Archives for October 2012

New Film “Beasts of the Southern Wild” Fails to Move.

I’d love to be able to say that Beasts of the Southern Wild lives up to all the hype that it’s managed to generate. I’d love even to be able to say that you probably need to know as little as possible about it before going to see it in order appreciate its impact – and I shall be revealing very little about it here.

But the fact of the matter is, it’s disappointingly underwhelming.

It’s not just the way that it’s shot, but that certainly doesn’t help. It’s shot on 16mm, that is to say on celluloid. It is in other words, old school. But in reality it looks alas all too familiar.

Like everything else, and I mean everything else since The Blair Witch Project, it has that uncontrollable urge to constantly resort to hand-held photography as a short cut for authenticity. And while we’re on the subject of the great white hope of independent cinema, whatever happened to that pair?

First, the idea that we go to the cinema for a window on the world, to see in other words an authentic reality unmediated by artistic invention, is hopelessly dated and reeks of the Direct Cinema that flourished, briefly, in the 50s, before everybody grew up and moved on. What most of us go to the cinema for is to escape reality. Not be confronted by it.

Second, if it is so say authenticity that you’re striving for, and you find a cinematic trope to help you express it, then it is vital that you use whatever it is that you have found as sparingly as possible. Less, as ever, is always more.

If Benh Zeitlin, whose debut this is, had been forced to shoot it properly and frame it a bit more thoughtfully, then it wouldn’t have ended up looking quite so familiar. But all that hand-held stuff is so tedious.

Furthermore, and this pains me to say it, but if the story hadn’t been quite so palpably workshopped, then it might have felt a little less contrived. All stories need to be endlessly chiseled away at. It just shouldn’t be quite so visible.

The performances of the father and daughter are both wonderful. And there are some promising political rumblings that send ripples across the surface of the swamps where the whole thing is set. And it is a competent indeed confident directorial debut. But the film tries much too hard to tug at our emotional sleeves. Like Anthony Quinn in the Independent here, it left me largely unmoved. It’s all just a bit too effortful.

You can see its trailer here.

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Flying Lotus’ inventive new album “Until The Quiet Comes”.

Until The Quiet Comes is the 4th album from Flying Lotus and continues his fearless foray into the very outer realm of approachable pop. It’s still in other words a conventional album, but you’re unlikely to have heard music that sounds anything quite like it.

Or rather, it sounds like stuff you’d already be familiar with, but all the different parts have been molded and fashioned in a startlingly original manner.

Steven Ellison, to give him his full name, is a devotee of the pioneer producer J Dilla. And, as the grand nephew of Alice Coltrane, herself an accomplished free jazz musician, as well as being the wife of the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, his take on contemporary music was always going to be both eclectically multi-cultural and aggressively experimental.

But it was only really with his third album, Cosmogramma that the world began to sit up and take notice. Justly lauded across the board, the boys from Pitchfork gave it an august 8.8 here. So this is his potentially difficult follow-up.

Until The Quiet Comes occupies the same sort of terrain that Radiohead mapped out in their more restless moments on Kid A and Amnesiac, and that were then further explored on Thom Yorke’s solo album, The Erasure.

Unsurprisingly, Yorke surfaces again here as a guest vocalist, just as he had on Cosmogramma, and is here joined by Erykah Badu. But neither are allowed – or seek – to overwhelm, and are just one more feature in an unchartered and surprising vista.

It is quieter than Cosmagramma, as the boys from Pitchfork note in their excellent review of it, here, where they gave it a measured 8.5. It’s still a landscape pock-marked by digital blips, where conventional melodies are forever being lost in rhythmic detours. But somehow, those detours are less nervy and more measured than they were on the previous album.

What it is more than anything else is a headphones album. It’s not the kind of thing you’re going to be returning to every day. But when you do and the mood takes, you’ll be very glad that you did.

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Sky Arts’ Superb Documentary on Ingrid Bergman Roberto Rossellini Scandal.

In the late 40s Roberto Rossellini, the most revered and respected art house film director in Europe secretly contacted Ingrid Bergman, one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, to come over and make a film with him.

Why secretly? Because at the time he was having a very public affair with the most famous actress in Italy.

Anna Magnani had given Rossellini one of the most iconic images in the history of Italian film. It was she who ran down the street in desperation as her fiancée was carted away by the fascists in Rome, Open City in 1945.

She was everything Bergman wasn’t. Earthy, corporeal, and inescapably and gloriously southern.

So when Rome’s favourite actress learned that the ethereal, Nordic beauty had been secretly ensconced on a volcanic island off the coast of Sicily (Sicily for Heavens sake!) to star in the latest vehicle of her now former paramour, she sprang into action.

She got Rossellini’s cousins to start shooting a suspiciously similar film on the next door island, with her as its leading lady. In what sense suspiciously similar? Well the script that Rossellini had now begun shooting on the island of Stromboli was based on an idea he’d stolen from them in the first place.

And so, for the next few months, what became dubbed as the War of The Volcanoes was played out off the Straights of Messina, where once Odysseus had been forced to steer between Charybdis and Scylla, as the two warring film crews took to the field.

And when a visibly ahem heavier Bergman was spied acting in a film that now included a hastily written pregnancy storyline, the Italian paparazzi went to town. Not because he was cheating, again, on his wife, but because he was doing so at the expense of his film star and oh so Italian mistress.

Though technically of course, there was no such thing as the paparazzi then. It was only after  Fellini introduced the character of Paparazzo in La Dolce Vita a decade later that the term was coined. Fellini, by the by, had been one of the scriptwriters on Rome, Open City.

The War of the Volcanoes perfectly struck the balance between red top sensationalism and blue top calm. It told a fascinating story superbly without shying away from the scandal it caused at the time. And, more to the point, it’s further proof that Sky seem to be moving into the arts in much the same way that they previously homed in on sport.

They provide a steady stream of grown-up arts docs, some of which they buy in but more of which they help fund, and they are quietly poaching some of the better British brains determined to report on all things cultural. The migration of The South Bank Show there is very much the rule and not the exception.

All of which is very much a good thing. Now that Channel Four has focused its attention on becoming ITV Lite (I know I know, that’s a tautology), it’s vital that there’s something there to keep BBC4 and 2 on its toes.

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The xx’s Second Album “Coexist” Smoulders.

The xx burst into life in 2009, and their eponymous debut album was many people’s album of the year. Coincidentally, like Hot Chip and Four Tet, they too are graduates of the Elliott comprehensive school in Putney, in London. Though apparently, that’s all it is.

At that time they were a foursome, but by the time they won the Mercury Prize in 2010 they’d “decided” to become a threesome.

That success and the wave of public and critical acclaim that it ushered in saw their music make the by now traditional journey into the movies, games and ads circuit.

So it’s a tad surprising that their follow-up, Coexist should make its way in to the public arena so very quietly. Or perhaps that’s just a reflection of that invariably difficult second album syndrome.

As the boys from Pravda ask in their review, giving it an appreciative 7.5 here, do you refine what you’ve already done, or head off in a new direction?

They’ve gone with the former, and the paired and stripped down lo-fi sound of their debut has if anything been even further reduced. According to Jamie xx, who stands behind the front pair manning the drums and twiddling the nobs (and who recently teamed up with Gil Scott-Heron for the justly lauded We’re New Here album), they’d intended giving their second effort more of a clubbable vibe.

But the only one of the tracks on Coexist that you could ever imagine surfacing on the dance-floor is “Swept Away”.

What you get instead is a seductively evocative nighttime cityscape that’s less CinemaScope than it is draped in neon. Think Stuart Staples dueting with Tracey Horn on an off-shoot of 4AD.

Too danceable to be conventionally chill-out, but not enough to be fully clubbable, it occupies instead its own unique spot. And that’s what the xx and this album have that’s so satisfyingly seductive; their own sound.

If you missed them first time around, here’s your chance to catch up. And you can see them perform the single “Angels” from the album on the Jools Holland show here. 

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