Archives for March 2018

Ready Player One, the new Spielberg film. Yawn.

Ready Play­er One.

So Ready Play­er One, the New Sev­en Spiel­berg film, is a for­mu­la­ic, painful­ly pre­dictable pas­tiche of the gen­uine­ly cin­e­mat­ic. So what? What should we expect from the lat­est Hol­ly­wood blockbuster?

For what it’s worth, the sto­ry revolves around a Steve Jobs type tech wiz­ard and his cre­ation of the Oasis. This is the vir­tu­al real­i­ty video game world where every­one in the uni­verse, that is to say in Amer­i­ca, escapes to in the year 2045. By then, we will have so thor­ough­ly trashed the actu­al world that life will only be bear­able in the vir­tu­al one acces­si­ble through our ubiq­ui­tous screens.

Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Before his death, this lat­ter day Willy Won­ka announces that he has hid­den three keys with­in the world of the game, and whom­so­ev­er retrieves them shall be bequeathed his entire for­tune and, more impor­tant­ly, the world of Oasis.

And so our teenage orphan-hero teams up with a mot­ley crew of juve­nile waifs and strays in a race to retrieve the three keys before the evil rival cor­po­ra­tion gets their hands on them first. And, much more impor­tant­ly, to win the love and respect of the inven­tor father fig­ure, who con­tin­ues to live on in the world of the game.

It’s not hard to see what they were try­ing to do here. A few decades ago, Hol­ly­wood film mak­ers looked at the way mer­chan­dis­ing was threat­en­ing the world of film mak­ing, and they chose to address it head on by mak­ing Toy Sto­ry, one of the best trio of films that Hol­ly­wood has ever pro­duced. And so, watch­ing today as all of those dol­lars dis­ap­pear into the abyss that is the gam­ing world, they’ve tried to make a Hol­ly­wood film about, and addressed to, gamers.

Toy Sto­ry.

Bizarrely though, they’ve drowned it all in a sea of cul­tur­al ref­er­ences from the 70s and 80s. Not one or two sly nods to Back to The Future and Atari. It’s a nev­er-end­ing bar­rage of increas­ing­ly tedious and, worse, poor­ly cho­sen ref­er­ences. So they’ve pro­duced a film aimed at the under 30s which will only appeal to the 40s, and, much more like­ly, the 50s, 60s, and overs. There’s one espe­cial­ly cringe-induc­ing scene in a vir­tu­al club that’s the cin­e­mat­ic equiv­a­lent of see­ing your uncle try­ing to break­dance to Bon Jovi at your cousin’s wedding.

The fact that this is the new Spiel­berg film shouldn’t, I sup­pose, sur­prise us. After all, it’s a long, long time since he made Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1975 and ’81. His only film of note in the last 30 years or so was Catch Me If You Can and the first hour and a half of Minor­i­ty Report, both in 2002. And let’s not even men­tion the exe­crable Indi­ana Jones and the King­dom of the Crys­tal Skull.

Catch Me if You Can.

No, what’s so dis­ap­point­ing about Ready Play­er One is its look and feel. It’s so thin and flim­sy, so undif­fer­en­ti­at­ed and incon­se­quen­tial, so cheap look­ing and just so, well, dig­i­tal. A dig­i­tal screen can be won­der­ful­ly engag­ing in the pri­va­cy of your own space. But up on the vast expanse of the sil­ver screen it gets lost, and is reduced to being hor­ri­bly flat and lifeless.

Very unwise­ly, Spiel­berg ref­er­ences Stan­ley Kubrick (reviewed ear­li­er here), his cin­e­mat­ic hero and father fig­ure, in one of the key scenes. But all this does is to remind us of why it is that real film mak­ers go to such trou­ble to source actu­al loca­tions, prop­er peri­od fur­ni­ture, tac­tile cos­tumes and phys­i­cal trinkets.

Bar­ry Lyndon.

So with a film like Bar­ry Lyn­don, and not with­stand­ing its many, many flaws, it still has a mag­nif­i­cent phys­i­cal­i­ty and a tan­gi­ble solid­i­ty to it, because of the man­u­al process through which the images were put togeth­er. In con­trast, when you know that the edge of the cliff that your hero might be about to dri­ve over is mere­ly made up of pix­els, you couldn’t care less.

But much more to the point, and most obvi­ous­ly of all, who wants to watch a video game you’re not allowed to actu­al­ly play? Imag­ine peer­ing over someone’s shoul­der, and being told you have to stand there and watch as they spend two and half hours play­ing a game that you’re nev­er going to get a turn on. Who the hell was the Hol­ly­wood genius who agreed to green light that idea?

You can see the trail­er for Ready Play­er One here.

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What’s happened to RTE’s “Other Voices”?

St. James church in Din­gle, co. Kerry.

What’s going on with the once great Oth­er Voic­es? The first episode in this the 16th sea­son began exact­ly as you would have expect­ed, with BBC Radio 1 dj Annie Mac deliv­er­ing an intro promis­ing music from the likes of Per­fume Genius (reviewed ear­li­er here) and Djan­go Djan­go, with reports and footage from fes­ti­vals in Berlin, Belfast and at the Elec­tric Picnic.

The usu­al heady mix then of left of field, broad­ly indie fare mixed with the best in Irish music, and all set against the pic­ture post­card-per­fect back­drop of a church in Din­gle. But that intro, it tran­spired, was for the series, not for the episode at hand which was con­sid­er­ably less auspicious.

Ibeyi, from Paris via Cuba.

First up were Pic­ture This, who hail from Athy. If you’ve ever passed through Athy, you’ll know that at its cen­tre sits Shaws, the drap­ers where every local moth­er brings her son and daugh­ter to get fit­ted out for their first holy com­mu­nion, con­for­ma­tion and debs. And which famous­ly ran an ad declar­ing, glo­ri­ous­ly, “Shaws, almost nation­wide!” Which is all the more delight­ful in its refusal of the obvi­ous­ly cor­rect “near­ly nationwide”.

Had it been penned by a beard in Williams­burg it would quite right­ly have been hailed as a bril­liant­ly bit­ing decon­struc­tion of what adver­tis­ing copy is sup­posed to do. Let’s just assume that’s exact­ly what was intend­ed by who­ev­er came up with it here. Well, Pic­ture This sound exact­ly what you’d expect a band from Athy to sound like.

Wyvern Lin­go.

Next up were a cou­ple of num­bers from Sigrid, an oh so earnest Swedish would-be teen queen whose drea­ry synth pop is obvi­ous­ly going down a storm with the pre-tweens, and who was clear­ly as sur­prised to find her­self on stage singing as we were to see here per­form­ing on it. No doubt she’ll have a host of hilar­i­ous sto­ries to tell her class mates once she goes back to col­lege to fin­ish her degree in archi­tec­ture or inte­ri­or design, before set­tling down to bring up her kids.

After the break we had a cou­ple of songs from Wyvern Lin­go, a gen­uine­ly com­pelling trio from Bray who set their mel­liflu­ous melodies to glitchy indi­etron­i­ca, very much in the mode of Syl­van Esso – who them­selves are made up of one part of Moun­tain Man, who Wyvern Lin­go were com­pared to when they start­ed out.

Katie Kim per­forms at the RTE Choice Music Prize 2016, by Kier­an Frost

After that, we were giv­en a haunt­ing per­for­mance from singer song­writer Maria Kel­ly, and it looked as if the pro­gramme was back on track. But imme­di­ate­ly after that it was up to Belfast, and who did they find to record there? Only Pic­ture This. And, sure enough, after Belfast it was back to Din­gle we were treat­ed to no few­er than four fur­ther tracks from Athy’s finest, and anoth­er three from Sigrid, the very much not Sti­na Nordenstam.

So three quar­ters of the pro­gramme was devot­ed to a pair of young-fogey, pub-rock­ers from the mid­lands, and the least threat­en­ing Swedish chanteuse you’ll ever hear.

There’s noth­ing wrong with devot­ing three quar­ters of your pro­gramme to just two acts, so long as the acts in ques­tion mer­it that atten­tion. They could have focused on, say, Katie Kim (reviewed here), Lisa Han­ni­gan, Brigid Mae Pow­er or Rejji Snow from these shores, or, from fur­ther afield, on the likes of Cig­a­rettes After Sex, Ibeyi (reviewed here) or Car Seat Head­rest (reviewed here). Or, most obvi­ous­ly of all, they could have turned the show on its head, and giv­en three quar­ters of it to Wyvern Lin­go and Maria Kel­ly, and just the 10 min­utes to Pic­ture This and Sigrid, in total.

Car Seat Head­rest’s bril­liant Teens of Denial.

There’s noth­ing wrong with Pic­ture This, but their debut album went to num­ber 1 here (and there’s a prize of a Curly Wurly and a sher­bet dip for any­one who can cor­rect­ly guess what they called it), and there are any num­ber of out­lets where they play that sort MOR music wall to wall, night and day. The whole point about Oth­er Voic­es is that the music it gives voice to is sup­posed to be pre­cise­ly that, other.

Here’s the video for Wyvern Lingo’s Out of My Hands and the video for I Love You, Sadie also from Wyvern Lingo.

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