What’s Up XTRA: Eddie Nestor, comedy acting and life in Hackney

This item was filmed as part of the Sky One-commissioned show, What’s Up. You can find more of their videos here.

Eddie Nestor is a veteran sketch comedian and radio host, currently appearing on BBC London 97.9 radio station.

This video clip is part of a larger interview with Eddie Nestor for the Arts & Culture magazine show, What’s Up. The main interview can be found in Season 8, Episode 1.

I acted as Researcher and Item Producer for this item. I hope you enjoy it!

Everybody has a story – Comedian Matt Price on the art of storytelling

This feature was written and shot for What’s Up, found here.

When it comes to live comedy, everyone is familiar with stand-up – but storytellers are bridging the gap between poets and comedians, providing an entertainment experience like no other.

What’s Up met with Matt Price, a storyteller/comedian that has been wowing audiences with deeply personal stories for over 12 years, to get an insight into the art form.

“I like the truth of storytelling,” he said.

“It’s not just about being funny; it’s about people’s personal truths.”

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What makes us scream? We get strapped in to test the science of fear

This feature was originally written for the Daily Star (and an alternate version for the Daily Express).

A BRAVE Daily Star Online reporter gets turned into a lab rat in the name of weird science.

SPOOKED: Researchers used a screening of upcoming film As Above, So Below to find out about how we feel fear [UNIVERSAL]

I have always loved horror films and at an event set up by Brunel University London I got the chance to put my nerves to the test.

Health and fitness boffins at the university wanted to look into how both body and mind react to being spooked.

We all know that, when we’re scared, our heart rate goes up – but is there method to the madness?

Christopher Stock from the Centre for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Brunel University London decided the best way to find out is have a group of subjects watch a scary film, and observe their heart rate.

Being a subject in an experiment tends to make you feel more like a lab rat than a human, but the heart rate monitor strapped to my chest had me feeling a lot more like a robot.

It was cold, tight, and had a green light that blinked softly every few seconds.

By wearing it I was, technically, a cyborg – which is both spooky and awesome.

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Media Matters: Peaceful days died. Let’s Survive

This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Even with my busy schedule, I still try to squeeze in some gaming time. My current vice on Nintendo 3DS right now is Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor Overclocked.

 It’s actually something of an old game – it was originally released as just Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor in Japan and America back in 2009, but never saw a UK release. Overclocked is a re-release for the 3DS, but due to publishing issues, it took a whole two years between the Japanese release and ours, released on the March 29.

The game details an unlikely disaster scenario – a large section of Tokyo is suddenly cordoned off by the armed forces. The government say it’s due to a poison gas leak, but the thousands trapped inside the danger zone know the truth – it’s an invasion of bloodthirsty demons. Knowing that death is constantly around the corner, they try to survive the lockdown for a week, assuming they don’t find a way of escaping. The game’s tagline says it all: “Peaceful days died. Let’s Survive.”

It’s a story that’s surprisingly easy to relate to. Not so much the demons (although the mythology nerd in me appreciates that), but in the character interaction. The main character is rather plain, but his friends and the other survivors he encounters each have their own concerns and different motivations for trying to escape… or stay.

It got me thinking: if I was in a similar disaster area, would I be able to survive? Lord knows how many fellow nerds made zombie survival plans in light of that now overplayed and overrated horror trope.

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Media Matters: The 7 o’clock news with Shaquille O’Neal

 This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

The other day, I was in a conversation on the internet about the development of an indie video game. The main characters were to have voice actors, and it just so happened one of the cast was a black guy.

The number of people who suddenly yelled “He should be voiced by Samuel L. Jackson!” was overwhelming.

It made me wonder about the presence of black actors in major releases these days. Setting aside that the internet is filled with idiots, is Samuel L. Jackson the only option Hollywood has for ‘the black guy’?
Well, no, I’m being hyperbolic – we also have Will Smith. If the role requires someone older, or a narrator, Morgan Freeman’s usually the port of call.

There are others (no need to bring up each name of every rapper who’s turned a hand to film, for example), but they’re very rarely cut out for anything other than a comedy relief role.

If Hollywood needs a British black actor for whatever reason, they’re stuck. Ocean’s Twelve had to settle for Don Cheadle putting on a disgustingly poor Cockney accent.

That’s not to say that there’s a total dearth of black actors out there, it’s just that they often don’t seem to get the kind of high profile exposure that other actors of a similar (or even worse) skill level get.

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Film Review: Evil Dead

This review can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Despite my passion for the arts, there are gaps in my knowledge. The most salient ones are with film. I became interested in film after a lot of ‘cult status’ films made their rounds, and with my already huge backlog of films to see, a lot of them have gone unwatched.

So, although I know it was a major factor in forming its genre, I have not seen the original 1981 Evil Dead. Nor am I especially well-versed in the ‘slasher’ variant of horror films, aside from a regrettable evening where I was coaxed into watching all the Saw films back to back.

So I was entirely down for watching the 2013 reboot. The director is different – this new film is directed by Fede Alvarez instead of the longer-established Sam Raimi – but if it grabbed my attention, I was prepared to fall in love with a whole new genre.

Still, I hedged my bets; I made sure to not step into the screening alone (or sober). That decision turned out to be for the best, as Evil Dead thrives not on its own merit, but by bringing audiences closer through how shamelessly bloody and silly it is.

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Film Review: Out in the Dark

This review can also be found on Shadowlocked, here.

The BFI London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is something I truly appreciate. It warms my heart to know that there are actually plenty of films out there that star more than just straight white men as protagonists; and it’s a shame that they end up relegated to a single, yearly event.

There were a huge number of films showing this year, almost guaranteeing a wide range of experiences on offer – but I only got to watch one in particular. Out in the Dark, filmed in 2012 and directed by Michael Mayer.

The plot is something rather simple. Nimer (Nicholas Jacob) is a Palestinian student who, on a risky night out to an Israeli nightclub meets Roy (Michael Aloni), an Israeli lawyer. Their love blossoms rapidly, but severe social standards (and gun-happy police) get in the way. More on the plot later.

From a technical perspective, the film is incredibly solid. Film production norms differ from country to country, so one of the fun things about foreign film is seeing the different stylistic rules they go by.

The cinematography was nothing to hugely fawn over, but the wide shots of the skyline and city streets did wonders for a loser like me who is obsessively urban. The dialogue style definitely stood out – lengthy chats pierced with succinct one word sentences, in a blend of Hebrew and Arabic that’s sadly lost on my monolingual self.

The decision to have the plot heavily focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a harrowing, but well-researched one. It assumes you know the basics of the issue, and although you can understand all of the story without prior knowledge, being aware of the background definitely helps add context.

What it also adds is a marginally fresher angle on what would otherwise be a tired love story. Straight romances in films are rather rote, but gay (male) ones are more so in a slightly different way.

Star crossed lovers, one humble and sexually introverted, the other metropolitan and liberated have their love halted by the grim face of systemic oppression (feel free to imagine those two words in a 72pt font and on fire). It’s a valid story, but it’s one told a little too often.

As such, the racial conflict adds some flavour to the proceedings; juxtaposing cute intimate moments and longing stares with border crossers getting shot in the head.

It’s all a very well-produced reminder of the social injustices in the world, both sexual and racial – but we know this all already. That is, the people who would be inclined to see Out in the Dark in the first place. Dudebro McHomophobe would definitely benefit from watching something so well made (and with such impact, too), but you’d have a better chance of actually ending oppression than getting him into the cinema.

It’s all very ‘preaching to the choir’, really. That’s not the end of the world – we all like to have our political opinions re-enforced, but in the end I ended up not enjoying Out in the Dark as much as I could have done – I was holding out for something more experimental.

I continue to wait for the action blockbuster where Jake Gyllenhaal saves Ben Whishaw from an exploding building, and they make out to the sound of helicopter blades and gunfire. Now that would be progressive.

My Big Mouth: Queer up the media

This feature can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

A thought experiment for you:

Think of three pieces of media (books, film, games, whatever) that meet the following criteria:

  • The main character is straight. 
  • The piece is not of the Romance genre. 
  • The sexuality of the main character and its social impacts are not the main plot point.

You could probably name at least 10 without thinking too hard. Now try to do the same, but with a queer main character. Go on, I’ll wait.

If you’ve managed to think of any, congratulations! No, seriously, it’s a pretty difficult challenge; feel free to tell me what you’ve thought of in the comments.

I suppose it’s nothing that you think too much about unless you’re actually affected by it, but the presence of characters in fiction that aren’t straight and white isn’t thrillingly prevalent.

However, queer media definitely exists out there – this month had BFI’s 27th London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. The problem is, all this content is kept away from the mainstream, and only given a chance to shine once a year.

That’s great for all the pretentious artsy types who already know how wonderfully liberal and accepting they are, but the people who need to see queer media the most barely know it’s around. The teenagers who are questioning their identity and sexuality; people who are jaded with the stereotypes they’re spoon-fed; that one old homophobic guy down the pub. You know the one. I hate that guy.

What we do get in the mainstream media isn’t making me super-thrilled to be open about my sexuality. I’m not too keen on the idea of having my skull cracked open with a tyre iron (Brokeback Mountain), nor do I want to pursue a career in being a Sassy Gay Best Friend (The Hellish Nightmare that is Glee). Though I’m sure I could make a killing if I did. Maybe with the aforesaid tyre iron.

For sure, I would have been a lot more confident in my identity growing up if there was a role model who was much like me. That’s not to say my imagination was so poor I couldn’t project myself into a James Bond power fantasy – the assortment of gay villains excepting – but a reminder that queer heroes (or black heroes or female heroes…) are allowed to exist would be nice.

To flip it on its head, only those who are the most literal and devoid of critical thought could argue that an increased number of openly queer protagonists would be alienating to straight audiences. Last time I checked, empathy and sexual expression were two different things, unless you consider How I Met Your Mother the pinnacle of character-driven storytelling.

Speaking of which, I’m finding it a lot harder to watch action films these days. Aside from gunfights and explosions being tired mindless pap; the levels of machismo are so over-emphasised and forced, it’s like a high budget blockbuster Shrine to Straightness. Sucker Punch managed to be full to the brim of bubbling testosterone with barely any men on screen. The sight of Vin Diesel flexing has been scientifically proven to instantly impregnate women.

The secret to creating reasonable queer media isn’t some kind of well-guarded secret. They’re the same as the media we already consume, with the genders of the romances switched around. It doesn’t seem like an unreasonable demand to have, say, a crime thriller where the long-suffering detective happens to be a lesbian.

Oh. That actually exists. Well okay then.

That’s not to say that good queer media can’t or shouldn’t explore sexuality as a main theme, it just often feels like that’s all that we’re given. I want to identify with an escapist fantasy, not systemic oppression so gritty I could use it as sandpaper. Explorations of sex are enjoyable enough in private, but it’s not something I could share with others, for obvious reasons.

Then again, maybe some soapboxing and issue awareness is a first step in what we need right now. It recently came to light that the ‘Ex-Gay’ advertisements produced by the Christian group Core Issues Trust was, although banned in short order, deemed ‘not illegal’ by the High Court. Regardless of legality technicalities, that the advert exists at all is indicative of a serious need to queer up the media.

Film Review: A Late Quartet

This review can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

Despite my constant burning need to see pretentious non-mainstream film (if it’s in a different language or about socio-politics, even better), my knowledge of the fine arts is actually not so great.

My initial interest in seeing A Late Quartet was, embarrassingly, because Christopher Walken takes a major role in it. He’s had a myriad of roles and cameos in films since the 60s, many of which ended up being cult hits. He even starred in some terrible video games in the mid 90s.

A large part of his popularity is his notably stilted speech, and since it tends to work best in comedies, I was interested to see how he would fare in something that looked to be so serious.

As it turns out, A Late Quartet is wonderfully human and moving, and Walken does a great performance by… largely not being there. It’s an odd situation.
Pete Mitchell (Walken) is the cellist in an internationally famous string quartet called The Fugue. He shares the spotlight with Daniel Lerner (Mark Ivanir) on Violin I, Robert Gelbart (Philip Seymour Hoffman) on Violin II and Juliette Gelbart (Catherine Keener) on Viola.

Recently Pete’s playing has been affected by his shaking hands. After a doctors appointment, he finds out that it’s Parkinsons, and bows out from The Fugue, asking the other members to find a replacement.

As it turns out, this upset sparks desires for change in the rest of the quartet, and emotional havoc ensues.

It’s all very melodramatic, but the way the script is written makes that not matter. All the narrative points are closely and expertly woven in with the films themes, in a way that you won’t need a degree in media studies to get (though a little knowledge about classical music will help).

The ideas are honestly clever, from the way that the amount of time Pete is on screen is related to how badly he’s suffering from his condition (though he’s arguably the protagonist, Parkinsons is very effective at taking away his agency, both as a disease and in the script), to how the emotional issues of the quartet match up nicely with the musical role they play.

The soundtrack was funnily enough, a mixed bag. There are some elegant and well timed cues of classical string pieces, including the one piece that the film is arguably ‘about’, that I won’t spoil for you. However, it’s matched with a general orchestral score that feels very generic. Although the two musical styles share instruments, the feel is very different. It made some scenes feel notably schmaltzy – though that may just be my jaded heart.

That said, the experience as a whole was touching. It manages to pull you along on an emotionally manipulative ride so well you’d think it was a Hollywood production, if it wasn’t for the quietly middle class subject matter.

Watch It: If you know your way around a string section, If you want to see a cult actor happily make peace with his age on film, if you want a talking point for your film discussion club.

Skip It: If the phrase ‘human drama’ makes you dry heave, if you’re not ready to make peace with your age, if you want something that doesn’t feature the American Middle Class.

Want more? Go and check out some live classical quartets! I promise, it’s a moving experience the first time. If you want to see Walken in something cheerier, he has a great supporting role in Catch Me If You Can.

Film Review: Stoker

This review can also be found at the South West Londoner, here.

I do love a bit of Gothic Horror. Not because I’m a fan of the macabre (not entirely, anyway), but because it has a wonderful precedent of being understated. And in the current Hollywood climate, bombast and explosions are king – so Stoker is a refreshing presence.

Director Park Chan-wook had a worldwide cult hit with Oldboy in 2003, but Stoker is his first film with English actors. India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) is a troubled girl living in opulent American Suburbia. Her father sadly deceased, she’s quietly withdrawn but comfortable – until her Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode, Watchmen) comes to stay, and gets a little too close to her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman).

Things soon escalate, but carefully and quietly. The first act is very much a slow burner, but when the spark of intrigue shows itself, you begin to reach the state of mind that the film demands – a focus on the finer details. This is helped in no small part by the cinematography director Chung-hoon Chung, who sets up shot after shot filled with detail. There’s a scene where a close-up of long hair pans and fades into swaying long grass. It’s perfectly done, and pretentious as all get out.

The acting definitely reflects that – while no one is under acting, the script is filled with hushed fear, quiet lusting and silent anger. Nicole Kidman pulls off hateful, piercing stares that I never knew she was capable of.While there’s a heavy focus of suspenseful horror; there’s also a core of human drama, as India grows into herself. She could be best described as Wednesday Adams reaching adolescence; and it works wonderfully.

When the instances of violence occur (and they definitely do occur, though not as intensely as in Oldboy) it’s a huge snapping of tension, and I appreciated the film’s low-key nature for it. It takes skilled direction to have violence that will get a reaction from its audience (since we’re generally desensitised to watching mild violence in films these days) without it going into fetishistic territory. Likewise, discussions and display of sexuality are toyed with here, often feeling unsettling but never gratuitous or disturbing.

It’s what, in my opinion, separates it from the standard Hollywood fare. In a traditional suspense horror film, the violence and feelings of entrapment come on hard and heavy, and after a while the impact is lost. More so with the standard of action films. Some manage to go beyond the basic requirement of  ‘all spectacle, no substance’ (I don’t know anyone who didn’t love Django Unchained, and would rather not meet them), but that kind of film making is both easy and lucrative, so there may not be a change on that front for some time.

Watch It: If you want to watch something different from the current releases, if you’re a fan of cinematography, if you fondly remember The Addams Family or Daria.

Skip It: If you want more laid-back cinema, if you’re wary of sexuality without romance, if you picked on ‘the quiet kid’ in high school.

Want more? Why not look at Shadow of a Doubt, a Hitchcock work which heavily inspires Stoker‘s plot. Definitely watch more of Park Chan-wook’s films if you haven’t already – if Oldboy is too extreme for you, I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay is a more comical affair.