Archives for November 2013

French Film “Blue is the Warmest Colour” Enraptures.

Blue is the Warmest Colour.

Blue is the Warmest Colour.

Abdellatif Kechiche won this year’s Palme D’Or at Cannes with his sixth film, Blue is the Warmest Colour, though its original title, The Life of Adèle chapters 1 & 2, is the better description.

The 20 year old Adèle Exarchopoulos gives an astonishing performance as the eponymous heroine in the three hour film that charts her journey from tentative teenager into a fully formed woman.

The Italians use the word colpito, literally struck down to describe the moment of falling in love. And nowhere will you see it better captured than when Adèle first catches sight of the blue haired Emma, played by Léa Seydoux. What follows is a magnificently painful burrowing into the warren of a relationship.

Inevitably, the barely ten minutes of passionate sex that this includes is what has generated all the interest and controversy since the film first surfaced this year at Cannes. With the actresses apparently complaining of exploitation, and the director angrily defending himself.

Abdellatif Kechiche , Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux at Cannes.

Abdellatif Kechiche , Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, all smiles at Cannes despite the murmurings.

It’s not hard to see why the actresses might feel somewhat sullied, betrayed even by the resulting film. Not because of the sex scenes, but because of the depth and rawness of emotion on view, and the way in which they, and especially Adèle expose themselves so completely before us.

It would be all too easy to be flippant about a film like this. It’s all so very French. It’s a three hour film about beautiful girls who draw lovingly on an endless supply of cigarettes in between discussing existentialism and art and falling in and out of love with each other. And all in a way that’s both beautiful to watch, completely believable, and somehow never pretentious.

And this being Ireland, it gets an 18 certificate. After all, that’s the last thing any of us would want our teenage boys and girls watching when they could be at home instead looking at hardcore porn in the comfort of their bedrooms.

But the film transcends all of that. Because the journey that the actresses and the director take you on is so intimate, so emotionally engaging and so rapturously captured that it’s impossible not to be completely taken in. And for once, that 3 hour duration is justified. As with the number of words Tolstoy took, sometimes you need the space that time gives you to be able to fully delve into your story. And to convey all the emotion involved.

Comfortably, and by a considerable distance, the film of the year. You can see the trailer here.

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Series 6 “Mad Men”, Drugs and a Rare High.

Twin Peaks' dream sequence.

Twin Peaks’ dream sequence.

In retrospect, the arrival of Twin Peaks onto our screens in 1990 changed everything. On the one hand it exploded the possibilities of what a television series could aim for and encompass. And on the other, it marked the beginning of what would become a complete exodus of serious, grown-up populist drama from cinema onto television.

The exquisite At The Height Of Summer.

The exquisite At The Height Of Summer.

You can still see serious drama in the cinema. Films from Atom Egoyan, Asghar Farhadi reviewed earlier here, Julio Medem, Jafar Panahi reviewed earlier here, Lynne Ramsay, Tod Solondz, and Tran Anh Hung. And of course David Lynch. But they are very much the exceptions. The vast majority of what is on offer these days at the cinema is aimed at teenage boys and pubescent girls.

Television on the other hand has produced, to pick but four of a long, long list, The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. And it all began with Twin Peaks, which was the precedent, the blueprint, and the inspiration for them all.

Of the many, many things that Twin Peaks did so effortlessly well, the one thing that most people probably think of is dreams. Specifically, the dream sequence that so memorably ended the second episode.

Lynch got his actors to memorize and say their lines backwards, which he filmed, and then reversed in the editing suite. Similarly, he got them to perform some of their actions – but crucially not all of them – in the same way. It’s dazzlingly unsettling, and you can see it again here.

Lynch has always had a sensational handle on dreams. David Thompson astutely writes in his entry on Mulholland Dr. that the Dr of the title refers not to Drive but to dream here. It’s striking how often dream crops up in the dialogue. And his career began of course with the all too convincing portrayal of a living nightmare in Eraserhead.

So intimidated was David Chase by Lynch and his facility with dreams that he was rendered creatively petrified. Dreams are the one thing that The Sopranos failed to dazzle on.

If Chase is the televisual son of Lynch, then Matthew Weiner is his spiritual grandchild. But Mad Men has mostly avoided dreams. What it’s done instead is to tackle the one area that’s even more difficult to get right than dreams; drugs.

Mad Men.

Mad Men.

After all, at least in theory, anything’s possible in dreams. But for anyone who’s ever taken opiates, amphetamines or hallucinogenics, there’s only ever one way that that looks or feels. And it’s cringe-inducing to watch whenever anyone tries and gets it wrong.

Impressively, on the few occasions that drugs have surfaced in Mad Men, they’ve got it brilliantly right. There was that brief scene in series 2 when Don had his – and the show’s – first joint. There’s was the justly celebrated scene in series 5 when Roger does LSD here.

And now in series 6, there’s a whole episode, 8 The Crash, when a Dr. Roberts type figure gives Don and the rest on the creative team a shot each of speed. I’ll not spoil anything by giving any of it away, but it captures perfectly that misplaced sense of certainty that some drugs cause you to fix on otherwise meaningless ephemera. And it’s absolutely, and horribly hilarious.

Series 6 is currently hidden away in the depths of RTE2’s  Tuesday night schedule, like a former hippies’ final acid tab buried deep in a secret draw.

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“Gravity” and Sandra Bullock Captivating Despite the 3D.

"Gravity".

“Gravity”.

Gravity arrives trailing truckloads of hype and weighed down by a cacophonous word of mouth. But for once, it delivers.

Nominally set in space and in some not too distant future, like so many science film films, and not just Star Wars, it’s really just a western dressed up with fancy futuristic toys.

Sandra Bullock is the lonesome hero pitted against the forces of evil, with the effortlessly charming George Clooney as her sidekick. Clooney manages to be charming even when he’s doing and saying things that, irritatingly,  have been designed and fabricated to charm,  and still pull it off.

Alfonso Cuaron directs Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Alfonso Cuaron directs Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

But it’s Bullock’s film. Only instead of having to square up to an even meaner bad guy than the one she’s just disposed of, she’s faced with a set of insurmountable technological obstacles, each one even more hopeless than the one before.

Inevitably, there are existential musings about life and love and the meaning of it all.  And yes, as some critics have pointed out, for someone who’s supposed to have taken on the job because of her love of silence, she does an awful lot of talking to herself. And sure, Clooney is little more than a pastiche of any number of identikit sidekicks from those 70s B westerns or 80s cop films.

But their performances manage to transcend all of that. Coupled with the fact that Alfonso Cuarón, the film’s director, has managed to use all the time, effort and imagination invested in the technology in the service of the story.

So there are times when you manage to forget that everything you are watching has been happening in what appears to be zero gravity. When suddenly, and movingly, you’re reminded again of the alien background against which all this is taking place.

Cuarón shot to fame with Y Tu Mama Tambien in 2001, before getting inveigled into directing one of the Harry Potter films. He’s spent the last seven years making Gravity, getting its technology right, but he and his son who wrote the script with him, never lost sight of the story.

Not a profound film. But then nor does it try to be. Just an old fashioned, seat of your pants, thrill of a ride that’ll keep you rooting for the good guy and praying she pulls through, in a brilliantly told and performed story that you completely believe in. Despite the fact that they ended up shooting it in 3D.

Sandra Bullock in "Gravity".

Sandra Bullock in “Gravity”.

And yes, here we are again. It’s Life Of Pi all over again – reviewed earlier here.

3D was a gimmick in the 50s, a gimmick in the 70s and it’s a gimmick again now. Gravity is a marvel to look at and listen to, but because of the seamless merging of digital effects and physical acting. And the magnificent use of sound and music. It has nothing to do with the fact that it was needlessly shot in 3D. Go and see it in 2D. Either way, see it.

Here’s Gravity’s trailer.

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Hypnotic Debut Album ”Psychic” from Nicolas Jaar and his Darkside.

Darkside's Psychic.

Darkside’s Psychic.

Nicolas Jaar first rose to official prominence when he won the annual BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix of the Year joust in 2011. Moving effortlessly from Bill Callahan, the Aphex Twin and Keith Jarrett to Marvin Gaye, Beyoncé, NSYNC(!) and back again, you can see the full track listing here. And you can download it – minus the annoying BBC idents – via the small grey download under the blue Play button here.

For the last year or two he’s been touring with fellow DJ hipster Dave Harrington as Darkside and Psychic is their debut album, after their eccentric and ever so slightly academic remixing of Random Access Memories (reviewed by me earlier here) which they called Daftside.

The women of Twin Peaks.

The women of Twin Peaks.

And yes I know, remixing and sampling the archetypal musical magpies produces a resplendent po-mo moebius strip that’s delightfully clever, but it doesn’t make the results any more danceable.

Psychic is a much more robust affair. As you’d expect after hearing the regal Essential Mix, which kicks off with Angelo Badalementi talking us through the composing of the Twin Peaks’ theme, this is indietronica filtered through the prism of widescreen cinemascope.

The best way into the album really is via the Essential Mix. Everything that is deftly hinted at and explored in Psychic, from dubstep and disco to prog rock psychedelia, free jazz and Enoesque minimalism is aired and touched on there.

This is what Jaar feeds off of, where he sources his ingredients from. But the album that results when it’s all reduced down to a single 45 minute record is its own beast entirely. And yet beneath the surface, all those elements can clearly be savoured.

Psychic  is both moody and menacing, yet rhythmically driven, deftly straddling the divide between electronic ambiance and the dancefloor. Where just enough is suggested by the breathy, falsettoed vocals without ever being fully explained.

This is what Donal Dineen means when he uses the term “headphones” as a genre description. Ian Cohen gives it a 9.0 and a more fulsome description in Pitchfork here. And Jim Carroll has an interview with Dave Harrington in the Irish Times here. It get the album of the week from Nialler 9, the best Irish music blog here.  And you can hear Paper Trails from the album performed live here. Get the album and the Essential Mix. It’s not the sound of the future. It’s the sound of now.

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RTE’s “Love/Hate” is Not Like Real Life At All.

RTE's Love/Hate.

RTE’s Love/Hate.

There’s been an enormous amount written about how realistic and true to life (or not(!)) the RTE drama Love/Hate is, with many people complaining about the factual errors on it.  And I have to say, on watching series four I too was left similarly perplexed. To pick just three of the many, many glaring and inexplicable inaccuracies:

Oh come on, would anyone really wear a wrist watch like that?

Oh come on, would anyone really wear a wrist watch that garish?

There’s a scene in episode 3 as the Gardai are keeping surveillance on a warehouse. To celebrate the successful hiding of the cameras and mikes there, one of the guards lights up a cigarette. In an enclosed place of work! Which is against the law!

So, what, we’re being asked to believe that a serving member of an garda siochana would knowingly breaking the law?!

But that’s just the start of it. In another scene, a number of criminals are having a discussion and, as you’d expect, the lightbulb above their heads gives off an abundance of light, clearly indicating that they’re using a conventional, standard (probably 100w!) incandescent lightbulb.

But when we cut to the Gards at their headquarters, they seem to be in a room lit in exactly the same way! Suggesting that, instead of using a Halogen, CFL or even LED bulb, as I’ve no doubt you’ll find installed in all police stations throughout the country, they are every bit as environmentally irresponsible as the people they are up against in the criminal underworld!

Totti by name...

More TV Totti.

And then again, in another scene, in a brothel – which by the way are illegal in this country, so where’s this scene supposed to be taking place! – one of the bystanders is wearing a Roma FC soccer jersey. But if you freeze frame it just before he scratches his nose, you can clearly see the words “Asa NIsi MAsa” tattooed on his knuckles.

Obviously, this is a reference to Fellini’s appropriation of Jung’s “anima” concept, which he translated into the Rimini dialect for 8 ½, and which we hear being whispered in the dream-like flashback scenes depicting his childhood. But why would somebody who went to the trouble of having that tattooed on his hand, clearly indicating he grew up in the East coast seaside town of Rimini, be wearing a Roma FC jersey?!

Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini's 8 1/2.

Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s “8 1/2”.

How can you possibly get involved in the story being told when there are all these woeful inaccuracies just leaping off of the screen at you at every turn?

Naturally I’ve forwarded this on to the Director General at RTE, together with a full list of all the factual errors (1,036 in total) that I managed to find in just the first three episodes. I’ve no doubt he’ll be keen to sit down with the writers and the production team in an effort to stamp this out. And I confidently expect to be receiving a reply from him on the matter in the very near future.

After all, and I really didn’t want to end on this note, but; is this the kind of thing we’re being asked to pay our license fee for? Because, I regret to report, Love/Hate isn’t remotely true to life. It’s all made up. The whole thing’s a complete fiction.

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