. How would they treat the other after years apart? Low and Clear had enough intelligence and grace not to snoop for vulgarity. Rather it is their candidness and close bond which drives the documentaries’ latter half.

Trekking in the waters of British Columbia to fulfill their deep-seated passion, J.T. felt the strains of spirited competitiveness. Noticing how Alex is catching more fish with modern bait, J.T. momentarily questioned himself. Was his ideal of equal trajectory with nature jeopardising J.T.’s fly-fishing skills? Here lied Low and Clear’s humanity. Haven’t we all at a point in our lives questioned our ideals and methods, for better or worse? Fair to say that Low and Clear taped into J.T.’s human nature with great reflexivity. Though when this happened to Alex it was in a lighter tone. With J.T. watching a viral video of a British fisherman discussing his techniques, Alex regularly mocked the context and proclaimed himself to be far better. Who couldn’t appreciate this pleasing directness?

Low and Clear was a very moving and reflective documentary. I felt quite privileged to observe unknown experiences and men of vigorous character. This is the perfect choice for spectators simulated more by human nature and reflexivity that cheap sensationalism.

Alex enthusiastically in the foreground with J.T. observing

When Bjork Met Attenborough

“The sound of sound” is how Bjork described nature’s acoustic qualities centralising the basis of her project. In preparation for this project, the avant-garde album Biophilia, Bjork discussed in-depth with Sir David Attenborough the admirable qualities of nature’s acoustics and its importance.

Admittedly I am neither a dedicated fan of either Bjork or Attenborough yet this programme managed to engage my interest. As a pair they bonded well, clearly admiring the other, undertaking several discussions regarding music’s scientific relations. In one scene Attenborough noted the mathematics to mineral’s chemistry formation is linked to musical structures. Emphasising such facts was eye opening for a novice like myself.

Though titled When Bjork Met Attenborough the programme mostly concentrates on Biophilia‘s pre-production, which continued to show the boundaries music can reach. Major points of interest was Bjork recording with a Sharpsichord, an original solar-powered instrument maneuvering metal roll push levers to pluck strings to creating music. Equally mesmerizing was a bassline formed from harvesting electricity upon a tesla coil. Witnessing these unique instruments reach their full potential achieved wonderment for myself to music’s realms of possibility, which was the purpose of Biophilia and When Bjork Met Attenborough. Who said music couldn’t be beyond mere entertainment?

Refreshes The Spectator’s Mind: The Class (2008)

In watching The Class I was struck by its intelligence. The direction taken upon social and cultural issues within dialogue broke the figurative forth wall allowing individual interpretation and enhancement of character development. You can immerse yourself in the classroom through The Class‘ documentary style cinematography travelling around and between Francois and his students. This intimacy and contextualisation of The Class resulted in a rewarding experience.

Based upon Francois Begaudeau’s semi-autobiographical of the same name, Begaudeau himself plays the lead role as an inner city teacher dealing with troublesome kids. Begaudeau portraying himself in an episode of his life made the narrative more appealing for me as The Class had a strong sense of realism. Though Begaudeau didn’t simply stand in front of the camera to make his presence known. He emoted the hopes and frustrations of a teacher attempting to provide for students. His acting abilities were equally matched by those playing the students, not one faulted in conveying their personalities and problems.

In dealing with these issues at hand the actors were helped by an exceptional script. Large portions of The Class is set within Francois’ classroom debating social and cultural issues, from the use of language to a generation’s moral standards. All issues were debated with openness allowing audiences to be a part of the discussion thus interpreting your own take which for me felt satisfying.

The Class highly deserved multiple awards it later received from Palme d’Or to the Cesar Award as its’ a noteworthy, refreshing film for those seeking cinematic sophistication.

Francois Begaudeau in the leading role

Open-Minded Viewing Experience Required: A Field in England (2013)

Director/Editor Ben Wheatley said he wanted to assault audiences with ambiguous imagery and narrative. Wheatley succeeded with A Field in England, placing audiences into a figurative void of mystery.

In chaotic battlefields of the English Civil War, Whitehead and three newly found acquaintances track the open fields with the developed purpose of finding treasure. Though A Field in England is not so cut and dry, with instability flowing through the narrative and ourselves. A Field in England detaches connections to any character by a variety of bizarre scenes and ambiguity towards its narrative space.

The vast, open landscape captured on widescreen with black and white cinematography makes for displacement towards the characters by fixating ourselves to the setting. This is enhanced by psychedelic notions in behaviour and editing placing one’s mindset to fever pitch interpreting various meanings. A Field in England is begging for interpretation, having an open mind will result in a world of good.

Some have complained that A Field in England has a weak plot to justify its turbulent nature. Going back to having an open mind, if you interpret then ideas will come. The journey taken by Whitehead seems to be a test of faith. Attempting to stay true to the principles he holds dear. It’s not as if the acting was inefficient in concocting a plot. Particular mentions go to Reece Shearsmith giving vulnerability towards the directionless notions Whitehead experiences and Michael Smiley as the devilish antagonist O’Neil.

A Field in England certainly will not meet everybody’s criteria for viewing entertainment but it should have benefit of the doubt.