Monday, 27 July 2015

The Albion sales on course...

Going to try my hand at some musings on music today, specifically The Libertines.

For many years I've only really listened to guitar music. And I do hate it when people describe their taste as 'indie' because it isn't a genre like Jazz or Rock. Surely indie just means that the artist is signed to a non major label? I'd have been okay calling The Libertines indie when they were signed to the independent label Rough Trade, but since 2014 they've been with Virgin EMI - not remotely indie. I am digressing hugely but perhaps I should bring back the term 'alternative' instead. 

Rough Trade: one of my favourite record labels (and favourite haunt) on earth 

Anyway, I wasn't truly a fan of The Libertines until just this past week actually. But they had always been there as main player in the music scene I found myself invested in. For years I've listened exclusively to Xfm so I liked The Libertines, Babyshambles, Dirty Pretty Things as well as Carl and Pete's solo stuff. My elder brother had their posters, saw Dirty Pretty Things in Manchester and The Libertines when they reformed for Leeds/Reading a few years back. I even bought my brother Carl's Three Penny Memoir when it came out in 2010. In some respects I am over a decade late jumping on to the band wagon, but as I was 7 years old when they broke on to the scene I hope I can be forgiven! I wasn't even into McFly in year 2... But with their second coming I am finally along for the ride. 

I distinctly recall my brother claiming he was going to get 'Libertine' tattooed on himself. I'm still waiting for it...


The first single in 11 years was never going to be easy. Their return could have been a train wreck - and you probably would have still loved it - but Gunga Din is genuinely brilliant. If this had been their debut single and there was non of what came before, I would still be very excited. This is not a half arsed comback, the lads aren't hell bent on money spinning and reminiscing. Gunga Din is a belter of a single in its own right. It got echoes of The Clash, slightly ska-influenced and a chorus that'll hang around in your mind for days. Like the the old stuff - heavy, ambling and just a bit chaotic. It doesn't sound polished, and for a while that bothered me but now I dig the raucous spirit of it all. The new material is showing a continuance of the influence literature and poetry makes on the band's song writing: the song title Gunga Din is taken from the poem by Rudyard Kipling, and the album title Anthems for Doomed Youth comes from Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth. Carl and Pete have always been a bit different to the average band member. How many lads at the NME Awards would think to recite Suicide In The Trenches as an acceptance speech?



As a band the Libertines are still so authentic with this undoubtedly British rock vibe - mythic and mental. Riotous, intriguing, charming. When I read Carl's memoir I found myself romanticizing the back story. When I thought about it, there's nothing romantic about sleeping rough on the streets of Paris, or living with some rogue characters in a basement, or being so wasted you can't remember whole days. And yet I have romanticized the whole thing out of all proportion and will continue to do so because that is what makes The Libertines so unique. They've always been iconic: from those red army jackets, to the on stage antics and mic sharing. It's remarkable how fast they blew up and equally how fast it all fell apart. But I feel as though it was a self fulfilling prophecy. NME way back in 2002 once asked Pete and Carl 'what band got it right?':

Pete: 'It doesn’t exist. Look at the Sex Pistols, they split up and there’s bitterness and sourness.’

Carl: 'that’s not the same as us.’

Pete: 'Of course it’s the same. That’s how it’s going to be with me and you. It’s going to turn sour.’

Carl: 'Why are you saying it’s going to turn sour?’

Pete: 'I think it’s going to turn sour and we’ll get back together.


I think there are somethings that are just meant to be. It was either top of the world or bottom of the canal. 

Thankfully, Bilo and Biggles are once more united on the good ship Albion. Arcadia matters just as much as ever.


Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Not quite the Golden Ticket...


Dear the Reader(if there are any of you left out there.)

 I'm sorry for my erratic and frequent absences from this blog. But I have continued going to the movies, consuming boxsets and watching an occasional play - so I am sitting on some material that I will attempt to cajole into reviews, discussions, musings...

I'll start with a review I wrote a while back of the West End show Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I never got round to publishing. This is the first theatre production I've written about on Amateur Reviews so here's to firsts.

A couple of weeks ago I journeyed to London on a Law related excursion involving a night at the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane - many thanks, Slaughter & May.

As Sam Mendes is one of my more revered directors I was looking forward to seeing his rendition of the much adapted classic by Roald Dahl. And I enjoyed it, but only just.
First off, there is something mildly boring about watching something when you already know the plot like the back of your hand. Did I feel suspense every time Charlie opened a chocolate bar? Well obviously not, as we all know where the tale ends up. And yet conversely I was disappointed that, bar one song, there was none of the classic Charlie songs we know and love. I understand that some of the new tracks could go on to be equally as well known but it's like listening to a new album for the first time, you only really get into it after you've replayed it, and clearly I had not listened to the new Charlie tunes beforehand.

So qualm numero uno is I knew the plot which made it a little uninteresting and qualm numero dos is that I didn't know the songs which, once again, made it a little uninteresting.
With that said I'm not sure my familiarity with the story is all that is dulling my appreciation of the musical, as I could watch Les Miserables knowing the plot and songs every month and still dig it.

No, I think my real disappointment stems from the fact this play is undoubtedly shopped for the under tens, and whilst still enjoyable for a parent perhaps, I found myself hyper aware of the target demographic. This is a family play and if I went with a young child I'm sure I'd find it magic watching them enjoy and become invested in the story but I didn't go with a young child - I went with a bunch of second and third year Law students.

I'm not a theatre connoisseur, but I am more gripped by actual stories, like The Woman In Black and recently 12 Angry Men without razzmatazz and singing and dancing . It's not that I dislike musicals but somehow I can't see Charlie having the longevity of something like The Lion King.

But it is undeniably fun, genuinely humorous at times and the set is unbelievable. If you're into big budget productions, with a huge cast, great costume, inventive set design, magical lighting and something to gawp at in every scene - Charlie excels in this respect.

Would I describe my ticket to this musical as golden? Probably not.


But am I glad I went? You betcha.


Arty one from my Instagram 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Whiplash - Review

WHIPLASH


2014

15

Directed by Damien Chazelle

Starring Miles Teller, J.K Simmons and Melissa Benoist


Set at a fictional New York music conservatoire, a jazz drumming student (Teller) chases his vision of success under the guidance of a mentor who will stop at nothing to make him reach his potential.

Fletcher advocates a teaching method that is the polar opposite to Robin Williams' in Dead Poets Society. By humiliating the students and knocking them about he tries to coax true greatness from manufactured adversity. He's never going to simply say 'good job', as that's not going to push anybody. It's almost sadistic and you do question whether it is worth it. Would you put your child through that? Would you put yourself through that kind of distress just on the off chance you might excel that fraction more? Whiplash doesn't begin to answer this though the denouement does show Andrew as some unstoppably dazzling force, reaching that level of greatness, nailing it.  

It doesn't noticeably put forward the wider questions about art, whether it is worth the harm, the self flagellation that people like Andrew subject themselves to. Do you put yourself through the ringer at the prospect being great or should you settle and not dice with that madness that accompanies seeking true potential. I have been thinking about this recently with regards to method acting. There is nothing inherently brave in someone like Eddie Redmayne taking on the character of Stephen Hawking which would require such a transformation. What's impressive is the result, not the method. I find the performance admirable, not the meticulous method and hours that went into it. Maybe Eddie could have achieved the final result without putting his back out of alignment, we will never know. But Whiplash seems to suggest that Andrew wouldn't have reached such a performance without woodshedding. There's something almost religious, philosophical about that level of intense discipline. The act of taking himself away and dedicating himself to living his craft, the notion of patience and taking however long it takes to get to that point. It seems indulgent to me, but I suppose to a true artist it is necessary.

Whiplash is a thrilling and uncomfortable watch. It reminded me of The Wrestler, The Fighter and particularly Black Swan. I like films of that ilk, about a craft and the human condition. You get that immersed that you find yourself thinking the world will come tumbling down if Andrew messes up. It's only when you take yourself away from it objectively and think 'so what?' that you realise it isn't life and death, though it may seem that way to Andrew. The risk of missing a beat has never been so tense, and it almost certainly won't ever be that tense ever again.

There is quite literally blood, sweat and tears from Andrew. On a side note, I was talking to my friend earlier this week who is a literature student. She informed me that the quote 'blood sweat and tears' is attributed to Churchill, though he actually said 'blood, toil, tears and sweat' - we only remember it so as a result of the rule of three.  Though as it happens in Whiplash, there is plenty of toil to be had as well. Miles Teller is superb. It's come to my attention also that, though I don't review many movies, a good few of my recent ones have starred him. I don't think that's a coincidence...

I do have some reservations however, and they're qualms that are preventing me from becoming properly invested in Whiplash. I found Simmons to be a bit cartoony, so over the top vicious that he could not be real. That may well be intentional but I just couldn't go with the notion that fully grown men would let someone talk to them so outrageously no matter how well respected they were. I think I would have written him differently. Similarly, it gets a bit unbelievable in the second act and it frustrated me because it was so elegant, it didn't need the implausible melodrama. The love interest was superfluous and mildly distracting but nicely drafted and did illustrate how driven Andrew was by showing what he was prepared to forgo in pursuance of perfection.

There are a great deal of five star reviews out there for Whiplash and it sort of makes me wonder if I am missing something or didn't take away from the picture what the director had envisioned. And yet I did really like it. Especially the aesthetics. The editing was beautiful and mesmerising in a very surreal and immersive way. The ending is the magnum opus. Frenetic, feverish and exciting; a knife edge balancing act of the clinical precision of jazz against the raw desperation of trying to execute a performance without fault.



Rating: 7



Thursday, 1 January 2015

Latest acquisitions to my 'viewed list'

Having recently upgraded to Amazon Prime I have been dedicating some time to making the most out of the Prime Instant Videos and thought I'd provide a little summary of the most recent three.

The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones 

Based on the young adult novels by Cassandra Clare, this film chronicles Clary Fray's accession to Shadow Hunter. When her mother disappears, Clary Fray learns that she descends from a line of warriors who protect our world from demons. She joins forces with others like her and heads into a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld

It could may well be my short and impatient attention span, but there are enough choreographed fight scenes in this movie to last a decade of movies. To the point that I wanted to skip them. Of course action movies demand a degree of action, but part of me feels that life is too short to watch the same brawl 8 times in different (and sometimes the same) locations. It is mildly entertaining though if only for the classically shoddy lines such as 'So Bach was a Shadow Hunter?' and 'I'm a werewolf, not a golden retriever.'

I read an article the other day questioning why young adult fiction has been pigeon-holed as only appropriate for teenage girls, but The Mortal Instruments seems to play precisely to that demographic. And what is it with love triangles? Books of this ilk are the only places where they seem to be a thing and it's old hat. Bella, Edward and Jacob. Clary, Jace and Simon. Katniss, Peeta and Gayle. 

Jamie Campbell Bower's cheekbones, however, could inspire endless sonnets. 



Now You See Me

An FBI agent and an Interpol detective track a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists during their magic show performances and reward their audiences with the money.

As far as casts go, this puts forward one heck of an ensemble. Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson, Michael Caine, Mark Ruffalo, and Morgan Freeman. 

I was thoroughly invested in this film all the way until the ending. It was fast paced, slick, funny and all the smoke and mirrors, slight of hand stuff was gripping. It's not that I saw the ending coming, on the contrary it was a genuine plot twist, but I did think that it was a touch lazy. If the ending of this had have been stronger I would not have had many quibbles. Throughout the film the fun came from seeing something impossible and trying to figure out how it could have logically happened. The end of the movie almost shattered this intrigue by laying it out for the audience in a disappointing way. But don't get me wrong, this is a strong film and I do look forward to the sequel.



The Bling Ring 

The best of the three films in this post. Inspired by actual events the movie depicts a group of fame-obsessed teenagers using the internet to track celebrities' whereabouts in order to rob their homes. It showcases everything that is wrong with my generation and satirises it. It should be unbelievable and far fetched but it sadly isn't. And to make matters worse, you know the content is vacuous, fake and wrong but it's so fun. Find me a young person who doesn't care about how their social media portrays themselves to the masses, we try and create an image of ourselves. We can be guilty of stalking on Facebook, updating every aspect of our lives on Instagram, lusting after material goods. Of course the girls and boy depicted in the movie take it criminally too far, but real life Young Hollywood, The Hills, 90210 does look glamorous and people want a piece of that. There's a bit in the movie that talks about the fascination with gossip via outlets such as TMZ and Perez Hilton and it is odd that people like Lindsey Lohan are seen as this almost anti-hero. 

Writer and director Sofia Coppola truly flexes her film making muscles creating a dynamic and mesmerising series of scenes. Each burglary employs a different filming technique, from a wide continuous tracking shot, to authentic looking security cam found footage. There's the use of webcams, copious selfies, slow motion footage with an on-the-pulse soundtrack. Particularly stand out for me was the dreamlike sequence where Rebecca sprays Lohan's perfume whilst staring at her reflection in a mirror. It's gripping and I'm not sure why. 

Emma Watson deserves an honourable mention too. With a sickening good valley girl accent, her utterly sincere delivery of absolute hogwash script is fantastic. These people talk endless rubbish and what's worse is that I lend my ears to it by watching E! Entertainment and the like - and The Bling Ring really made me wonder why.





Monday, 29 December 2014

A few thoughts

For a project that spiked my interest from the start of production, it has taken me an strangely lengthy time to in fact get around to watching Kill Your Darlings. I can trace my fascination with the Beat Generation very specifically, to the point that I suppose I have to thank the casting director of Chronicle for bringing the literary movement into my life, by casting Dane DeHaan as Andrew Detmer.* Let me elaborate...



In February 2012 Chronicle was released and Dane DeHaan impressed me to the point that I knew I would follow him as an actor because, wherever his career took him, it was sure to be interesting. So to IMDb I went and saw that Dane was set to be starring in a movie called Kill Your Darlings alongside Daniel Radcliffe. In order to add some detail to a blog post I was composing on the upcoming film, I engaged in some preliminary and very rudimentary research into just which real life people the various actors were supposed to be depicting. At this point I had never heard of the Beat Generation, let alone any of the authors or works.

But I did like the thought that in the early 1940's there was a gang of young intellectuals running around New York and Columbia University reading classic literature, creating a New Vision, dabbling in banned substances and consuming plenty of liquor.


Kerouac and Burroughs
In the past three years since then, I have been reading within this literary movement and can't imagine a time when I didn't know about all it has brought to me. Ginsberg's poetry. On The Road, Big Sur, The Sea is My Brother, Maggie Cassidy by Kerouac. And Burroughs' Junky, Naked Lunch and The Western Lands. I read all about Neal Cassady and watched any number of films on those men.


Ginsberg and Kerouac
Kill Your Darlings is a film that I have been looking forward to since its inception. Not just because it is a film about all those cherished favourites of mine. But because it was my research into KYD that made them become said cherished favourites.


Burroughs, Ginsberg and Carr. I love this photograph.
Not sure why I felt the need to share this with you prior to my review, but I thought it would set the scene. I can't imagine coming at this film blind with no prior knowledge, but I wonder if I would have enjoyed it so thoroughly if I didn't know what happened during the film and hadn't known the literary figures that they would one day become... A review will follow shortly.

Lou and Ginsy
*I have done some research, and Ronna Kress, I thank you for your inspired casting of Dane DeHaan as it has indirectly set me off on a great literary adventure.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Interstellar - Review

INTERSTELLAR


2014

12A

Directed by Christopher Nolan

Starring Matthew McConoughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway


To those who haven't seen Interstellar; I would leave this page. To those who have, please humour my musings but only if you feel so inclined.

Blight, depleting food sources, almighty dust clouds. The movie opens in a not so remote future. A future that can put a certain and imminent expiry date on the life of its inhabitants. We meet Cooper (McConaughey), a stoic throwback to an age gone by who is cut out to be a man of science, an engineer, an astronaut. Instead, he is reduced to an arcane existence of agriculture and attending parent teacher evenings. This is until, with the help of his sharp minded daughter, he stumbles upon the modern day equivalent of NASA. A team of explorers are then sent into the ether in an attempt to find a new life sustaining planet and save the human race. No mean feat then.

Interstellar is visually awe inspiring and I should have viewed it in IMAX to fully appreciate the spectacle. The future planet which opens the movie, though barren, is beautiful and expansive. Tired fields of corn and dirt-track roads in an earthy colour palette evoke the sense of a warzone, but not in the sense of a world war. The people are not fighting against each other anymore, they are engaged in conflict with a world that has been ravaged and exhausted by 7 billion souls. The very thing that sustained us is giving up the gun and no longer cooperating. And so we look to space. Set against a spellbinding backdrop of esoteric opera, the tidal waves of biblical proportion and imposing black holes which are already striking become even more so. Hans Zimmer has composed an incredibly gothic score with soaring strings and organs contrasted shockingly with moments of heavy, dead space silence.

It's not as if we don't know that this level of population growth is inversely proportional to the available resources on earth and our way of living cannot be sustainable for infinite generations. A film like Interstellar could scare the living daylights out of everyone, and it really should. But Christopher Nolan is not in the market for preaching, scaremongering and pretending like he has the answers, he's not trying to put the fear of God into viewers. The message in Interstellar is not pushy or aggressive, he's too sophisticated a film maker to lecture. But it's enough of a glaring siren to remind us of the chilling inevitability that one day, as a race, we will be on our way out.

Cooper's son is a man of tradition and convention whereas the daughter embodies dynamism and truth. There is a constant interplay between farming and engineering, indifference and curiosity. It reminded me of The Tree of Life and the constant power play between a draconian father (the way of nature) and the way of grace exhibited by the mother. 'Nature only wants to please itself' while grace doesn't. It is even, to certain extent, evocative of the tension between capitalism and religion which underpins There Will Be Blood. The differing attitudes of Cooper's children, especially when fully grown, present a well trodden question. Do we turn a blind eye to the alarming reality of our way of life and bury our heads beneath the sand in the full knowledge that this toxic issue will not resolve itself? Or do we engage with the reality of the situation and endeavour, in whatever way, to fight until the very end? This mentality is embodied quite beautifully by the reoccurring motif of a poem by Dylan Thomas. If old men should leave this world resisting death with all their might, perhaps the human race should try to go kicking and screaming instead of peacefully when the time comes. 

According to Interstellar, our life line is to be found in the stars. In terms of the accuracy and of the science, the content goes far, far beyond my rudimentary knowledge of physics. I don't know if Interstellar is theoretically on the money, if space was depicted accurately or if there are any laughable plot holes from a purely academic standpoint. But it's certainly ambitious. Initially it seemed overly, but this is why I have the desire to watch it over and over. How can elaborate and challenging content ever be a qualm? The main aspect however that I cannot seem to get my head around is how did the future humans survive in the first place to make the Tesseract that ultimately saves earth, given that there would not have been such a Tesseract to save the world first time round? A paradox, surely?

Nolan tries to place human emotion and the complexity of love on an even footing with something like quantum physics. We look to sciences to save us, but maybe love is just as potent. Personally I'm not sure how far I can go with that notion, although quite frankly I don't understand enough about physics, nor love to comment critically. Placing raw human passion, sentimental love and affection (something that is often discouraged for clouding judgement and reason) against the very pressing and real demise of the human race is powerful. Far from belittling Cooper's love for his children as something which would tempt him to make selfish and damaging decisions, Nolan almost postulates that love is something far from detrimental, and on par with logic. It is clear that people care for their loved ones, and they also are troubled by humanity. But they become mutually exclusive in this film and best articulated when Amelia Brand tells Cooper 'you might have to decide between seeing your children again, and the future of the human race.' From an objective and utilitarian perspective the survival humanity should indeed take precedence over the mere desire to see a loved one again. But we all know that subjectivity plays a role and a selflessly sacrificial mentality does not necessarily come instinctively to humans.

Nolan has a penchant for examining the human condition. It's probably no coincidence that Matt Damon's character was called Mann. The ravages of time and the maddening effect of seclusion turned a once brave astronaut into a twisted and selfish monster who seemed blind to the wider aim of the mission. And yet this disloyalty, though infuriating, is understandable as humans are guilty of becoming self interested and malevolent. It's as if Mann is a personification of the flaws, weaknesses and principle defects of man. Of mankind. McConaughey plays Cooper with a smouldering intensity that is second to none. The emotional range he conjures up is remarkable and his moving performance could bring even the most usually indifferent viewer to tears.

Despite the amount of enormous, meaty topics that Nolan is daring to raise and delve into, it oddly does not feel like he's giving anything inadequate treatment. Interstellar could have easily been a hodgepodge of unfinished themes that hadn't been satisfactorily dealt with. Questions could have been left hanging there in the minds of the viewers after being so boldly raised and then swiftly forgotten. But it isn't at all like that. Gargantuan (see what I did there?) propositions and explorations of love, quantum physics, relativity and human nature are easily within Nolan's command. He doesn't profess to have all the answers because if he did, it would be utterly nonsensical. But what he does do is place love in a cosmic context. And instead of this belittling and diminishing human emotion as unhelpful in the face of cold hard science, it upholds it.

Though Interstellar flirts with art, and genuinely does have art house qualities, there are occasional commercial undertones that pull you back to the knowledge that it is a blockbuster for the mass audience. Which is fine. But I was disappointed in Nolan for certain naff and commonplace aspects such as the moment Jessica Chastain kisses Topher Grace and then throws her life work victoriously into the air. This, along with Amelia Brand's monologues on love, could have been drafted in way less likely to make me wince. I'm splitting hairs but this film is in no way made better by the fact there are some allusions to romance, if anything it detracts from the female characters - but hey Hollywood can't get enough of a good kiss, so let's just throw one in there even though it may be unnecessary. But with a more ruthless edit and stronger dialogue in parts my slight disillusionment could have be nonexistent.

It's no secret on this blog that Christopher Nolan is my favourite visionary. And after Interstellar he not only retains that accolade, he cements it. Granted, Interstellar is not quite perfect, but I'd rather watch a director try and fall just short of executing the lofty heights of such a dizzying vision than not try at all. Because what he has created is something provocative, beautiful and unreservedly mind-blowing.









Sunday, 9 November 2014

21 & Over - Review

21 & Over


2013

15

Starring Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, Justin Chon

Directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore.


A friend remarked that this film is essentially 'The Hangover meets Project X'. I am always wary when people compare one movie to a hybrid of two other solid films. I distinctly remember the film The Adjustment Bureau being shopped as 'Bourne meets Inception'. Logically, this filled me with much anticipation, though alas, the only relation to the Bourne Trilogy was Matt Damon, and similarly the comparison to Inception was unsubstantiated (and quite frankly offensive to Chris Nolan). However, in this case 'The Hangover meets Project X' fundamentally hits the nail on the head. Though it must be said 21 & Over is less funny than The Hangover, and a great deal less raucous than Project X - it is pretty much their lovechild.  

It's Jeff Chang's Birthday, he has just turned 21 and his friends from home Miller (Teller) and Casey (Astin) show up on his door step. Only Jeff Chang has an important med school interview the following day and his father makes it clear that his son should probably get a good night sleep in preparation for his once in a lifetime big day. Miller persuades Jeff Chang, in a brilliantly persuasive monologue, that he should definitely go out for a few beers though. Naturally; you only turn 21 once after all.

Two beers spirals into two dozen and next thing you know Jeff Chang is passed out in a toilet cubicle of a sorority house. However not before frequenting countless bars and clubs, and riding on a rodeo bull (in slow mo, obviously...)  21 & Over goes for unapologetic slapstick humour, crude laughs and plays on every politically incorrect  stereotype you can possibly imagine. It is funny but probably shouldn't be allowed. That said, the barrage of laughs and plot twists keep coming thick and fast. Just like the drinks the boys are seeing off.  

And the thing is, 21 & Over can get away with shamelessly playing each exaggerated caricature and every cliché plot twist going. It's textbook teen comedy, you would never watch this film unless you wanted and expected precisely that. Miles Teller's character is witty and charming enough to keep the audience engaged right till the very last predictable laugh. I don't mind it though, movie snobs and serious film fans would roll their eyes and shake their heads no end - but that's fine, it was not produced for them anyway.


If you are searching for a fun and facetious comedy? You won't go far wrong with 21 & Over. Especially if you have watched (and enjoyed) both Project X and The Hangover...

Rating 4.5/10