Gemma Corden

Cultural recommendations for those of us who like going to see stuff but don’t always get it

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Closing the book on Birmingham’s great hope

In a particularly disgusting analogy from Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore, the proposed cuts to the Library of Birmingham have today been confirmed. With the council already having had to “cut to the bone” it was now “scraping away” at the bones themselves. In translation, more than half of the Library’s 188 staff now face the sack and opening hours will be, embarrassingly, reduced from 73 to 40 in April next year.

It’s always the libraries isn’t it? Nothing new there. We’ve seen many of our local library services taken from us in cold hard blood over the last few years. The library landscape in my city is one totally and very sadly alien to the facilities, the homes away from home, that I enjoyed as a child. These closures were justified by the very creation of this new super-library. And now we are going to leave it, what, just sitting there on it’s hands half the time...

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Reviews for Friends #17: Foxcatcher

A chilling two hours

There is something deliciously thrilling, naughty even, when comedians go dark. Actors you and the rest of the world once had pinned as goofy clowns shock us all with a turn as a murderous psychopath. In the vein of Robin Williams in One Hour Photo, comedy star Steve Carell has pulled such a thing off, unnervingly well, in the inspired by true life role of millionaire oddball, John du Pont.

On going into the cinema I had no clue who on earth John du Pont was, and had never heard of the Schultz brothers – I’d recommend anyone else going into this film blind to keep away from Google.

Du Pont is a tragicomic figure. Beak nosed, stooped and pale, with a nasal speech that stops and starts like some kind of Morse Code. It is clear to the viewer that something devastating is going to happen in this film from the outset. Carell simmers under a blank, pouty expression...

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Reviews For Friends #16: Big Eyes

Reviews for Friends 17: Big Eyes

No Helena B-C in sight

Tim Burton’s latest, Big Eyes, is a dramatisation of the strange true life story of husband and wife ‘team’ Margaret and Walter Keane.

There are a few of the Burton hallmarks that give his films their signature identity, but aside from these this film is unrecognisable from his most recent string. We have the Danny Elfman score, the pastel identikit suburbia - and it is from this claustrophobia from which Margaret (a particularly doe-eyed Amy Adams) is escaping in the opening scenes. She leaves her husband (not the done thing in the 50s) packing up and driving her daughter to San Francisco, beautifully - yet of course a little melancholily - realised by Burton.

Here she meets real estate man and ‘sunday painter’, Walter Keane (histrionically played by Christopher Waltz) at a street fair where she is selling her wares as a child...

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Reviews For Friends #15: Birdman

Reviews for Friends 15: Birdman

Painfully self-aware

The very fact that Michael Keaton agreed to do this film was, for me, a reason to go and see it.

Birdman is the story of Riggan Thomson - a washed-up action movie actor who attempts to salvage his career by adapting a Raymond Carver play for New York’s St. James Theatre. The trouble is, Riggan’s subconscious appears to be occupied by Birdman - the superhero role that made him famous - ever a devil in his ear. This alter ego is at first only ever heard (in a deliciously tongue-in-cheek deep husk reminiscent of Keaton’s Batman). But as the film progresses, Birdman begins to manifest as the (literal) feathery albatross on Riggan’s shoulder, eventually leading him to self-destruction.

There is a good deal of cleverness to this film that did not pass me by. The constant jazz, fraught and pulsating. The humorous scenes - notably Keaton...

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Reviews For Friends #14: Paddington

Reviews for Friends - Paddington

A genuine joy

Watching this film, it is clear the cast are all having an absolute whale of a time - and who can blame them. The synergy of this real life cast with a CGI bear in the lead is unexpectedly seamless.

Ben Whishaw as the voice of this famous and treasured bear strikes the perfect balance between boyish and bear-ish. Totally charming with those warm, tally ho old English tones, Paddington is a wonderful antidote to any Christmas stress you may be feeling.

Paddington is forced to leave ‘darkest Peru’ - where he lives with his Aunt and Uncle - when their home is hit by an earthquake, destroying all their homemade marmalade supplies and, more movingly, claiming the Uncle. A number of years earlier, the bears had been visited by a jolly British explorer who taught them the ways of the English and their language. The explorer had told the family...

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Reviews For Friends #13: Julian Opie at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham

Tucked away in the Ikon Gallery’s Tower Room, almost as a strange afterthought, is a nod to a poignant work by British artist Julian Opie.

Part of the Ikon Icons series that celebrates the 50th birthday of this much-loved gallery, this installation of high-rise building sculptures was originally exhibited in 2001. Clean, linear shapes cut up through the space and you have no choice but to be up close amongst them, peering into blank window squares. Punctuated with bright block colour, the sculptures lend a warped sense of perspective to this already claustrophobic room. Recent history lends this rendering of simple efficiency a monstrous air. In the context of the terrorist attack that coincided with the original exhibition of this work, it is chokingly poignant and unpleasant.The looming and impersonal shapes ring in the silence of the room with the weight of sadness from that day. You...

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Reviews For Friends #12: Imran Qureshi at Ikon, Birmingham

Quietly confrontational

This surprising exhibition of miniatures and installations from acclaimed Pakistani artist, Imran Qureshi, powerfully brings together traditional techniques with current - and violent - issues facing the modern world.

A theme of visceral red paint disarmed with tiny, elegant flowers is woven throughout all of the works, some dating back to 2009 and others new works that have been made for this exhibition at Birmingham’s Ikon Gallery. Qureshi’s pieces, unassuming at first glance, depict people going about their everyday mundanities, juxtaposed alongside intricate flora and fauna that include blossoms and dragonflies. These delicate, blood-red beauties hint at a dark undercurrent. The hum of violence and bloodshed is haunting.

Born in Pakistan in 1972, Qureshi trained in the discipline of miniature painting - an art that flourished in the Mughal courts of the...

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Reviews for Friends #11: The Trial

Hats off to a striking, confident and memorable - albeit a little off-key - pocket opera.

Opera virgin that I was, I really didn’t know what to expect from this production. The combination of Franz Kakfa, Philip Glass and Music Theatre Wales was always going to bear strange fruit, and The Rep Birmingham crowd were clearly expecting something special - a sell-out on a rainy Monday night, the was electric.

I had naively hoped for a play with musical accompaniment, but what I got was what Glass has referred to as a pocket opera; “Neutron bombs - small, but packing a terrific punch.” And he’s right - once you overcome the constant singing (which at first I found alien, and really quite distracting) the taut performance draws you in.

Kafka’s tale of Josef K, arrested on his 30th birthday by an unknown authority for an unspecified crime, is a famously dark farce layered with chaotic...

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Reviews for Friends #10: Her, by Harriet Lane

Don’t trust thy neighbour

Uneasily gripping from the outset, Her is the story of two women similar in age but (semi) worlds apart in situation - Nina, a poised successful artist, Emma the messy-haired struggling mother of two - who’s lives intertwine when one of the women exploits a chance meeting on the streets of a middle-class London suburb. Little does Emma know that Nina has engineered their ensuing, odd-couple friendship - their paths having already crossed long ago in childhood. Nina remembers Emma, but the other is oblivious to their shared past. As the story unravels ever so slowly, we realise Nina has been carrying it with her for her whole life and, in her eyes, there is a debt to be paid.

Told through a dual narrative, Her is a quiet thriller built less around reveals and more through taut character assassination. The steady, almost languid pace, is extremely clever. The...

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Reviews for Friends #9 Ida

Reviews for Friends 10 - Ida

The most arresting film I have seen in a long while, Ida is a quiet masterpiece. Pared back, the monochrome rendering of the film (so difficult to get right) provides an emotionally-taut and superbly powerful vehicle for the raging drama of the storyline.

An off-beat road trip of sorts set in 1960s Poland, Ida is the story of two very different women and the horrific truths that bring them together. 18-year-old Anna, an orphan raised all her life in a convent, is about to make her vows to become a nun. Before she can do so, the Mother Superior insists that she visit her only living relative, her aunt Wanda - a somewhat disgraced Communist state prosecutor, relegated to a magistrate. Hard drinking and hard talking, Wanda shocks Anna by informing her that her real name is Ida, and that her Jewish parents were murdered during the Nazi occupation. The odd pair...

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