Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Pleasure Dome 21st Jan 2014 - Katalin Varga/Don't Talk To Strange Men/The Big Easy

Here's a trial attempt to write 500 words per week on whatever movie or movies I've seen this week, not everything I've seen and not the movies that get highlighted in my monthly diaries, just some films that inspired me to write more than a couple of unintelligible lines. Emboldened by the writings of Graham Greene who wrote something similar every week for several years for a newspaper, the reviews of which were collected in book form under the title The Pleasure Dome. The idea is to become a better writer. But then that's always the idea.

To quote a fellow reviewer, Katalin Varga is a bleak and beautiful film. Just the way I like them, too. Written and directed by English filmmaker Peter Strickland, funded from his own bank account and filmed in Romania with Romanian actors speaking Romanian. Technically this could be another fine film for inclusion in the much-vaunted Romanian New Wave.

It's a slow telling of a woman's quest for revenge nine years after she was raped but it's really not the rape revenge film you're thinking of. Not least because you don't see the rape and the revenge is not sweet or bloody. You do see, however, plenty of atmospheric shots of the countryside, close-ups on troubled faces, meaning conveyed with a nod or a slight movement and plenty of interesting back story inferred rather than explained explicitly.

Newcomer Hilda Peter as the eponymous protagonist carries the entire film on her delicate shoulders but it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Strickland's followup, Berberian Sound Studio, that the careful use of sound effects and score is the main star of the film, serving to subtly drive proceedings and create an air of foreboding around each moments.

Don’t Talk To Strange Men is essentially a British public service announcement for young girls of the 60s, and a warning for their parents, originally released as the B-movie to Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. It doubles as a very good thriller produced on the outskirts of the social realist movement of the time. The idea of seducing young girls anonymously and the frank look at the effect it can have on previously sensible teenagers is one that is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s but modern cinema could never play things quite so subtly. Director Pat Jackson benefits from a really tight script, on the nose performances and impressive cinematography from Jack Cardiff, to produce an all round gem of a film forgotten in time.

The Big Easy was Jim McBride's followup to his Richard Gere starring reimagining of Godard's Bout de Souffle and boy does it fly in the face of expectations. A New Orleans set neo-noir should be hot, sweaty, sordid and a little bit mystical, essentially everything that Alan Parker's Angel Heart would be the following year but with this Dennis Quaid starrer you're left with a wise-cracking buffoon whose occasional Cajun accent is suspect at best and the only thing hot and sweaty is the chemistry between the sheets he shares with Ellen Barkin and a movie which aims for light hearted entertainment at all the wrong moments. Otherwise it's a very ordinary story of heroin and crooked cops that telegraphs its ultimate villains from the opening scene, one that could have been set in any major American city such is the magnolia nature of proceedings. It will surprise nobody I’m sure to note that Hollywood took note and made sure that Jim McBride didn’t have much of a directorial career after this.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Top 5: 2013 Albums of the Year

Five great albums could easily have been ten. Some of my favourite new albums from 2013:

5. Heart Attack by Man Overboard

Possibly out of place on this otherwise indie-pop list, the third studio album from defenders of pop punk is more than an enjoyable walk down memory lane, their brand of pop-punk/emo is an energetic combination of everything and everyone I ever loved in my late teens but somehow fresh and new and exciting at the same time. Heart Attack demonstrates the sounds of a band who have toured non-stop and matured exponentially as they went.

4. Say Hi To The Band by Stagecoach

The first and, sadly, last album from the indie poppers. Their usual spiky, raucous sound toned down on several wonderful tracks imbued with real melancholy. The standout track for me has to be "A New Hand" and the kind chaps even outdid themselves by allowing me to use the song in my now aborted feature film directorial debut.

3. No Blues by Los Campesinos!

A rather lovely surprise, this fifth album from my favourite Welsh indie popsters is a triumphant return to form after the almost unlistenable self indulgent misery of Hello Sadness. I'd all but given up on them but No Blues is filled with fabulousness and more than its fair share of sporting metaphors. LC4LYF!

2. Love Makes Monsters by My First Tooth

Beautiful. Just beautiful. AND incredibly lovely people. AND have the distinction of playing one of the most memorable gigs of my life during 2013. The horny old goat dude on a Camden sound desk tried his hardest to ruin the sound for the five of us present but My First Tooth rode through it and made flying to England worthwhile.

1. Balancing by The October Game

The album I listened the most this year is an incredible collection of pop songs performed by some of the most talented musicians I've had the pleasure to spend time with. Drifting from pop to post-rock with catchy choruses, eccentric lyrics, heartfelt sentiment and atmospheric nods towards folklore this is an album of different ideas and styles, almost like a greatest hits compilation rather than an album led by one definite concept. Yes, I admit a little bias BUT that doesn't change the fact that I have happily listened to this on repeat for 14 hours.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 So Far (Sep - Dec) Top 5 2013 Releases

The final part of my assessment of the final four months of 2013 is the one most people care about I guess, the best movies released this year. Kind of irrelevant with the year end list coming up but I've seen a massive 65 of them and these are the best 5:

5. Rush - Dir. Ron Howard

4. Frances Ha - Dir. Noah Baumbach

3. August: Osage County - Dir. John Wells

2. Blue Caprice - Dir. Alexandre Moors

1. Gravity - Dir. Alfonso Cuarón

Full list of 2013 movies seen Sep - Dec: Kick-Ass 2, World War Z, Oxyana, Monster's University, The Bling Ring, Burton & Taylor, The Hangover Part III, This is the End, A Single Shot, Rewind This!, Privacy Setting, After Earth, Dead in Tombstone, An Accidental Soldier, The Internship, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Ass Backwards, Paradise, Man of Steel, White House Down, All is Bright, Crystal Fairy, Some Girl(s), Violet & Daisy, Gravity, Despicable Me 2, Turbo, This is Martin Bonner, Riddick, Earthbound, Blue Caprice, The To-Do List, We're The Millers, McCanick, Mystery Road, The East, The World's End, 2 Guns, The Wolverine, How I Live Now, The Kings of Summer, Elysium, Frances Ha, Prisoners, Machete Kills, Big Sur, A Case of You, The Last Days on Mars, Kilimanjaro, Mood Indigo, Runner Runner, Out of the Furnace, Blue Jasmine, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Spectacular Now, Don Jon, Fruitvale Station, Much Ado About Nothing, August: Osage County, Escape Plan, Rush, American Hustle, Computer Chess, Burma