Film Posts 36 – Creed

I’ve been away from the blog for so long, it’s going to take a little while to catch up on the Film Posts. And I’ve now passed the 12 month mark for my Cineworld card, which is why I started doing the film posts and why I restricted the posts just to films seen at Cineworld. But now the year’s up, and I’m removing the restriction – I’ll now aim to post on all films I see. Let’s make a start on the backlog.

it’s weeks since I saw Creed. But I really enjoyed it, much more than I thought I would.

creed poster

The last attempt to resuscitate the Rocky franchise, Rocky Balboa, really wasn’t good, so I didn’t go in to Creed  with high expectations. But the story was solidly familiar, the script was frequently witty and knowing (lots of nods back to the earlier films without overplaying the “I’m too old for this….” shtick), and both Michael B Jordan (playing the ambitious son of the late Apollo Creed) and Sylvester Stallone were excellent.

I’m not a boxing fan, but the fight sequences here were spectacular, particularly the two-round fight between Adonis Creed and Leo Sporino filmed (apparently) in a single take with the camera moving in the ring with both fighters, a remarkable achievement. There’s an interesting breakdown of that scene by the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, here.

And a word on the music. The film keeps hinting at the main Rocky theme that we’re all expecting, then pulls back from it, like a fighter feinting the big punch, until it’s exactly the right time to let it rip and bring a smile to the face and a lump to the throat of everyone watching.

My son (21) reckons it’s one of the best films he’s seen, and that’s no small praise.

 

 

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Coming back….

I’ve been away from the blog for a good few weeks, but I think I’m ready to write some more.

There are several film posts to catch up on, at least one new “How I Got Into….”, and one or two other things I want to write about.

I hope you’re still there…..

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Film Posts 35: Joy – 14th Jan, 2016

I rather like David O. Russell as a Director, even if he is inclined to quirkiness. Silver Linings Playbook was a surprise to me (I knew nothing about it, other than that it had been acclaimed) and I really enjoyed American Hustle. So I was keen to see Joy when it came out.

joy de niro cooper lawrence

De Niro, Cooper and Lawrence

And it’s another, really enjoyable film. Russell clearly likes this group of actors – Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Robert de Niro – and they seem to enjoy what he gives them to do.

The story of the downtrodden housewife who invents the Miracle Mop and then appears on the fledgling QVC to sell it is interesting, potentially inspiring, as Joy tackles the many challenges in her way. We follow her through moments of pain, despair, revelation and exhilaration, and Jennifer Lawrence is completely convincing throughout.

Bradley Cooper’s arrival in the movie is brilliantly handled – we’re waiting for him to appear (we know he’s in it, his name’s in the credits) but Russell holds him back. And then he takes over the film for the next 30 minutes (or at least, splits the screen ownership with Lawrence).

joy ensemble

These people are watching a shopping channel

Like many films it feels a little too long – I would say that maybe it’s my age, but I quite happily sat through three hours of The Hateful Eight (which won’t be getting a write-up here – I’m only covering films I see at Cineworld, and Cineworld irritatingly fell out with the distributors and refused to screen it).

But Joy was a lot of fun.

 

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Film Posts 34: The Danish Girl, 12th Jan 2016

The opening shot of the film sets the impression that will last to the end: this is a very painterly film. Every scene is shot artistically – you feel that you could take any individual shot from the film and hang it framed on a wall.

The film centres on two artists, Gerda and Einar Wegener, and Einar’s realisation that he is a woman who happens to have been born a man. Set in Copenhagen in 1926, a time when the world had no concept of transgender, Einar’s transformation into Lily Elbe is traumatising both for herself and for Gerda, whose happy, married life is so completely overturned as what started as a game unlocks the hidden Lily, and the man she has loved for years becomes a woman.

the-danish-girl alicia vikander

Alicia Vikander as Gerda

Eddie Redmayne has the eye-catching role as Lily, but Alicia Vikander is wonderful as Gerda (in writing this I’ve just seen she’s won the Screen Actors Guild Award).

The Danish Girl deals with an interesting subject, it’s well-acted (Oscars likely) and sumptuous to look at. Lily’s process of learning how to be a woman – how to look, how to move, how to stand, how to express emotion as a woman – is handled well, but in the end, for me, it felt more of a well-made curiosity rather than an immersive emotional experience.

 

the-danish-girl eddie redmayne lily

….and as Lily

the-danish-girl eddie redmayne

Eddie Redmayne as Einar….

There’s been some criticism of the movie from the transgender community, arguing that here was a chance to cast a transgender actor, rather than Eddie Redmayne in a dress. But if the movie’s aim is to attract an audience so that the issues raised can be considered and discussed then casting Oscar-winner Eddie Redmayne is surely a better bet than an unknown (but more authentic) choice.

It certainly shows how far we’ve come in the past 90 years to move from a position where the very notion of “transgender” was inconceivable to the medical profession and the general public to one where the debate is whether the film is sufficiently trans.

 

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How I Got Into….The Decemberists


 

Several posts ago I talked about how I got into Joni Mitchell, thanks to the free CD on the cover of a magazine.

The same thing happened with The Decemberists.

They were just one of several bands I’d never heard of who were featured in the cover CD of whichever magazine it was (probably The Word). The track was The Shankhill Butchers, taken from The Decemberists’ 2006 album The Crane Wife, and (another theme of these posts) it was interesting enough to send me off to Spotify to listen to the rest of the album. Which I immediately loved.

The Decemberists are a band from Portland, Oregon, fronted by singer-songwriter Colin Meloy, who fall roughly under the “Indie Folk” label. But they’re more difficult than that to categorise – there’s prog rock (Jenny Conlee’s keyboards on The Island sound a lot like Keith Emerson), there’s pop, there’s musical theatre (check out The Mariner’s Revenge Song).

They provide a great live experience, brilliantly attuned to their audience, and always thoroughly entertaining.

I like bands who are serious about their music, but don’t take themselves too seriously, and The Decemberists are the embodiment of that attitude. The songs are well-crafted, the musicianship is excellent, but there’s a knowing smile in much of it. Often it’s the juxtaposition of subject and tune – many of the songs feature characters who die, often in violent circumstances, but the tunes are never downbeat, with a black humour sitting behind it all. Must be that Portland weirdness.

Of all the posts in this series, this was the most difficult to select links for – I’ve been back and forth and up and down the list so many times, trying to find songs that illustrate what I like about this band, what would make people who were coming to them for the first time get the idea.

Colin Meloy

Colin Meloy at the launch of “What a Terrible World…”

I don’t know if I’ve succeeded, but if any of this catches your interest do go and listen to The Crane Wife, or Picaresque, or The King Is Dead, or What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World (probably not The Hazards Of Love, though, at least not first – Wikipedia’s description: “The Hazards of Love tells the tale of a woman named Margaret; her shape-shifting lover, William; his fey forest queen mother; and a cold-blooded, lascivious rake, who recounts with spine-chilling ease how he came “to be living so easy and free” in “The Rake’s Song””).

So here are some links – I know there are more than usual but the list could have been many times longer. I hope this inspires you to look further into this band and spread the word, and you really should go to see them live.

Make You Better, with an appearance from Nick Offerman as the creepy host of an 80s-style German rock show. Not taking themselves too seriously.

Eli The Barrow-Boy, which illustrates the contrast between what’s a really nice tune and a very tragic story (just the two deaths here, though, so quite restrained by The Decemeberists’ standards).

The Mariner’s Revenge Song, great theatrics in a song. A callous lover, an abandoned mother, a giant whale, and a tale of revenge. Often used to close a live show, with audience participation as the doomed ships’ crews.

Lake Song. Just chose this because it’s rather lovely, especially Jenny Conlee’s piano, and I love the line “seventeen and terminally fey”.

We Both Go Down Together, another great chorus in the midst of a tale of a doomed, abusive relationship ending in joint suicide. But how can you not love a song with the lyric “Meet me on my vast verandah, my sweet untouched Miranda”? I think sometimes he writes these things for the challenge (or for a bet).

Sons And Daughters, selected by my wife for this list, and rightly so. Colin Meloy says he wrote this when he’d learned his first two chords on the bouzouki. It’s got bouzouki. It’s got accordian. It’s got the word “dirigible”. And it’s got a tune that everyone can sing along to.

decemberists live

If you’ve read this far down this post, thank you. Sons And Daughters is the final track on The Crane Wife, and a brilliant way to close an album.

And it’s also the way I’m closing this series of posts.

This will be the last of these weekly “How I Got Into….” posts, though there may be occasional ones in the future if I think there’s something worth sharing and a story to go with it.

Thanks for reading, and particularly for the nice comments that you’ve all left over the past few months. I hope you found something here you liked.

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How I Got Into….Arcade Fire

I got into Arcade Fire by mistake.

In the early 2000s we watched the Alan Ball’s brilliant TV series Six Feet Under, about a family who run a funeral home. In amongst the angst there was a lot of dark humour – each episode opened with a death, which got progressively odder and more inventive over the course of 63 episodes. The series was beautifully written and acted, and introduced us to Michael C Hall (Dexter) and Rachel Griffiths (Brothers and Sisters).

six feet under volume 2

The second soundtrack album, featuring Arcade Fire and others

Without giving away any spoilers, the final moments of the final episode were possibly the best ending I’ve seen to any long-running series. As one character drives through the landscape in a re-painted hearse, we see flash-forwards to the deaths of the characters who have survived to the end of the series, and it’s quite wonderful – very few series give you that sense of a true ending, where you know how everything will play out for these characters you’ve lived with for five years.

And over this final scene plays a truly epic piece of music. I didn’t know who it was by or what it was called, so when I was in my local CD shop (remember those?) I checked the soundtrack album. Final track – Cold Wind  by Arcade Fire. That’ll be it, then, I thought.

I was already aware of Arcade Fire as being the darlings of the kind of music press I was reading, famous for the freeform nature of their gigs, including marching off stage, down the aisles and finishing gigs on the steps outside the theatre. They were very hip.

arcade fire funeral

Funeral

So I bought their first album, Funeral. And found that that epic final music from Six Feet Under wasn’t actually Arcade Fire at all (it was a track called Transatlanticism by Death Cab For Cutie – set yourself aside 7 minutes and 55 seconds and enjoy that too).

Ok, so the Six Feet Under  thing hadn’t worked out. But I’d accidentally discovered a really good band. They’re from Montreal (though Régine Chassagne is from Haiti) and tend to be classed as “Indie”, but some of their music is particularly grand. I wasn’t keen on their latest album, Reflektor, but it may grow on me in time. And Neon Bible and The Suburbs were both excellent collections of songs.

arcade fire wyn and regine

Win Butler and Regine Chassagne: husband and wife sharing lead vocals 

And they’re well worth seeing live. Arcade Fire are a big band, at least six members with two or three more added for tours, and there’s always something energetic going on on stage.

A happy accident, then.

One other thing: when Google launched Chrome Arcade Fire released a video feature based on their track The Wilderness Downtown which links to Google Earth images of whatever address you type in – give it a go, it takes a few seconds to get going, but very interesting (I suspect it will only work with Chrome, but I haven’t tried it with anything else).

arcade fire the suburbs

The Suburbs from 2010 – accessible and brilliant

And if you visit their website www.arcadefire.com  there are some other interesting interactive videos – this is a band that like to experiment,

Here are a few links to some of my favourite Arcade Fire tracks:

Intervention: For some reason, this YouTube link sets the song to footage of The Battleship Potemkin.

Sprawl II: From The Suburbs – “Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains”.

Wake Up: This is the song that closes the concerts – big singalong bit that the crowd are still singing when they leave the building. If they haven’t played it, they’re coming back for an encore; when they play it. it’s time to go home. Looking for a link for the song, I found this live version with David Bowie (who was a big supporter of Arcade Fire).

 

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How I Got Into….Rock Music (thanks to David Bowie)

I’ve nothing to add to the millions and millions of words generated about David Bowie this week. I was an admirer rather than a big fan, though Life On Mars?Changes and Heroes are three of my favourite pop songs.

But thinking about a subject for this week, I realised that Bowie was instrumental to my love of rock music.

Growing up in the early ’70s, my music listening was either what my parents listened to or pop music (daytime Radio 1 and Top Of The Pops). I wasn’t listening to John Peel, or watching The Old Grey Whistle Test, or in any way exposing myself to the wider possibilities beyond the three minute pop song.

Philips music centre

A 1970s Music Centre  

Then we got a Music Centre. This was a single device, consisting of a turntable, cassette player and radio with a hinged clear plastic lid – very popular at that time. This device would become the centre of my musical world over the next few years – countless hours listening through headphones while poring over record sleeves, copying records onto cassettes, creating mix tapes, recording songs or concerts from the radio.

But it started with Bowie.

I’m thinking it must have been early in 1976 when we got it. The only problem was, I didn’t own anything to play on it. So my cousin, a few years older than me, lent me three albums. One was by Leo Sayer (very popular at the time), one by Uriah Heep (not sure I ever listened to that, certainly not more than once)….and Space Oddity by David Bowie.

bowie space oddity

The cover of the 1972 reissue of Space Oddity, as loaned by my cousin

This was like nothing that I’d ever experienced. Sure, I’d heard Bowie’s singles, loved Starman, but this was something else. Some of these songs went on for ages – Cygnet Committee is over 9 minutes long – and had incomprehensible lyrics: for some reason, the lines from Unwashed, And Somewhat Slightly Dazed – “I got eyes in my backside that see electric tomatoes on credit card rye bread” – impacted themselves on the brain of a sheltered 14-year-old and have lived with me all these years, though they make no more sense to me now than they did then. And the other-worldly sounds that were created (which I now know were largely down to Rick Wakeman’s Mellotron) were way beyond the typical Radio 1 playlist.

For some reason, this didn’t make me a David Bowie fan, and by the end of that summer (assuming I’m right in remembering it was 1976) I had my first Rick Wakeman album and was off down the Prog Rock Road.

But it was David Bowie (thanks to my cousin) who got me into rock music.

The links:

The Wild-Eyed Boy From Freecloud: “And the hangman plays the mandolin before he goes to sleep”

Memory Of A Free Festival: “Oh, to capture just on drop of all the ecstasy that swept that afternoon….the sun machine is coming down and we’re gonna have a party”

Cygnet Committee: “I gave Them life, I gave Them all, They drained my very soul….dry”

 

As I’ve gone back to finding and re-listening to those tracks from Space Oddity, and re-reading the lyrics, I’m thinking that maybe I missed something quite important by not being a David Bowie fan all these years, and I need to go back and see what I’ve missed. There may be a new “How I Got Into….” on David Bowie in the future, that dates back to this post.
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