Archives for September 2014

Magic In The Moonlight”, another New Film from Woody Allen. Yeah…

Magic in the moonlight.

Mag­ic in the moonlight.

The lead sin­gle off the sec­ond, best and alas last album from Girls Father, Son and Holy Ghost was called “Vom­it” (reviewed ear­li­er here). The title refers to a Bible sto­ry where a thief’s need to return to the scene of his crime is com­pared to a dog’s com­pul­sion to exam­ine its own vomit.

This seems to be the only pos­si­ble expla­na­tion as to why it is that Woody Allen keeps going back to make yet anoth­er film. It would all make sense if the rea­son he were in such a hur­ry to pro­duce a new film every year was because the last few had been so disappointing.

That’s what made his last film, Blue Jas­mine (reviewed ear­li­er here) so refresh­ing. It sug­gest­ed the begin­ning of a new phase. His lat­est, Mag­ic in the Moon­light is sad­ly more of the same, and we’re back where we were.

Vicky Christine Barcelona.

Vicky Cristi­na Barcelona.

Since his last gen­uine­ly fun­ny com­e­dy, Bul­lets Over Broad­way in 1994 Allen has made 20 films. That’s one a year. And the only two that mer­it­ed watch­ing all the way through were Sweet and Low­down in 1999 and Match Point in 2005 – Vicky Cristi­na Barcelona (’08) doesn’t count. You could film Javier Bar­dem, Scar­lett Johans­son and Pene­lope Cruz pair­ing their toe­nails and it would still be electrifying.

What you think of his lat­est film will depend on whether you’re old enough to remem­ber how excit­ing the prospect of a new Woody Allen film used to be.

Annie Hall (’77), Man­hat­tan (‘79), Zelig (’83), The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo (’85) and Crimes and Mis­de­meanors (’89) are all seri­ous, sub­stan­tial, sig­nif­i­cant films. And they’re fun­ny. The last time I laughed dur­ing a Woody Allen film was Bul­lets Over Broad­way.

It’s not as if they’ve become more seri­ous. On the con­trary, they’re ever lighter and more and more insub­stan­tial. And they’re less fun­ny. All of the themes that were once explored, painful­ly, are now breezi­ly ticked off, as if on some sort of exis­ten­tial shop­ping list.

Poor old Colin Firth and Emma Stone doing their best.

Poor old Col­in Firth and Emma Stone in “Mag­ic in the Moon­light” doing their best.

Iron­i­cal­ly, the only thing that make his films watch­able these days are the cast he still man­ages to attract. Every­body used to fall over them­selves to be in the new Woody Allen film because the scripts were so good. They still do. But the scripts are so slop­pi­ly cob­bled togeth­er these days that were it not for their stel­lar casts, they’d be unwatchable.

None of which will both­er you if all you are look­ing for is a poor man’s Down­town to watch on your new iPhone, as you keep your eye on Strict­ly leaf­ing through the Sun­day papers as you check your mes­sages. As ever the cast are all exem­plary, con­sid­er­ing. But for the rest of us, Mag­ic in the Moon­light makes for decid­ed­ly depress­ing viewing.

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The New U2 Album, Robert Plant and Staying Relevant.


U2’s Songs of Inno­cence.

Vet­er­an U2 fans have long greet­ed the launch of a new album with increas­ing trep­i­da­tion. Last week was, alas, more of the same. Their lat­est, Songs Of Inno­cence, sounds like the album from a Broad­way musi­cal, cel­e­brat­ing the youth of a 90s rock band. The tracks might very well be, as the band keep telling us, a col­lec­tion of inti­mate, per­son­al songs, but they sound like they are being per­formed by a U2 trib­ute band. Some of the riffs have been lift­ed clean off of the Joshua Tree.

U2’s prob­lem has always been Achtung Baby (’91). Which wasn’t just a seis­mic leap for­ward for the band at the time, it was one of the sem­i­nal albums of the decade. The prob­lem then is, how on earth do you fol­low it?

Achtung Baby!

Achtung Baby!

Zooropa (’93) and Pas­sen­gers (’95) was the sound of band grap­pling with what to do now that they’d become the glob­al phe­nom­e­non they’d always dreamt of. You could hear them intent­ly lis­ten­ing to what was going on around them try­ing to feel their way for­ward. All That You Can’t Leave Behind (‘00) was a very pleas­ing col­lec­tion of con­ven­tion­al sin­gles, but was tac­it­ly under­stood as a brief hiatus.

But the three albums over the 14 years that have fol­lowed have proved whol­ly unre­mark­able and have mere­ly pro­vid­ed the band with more-of-the-same to per­form live with. So why not be done with stu­dio albums for good? Because a live band is essen­tial­ly what they’ve become.

It’s per­fect­ly accept­able in the worlds of RnB, blues and jazz to stop fever­ish­ly pro­duc­ing new mate­r­i­al, and to spend your lat­ter years re-exam­in­ing your can­non, con­cen­trat­ing instead on pro­duc­ing the kinds of live per­for­mances that only come with age and expe­ri­ence. What’s the point of fur­ther adding to an already impres­sive back cat­a­logue with mass pro­duced, sub-stan­dard, repli­ca copies?

Robert Plant.

Robert Plant.

Incred­i­bly few bands man­age that per­ilous bal­anc­ing act of fill­ing vast sta­di­ums and of pro­duc­ing qual­i­ty albums of gen­uine sub­stance. U2 were one, Led Zep­pelin were anoth­er. Amaz­ing­ly, Robert Plant turned his back on the peer­less 70s hell-rais­ers in 1980, and has been qui­et­ly plough­ing his own fur­row ever since.

His musi­cal wan­der­lust has seen him explor­ing the roots Amer­i­cana of the deep south, and of where all that came from in the music of west Africa. Unex­pect­ed­ly, if quite cor­rect­ly, he burst into pub­lic view again in 2007 with his Ali­son Krauss col­lab­o­ra­tion Rais­ing Sand, which won the Gram­my for Album of The Year in 2008 and sold by the tonne.

Lullaby… And the Ceaseless Roar.

Lul­la­by and… The Cease­less Roar.

Band of Joy fol­lowed in 2010, prov­ing for those not in the know that Rais­ing Sand wasn’t a blip but part of a ful­ly formed renais­sance. And now he’s back with anoth­er new band (part of an old one actu­al­ly), with his lat­est album, Lul­la­by and… The Cease­less Roar.

The Sen­sa­tion­al Space Shifters include mem­bers of the Strange Sen­sa­tion which he formed over a decade ago. He’s joined by both the key­boardist and bassist from Por­tishead, as well as Justin Adams, a pro­duc­er who’s worked with Bri­an Eno and, more recent­ly, the blues Tuareg band, Tinawiren. That’s how you stay rel­e­vant. Musi­cal­ly inquis­i­tive, reveal­ing, prob­ing and plain­tive, it gets an approv­ing 7.0 from the boys from Pitch­fork here. And could eas­i­ly have got more.

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Sumptuous documentary “Watermark” a striking visual essay.

The Canadian documentary Watermark.

The Cana­di­an doc­u­men­tary Water­mark.

It was inevitable that the equiv­a­lent of the Slow Food move­ment would mate­ri­alise in the arts. And sure enough we’ve recent­ly seen the return of the Big nov­el, indeed the Big Vic­to­ri­an nov­el. Long form essays and jour­nal­ism are increas­ing­ly vis­i­ble, and you can still buy your album on vinyl or for that mat­ter cd. Water­mark, the new doc­u­men­tary from renown Cana­di­an pho­tog­ra­ph­er Edward Bur­tyn­sky is very much part of that trend.

The title refers to the mark water has left on our lives and the way that it has shaped every con­tour of every sur­face that those lives are lived out on. Indeed, it is lit­er­al­ly life. But it’s also a sub­tle ref­er­ence to the trans­par­ent stamp­ing of doc­u­ments and bank notes that are there­by con­firmed as being authen­tic.

4This film is very much a repost to all the CGI, and that tedious, patho­log­i­cal fear that all film, video and ads have of ever allow­ing a sin­gle frame to be left undis­turbed for any­thing more than a sec­ond or two. Before the ADHD-fuelled need to fre­net­i­cal­ly inter­rupt it with the next even more urgent frame kicks in. And so on ad nauseam.

These impec­ca­ble and occa­sion­al­ly breath-tak­ing images have been pre­cise­ly, indeed lov­ing­ly con­struct­ed and care­ful­ly ordered to con­vey an idea. It’s not hard to imag­ine what that idea is. He’s Cana­di­an after all, and he’s talk­ing about what the human race has done with its most pre­cious resource.

H2O_SP_SAL_02_13Hap­pi­ly though, the film nev­er berates or lec­tures. It doesn’t have to. The pic­tures speak vol­umes. The obvi­ous ref­er­ence point is God­frey Reggio’s mag­is­te­r­i­al Koy­aanisqat­si (’82). Water­mark is nei­ther quite as ambi­tious nor as demand­ing, which is both a good and a bad thing. It’s not as hyp­not­ic or as grandil­o­quent, but it is a lot eas­i­er to watch. You’ll not need to be in the ahem right frame of mind to enjoy it. But it does sim­i­lar­ly pull off that unusu­al bal­anc­ing act of being spec­tac­u­lar, even joy­ous to look at, whilst being qui­et­ly depress­ing to think about.

Here’s the trail­er to Water­mark. And to Koy­aanisqat­si.

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Jesse Eisenberg in the Unconventional Night Moves.

Jesse Eisenberg in Night Moves.

Jesse Eisen­berg in Night Moves.

Kel­ly Reichardt is one of the few inter­est­ing film mak­ers work­ing in Amer­i­ca today, and Night Moves is her sixth film.

She first arrived albeit very qui­et­ly with her third film Old Joy in ’06, which “stared” Will Old­ham, as much as any­thing could be said to star him. If you are famil­iar with the pen­sive, qui­et­ly intro­spec­tive yet keen­ly per­cep­tive music that Old­ham has been mak­ing for well on two decades now, you’ll have a good idea of the sort of ter­rain that Reichardt’s films map out.

After Wendy And Lucy in ’08 star­ring Michele Williams, she teamed up with again Williams in 2010 for the decid­ed­ly off kil­ter west­ern Meek’s Cut­off. Aus­tere and deter­mined­ly uncon­ven­tion­al, this is the kind of non-west­ern that makes McCabe and Mrs Miller look The Mag­nif­i­cent Sev­en.

Robert Altman's famous anti-western.

Robert Alt­man’s famous anti-western.

Her lat­est film, Night Moves is sim­i­lar­ly con­trary in its rejec­tion of con­ven­tion­al nar­ra­tive. Gone too are the beau­ti­ful­ly con­struct­ed vis­tas of Meek’s Cut­off. We are in the decid­ed­ly hum­drum world of ordi­nary peo­ple try­ing qui­et­ly to stand up for what they believe in.

What makes the film com­pelling, as com­pelling as a film that eschews con­ven­tion­al nar­ra­tive can ever be, is that what they choose to do in defence of their beliefs is high­ly ques­tion­able. And, even more inter­est­ing­ly, it’s far from clear quite how clean­ly held those con­vic­tions are.

Jesse Eisen­berg is the eco war­rior who teams up with Dako­ta Fan­ning and Peter Sars­gaard to do some­thing that will draw atten­tion to what it is that we are all doing to the plan­et. She has the funds and he has the expertise.

But the two men are clear­ly just using her for their own dif­fer­ent ends. Whilst she’s so vis­i­bly dam­aged she’s all too eas­i­ly led. Inevitably their plans begin to unrav­el, and the sec­ond half of the film focus­es on the always com­pelling fig­ure of Eisen­berg, as he sinks into a Dos­toyevskian fog. The sound of every approach­ing car is ampli­fied, and every­one seems to be look­ing at him in a fun­ny way.

Reichardt's contribution to the genre.

Reichardt’s con­tri­bu­tion to the genre.

Giv­en what pre­ced­ed it, the film takes a slight­ly sur­pris­ing turn in its third act, which isn’t a dis­as­ter, but nei­ther is it whol­ly con­vinc­ing. But that only slight­ly detracts from the film as a whole.

Night Moves is a pleas­ing­ly unusu­al film, and a wel­come anti­dote to all that CGI sat­u­rat­ed noise that pol­lutes so many of our cin­e­mas. And Reichardt is a name to watch out for. You can see the trail­er to Night Moves here.

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