Miss Americana – review

As a black man, in my early fifties and having grown up in south London, my musical influences and leanings were towards soul and funk with a smidgen of reggae. My clubbing days were solidly soul and funk, moving into house and garage music and embracing the musical mores that surrounded that scene.

That is not to say I did not like other types of music but in terms of purchasing music – I was a bit of a vinyl junkie back then – those were the musical styles that parted me from my hard-earned. These days, with downloading and streaming and my clubbing days somewhat behind me, I can and do indulge in less dance specific music.

That being said, Taylor Swift was never on my list of artist, nor was her music – except for the goat song, you know the one – something that ever came into my world. Of course, I knew who she was – goat song – and what she looked like, especially after Kanye West made her the centre of news broadcast throughout the western hemisphere in 2009 when he interrupted her awards speech to highlight his friend Beyoncé.

Swift, ever the nice girl, tried to play down the incident. Swift’s niceness, not to mention her relentless work ethic, is on display in a fascinating documentary by Lana Wilson, Miss Americana, which not only follows Swift for a couple of years but documents her rise, trials and the tribulations that have beset her career.

A talented singer/songwriter, Swift, hailing from Pennsylvania, began her performing career at an early age, signing her first record deal at fifteen. With a mixture of country and pop, Swift became popular and gained a vast following very quickly.

As she herself admits in the documentary, the most important thing for her was to be liked. Never one to display any of the rebellious traits that have plagued countless young celebrities before her, Swift was an ever-smiling pop princess with a Stepford-esque drive towards pleasing her fan base.

Being a songwriter from such a young age and one whose music touched so many, with lyrics they felt they could relate to, Swift music and writings have always been personal, reflect things that are happening in her life.

It is a hard-hearted and cynical person, a trait that some seem to covet in these times, that does not feel for Swift whilst watching this documentary. She is tearful as she recalls the bile and social media backlash that came after West’s infamous incident, her loneliness at being at the pinnacle of her career but not having anyone to share the moment with or who could relate and, with being a star during a media explosion age, the constant sniping at her with regards to her possible sexual partners.

She also addresses her insecurities about her body, something that many can relate to, how seeing photos of herself could trigger her eating disorder, prompting her to not eat whilst working to exhaustion, as the media took potshots at her and other women lined up to deride her ‘niceness’.

Feeling overwhelmed, Swift withdrew from the public eye and reassessed her life. She knew that her need to be liked by the multitudes of strangers was unhealthy. The dopamine hit she craved from the adulation of fans and critics was, ultimately, destroying her.

She realised that she needed to find true happiness, contentment. Also, as she was now older, she felt that she should perhaps voice her opinion on things that mattered to her. One thing that she felt very strongly about was the rights of women and gays in her home state. A sexual assault case she had to fight after she was sued by a former deejay who had been – rightly – fired for groping her.

Swifts’ pronouncements in social media created an upturn in younger voters in her state and though she did not get the outcome she had hoped for, it showed that she could utilise her influence for something important.

In my opinion – and perhaps I am naive – unless Taylor Swift is one of the planet’s most accomplished actors, it is hard not to like her. Miss Americana shows an extremely hard-working young woman, growing up in the spotlight and trying to find herself in a world that always wants to know more about its celebrities.

Miss Americana is a highly watchable hour and a half of entertainment that may change your mind about that infamous goat song. It made a Swift fan out of me.

Airplane Mode – review (Netflix)

Ana (Larissa Manoela) is a highly popular social media influencer. Obsessed with her popularity, she checks her phone and post responses to the detriment of everything else in her life. The only daughter of Laura (Silvia Lourenço) and Inācio (Michel Bercovitch), Ana’s soaring popularity gets her a job at a clothing company, True Fashion.

Her manipulative boss, Carola (Katiuscia Canoro), has her get together with another, less popular, social influencer, Gil (Eike Duarte), in the hopes of boosting the company’s profile. She is expecting Ana in the office for a meeting but Ana is running late due to having an accident in her car whilst focusing on her phone.

Even though Ana is pretty vacuous, she believes that she is in love with Gil after them being together for a month. When she gets to work, Carola tells her that she and Gil should move in together. Ana is not sure but says she will think about it. She leaves the office and goes to see her best friend and fellow social influencer, Mara (Amanda Orestes). On the way to seeing Mara, Ana has another car accident. She tells Mara about Gil and the idea of them moving in together.

Later, in the evening, Ana’s parents try to lay down the law with regards to her dangerous driving. She refuses to listen to them and goes to see Gil for dinner. Unbeknown to her, Carola has a plan to increase both of their profiles and has Gil break up with her whilst they are live streaming. Carola makes sure her assistant, Fausto (Phelly X Moura), records it all.

An angry Ana calls Carola. Carola is over the moon with the response. Ana, focused on her phone once again, has another accident. She ends up in the hospital. Whilst in hospital, her mother comes up with a plan to stop her using her phone. She tells her that she has been ordered by the court not to use her phone. She employs an actor to pretend to be a court official to tell her she cannot use her phone.

She will have to stay with her grandfather, Germano (Erasmo Carlos). In her grandfather’s town, Ana is desperate to get hold of a mobile phone and tries to persuade a young girl, Julia (Nayobe Nzainab) to lend her her phone. As she tries to wrestle the phone from Julia, she is stopped by the girl’s older brother, Joäo (André Luiz Frambach). She tells him that she is looking for her grandfather’s house. Joäo knows him and persuades his other sister, Rebeca (Mariana Amâncio), to take her to the address.

Germano is initially gruff to the phone loving city girl Ana, forcing her to help him restore an old car but as she helps him, the two warm to one another. Germano tells Ana about her late grandmother, saying that she reminds him of her. He shows her his wife’s old wardrobe. The wardrobe inspires Ana to design her own collection of clothing.

Ana also finds romance with Joäo and begins to relax away from the city. Her father and grandfather are estranged because when the wife was dying Inācio felt that he never allowed her to seek the best possible treatment. Ana finds letters explaining the situation and the parents come to see her and Germano. Carola, who had been searching for Ana, is alerted to her whereabouts when Julia post a picture of her and Joao kissing to social media.

Carola comes to the small town to see Ana. Ana tells her she does not want to come back to the company and is going to try and strike out on her own. She shows Carola her designs. Carola, not happy with Ana’s decision, steals her designs.

That weekend, with the car restored, they plan to go to the towns fair. Whilst at the fair, Ana, with her phone now returned to her, decides to take a photo of her and Joäo. She sees a picture of the man who was supposedly a court official in the background of the picture and realises that her parents duped her. She leaves the town and heads back to the city.

Due to her contract with True fashion, Ana is unable to work with any other fashion house and ends up designing clothing for dogs. Joāo, who she found out also know she was being duped, is desperately trying to contact her. He is having no joy. He sees her designs on a billboard and raises that True Fashion’s Carola has stolen them. He sends Ana a picture.

Joäo, Laura, Inācio and Germano come to the aid of Ana and expose Carola for stealing the designs. Joäo and Ana get back together. The end.

From a story by Alberto Bremer and Johnathan Davis, with the script by Bremer and Alice Name Bomtempo, Airplane ModeModo Aviāo – original Brazilian title – is a pleasant rom-com directed by César Rodrigues.

Following the ever-popular modern story of a social media influencer being too attached to their phones and popularity, Airplane Mode, a title that has proved strangely popular in the past few years with three films having the same title in the past four years, does not seem at all promising from the outset.

The obsessive social media influencer is already becoming a worn-out stereotype which makes it hard to warm to Manoela’s Ana and Canoro’s Carola is a bit of a pantomime villain making the first half an hour of the film a chore to watch. Thankfully, once Ana suffers her accident and is banished to her grandfather’s, the film gets much better and finds its heart.

Carlos’ Germano is taciturn and gruff initially but shows his paternal side quite quickly. The interactions between Carlos and Manoela are believable and the scenes between them, especially when talking about the grandmother/wife, are great.

Frambach’s Joāo is attractive enough without being distractingly so, giving off the aura of a nice guy which works perfectly for this film. At ninety-six minutes long, Airplane Mode, after the ropey opening, bumps along nicely and has you rooting for the romance between Ana and Joāo.

Rodrigues’ directing is competent without being amazing. Larissa Manoela is perfect as the like-hungry Ana, giving a totally believable performance.

Airplane Mode is a nice enough film even though the beginning and the end are not as good as they could have been. All in all, Airplane Mode is an enjoyable film and pleasant enough to waste an hour and a half on.

Why Can’t They See Me?

I had planned to begin this blog with the popular idiom ‘the cream always rises to the top’, putting forward, in a roundabout and hopefully engaging way, the theory or belief that if your work is good enough, it will be discovered. I decided to look up the history of the phrase – research folks, just like a serious writer – and came across an interesting argument against it here.
It got me thinking, especially as the central premise of this blog is not about being talented, it is about that most dreaded of activities, one that anyone who is serious – that word again – about their craft, must engage in; networking.
What prompted this was a blog by the brilliant Lucy V. Hay (if you’re a writer and do not follow her you’re obviously not serious about it.) She points out that no writer should be without a social media presence and that this was also the perfect way to build your network. Hmm, network. Networking, not a thing that comes naturally to yours truly.
The thing is with networking is that it is sort of the equivalent of the long con. When you are networking, it is not necessarily for the now, or even for the when, it is advertising without selling anything tangible, the product being yourself, your personality. People want to and like to work with nice people, people they like. That’s not to say being nice is what gets you work or even noticed talent wise, it definitely helps though.
It is, as Lucy points out, about getting your name out there. Though many derided the work, both as a book and a film, E. L. James’ Fifty Shades Of Grey is known around the world, as is her name. As much as we might like to believe that, given the opportunity, we would only ever employ or utilise the best person for the job, if you are paying money to somebody and working closely with them, as much as the quality of their output matters, you would want to like them –  not have to tolerate –  as well.
Of course, there are those who could care less if they are liked, confidently believing their talent speaks for itself. That may well be true. One could indeed be an extraordinary writer, your gift obvious to any who should peruse your work. In years gone by, before the explosion of social media, you could, in spite of a less than warm personally, get discovered due to possessing great ability. Now, however, being popular, coupled with high competence, is what will get you noticed.
What’s that you say? It’s not fair, especially as you are so much better at writing than so many out there. No doubt you are, but think of it this way; an engaging and friendly writer has a social media following of ten thousand, you like their work but are not blown away by it. Another writer has a following of twenty-seven, writing heart-wrenching prose and captivating stories, only a smattering of followers but definitely superior written work. If both of these writers produce a book, which one do you think is going to gain the most traction? Don’t answer that.
These days especially, a social media presence is a must. If you can gain a large following, that’s even better. A writer with an audience is much more attractive to an agent, publisher or any person of influence than a bog standard brilliant writer, because not only is there less work for them to do, it also shows that the writer is prepared to work and push as well, beyond their comfort zone of just writing.
Now, a social media presence is only the beginning. You have to engage as well. Admittedly, this is where I flounder. I have quite the healthy media presence – Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube – I am out there. It’s the interacting where I fall down. I read other blogs, tweets, watch short films on YouTube, I even tweet and link works of other artists regularly. What I don’t do is engage. I rarely comment I will leave a like, but that is about it. I don’t even have the good grace to comment on comments left on my own blogs! I will comment or reply on Facebook, but the mechanics of that particular platform encourages that, also you can sort of ‘see’ everybody there. I have had brief Twitter exchanges, but that is such a fast moving medium you need to attack it with military regularity.

I don’t even have the good grace to comment on comments left on my own blogs! I will comment or reply on Facebook, but the mechanics of that particular platform encourages that, also you can sort of ‘see’ everybody there. I have had brief Twitter exchanges, but that is such a fast moving medium you need to attack it with military regularity.
For a writer Instagram is crazy! It’s a good place to show your likes and loves – mine being film – but its link-less architecture makes it a very niche platform, better suited to visual than written content. So how do you stand out in a sea of millions of web pages – some with cat videos, which for some unfathomable reason are popular – and great content? If you have the answer, please let me know in the comments. I promise I’ll engage.