Archives for June 2013

Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing” a Classic Romantic Comedy.

Much Ado About Nothing.

Much Ado About Nothing.

After they’d fin­ished prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy on Avengers Assem­ble, its direc­tor Joss Whe­don was told that he was con­trac­tu­al­ly oblig­ed to take a week off before they could begin edit­ing it. This is what he did with his week off.

Avengers Assem­ble, which I reviewed ear­li­er here, went on to become the biggest box office suc­cess ever. So it’s easy to under­stand the attrac­tion of some­thing like this for some­one as cre­ative­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed as Whe­don. Essen­tial­ly, it’s the exact opposite.

Shot over 12 days with a bunch of friends on loca­tion at his house in the Hol­ly­wood hills, Much Ado About Noth­ing is as light and frothy as straw­ber­ry frap­pé. In oth­er words, it’s the sort of thing that so many peo­ple get hor­ri­bly wrong.

Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting.

Bruce Willis and Cybill Shep­herd in Moonlighting.

Roman­tic come­dies are just that, romances first, and come­dies sec­ond. As such, they rise or fall on the chem­istry between their leads. And Amy Ack­er and Alex­is Denisof sparkle. Though the film is some­what stolen from under their noses by the com­ic pair­ing of Nathan Fil­lion and Tom Lenk as the mag­nif­i­cent­ly hap­less cops. The for­mer pair will be rec­og­nized (just about) by fans of Angel, and the lat­ter from the out­ra­geous­ly over­looked Seren­i­ty.

Per­haps not quite up there with Smiles Of A Sum­mer Night, or that just­ly famous episode of Moon­light­ing, it’s a won­der­ful­ly deft adap­ta­tion of one of Shake­speare’s trick­i­er come­dies. And it’s only when you think of the many, many dread­ful attempts at roman­tic com­e­dy that you can lux­u­ri­ate in its casu­al charm. You can see Much Ado About Noth­ing’s trail­er here.

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Debut Album from Savages Justifies All The Noise.

David Bowie.

David Bowie.

The lat­est nextbigth­ing from Britain are Sav­ages, and their much vaunt­ed debut album, Silence Your­self has just hit the shelves. And they’re this close to being faint­ly ridiculous.

They’re a four piece all girl retro post punk com­bo, and they take them­selves ter­ri­bly seriously.

Per­haps it’s unfair to cas­ti­gate them for that. All they’re doing is tak­ing their cue from Roxy and Bowie and their atti­tude at the onset of the 70s.

If you don’t take your­self and what you do seri­ous­ly how can you expect any­one else to? And not just the music. Everything.

The debut album from Savages.

The debut album from Savages.

But with Bowie and Roxy it was so much more colour­ful. And fun. Everything’s so black and white with Sav­ages. A bit of rouge could real­ly bright­en them up. If it weren’t for the actu­al music, the whole thing would be ever so slight­ly risible.

Hap­pi­ly though, Silence Your­self real­ly is an arrest­ing album.

Lead singer Jehn­ny Beth is open­ly chan­nelling Pat­ti Smith via Siouxsie Sioux. But although they sound every bit as fer­al as the Ban­shees, it’s all pro­duced in a much more planned and prac­ticed way.

They are com­ing at it from the same place as Cana­di­an noise mae­stros Metz, reviewed by me ear­li­er here.

Roxy circa '72

Roxy cir­ca ’72

It might ini­tial­ly appear like a wall of indus­tri­al noise made up of lay­ers of dis­so­nant feed­back, but it soon reveals itself as a care­ful­ly craft­ed and patient­ly prac­ticed col­lec­tion of metic­u­lous­ly struc­tured songs.

Which will prob­a­bly annoy some. Punk wasn’t sup­posed to be prac­ticed. But all it real­ly means is that Sav­ages and Metz are much bet­ter at it than most of those who went before.

The boys from Pitch­fork gave them an 8.7 here, and you can see them per­form their sin­gle Hus­bands on the Jools Hol­land Show here.

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French Television Comes of Age with Beguiling “The Returned”.

The Returned.

The Returned.

One of the things that the French crit­ic Roland Barthes was refer­ring to in his Mytholo­gies (1957) was the assump­tion that going to the­atre was bet­ter for you than going to the cin­e­ma. And that best of all was read­ing a book. The myth being, that some things are nec­es­sar­i­ly bet­ter for you than others.

It was in France that Le Cahiers du Ciné­ma was launched as a reac­tion to that. And from there, the French New Wave of Truf­faut, Godard, Rohmer, Demy and Chabrol emerged.

Hotel Costes.

Hotel Costes.

Equal­ly, they refused to snig­ger at pop music.  From Serge Gains­bourg and Fran­coise Hardy to Daft Punk and Stéphane Pom­pougnac – and if you’ve yet to dis­cov­er the laid­back seduc­tive­ly louche lounge world of Hôtel Costes, then lucky you. It awaits. You can begin here with this video from Hôtel Costes 15.

But for what­ev­er rea­son, the French have always refused to look at tele­vi­sion oth­er than from a lofty, dis­dain­ful height. Iron­i­cal­ly, they’ve always viewed it in much the same way that the rest of the world used to regard cin­e­ma. So The Returned is a wel­come cor­rec­tive to an unchar­ac­ter­is­tic prejudice.

The series revolves around a school bus that has crashed over a cliff and the sto­ries that emerge as the dead chil­dren re-sur­face as if noth­ing had hap­pened. The rea­son that it all works so well is that every­thing is played absolute­ly straight.

It’s a mil­lion miles away from any of the hor­ror genre gore and blood fests that have slipped into vogue of late. What it’s clos­est to is prob­a­bly Break­ing Bad’s first two and best series’. But with­out any of the thriller ele­ments that came alas to dom­i­nate the latter’s lat­er episodes.

Twin Peaks, Fire, Walk With Me.

Twin Peaks, Fire, Walk With Me.

Like Break­ing Bad, it asks what would you do if your dead daugh­ter sud­den­ly turned up four years after her death? Real­ly. How would you react?

The oth­er obvi­ous touch­stone, as is invari­ably ref­er­enced, is Twin Peaks. Which isn’t ter­ri­bly fair, as unsur­pris­ing­ly it is in no way as visu­al­ly or as son­i­cal­ly dar­ing. But then again, what is?

That caveat aside, there is a sim­i­lar­ly eerie air to events here. And it real­ly is an impres­sive­ly cin­e­mat­ic piece of work.

The Returned.

The Returned.

That it’s not quite suf­fi­cient­ly Lynchi­an is hard­ly the most damn­ing thing you could hurl at a direc­tor. It’s com­fort­ably the best thing you’ll see on tele­vi­sion this year.

The Returned began on Chan­nel 4 last week­end. But don’t wor­ry if you missed the first episode. It won’t make you any the less wis­er about what’s going on. And you will regret it if you don’t start tun­ing in.

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Tony Palmer’s TV Series “Wagner” is Majestic.

Richard Burton in Wagner.

Richard Bur­ton in Wagner.

It’s hard watch­ing Tony Palmer’s mag­nif­i­cent biopic of Wag­n­er to avoid think­ing, they don’t make them like they used to. Clock­ing in at just under eight hours, it was made in 1982 but has been re-mas­tered and re-released as a 10 part TV series.

Richard Bur­ton final­ly got giv­en the oppor­tu­ni­ty to act in some­thing wor­thy of his prodi­gal tal­ent. It is as they say the role he was born to play. The nat­ur­al dis­dain he had for the whole grub­by busi­ness of act­ing is used to per­fect­ly con­vey the dis­gust and impa­tience that Wag­n­er had for the world in general.

And along side him? John Giel­gud, Ralph Richard­son, Lawrence Olivi­er - the only time they shared the screen togeth­er —  Vanes­sa Red­grave, Marthe Kelle, Corin Red­grave, Joan Plowright and Gabriel Byrne.

Last Tango In Paris.

Last Tan­go In Paris.

The whole thing is shot by the regal Vit­to­rio Storaro, the cin­e­matog­ra­ph­er on The Con­formist, Last Tan­go In Paris, Apoc­a­lypse Now, One Form The Heart and The Last Emperor. It looks ravishing.

And in to all that mix there’s the fig­ure of Wag­n­er him­self. Unspeak­ably arro­gant, dizzy­ing­ly self-cen­tred, and dis­gust­ing­ly anti-Semit­ic, he was con­vinced that he was the best drama­tist since Shake­speare and the great­est com­pos­er who ever lived.

It’s because he was indeed both that he’s end­ed up being such a con­tentious, not to say divi­sive figure.

In a word; can artistry, any artistry, even that kind of unri­valled genius excuse that sort of unpalat­able behav­iour? What’s more impor­tant, what you do, or what you are?

Richardson, Olivier and Gielgud in Wagner.

Richard­son, Olivi­er and Giel­gud in Wagner.

But we’re not here to talk about the man, but about the TV series. And if ever there was music to give an 8 hour TV series weight and grandeur, it’s Wagner’s. And what a life he some­how found time to live.

Wag­n­er had an unri­valled appetite for oth­er people’s mon­ey and wives, and a need for love and recog­ni­tion that can only be described as pathological.

Ludwig's castle at Neuschwanstein.

Lud­wig’s cas­tle at Neuschwanstein.

He was a cen­tral fig­ure in the rev­o­lu­tions that threat­ened to sweep through Europe in 1848. After even­tu­al­ly being adopt­ed by the fanat­i­cal King Lud­wig of Bavaria, he cus­tom built his own opera house  at Bayreuth where he direct­ed (rather than con­duct­ed) the pre­mier of his 15 hour plus Ring cycle. The usu­al­ly dour Schopen­hauer scrib­bled in the mar­gins of the first Act of Siegfried “Final­ly!”, after broth­er and sis­ter had even­tu­al­ly kissed.

The open­ing nights were watched in 1876 by musi­cal titans Tchaikovsky, Saint-Saens, Bruck­n­er, and Grieg as well as his one time friend Niet­zsche.

Coppola's One From The Heart.

Cop­po­la’s One From The Heart.

In between all of which, he blithe­ly stole Cosi­ma, the wife of his close friend Claus Von Bulow, and the daugh­ter of his tire­less cham­pi­on, the bril­liant piano vir­tu­oso Liszt. And yet both men con­tin­ued to vig­or­ous­ly sup­port him. And on it goes; betray­al, opu­lence, van­i­ty, pol­i­tics, sex and always dra­ma. Per­pet­u­al con­flict. And all of that incred­i­ble music.

To the cred­it of every­one involved in this land­mark series, Wag­n­er nei­ther avoids nor sen­sa­tion­al­izes its subject’s con­tra­dic­tions. It has one of his friends sum him up thus:

You take every­thing from your friends. Their mon­ey, their wives, their love.

And with­out a trace of irony, Bur­ton replies:

What are friends for?

It’s hard not to con­clude that an actor (or direc­tor) today would feel the need to edi­to­ri­al­ize a line like that. But Bur­ton refus­es to give any­thing away. He’s per­fect­ly and inscrutably mat­ter of fact.

What’s so won­der­ful about the series is how com­fort­able it is with the ambigu­ous feel­ings it has for the man him­self. Wag­n­er was a mon­ster. But if he had not have been, he nev­er would have had all of that dement­ed pas­sion to fun­nel into his music. It is pre­cise­ly his mon­stros­i­ty that ren­ders his music so intoxicating.

Wag­n­er is on Sky Arts 2 – and they often keep their pro­grammes on a loop. See it.

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