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since 09/11/2003


Myra Lee - Cat Power 25/05/2007

Raw Power

Myra Lee - Cat Power Cat Power, or more correctly: Chan Mashall, harkens from Atlanta Georgia and it doesn’t take more than the very first moments of Myra Lee to recognise that she could come from no where else other than one of the southern states of the USofA. The album sounds pretty lo-fi, not tinny or flat but it appears that it was recorded almost entirely in a rehearsal space in New York. No fancy recording studio. The effect works to the benefit of the listener. The opening track, Enough, slowly builds in volume and you feel like you could easily be in some subterranean venue, listening to some late night rock and roll. Because just who is Cat Power and what is her music? Only within the last few weeks have I discovered Cat Power and I now have three of her albums. All good. Myra Lee is my favourite. It’s raw. But it’s somehow sophisticated at the same time. And personal. And potent. Cat Power’s music is a blend of rock and roll, blues, rock, country (the gritty kind); yet is somehow Cat Power. Listening to her other work, you immediately recognise that Myra Lee, and Cat Power’s sound, is entirely her own. Witness: she barely seems to sing. Her drawl completely lacks any kind of affectation. As Enough comes to life, Power’s acoustic guitar riffs floating into volume, her vocals feel so natural. Talk or sing you feel she would sound the same. Her vocals are such that how could she be anything other than a singer (though she also plays guitar and piano). Laidback, Enough pulls us into ...

Out Of The Past (DVD) 10/03/2007

"Baby, I don't care..."

Out Of The Past (DVD) Out of the Past, directed by genre-master Jacques Tourneur, was released in 1947 and was Robert Mitchum's first film since being released from prison after his notorious 'pot bust' (that was mirrored in a scene in Curtis Hansen's LA Confidential). Originally released in the UK as 'Build my Gallows High', after a line in the movie, where Mitchum drawls calmly to femme fatale Jane Greer "build my gallows high, baby" (admittedly it is also the name of the book…), Out of the Past is arguably Mitchum's greatest film, and also the highest point in Tourneur's occasionally brilliant career. No wonder that the title of Mitchum's biography is also a line taken directly from the film: "Baby, I don't care", which seems to sum up both Mitchum's character in the film and acting style in general. Out of the Past is the most fitting title for the film, as it encapsulates the film in four very neat words. As we enter an average Joe (and name of the character is literally Joe!) wanders through a small town, and what does he see on a gas station sign but the name of an old friend that he's lost touch with: Jeff Bailey. Immediately, as he sits listening, drinking coffee and cracking wise to the waitress in the diner across the street, effortlessly pumping her for information she's not aware she is giving, we know Joe is trouble. We know this does not bode well for Jeff Bailey. Needless to say, Jeff Bailey is Robert Mitchum. Joe, played effortlessly by genre regular Paul Valentine, wanders ...

Noir Vol.1 (DVD) 04/03/2007

Welcome to the darker side of anime

Noir Vol.1 (DVD) A regular guilty pleasure, Noir is 26 episodes of um, err… well, girls with guns. Well, not exactly, this is, of course, why it works. Like so much anime you have to work within generic conventions and Noir is no exception. On the surface you expect this volume, being the first five of twenty-six twenty-five minute episodes, to be full of dubious fan-service (a term applying to the use of rather gratuitous flashes of sex / nudity, etc., I quote: "unnecessary to a storyline, but designed to amuse or excite the audience"). Noir, thankfully, manages to avoid all this and instead hooks the audience through vertiginous plotting, depth of characterisation and the ability to immediately intrigue the viewer. It also has a fantastic soundtrack! Unusually for an anime series the cast is minimal - there are only really four characters of any great importance and in the first five episodes we meet but two, the "…two maidens who govern death…" (though melodramatic the statement makes sense as the series progresses). These two are the emotional core of the story: Mireille Bouquet and Kirika Yūmura. The remaining pair, who we will not meet in these five opening episodes are also women - and thus Noir is an all female affair. First we meet Mireille as goes about her daily business in Paris, buying baguettes and vegetables before returning home to check her email. The face of a young Japanese school girl appears and the words "make a pilgrimage for the past with me" flashes upon ...

Live at the Checkerboard Lounge (Live Recording) - Buddy Guy 25/02/2007

Buddy Brilliant

Live at the Checkerboard Lounge (Live Recording) - Buddy Guy I always forget just how much I like Blues until I start listening to it again, though it can be hard to find it really pure and passionate these days. I have a couple of other Buddy Guy albums; one early on, his recordings for Chess Records, where he was a session player and though his desire to do so, was never allowed to cut loose (a mistake the head, Marshall Chess, recognised late on in the sixties when the likes of Hendrix, Clapton et al were crashing to stardom). The other, Damn Right I Got The Blues, from the nineties never quite cuts it. So what a pleasure it was to stumble upon Live At The Checkerboard Lounge. Live At The Checkerboard Lounge is not quite a purist album but it's pretty close. Buddy Guy was approached by JSP Records, then with virtually no catalogue to produce a live album, as Guy at the time could hardly get a record deal. Blues was out of favour and so he accepted the offer, and Live At The Checkerboard Lounge was the result. The club, incidentally, Buddy Guy himself owned. What's fascinating about Live At The Checkerboard Lounge is that unlike a lot of Blues albums where standards are wheeled out (not that I'm saying that this is a bad thing) most of the songs are Buddy's own compositions. And they're really raw blues, both traditional and modern yet never watered down as some can be. Perhaps this is because Guy's so on form. His vocals are impassioned and his guitar work exceptional. You feel here is Guy given the opportunity to let loose ...

Gling-Gló - Björk 24/02/2007

Bjork... but not as we know her!

Gling-Gló - Björk More correctly, the album is by Björk Guðmundsdóttir & Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar. Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar being a bebop jazz band consisting of the conventional piano, bass and drums trio, a structure familiar to anyone with a passing acquaintance to jazz. As you'll immediately notice then, this is not necessarily traditional Bjork, even by her usually disparate output. A little history - it would appear the Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar were tasked to create an album of for the most part Icelandic bebop standards and took on the challenge, only they realised to really be able to fulfil their commitments they needed a singer. Hmmm. Iceland. Singer. Bjork. Moreover, Bjork had played with the trio several years before in a Reykjavik hotel and so it made sense them to make use of her most remarkable vocal talents. And on Gling-Gló Bjork really proves her versatility vocally. If you're wondering though why was Bjork performing in a Reykjavik hotel, the album harks back to 1990, before she attained stardom, though she had been performing in Iceland for years. Though Gling-Gló certainly assured her stardom in Iceland as the album went platinum! Gling-Gló translates, approximately, to ding-dong. Make of that what you will. Nevertheless, it suggests the tone of the music, and the title being in Icelandic presages the fact that the lyrics, bar two tracks, are sung entirely in Icelandic. Nevertheless, the language fits in perfectly with the bebop-jazz-vocal style. It never ...

World to Come - Maya Beiser 17/02/2007

Delight in the World to Come

World to Come - Maya Beiser I stumbled across Maya Beiser quite my accident. A day out at the Barbican to enjoy music free and ticketed in honour of composer Steve Reich's seventieth birthday. As we entered the building, good and early, a rather attractive woman with a cello and detachable sleeves was soundchecking and I think recording parts for her later multitracked performance in the foyer. Just those twenty minutes as she prepared were magnificent… normally I'm not one for solo cello - at least, it wouldn't really occur to me to listen. The day began with Balinese Gamelan; a group loose attached to the London Symphony Orchestra entertained greatly, all the more so for Gamelan being an unknown musical form to me. Immediately following was Maya Beiser. Sitting alone with cello, the composer of the piece stood forward and explained Maya Beiser had asked him to compose a piece for cello based on the rhythm and form of Gamelan. Clearly, he accepted and the piece, in keeping with the Reich theme, was like many of Reich's 'counterpoints', being pieces originally recorded as CD fillers that then became a part of his repertoire. Each piece is multitracked, a solo performer recording each part individually then playing live accompanied by the multitracked performances already recorded. This was the form of the piece played for free by Maya Beiser at the Barbican that day. Why this introduction? Well, first off I was surprised the extent to which I enjoyed the performance; secondly, because the music on ...

Hotel Du Nord (DVD) 11/02/2007

Hotel du Nord

Hotel Du Nord (DVD) I first saw Hotel du Nord as part of a double bill with a film by Jean Renoir (I forget which - though I think the brilliant Le Crime De Monsieur Lange) and I was frankly going to see the Renoir film and thought, hmmm, I'll just have to sit through Hotel du Nord and grin and bear it. Something about the film just really didn't appeal. Then right from the opening shot that tracks down from the bridge over the canal Saint Martin and along the side of the canal to where the two lovers, played by Annabella and Jean-Pierre Aumont, settle against one another on a bench, despairing and apparently doomed I simply didn't look back. I couldn't. Since that Sunday afternoon I have always had something of a soft spot for Hotel du Nord. It is firmly placed in the traditional of French cinema of the thirties. Like his contemporaries, Renoir et al, the director Marcel Carne made films that were considered to be part of the poetic-realism (or at least are now known as) movement that was inspired as much by cinema as Carne being a member of a left wing political party heavily influenced by Communism. It is noticeable in the film, as in Renoir's Le Crime de Monsieur Lange, that the titular hotel is almost something of a commune, the protagonists gather around to celebrate and eat together. They are almost a family and there is a sense that they all support one another. Released in 1938, Hotel du Nord was remarkable for the set, as the hotel really did exist but was unfilmable around, was ...

A Matter of Death and Life - Andrey Kurkov 11/02/2007

More than just a matter of death and life.

A Matter of Death and Life - Andrey Kurkov Despite some occasional critical bashings, A Matter of Death and Life is perhaps Ukranian Author, Andrey Kurkov's most accessible novel. Closer in length to a novella (a mere 111 pages), A Matter of Death and Life is a read in one sitting work and was released in the wake of his two successful Penguin novels (Death and the Penguin and Penguin Lost - both excellent). Kurkov himself has had a colourful career. Trained as a translator, he worked as such for the KGB and the Military Police prior to the fall of the Soviet Union. Just as the old USSR crumbled his first novel was published. He has also worked as a screenwriter and cameraman, but it seems to be fiction where he has found his niche. Kurkov has his own style, a mix of grim, sometimes brutal poetic-socio-realism and some considerable surrealism. There is always a lot of humour in Kurkov's novels but it is usually very dark humour indeed. But it balances out the occasional bursts of capitalist greed and brutal exercises of power that are scattered throughout his novels. The protagonists in Kurkov's four translated novels are for the most part pretty ordinary souls, living pretty averagely in towering, bland Soviet tower blocks. Often their paths are crossed by Ukrainians infected by the capitalist bug, sometimes little better than glorified gangsters, using any means possible to achieve money and or power - though not always. Sometimes these people surprise you. Nevertheless, there is always a sense of the tenuous ...

Avalon (Subtitled) (DVD) 09/02/2007


Avalon (Subtitled) (DVD) Something of an oddity by anime director Mamoru Oshii, Avalon is a live action film, written, produced and directed by the Japanese but filmed in Poland, in Polish with Poles in all roles. Hardly what you would expect from the director of the influential Ghost in the Shell and its sequel, but then again maybe it is. On the surface Avalon looks to be one of those movies influenced, like so many alongside it, by the matrix - but, frankly, it's nothing of the sort. Without going into details of plot (as of yet, anyway), one important point to make of the film is that it treats the unusual and the mundane everydayness of life with equal skill and respect. Both are rendered visually stunning; thus though, as will be somewhat revealed, though there is considerable story to be told there are also moments which are remarkably everyday. Often even the everyday events are curiously disturbing, and instil a sense of uncertainty in the viewer. The story has many similarities to Oshii's previous Ghost in the Shell and reminiscent in part of William Gibson's cyberpunk novels (Neuromancer et al), though Avalon is very much its own entity. The story, on the surface, is really rather trite. In a rather nameless city, whether or not it's meant to be Warsaw is never explicated, and a rather timeless setting of gothic romanticism, Ash (played with deliciously icy detachment by Malgorzata Foremniak) is one amongst many who plays an illegal computer game - the titular Avalon - (that ...

Dust Devil (DVD) 04/02/2007

Dust Devil - a future classic?

Dust Devil (DVD) I'm not sure when I first saw Dust Devil except that it comes under that category of late one night I ended up watching some film, I know not why, and was amazed. Such is Dust Devil. Then, yesterday, I saw the DVD, and heedless of price I bought it, knowing that it is practically a 'lost' film, though it was only originally released in 1992. I didn't want to get home, search the internet for the cheapest price, only to find it out of stock, out of stock. The DVD is in fact a director's cut, or as the credits at the end note, the restored version. Miramax removed some portion of the film and I don't know what or why. There are deleted scenes on the DVD that you can understand the omission of. They don't feel right. Except, that is, for one scene regarding the ringing of telephones that links together several strands of the plot. But how Miramax could mangle such a film is beyond me. Nevertheless, it seems the director Richard Stanley has painstakingly garnered money and assistance to generate his final restored version of the film. I, for one, am very glad he did. Admittedly, as I was placing the disc in my DVD player I had a foreboding of disappointment. Perhaps it wouldn't live up to my memories. Some films, after all, date badly. Dust Devil has dated slightly. It is clearly of the period. But it did not disappoint. It did not disappoint at all. Though ostensibly a horror film, to call Dust Devil a horror movie is a mistake. Especially as a lot of low budget horror ...

Howl's Moving Castle (DVD) 03/02/2007

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (DVD) After the originality of Spirited Away it was easy to feel immediate disappointment at Howl's Moving Castle. Immediate disappointment, I must admit, that is wholly unjustified. Sat in a Haymarket cinema, images unfolding before me, I enjoyed Howl's Moving Castle but was not as delighted as I had been by Spirited Away and years before by his earlier efforts Princess Mononoke or Porco Rosso. Then I bought the DVD and immediately wondered why I had not enjoyed it as much as I did sat slumped before the TV. Immediately I also recognised the answer -in the cinema it was showing in the English dub. Anime never really works with an English dub I find. Even though the film has such talents as Lauren Bacall, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale and Billy Cristal involved it somehow never works like it does in the original language. They're not lazy but somehow they lack authenticity. So I advise you to make sure you watch Howl's Moving Castle only in the original Japanese dialogue version. It's not as if the subtitles are particularly extensive. Miyazaki, thankfully, tells a very visual tale. Miyazaki's follow-up to his breakthrough film (breakthrough into something closer to the mainstream, anyway) is nevertheless extremely charming and similar in parts to Spirited Away. Like so many of his films it concerns itself with an individual torn from their usual (sometimes drab) circumstances and landing into the fantastical. I think this is the first Miyazaki film based neither on one of his ...

Glassworks - Philip Glass 29/01/2007

Revel in the presence of the master of minimalism

Glassworks - Philip Glass Recorded in 1982, for a series of six CDs for CBS, Glassworks is a Philip Glass primer. It's not a compilation, more of an introduction to the master minimalist. To quote Glass directly "Glassworks was intended to introduce my music to a more general audience than had been familiar with it up to then". And indeed it does. It represents one of his most accessible works, as well as being one of his most haunting and most beautiful. For those less conversant with Philip Glass, he has been 'lumped' into the Minimalist bracket, along with other modern composer such as Steve Reich, Terry Reilly and to a lesser extent John Adams. In general Glass is the most successful and probably the least respected. The origins in this seem to be both his prolific output, his consistency of quality as well as his trademark rhythmical repetitions. For Glass is less a minimalist (how anyone can think of the opera Einstein on the Beach as being minimalist is beyond me!) and interested instead with repeated, slowly shifting, cyclical rhythms that generate a hypnotic, often hermetic musical landscape, which, admittedly, some can find claustrophobic. I for one don't find it in the least bit claustrophobic and if anything one of Glass' great abilities is to engage in both solo or smaller chamber settings as well as in a more symphonic and operatic mode. For forty years Glass has adapted his rhythmical, cyclical aesthetic so that you can almost trace patterns as easily within his oeuvre of work just ...

Haibane Renmei (2002) 29/01/2007

Haibane Renmei

Haibane Renmei (2002) A gem is perhaps the best word to describe Haibane Renmei. Generally, the UK doesn't really do Anime I find. Only Hayao Miyazaki seems to have gained any form of acceptance, mostly for Spirited Away. Growing up, when Anime first appeared much of what was released was, frankly, of the teen violence-sex-swearing-masturbatory sort. This, and the proliferation of Pokomon nonsense (though it seems the Japanese original is less childish), seems to have coloured the public perception of Anime. Animation is often considered to be cartoons and cartoons are for children, right, and Anime is animation thus it must be for children. If you accept this misconception then stop right here; I'm not convinced anything is going to change your mind, though I would hope something like Haibane Renmei might. I admit I have something of a penchant for Anime. At its best it can be challenging, disturbing, impressive and intelligent. Even when apparently working with 'childish' modes - depressed teens in giant robot suits fighting angels, such as Neon Genesis Evangelion, is actually a very dark, mature work and certainly not for children. Sometimes you have to accept certain generic conventions and if you can't then to be honest you're stymied. But then the Japanese clearly have a tradition of placing fears and ideas into genre movies. You only have to think of the Godzillaresque monster movies, Samurai period pieces, violent yakuza movies and of course Anime, to recognise this. Anyhow, the ...

Ivans XTC (DVD) 28/01/2007


Ivans XTC (DVD) When people speak of films being powerful they are speaking of films like IvansXTC. British director Bernard Rose, best known for the lushly effective horror Candyman and Immortal Beloved, moved to Hollywood and clearly did not have a good time. IvansXTC feels like guerrilla filmmaking. Shot on digital video it has a grainy, sometimes shaky feel, like Lar von Trier and co.'s Dogme films. Based loosely on Tolstoy's 'The Death of Ivan Ilych', the film concerns itself with Danny Huston's shallow, coke-snorting, goodtime Hollywood agent Ivan Beckman, and his coming to terms with discovering he has cancer. Surrounding him are those he cannot confide in and ultimately are using him just as much as he is using them, whether Peter Weller's gun totting, right wing, whoring star that he poaches from another agency or his girlfriend, Lisa Enos (who co-wrote the film with Rose). There are no relationships here that function normally - Weller, as star Don West, snorts cocaine from Beckman's girlfriend's, (Charlotte) thigh in a limo. West's relationship with Beckman is usually one of sex, drugs and more sex and more drugs. Weller's West is not a star you'd want in a Disney film. Then neither is Beckman an agent you would want signing up a star to a Disney film. Though Beckman does sign West to a film penned by writer Danny McTeague, and it is interesting to note that McTeague is just as unpleasant and selfish a character as both Beckman, West and Charlotte. Normally you would expect the ...

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter And Spring (DVD) 28/01/2007

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter And Spring (DVD) Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring is possibly one of the most beautiful films you are ever likely to see. That I had to say first. The director, Kim Ki-Duk, is perhaps one of South Korea's most prolific, occasionally controversial (see Bad Guy and The Isle to understand why), filmmakers working today. Allegedly, Kim Ki-Duk though an art student, never saw a film until he was thirty. Now whether this means he never critically watched films prior to his thirties, had literally never seen a whole film or if he is attempting to create a mythology for himself much like Hitchcock might have done is hard to know. But it is hard to believe with the proliferation of cinemas, with film regularly appearing on TV that Kim Ki-Duk could really contrive never to watch a film for thirty years. Nevertheless, having seen his 'first' film, Kim Ki-Duk moved into cinema, churning out several disturbing and rough-around-the-edges films such as Real Fiction. These films have merit but are probably more for the Kim Ki-Duk completist. They lack a lot of the finesse and visual beauty of Kim Ki-Duk's recent films, even if many of the themes are similar. His preoccupations with everyday individuals (even if in unusual circumstances) who are often damaged, lonely or disturbed; unable to fully function in the world and thus live in almost unreal circumstances is immediately apparent. One just needs to think of the soldiers on bizarrely heightened alert, waiting for North Korean spies to swim ...
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