Gag Reel? Gag Reel?

Film Trawling through old emails this morning, I found the activation confirmation for my original Screen Select account sent 28/2/2014. As Review 2004 records, the first three discs I received were Chain Reaction, The Gingerbread Man and Fallen Angels: Professional Man with The 400 Blows, Les Enfants Du Paradis and A Bout De Souffle soon afterwards and so it goes. There's not much more to be said about this that you don't already know about how the access to film in general has changed radically in the ten years since and how apart from the MARVEL films because of spoilers and the odd special case here and there because of spectacle (Gravity), I barely go to the cinema any more, but paradoxically feel like I have a much richer filmic experience.

When I do receive a disc through the post, most of the time about the only extra I bother with is the gag reel. Often these unguarded moments tell you more about the filmmaking process than the documentaries designed for that purpose and certainly about the personalities on set and who's giving a performance and whose playing themselves. This example for Clones is typical, especially the exchange between Natalie Portman and Lucas in which she's giggling through her disbelief in what he's forcing her to do in the name of an action sequence which, as has become legendary, was shot in pick-ups because it was felt there was a lack of something, something in that part of the film. No wonder she thought the whole thing was a set up. She seems like she's joking, but there's also one of those significant pauses ...

The Films I've Watched This Year #13

Film If this list looks short, it's because it's been an odd week for one reason of another and I'm writing this a day early and before the evening's entertainment, Drinking Buddies, which I presume I'll talk about next time if it's any good. Film related news this week is that the long awaited update has been made to the Amazon Instant Lovefilm Video stream UK on the Sony BD player to something which ignores the rubbishy onboard software and offers something which is more akin to Netflix of the iPlayer. The picture quality has improved too; it's not as clear as Netflix or even the iPlayer but still a hell of a lot better than the S-VHS quality of the previous incarnation. Missing from this week's list is Creative Process: Norman McLaren, a documentary about the Scottish-Canadian filmmaker which I left about an hour in because it somehow managed to make a fascinating subject boring through a lack of coherence and poor structuring.

Inside Llewyn Davis
Still Crazy
Breath In
We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks
The Call
Warm Bodies

Where to begin. At the top, I suppose, with my film of the week for a change. Inside Llewyn Davis is a bit of an atypical Coen brothers film in that sight unseen I'm not sure you could finger the Coens for it. Perhaps because they're utilising a different cinematographer than usual, Bruno Delbonnel in for Roger Deakins, there's less of a sense of artifice, greater reality, which is odd, because Delbonnel's CV which includes working with Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Tim Burton is all about artifice.  But in capturing the folk scene in 1961 New York, in the gap between Woodie Guthrie and Bob Dylan, there's a very rich sense of place, of everything being lived in, importantly of the film almost having fallen through time having originated in the 1970s in the era of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. Delbonnel's key image, the cover of Bob Dylan's The Freewheelin', sweats through every pour.

The Coens are the kind of directors for whom half of the job is done when selecting the cast.  But this is an occasion when a star emerges and there's Oscar Isaacs suddenly burning, after a string of relatively faceless supporting roles (with the possible exceptions of  in Robin Hood and Sucker Punch) hoofing around with the charm of the young Pacinos, Goulds and Hoffmans, owning the screen, out compelling even John Goodman in the scenes when Goodman should be in ascendancy.  Not only can he sing, but his adeptness in physical comedy has elements of Tati, especially in the cat scenes.  Seriously, this is one of those occasions, like Renner in The Hurt Locker when we're in the presence of a star of the old school and want to see everything else they do.  Presumably Kevin Feige already has him on speed dial to play Steve Strange.  Actually, that would be *amazing*.

But the whole thing is delightful.  There's Justin Timberlake who's also fast become an acting favourite happy to fade into the background as the more successful mirror to Isaac's character's hopelessness.  Carey Mulligan sings!  Notice how she and Michelle Williams are quite neatly both managing to have a career in roles which they must both surely be considered for, though it's true that Mulligan just has the edge at the moment.  Hopefully they can continue and unlike Renee Zellwegger and Joey Lauren Adams they don't end up cancelling each other out.  Plus the music is glorious and it's well worth tracking down the Inside Inside Llewyn Davis documentary for the footage of the pre-recording sessions which look like they were a collaborative hoot (though the music in the film was recorded live).  About the only criticism is that it ends.

Monday night brought a Felicity Jones double bill, Like Crazy then Breathe In both in collaboration with Drake Doremus.  The first, a long distance romance drama co-starring Anton Yelchin is lovely as lovers try to stay connected with the Atlantic ocean and immigration rules standing between them.  Doremus's unpredictable, visually poetic style and editing which seems like its throwing together all of cinema histories techniques fits with the story, in which couple isn't ever sure when and if they'll see each other or if they'll ever properly be together, snatching moments when they can get them.  Like Inside Llewyn Davis it just finishes perhaps unresolved, but it's at a point when the outcome couldn't really be anything else.  It's also a bit of an artifact because it has J-Law a year on from Winter's Bone but just on the cusp of fame as the other women, something which threatens to retrospectively unbalance the thing because like Oscar Isaacs she's so utterly charming.

Everything that's right with Like Crazy is horribly wrong in Breathe In.  The tricks with the mis-en-scene are very, very similar, as is the golden colour pallette and the performances are just as improvisational but in seeking to obviously produce something more mechanically mainstream accessible, Doremus gets lost in the material and as the film heads into the second half its as embarrassingly cliched as a daytime soap opera.  This time Jones plays a visiting exchange student in music teacher Guy Pearce's midlife crisis and troubled household and from the moment he claps eyes on her Chopin rehearsal pieces we know that it's not the only thing he's going to be clapping his eyes on.  From then on, every beat of the ensuing affair is guessable, the logical narrative agency goes bankrupt and if the writer/director's intention is to show the repetitious blandness of these things then he succeeds, even if the film's almost impossible to watch because of it.

The Call has had universally poor reviews and enjoys a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 43% but plenty of those reviews seem to be about offering an opinion on what the film doesn't do, rather what it does, of not fulfilling expectations.  Pre-publicity, trailers and the like, suggest this is a thriller in which Halle Berry's 9/11 call handler will save a girl from abduction from the safety of her desk in the "hive", and although that's the central set piece, because just showing that would be filmed theatre, the whole story is opened out to show the world beyond the desk and so the main criticisms of the piece which also ignores the central psychological through line of Berry's character bare little scrutiny.  I enjoyed this a lot, though I will agree that final half hour probably only really makes sense if you've spent the past week or so watching BBC's Luther.  Especially the ending.  Wow.

I entirely missed the central conceit of Warm Bodies until Nicholas Hoult's zombie R was grunting under Teresa Palmer's human Julie's balcony.  A zomromcom which is unafraid to pay homage to its predecessors, especially Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, there are also also elements in the dream sequences which feel like the some of the Malick-lite noodling of Like Crazy, though obviously the middle class family there weren't under the threat of the apocalypse (though Alex River Song Kingston would have been more than capable obviously).  Part of me wishes the whole thing had stayed at the same pitch as the plane scene.  When this become an action film it's slightly less compelling though you can understand that like similar efforts it feels like it has various genre imperatives to fulfill.  But the ending is sweet and there's a welcome supporting role for Damsel in Distress's Analeigh Tipton.

"We will all go together when we go..."

Music Tom Lehrer was and still is one of my favourite writer musicians, because of the songs and also because at a definitive point he stopped, he said, I'm done with that. If only more artists in various fields did that. If only when Lily Allen (for example) said after two albums, that's enough, she'd stuck to it.

For no particular reason Buzzfeed's Buzzread long form section now have lengthy profile of Lehrer who also has a healthy approach to answering the author's questions:
“You seem to have devoted so much thought to the questions you ask that you should perhaps just write what you think is the truth, even if it’s just speculation, which — judging by today’s commentators on TV — is the easiest and therefore the most common form of punditry. I neither support nor encourage your efforts, but I shall not try to thwart them,” he wrote. And he was true to his word. He didn’t respond to a second letter, nor to a fact-checking email sent to his AOL email address; his email handle includes a phrase along the line of “living legend.” When we stopped by his Sparks Street house on a cold night in February, a light was on and a Prius was in the driveway, but nobody answered the door and Lehrer wrote that he had left town for California. (One underrated classic: “Hannukah in Santa Monica.”)

The Feeling Listless Soundtrack 1.0:
The Old Apartment.

Written by Ed Robertson & Steven Page
[from: 'WBCN Naked Too', Wicked Disc, 1998]

Music Leeds was much as I left it. If anything it's become even more of a student city, everything seemingly geared towards a particular age group. As anyone who's returned to a place they once lived after years of distance will know it's difficult not to look objectively. Around every corner is a distant memory, even in the most benign of places: the statue which had a traffic cone on it's head during my first week of university which I walked past with Sharon during the first walk back to halls from town; outside The Merrion Centre where I met Rosie that last time; the old library doorway I sat in eating fish and chips when I didn't want to go back to my lodges during my second year; the telephone box I would go to cry in when I was home sick; the museum I first saw Georgina Starr and went to my first private view; the cinema which was the only place which seemed to make sense to me much of the time. There are places which have gone: the second hand bookshop where you had to leave any bags behind the counter while you look around; the coffee shop in the city centre I would go to every Wednesday as treat because I could buy a cheese and ham baguette for 95p; the market stall were I bought the belt I still wear now to keep up my jeans; the Wendy's where I ate a square burger during my first ever movie binge ('Babe', 'Sabrina', 'The American President'); that other place where I fell in love. [Originally posted 30th October 2001]

[Commentary:  The first lazy appropriation of blog material.  The original post is here.  I'd return to Leeds again two years later to visit all my old student houses.  In 2008, that blog post was found online by some people who lived in one of the houses ten years after I did.  In 2009, I sort of visited them again in 2009 thanks to the magic of Google Street View.  Part of my thinks about going back again now, but then I wonder what the point would be twenty years after I was a fresher.  It'll either be exactly the same or different, but it'll be nothing like these memories.  Perhaps if there was someone there for me to visit, talk about these old times which somehow feel still so present in the memory, but university being what it is, we gathered from across the country then returned to our own cities.  There was a moment, a brief moment, when I considered staying in Leeds, I suppose you always do when you're a student and you become embedded, but I suspected I'd spend the duration trying to continue to live the student days or as would have been my case lived them "better".  That was the mistake I made when I did become a student again in 2005 wanting to have the student experience but entirely "failing" again due to living in a completely different city.  Returning to my post-graduate student digs would be easy if I wanted to.  I'm sitting in them typing this.  Nothing has changed.  Much.

The video above has though.  Not being able to find the original track online, this other live version is from ten years later.]

Liverpool Biennial 2014: Press Launch.

Art Here we go again. It’s 1:15pm on the 8th April (2014) as I write having just returned from the press conference announcing the goodies in this year’s Liverpool Biennial (2014) (barring lunch and an interesting time with Inside Inside Llewyn Davis, the making of the Coen Brothers film). We’re embargoed, asked not to report what we’ve seen anywhere until tomorrow morning. Or this morning since you’re reading it now. Blogging is a bit complex under these circumstances. The whole point of blogging is that it’s immediate, post and it’s there but here I am in the past writing something which you’re not reading until right now.

But it’s fair. It makes sense. There’s a similar launch in London tomorrow, or today, at about the time this is posted (phew) for the capital centric journalists which are what stop the Biennial from being a simply a local event into something national or international and the PR department has a tricky balancing act between wanting to tell us locals about what’s occurring, will be occurring, whilst also wanting to make sure the whole thing doesn’t feel stale to whichever correspondent is sent by The Guardian or the BBC. As I said to someone I like to think is a friend today, I do love all of this, the cloak and dagger, the mystery, the feeling of being in the loop on something.

We were asked to gather at the Hope Street Hotel, the rather nice boutique (is it boutique?) inn opposite the Philharmonic Hall on, well Hope Street, obviously, with the explanation that after that we’d be taken to a secret venue. There were some familiar faces in the crowd and breakfast, coffee and croissant, neither of which I availed myself of, the former because I’d already stored up on coffee before leaving home and could just feel the caffeine buzz starting, the latter because of my ongoing, hernia-inspired attempt to become a thin person (which is still going well by the way, though its true the weight loss does slow down after a time).

Not before too long we were led up onto street level, the plot thickening with every step. Where were we going? Not too far hopefully because it was a deceptively chilly morning and sure enough, and this is the first of the headlines which I’m sadly burying in the middle of this paragraph (yet given away with the above illustration) because I have no idea of how to structure text, we were quickly ushered into the Trade Union Centre on Hardman Street, sometimes called the old Blind School and which is to be the main exhibition space for this year’s festival and I think you’ll agree, a magnificent choice.

Everyone wanted to go off and explore immediately but we were quickly led into a large room on the ground floor which had been set up with plasma screen, chairs and tables ready for the press conference. After talking a seat at the front, I thought about the benefits this venue will have. With its central location in comparison to the Cunard Building, it immediately creates a visiting structure for Biennial visitors, who can be introduced the festival here then walk to FACT, down Wood Street to the Blue Coat then on to the Tate and the Open Eye and whatever else is in the public realm in between.

The press conference, then. Sally Tallant the Director of the Biennial offered some statistics about the success of the festival over the years then Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman outlined what’s to come. As you read, professional journalists are seeing the light at the end of the embargo and the new Biennial website itself should have gone live so there’s little point in my repeating what’s there, not least because I tried desperately not to pay too much attention myself. There’s always a balance at these things between wanting to have some idea of what we can look forward to and destroying the surprises.

The overall title of this year’s Biennial is “A Needle Walks Into A Haystack” which isn’t quite as snappy as some of the one word designations of previous festivals but has a much clearer direction of intellectual traffic perhaps than last time. As the press booklet explains, “overall the Biennial exhibition reflects on how artists disrupt the realms of habits and habitats, reconfiguring objects, images, representations and activities that constitute their immediate surroundings”. Now arguably that could describe all art, indeed all culture, but it has an atmosphere of specificity which will provide a decent context for the work that visitors will be seeing.

The other big change this year is the timing. The whole show is opening on the 5th July to coincide with the International Festival for Business and during the main tourist season which might bump up visitor numbers. But cleverly, because students and young people are also its mainstay, after the main launch in the Summer, there’s to be a secondary launch in September when there’ll be a performance weekend of some sort as part of the programme and a whole bunch of other stuff will open like Bloomberg New Contemporaries (which is moving into the horse shoe gallery at World Museum Liverpool which seems like a good fit).

Of the festival components that have been announced arguably the most exciting is the exhibition of and about Whistler at the Bluecoat. I genuinely gasped when this was revealed, because it’s such an unexpected joy. There wasn’t much detail as to who will be coming (presumably not his mother) but given the general lack of exhibitions of non-permanent collecton pre-1900 work in Liverpool, the appearance of someone who nevertheless helped creat the context of modern contemporary art at this festival is just, well, it just rocks. Part of the exhibition will apparently recreate his famous Harmony in Blue and Gold: The Peacock Room, with the birds and the heaps of gold.

Presumably we’ll talk some more about that and the implications the choice of Whistler has in relation to the main Biennial theme when the show opens though its appearance somewhat throws off my plan to focus on just the art of the moving image at this year’s Biennial. After watching lots of Shakespeare in 2012 and Doctor Who in 2013, this year as you will have seen I’ve been stepping up my film watching and contemporary films at that, so I thought it would give my some kind of focus to at least try to watch as much of the film & video art at the festival this year and report back on my findings here.

An example would be Sharon Lockhart, who’s being brought to FACT with back catalogue, new productions and a film programme. Her work (excerpts of which are on her website) blur the line between still life photography, non-narrative documentary and I think slow cinema. Hopefully selected items will be Lunch Break and Goshogaoka, both of which are essentially a oner or string of extended takes scrutinising a single subject and people in space in a similar way to Abbas Kiarostami’s 00s work, Godfrey (Koyaanisqatsi) Reggio or Ron (Baraka) Fricke or indeed the dawn of silent cinema.

After that we were allowed to see some of the venue, now owned by the Hope Street Hotel and due to be renovated by them but who’ve delaying their work for the duration of the Biennial not unlike John Moores University at the old postal sorting office last time. The thought of that venue on the bus ride home made me realised that there wasn’t any talk at the press conference of Cityscapes, the festival within a festival it housed and the undoubted highlight of the 2012 Biennial, in which other cities created their own exhibitions for us.  Not everything has been announced yet so perhaps it is still happening. I hope so.

Never, ever. Ever.

Music The announcement of Kate Bush's live tour caused a bit of a stir on social networks the other week. I decided, since I only have a cd of Hounds of Love and a cassette of The Whole Story in the house and haven't listened to either recently that I'd let other people buy tickets. Oh, did I think again when I read this.

To save you clicking, the All Saints are touring.

Wow. That's well, that's quite something. Where do I buy tickets, are they on in Liverpool?  Yes, they are. At the Echo Arena. There's a nice photo with an Appleton wearing a Women Woman t-shirt and a biography and everything:

"ALL SAINTS Natalie & Nicole Appleton, Melanie Blatt & Shaznay Lewis. Together they became one of the most successful pop groups of the 1990s, with two multi-platinum albums, and record sales in excess of 12 million worldwide. Their debut album, ‘All Saints’ went 5x platinum and produced 3 number-one singles, including the double BRIT award-winning ‘Never Ever’ that ended up selling over 1.2 million copies."

But of course, the rough runs with the smooth and they're amongst a line-up which includes Atomic Kitten, East 17, Big Brovaz, Jenny Berggren from Ace of Base and Let Loose. In other words, they'll probably have time to do Never Never, Lady Marmalade, I Know Where It's At and probably Pure Shores and I'm not sure that's worth £44+booking fees (how much?) and having to sit through all the other acts.

Essentially, the problem here is there's a horse-shoe nebula sized cosmic incident between the audience for the Saints and the rest of the acts.  Atomic Kitten's not even the Jenny Frost line-up.  As the chart website notes of Berggren, "nope, she’s not the moody-looking blonde lead singer, that’s her older sister Linn".  Let Loose.  Mutya Keisha Siobhan would have been ideal.  Perhaps a solo turn from Sporty Spice.  Not this lot.  Sigh.  Next time around then?

Existentially Speaking.

Life We are all this vending machine.

The Phantom Making Of.

Film Originally produced for the dvd release, this making The Phantom Menace is about ten times more entertaining than the film that resulted from all this. Ewan picks out his lightsaber. Ahmed Best and Natalie Portman shooting the breeze in the desert. Steven Spielberg meeting a battle droid. Rick McCallum saying "Greaaatttt."  No one telling George Lucas to just stop and think about what he's doing.