Former Fleet Fox flames into being as Father John Misty.

I Love You Honeybear, Father John Misty

I Love You Hon­ey­bear, Father John Misty

J. Till­man spent four years as the drum­mer with Fleet Foxes after join­ing the band in 2008. But by then he’d already pro­duced four or five solo albums. And since leav­ing the band in 2012, he’s added another, in the guise of his new per­sona Father John Misty. But noth­ing could have pre­pared us for what he offers up here, with this his sec­ond album, I Love You Hon­ey­bear.

Till­man said that, for years, he dreamt of gar­ner­ing the kind of hal­lowed praise that the likes of Townes Van Zandt or Gram Par­sons are gar­landed with, and of remain­ing for­ever one of music’s fabled secret finds. But he grad­u­ally came to realise that the audi­ence at his gigs were far more engaged with the relaxed, smart alec per­sona he adopted in between songs, than they were with the some­what po-faced num­bers he was osten­si­bly there to perform.

So he headed off into the desert with enough magic mush­rooms to send a psy­che­delic ele­phant into space and sat down to write a novel. And it was only then that he finally found his song writ­ing voice. This is the result.

Lennon and Nilsson get thrown of The Troubadour.

Lennon and Nils­son get thrown of The Troubadour.

As the boys from Pitch­fork note in their review here, where it gets a suit­ably impressed 8.8, it is, at least ini­tially, a dis­con­cert­ingly slip­pery record to pin down.

Yes there are the sorts of soar­ing har­monies you’d expect from a for­mer Fleet Fox. And sure, the Bea­t­les are indeed an obvi­ous reference.

But it’s the kind of Bea­t­les album you might have heard had John Lennon made it all by him­self five years after they split up, as he and Harry Nils­son downed indus­trial sized quan­ti­ties of drugs in L.A. every night, send­ing the for­mer Bea­tle on a roller­coaster of vio­lent mood swings that saw him oscil­late wildly from pro­found self-disgust and doubt, to arro­gant dis­dain and scorn, and back again.

J Tillman, born again as Father John Misty.

J Till­man, born again as Father John Misty.

Even when Till­man puts the vio­lent intro­spec­tion of Lennon aside to momen­tar­ily chan­nel George Har­ri­son in When You’re Smil­ing and Astride Me, there’s a dan­ger­ous edge to the lyrics, not with­stand­ing the hon­eyed sweep of the guitar.

It’s the per­fect pal­lia­tive to the track that pre­cedes it, The Night Josh Till­man Came To Our Apart­ment, where a lat­ter day Fac­tory girl is felled by the kind of undi­luted scorn a young Dylan would have approved of.

She says, like lit­er­ally, music is the air she breathes,

And the mala­props make me want to fuck­ing scream,

I won­der if she even knows what that word means,

Well, it’s lit­er­ally not that.”

What’s so impres­sive, and so emo­tion­ally engag­ing about the album is that it per­fectly cap­tures the con­fu­sion of youth, but it does so thanks to a lyri­cal and musi­cal sophis­ti­ca­tion that only comes with age.

Just say Yes.

Just say Yes.

Sure it’s hard to know pre­cisely when he’s merely strik­ing a care­fully con­structed pose, and when he’s gen­uinely shed­ding the many masks to reveal the boy beneath. But his glo­ri­ous grasp of melody, and the unre­strained pas­sion that he deliv­ers them in give a strong sense that beneath the sur­face scorn, there’s a lot more of the real him on show than he’d care to read­ily admit.

And it’s that com­bi­na­tion of un-repentant intel­lec­tual con­fi­dence with pro­found emo­tional con­fu­sion, together with the clear sense that this is an album, that has been clearly thought about and metic­u­lously pro­grammed, that makes this such an impres­sive piece of work.

Not just a seri­ous album, this is the record against which all the oth­ers this year will be judged. You can see him per­form one of its songs, Bored in the USA on Let­ter­man here.

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Birdman” doesn’t quite take off. And “Jupiter” sinks.

Michael Keaton in "Birdman".

Michael Keaton in “Birdman”.

Mexico’s Ale­jan­dro González Iñár­ritu burst on to the inter­na­tional film cir­cuit with Amores Per­ros in 2000, one of the most excit­ing and con­fi­dent debuts for many a moon.

Unfor­tu­nately, since then things have gone decid­edly down­hill. We got the pon­der­ous and frankly soapy 21 Grams in ’03, the por­ten­tous and all too pre­cious Babel in ’06 and more of the same with Biu­ti­ful in ‘10.

That’s three dull duds in a row. So the first thing to say is that Bird­man is def­i­nitely some­thing of a return to form, albeit of the qual­i­fied variety.

"Amores Perros".

Amores Per­ros”.

Nom­i­nally, it’s the story of an actor pur­sued by his alter ego, the Bat­man like super­hero he long ago starred as in one of those Hol­ly­wood block­busters that so many actors like to feign embar­rass­ment over. But really, it’s a won­der­fully com­pact and con­tained cham­ber piece set in the suit­ably con­fined space of the theatre.

Michael Keaton – you know, the guy that used to be Bat­man – is the washed-up has-been try­ing to give his career the sheen of respectabil­ity by adapt­ing a Ray­mond Carver short story for the Broad­way stage.

Stand­ing in his way are his girl­friend, Andrea Rise­bor­ough, his daugh­ter, Emma Stone, the method-obsessed star actor, the method-obsessed Edward Nor­ton and his love inter­est in the play, Naomi Watts.

And for 75 min­utes or so, we get a won­der­fully bitchy, impres­sively nuanced, grip­ping drama in which each char­ac­ter reveals them­selves to be at least as messed up as Keaton. Nor­ton is par­tic­u­larly impres­sive giv­ing warmth and depth to what could have been a one dimen­sional sleaze, and sug­gest­ing that con­trary to appear­ances, he does have a sense of humour. And Keaton obvi­ously is hugely impressive.

'All About Eve", now that's how you sneer.

All About Eve”, now that’s how you sneer.

But there’s a reveal­ing scene at around the 70 minute mark when the actor con­fronts the feared critic, played by Lind­say Dun­can.

This you felt is what the film had been build­ing up to all along. Here was the moment for Iñár­ritu to stamp his author­ity much as Godard did in One Plus One, with “The critic is as close to the artist as the his­to­rian is to the man of action”, or as Bren­dan Behan had with his famous “Crit­ics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it’s done, they’ve seen it done every day, but they’re unable to do it them­selves.” But the film fluffs its lines, and instead of a with­er­ing put down all the scene deliv­ers is hol­low blus­ter in the form of empty huff­ing and puffing.

From here on in, the film qui­etly loses its direc­tion, as it mis­tak­enly attempts to take flight. And for the last 20 min­utes or so, that por­ten­tous­ness returns, as the film makes a con­scious effort to become cin­e­matic. And all that won­der­fully claus­tro­pho­bic ten­sion is allowed to dis­si­pate, dis­ap­pear­ing into thin air. What had promised to be a con­tem­po­rary take on All About Eve and an impres­sive com­pan­ion piece to Sex, Lies and Video­tape becomes, yawn,  just another Oscar vehicle.

"Jupiter Ascending".

Jupiter Ascend­ing”.

What a pity. Bird­man des­per­ately wants to be cin­ema, but all it ends up being is theatre.

So, Jupiter Ascend­ing, is it really as bad as every­one says it is? Well, for one thing, as thin and incon­se­quen­tial as the script is, it’s not Star Wars bad. And yes, bereft of a story that any­one other than a 5 year old would own up to, watch­ing some­thing that’s so entirely depen­dent on CGI is like hav­ing to watch a video game you’re not allowed to actu­ally play. But in fair­ness, it’s 7 hours shorter than Lord Of the Rings was (16 if you include the sequel), and no one seemed ter­ri­bly both­ered about being asked to sit through that.

Truth be told, it’s very dis­ap­point­ing. Espe­cially after the sim­i­larly but wrongly ignored Cloud Atlas, Andy and (now) Lana Wachowski’s pre­vi­ous film.

As I men­tioned in my review here, the rel­a­tively restrained use of CGI there was put entirely at the ser­vice of the story and the char­ac­ters who inhab­ited them.

"Cloud Atlas", just as visually arresting, but with a story.

Cloud Atlas”, just as visu­ally arrest­ing, but with a story.

Jupiter Ascend­ing is like see­ing what you’d thought was a reformed alco­holic falling spec­tac­u­larly off the wagon, going off on an almighty ben­der to make up for lost time. It’s all CGI here. And what­ever story there might have been once upon a time has been irre­triev­ably buried. Instead, the cup over­floweth with unremit­ting tedium.

All we can do is hope that this was a one off. And that now, they’ll have got it out of their sys­tem once and for all.

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Bowie as ever bucks the trend.

David Bowie "Nothing Has Changed".

Double-vinyle edi­tion.

Like Reader’s Digest and tinned spaghetti, great­est hits albums are a cul­tural affront. By tak­ing the orig­i­nal out of its con­text, and reduc­ing and re-packaging it with such shame­less cynicism, you hope­lessly devalue it whilst insult­ing the intel­li­gence of those you are try­ing to appeal to.

Invari­ably, they’re some­thing the record label releases behind your back, and as such, most artists want noth­ing to do with them. As ever and as usual, David Bowie appears to be the excep­tion to this.

Some­thing about the man seems to give every­thing he does an irre­sistible sheen. And of late, he’s pulled off the remark­able feat of mak­ing even his money mak­ing schemes look chic. After he issued his Bowie Bonds in 1997 for a cool 55 mil­lion pounds Ster­ling, and when­ever another ad appears propped up by one more of his (albeit re-mastered) tracks, we all applaud, impressed.

The triple cd and the one to get.

The triple cd and the one to get.

Instead of lament­ing that one of the giants has joined the great unwashed to spend what remains of his pre­cious time in point­lessly dredg­ing through his back cat­a­logue to need­lessly gen­er­ate yet more un-necessary money. We con­grat­u­late him on treat­ing the mon­e­ti­za­tion of his back cat­a­logue with as much imag­i­na­tion as he would the cre­ation of a new album.

And now he’s pulled off the same feat with (another) great­est hits col­lec­tion, Noth­ing Has Changed.

Per­haps it’s just that when an artist does take a per­sonal inter­est in a great­est hits album, we’re so unused to it that it feels like they’ve called around to our house to talk us through it personally.

The fact of the mat­ter is, the tweaks that he has made to this one prob­a­bly amounted to no more than a one line email dic­tated to one of his assistants.

Yet there’s no get­ting away from it. Noth­ing Has Changed feels like Bowie has per­son­ally over­seen it. And as such, it feels so much more sub­stan­tial than a con­ven­tional col­lec­tion. Once again, and as ever, we’re impressed.

The 2-cd edition.

The 2-cd edition.

There are three dif­fer­ent ver­sions, each (again) with their own bespoke cover art. And, as noted by the boys from Pitch­fork who give it an 8.8 here, you can ignore the two more con­ven­tional dou­ble albums, and go straight for the impres­sively dynamic triple cd ver­sion.

It sounds like only a small thing, but going through his career as it does in reverse order is inspired. Instead of wear­ing out the first cd, return­ing to the sec­ond, and only occa­sion­ally dip­ping into the third, you lis­ten with rapt atten­tion to all three as it builds and builds.

It’s not that there’s been noth­ing of worth since 1990. But truth be told, the gems have got­ten fewer and fur­ther between. So the fact that a num­ber of the more recent tracks have been given a re-mix helps to bol­ster the ear­lier (ie chrono­log­i­cally later) tracks.

But even here, you sense his per­sonal pres­ence. When James Mur­phy ref­er­ences Ashes to Ashes in his Love is Lost, and then the Pet Shop Boys give Space Odd­ity a nod on their Hello Space­boy it’s impos­si­ble not to imag­ine the great man stand­ing behind them at the mix­ing desk, over­see­ing matters.

In the midst of those 5 extraordinary years.

In the midst of those 5 extra­or­di­nary years.

But what really makes the whole thing so cap­ti­vat­ing is the con­fir­ma­tion that Bowie has a Mozart-esqe abil­ity to churn out impos­si­bly mem­o­rable melodies at the drop of one of his many hats. What this means is, that he is at once an albums artist, and a sin­gles artist.

On the one hand, there’s the Bowie who made, arguably, the most impres­sive and out­ra­geously diverse 6 albums ever pro­duced, over a six year period between 1975 and 1980, begin­ning with Young Amer­i­cans and cul­mi­nat­ing with Scary Mon­sters.

From total immer­sion in Philly soul, to the fore­front of the elec­tronic avant-garde, and on into the sec­ond wave of punk. And all just two years after being the newly crowned king of glam rock.

And yet at the same time and dur­ing all of which, he can pro­duce a never-ending string of out­ra­geously hum­ma­ble tunes that pull unashamedly at the heart strings. From Life On Mars and Drive-in Sat­ur­day in the early 70s to Every­one Says Hi in 2002 and Where Are We Now? from last year’s oth­er­wise (whis­per it) hugely dis­ap­point­ing The Next Day.

It’s this com­bi­na­tion of artis­tic ambi­tion, and an ear for the per­fect melody that makes Bowie so beguil­ing, and keeps us all so con­sis­tently impressed. And that’s what raises this col­lec­tion up so thrillingly.

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Wong Kar-wai’s new film The Grandmaster.

Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster.

Wong Kar-wai’s The Grandmaster.

Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai burst on to the inter­na­tional scene with his third fea­ture, Chungk­ing Express in 1994. But there’s always been a sus­pi­cion that he puts far more effort into wear­ing his sun­glasses just so, and into always remem­ber­ing to keep them on indoors than he does into his scripts.

Like the char­ac­ters in his films, he seems to drift in a haze of exis­ten­tial ennui, from which he only occa­sion­ally emerges to mar­vel at his own love­li­ness. For all their frames of vel­vet and chords of gold, there’s a diaphanous feel to Days of Being Wild (’90) and Fallen Angles (’95) as there was to Chungk­ing Express that leaves you want­ing and qui­etly dis­ap­pointed. But then he made In The Mood For Love.

In The Mood For Love.

In The Mood For Love.

Screened in com­pe­ti­tion at Cannes in 2000, where scan­dalously it lost out to the ris­i­ble Dancer In The Dark, In the Mood For Love had all the usual extrav­a­gant imagery, melo­dra­matic music and impec­ca­bly man­i­cured char­ac­ters, but it also had weight, sub­stance and depth. It was as if he’d taken the sex­ual frus­tra­tion and emo­tional repres­sion of Brief Encounter, and reimag­ined it for the Far East, ren­der­ing it in a rich, exotic and ram­pantly resplen­dent Tech­ni­color. It’s mag­nif­i­cent, and you can see the trailer here.

But after that, there was 2046 (’04), the inevitably dis­ap­point­ing sequel to In the Mood, and then My Blue­berry Nights from 2007. So what are we to make of his lat­est film, The Grand­mas­ter?

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon.

Released in China over a year ago, it arrives here only now. And that as they say tells its own story. I’ll not give too much away, but it does help to have a rough idea as to why it is that some of it jars in the way that it does. Tara Brady gives a pithy and impas­sioned sum­mary in the Irish Times here. And she’s right to be annoyed.

The film has those irri­tat­ing title pages that, instead of pro­pelling the nar­ra­tive for­ward by fill­ing in the gaps between what you’ve just seen and what you are about to see, merely sum up what you’ve just been told. You feel like you’re being patron­iz­ingly spo­ken down to by one of those fatu­ous teach­ers who put you off edu­ca­tion for life.

And entire story strands dis­ap­pear with­out trace, tak­ing with them what you’d assumed were impor­tant characters.

Ziyi Zhang in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

Ziyi Zhang in Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon

And yet. What a sen­sa­tion­ally sump­tu­ous sen­sual feast for eyes and ears it is. It’s very much a com­pan­ion piece to Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon. But whereas the later was a love story framed by mar­tial arts, this is a mar­tial arts film with some class of a love story hov­er­ing at its fringes.

But, and this is hardly sur­pris­ing given its tor­tured ges­ta­tion, it lacks Crouch­ing Tiger’s struc­tural har­mony. The Grand­mas­ter is a metic­u­lously con­structed mar­tial arts film, that’s as pre­cise with its cam­era angles as it is with the chore­o­graphed shapes thrown by its combatants.

But it’s also a glo­ri­ously lan­guid, impos­si­bly lush, quin­tes­sen­tial art house film that lingers lov­ingly on every exquis­itely crafted com­po­si­tion, lux­u­ri­at­ing in the score that they’re draped in. The music is so Morricone-esque, it sounds as if some­one has repro­duced one of his scores, note by note.

Which makes it two films in one, that some­how coa­lesce, but not quite seam­lessly. I’ve no idea what kind of cross-over audi­ence there is for mar­tial arts films, and for ethe­real art house spec­ta­cles like this. But I’m one of them.

You can see the trailer for The Grand­mas­ter here.

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So Farewell then, Laser Video…

Laser DVD in Dublin.

Laser DVD in Dublin.

First, some quick house­keep­ing. For the moment, I’m going to be post­ing here once a month, as opposed to every week. If things are par­tic­u­larly slow in your neck of the woods, and you’d like to hear why, by all means drop me a line in the com­ment sec­tion, and I’ll make a short story bor­ing. But for the moment, onwards:

For any­one who’s lived or stud­ied in Dublin over the last 25 years, Laser Video, as it was and then Laser DVD wasn’t so much an insti­tu­tion as it was a life­line. Since it moved to Georges Street from Ranelagh 22 years ago, it fos­tered around it a com­mu­nity of aspi­rant film mak­ers and musi­cians and the intel­lec­tu­ally curi­ous from all around the city and its environs.

Women Without Men.

Women With­out Men.

The last three films that I picked up from there, as I recall, were: A Time For Drunken Horses, a Kur­dish film from 2000 that man­ages to be incred­i­bly cul­tur­ally spe­cific and yet time­lessly uni­ver­sal; the sump­tu­ous Iran­ian film Women With­out Men from 2010, which I reviewed ear­lier here; and Fassbinder’s sole foray into sci­ence fic­tion, World On A Wire which was orig­i­nally broad­cast as a two part mini series on Ger­man tele­vi­sion in 1973.

All three were a joy to behold and are impos­si­bly hard to get your hands on. Or at least they would have been, but five years ago.

The truth is, I’ve been to Laser sig­nif­i­cantly fewer times over the last two years than I had in the pre­vi­ous two. And I had been far fewer times dur­ing those pre­vi­ous two years than in the two before them. I had every inten­tion of fre­quent­ing it as ardently as I had in the past, it just didn’t happen.

David Byrne's True Stories.

David Byrne’s True Stories.

The very tech­nol­ogy that made a place like Laser pos­si­ble ulti­mately ren­dered it redun­dant. Or at least com­mer­cially unvi­able. It was the rev­o­lu­tion in film dis­tri­b­u­tion thanks to the arrival of video that lead to the cre­ation of a place like Laser. And it’s the Inter­net and the rip­ples cre­ated by the dig­i­tal rev­o­lu­tion that have lead to its tragic demise.

It’s des­per­ately sad for every­one involved. And we’re all going to miss it ter­ri­bly. And I sup­pose, if anyone’s to blame, we all could have made a bit more of a con­scious effort of late.

But, for good or ill, the world has moved on. To quote from True Sto­ries, which is exactly the kind of film that you would only pre­vi­ously have ever chanced upon in Laser. David Byrne, whose only work as a direc­tor this is, turns to cam­era, and says:

What time is it? No time to look back.

Farewell then, and thank you.

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