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Bumblebee (2018)


It’s fair to say that I’ve recently fallen out of touch with the latest cinema releases. Work commitments have met that I haven’t been obsessing as much as I hoped. Hearing of Bumblebee long before actually seeing it, I was aware this project existed, but given the lack of a now traditional Star Wars release at Christmas it seemed that this ideal summer blockbuster had been delayed to fill the void. Whether or not this film had actually been purposefully delayed, I’m not sure, but I did find it amusing that with the Christmas decorations all around us we went to see a movie set in the height of summer.

Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is a young woman working at a summer’s fair in 1987. Grieving the loss of her father and listening to The Smiths, Charlie spends her time obsessing over an old Mustang she owns in the garage, hoping that the open road will bring freedom and change from suburban life and her mother’s new boyfriend. In many respects, it’s a very atypical script, but I did find it was written with a view to this being 2018. Supporting character Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) is not your typical “boy next door” and Charlie – although sometimes jealous of others – is not outwardly looking for fame or popularity.

There are several scenes in which you’d expect the typical Shia Le Beouf attitudes, and yet they’re not forthcoming, so as Tears for Fears blasts from the tape deck in the Volkswagen you remember all the fun you can have with your clothes on for a change. In an era of ‘Me Too’ it’s actually rather refreshing to see some elements adapted and incorporated into the film, but it does drag you a little out of reality, and also reminds you just how ridiculous (and possibly dated and even sexist) Shia making moves on Megan Fox was in the original film. The jury’s still out on that.

Into this rather interesting mix comes Bumblebee, fresh from the war on Cybertron, which provides G1 Transformer fans like me with their greatest few minutes on film in the franchise so far. I’ll say early in my review that this film is worth watching but it’s the scenes on Cybertron – which in themselves amount to a relative sprinkling – that bring the film together. Cameos from Cliffjumper, Shockwave, Soundwave, Ravage and Arcee are just the beginning as we learn some vital clues as to B-127’s original mission.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this film was the minimal casting. Asides from Bumblebee and a few cameos, the most predominant involvement comes from two no name Decepticons. To be fair, they do have names, but I found it rather unusual that a female Decepticon would be so well positioned as to climb the ranks in the organization. I’m not being sexist, it’s just that any G1 Transformers fan will tell you that Arcee was about the only female Transformer with a back story; and she was an Autobot!

Shatter and Dropkick (don’t look them up, they don’t have any linage) are introduced as new one shot characters and, to be fair to 2018, it’s a refreshing change. My feeling is that they’re soldiers on a mission and we’re not necessarily dealing with a command line here, which makes the story far less contained then it could have been, and I actually think that’s a real bonus. The appearance of Blitzwing early in the movie is something that caught me off guard, but I was pleased that he was at least given his real name, if not that he used the colours of Jetfire – something that could have made for a really interesting plot dynamic.

The film is set in California and looks glorious, even if it limits the use of urban areas due to the timeframe of the plot, but at least one shot of the Golden Gate Bridge from the coastline is enough to put on a postcard. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a real lack of money with this film, but I think this easily makes it my second favorite Transformer film after Michael Bay’s original – something I remember adoring so much about that first installment. There are so many glorious nuggets of 80s culture that I don’t want to ruin it for you, but look out for that moment where Sammy Hagar is playing on the radio and there’s a scene in the tunnel from Back to the Future. Also, for those film fans, it’s the same song Marty hears as he arrives in an alternative 1985 during the second installment.

Of course, as this film is a prequel, there are some serious plot holes. Sector 7 features in the film primarily through Agent Burns (John Cena) and Dr Powell (John Ortiz) but there’s no mention of either Witwicky or the All Spark and – if I remember correctly – it was Sector 7 who built the Hoover Dam around the All Spark and MBE1, that is, Lord Megatron. His complete absence from this film is unsurprising but it’s also interesting that nobody from Sector 7 – especially upon encountering the Decepticons for the first time – doesn’t believe they bear a striking resemblance to a creature that’s been in the basement since 1907.

Looking past plot holes like this, and the one in which Ratchet is still trying to fix the vocal processor Bumblebee had damaged (try ripped apart) almost 15 years after it was first lost, you actually do have a really good film. The soundtrack is nothing short of phenomenal and the first twenty minutes of the film paint a picture that between Duran Duran, Bon Jovi and The Smiths we really must be in the 80s…though I myself took a real shine to the scene in which we take a moment to appreciate that Vinyl truly is better to cassette while Bumblebee watches The Breakfast Club on VHS. Oh nostalgia, you’ve done it again.

Grave Formats

The other day I found myself in HMV while my parents visited in the run up to Christmas. As it was a festive occasion, my parents had suggested we purchase a gift, something they could enjoy wrapping and leaving under the tree for me before their return to France. Not being one to ever miss out on a present I gladly accepted and proceeded to rummage through a number of my mental ‘wish lists’ attempting to come up with something I’d like to physically obtain.

As I proceeded to leaf through the copious amount of Vinyl on offer I realised just how far HMV have evolved. December 2012 seems like a distant memory, but more tenured employees of HMV will remember the time well, as it spelt a certain end to the company. At the time, economists took great pride in appearing on news programs, telling us just how obsolete a store like HMV was in today’s marketplace. And yet, it remains. The store I was standing in, in Gateshead’s Metro Centre, had recently located to a more premier retail location and a new store, in Boston Lancashire, opens its doors in the very unit its predecessor was forced to close in March 2013.

In many respects, it’s hardly surprising that HMV has managed to remain, but commendable and worthy of praise all the same. It’s current business model meant that more high priced items like phones, electronics and games took a back seat; while shelves were recently filled with comics, collectables and even Vinyl. Having worked for the company briefly in 2009 and again in 2013, I defiantly experienced some of this change first hand. Vinyl itself presented something quite unique; as if we’d suddenly travelled back in time and embraced a format which should – by all rights – be extinct. Just as many analysts argue HMV should be.

Compact Disc has been a regular fixture in the marketplace since the late 80s, swiftly seeing off competition from Mini Disc, VHS and even Laserdisc; they even buried Vinyl considerably in an episode of Tomorrow’s World recorded around 1992. Whereas a lot of music fans have embraced the digital revolution a decade ago, retailers are limited in their selections, admitting that embracing MP3’s and Spotify subscriptions would leave them out of a job. So CD has found a bizarre and unchallenged equilibrium; until the return of Vinyl. Asides from their popularity with collectors, their physical appeal, their openness to customisation (who doesn’t love a good picture disc?) there’s also an exceptionally unique quality to Vinyl which makes it a more attractive proposition for retailers; it’s practically impossible to steal.

Consider for a moment walking into a store on a cold Christmas day and shoving a cassette tape into your pocket. Even a CD would fit snuggly into an inside pocket without much effort. Vinyl, on the other hand, presents twelve inches of self-resistance to petty theft; for both customers and staff alike, making it the perfect product. In 2017 HMV predicted its most successful year of Vinyl sales in almost 20, thanks in part to the efforts of mainstream artists like Ed Sheeran and Noel Gallagher embracing the format, with UK sales for that year topping four million.

In 2018 this trend continues, with the average purchase of Vinyl made by a consumer younger than those purchasing CDs, according to information from the website Kantar. According to their estimates, the overall value of the vinyl market in the UK for the latest quarter (in the 12 weeks to 1 July) was £25 million. 420,000 people bought a vinyl record in this period, up by 6.6% vs. Q1 (that is, the 12 weeks to 1 April). And this is despite the evident proof that not all collectors of Vinyl have the means to play them.

What might be even more remarkable is that this trend has led to a number of other ‘Grave Formats’ returning to the fold. Swedish band Ghost released their latest album ‘Prequelle’ as well as their live compilation ‘Ceremony and Devotion’ on Vinyl, but perhaps more surprising is their choice to release it on 8 Track Cassette. Although a limited release, initially available through the bands website and the result of Spotify giveaways, their operations are not unique to just cult bands – with Metallica remastering their classic ‘And Justice for All’ album and releasing a special cassette version; which is available to purchase through Amazon and was also stocked in HMV alongside a Nirvana cassette release earlier this year.

The introduction of the cassette tape by Philips in 1963 would lead to it becoming one of the most influential ways people consume music for over 30 years, and yet, it was somewhat ironically never intended never to rival the audio quality of the existing larger tape formats. Once Sony released a portable cassette player called the Walkman in 1979, such anti-taping arguments were more or less dismissed by the general public. Complete with portable headphones, the Walkman encouraged a generation of music fans to take their sounds with them wherever they went, and the advent of the boom box, which featured dual cassette decks, provided portability and seemingly encouraged music duplication through its design. By 1983 it was cassettes which outsold Vinyl.

And yet, as I made my selection that evening in HMV, my father looked on slightly baffled as to why – at 63 – it was his 33-year-old son who was purchasing albums on Vinyl, Cassette and 8 Track in 2018. Everything it would seem, has its place.

Top 10 Quick Tips for Voting

Top 10 Quick Tips for Voting – Sunderland One
Wayne Madden

Prime Minister Teresa May’s decision to call a snap General Election in April 2017 wasn’t entirely unusual, in fact, the last snap election occurred in 1974 and saw no less than two general elections in just six months. But as the law has changed since then, the Prime Minister’s recent action couldn’t have succeeded without parliamentary support, the following day’s resolution of 522 MPs to 13 in favor of the election meant a majority decision had been made.

Hot on the heels of General Election 2015, and a difficult “second album” in the form of EU Referendum 2016, 2017 will be the second major elections (after May’s local elections) held post Brexit in the United Kingdom.

For Sunderland, many will be looking at January’s result in the Sandhill by-election, when Liberal Democrat Stephen O Brien was elected to office with a swing majority that took the “safe” Labour seat as a potential sign of change to come. That Labour seat being vacated due to its incumbents’ failure to attend council meetings.

For many people voting in Sunderland this may be their first election in the region, general or otherwise, as each year we welcome newly eligible voters to the electoral roll, as well as those who’ve not exercised the right before and those thousands of students who join us from around the country for their University experience.

It is a common misconception that by virtue of your decision to live in the region, enroll at Sunderland University or the fact that you have grown up here that you are eligible to vote at all. Eligibility to vote in a general election is confirmed through the Electoral Register. You can register for free, and even register online, though there will be a deadline before the Election and criteria which you’ll have to meet.

To help you make an impartial, informed and correct decision, we’ve put together a list of the Top 10 Quick Tips for Voting ahead of General Election 2017:

1. Before the big day itself, make sure you’re actually eligible to vote. You must be registered to vote, be over 18 on the day of the election (“polling day”), and be a British, Commonwealth or Irish citizen. You must also be resident at an address in the UK (or be a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the last 15 years). You cannot vote in a general election if you do not meet these criteria, even if you are able to vote in a local election or referendum.

2. You cannot vote at just any polling station, and will be assigned a polling station based on the “district” in which you live. Information will be provided through the Polling Card you receive in the mail in the weeks prior to the election. Keep this safe for reference. If you do not get one, contact Sunderland Council’s Electoral Services to ask why.

3. You cannot vote more than once in a single General Election. Doing so is a criminal offence. If you discover you are eligible to vote at a University residence, for example, as well as your home address; you should only vote from one of these places. You should also ensure you do not ask anyone to vote on your behalf or assume your identity to vote at an alternative location, even with good reason, as this is also illegal.

4. Anyone else in your place of residence will be voting at the same station as you – if you’re going to be away from home on June eighth then making sure you register for a postal vote is essential as this means you will receive a ballot paper a few days before the election that you can send from any postbox in the United Kingdom.

You can also drop your sealed postal vote envelope and completed ballot into any Polling Station within your Council’s remit on polling day. So, for example, if you live in South Shields (South Tyneside) you cannot drop your postal vote into a polling station at St Peter’s (Sunderland City).

5. Under certain conditions, you may be called upon to act as a proxy for another voter, or ask someone to vote for you as your proxy. You will have to register in advance to do this with your local Council and your request will not always be granted.

6. The Polling Station is open between 7am and 10pm. This is a legal requirement of the vote and gives people as much potential as possible to reach their station on polling day and cast their vote. You must ensure you have entered a polling station and received your ballot paper before the clock strikes 10pm.

7. Regardless of temptation, do not take a “voter selfie” while casting your vote, as this is both an obstruction to fellow voters and also illegal. In fact, this practice can cause expulsion from the polling station and a criminal report, so avoid the opportunity to post your favorite voting face to social media or send privately to friends.

8. Remember the Polling Card? Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten, even at the polling station, as it is not needed to vote. You’ll be asked to give your name and address to confirm your identity and then issued with a ballot paper. In the event that someone else has voted in your place (known as voter fraud) you’ll be asked a list of prescribed questions and at the discretion of the Presiding Officer will be issued a ballot. Hopefully, this will never happen.

9. Dressing up as Donald Trump or wearing a T Shirt condemning the sitting Government might seem like the right behavior that morning, but such political material is banned from the polling station (albeit it International or not), this going for more obvious things like literature distributed by candidates, Rosetta’s and obvious political color coordination which may all be interpreted as signs to sway fellow voters in their decisions. Likewise you can only cast a vote for a candidate running in your constituency and your approval for another member of a party running will not be counted as a vote.

10. Having successfully followed instruction and cast your vote carefully fold your ballot paper and place it in the ballot box as instructed by station staff. You do not need to show your completed ballot paper to station staff and they will not always high five you once this has happened, but you can definitely feel a sense of pride as you leave the station having cast your electoral voice.

Whomever you choose to vote for and however you wish to cast your electoral voice this General Election, prepare to exercise your right with information and impartiality. For everything positive and impartial about Sunderland, make sure you’re picking up Sunderland One.

Sunderland Shorts’ Film Festival 2017

Sunderland Short Film Festival 2017 – Sunderland One
Wayne Madden

Lights, Camera, Action.

Filmmakers and fans were elated in equal measure recently at the return of the popular Sunderland Short Film Festival earlier this month. The event, in its third year, was created in collaboration with ‘sister festival’ DC Shorts in America and provides a platform for filmmakers and enthusiasts to showcase their work on a national stage.

Creating a festival which celebrates the uniqueness and storytelling of short film, only films less than twenty minutes in length can be submitted for consideration, with screenings taking place over three days and each featuring a variety of shortlisted competitors.

Carys Watford, whose film ‘Theatreland’ screened at this year’s festival, spoke about the importance of an event like Sunderland Shorts, saying: “it’s always great to get your film seen in as many places as you can…if you can go to the festival which is screening it, all the better”. Bernie Mooney, whose seven minute drama ‘Thief’ tackles the topic of sex trafficking in the United Kingdom, was quick to add that “I’ve been at festivals before where nobody has turned up at all to watch your film…so to be here in Sunderland with a full audience like this is very gratifying”

As well as jury and audience based awards; films were nominated for several categories’ with a selection of the finalists films due to be shown to attendees in Washington at the DC Shorts festival this September. This offers locally based filmmakers the opportunity to have their work seen by an international audience and the offer is reciprocated when DC Shorts shortlist was screened on the last day of the festival in Sunderland. Finalists also received a free upload for their film courtesy of Modyst UK, an international digital platform and online cinema.

In 2006 Sunderland became the first and so far only city to sign a Friendship Agreement with Washington DC. This occasion was paramount to the establishment of Sunderland Shorts, as festival director Anne Tye explained. “Sunderland’s friendship status with Washington DC has brought about some real successes, and Sunderland Shorts Film Festival is chief among them.” adding further, “Learning from our friends in the US, and gleaning the knowledge they have gained over several years – growing their event from a standing start to one that is hugely popular and a key part of the city’s cultural programme – has allowed us to replicate this and quickly create a fantastic festival for Sunderland.”

In previous years, screenings occurred at various ‘pop up’ locations across the city, with each screening providing audiences a unique insight into both the artists work as well as a local venue they may never have visited. This year all screenings were localized centrally in ‘The Place’, a creative business hub in the city centre. Hannah Matterson, festival organizer, said: “Since the start of the festival in 2015, Sunderland Shorts has always had the aim of supporting local, small and medium sized businesses across the city.”

“We’ve been known to use coffee shops, art galleries and even boardrooms as cinemas in the past. By doing this we hope to encourage more young filmmakers to take up the art and to become the directors, cinematographers and producers of the future.”

As well as film screenings the event also presented several free workshops, delivered by established professionals in the industry, imparting advice and wisdom. Roar Motion’s Rob Parsons, who operated an informal showcase with business partner Matt Eyre told us: “It’s very important these workshops happen, when I was a student at University I would have loved to do something like this, get hands on with the technology in this way and see it all up close and in person, it’s invaluable”.

Councilor John Kelly, Sunderland City Council’s portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture, said: “Sunderland is a very warm and friendly city and I’m certain this army of filmmakers, writers and actors will be afforded a fine Wearside welcome. Sunderland Shorts is helping put our city on the filmmaking map, and not only bringing exciting new talent in, but helping our city’s creative bight sparks showcase their own work to a whole new audience.”

Personal screen highlights included ‘Pebbles’, a drama from Jonathan Shaw which saw a woman return to the hotel where she spent her honeymoon fifty years hence. ‘Four Day Weekend’ was a superbly acted American drama about a married couple on a self imposed relationship break, animation ‘The Slow Lane’ was an incredible undertaking in both creation and design, a simple film about a tiny village and the damage of a fallen tree and the surreal ‘Dots’ was less than 91 seconds long, but also provided a unique interpretation into the genre of dance from filmmakers Jody Oberfelder and Eric Siegel.

As in previous years, winning films were announced on the last night of the festival, with Irish drama ‘Pebbles’ capturing both Best International picture and a Jury’s Choice award. Best North East regional film went to ‘Mordecai’, a truly original comedy drama from Benjamin Lee about two brothers at their father’s funeral, made with the permission and involvement of an orthodox Jewish community in Gateshead. There was also an audience choice award for James Cookson’s horror, ‘Panic’ while Best UK National film went to the picture that had proceeded it in that screening, comedy ‘Rhonna and Donna’ from director Diana O Pusic about two women conjoined at the hip.

“You make the film you feel passionate about” Carys’ told us, and this mantra can easily be transferred to the positive work Sunderland Shorts are doing making a festival in an area they truly feel passionate about.

“Each year, it is growing, and as we move into our third year, we look forward to creating something that is bigger and better than ever” Anne told me of this year’s event, “establishing a reputation of being ‘the friendliest festival’” making it obvious the team has no plans to slow down. “Short films aren’t an easy sell” Hannah confided, reflecting on the festival overall, “but we’re making steps forward each year to increase our audiences and to engage with more filmmakers from all over the world.”

With such a unique platform and a plethora of talent signing up, there’s no reason to imagine we’ll see the end of Sunderland Shorts anytime soon.

Wonderlands Expo 2017

Wonderlands Expo 2017 – Sunderland One
Wayne Madden

Fans of graphic novels were in their element recently with the return of the ever popular ‘Wonderlands’ Expo to Sunderland. Now in its third year, this free celebratory event was held at City Space, Sunderland University, and paid tribute to the comic in all its forms, with a wide variety of workshops, panels, stalls and talks.

Ordinarily home to the Sunderland City Predators, a converted basketball court was the stage for a variety of stalls, featuring work from a plethora of talented national creators and designers. Artists like Track 11 Design, Drew X and Castle Rock’s Bob Turner were on hand to provide caricatures and commissions as well as examples of their latest work. Others, such as Alan Henderson’s The Penned Guin, provided a humorous example of parody and design with selections from previously established catalogues.

Guests of honor gave talks throughout the day, with a particular fan favorite being Liverpool born John Higgins, colorist on Watchmen; the seminal series from DC Comics written by Alan Moore and later a major motion picture directed by Zack Snyder. “We can’t believe how friendly people are” John said, “The Northern friendship is just magic. I think the thing I enjoy most about it is that you get to meet the fans. 90% of the time we spend at home is in a darkened room drawing, so to actually get out and meet fans is just so important and the fact that the University is presenting it in such a considered way we can give a bit back about how we created the characters and share that knowledge is fantastic”.

The events strong foot fall was just one indicator of its popularity and continued success. Organizer Hannah Matterson, Events and Development Coordinator for MAC Trust, said: “We’re thrilled that Wonderlands [is] back for a third year. We’ve worked hard to make sure the event stays free and we’ve been awarded money from Arts Council England to help support the event.”

Providing an introduction for younger people, ‘The Wonderlands Anthology’ was a brand new comic book available for free – a collaboration between pupils at Farrington Community Academy and St Aidan’s Catholic Academy in Sunderland – where students contributed their own short strips for inclusion and then collected their published work at the event. It was another reminder that Wonderlands catered for all ages and exposures.

Beano illustrator Nigel Auchterlounie travelled from Whitley Bay, on hand to make a rare public appearance at Wonderlands showcasing works like ‘Bunny Girl and Pig Boy’ and leading an informal design workshop. “It’s great here, I’ve never been before” he remarked, “I think events like these are important in widening culture, showing another medium, there are so many other ways to tell a story than television – like in comic books”.

Other attendees to the convention used comics in more serious, yet still entertaining light. Comics vs. Cancer are an innovative forum in which Scottish writer Gordon Robertson used the medium to talk about taking a stand against cancer. “I was diagnosed with cancer” said Gordon, “I wanted to write a blog about it. But there’s so many great cancer blogs out there, things that are heart rendering.

I didn’t have that bad of an experience [with cancer] so I felt I couldn’t do that…I created a comic called ‘Arse Cancer’ and that’s where it went. I taught we could use it to raise money for charity. I had bowel cancer, my first wife died from breast cancer and my current wife has also had breast cancer. Humor is a great way of getting things across we wouldn’t normally discuss, so if it helps people recognize symptoms it could save lives and make a real difference.”

Wonderlands ended on a high, being a positive event for Sunderland, encouraging people to expand their minds, get to know a little bit more about graphic novels and share similar interests. A resounding success for the region.