The Gatekeepers” an Amazing Window on Israel.

Ami Ayalon, now in the Israeli Knesset.

Ami Ayalon, now in the Israeli Knesset.

In the week when the new Swedish gov­ern­ment announced its inten­tion to rec­og­nize the state of Pales­tine, and after the back bench British MPs made a sim­i­lar show of pub­lic sup­port, last weekend’s screen­ing of the BBC Sto­ryville doc­u­men­tary The Gate­keep­ers made for timely viewing.

This is one of those films that you feel you ought to watch, rather than one you actu­ally want to see. And like so many of those, it turns out to be absolutely riveting.

Directed by the Israeli Dror Moreh, who was inspired by Errol Mor­ris extra­or­di­nar­ily reveal­ing inter­view of Robert S. McNa­mara for The Fog Of War, The Gate­keep­ers is an extended inter­view with the last six heads of the Israeli secret ser­vice, the Shin Bet. Remark­ably, it’s every bit as reveal­ing as the film that inspired it.

The remarkable Rodriguez.

The remark­able Rodriguez.

For the last 35 years, these six men have been in charge of Israel’s inter­nal secu­rity. And watch­ing them grap­ple with their con­sciences whilst bemoan­ing the refusal of lead­ers on either side to seri­ously engage with their oppo­site num­ber was fas­ci­nat­ing, depress­ing and ulti­mately some­how hopeful.

If only, you couldn’t help but feel, it had been some of these men who’d been run­ning the coun­try instead of the ones who were actu­ally elected. One of them has indeed now joined the Knes­set. We can only hope. The mes­sage from all six of them was unan­i­mous. We must engage. We need to talk. You can’t secure the state of Israel with­out acknowl­edg­ing the fate of the Palestinians.

Muscle Shoals.

Mus­cle Shoals.

This is yet another in an ever more impres­sive ros­tra of docs form the Sto­ryville team. If you haven’t already, watch Search­ing for Sugar Man (reviewed ear­lier here), Mus­cle Shoals (here) or the amaz­ing and sober­ing The House I Live In (here). In fact you can pretty much watch any one of their films. It’s the most con­sis­tently impres­sive strand of doc­u­men­tary film mak­ing any­where in the world. You can see the Gate­keep­ers trailer here.

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Perfume Genius’ new album “Too Bright” the real deal.

Perfume Genius' Too Bright.

Per­fume Genius’ Too Bright.

Too Bright is the third album from Mike Hadreas who per­forms as Per­fume Genius. He’s the lat­est to be offi­cially anointed by the grown-ups in the music press, but hap­pily, after the dis­ap­point­ment of the recent and sim­i­larly lauded FKA Twigs album, this time round it’s the real deal.

Hadreas has brought in the Por­tishead gui­tarist Adrian Utley for pro­duc­tion duties, while long time PJ Har­vey col­lab­o­ra­tor John Parish sits in on drums for a num­ber of tracks. Hadreas has said that Har­vey is a major influ­ence, the other being Nina Simone. And that com­bi­na­tion of raw, emo­tional pain and care­fully wrought musi­cal tex­tures with a decided edge are what best describe the feel of the album.

PJ Harvey.

PJ Har­vey.

But there are also qui­eter more lyri­cal moments, as with My Body (T5) where he seems to be chan­nelling Ricky Nelson’s Lone­some Town. And oth­ers where the pres­ence of Antony and the John­sons can clearly be felt.

The boys from Pitch­fork give it an impressed 8.5 here. And you can see the video for Grid here, and for Queen here. And you can read Sasha Frere-Jones piece on him in the New Yorker here.

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Cronenberg’s new Film “Maps To The Stars” is a Poison Pen Letter to Hollywood.

Maps To The Stars.

Maps To The Stars.

David Cro­nen­berg’s new film Maps To The Stars arrives here from this year’s Cannes Film Fes­ti­val where it was screened in May. Most of the famous satires on Hol­ly­wood are secretly in awe of the place. The Player, The Bad and the Beau­ti­ful, even Sun­set Boule­vard (all reviewed ear­lier here) have an under­ly­ing warmth and exhibit a shy love love view of Hol­ly­wood. Not this one.

Julianne Moore plays an actress who’s seen bet­ter days and has never really come to terms with the death of the mother who brought her up so dis­as­trously. She takes on Mia Wasikowska as her per­sonal assis­tant. Her estranged mother and father are a famous power cou­ple over­see­ing the mete­oric career of her 13 year old brother.

James Spader in Crash.

James Spader in Crash.

There’s a strong sense of impend­ing doom and Greek tragedy to the film, sug­gest­ing the Oresteia. And the air of neme­sis, hubris and inevitable ret­ri­bu­tion hang heavy through­out. All the cast are excel­lent, and it’s easy to see how Moore won the Best Actress Award at Cannes. But it’s equally easy to see why the film failed to win any of the main prizes.

Robert Pattinson and Sarah Gadon return from Cosmopolis for Cronenberg's new film.

Robert Pat­tin­son and Sarah Gadon return from Cos­mopo­lis for Cronenberg’s new film.

Yes it’s extra­or­di­nar­ily caus­tic, and unremit­tingly bleak (and often very funny) about the sorts of lives that those who inhabit Hol­ly­wood live. And, it has to be said, all too believ­ably so. But more than that, there’s a clin­i­cal cold­ness to the film’s final quar­ter. Unlike Crash, which gives an equally dystopian overview of the mod­ern world, Maps To The Stars sinks to its con­clu­sion instead of ris­ing to an emo­tional crescendo. Its spirit is Apol­lon­ian rather than Dionysian, and it ends up being a film that you greatly admire instead of being one that you’re dev­as­tated by.

Nonethe­less, together with the recent Cos­mopo­lis (reviewed ear­lier here) it’s another impres­sive addi­tion to Cronenberg’s august back cat­a­logue. And he con­tin­ues to be one the very few seri­ous film mak­ers around. You can see the trailer to Maps To The Stars here.

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Magic In The Moonlight”, another New Film from Woody Allen. Yeah…

Magic in the moonlight.

Magic in the moonlight.

The lead sin­gle off the sec­ond, best and alas last album from Girls Father, Son and Holy Ghost was called “Vomit” (reviewed ear­lier here). The title refers to a Bible story where a thief’s need to return to the scene of his crime is com­pared to a dog’s com­pul­sion to exam­ine its own vomit.

This seems to be the only pos­si­ble expla­na­tion as to why it is that Woody Allen keeps going back to make yet another film. It would all make sense if the rea­son he were in such a hurry to pro­duce a new film every year was because the last few had been so disappointing.

That’s what made his last film, Blue Jas­mine (reviewed ear­lier here) so refresh­ing. It sug­gested the begin­ning of a new phase. His lat­est, Magic in the Moon­light is sadly more of the same, and we’re back where we were.

Vicky Christine Barcelona.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

Since his last gen­uinely funny com­edy, Bul­lets Over Broad­way in 1994 Allen has made 20 films. That’s one a year. And the only two that mer­ited watch­ing all the way through were Sweet and Low­down in 1999 and Match Point in 2005 – Vicky Cristina Barcelona (’08) doesn’t count. You could film Javier Bar­dem, Scar­lett Johans­son and Pene­lope Cruz pair­ing their toe­nails and it would still be electrifying.

What you think of his lat­est film will depend on whether you’re old enough to remem­ber how excit­ing the prospect of a new Woody Allen film used to be.

Annie Hall (’77), Man­hat­tan (‘79), Zelig (’83), The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo (’85) and Crimes and Mis­de­meanors (’89) are all seri­ous, sub­stan­tial, sig­nif­i­cant films. And they’re funny. The last time I laughed dur­ing a Woody Allen film was Bul­lets Over Broad­way.

It’s not as if they’ve become more seri­ous. On the con­trary, they’re ever lighter and more and more insub­stan­tial. And they’re less funny. All of the themes that were once explored, painfully, are now breezily ticked off, as if on some sort of exis­ten­tial shop­ping list.

Poor old Colin Firth and Emma Stone doing their best.

Poor old Colin Firth and Emma Stone in “Magic in the Moon­light” doing their best.

Iron­i­cally, the only thing that make his films watch­able these days are the cast he still man­ages to attract. Every­body used to fall over them­selves to be in the new Woody Allen film because the scripts were so good. They still do. But the scripts are so slop­pily cob­bled together these days that were it not for their stel­lar casts, they’d be unwatchable.

None of which will bother you if all you are look­ing for is a poor man’s Down­town to watch on your new iPhone, as you keep your eye on Strictly leaf­ing through the Sun­day papers as you check your mes­sages. As ever the cast are all exem­plary, con­sid­er­ing. But for the rest of us, Magic in the Moon­light makes for decid­edly depress­ing viewing.

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The New U2 Album, Robert Plant and Staying Relevant.



Long time U2 fans have greeted the launch of their next new album with increas­ing trep­i­da­tion. Last week was alas more of the same. The lat­est, Songs Of Inno­cence, sounds like the album from an off-Broadway musi­cal cel­e­brat­ing the youth of a 90s rock band. But unable to afford the rights to any of the orig­i­nal mate­r­ial, they’ve been forced to get a trib­ute band to do their best. They might well be inti­mate, per­sonal songs, but most of the riffs sound like they have been lifted clean off of the Joshua Tree.

U2’s prob­lem has always been Achtung Baby (’91). Which wasn’t just a seis­mic leap for­ward for the band at the time, it was one of the sem­i­nal albums of the decade. The prob­lem is, how on earth do you fol­low it?

Achtung Baby!

Achtung Baby!

Zooropa (’93) and Pas­sen­gers (’95) was the sound of band grap­pling with what to do now that they’d become the global phe­nom­e­non they’d always dreamt of. You could hear them intently lis­ten­ing to what was going on around them try­ing to feel their way for­ward. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (‘00) was a very pleas­ing col­lec­tion of con­ven­tional sin­gles, but was tac­itly under­stood as a brief hiatus.

But the three albums over the 14 years that fol­lowed have proved wholly unre­mark­able and have merely pro­vided the band with more of the same to per­form live with. So why not be done with stu­dio albums com­pletely? Because a live band is essen­tially what they’ve become.

It’s per­fectly accept­able in the worlds of RnB, blues and jazz to stop fever­ishly pro­duc­ing new mate­r­ial, and to spend your lat­ter years re-examining your can­non, con­cen­trat­ing instead on pro­duc­ing the kinds of live per­for­mances that only come with age and expe­ri­ence. What’s the point of fur­ther adding to an already impres­sive back cat­a­logue with mass pro­duced, sub-standard, replica copies?

Robert Plant.

Robert Plant.

Incred­i­bly few bands man­age that per­ilous bal­anc­ing act of fill­ing vast sta­di­ums and of pro­duc­ing qual­ity albums of gen­uine sub­stance. U2 are one, Led Zep­pelin were another. Amaz­ingly, Robert Plant turned his back on the peer­less 70s hell-raisers in 1980, and has been qui­etly plough­ing his own fur­row ever since.

His musi­cal wan­der­lust has seen him explor­ing the roots Amer­i­cana of the deep south, and of where all that came from in the music of west Africa. Unex­pect­edly, if quite cor­rectly, he burst into pub­lic view again in 2007 with his Ali­son Krauss col­lab­o­ra­tion Rais­ing Sand, which won the Grammy for Album of The Year in 2008 and sold by the tonne full.

Lullaby… And the Ceaseless Roar.

Lul­laby and… The Cease­less Roar.

Band of Joy fol­lowed in 2010 prov­ing for those not in the know that Rais­ing Sand wasn’t a blip but part of a fully formed renais­sance. And now he’s back with another new band (part of an old one actu­ally), with his lat­est album, Lul­laby and… The Cease­less Roar.

The Sen­sa­tional Space Shifters include mem­bers of the Strange Sen­sa­tion which he formed over a decade ago. He’s joined by both the key­boardist and bassist from Por­tishead, as well as Justin Adams, a pro­ducer who’s worked with Brian Eno and more recently the blues Tuareg band Tinawiren. That’s how you stay rel­e­vant. Musi­cally inquis­i­tive, reveal­ing, prob­ing and plain­tive, it gets an approv­ing 7.0 from the boys from Pitch­fork here. And could eas­ily have got more.

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