“Bones and All”, “Aftersun”; teenagers times two

Bones and All.

As I came out the cinema after watching Bones and All, I wondered briefly whether that was perhaps the most instantly forgettable film since whatsitcalled with whatshisname, you know, that one that was nominated for all those Academy awards. And I presumed that that would be the very last time that it ever crossed my mind. 

But over the few weeks that followed, to my baffled bewilderment, a slew of starry-eyed reviewers lined up to loudly sing its praises. The Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Irish Times, the London Independent and even, if you don’t mind, the New Yorker’s august Anthony Lane all managed to momentarily divest themselves of their critical faculties to be born forth on its agricultural rhythms. 

raio Argento’s Suspiria.

It’s like watching somebody sitting on an inflatable pool toy as it rests stubbornly motionless on your living room floor. While they flash you an excited smile, bobbing gamely this way and that, telling you that the water is amazing, and wondering why you’re not jumping in to join them. 

Let’s get one thing straight. Bones and All is absolutely not a bad film. It’s very competently made and is as inoffensive as you could possibly wish for. And if you’re familiar with Guadagnino’s films, you’ll not be surprised by what you’re being presented with.

As with his pointless remake of Dario Argento’s towering Suspiria (reviewed earlier here), where he neutered any sense of beauty to focus instead on producing an accurately researched reproduction of dreary, drab, dull, grey 1970s Germany, here he concentrates carefully on recreating grim, grimey rust-belt, middle America, circa 1989. 

It’s commendably convincing, but utterly devoid of anything approximating drama, and is entirely free of tension. 

Obviously, if you’re a teenager, confident in the certainty that you have all the time in the world, then the prospect of watching two attractive would-be teenagers gaze lovingly into one another’s eyes, as they amble aimlessly across the plains of America from one trailer trash dive to the next, will quite possibly strike you as time well spent. 

But for any chicken for whom spring is, alas, a now distant memory, you’ll be left quietly seething at having fruitlessly wasted more than two golden hours on glorified Wallpaper.

Aftersun.

Aftersun is about a teenager, but is very much a film for grown-ups. And is in fact one of the films of the year, and comfortably so. As such, it’s the ideal palette-cleanser for Bones and All.

I’ll say very little about the plot. Indeed, there’s little to say about it. It’s slow, measured, apparently languid, and yet there’s a tension that quietly and then ominously builds. 

Paul Mescal is the barely thirty something year old father of an 11 year old daughter, played by the dazzling newcomer Frankie Corio. And he’s taken her to a resort in Turkey to spend some quality time together, now that he and her mother have separated. 

Meticulously paced, precisely shot and carefully considered, its shoestring budget is visibly but fleetingly. Other than which, it’s consciously cinematic in a way that few films any more bother to be. Written and directed by first time Scottish film maker Charlotte Wells, it’s the most confident and impressive feature debut for many a moon.

You can see the trailer for Aftersun here:

And the trailer for Bones and All here.

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‘Triangle of Sadness’ – Gallic shrug emoji

Triangle of Sadness

Triangle of Sadness won Swedish director Ruben Östlund his second Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, having previously won in 2017 with The Square. So I was slightly perplexed by the reviews it garnered when it was released, which seemed to suggest that they’d enjoyed the film, but had remained quietly underwhelmed by it. 

Surely a classic art house film either dazzles and bewitches, or leaves you shaking your head in utter bewilderment at what all the fuss had been about – vide Parasite, reviewed here. And yet.

The problem with the film is, in a word, its obviousness. It’s not just that its plot is lifted from, amongst others, an episode of The Simpsons. A group of upstanding citizens get stranded on a desert island, and their social hierarchy is turned on its head. Nor even the fact that it takes Östlund the guts of 2 ½ hours to do what The Simpsons did in 24 minutes. It’s the fact that the film is supposed to be a social satire. 

O Lucky Man!

The targets you’d expect an art house film to be satirising are the sorts of people who go to, or make, award-wining art house films like this. Hence, Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (’60), Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man! (’73) and Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (’72). Triangle of Sadness aims its poisoned darts at the fashion world, and the 0.1% who fund it.

The problem with Östlund goes back to and stems from the success he enjoyed with his third feature, and his break out film, Force Majeure, from 2014. Which was wonderfully unsettling, and looked and felt for all the world like quintessential art house fodder. 

But it’s obvious from The Square, which was something of a mess, and now this, that Östlund is one of those very competent but conventional Hollywood film makers, who just happens to be working in Europe. In much the same way that the likes of Alan Parker and Jim Sheridan used to do in the past. 

Bunuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Which is absolutely fine. But what it means is that how you respond to Triangle of Sadness will depend on the type of film you’re hoping for. If you’re looking for a lush, plush and completely unchallenging companion piece to The Devil Wears Prada, that’s beautifully shot, impeccably acted and wholly predictable, then you’re in for a treat. 

But if a duel winner of the Palme d’Or creates expectations of genuine substance, I’m afraid you’re going to be as underwhelmed by its longueurs and as perplexed by its success as the rest of us.

You can see the trailer for Triangle of Sadness here.

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Gilla Band’s new album, Most Normal

Gilla Band, Most Normal

After the tour around their second album, The Talkies, was put on hiatus because of the pandemic, Girl Band found themselves with less to do and a more than usual amount of time to think. 

And they decided that, rather than wait to be picked up by the gender police and hauled in front of the court of public opinion, they’d change their name from Girl to Gilla Band. Discretion being the better part of valour. So this, Most Normal, is the third album from what is now the Gilla Band

Gilla were part of a trio of bands to come out of Dublin in the latter half of the 2010s, the other two being Fontaines D.C. and The Murder Capital – though the latter are flavoured as much by the River Lee as they are by the Liffey. 

Each produced a visceral, industrialised squall to guttural lyrics that were declaimed rather than sung, angrily decrying despair and urban alienation. Murder Capital and Fontaines found immediate, overnight success, the former to a manageable degree, the latter stratospherically so. But Gilla Band seemed somehow to have got left behind. 

Fontaines D.C. enjoying their success.

First, after being signed to Rough Trade and then releasing their first album, Holding Hands With Jamie, in 2015, the band were forced to take their first hiatus. As their lead singer, Dara Kiely, focused, quite correctly, on the mental health issues that were threatening to overwhelm him.

Then, when they eventually got back together again to release their very good second album, The Talkies, in 2019, Covid once again put them on hold. But this, it turns out, was a blessing in disguise. Because it sent them back into the studio, and the resulting album, Most Normal, is a significant step forward again. And is in fact one of the most exciting albums of the year.

The album’s strength come from two quarters. First, instead of only producing music that can be played live, they focused instead on using everything at their disposal in the studio to produce the noise they were looking for. The result is a sound that’s even more unnerving, and somehow even louder and more grating than the one produced on their previous pair of albums. As distortion gets processed to produce an even more perilous assault on the ears.

What it sounds like at times is that part of the soundtrack on a David Lynch film where the sounds are so distorted and dissonant, and what you hear is so unsettling, that you avert your eyes in fear of what’s about to happen.

As to what the album addresses, if the protagonists from CamusThe Stranger or Sartre’s Nausea were catapulted into the 21st century and locked inside a recording studio, this is very probably what the resulting album would sound like. 

The Murder Capital.

And second, and as facile as this undoubtedly is, it’s impossible not to conclude that the success enjoyed by Fontaines and the Murder Capital has knocked the edges off the songs that they’re now producing. 

Whereas the absence of that success has ensured that Gilla Band continue to be and to sound as angry about being overlooked and ignored by the world they find themselves in as they were five and six years ago. Not the music business world, the world in general. The real world.

It’s the sound of jump leads, one thrust into a brain, the other into the gut. And as such, it’s gloriously unmediated. 

The boys from Pitchfork give it an impressed 8.4 here, and correctly point to The Weirds as the standout track.

You can see the video for Backwash, the lead single, below. Just don’t expect it to chart any time soon.

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2 Things to Watch out for on Irish Television

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, The Laughing Boy

There was a new documentary feature screened recently on TG4, and a 3 part documentary series on RTE, and both were excellent. 

An Buachaill Gael Gáireach, or The Laughing Boy tells the unlikely if entirely true story behind Brendan Behan’s most famous song. After hearing about how helpful Michael Collins had been to his mother when she had been pregnant with him, the teenage Behan penned the Laughing Boy, in Irish, in his honour.

Twenty years later, he translated it into English and used it as the centre piece for his play, The Hostage. And when that play was then performed in Paris, a couple of Greek ex-patriots saw it and were determined to stage it in Athens. And they commissioned Mikis Theodorakis, the most celebrated Greek composer of the 20th century, to provide the music for their production.

Theo Dorgan, right, on his own personal Greek odyssey.

And, improbably to say the least, that adaptation of Behan’s song then became the unofficial national anthem for Greece, after being taken up as the song Greeks sang to protest the military dictatorship that ruled there between 1967-74. So, literally, every single Greek boy and girl grew up singing it in the 1970s and 80s as a symbol of their resistance. 

Directed by Alan Gilsenan and presented by the poet Theo Dorgan, it’s one of the few films to actually benefit by not being too rigid in its structure or focus. Instead, the film is left free to wander and gently meander, as it embraces its sprawling themes. Fusing music with poetry, film and theatre, to explore history, politics and culture, examined and expressed in Irish, English and Greek.

Impeccably realised, it’s a film that, for once, lives up to its lofty ambitions.

The Island is a 3 part documentary series on RTE and the BBC, and it too delivers on its commendable ambitions. So many of these sorts of things reveal themselves to be little more than thinly veiled commercials for the tourist industry. The Island was, impressively, very much a science-led series. 

Liz Bonnin, on The Island.

This, you feel sure, is down to it being presented by Liz Bonnin, who is chalking up an impressive record in popular science programmes for the BBC. It promised and then duly gave us a 1.8 billion year history of the island of Ireland, with an array of wide-ranging  academics and instructive graphics, which were used to clarify and illuminate without ever over-simplifying.

It still looks ravishing of course. But for once, the images are given a purpose and a context.

What a joy to be treated like an adult for a few stray hours.

You can see The Laughing Boy on the TG4 player here:

https://www.tg4.ie/en/player/play/?pid=6311320763112&title=An%20Buachaill%20Gealgháireach&series=An%20Buachaill%20Gealgháireach&genre=Faisneis&pcode=622980

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Apple TV’s ‘Severance’ is the real deal

Apple TV’s “Severance”

Things have been quiet of late, in this the much heralded golden age of television. There has been plenty of perfectly watchable, eminently adequate fodder on offer from the various streaming services and their terrestrial brethren. But very little to write home about. 

So it was with a slight sense of wariness that I sat down to watch Severance, notwithstanding all the noise it’s generated. But for once, that hype was entirely justified. Happily, it’s the real deal.

It’s a high concept, Big Idea series. A nefarious and implicitly evil tech corporation has invented a chip that allows you to separate, sever, your work-you from your home-you. So as you work through the mindless chores at the faceless office where you work, you’ve no idea what you do or who you are for the rest of the day when you’re at home. 

The same neck of the woods.

As you descend in the elevator at the end of the day, the chip kicks in, and you step out on to the ground floor as your home-you, or what they call your ‘outie’. And after you get back into the elevator as your outie the following morning, you emerge on the ‘severance’ floor as your ‘innie’. Completely oblivious as what you might have got up to in between. 

Why would anybody want that? Well, Mark has recently lost his wife in a car crash. And, he figures, at least for 8 hours a day he’ll be spared the bottomless grief he’s floored by during the other 16.

It’s avowedly left of field and off kilter, and veers from the surreally mundane to menacing and back, often in the same scene. Think Charlie Kaufman meets David Lynch, where both have had their wings clipped to rein their flights of fancy in. Which is, respectively, both good and bad.

Everything about Severance is impeccably crafted. The art direction is pristine, the directing, by Ben Stiller, is foot perfect and the acting is exceptional across the board. 

All the gang on the Severance floor.

Adam Scott takes the lead as Mark, and is impressively abetted by Britt Lower, Zach Cherry, John Turturro and, improbably, Christopher Walken, all of whom are outstanding as his increasingly rebellious co-workers. But Patricia Arquette manages to somehow steal the show, as the nearest thing to a plausible and genuinely terrifying realisation of the wicked witch of the West. 

And, rather than addressing them head on, it sensibly flirts around the philosophical questions that it raises about the self, purpose, meaning, work-life balance and agency. Most impressively of all, it builds momentum and raises the stakes continually, thanks to the perfectly meted out parcels of story. And the increasingly compelling cliff-hangers that each episode concludes with.

It might not quite be up there with series 1 of Twin Peaks, and I hope it does a better job than that show did of maintaining its momentum into series 2. But it’s comfortably the best show to grace our screens since Bojack pursued and fed his demons (reviewed earlier by me here).

You can see the trailer for Severance here:

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