How literature tackles big social issues

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Cover of Picoult’s new book

“We are all drowning slowly in the tide of our opinions, oblivious that we are taking on water every time we open our mouths.”

The words of Jodi Picoult in her latest novel, A Spark of Light, ring true. Deep down all of us have a wealth of opinions, regardless of topic, circumstances and person, even if we don’t always want to share them.

Each of us goes through our own version of reality, moulded by our mistakes, beliefs and past experiences. Some people instinctively follow their own beliefs, some people falter if they hear a compelling argument, and others still might even border on hypocrisy. Whichever category you fall into, A Spark of Light is a deeply influential piece of literature. On the book’s subject, the debate surrounding abortion, it will most definitely make you question where you stand.

Before you prepare to defend your stance on abortion, just know, that that’s not really what this book is about. Rather, what one should take from the book is that there are always multiple points of view in every argument. Regardless of what side you find yourself on, this story will expose you to both.

By presenting multiple sides of the argument, what Picoult cleverly manages to do is show that we, as a society, will never agree on the issue. The stakes are too high, and both sides operate from a place of unshakeable belief. But she acknowledges that the first step is talking to each other and, more importantly, to listen to each other. We may not all see eye to eye but we can respect each other’s opinions and find the truth in them. And perhaps, in those honest conversations, instead of demonising each other, we might see each other as what we are: imperfect human beings simply doing our best. The truth is that no matter what side of the argument we’re on, where we draw the line shifts – not just between those who are pro-life and pro-choice, but in each individual woman, depending on her current circumstances.

This piece of work is thought-provoking and feels incredibly important; even more so given our current political climate where this topic is involved in a heavily political debate.

Over the past few years, many writers have given us books that open a narrative to some big, social issues. One novel that was released last year, and hit the cinemas this summer, was Angie Thomas’ bestseller The Hate U Give. The story focuses on race issues in the US, as a young black school girl, Starr Carter, witnesses a white police officer shoot her unarmed friend Khalil dead at point-blank range.

The Hate U Give is fictional, but only just. Starr’s emotions explode onto the page, and we feel what she’s feeling – or at the very least, we sympathise with her. The story is based on real events and the Black Lives Matter movement is very real. At the end of the book, Starr lists names of those who have had the same fate as Khalil; lives that have been shortened by law enforcement which should have been avoided: Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland…

The Hate U Give is just one example of how we are starting to see the social issues of today reflected in literature, and it has been a publishing phenomenon.

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Cover of Angie Thomas’ new book

Love, Hate & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed does this in a similar way. This novel, published in January this year, focuses on a young Indian-American Muslim teen called Maya Aziz as she confronts Islamophobia. Hundreds of miles away, a horrific crime takes place that makes those who Maya has known the longest look at her differently and her whole world shifts. People are consumed with fear, bigotry and hatred, and Maya has it thrown her way, for no reason other than her heritage.

Another novel about social issues from this year is Tommy Orange’s There There. This debut novel confronts the painful Native American history, and has an air of profound spirituality about it. It looks at addiction of all kinds, the hardships of abuse and the reality of suicide. Orange writes about what he calls ‘Indian’ and its incredible, messed up complexity. There is a fair amount of compassion in the story, but not so much with the first character, Tony Loneman. He is intent to rob at gun point, but we can see his ending becoming a violent one as his story reflects how exchanging bullets has continued to be a part of American life.

These are just a small handful of popular novels this year that open a narrative on current topics and issues. These novels give us other points of view, a glimpse into other realities and a chance to get rid of our prejudices on hard hitting, topical issues that surround ideals, society, race, religion and class. They’re not there to change our minds, but rather to open ourselves up to the notion that there are more sides to the story than the side we’re standing on.

Film Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

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Bohemian Rhapsody’s popularity has kept it in cinemas since October.

Actor Rami Malek brings the confident and charismatic Freddie Mercury back to life.

A solitary man moves confidently towards the stage at Wembley Stadium in London, wearing a white tank top and tight dark jeans. The viewer can only see the back of the singer, and once he’s up on the stage it almost feels like you are there with him. It is the 13th of July, 1985, and about 72,000 people have gathered at the Live Aid concert to be a part of Queen’s performance.

Viewers of this film are transported into the most fascinating and defining parts of Mercury’s life,  and get a look at the heart of timeless British rock band Queen. Despite the film having lots of music (well, duh?) and humorous bits, there is a palpable sadness and melancholy all the way through it. The director, Bryan Singer, has managed quite well to demonstrate the low points of Freddy’s life as well as the highs. Mercury often struggled with loneliness, love and identity as he entered the world of fame and it is noticeable.

Malek, the 37-year-old lead, looks very much like the real Freddie Mercury, but it’s his deft imitations of Mercury’s personality traits and characteristic movements that really elevate the performance. The other band members are portrayed impressively as well: Gwilym Lee as Brian May, Ben Hardy as Roger Taylor and Joseph Mazzello as John Deacon.

When I was young, I went to music school for six years and we used to sing Queen songs in the choir. So for me, the movie was strangely personal. I feel like many other viewers will share this feeling.

One of these song was the iconic six minute long anthem that the film was named after, written by Mercury for their album “A Night at the Opera”. As I sang their tunes at an early age, I made an emotional connection to the band – and I must say that the Queen cinema experience was a pleasant nostalgic journey.

Click here to see the trailer.

Film Review: Ralph Breaks The Internet

While not an instant classic, this sequel to Wreck It Ralph defies expectations simply by being “surprisingly not terrible”.

Ralph Breaks The Internet

Ralph Breaks The Internet

It’s a strange thing, being a grown man and going to watch a kid’s movie on your own. Still, I’ve managed to apply a critical eye and not simply lurk around the theatre, looking creepy.

The plot of Ralph Breaks The Internet follows essentially what the title says. Our hero Ralph, a lovable 80s arcade game villain, journeys to the internet with his feisty young accomplice Vanellope to save the latter’s arcade cabinet (which is in need of spare parts). They find what they need on eBay, there’s some shenanigans, they get the thing, there’s yet more shenanigans, and then some minor peril ensues as Ralph’s best intentions go awry. However, everything ends well and leaves you with a nice fuzzy feeling inside. If that’s a spoiler for you, there’s a few Disney classics you’ll need a peek at before you read the rest of this.

The film mostly takes place inside a fictionalised version of the internet, so the humour centres around internet culture, memes and social media. This is an incredibly difficult kind of joke, as it needs to be incredibly up-to-date. More so than any movie that has spent two years in production has any right to be. Yet, they actually manage it. There’s still a few bits of banter that really would’ve been funnier six years ago when the first one came out, but for the most part the in-jokes and references are pretty on the ball. One particularly notable scene from the trailers involving all the various Disney princesses is actually a great laugh.

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Promotional movie poster

I think the way they manage to not entirely miss the punchline with all the internet humour is by not delving too deep into online culture. They do cover a lot of interesting points – the viciousness of comment sections, viral videos, even the highly illegal “Dark Web” – but there’s always more references you can make when you’re talking about the internet. Doing that, however, would just create some horrifying remake of The Emoji Movie. Instead, the writers have shone the light back onto the characters themselves for most of the jokes, and made a lot of self-referential jabs about Disney movies. Looking back is a good theme, I suppose, for what is Walt Disney Studios’ first theatrical sequel since 2011 – the one you’re thinking of when you see that fact and go “Really?” is either a Pixar movie or was straight-to-DVD.

While I seem positive here, I am being very generous with the term “entertaining”. It’s a great movie to watch with gullible, easily distracted children, or to put on for a couple hours while you play with your phone. You can (and should!) tilt your head up every so often to enjoy the odd sequence but the film doesn’t overly grab you. It’s also pretty long: nearly two hours, and this is supposed to be a kids movie. My attention span isn’t even that long, let alone that of the standard pre-pubescent cinema goer. There’s laughs, but it seems like it mostly just appeals to the hard-core Wreck It Ralph fan –  if that’s even a thing.

See movie times for Ralph Breaks The Internet here. 

Game Review: Battlefield V

Watch as Liam Mackay reviews Battlefield V and discusses its pre-launch controversies.

Buy Battlefield V here.

Afternoon story round up

Some members of the EN4 News and ENG4GE team discuss some of the stories up online and in our new magazine on its launch day. Join Paige Beresford, Rachel Lee, Paul Sinclair and Olivia Hill as they run through some of the days talking points.

Review: Jack White at the Usher Hall

Kris Krug

Jack White doesn’t allow photography during his show, so this generic image will have to do. Credits to Kris Krug

There’s a reason this article doesn’t have any photos — it’s because Jack White wouldn’t let me take any.

It was a drunken night of crazy antics as Jack White blew into the Scottish capital like an American hurricane, and in a matter of hours, he was gone again – leaving some audience members baffled and others enthralled. Whether he started the show already drunk, no one will know, but he definitely ended it that way. Swigging champagne like there was a grape draught, playing his guitar with said bottle and then tearing down half his set up, I couldn’t tell if I found his music entertaining or if it was just his unpredictable stumbling.

His music was not the clearest, only his greatest hits were completely audible, but that was arguably decades of muscle memory — playing Seven Nation Army every night since 2003 would drive me to the bottle too. Sixteen Saltines and Steady, As She Goes were perfection but the rest of the show was a little rough around the edges. He stumbled around, tearing down the cymbals, screaming into the microphone to the point that the feedback was almost deafening, conducting his band (he never uses a set list, he just reads the room), acting like a total diva, but then the nicest man would come through when he actually addressed the crowd.

He went from crazed drunkard to concerned busker so quickly it could give you whiplash.

When he came out for the encore (which he waited way too long to come out for), he proclaimed that he would play until 11pm and if anyone needed to leave, to get the last train home, then please feel free to leave. Not the Jack White who ran around the stage leaving guitars on the floor before reaching for his bottle of champers again.

Just before the end of the show, he got the support act Demob Happy on stage to jam through a song (or two, it was hard to figure out when one song stopped and another started) and profusely thanked the crowd, and blessed them, their family, their friends, all of Edinburgh and all of Scotland… the only person he forgot to bless was the family cow. He then embarked on a half hour encore (it was a two and a half hour show, getting your money’s worth) and scaled the piano (yes, he scaled it, almost crashed off of it trying to smash his guitar and then stepped off it in a very lacklustre fashion, probably realising he was too smashed himself).

Special mention has to go out to Jack White’s tech, who spent more time on stage than off, untangling him after he’d done his laps of the stage, and tuning his guitar every time he dropped it, fixing his microphone set up when he trashed it, and just generally saving the day when instruments got in Jack’s way.

All in all, it was a very entertaining show, but if you came for the music and not the full Jack White experience, then you might be left disappointed. Just don’t expect to use your phone to take photos of him or take a phone call, because he doesn’t like that either – he makes you lock your phone away before the gig even starts. It’s all Jack White or nothing at all.

Bad Times at the El Royale review

An all-star cast tells a tale of love, murder and money in this late 60’s thriller 

It’s easy to watch the trailer for Bad Times at the El Royale and not really know what the heck is going on, as the latest film from director Drew Goddard (The Martian, Buffy The Vampire Slayer) brings a priest, a singer, a salesman and a fleeing cult member together in a seedy hotel on the California/Nevada borderline. Sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it makes for a great movie.

Set in 1968, the film brings this group of mismatches together and introduces a backstory for each character in a Tarantino-esque way. We learn of gunfights, murder, drug abuse and violence as each character’s true identity and agenda is revealed one by one.

The volume of death in this film is such that the murders of key characters don’t feel as important as they should

One of the many positive attributes this film carries is the star power, with several established Hollywood names taking a key role, including Mad Men star Jon Hamm and Thor actor Chris HemsworthThe real breakaway performance in this film, however, is reserved for Jeff Bridges. Bridges’ character, who starts out as an ageing priest seeking refuge from an inbound storm, unveiled as a bank robber, recently released from a lengthy prison stretch in which a botched robbery left his brother (portrayed in an almost cameo-like role by Parks and Recreation star Nick Offerman) dead and himself behind bars. Returning to the same hotel where his brother met his demise to retrieve the buried money, Bridges’ character Doc O’Kelly is in the preliminary stages of dementia and fails to remember which room the money is hidden in.

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Theatrical Poster – Credits to FOX FILMS

At times leaning a little too heavily on a Pulp Fiction/Tarantino style of cinematography, the story jumps from one character to another, from past to present to present to past. On more than one occasion, the viewer may find himself viewing the same scene again, perhaps from another perspective or simply as the conclusion of a character’s backstory, a factor that may be off-putting to a casual cinema goer.

The film drew a disappointing $2.7 million in its opening weekend, a fraction of its $30 million budget, but fans of this type of retro, art noir type of film should not let this affect their decision to go and watch this wonderfully weird film. The complex past of each character, the unexpected twists and turns and the dark comedic aspects of the release more than make up for the over the top violence and at times predictable storytelling. Bad Times at the El Royale will leave audiences mentally exhausted but overall satisfied, and maybe just a little confused.

Watch the Trailer for Bad Times at the El Royale here

 

Paper Review, Tuesday October 23

Join reporters Joanna Hampson and Olivia Otigbah for a review of today’s papers.

Home crowd at the Hydro: Kevin Bridges Review

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Fans gathered at the SSE Hydro for the 14th night of Kevin Bridge’s sell-out tour. Credit to Guy Percival.

“That’s my sermon for the Sunday crowd!”–mild Kevin Bridges spoilers to follow. 

I recently went to see Clydebank comic Kevin Bridges on night 14 of his 19 sold out dates in a row at the SSE Hydro as part of his Brand New tour.

Selling out the nations biggest venue, 19 nights in a row is an achievement enough, but beyond that – after 3 sell-out UK tours – Kevin Bridges is still really funny.

In his warm Glaswegian brand of observational comedy, Bridges tackled a range of topics from Brexit and Trump to social media addiction and simply ordering Chinese food. Playing to his home crowd, he related international events to the sketchier of characters everyone in Glasgow, or Scotland for that matter, will know all too well.

None of this is to say that Bridges only goes for the topical, or dances around the fact that he is by this point a household name. Refreshingly, he talks a lot about the fame and fortune he has enjoyed, and how inconspicuous it makes him when trying to do things as simple as go for coffee in Glasgow’s West End.

And with that his persona has changed, he’s not really Clydebank anymore, he’s Byres Road. Years of success and a change of environment haven’t stopped Bridges from picking apart the human condition in his signature style, both as he sees it in Glasgow’s people and in world events. If anything, I’d say he’s getting better.

Despite going on his 14th night, there was still a buzz and sense of excitement in the crowd, and that is not something I’d expect Bridges to lose anytime soon.

 

 

 

 

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