Saturday, 20 December 2014

2014: MY YEAR OF POPULAR CULTURE


So this year, being as how I do a four day week, I decided to go to the cinema each Friday, resulting in a year of seeing more movies in a twelve month period than I ever have: at the cinema that is. I think it’s been a pretty good year for films with some stand outs for me being Nightcrawler featuring an exceptional performance from Jake Gylenhall, the ‘hate it or love it’ stylings of Under The Skin and In A World deserved more acclaim. Interstellar was a triumphant blend of Kubrick and Spielberg, Fury with Brad Pitt rejuvenated the good old-fashioned war movie and Woody Allen’s latest Magic In The Moonlight was enjoyable though slight. The Imitation Game was a ripping yarn with an underlying theme of intolerance.

In terms of the blockbuster Captain America: The Winter Soldier was an action packed tale of daring do and Guardians Of The Galaxy charmed by not taking itself too seriously. Twelve Years A Slave tested the audiences constitution, X-Men Days Of Futures Past could have been better but still managed to focus on character over action while Boyhood was an absorbing experience that transcended the inherent gimmick of the piece.

I only walked out of one movie this year, The Congress, a movie that had the great premise of Robin Wright selling her persona via the virtual world to a film studio. This movie had a promising start then metamorphosed into a loud and annoying incoherent animation. A Million Ways To Die In The West got me close to making an early exit but I stuck it out.

Along the way I’ve enjoyed, in varying degrees Frank, 71, Before I Go To Sleep, Locke and The Drop. The Wolf of Wall Street was a delicious black comedy and Dallas Buyers Club gave us a great character piece, Cold In July was an old school southern thriller with a great Don Johnson performance and Joe with Nicholas Cage stood alongside it as a proper movie to be enjoyed for what it was. Lucy saw Luc Besson doing what he does best with a straight action movie that turned out to be not so straight and The Guest walked the path of The Hitcher and Shadow Of A Doubt effectively.

For reasons far too complex to go into I attended the world premier of The Amazing Spider Man 2 and I have to say it was an enjoyable piece of hokum as was Horrible Bosses 2.

Gone Girl reemphasised David Fincher’s versatility and The Keeper Of Lost Causes will almost certainly beget a follow up or two and the inevitable US remake.

Disappointments were Sin City A Dame To Kill For which seemed curiously dated and Monuments Men failed to fulfil any of its ‘Men On A Mission’ expectations.

Those small gripes aside I’ve enjoyed 2014’s cinematic offerings and watched the lion's share at the various Everyman Cinemas in London where one can sit back, relax and enjoy the experience safe in the knowledge that there will be no mobile phones ringing to jolt you out of your absorption, no late arrivals causing a kerfuffle and the tranquillity that an educated cinema goer brings: not yacking throughout. Here’s to Cinema 2014: not a classic year but a pretty satisfying one.

In terms of TV my top 10 is of real quality even though its  a short one but those programmes I’m about to list were certainly head and shoulders above the dross.


1.   Peaky Blinders-tremendously written, conceived and executed
2.   True Detective-classy thriller with depth
3.   Luther-Series Three took us along a hyper real path
4.   VEEP-Outstanding political Comedy
5.   Louie-Meta humour from Mr C.K.
6.   Life-Attenborough does it again
7.   Life And Death Row-Exemplary documentary about justice
8.   Penny Dreadful-Knowing horror
9.   Sherlock-Always intriguing, always Fun
10.Mad Men-the first half of the final season was as subtle as ever

Live events? My few days at The Edinburgh Festival reaped rich rewards and a packed schedule ensured I saw a bit of everything with Romesh Ranganathan standing out, but I was lucky enough to see three of the best live experiences I have ever seen:


1.  Kate Bush-Before The Dawn at Hammersmith Apollo. Dazzzling
2. The James Plays: James III-The True Mirror Edinburgh & National Theatre. Compelling
3. Wonderland at the Hampstead Theatre. Engrossing


Music wise I have to say that 90% of my listening pleasure was provided by old music,I have been particularly enjoying playing Bowie's back catalog, but in the 10% of modern stuff it was quite refreshing to note the success of Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran: two singer songwriters who definitely don’t conform to the modern manufactured stereotype. More power to them.

I’ve not touched on the written word (I’ll save that for another post)

Another year is about to bite the dust and on balance I think I have been thoroughly entertained, I look forward to 2015 with a hint of optimism.


Monday, 8 December 2014

MY HIT LIST: THE SMITHS' COVER STARS


The Smiths record sleeves were creatively very smart sixties cinematic references. Predominantly English actors appeared on the many albums and singles that they released, this created a visual identity for the band: and a unique one at that. Here are some of the cover stars in different poses.










Saturday, 15 November 2014

MY HIT LIST: PHASE IV




When designer Saul Bass, the maker of wonderful title sequences, decided to direct a feature film it was always going to be visually interesting. Phase IV is a slow burn with an inherent Nature (or at least Super Nature) v Us theme. intelligent Bugs From Outer Space would have been an overly bombastic title for this film's brand of insectoid existentialism. Saul Bass' visual flair is evident in this thoughtful Science Fiction tale and it has hints of Roeg in it's styling. As debuts go it is flawed yet terrific and would go nicely on a double bill with the Andromeda Strain: unfortunately it was Bass' only full length feature and one wonders what he could have gone on to achieve. One things for sure, any future movies would have been good looking.










Sunday, 9 November 2014

INTERSTELLAR or how I learnt to stop worrying and love the complexity




Is there anyone out there? Or more apposite: is there anywhere out there? Just one of many questions Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar asks. Any fan of Nolan’s, as I am, would know from Memento, The Prestige and Inception that Nolan’s conceptual faculties are perhaps the best in the mainstream business. But  along with his technical ability he gets results out of actors that help the audience to engage.


What most of us wondered was if Interstellar was going to be his Prometheus or his Close Encounters. It’s neither. It’s a movie that leaves your brain rattling away long after the end credits.

It’s a movie that asks questions about our (humanity’s) place in the universe. Explores the power of love and tries to realign perceptions of time: so far so highbrow. We make comparisons of films: that’s just what we do, and Interstellar‘s nearest touchstones are 2001: a space Odyssey and perhaps Solaris.



When drawing analogies with Kubrick’s epic it is an easy parallel: the gates of perception and spacecraft spinning against a vast backdrop (along with some of Kubrick’s pretension). The scenes of spacecraft and planets are beautifully captured and this counterpoints the personal drama of the story.



Where 2001 had HAL Interstellar has TARS, a robot of humour and initiative. In fact TARS starts of as an unwieldy clunky relic but his design is unlike any robot character I’ve seen at the cinema and his bizarre, almost Analogue design puts him (yes him, not it) in the pantheon of great Artificial intelligence.



It touches on the Spielberg school of emoting at times but what it does do is provide a three hour cinema experience that is sometimes profound, often thrilling and intermittently baffling, but in this world of junk movies it is a meal that is full of diverse flavour and none overpowers the other. Tuck in.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

SUPERWOMEN BELTED BUCKLED AND BOOTED

The sublime reckless abandon of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) directed by Russ Meyer Starring Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams and Sue Bernard not so much a movie as a mission statement for  wild women and fast times.










Sunday, 12 October 2014

MY HIT LIST: PEAKY BLINDERS




There are currently two quality TV shows set in 1920's Britain, one is Tea & Biscuits: comforting and relaxing, the other is Beer & Cigarettes: sensory and grimy. I'm talking about Downton Abbey and the wonderful Peaky Blinders. 


The Midlands has probably been most notable, televisually, for Crossroads but there was an unsung Midlands TV show that was ahead of it's time: Gangsters, a modern day set story of the criminal underworld of Birmingham. Peaky Blinders takes us into the same territory but the setting is that of a post WWI  Britain where many men did not return from foreign fields.

The cast are excellent as is the dialogue and the superb production values. It's almost Victorian industrial in it's look with shades of Lynch's Elephant Man along side the Gray glamour of the upwardly mobile protagonist Shelby family.
Cillian Murphy is particularly good as the cold and calculating leader of the Peaky Blinders, his ruthlessness offset by a dead eyed charm and Sam Neill plays a villain just the right side of moustache twirling. Strong women characters that are often merely cyphers in Gangster movies are notable by their presence and youth has its day in the casting. The use of contemporary music alongside strong sound design gives the show a unique feel as does the superlative costume design: from Haircuts to Boots the entourage cut a dash in the grim landscape.


Peaky Blinders has entered it's second series and I hope that it does not go the way of Ripper Street, that period piece that BBC audiences never quite took to, as it has more than enough facets to hook a variety of viewers.
If you've not seen it do yourself a favour and have a couple of nights in with the first series and catch the first 2 episodes of the new series on iPlayer: you won't be disappointed.




WELLISAIDTHAT