201612 – Scorecard for December 2016

SUMMARY

Trips to the cinema: 6
Books read: 1
Albums purchased/acquired: 5

CINEMA SCOREBOARD

4 stars – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (seen twice)
Your Name

3 stars – Sully

2 stars – The Birth of a Nation
Moana

So Rogue One turned out to be entertaining enough, but that’s all. Which for a Star Wars film really isn’t enough. It’s the first SW film not to make my own personal Top 20 of the year. Something that does make that list is Your Name – so more on this another time.

TO BE CONTINUED…..

201611 – Scorecard for November 2016

SUMMARY

Trips to the cinema: 13
Books read: 1
Albums purchased/acquired: 1

CINEMA SCOREBOARD

(Due to personal circumstances, the scorecards for the next few months are likely to be place-holding summaries only.)

4 stars – Arrival
Creepy
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
In The Heat of the Night*
Nocturnal Animals

arrival  creepy  doctor-strange

3 stars – Elstree 1976
Wunder der Schopfung**

2 stars – Paterson
Richard Linklater – Dream is Destiny
You’ve Been Trumped Too

1 star – I, Olga Hepnarova
United States of Love

*Digital re-issue as part of BFI’s Blackstar season

**1925 German film about the known universe, with live score by Herschel 36

BOOKS

The Venging by Greg Bear –  a collection of six short stories and novellas, which generally follow the rule that the long it is, the worse it is. The stand out tale is the one I had read before – “Petra” – a unique story where a cataclysmic event has caused the laws of nature and life to be turned upside down. It remains one of the best short stories I’ve ever read, So much is packed into this relatively short tale (just the big topics – religion, love, politics, life itself) that every other tale here pales in comparsion.

TO BE CONTINUED…..

201610 – Scorecard for October 2016

SUMMARY

Trips to the cinema: 16
Books read: 2
Albums purchased/acquired: 1

CINEMA SCOREBOARD

5 stars – Mulholland Drive*
Train To Busan

4 stars – American Honey
The Fencer
I, Daniel Blake
My Scientology Movie

3 stars – Little Men
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Swiss Army Man
Under The Shadow

2 stars – The Accountant
The Girl on the Train
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Kate Plays Christine
War on Everyone

*Special 35mm screening

train-to-busan

Bizarrely, the Korean zombie film Train To Busan reminded me most of The Posideon Adventure. Both are disaster movies, of sorts. Both involve a group of individuals thrown together in a situation where they must travel from point A (extreme danger) to point B (safety), while some in the group selfishly seek to looking out for themselves even it puts others in danger or indeed dooms them to a grisly death. Train To Busan also expertly employs that trick of having bursts of tense action followed by periods of re-evaluation where the passengers – and we – take a breather, revisit what has happened, who has survived/died and what the next challenge is. Unsentimental, funny and exhilarating, this was an unexpected joy. One of the films of the year.

BOOKS

HHhH by Laurent Binet – This “novel” recounts the story of Operation Anthropoid and the assassination of Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich in Prague in 1942. However, only half of the book involves this, in the rest, the writer outlines the process of researching the tale, placing himself as an active character in the text, commentating on the historical action as he investigates or recounts it. in the end, I was left feeling that it was all just a little too knowing and “clever” for its own good and left me wondering whether much of its “post-modern” flourishes were really inserted to pad out the slight story being told here.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) – Another fine pot-boiler of a tale from Rowling, who is still to write a bad book in my opinion. What really shines through are her characters. I might forget who the murderer actually was in time, but it’ll be harder to forget the imposing likes of Cormoran Strike, Robin Ellacott and even some of the lesser characters. Highly recommended.

silkworm

TO BE CONTINUED…..

201609 – Scorecard for September 2016

SUMMARY

Trips to the cinema: 20
Books read: 2
Albums purchased/acquired: 1

CINEMA SCOREBOARD

4 stars – Captain Fantastic
The Girl With All The Gifts
Hell or High Water
Hunt for the Wilderpeople
The Magnificent Seven
One More Time With Feeling

3 stars – Anthropoid
Bad Moms
The BFG
Blair Witch
Don’t Breathe
The Infiltrator
Julieta
Kubo and the Two Strings
Sausage Party
Sour Grapes
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown*

2 stars – Ben Hur
The Lovers and the Despot
Things To Come

*re-release

hunt-for-the-wilderpeople

Hunt for the Wilderpeople is one of the most likable films I’ve seen in a while. While there are only a few belly laughs – most notably at a funeral scene where director Taika Waititi plays the minister delivering an absurd eulogy – I did find myself chuckling and smiling all the way through. It’s also a rare film in that I think it is a film that can be recommended to just about anyone.

hell-or-high-water

Hell or High Water also impressed me by managing to combine exciting action and exquisite dialogue so effortlessly. Unfortunately, that also means that the casual action film goer may think it too wordy and the arthouse filmlover think it too mainstream for it to really appeal to either camp and so it may fail to find an audience. Which would be a shame. Perhaps the Star Trek fans watching it for the impressive-here Chris Pine might give the film a decent return though.

BOOKS

A Brief History of the Samurai by Jonathan Clements – starts slowly dealing matters of court, but improves considerably when things turn violent. Much like my view of samurai films then.

Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan – I enjoyed this while reading it, even though that much of the hard, bewildering sci-fi was thrown in to disguise what ultimately was a fairly straightforward plot. I suspect I’ll forget much of the plot over time but some of its strongest ideas and scenes will stay with me.

MUSIC

Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – It’s hard to separate the work from the tragedy of Cave’s son’s death but it is important to reflect that most of the album was written and recorded before the accident. Nevertheless, when Cave sings lines like the opening “You fell from the sky / Crash landed in a field” on Jesus Alone, your mind is drawn to just one thing, regardless of the fact that these lyrics were written prior to the accident. A very powerful work throughout, its greatest strength is that – despite much of its darkness – it is still beautiful and accessible. Certainly, a strong candidate for my album of the year.

TO BE CONTINUED…..

201608 – Scorecard for August 2016

SUMMARY

Trips to the cinema: 13
Books read: 1
Albums purchased/acquired: 1

CINEMA SCOREBOARD

5 stars – The Childhood of a Leader

4 stars – The Shallows
Star Trek Beyond
Tickled
The Wave

3 stars – The Adventures of Prince Achmed*
The Commune
Jason Bourne
Lights Out

2 stars – David Brent: Life on the Road
Finding Dory
Nerve
Suicide Squad

*performance with live score by Sink

childhood

 I was unexpectedly blown away by The Childhood of a Leader, the directorial debut feature by actor Brady Corbet and driven by one of the most imposing orchestral scores (by Scott Walker – yes, that one!) that I’ve ever heard, and one that I immediately bought after leaving the cinema. It is probably hard to imagine its boldness to hear its basic storyline – three chapters in which a young boy has a “tantrum” (that’s how they are described) and slowly learns how he can manipulate people to get what he wants. But the post-WWI backdrop gives this tale a very definite political undertone which comes to the fore in a dizzying, unique epilogue.

tickled

I can’t remember when I last squirmed during a film as much as I did during Tickled – an expose on the people behind the online “sport” of “competitive endurance tickling”. At first, silly, then uncomfortably funny, then just plain uncomfortable before going very dark, this is a twisty tale of power, manipulation and the dangers of our online presence. Ultimately, this isn’t a master class of investigative journalism though – on reflection, the “investigation” amounts to a few Google searches followed by a few emails/phone calls and a couple of stakeouts to corroborate the story. What it is is a bizarre story with an engaging narrator (David Farrier is a Kiwi Louis Theroux) shining a light on a subculture quite like nothing I’ve ever seen – or imagined – before. Best seen with as little knowledge of the story as possible.

TO BE CONTINUED…..

201607 – Scorecard for July 2016

SUMMARY

Trips to the cinema: 9
Books read: 2
Albums purchased/acquired: 1

CINEMA SCOREBOARD

4 stars – Weiner

3 stars – Elvis and Nixon
Notes On Blindness
The Neon Demon
The Secret Life of Pets

2 stars – Chevalier
Ghostbusters
Maggie’s Plan
Queen of Earth

weiner

A pretty “meh” month for films this month, with just one stand out title. With the emphasis on the “stand out” *ahem*….

There is something terribly, horribly Shakespearean about Anthony Wiener, the anti-hero of this debut feature from Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg. Three years on from a political downfall of his own making in a sex scandal, Wiener seeks nomination for the race for New York Mayor. At the start of the film, he’s doing well in the polls, but this tale of potential redemption turns quickly sour as we learn that his appetite for self-destruction has not been quenched.

But this is a more complex tale than just the sending of inappropriate text messages. It’s one where real tragedy and comedy (and, wow, did I laugh) can be found in equal measure. We cringe when Wiener unexpectedly explodes in public at one of his constituents, only to discover later that he had understandable reasons for doing so. We can’t help but admire the passion and substance of his arguments at a local hustings when a howling mob demand that he leave. He is a brilliant but flawed man.

Ultimately it is impossible to understand Wiener’s motivations and self-destructive actions. That isn’t a failure of the filmmakers. At the end of the film when Wiener’s humiliation (and rejection by the voters) appears to be complete, yet he still allows the camera crew to remain to capture it all, Kriegman asks “Why are you still letting me film this?” A shrug of the shoulders is all Wiener – and we – have to offer.

MUSIC

Two very special musical highlights to report this month – and it’s hard to think that they couldn’t be any more different…

The only previous time I saw Saul Williams play live was as support to Nine Inch Nails at the Glasgow Barrowlands on 7 July 2005, the evening of the London bombings. For this and other reasons (like this being the first time NIN had played Glasgow in 11 years, and on the back of their first album release in 6), the atmosphere in the hall was like nothing else I’d ever experienced then or since. And then Saul Williams walked out on stage on his own, and with a mix of heavy electronic beats, part-rap, part-spoken word performance he achieved something I’ve never seen from a support act – he got the attention of just about everyone in the crowd. Personally, I was mesmerised, this was raw, brave and impassioned stuff. It remains the best support performance I’ve ever watched.

Four albums and eleven years on, almost to the day, and I finally got to see Williams as the main act (at a gig in the O2 ABC2). His formula hasn’t changed much, perhaps he veers more towards spoken word performance than hip-hop now, but the intensity was still the same. And then I witnessed one of the most extraordinary moments in all my years of going to concerts: as the music began to fade out on one track, Williams continued to rap unaccompanied, and then he jumps from the stage into the audience and continues to perform and then… We all suddenly became conscious of the fact that he had dropped his mic. All you could hear was his powerful voice and the hum of the bar fridges. It’s spine-tingling even now just recalling that unique moment.

I didn’t think I would ever pay a visit to the Royal Opera House. Until, that is, Pet Shop Boys set up a four-day residency there under the title Inner Sanctum. I made a fairly late decision to get a ticket so I was stuck up in the gods but, in the end, lost nothing of the splendour and joy of the evening. A perfect mix of old classics, obscure gems and tunes from their latest two albums, Electric and Super, served up in the most splendid of auditoria.  Although maybe I had an issue with the order in which certain tracks appeared – West End Girls played so early on, really?

With set designer – and frequent PSB collaborator – Es Devlin at the helm, a motif of circles, balls and globes (in keeping with the cover of Super) constantly featured – from the opening section that looked like it had been copied from the set of The Prisoner to the most incredible laser display of concentric circles. That’s the key to what made this such a great show – all was all spectacle, without pretension and just a lot of fun. The sight of 40-odd dancers suddenly emerging in inflatable lycra suits to accompany the closing Left To My Own Devices and Go West surely emphasised to everyone that the focus here was on fun, not art. Even then, none of it look out of place – even if the ROH has never before seen such a laser show or been shaken by such volume and heavy bass. All in all, brilliant but bonkers.

TO BE CONTINUED…..

201606 – Scorecard for June 2016

SUMMARY

Trips to the cinema: 10
Books read: 2

CINEMA SCOREBOARD

4 stars – The Conjuring 2
Money Monster
Suburra

3 stars – The Nice Guys
When Marnie Was There

2 stars – Independence Day: Resurgence
Love & Friendship
Remainder
Tale of Tales

1 star – The Daughter

suburra

Some very solidly-made films out this month. The Conjuring 2 is a rare thing in several respects – a genuinely unnerving ghost story/horror – largely because it rarely goes for the easy jump-scares but even more so because I recall the original “true story” as it was reported at the time on TV and newspapers.

Meanwhile, Money Monster also delivers because it is intelligent and credible. What more, it manages to be so while still being incredibly lean – despite its 90 minute length, it covers all of its themes thoroughly.

But the Capo Del Tutti Capi has to be Suburra, an exhilarating, non-stop Italian drama about organised crime and politics, that manages to throw in (for reasons unclear and possibly pretentious) the resignation of Pope Benedict. I have criticised a lot of Italian cinema recently (especially crime dramas) for being too slow, too moody and too arty. There’s no way I could describe Suburra as pedestrian. It launches itself on screen with its multiple storylines – including the frankly horrible scene of an underage prostitute sharing a bed with a sleazy politician and then dying of a drug overdose. The scene’s consequences are the ties which bring the film’s various strands together. Certainly, it’s not a comfortable watch, but it’s riveting stuff.

TO BE CONTINUED…..