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Morgan.

morgan-pic-1

The Ridley Scott-produced Morgan, directed by his son Luke (in what is his directorial debut) and starring Kate Mara in the leading role, has been garnering a negative reaction from critics… it’s not hard to see why. On the surface it looks like another generic science fiction movie in which a science experiment funded by a shady branch of the government has gone wrong; and under the surface, while the film no doubt thinks itself smart, one is not overly shocked at the twists when they come.

You can probably sense a ‘but’ coming, and that’s because despite the lack of truly new ideas in this film, I actually kind of liked it.

Mara plays Lee Weathers, a ‘risk-assessment specialist’ sent to an isolated house that sits alongside a laboratory to, well, assess the risk posed by her company’s latest experiment. The lab houses ‘Morgan’, an artificial human hybrid created for reasons that aren’t quite made clear until towards the film’s conclusion; even then you may have a hard time working out what just happened and why.

Anya Taylor-Joy plays Morgan herself – or rather, ‘itself’ – having previously appeared in The Witch (still my favourite horror movie of the year) in what was her breakthrough role. Here she is undoubtedly one of the best parts of the film, her main competition coming from Paul Giamatti, who only appears briefly in the movie but makes a strong impression when he does.

Toby Jones also brings his unmistakable eccentricity to the film while Jennifer Jason Leigh helps round out what is a strong cast for a debut – though I imagine having Ridley Scott producing, and having Ridley Scott as one’s father, tends to help with that.

Themes of humanity and identity are touched upon, with Lee – the professional company woman here to do her job – routinely correcting the scientists who have become attached to Morgan, regarding her almost like family and referring to ‘it’ as ‘her’.

The first portion of Morgan deals primarily with this psychological aspect, keeping you guessing as to whether the scientists are right to regard it/ her so warmly, or whether there is something darker lurking underneath. For me this opening half, up to and including Giamatti’s character introduction, is clearly the strong half of the movie. In the second, we see it almost devolve into the generic sci-fi action flick one might have been expecting on the way in.

This isn’t groundbreaking or mind-blowing stuff by any means, but I found it entertaining. If anything, the major disappointment with Morgan is that it doesn’t fully commit to the slower, more atmospheric and horror-oriented genre it wants to be in its opening half, in which it showed genuine potential to be something more than it appears. I was intrigued… whereas in the end, it simply leaves you feeling indifferent at its unsatisfying attempts to wrap up the narrative.

6 / 10

Neon Demon pic 1.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s new film The Neon Demon already has quite a lot of anticipation surrounding its release this weekend, and from what I’ve heard it’s for good reason – this is going to be one of the most ‘interesting’ films of the year.

Labelled a psychological horror (always one of the most intriguing genres for me), it’s about an aspiring model trying to survive the modelling scene in LA; she’s young and beautiful, making her a target for other models who grow jealous of her. I don’t know much more than that at this point, aside from what else is revealed in the trailer which, if you’ve seen it (I’ll put it below), tells you this film has some… weird qualities to it. In a good way.

There aren’t a lot of screenings available for it even during its opening weekend, which basically means it isn’t entirely mainstream, though the amount of marketing it’s been given tells you it does have a definite audience – just not the all-encompassing, easy-going audience that most big releases enjoy. If you want an easy-going movie experience, this probably won’t be for you.

Winding Refn’s previous feature, Only God Forgives (2013), was equally divisive, also balancing on the border between ‘cult’ and mainstream status. If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend a viewing before going into this one, to get a feel for the tone of the director’s work – in particular The Neon Demon, with which I think Only God Forgives may share certain qualities.

Of course before Only God Forgives he directed Drive, starring Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt driver, winner of the Best Film Oscar in 2011 and an essential film to watch in any case. I’d also recommend seeking it out as soon as possible.

But perhaps the most appropriate comparison will be drawn with the lesser-known Starry Eyes (2014), a film I came across last year with which The Neon Demon appears to share thematic similarities.

Starry Eyes, also a horror movie, is about a young actress seeking to make it big as a film star; her ambition eventually leads her down a dark path with slightly gory consequences. Not one for the faint-hearted, but then again I don’t think The Neon Demon will be either. If you’re at all intrigued by the latter, I think you’ll be equally intrigued by Starry Eyes and would recommend seeing it too.

Have a nice weekend!

Tale of Tales.

Tale of Tales pic 1.

Technically Tale of Tales is over a year old – it was first screened in competition for the Palme d’Or at Cannes last May. But this Italian-French-British co-production only recently arrived on UK shores, and it’s set to be one of the most eccentric films released here this year.

Tale of Tales is Italian director Matteo Garrone’s first English-language film (something to bear in mind for those of you who can’t stand anything with subtitles); a horror fantasy featuring three interwoven stories described as ‘adult fairy tales’ – and trust me, these fairy tales certainly aren’t for children. While I found it relatively light on the ‘horror’ side (bear in mind, I’m accustomed to some pretty hardcore stuff), there is still enough sex, violence, adult themes and a genuinely unsettling tone in places to put off those who prefer a more PG experience.

The rest of you are likely to lap this up, providing fantasy is a genre you have at least a passing interest in. It opens with a queen desperate to conceive a child, by any means necessary… so when a necromancer shows up saying he knows a way, she pleads with her king to do the necessary. Loving her so, he grants her wish, setting off to kill a sea monster, seeking its heart, which must be cooked by a virgin and eaten by the queen; at which point she will fall pregnant immediately. But there will, of course, be a cost to her granted wish, as there always seems to be with offers sounding too good to be true.

This is one of three entertaining and somewhat fantastical scenarios featuring hapless royalty, each of which take place in the same world but are unique tales in their own right. They all have elements of tongue-in-cheek humour mixed in with serious thematic undertones; the sub-plot revolving around Toby Jones’ fascination with a flea, which then indirectly decides the fate of his princess daughter, is the prime example. There are moments when you’re not quite sure whether to laugh or feel horrified at what’s unfolding in front of you, but the film will certainly hold your attention for the entire journey either way.

As well as the aforementioned Jones (who undeniably steals the spotlight in most of his scenes), Vincent Cassel, Salma Hayek, Stacy Martin and John C. Reilly make up an enjoyable ensemble cast, while the beautiful sets and environments they inhabit are characters of their own. One could say if Lord of the Rings was set thousands of years ago, Tale of Tales feels like a slightly more modern reimagining of that kind of world, retaining a shadow of the beauty of its landscape but with all the bastardisations that come with the passing of time, when there are no more wars to be fought.

In reality these two fantasies are scarcely related outside of their genre; this film is based on the works of the Neapolitan poet Giambattista Basile, whose work reportedly also contained the earliest versions of other fairy tales such as Repunzel and Cinderella. Tale of Tales lacks the sheer scale of Tolkien’s epic (but then again, is there anything that doesn’t?); you’ll find no armies or battles here, and in terms of overall tone the two are quite different, but for imagination I found them comparable. On that note, one can’t help but see Guillermo del Toro’s influence in the creature and set design.

Its eccentric, irreverent tone may indeed be Tale of Tales’ greatest strength. I don’t recall seeing anything else quite like it. Essentially it is as much a black comedy as it is horror or fantasy. Unlike others who’ve tried to parody this kind of setting (2011’s Your Highness comes to mind), Tale of Tales does it with a unique style and fine attention to detail. Providing it resonates with you in the same way, this is likely to be one of your favourite films of 2016.

9 / 10

Departure.

Departure pic 1.

Departure (directed by Andrew Steggall) is at times intense, at times understated, but always a pleasure to watch. That’s thanks mainly to its three central leads, played by Juliet Stevenson (Beatrice), Alex Lowther (her son Elliot) and breakout French actor Phenix Brossard (Clement). Their interaction drives this British drama, at the centre of which are themes of alienation within the family unit and what it means to ‘love’.

Indeed the three characters find themselves almost locked in a curious love triangle that never quite blossoms. While Elliot is only starting to discover his sexual identity, his mother feels isolated and ignored by his often absent father (who has a role to play in the latter part of the film). As Clement enters into their situation, they find someone else on whom to focus their attention.

There’s a strangely comforting quality to Departure’s cinematography; it’s set in the French countryside, at Beatrice and Elliot’s summer holiday home. They’re preparing to sell the house and spend much of the movie in the midst of packing; this act itself becoming a source of tension as the story unfolds.

The film does a great job of contrasting what would usually be seen as a safe haven – the family home – with the fear of seeing it inevitably break up, and it’s fascinating to see the different ways in which each character reacts.

Overall Departure may not be the flashiest film to appear in cinemas in 2016, but its insight into what leads to relationship breakdowns, and an honest approach to sexuality, make it an intriguing one worth seeking out.

7 / 10

What’s my problem with politics now?

Just look at the power struggles in the Conservative party… Was this referendum all about their little leadership contest? Apparently David Cameron, Boris Johnson, George Osborne and Michael Gove were best friends during their days at Oxford and it seems now their ‘friendly’ rivalries have spilled over to become the epicentre of a pivotal point in the UK’s history. The unfolding (melo-)drama really is like something out of a Shakespeare play. Haven’t we established already how out of touch these guys are with the needs of ordinary people?

Who has any idea where we’re going from here? When will Article 50 be triggered? Will it be triggered? Or, a question I believe not yet settled: should it be triggered?

The referendum may have answered the question of whether the majority (however narrow) of the British public want it to be – and I wouldn’t argue with the outcome – but that is not the same question.

Is it really so preposterous, if we take all the point scoring and nitpicking out of this, to suggest a ‘leave’ vote doesn’t automatically settle the issue once and for all?

Besides, how do we think the leave campaign would have reacted if it came out 52-48 in favour of Remain? I can imagine Nigel Farage standing up in the European parliament and saying he still “wasn’t giving up the fight to one day take Britain out of the EU” regardless of the result…

It’s kind of like the Scottish referendum issue that’s once again raising its head – there would have been another chance for us to come out of the EU if it was the best decision, in the country’s best interests… What we’re seeing now isn’t in the country’s best interests at all. What we’ve seen in the past week, with the deception, game playing and name calling at the top tables, has been enough to see at least some of those who voted leave now express regret that they did so.

Where’s the common sense in modern day politics? Is democracy really that cut and dry? Is it really that inflexible, to the point where, once a decision has been made on one single day out of 365 in a year, it is then set in stone regardless of anyone’s opinion – indeed, regardless of the facts on the table – following on from that?

This is the path on which dictatorships are born… In this case, while it may sound silly, we are being dictated to by democratic rules. By politicians who continue to say what they think we want to hear. Remain campaigners now saying we need to commit fully to leaving – because their loyalty lies with the majority, albeit in this case a narrow one.

You might disagree. How then do you justify shutting down the opinions of the 48% who did not agree with you? Oh, I agree we would have had a similar situation if ‘Remain’ had won… But the difference being, that everyone would have expected ‘euro-skeptics’ to continue to voice their opinions going forward anyway, and we would have had to listen. Their dissenting voices are what would have kept the EU and our own government accountable. It would have been essential that they didn’t just ‘shut up’ once the issue had been settled (because we would’ve known, unless Remain had won by a landslide, that it wouldn’t have been truly settled).

For some reason, though, the 48% who voted remain are now being told they have to ‘shut up and accept’ the outcome. Well, I really don’t think you should; I don’t think any of us should have to ‘shut up’ and accept any result we’re not happy with.

Apparently we should just ‘accept that we lost’ if we dare to suggest Brexit might – just maybe – be a bad idea (as if because 52% said so, it suddenly becomes a good one). The thing is, I don’t think ‘accepting we lost’ is our problem. Surely the ‘remain’ camp knows damn well that it lost. My problem (as I can only speak for myself) is with what looks like coming after that.

If this is what democracy means – that when you lose the vote, you therefore lose your voice – then it has indeed failed us.

Besides, it’s already been acknowledged – it was acknowledged within hours of the result – that some voted under false pretences, thinking certain things would happen that have since not happened. Many of us suspect that’s only the start of it.

Yet still, we are seemingly bound by this vote as if it is law? Only because these politicians care more about their careers (by pandering to each other and the 52%) than what’s in the best interests of the country? That is unacceptable!!

So what are the rest of us going to do about it? Shall we let ourselves leave the EU without a fight, and see our future go up in smoke? Or shall we stand up and be counted? Are we prepared to admit, no matter which way we vote in any situation, that we might have been wrong?

Or let our pride take us out of the EU and into possible oblivion… That is what I believe we’ll get for stubbornly ‘following the rules’ of democracy and listening to those who say it’s impossible to change our minds on this. It isn’t impossible – yet. Our fate with the EU is not set in stone until Article 50 is initiated; at which point it really will be full throttle, no turning back, for better or… no, for worse I’m sure.

The people still have a chance, a window of opportunity before it snaps shut, to stand up and fight this. For 48% of us, our voice isn’t being heard, nor will it be heard as long as we’re trapped under that 50% threshold. That’s probably the sad truth. We’re no longer the government’s chosen audience.

We need to try and change that. Otherwise, the farcical situation we’re seeing now regarding the Conservative and Labour leadership might only mark the beginning of the much bigger farce that ‘Brexit’ will be known as.

P.S. On politicians: these guys (naming no one in particular – just assume I mean the majority) may soon realise that treating people as if they’re stupid no longer works in politics. In their world it often seems to revert back to primitive name calling and accusations designed to discredit the opposing side. Hint: humans have a natural inclination to rebel if given the slightest reason. Most of them don’t have the balls to do it openly, but a voting booth, rather like the Internet, gives them the opportunity to do so without having to deal with the immediate consequences. This referendum may have been one such example, with a ‘leave’ vote representing a prime opportunity to ‘stick it to the man’.

Fair enough, most of us think for ourselves anyway but for those who were torn on which way to vote in this case, the government’s attitude may just have been the tipping point, and in coming across as (dare I say) rather arrogant in their campaign, they in turn partly ensured their (our) own defeat.

Norn Iron Euro 2016 pic 2.

If you’ve been paying any attention to football-related news this summer, or at least have friends who indirectly keep you updated, you’ll know it’s been a pretty big summer for the football teams of the home nations.

For Wales it’s not over yet, as they look forward to their first ever semi-final in their first tournament since 1958, after beating Belgium on Friday night.

Before that, they narrowly beat Northern Ireland 1-0 in one of the more underrated games in the last 16; a game that was set up thanks to a last minute Robbie Brady winner for the Republic of Ireland against Italy.

The Republic went on to give hosts France a bit of a scare as they also narrowly went down 2-1.

And of course we can’t forget England, who fell to what’s been called possibly their most embarrassing defeat ever against Iceland, who have 10% of their 300,000 population supporting them in attendance at Euro 2016. One thing’s for sure; none of us will be forgetting this tournament in a hurry.

Both sets of Irish fans have been honoured by the mayor of Paris for their unique, passionate contribution to the competition; Northern Irish fans in particular are responsible for popularising what’s been called the theme song of the tournament, “Will Grigg’s on Fire”, ironically about a player who didn’t even get on the pitch in any of the team’s four matches (wouldn’t have been fair on the opposition’s defence I suppose). It was said Northern Ireland were the only team whose fans have fans – though to be fair those Iceland fans are pretty unique too.

For our wee country, Norn Iron, to go out in the last 16 would have been expected going into the tournament; indeed we were delighted to even get there. The main disappointment I felt following the game against Wales wasn’t that we had went out, or that we hadn’t done as well as we could’ve hoped for; it was that the journey had now come to an end. The dream was over. But what a dream it had been while it lasted.

We went into the first game of our qualifying campaign, against Hungary almost two years ago (I’ve linked to it a few times before but hell, why not), having not won an away match since 2010. I remember that game like it was yesterday; Hungary going 1-0 up and thinking “here we go again”, then two goals from McGinn and Lafferty that came from nowhere in the last 10 minutes. Our form leading up to that match hadn’t been good; there was nothing to suggest what would come. Before we knew it we had won our first three qualifying games, two of them away from home, and the dream had begun.

Then, seeing us beat Ukraine on the big stage was unforgettable; the culmination of everything leading up to that point. We had proved we could win in France, with all eyes on us, rather than just make up the numbers and say we were “happy to be here” (I’m naturally a competitive guy so that would never have worked for me, haha). We had desire. We came to win. It was the most emotional football game I’ve ever watched, and the greatest result I’ve ever experienced. Unfortunately the only people I could share it with at the time were England fans who, through no fault of their own, were utterly incapable of comprehending what it meant to all of us back home.

The rest is now history. But every Northern Ireland fan will dare to dream once again when the World Cup qualifying campaign begins in September. I can say I’ve seen my country play – and win – at the European Championships; now I want to see them do the only thing that could possibly top it. I want to see them at a World Cup; and at this point confidence is high that we can make it to Russia in 2018. Should we somehow manage that, trust me: you’ve only seen the start of what our passionate fans can bring to the table. We’ll celebrate again like it’s our first, and our last.

Until next time, Norn Iron. You’ve done me proud.

Britain, you’re not the victims.

This vote didn’t represent the valiant fight for “independence” from tyranny that some are claiming. Though I see the tragic irony that it should happen 100 years on from a generation whose fight did secure the freedoms we have today.

Rather, in 2016 you were one of the central pillars for a EU that stood as a symbol for standing together and helping each other.

A place where people forced to flee from their homes or wishing to provide a better life for their families felt they could come to prosper or, equally, depend on for protection. A place where they felt they’d be welcomed with open arms.

I was proud of these values. I was proud to be British… until the early hours of Friday morning.

At which point my heart sank. The profound sense of sorrow I felt, unlike anything I ever thought I’d feel in relation to a democratic vote. Because usually, democracy goes the sensible way – usually you can count on common sense prevailing even when parties like the BNP or UKIP gain momentary support in certain seasons.

My tone should give away my allegiance – I voted remain, 100%. At no point leading up to the referendum result did I truly believe more than half of the country wouldn’t. ‘Stronger Together’ was the Remain campaign’s slogan, and as I’m sure this country will soon come to realise, it wasn’t just simple rhetoric or a line that looked good on posters. It was a fact. It was common sense.

The only way I can describe my prevailing emotion last Friday morning, and I didn’t fully understand it at first, was grief. Grief for a country I’d previously been proud of. For my national identity – for a place I’d called my home for the first 26 years of my life, now undergoing a change that would, in the long run, make it – and most likely the rest of Europe – look a very different place. Possibly a similar place to how it looked 100 years ago. I foresaw it (possibly, if not certainly) changing into something I didn’t really want anything to do with.

To be clear, I’m not here to dissect the wildly varying ‘facts’ and opinions of the referendum campaign. Enough people will do that, and the answers, though some of us believe we already see the writing on the wall, will become all too clear in due time. I hope beyond hope that ‘leave’ campaigners were right in at least some of their assertions. The future of the UK depends on it.

But then, should our concern really just be for our own country? How this vote affects the rest of Europe (even, dare I say, the rest of the Western world) is just as, if not more vital…

How will we be viewed in the history books as a result of this pivotal vote? Pre-referendum, Britain was a country looked at with admiration by those less well off. Our position of privilege in the world had been used to help others over ourselves. We were actually not far off living out the fundamental Christian values our nation often stakes claim to.

As of last Friday, we’re celebrated across other EU states and further afield in a very different way. In more uncomfortable ways… By right wing parties rubbing their hands together at the thought of using this vote as leverage for pushing through their own agenda… By Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who both endorsed ‘Brexit’ for reasons I dread to imagine at this moment.

By ISIS, who will use this as further ‘evidence’ that the Western world seeks to ostracize peaceful Muslims and wants nothing to do with them. You may have seen for yourself in the past few days; some British people, whether they may be a small-minded minority or not, are helping support that rhetoric.

A large portion of ‘leave’ voters would take this as a veiled accusation of racism and claim they’re obviously not racist, that’s not why they voted that way. Perhaps they may even have that Eastern European friend they’ll point to in an effort to try and prove it.

Obviously I’m not saying you are racist here, though I’m also not going to hold back certain truths just out of fear of offending sensitive people, or painting with too broad a brush. We all do it at certain points, and I’m in no mood to fine-tune everything I say here or double check all my bases and ask what every single individual person might take from it.

If what I say does not apply to you, I hope you won’t be offended. I am not, after all, directing it towards you personally. But let’s be real; we’re all seeing the narrative out there. We’re all seeing what at least some ‘leave’ voters represent, and as for the rest of you, well… you’re not entirely without responsibility. This is the situation you’ve helped present us with. Now I’m going to proceed to share some of the other images I have of those who gleefully voted ‘leave’, based on my own reading of this campaign and the current socio-economic climate…

Those who voted leave likely aren’t the kind of people who were worried about money, in the sense that they don’t have much savings, or at least if they do, were painfully ignorant about what announcing the UK’s EU departure would do to its value. The pound has dropped significantly since last Friday and while it has somewhat stabilised, it will be quite some time – if ever – before it comes anywhere close to its value pre-referendum.

This means changing your currency when you go abroad will give you less money to spend. It means our country in general will be poorer. Regardless of what trading deal we strike with the EU, even if it’s the most magnificent one we can all imagine in our wildest dreams, it will still not be as good a situation as it was when we were in their exclusive group.

Sure, we’ll “get by”. We’ll prove we can do it without them. We’ll prove we can be an independent country – just one nowhere near as prosperous or influential as it was or could’ve been.

We’ll need to cough up much more capital if we hope to maintain what we currently have, let alone achieve any growth. We’ll be seen as less financially reliable, less able to repay loans if they’re given. One way or the other, the UK will end up paying out more, not less (the leave camp may once again claim this is scare mongering, saying we do not know yet what kind of deals we may strike, but it is a simple statement of fact that comes with no longer having the benefits of being in the EU).

What area in England voted 60% remain, after all? It’s no coincidence that it was London, where the most economically prosperous Briton’s live. And those living in the capital who are upset at the current situation likely have the value of their pocket in mind.

I understand that if you are from a more working class background and do not have any great willingness to improve your prospects any further than they are currently, you of course would not care so much about this. You may even be one of the unemployed who likes to complain that you “can’t get no job” because the migrants have taken it, and you’d rather not work too hard to make yourself a more desirable potential employee. Therefore it’s probably in your best interests to drag everyone else down with you, in turn improving your own prospects while those who’ve worked hard to find financial success have to pick themselves up again – they’ll be able to do that easier than you in any case, for better or worse.

I’ve heard from people in both camps that they were voting “for future generations”.

Well frankly I fail to see how being out of the EU does anything for Britain’s next generation, short of embedding in them the propaganda that “we don’t need them – we’re great on our own”. Their prospects, if we care about such a thing, will naturally be more limited no matter what deal we cut on their behalf with the EU; a EU that we can no longer influence in a positive way from the inside. We’ll just moan and complain from the outside instead; that part of our British culture won’t change. Only now, we won’t have a seat at the table.

Again I think there was something of a social class divide here; a working class family who thinks their children may continue along such lines may indeed benefit from being out of the EU. There will naturally be less competition because less EU nationals will be coming to this country – which also means less skilled workers available, less money spent locally and nationally, all the while we’re spending extra to import goods from other nations… The outlook, even at its most optimistic, has us less well off economically than we ever were inside the EU, with all the natural benefits that brought us. I imagine that supposed £350 million we sent to the EU every week would in the end have seemed a small price to pay for the range of benefits we reaped. But we will now discover this harsh, painful reality quite slowly in the next decade.

Now the curious thing about my reaction to all of this, I’ve come to realise, is my use of the terms “we” or “our” – I suppose this is the result of my considering myself inherently a British citizen, and by default of birth in possession of a British passport (which may, in time, lose some of its prestigious value), because it’s certainly not the result of considering Britain my exclusive home, or a place in which I imagined spending the rest of my life. The truth is I didn’t beforehand nor do I now consider my future to be in the UK, but certainly current events will help determine how I look back on it and whether or not I return with any frequency; perhaps even the terms of my exact departure.

So one could argue this vote doesn’t particularly affect my immediate plans, and that’s probably correct, especially considering it’s going to be at least two years before anything significant changes in the UK. One could argue this was also the case with many other young voters who voted the same way as I; primarily for the freedom of movement and increased education or business opportunities the EU presented. Trust me therefore when I say: it’s the rest of you I’m more worried about. This is why you’ve see some of the older generation, not all of whom are out of touch, state how sorry they now are for the next generation, who will have to bear the main brunt of this decision.

I think recent market fluctuations – with the pound way down, then up, then down again, and finally stabilising but nowhere near where it was before last Friday – and hard line taken by the EU in the early stages of discussions show already that the Remain campaign’s pre-referendum warnings were not just the ‘scare-mongering’ they were labeled as.

David Cameron, realising the scale of the task that now lies ahead and likely without the first clue himself how he would possibly negotiate a good deal for the UK on exiting the EU, has left it all up to his successor (a man the rest of us won’t envy), while leave campaigners are also eager to emphasise that there is ‘no rush’ on initiating Article 50, perhaps realising now that it won’t quite be such a simple job as they had previously insinuated.

In any case, the UK is in for an awkward next two years at the EU table, with other members likely already thinking about subtle ways they can make things harder for us. The whole situation as it stands doesn’t exactly feel deserving of the glorious – bordering on hilarious – declaration of independence that ‘leave’ voters rushed to declare so eagerly last Friday (even though our actual independence – and yes, I feel uncomfortable referring to it as that – won’t happen for another two or even three years from now).

You see, the thing is, it clearly is in the best interests of both parties to continue an amicable relationship. Remain and leave campaigners would surely agree on that (unless, perhaps, your name is Nigel Farage). Therefore, from a common sense point of view I’d argue it’s pretty nonsensical for us to have even considered leaving – as we already have as amicable a relationship as we could’ve hoped for. It must now change drastically; if it doesn’t, then why bother?

I don’t say that because the idea of leaving and having our ‘independence’, as people have called it, is necessarily an unattractive one. Don’t get me wrong, I saw the argument and understood it, but never thought it realistic and even right up to 5.50am last Friday was hoping the British public wouldn’t create such an unnecessary problem for themselves.

As the government, leave voters and the rest of us are now realising, you can’t have it both ways. The EU will be strict about what benefits we can retain. This isn’t a case of keeping what we like and throwing away what we don’t. Make no mistake, whatever happens; a lot of people are going to end up hurting in the short term as a result of ‘Brexit’ when negotiations are complete. We may retain a decent relationship with the EU, but it obviously cannot ever be as close as it was. When they begin to make decisions we don’t like, we won’t be able to influence or stand in their way, having lost our seat at the decision-making table.

Prominent leave campaigners have not yet figured out what their plan is. Their primary target was to win the campaign – and a fair few of them have been conspicuously silent on what’s to happen next, aside from prematurely suggesting that Britain will retain some of those aforementioned benefits we actually rather like. But let’s remember there’s two affected parties at this table, and the EU want what’s best for them, not us.

It is true they need us to some extent; but I believe we’re also relying on them not to throw us in the dirt. They may struggle with the shock of a EU without the UK initially; but they would manage… Whereas we are now kind of dependent on help from elsewhere to survive as the isolationist little island we’ve become. Ironic that, isn’t it, considering this was supposed to be our great “independence day” (a long, protracted, drawn-out 2+ year independence at that)…

Predictions are all we can ever make, no one can see the future – one can’t expect politicians to provide the exact answers or figures on this kind of thing. Where the establishment goes wrong is in thinking they need to – hence the promises they often fail to keep, and the resulting frustrations that were partly what led to 52% of British citizens voting against the very thing our own government recommended we stay in for national security and stability. Our initial instinct so often is to assume they’re just full of shit.

Those who voted Remain were not wrong either for being concerned, and one thing I’ve hated is how both sides seemed to try hitting each other with ‘facts’ when the real fact is, none of us could be sure how this would all turn out. All we did know was that leaving would present the vast uncertainty (in so many areas) that we now face – and the opportunities it would take away to be replaced with that uncertainty.

Somehow ‘leave’ campaigners, and by extension those who voted that way, have managed to convince 52% of us that uncertainty is a good thing, because it ‘might not’ turn out as bad as they say. Maybe not, but it certainly won’t be any better than what we had before. Though if it somehow were better, that would consequently spell doom for the EU… You can start to see the circular problem here, right? Think about it.

In my view, no one wins. Someone will lose, and it’s more likely to be the UK at this point. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit part of me would like to see Britain squirm under the increasing pressure.

Yes, perhaps that makes me a terrible person. The fact that I’m already working on plans to leave myself may be seen as ‘jumping ship’. The leave voters would either claim to be glad to see the back of me or say I’m a sore loser. They perhaps think I should instead stick around to help the rebuilding process of supposedly great “British independence”, though I’m not sure why, as I was among those who wondered why a rebuilding process was ever necessary when we already had a perfectly good structure in place.

Really think about that for a moment. Did Britain truly look like a country that needed some declaration of ‘independence’? I suppose some would say yes; but their evidence would likely involve assumptions of what would happen in future, rather than what’s in front of us right now. Again, whatever now happens in the EU in future, we are no longer there at the table to offer a voice. They could now do the most nefarious shit imaginable, without the UK’s input, if they so wish.

I personally found it somewhat ironic, if not insulting, if not the idea for a crazy satire, for ‘leave’ voters to claim independence when that’s not something we’ve ever had to fight for; rather, many countries have instead had to fight for independence from us. We spent much of our history imposing ourselves on others, taking without giving, only to then willingly vote to turn our backs when we started putting more into the EU than we got back out of it (in the view of some).

Before the voting results I thought there would one day be films made or books written about what might’ve happened had the UK voted to leave the EU. When I woke last Friday morning I thought perhaps I had stepped into that kind of story, only it felt like a nightmare. This stuff feels like it is supposed to be fantasy. Somehow, I can’t quite imagine authors wishing to tell the story of what would’ve happened if Britain remained. Where’s the drama in that?

In the end, long story short (or vice versa, as the case may be), I’m just not sure this ‘UK independence’ is something I want to associate with. Rather like 52% of the British public, I’d prefer to say, “screw you guys, I’m looking after myself”.

Euro 2016 thoughts and preview.

Norn Iron Euro 2016.

Being a Northern Ireland fan living in England, one can perhaps imagine how disappointing it is for me to see that most others around me aren’t quite seeing Euro 2016 as a big deal in the same way that I personally do.

England, after all, qualify for most major tournaments, though the last few they have qualified for have either been underwhelming (2006, 2010, 2012) or downright disastrous (2014). Still, the feeling among England fans, even if they don’t openly state it, is that this kind of occasion every two years has become normal; an expected occurrence that fits appropriately alongside their team’s expected collapse under the pressure of media scrutiny.

This isn’t the case for Northern Ireland fans – indeed, it isn’t the case for the fans of most smaller countries that are not accustomed to this kind of opportunity; I imagine fans of Iceland, Albania and of course Wales are feeling a similar sense of anticipation right now. The last time our wee country qualified for anything like this was four years before I was born, in 1986; four years before that we had beaten hosts Spain on route to the World Cup quarter finals. We’re still the smallest nation ever to achieve such a thing – only Trinidad & Tobago were smaller in terms of World Cup participation, though they were unable to win a game or score a goal in 2006.

History, I feel, has been talked about enough. Though it’s something we can look back on with pride, it feels about time that new records were set in stone. And that’s what the next few weeks are all about; putting our generation in the history books as, at the very least, one of twenty-four participants at the 2016 European Championships in France. As for what we can do from here? Who knows… I optimistically think we have a chance of going quite far – but then again I have my fan’s hat on, which automatically disqualifies one from making a completely honest assessment – and at the least, I see us qualifying from our group and making the Last 16 stage. From there, it’s anyone’s game. We certainly fancy the quarter-finals, you can bet on that, and the bigger nations shall know by now that underestimating us will only lead to trouble.

Perhaps that may work against us. We’ll have to show even deeper qualities than what has already been on show during qualification. On that topic, I need to place on record here my frustration with a certain narrative being put out there in mainstream sports media. The narrative is that the expansion of the Euro’s from 16 to 24 teams has allowed teams such as Northern Ireland, Iceland, and Wales to qualify. I’ve been hearing this narrative primarily from BBC sports pundits for a number of months now, but it clearly overlooks the facts.

The fact is, Northern Ireland won their group. Again, they WON THEIR GROUP. Iceland narrowly missed out on top spot in their group, but did beat top seeds the Netherlands home and away in their qualification campaign. Similarly, Wales beat top seeds Belgium and went on a similar run which almost saw them win their group.

My point is simple: even if only 16 teams had qualified for this year’s tournament, Northern Ireland would have been one of them, likely Iceland and Wales too. No, the expanded competition is not to suit the smaller nations like us, as this mainstream narrative would have you believe. It is, in fact, to create a larger safety net for the bigger nations through which to qualify. Ironically, the Netherlands couldn’t take advantage of said expansion; the 2014 World Cup semi-finalists slumped to fourth in their group and couldn’t even manage a consolation play-off spot.

So let’s not kid ourselves that this expansion was to do smaller nations like us a favour; to say it was, is a disservice to a Northern Ireland team that won their group and have been on a 12-match unbeaten run since.

Anyway, this is also to say there’s been a lot written and spoken about Euro 2016 in sports media over the past few months, and I’m sure there will be much more to come. I don’t want to spend any more time making predictions or speculating on what the tournament has in store. Rest assured it’s going to be a BIG occasion for all of us. The time for talking is almost finished. Now I intend to go and enjoy it.

My pick to win Euro 2016: Belgium (narrowly beating Northern Ireland in a hotly contested final… perhaps)

FFJ pic 1.

For the second time this year, ‘legendary’ opera singer and socialite Florence Foster Jenkins’ life is the subject of a major feature film. French movie Marguerite was not a straight biopic, more a loosely inspired standalone film – though a rather good one. So I was especially curious to see how its British counterpart, starring Hugh Grant and Meryl Streep, would turn out in comparison.

I said Foster Jenkins is legendary – perhaps infamous may be a better word, but I hesitate to use it because people did actually like her. Basically, though she knew music – classical opera specifically – she couldn’t sing, and her close friends and family didn’t have the heart to tell her so. Nor did she have an ear for her own voice. She couldn’t hit a right note to save her life but thought she was brilliant.

It was her personality that made her endearing, and Meryl Streep does a brilliant job playing the title character in this film. Get it wrong and her ‘thinking she’s good when she’s really not’ outlook would have been at best annoying, at worst infuriating.

Despite her vocal shortcomings, you fall in love with the character during the movie, and this is testament to Streep’s acting ability. Few, if any, could have played the role better. Those who knew Foster Jenkins personally – and we, the audience, get to this stage over the course of the film – come to feel for her what she imagines her audience are feeling when she sings to them.

Hugh Grant plays her romantic partner St. Clair Bayfield, and I’d daresay it’s his best role; certainly the most interesting one I’ve seen him play. Bayfield himself appears a complicated character; despite being closely involved with Jenkins (throughout the movie we see just how entwined they are) he lives separately from her and has a girlfriend. But somehow you do not dislike him too much; as the film progresses you learn why they share such a convoluted lifestyle and it’s actually quite heartbreaking. Not many movies come close to making me cry (only Inside Out managed it last year); Florence Foster Jenkins almost succeeded. Consider that a huge mark in its favour.

Simon Helberg also stars in a comedic role; he brings an uplifting air to the story. Irish actor John Kavanagh plays Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini, who coaches Florence and keeps her spirits high, making her feel like a professional. His may just be the most underrated performance of the film.

This movie is heart-warming and hilarious in equal measure. On the side it also offers an interesting take on the critic/ artist divide. Are Florence’s friends and family correct in keeping the truth from her? That’s a question I found myself pondering.

Were it later in the year, Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant would surely both be certainties for Oscar nominations in 2017, and they may deservedly still be in the minds of the Academy in eight months time. Not that I care much about that part; rather, Florence Foster Jenkins is a film worth seeing and appreciating as soon as possible.

9 / 10

Men chicken pic 2.

Mads Mikkelsen stars in this deliriously effective comedy from Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen, whose short film Election Night once won an Oscar (for Best Short in 1999).

From the start, Men & Chicken has a very distinct character, both in the style in which it’s shot and the actual characters you meet along the way, none of whom appear entirely normal. The plot centres around two brothers, Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mikkelsen), who discover at their father’s deathbed that he is not their real father. Thus begins a journey of hilarious proportions to find their actual father and the extended family they don’t yet know they have; namely three other brothers Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), Franz (Soren Malling) and Josef (Nicolas Bro).

There are plenty of surprises – and many laughs – to be had in this film that I won’t spoil. Go into it fresh, without knowing exactly what to expect. As it proceeds toward its conclusion, you begin to wonder whether the whole thing’s actually leading anywhere meaningful; while the experience with these five brothers, each one hapless and pitiful in his own way, is always entertaining, the film would have been missing a trick had it been all for nothing in the end. The best comedies, after all, are exactly that because they allude to serious subject matter. Rest assured Men & Chicken does so rather well, albeit in the craziest way possible.

To call the movie eccentric feels almost like under-selling it. There isn’t much else like this in the film market today, and it reminded me once again why I love the creative lengths to which European cinema is willing to go.

8 / 10