Tag: Movies

Ramblings: on blogging, The XX, IDLES and Secret Cinema (Moulin Rouge)

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There were four things I feared when I started Astralpenguins:

  1. I wouldn’t enjoy writing it
  2. People would react negatively to such a weird collection of music
  3. I’d run out of music that I liked and therefore end up plugging music I wasn’t that keen on
  4. I’d run out of time/energy to keep it updated.

Well the fourth of those concerns came about around the middle of March. Work, personal admin and commitments conspired to take my time away. It wasn’t that I didn’t have time to write the blog, it was that I didn’t have time to listen to music at all.

And yet, here I am. On the other side of a strange couple of weeks. I’ve had a blog post in my mind for a fortnight that I don’t really feel is worth writing in full anymore, but it revolved around two gigs I went to – with Gig buddy Matt – on consecutive nights.

The first was seeing The XX at one of their Brixton shows, absolutely smashing it. It was a total pleasure from start to finish watching that band – a band that I’ve loved since I first heard them on the radio around 7 years ago – stand triumphant in front of their hometown crowd.

I have to be honest, I was on such a high from The XX that I feared for the following night’s acts. I even considered not going. But boy am I glad I did. First, some history: one of the ways I check out new bands is from the email lists of various venues I like; they email out a list of acts who are playing soon and then I listen to the music of the bands I haven’t heard of before.

Back in the summer of 2015 I received an email from Hoxton Square Bar & Kitchen advertising a band called IDLES. They had one EP on Spotify, and it was – from memory – pretty solid indie rock. Tickets were c. £5 and I thought ‘why not?’ – I even persuaded Gig Buddy Matt to come along. We were in for a surprise…

The band had somewhat changed their sound since that EP, eschewing indie sensibilities for a considerably more brutal punk sound. The audience was sparse – probably around 40 of us – and the band were intimidating. They looked like they’d be cobbled together in some sort of prison rehabilitation programme; all pent-up rage channelled – mostly – through their instruments. The lead singer jumped off the stage and paced around the audience, who visibly recoiled.

They were, in short, rather brilliant. The kind of band you need to see; full of eccentricities and chemistry, yet always bordering on an explosion. They were supported on that night by a 2 piece called John (which, they helpfully point out, is a terrible name for a band, as you can’t find them on Google). I’m delighted we spent the £5 – it’s one of those gigs we still talk about with joy and laughter.

And then late last year, something unexpected happened. Radio 1 started championing IDLES. They were getting radio play, invited in for live lounge performances … it gave them a level of exposure they’d previously lacked. And so they returned to London (Moth Club) a couple of weeks ago – once again supported by the once again excellent but totally un-google-able John) with a considerably bigger crowd.

What hadn’t changed is their spirit. The punk ethos, the chaotic live show, the humour… it was there. They were fantastic. If you haven’t seen them, don’t hesitate. This is a band who have worked incredibly hard to get themselves to this stage, and their live show is, right now, one of music’s most provocative experiences.

That was two weeks ago. Then things in my life intervened (see above). Then someone attacked the place I work, killing a policeman and four others, and injuring dozens more.

I haven’t mentioned I work in Parliament on the blog before because it isn’t relevant to the music or anything else I’m going to write about. I am reluctant to mention it now; because nothing that happened last week was about me and there are families grieving who deserve to have their loved ones at home; who were robbed of their joy by an abominable act. My heart goes out to them and I’m profoundly moved by those who came to help the injured and suffering last week.

But – as this is a music blog – I wanted to say one thing about it. Music is usually my escape from things, the place I go to for joy. Events last week left me wanted to skip music for a little while. I didn’t want to escape from the world; I wanted to come to terms with what had happened so that – like thousands of others who work in Westminster – I could, in some way, accept it and move on.

And here I am. Finding my feet again in the blogging world and hoping you’ll forgive the absence.

There is one other thing I wanted to mention from the past week. My favourite film in the world is Moulin Rouge (closely followed by Die Hard) and at the moment in London an organisation called Secret Cinema are hosting their version of screenings of the film. Essentially Secret Cinema try to recreate the magic and ethos of the film by bringing elements of it to life. My other half bought me tickets for one of their screenings (performances?) for Christmas, and we excitedly went along last Sunday.

I’m loathe to write anything resembling a review of the night, but the top line is that I thought the whole thing was atrocious. Lacking creative direction, artistic merit or a sense of how to add value to something that is already pretty much perfect, it is one of the worst cultural experiences I’ve had in London. I can only suggest – if you are thinking of going – that you avoid it. Better to sit at home and watch the film; it’s better than the second rate am-dram drivel you’ll experience at the Secret Cinema experience, and it’ll save you from shelling out for the ridiculously overpriced tickets, drinks, food and costume.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. Back soon – and I promise to stick to music from now on.

At the Movies: Logan

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Oscar season is well and truly drawing to a close and March is beginning to welcome in an entirely new movie epoch. But despite what a lot of people seem to think, this month isn’t just about the big blockbuster releases; I’m particularly looking forward to Ben Wheatley’s new movie, Free Fire, the incendiary revenge rape thriller, Elle and the upcoming horror movie on ‘benevolent racism’, Get Out (So all the cheery ones…!).

However, this March, we are seeing the release of several epic Blockbusters that probably wouldn’t have come out during the more nuanced Oscar run. The new Tom Hiddleston monster franchise, Kong Skull Island came out just last week, and this week we’ve seen the release of the live action remake of Beauty and the Beast starring Emma Watson. Often, movies such as these are accused of as being pre-packaged and formulaic in their attempt to mitigate as much risk as possible and exist simply to make money and act as a pillow for ‘risker’ movies to fall back on. Superhero movies are generally pointed to as being the worst culprits of this, and most recently, Suicide Squad, Batman Versus Superman Dawn of Justice and X-men Apocalypse have been largely viewed with disdain and a degree of cynicism.

Last week, I went to see the superhero movie, Logan. For those of you who don’t know, it is one of the Marvel Comic movies and the tenth instalment in the X-men film series. It marks the 17th year that Hugh Jackman has played Wolverine, but the publicity surrounding the movie suggests a sharp tonal shift from its predecessors. Hugh Jackman insists that had the studio vetoed this version of the movie, he would have renounced his involvement in it. I had heard it described as ‘No Country for X-men’ and was immediately intrigued– Why is a superhero movie being compared to the Cohen Brothers’ Nihilistic, minimalist thriller…?!

The dystopian film is set in a version of 2029 far removed from anything we can expect to experience anytime soon (Even post-Brexit…). We are immediately plunged into the dusty decrepit Arizona desert. The heat is intense and overbearing and the cinematography reminded me of that in Mad Max.

Mutants are on the brink of extinction; Wolverine is weakening, and the former leader of the X-Men, Charles (Patrick Stewart) is suffering from a neuro- degenerative disease and slowly losing his mind. Both men have certainly seen better days! I’m not sure I could call them super-heroes- there is nothing ‘super’ about these weary anti-heroes, who are clearly both nearing the end of their lives and the plot unfurls with a sense of foreboding fatalism.

Logan wants nothing more than to stop fighting and go and live out the rest of his life in peace on a boat. This is until he meets a little girl, Laura, whose powers suspiciously resemble his own… He unwittingly becomes a father figure for her and resolves to take her to a safer place, all the while being chased by supervillain Donald Pierce who wants to steal Laura and use her powers for his own evil ends.

In essence, the plot is pretty simple and follows a classic a cat/mouse chase structure in which the ‘baddies’ are very bad: our evil super-villain comes complete with a robotic hand and some bad ass sunglasses that he sporadically removes and replaces for dramatic effect.

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In an unusually peaceful scene in the film, Laura tries to listen to a young boy’s music. As she inches closer and closer to his iPod, the villain’s inch closer and closer to our heroes and we hear Raury’s lyrics’ blaring out of the headphones ‘you better run, run from the devil!’. Clearly, subtlety is beside the point and these sorts of moments simply add another loop to this roller coaster- the movie is a lot of fun!

And actually, the predictability of the plot and the straightforward good/evil dichotomy allows us the opportunity to really focus on the three main characters who make for a very strange assortment! Logan must learn, not only how to be a father, but also how to care for his mutant 8-year-old daughter who is unaccustomed to the real world and uninhibited in her abilities to wreak total havoc. Laura’s strength and effervescence sharply contrasts with Logan’s waning determination. It makes sense that the film is called ‘Logan’ rather than Wolverine as it focuses on the weaknesses of the man rather than the strengths of the superhero. This is especially evident in the scene in which Charles has a seizure causing everything to freeze. It takes Logan all his energy to dragoon his body up the stairs and into the hotel room. However, by the end of the scene, Laura is still full of energy and rage and able to scream as she fires a shot. She has the energy that her father now lacks; she is the new superhero of the movie!

Logan is far more reflective than most superhero movies. Although it is visceral and grim, it is about regret and the consequences of violence. Hugh Jackman describes it as ‘about the soldier who returns home from war and has to find peace’. The film’s director, James Mangold, called it a Western and you can see similarities to a Western throughout the film, this is overtly pointed in a scene in a hotel room in which the movie Shane plays on a television screen.

Shane and Logan

So, although quite a few recent superhero movies have been formulaic and predictable, Logan is not one of them. This is more of a post-super hero movie (I’m so sorry for using that phrase!) than a superhero movie; more of a western than an action. It is genre bending in a similar way to Deadpool. In my opinion, this is proof that any genre can surprise you and be innovative and inventive. I look forward to more superhero movies like this one!

 

At the Movies: On the Oscars (Part 2)

At the Movies: On the Oscars (Part 2)

So, moving on to some of the other categories…

Best Actor

Casey Affleck (Manchester by the Sea) -probable winner, my choice

Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)

Ryan Gosling (La La Land)

Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)

Denzel Washington (Fences)

Casey Affleck is totally convincing in Manchester by the Sea. It would have been easy for him to over act some of his more agonising moments, but his restraint shows an intelligent emotional understanding of his character. I think he will win the Oscar and I think he deserves to.

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Best Actress

Isabelle Huppert (Elle)

Emma Stone (La La Land) probable winner

Ruth Negga (Loving)

Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Natalie Portman (Jackie) my choice

My additions

Emily Blunt (Girl on the Train)

Amy Adams (Nocturnal Animals, Arrival)

I’m pretty sure Emma Stone will win for La La Land. She is totally effervescent throughout. Although there has been quite a bit of La La Land backlash, none of it has come her way. She was nominated for Birdman in 2015 and lost to Patricia Arquette for Boyhood- I think The Academy may feel she is due an Oscar!

I would love for Natalie Portman to win. The film is laden with close ups and as such, highly reliant on the quality and intricacies of her performance. She certainly doesn’t disappoint and brings her character to life, portraying all of the complexities, dissonances and the dichotomy of her situation. Her impression of the real Jackie Kennedy is also uncanny.

I don’t think the Oscars would be complete without their obligatory nod to Meryl Streep’s latest performance. Has anyone actually watched Florence Foster Jenkins? I’m sure she was fantastic, as per, but I don’t think she will receive another Oscar, nor do I think anyone would be that excited if she did…!

I watched Girl on the Train the other day and was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! Emily Blunt’s performance as a wavering alcoholic and snubbed ex-wife elevates this (admittedly trashy) movie.

Music (Original Score)

Jackie- Mica Levi– my choice

La La Land- Justin Hurwitz – probable win

Lion- Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka

Moonlight- Nicholas Britell

Passengers- Thomas Newman

The La La Land score is fab- jubilant, (slightly) cheesy, catchy and sticks in your head and.wont.get.out.

I love Mica Levi’s score for Jackie- it provides the movie with a feeling of other worldliness. It is almost beautiful and lush but it jars and you get that feeling of something cold spilling down into your stomach, that something is amiss and that something may have just gone terribly wrong- not the music you might expect for a historical biopic.

Original Song

Audition (The Fools Who Dream)- La La Land; Justin Hurwitz, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul

Can’t Stop The Feeling- Trolls; Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster

City Of Stars- La La Land; Justin Hurwit, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul– probable win

The Empty Chair Jim: The James Foley Story; -J. Ralph and Sting

How Far I’ll Go Moana- Lin-Manuel Miranda

My additions

Another Day of Sun -La La Land- Justin Hurwitz– my choice

Another Day of Sun announces the film spectacularly, assuring us that this will be an explosive love letter to LA on music and ambition. There’s no time to brace ourselves or prepare for this- we’re just chucked in at the deep end. For me, this song perfectly encapsulates the joy and spectacle of the whole movie.

Writing Original Screen play

Hell Or High Water- Taylor Sheridan

La La Land- Damien Chazelle

The Lobster- Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthimis Filippou

Manchester By The Sea- Kenneth Lonergan– probable win, my choice

20th Century Women- Mike Mills

Surely, Manchester By The Sea must win this award. Lonergan’s script is devastating yet witty. He clearly cares deeply about each and every one of his characters and genuinely captures their nuances and eccentricities. Many of the scenes appears as vignettes- totally compelling and complete in and of themselves. Odd moments of humour are played against maelstroms of tragedy; the film feels completely fresh.

I don’t think the Lobster should win Best Script, but I’m quite impressed that this acerbic dystopian black comedy made it to the Oscars! The script is based on a unique premise: everyone must be in a relationship or risk being turned into an animal of their choice .(!?!) The film takes our notions surrounding relationships and drags them to their absolute logical extreme. The plot is completely original and quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before… or, probably, will ever see again!

Finally, here’s a recap of all of the past winners:

At The Movies: On the Oscars (Part 1)

At The Movies: On the Oscars (Part 1)

The Oscars are fast approaching, presenting us with a fantastic excuse to spend all our time (and money!) at the cinema to try to catch the industry’s latest showcase of premium movies. It’s also a great time to reflect on our own favourite films from the year.

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Highlights from 2016’s Oscars included Spotlight winning for best picture, Mad Max taking home 6 Oscar wins and Leonardo Dicaprio winning an Oscar for his performance in The Revenant. I was thrilled about Leo; albeit his performances in…well practically all of his other films were probably more Oscar worthy, I was glad to see him finally get the recognition from The Academy that he so clearly deserved! I remain undecided on Spotlight, although I felt it was a worthy and important story, I didn’t glean much more from the movie than I did from reading the original investigatory articles.

The controversy surrounding last year’s Oscars was #OscarsSoWhite, which pointed to the severe lack of diversity in the nominations whose key omissions included historical drama Selma and Idris Elba for his fantastic performance in Beasts of No Nation.

Idris Elba voiced his concerns at a speech he gave in Parliament in which he discussed the importance of diversity in film.

But this year, much has been done this to try to tackle the diversity deficiencies: The Academy made a pledge to diversify its own members and says that it hopes to double its women and people of colour by 2020- last year, the average Academy member was a 63-year-old white man…

The move to diversify has been somewhat successful. This year, 3 out of the 9 films up for Best Feature feature predominantly black casts (Fences, Hidden Figures and Moonlight). In the acting categories there are 7 nominees from ethnic minority backgrounds. And 13th, the controversial documentary about the unjust nature of the US justice system towards black Americans is up for Best Documentary.

I wouldn’t want to take the myopic view that this year’s nominations are a result of last year’s controversies, suffice to say it makes sense that these films are slightly more representative of their audiences…!

Best Picture

The nominations are:

Arrival

Fences

Hacksaw Ridge

Hell or High Water

Hidden Figures

Fences

La La Land (probable winner & my joint choice)

Lion

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

My Additions

Nocturnal Animals (my joint choice)

Jackie

I’m pretty sure La La Land will win. Its been nominated for 14 Oscars in total, a feat only achieved twice before by Titanic and All About Eve, both of which won Best Picture. Also, the award for Best Picture has almost exclusively gone to a film also nominated for Best Director, which means we can probably rule out Lion, Fences, Hell or High Water and Hidden Figures.

I’d love for La La Land to win: It unashamedly plays homage to its predecessors without cynicism. The music, acting, cinematography and direction perfectly culminate to produce a contemporary musical masterpiece.

The obvious omission is Tom Ford’s hauntingly beautiful Nocturnal Animals. Tom Ford’s direction is exquisitely detailed and perfectly complimented by Abel Korzeniowski’s Herman esque-score. The framing device connects the stories, themes and characters seamlessly, and the performances by Amy Adams, Jake Gylennhall and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are all Oscar-worthy. I was absolutely captivated throughout: for me, this film is flawless.

I found both Hidden Figures and Lion utterly bland in their portrayal of exciting real life stories. However, Jackie took a more innovative approach in its depiction of the events following the assassination of JFK, playing with chronology, offering a memorable soundtrack and facilitating the phenomenal performance from Natalie Portman. So, if the former two are in the category for best film, I don’t see why Jackie shouldn’t also be.

Best Director

Arrival

Hacksaw Ridge

Manchester by the Sea

Moonlight

La La Land(probable winner & my choice)

My Additions

Nocturnal Animals

I think Damien Chazelle should win for La La Land and I think he will. For me, Damien Chazelle is one of the most exciting directors to emerge in the last few years. La La Land is, tonally, a complete departure from his visceral masterpiece, Whiplash, but both films offer utter escapism.

Although Kenneth Longeran’s Manchester by The Sea is extremely intelligently directed, capturing the nuances and comedic moments within the tragedy,  I think it is his script that is really worthy of praise.

Barry Jenkins also deserves some recognition for his direction of Moonlight; I liked the imagery eg. use of mirrors and water tropes (identity, re-birth /baptism) although…as I’m writing this, I realise they seem a little cliché…It was, however, undoubtedly beautiful throughout.

It’s insane that Tom Ford wasn’t nominated for Nocturnal Animals- everything in this film is visually perfect and intricately designed- he uses style to create substance.

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At The Movies: Lion

At The Movies: Lion

In 1985, the tiny 5-year-old Saroo pads onto a train at his Indian hometown of Khandwa, curls up and falls asleep. Several days later, the train arrives in Calcutta, stranding Saroo utterly helpless; unable to speak the local language, unable to pronounce the name of his hometown and unable even to recall the name of his mother ‘she’s called mum…?’. As serendipity would have it, he is adopted by an Australian family in Tasmania and quickly adapts to a Western privileged lifestyle. He has just began to hew out a successful life for himself when, 25 years later at a University party, he samples julebi (an Indian sweet) and experiences a Proustian moment. As a result of this, he resolves to find his family in India and thus begins his search-capacitated by Google Earth (in a entirely unBlack Mirror-esque way!)

Such a story must, surely make for a riveting drama. And to a certain extent, it does. But I’m not sure whether it is the film itself that should be lauded, or simply the unbelievable true story. It would be very difficult not to ask yourself ‘Why did his brother leave him in the station by himself?’, ‘Where is his family now?’, ‘Are they still looking for him?’, ‘Will he ever get back to them?’ and ‘How would they react if they saw him now?’. The urge to discover the answer to those questions was for me, a good enough reason to keep watching the movie. But as I was watching it, I thought it could have been a better film had the desire to have those questions answered been more urgent.

It would have been fascinating to compare Saroo’s life in Australia to what it could have been had he stayed in India. And to a certain extent, the film does allow for this: we first see the adult Saroo (Dev Patel) on a surfboard in the middle of the tranquil Australian ocean. We then shift to a scene in a modern glass restaurant in which he clinks champagne glasses with his family to celebrate his acceptance to University. Clearly, such moments are far removed from his life in India in which him and his brother sold coal that they had nicked from a train in order to support their family!

However, I think more could have been made of these comparisons. The second half of the film is predicated on Saroo’s exigency to return to India. For him, India appears to be a distant memory, the prequel to his real life. Yet for us, this is not a distant memory at all- we just watched it! So I think it might have been interesting to explore the story from Saroo’s point of view. For example, the temporality didn’t have to be linear. Perhaps the story could have started when he first met his adoptive parents and vacillated form the past to present day…

Although…thinking about it… I feel like maybe I’m trying to Hollywood-ize the movie a little too much… And there were actually so many things I really loved about it!

Saroo appears totally incognisant about everything to do with India: at one stage he asserts defiantly that he (obviously) supports the Aussie football (Rugby..? :/) team over the Indian team. Perhaps he doesn’t want to think about his childhood in India because he hasn’t really come to terms with what happened yet or perhaps he feels guilty about leaving his family (probably both!). But we get a subtle sense that Saroo is uncomfortable when it comes to India, and it is to the film’s credit, this isn’t overplayed. And Dev Patel’s performance certainly aids in this- he has come a long way since Skins!

Similarly, the ending could easily have been overblown and schmaltzy but it wasn’t at all. And I found myself genuinely moved.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. And, just because it has to be said, the kid playing Saroo is fantastic and absolutely adorable:

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I guess one of the reasons I’m being so critical about Lion is because I’m comparing it to some films that weren’t nominated for Best Picture but that I think were far more deserving than this eg. Nocturnal Animals and Jackie. But I’d still recommend checking out Lion if you haven’t already.