Thom’s End Of Year Round Up 2011

December 29, 2011

Thursday 29th December 2011

I’m not sure whether I like doing album of the year lists or not. Actually that’s not true I love making lists of any type and this is no exception. I guess the point is I’m not sure if I like making them public like this, as I worry that I sound like a nob. I’m still not sure how confident I feel about writing about music. I feel far more on comfortable ground writing about films.

Nevertheless, here is my top 10 albums of the year. I don’t know quite if it was a vintage year for music – I found loads of records I liked, but perhaps far fewer that I loved. Here goes anyway…

10. Tennis – Cape Dory

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An impossibly waspy husband and wife duo make a 1950’s tinged dream pop concept album a sailing trip. Hmmmm. Wasn’t an instant pick up this album, but watching them live in May on a sunny Barcelona afternoon I caught the bug a bit and this album wore down any resistance and didn’t really leave my ears for much of the early summer. Ultimately massively infectious – puts me to mind of zooming through town on a Boris bike in the early evening summer sun.

9. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Probably my most anticipated recorded of last year, and ultimately it didn’t really disappoint. For a while it seemed like a shoe in for my top spot for the year but after an initial constant burst it fell out of favour a bit. It is nonetheless bloody brilliant. Opening opus ‘Glass Jar’ is probably my overall track of the year, and while the rest of the record typically flits all over the place their are plenty of other immense moments. I can remember hearing ‘Mindkilla’ on the tube into work one morning and replaying about 6 times on the spin it was that good.

8. Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx – We’re New Here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Call me a philistine all you like, but I actually find Jamie xx’s production improves upon the original record. Introverted whilst soaringly optimistic. 2011 was a year in which I began to start taking running seriously again, and this record became a constant companion when I was out on long runs through he city. An album made more poignant by the loss this year of the great man himself. RIP.

7. Bon Iver – Bon Iver

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A weird one this. I don’t even think it is that an accomplished record but it still has topped my Last.fm in terms of overall plays across the year (admittedly a big chunk of those being Mrs Thom listening on my account). Kudos to Justin Vernon though for not just doing a retread of his previous mahoosive record, and their are some great moments on here. The opening three tracks work as a unit fabulously as do the last three actually. It just seems to drift in the middle a bit. This record is me living in Muswell Hill over the summer and walking home from work through Highgate Wood.

6. Julianna Barwick – The Magic Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I stumbled onto a YouTube link of the title track to this record in the early part of the year and it absolutely floored me, completely knocked me for six. An ethereal record created primarily around loops of her heavenly voice. Someone overheard me listening to this and described it as sounding like ‘sad whale sex’, however for me it’s a warm, enveloping, reassuring record that lightens the darkest of moods.

5. Real Estate – Days

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m a bit late to the party with these chaps but they’ve been my personal musical discovery of the year. In one sense they aren’t really reinventing the wheel – they instantly draw associations for me with the likes if Felt, The Durutti Column and The Feelies. The music is mournful, simple, lackadaisical even – yet effortlessly beautiful. I could easily listen to any of their records five or six times on the spin without getting bothered in the slightest. Music that makes me think of overcast summers days from a bygone age.

4. Fucked Up – David Comes To Life

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A bit of an odd one out in this list, sure. But what can I say, I cannot say no to melodically euphoric punk rock. Actually I can say no, as I never previously dug this band at all. This changed all that though. Another album that soundtracked lots of runs through the city, and fuelled lots of playing in a band fantasies (I know I’m too old for those but what can you do…) If this record were a tad shorter it would have been even better, as it is it drags slightly. But those screaming out loud singalong, fist in the air moments make it all worthwhile.

3. The Antlers – Burst Apart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t love every moment of this record, but the moments I do love I love so much that it would seem silly not to look back across this year musically and not find this record near the top of the pile. Another record that mingles stark sadness with a shy optimism. The music sounds so mournful at times but it just fills me with quiet content and hope. A record that lives in the space between summer and autumn.

2. Cold Cave – Cherish The Light Years

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I didn’t expect this to be so high, in fact when I first drew up a 20 odd records long shortlist this wasn’t even on there. But if I had to pick a record from the year that is a joy from start to finish with no filler, no negative connotations then it’s this. Again, it’s nothing massively new and groundbreaking – a record that wears its synthpop influences firmly on its sleeve. It doesn’t have any massive personal resonance with me like other records – its just great fun – but for that reason it possibly just loses the top spot.

1. Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – Everything’s Getting Older

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A very special, very personally resonant record. From the age of 15, Aidan Moffat has been a reasonably perennial musical companion. His numerous odes to drinking, drugging and shagging (amongst other things) were like something oddly to strive for, skewed frameworks for my own adolescent and young adult experience. This record along with erstwhile Glaswegian Bill Wells, finds Moffat contemplating not growing up as such, but growing older. In a year where I’ve forced myself to grow up in some ways, this has been a poignantly beautiful companion. If you only listen to one song out of this whole list stick ‘The Copper Top’ from this album on.

 

Thom’s End Of The Year Round Up

December 24, 2010

24th December 2010

A funny thing happened to me this year. I rediscovered a passion for discovering new music. Thats not to say that I’ve spent recent years before now solely listening to The Eagles or something and not hearing any new sounds at all. The odd thing did filter through, but a lot of new music has passed me by whilst I’ve been stuck listening to Archers Of Loaf, Superchunk, Pavement and other such old favourites. I guess I’d fallen into the ‘things just aint as good as they used to be be’ bracket, and plus arguably I was far more preoccupied with cinema (hence this appalling excuse for a blog).

I spent my formative years from the ages of about 13 upwards being a new music obsessive. Starting off with metal (Slayer – still a favourite to this day, Pantera et al), I then made a completely about turn during the era of britpop, idolising the likes of Blur and Marion. But still found time to foster a love of the burgeoning skate-punk scene (NOFX, Bouncing Souls etc etc). It was at the age of 15/16 though when I discovered the likes of Arab Strap, Pavement, Jonathan Fire*Eater, Urusei Yatsura and of course Mogwai that something really clicked and I suddenly found myself spending most of my weekends trawling through the 7 inch racks on the counter of Rough Trade (Neals Yard) or Selectadisc (RIP) and trying to find the latest and of course most obscure stuff I could possibly get my hands on. More often than not, particualrly at the easy on the wallet price of 7 inches I’d buy something just because it was there, and if I really liked it I’d buy it on every format. Sounds absurd now, but it had its benefits and took me in all sorts of taste directions as I hit my 20s running. I remember arriving at university with the rather bizarre twin totems of my record collection being Chicago post-rock and avant-jazz and UK hard house and trance. Weird.

Anyway I could rabbit on how my musical tastes matured and developed over the years but that would all be a bit self-indulgent and I’ll save that for the inevitable autobiography. Safe to say at some point over the last two or three years I stopped being such a new music hound – I stopped buying records (or downloading them as is the way these days), stopped going to gigs for the most part, and even when DJing would rely mostly on the tried and tested. As I say, odds and sods would still filter through via friends and occasionally when something caught my ear on last.fm, but for the most part I was happy with the pile I’d accumulated up to that point.

Something happened this year though – whether it was just me paying more attention for whatever reason or just a wealth of great stuff out there, but for the first tie in afew years it hasn’t been a real struggle to complete my end of year list – the only struggle is trying to keep it down to ten. Here we go in ascending order:

 

1o. School Of Seven Bells – Disconnect From Desire


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a big fan of SOSB’s previous incarnation as On! Air! Library! so have followed their career with interest. The thing with this record is… its not exactly anything massively groundbreaking. SOSB have obviously been listening to loads of Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and the like. But really in the realms of lisetenable music there is so little new under the sun these days, that sometimes you just have to accept something on face value. That may sound like a slightly depressing attitude, but really when there is something truly original it stands out for what it is and its all the more special for it. You can also look at records this year from the likes of Wild Nothings and Twin Shadow that unashamedly ape previous styles, but for me weren’t really able to stand apart from their reference points. Disconnect From Desire just about manages to put its own spin on its influences and highly original or not there are some fantastic songs on this record.

Stand out tracks: Windstorm (one of my songs of the year), I L U, Bye Bye Bye. Listen for yourself:

 

9. S. Carey – All We Grow


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first heard this when Lauren Laverne played the track the title track of this record on her radio show. I was completely floored, and pre-ordered the album straight away. Sean Carey is of course Bon Iver’s percussionist but he completely steps out from that shadow with this record and creates something utterly beautiful in its own right. Its at points introspective and steeped in nostalgic longing, but what it was for me as the perfect end of summer/start of autumn record. Released with impeccable timing in the last week of August this was without a doubt my September record (September normally being my favourite month of the year so thats a very good thing!).

Stand out tracks: the aforementioned All We Grow, and In The Dirt (perfect autumn song). Listen for yourself:

 

8. Big Boi – Sir Lucious Left Foot… The Son Of Chico Dusty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As good as music seemingly was this year, I didn’t find a wealth of hiphop that I loved. Big Boi’s latest stands out by a country mile though. Eclectic, perfectly paced, some great guests and at all points just brilliant. A personal highlight of this year also happened to involve sharing a light with Boi and his entourage and was touched close to tears at the sight of Boi getting comfy in his seat with a a cuddly crocodile travel pillow. Bless.

Stand out tracks: too many to mention but General Patton, Tangerine and the unavoidable Shutterbug. Listen for yourself:

 

7. Hot Chip – One Life Stand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of my favourite bands of recent years, and if this record is anything to go by they just keep getting better and better. Its been a long long time in British music where an artist that garners mainstream attention (as Hot Chip do not that they’re a mainstream outfit per say) has been this good, and its utterly refreshing. My one faint criticism of this record is that it peters out ever so slightly towards its close IMHO, but before that they’re are some massive moments, and as Hot Chip always manage to do the songs are much more than just hands in the air classics. ‘Brothers’ feels like a hymn to fraternal friendship and an instant mixtape opener for a musical gift between male friends. ‘Alley Cats’ on the other hand is one of the most beautiful songs they’ve written to date. The bit where it drops in ‘I Feel Better’ and the steel drums (STEEL DRUMS!) come in is just huge. SO many moments, again do yoursefl a favour and listen for yourself:

 

6. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I first became aware of Zola Jesus via her championing by the likes of Xiu Xiu, and then suddenly she’s being played on Radio 1. A weird year indeed when an outsider incarnation of goth gets mainstream airplay but why not eh. This album (strictly speaking an expanded version of a former EP) provided a stunning soundtrack to the darkening early winter nights. Introspective but strangely anthemic, its just grown and grown on me and I still can’t stop listening to it six months on.

Stand out tracks: Trust Me, I Can’t Stand, Run Me Out, Sea Talk. Hear for yourself:

 

5. Yeasayer – ODD BLOOD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Down to the nitty gritty now. I love that popular indie music is now this oddball and eccentric. ODD BLOOD has found plaudits across the spectrum this year. It was a slow burner for me, and one of those instances when it takes a live performance for you to tape into its brilliance. They completely blew me off my feet at Primavera this year and from then on I was completely hooked on this record and literally listened to it every day for about two months on end. I tend to do that when I fall for a record. Admittedly I got a little bored of it by the end of that period, but returning to it now I’m easily reminded why I feel for it so hard. The effortless flow veering across wildly eclectic styles through ‘Ambling Alp’, ‘Madder Red’, ‘I Remember’ and the floor filler ‘O.N.E’ still floors me with its brilliance, even after so many listens. If you haven’t already stick it on:

 

4. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I only heard this for the first time about two months ago, and arguably if I’d heard it earlier in the year it would take the top spot. Its simply an unbelievably wonderful record. I never really got to the point in my own life where I was in a band making music or anything like that, but if I did this is exactly the sort of music I’d want to be making. It’s a record that just seems to take all the cultural reference points I love (musical and otherwise) and lay them out in the most perfect way. Its the sort of record that just makes you want to sit down and absorb every possible note and intonation. Its easy to talk about what it reminds me of – at certain points I’m hearing Popol Vuh, NEU! and other heavily rhythmic krautrock moments; other times it sounds like the eeriest John Carpenter and Alan Howarth soundtrack moments; and then I’m thrown into 80s/90s video game soundtracks – for some reason I’m continually reminded of Turrican when I listen to this record. Inevitably though this Emeralds record is its own monster, and I simply can’t wait to see what they do next.

Stand out tracks: Candy Shoppe, Genetic, Goes By but seriously this needs to be listened to in its entirety. Again and again and again. (And again).

 

3. Caribou – Swim


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to say about this? Dan Snaith has been doing amazing stuff seemingly for years now from the Manitoba days onwards. He seems to reinvent his styles constantly, but never in a jarring manner. The introverted disco stylings of this record may seem a world away from the 60’s psychedelic pop feel of his last record Andorra, but somehow its still instantly recognisable Caribou.  And when it comes down to it, this record is nothing short of seminal. Clearly Dan Snaith is a man who is constantly honing his art, and this record seems like the pinnacle of those efforts because its so tight and so polished (although never in an over produced manner). Yet I couldn’t call it a pinnacle because it seems like he still has so much more to give. A special mention should also go to the beast that is Caribou live. One of the tightest band performances I’ve ever witnessed. Just brilliant in every single way.

Stand out tracks: Sun (sound of the summer), Kaili, Leave House, Bowls…. oh fuck it, every single song on here is a stand out track you damn know it:

 

2. Delorean – Subiza

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of the records I’ve listed so far, most have featured somewhere in the myriad of end of year lists across the presses. I’ve not seen this record in any of them though oddly. Its maybe not everyone’s cup of tea – blissed out balearic beats that really only the Spaniards can do properly. Indeed, when I first heard this record I remember describing it on Twitter as how Animal Collective would sound if they were produced by David Morales – and that probably sounds like a nightmare to most people. For me though its a waking dream, and these lists should be an utterly personal thing and not just the rehashing of other lists, so fuck it if noone else liked this record – I absolutely love it. I’ve never really had a proper Euro club summer beach holiday (apart from a forgettable trip to Aiya Napa at 18 – the less said the better), but this record would be the soundtrack if  I did. I almost want to call it a modern day Screamdelica, but again that’s probably wide of the mark. What it really is, is very Spanish, and indeed encouragingly Delorean seem to be leading a resurgence in Spanish (and specifically Catalan) sounds. The likes of John Talabot and Triangulo De Amor Bizarro also sounding great at the moment.

Stand out tracks: Real Love, Simple Graces, Grow, Endless Sunset, Come Wander, all of it!

 

1. Fang Island – Fang Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just unbe-fucking-lievable. Again, I’ve not seen this in many end of year lists. I can’t for the life of me understand why though because it is that good. It manages to sound like everything I love and something utterly unheard of before all that the same time. In a similar manner to the Emeralds record it seems to just takes all my favourite styles and plays around with them to come out with something thats completely original and completely its own thing. There is a bit of eveything here, at one point even veering  towards NOFX-esque skate punk (Welcome Wagon), but on the whole it boils down to huge Iron Maiden-esque riffs, driving towards euphoric chant along choruses. There’s not been a band since the likes of Archers Of Loaf or The Fucking Champs that makes me want to punch the air as much as I do when listening to Fang Island. It is simply the most euphoric metal music you can imagine, and its great fun, but never trite.

Again this is a record that speaks to me on a very personal level, but in quite a straight forward manner – I love metal, I love euphoric chanting: therefore I love this record. Album of the year.

Stand out tracks: Sidewinder (wow. just wow. sounds like the theme tune to the best saturday morning cartoon ever), Davey Crockett, Welcome Wagon… just everything.

 

What Just missed out:

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky

Superchunk – Majesty Shredding

Robyn – Body Talk

Pantha Du Prince – Black Noise

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

Magnetic Man – Magnetic Man

Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

 

Songs of the year (in no order)

Fang Island – Sidewinder

Ariel Pink’s Hunted Graffiti – Round And Round

LCD Soundsystem – Home

Titus Andronicus – A More Perfect Union

Caribou – Sun

Broken Social Scene – All To All

Magnetic Man – I Need Air

 

Shows of the year:

Caribou in Helsinki

Magnetic Man in Helsinki

Liquid Liquid @ Primavera

Pavement @ Primavera

Superchunk @ Primavera

Major Lazer everywhere

 

Oh and seeming as this is a film blog… my favourite film of the year bar none:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call – New Orleans

Okay you cunts let’s see what you can do now!

February 23, 2010

Tuesday 23rd February 2010

Kick-Ass (2010)

Before you ask, yes – the rather crude line you read above was exclaimed by the cute as a button 11 year old Mindy (AKA Hit Girl) you see above you. Shortly before she brutally massacres a room full of gangsters. I’m talking decapitations, limbs flying all over the shot.

It was, to be quite frank, fucking brilliant.

Yes it’s questionable that we should be take such enjoyment from the sight of such a young girl exclaiming the worst of all profanities and performing such acts of violence (and lets be honest, what comes out of her mouth is literally nothing compared to what she does with her feet and fists). And sure its kind of sad when you think that it wasn’t that long ago that you’d never in a million years hear ‘the c-word’ in a picture – I even blush at writing it here – but now it comes out of the mouth of a sweet 11 year old girl (actually played by 13 year old Chloë Moretz – not that it makes a difference). But hell this is a comic book movie, its OTT, it pushes the boundaries of believability, and actually – and I wasn’t even going to go here – but a reasonable number of 11 year old girls these days probably do say such things and worse. Hopefully, they don’t chop people up with ninja swords and shoot the crap out of people but like I say, we’re pushing the boundaries of believability here.

Lets be honest Hit Girl completely stole the show, and in my eyes is one of the most brilliantly enjoyable characters ever commited to celluloid. I’m almost 30 and I feel like I want to plaster my walls with Hit Girl posters. One way or another everyone is going to be talking about her. The Daily Mail will no doubt have a few things to say about her and I seriously worry about the movie’s potential in the more conservatively minded US of A because of her role, but maybe the world will surprise us all. One things for sure – everyone in the packed out Odeon Leicester Square screening I was in were going nuts for Hit Girl. She literally got about three ovations as the film progressed and many more belly laughs. Not because its cute to see a young girl swear and hurt people, but because she was a perfectly crafted, cool as a cucumber character. She was brilliantly written and, for such a young actress with such a demanding role, absolutley brilliantly performed. This was a truly career defining role and Moretz barely seems to break sweat, totally knocking it out of the park. I truly hope her career goes from strength to strength and doesn’t go tits up like so many child actors. Decent turns already in 500 Days Of Summer and Not Forgotten suggest that hopefully she’s got what it takes.

I don’t want to spend the whole time rabbiting on about Hit Girl and Chloë Moretz though. Aaron Johnson (Dave Lizewski / Kick Ass), Nicholas Cage (Damon Macready / Big Daddy), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Chris D’Amico / Red Mist), Clarke Duke (Marty) all performed their roles near-perfectly. Nick Cage’s apparently ad-libbed Adam West take on Big Daddy was hilarious, and this was a role that almost made me forget Ghost Rider and that sickmaking moment when he exclaimed ‘Let’s Ride’ in the latter film.

On the subject of comic books, the fact that I haven’t even mentioned the original Mark Millar comic yet, surely says something of what high regard I hold this film in. Yes comic book adapatations are rarely great, but this one arguably even surpasses the comic. (Am I being to effusive enough with my praise here?) I think the fact that the film gestated roughly at the same time as the comic, and that the script for the film was written before the comic had even completed its initial run certainly helped. The film takes all the best bits of the comic – the nice post-modern touches and the harshly brilliant violence – and fleshes them out and basically runs wild them. So bowled over was I with the strength of the adaptation that I almost approached screenwriter Jane Goldman, who was sat behind me with husband Jonathan Ross and family, and gushed forth with praise. I managed to maintain my composure though.

Bottom line is I left the film completely overcome with childish glee. There are so many moments when you just want to pump your fists in the air and scream YES YES YES over and over. I spoke a lot recently of experiencing a similar sort of childish glee after seeing Avatar on 3D Imax – that kind of feeling that you just don’t get that often at the cinema as an adult. Imax Avatar was cinema as spectacle and I loved the cinematic experience of it all, but as so many people have commented the plotline of Avatar was nothing short of warmed up Disney. Kick-Ass on the other hand was the complete package – a lesson, if you will, in how all blockbusters really should be made. It had everything – the acting, the characters, the writing, the laughs, the action scenes (Jeeesus – the action scenes! We’re talking John Woo-esque mind blowing stuff here). Bare in mind also this was a pretty much independently funded film done outside the studio system – (lets be honest – no studio would have allowed Matthew Vaughn such freedom). Hopefully if this film is the success it truly deserves to be, it will give studios and producers a much needed kick up the ass when it comes to making event pictures. Making a blockbuster doesn’t necessarily have to mean leaving originality and any sense of tangible storyline at the door. Shock bloody horror!

It really is hard for me to be so effusive with my praise. Those who know me, will know I’m a tough marker and a tough man to please when it come to cinema. But as joyous, thrill-riding, shit-kicking, smiling from ear to ear cinema goes Kick-Ass well… kicks ass. Kicks every kind of ass. Everywhere. Ever.

And if you need any more convincing – about a third of the way through the movie, in one of the comic book store scenes you can see in the backround a lanky dude wearing a backback lumbering along the pavement outside the window of the store. And that my friends, is your humble writer, and how proud I am to be part of such a fantastic film (albeit quite possibly the smallest part ever). This time next year…

Keep living no matter how tough it is.

February 12, 2010

11th February 2010

Ddongpari (aka Breathless) (2009) and Invictus (2009)

*CONTAINS SPOILERS*

There really are not many better experiences in life as I see it as those moments when you’re watching a movie (or listening to a record, reading a book – whatever for that matter) and suddenly it just washes over you that you’re experiencing a work of brathtaking genius. It happens rarely, especially – in my opinion – in contemporary cinema. But for me I think it may have happened this evening with Ddongpari. Its a brutally harrowing piece of work in which the audience is essentially asked to ally their sympathies with a man – Sang-Hoon –  who routinely labels everyone c u n ts and beats on all and sundry including young women. I loved that we were dumped with this guy as the anti-hero, because you’d never in a milllion years see the same thing in Hollywood. Sang-Hoon sure is a nasty piece of work, but sure enough come the end of the film I found myself heartbroken at his demise. Not least because of the film’s fundamental motif that life and all its inherent pain and nastiness is ultimately cyclical. This is tempered somewhat by the hope of redemption that we are offered at the end and the coming together of one family, and hopefully the end of a grim cycle. It is of course with sadness that we realise that it is only Sang-Hoon’s death that allows this cycle to be broken. But the manner of Sang-Hoon’s death only passes the cycle from one family to another. Thus the repetition spreads like a societal disease.

The pre-destined doomed nature of the film really gave it air of a Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. And it made me wonder why it is that most Korean films I have seen seem to be so doom-laden.  I don’t claim to know much about South Korean society, nor have I really seen enough Korean cinema to make such sweeping generalistaions, but there just seems to be a certain bleakness that permeates the cinema. Saying that, the last film I enjoyed as much as Ddongpari was Angela Arnold’s Fish Tank which along with her previous effort Red Road are not short of bleakness themselves and they we’re shot right on my doorstep here in the UK. Maybe it’s just me that craves such harrowing cinema!

I followed this by catching Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. Only really because I want as ever to do the full sweep of the Oscar noms, and also because I have my monthly pass to the Genesis. In other words I wasn’t otherwise especially drawn to the film. Obviously the end of apartheid in South Africa was a wonderful thing and the symbolic resonance for a divided nation that the  Springbok Rugby World Cup win represented was all well and good. But as for the tone of this film I found the societal comments  really rather too sickly to handle. And like with most sports movies you got the goosebumps at certain points but I found the rugby bits of the film, some of which were very long, about as stimulating as I find rugby in general. i.e. not in the slightest. Its not a real game and I have no time for it whatsoever. They don’t even use a proper shaped ball.

Oh and considering Morgan Freeman seems to have coveted the role of Nelson Mandela half his life I felt he actually completely dialled in that performance. Oscar winning it was not.


Prison – it is fascinating

February 5, 2010

Thursday 4th February 2010

Une Prophète (2009)

Trying to get back into the habit of writing a blog. Especially now everyone seems to be doing so. Went to see Une Prophète tonight at the Gen. It wasn’t prefect but it was very good. Slightly over complicated and ever so slightly overlong but pretty pretty good. Tahar Rahim is brilliant as Malik – a young illiterate criminal who manages to climb his way almost to the top of the pecking order…. blah blah I can’t be bothered to explain the plot of the film – I’m tired and really you should just go and see the film yourself. Rather than listen to my reasons why you should – but then what is the point in me writing this blog at all. I don’t know.

Above all the film just indulged my latent fascination for prison and my wish that maybe in another life I might be a misunderstood bad guy. I know exactly what I’d do to get by if I ever found myself in prison. On the first day in the yard I take out the biggest and baddest sucker in the yard. Everyone else will either think I’m completely badass or completely mental – either way they’d probably steer out of my way. I wonder if you could do a prison fantasy camp? I’d be all over that. Like if you could spend say two weeks in prison, experiencing all the cool stuff like gang fights, the hole, shivvings and what not, but none of the rapey stuff.

I’m obviously just far to easily influenced by anything and everything that I consume. When I watch detective movies I want to be a detective – but really nothing is cooler than being a proper criminal. And I’ve just watched a cool criminal at work and I want to be just like him. Not a shoplifting crack addict mugging old ladies, but a proper high class career criminal taking down scores…

Jeez I’m starting to sound like Danny Dyer. This is probably the least intelligent blog entry I’ve ever made. I’ll instead leave it to the experts, from the greatest crime movie ever made:

Vincent Hanna: So you never wanted a regular type life?
Neil McCauley: What the fuck is that? Barbeques and ballgames?

Lifes a bitch…

October 5, 2009

Monday 5th October 2009

Fish Tank (2009)

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So its been a year pretty much to the day since I started this ‘blog’ and perhaps more importantly over half a year since I last made an entry. Still seems fitting that the first film I’ve been really inspired to write reams and reams of scholistic drivel about falls on the anniversay of the gestation of this humble internet film log. I have in fact had remarkably good fortune with trips to the cinema of late, following from a calender year of mostly subpar nonsense. To be fair I’ve always liked this time of the year at the cinema, we’ve gotten over the glitz and glamour and common dissapointment of the summer blockbuster season, and we’ve got a short respite before the Christmas schmaltz and the onslaught of the Oscar hopes and instead we’re allowed a couple of months of understated, cool and off centre flicks that elsewhere in the year would get forgotten.

Anyway, my own good run at the flicks started with Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker (good but not quite ‘this generation’s Apocalypse Now‘ as many hoped for), followed by Adventureland a week later which had a certain undertstated brilliance to it and smacked of classic coming of age flicks of the ilk of The Last Picture Show, American Grafitti and Dazed And Confused. Then last week I watched Away We Go which was sweet and fluffy and made me smile from ear to ear.

Finally, we come to my reason for remembarking on this blog – my trip this evening to see Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank. Arnold’s previous effort Red Road was grim and bleak as hell but was also brilliantly made, and was quite thrankly one of the best British films in years. I knew fairly little about Fish Tank other than the fact that it was directed by Arnold, it was set in Essex (represent!) and some lore about the ‘star’ Katie Jarvis getting discovered arguing with her boyfriend on a train platform.

Fish Tank had me hooked fairly from the get go with its veritee shooting style and its caustic but improvisional-esque (is that a word?) dialogue. Along with Shane Meadows, Andrea Arnold seems to be the only writer/director who can portray British coloquial dialogue without it coming off as contrived or put on in any way. The most wonderful thing about Fish Tank is of course Jarvis, who is note perfect as Mia, but it is Arnold’s direction of her character that really sets this film apart country miles about from its contemporaries. Fish Tank is wonderfulfully current and its depiction of the Essex milieu – caught between the urban jungle and and the suburbia now populated by the post-war diaspora from the East End – which I know so well from my youth, was spot on. (A further inter-urban divide is highlighted between Mia’s high rise estates and the modern Barrat style homes where she tracks Connor to.) Mia’s position within this environment, lost among the high rise estates that contain her, and at odds with almost everyone she comes in contact with, speaks of an alienation that is reminiscent of Antonioni’s best poetry on urban estrangement. And I mean that, I truely believe Fish Tank can sit side by side with the likes of L’eclisse and Red Desert in those stakes.

There is so much more to the film that I could prattle on about. The subplot involving the horse on the traveller’s compound added an analogous element to Mia’s tale (‘She’s 16 – she lived a long life’). And of course there was a recurring theme of Mia wanting to dance, and actually on one level you could totally look at Fish Tank as another ‘dance flick’ along the lines of Step Up, Save The Last Dance and erm B-Girl(!), albeit a cerebral arthouse dance flick that was staggeringly brilliant.

Film of the year.




Thom’s Oscar round up…

February 12, 2009

Wednesday 11th February 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (2008), The Reader (2008), Frost/Nixon (2008), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), Milk (2008).

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So I’ve now managed to work my way through each of the nominees for this years best picture Academy Award, as well as a bunch of the ‘also rans’. I found myself unusually drawn into the whole Oscar spectacle this year, pretty much for the first time. Maybe because I’m more exposed to all the comings and goings due to my profession, but certainly in the past I’ve always looked down upon the whole affair with some derision. Anyway this year I’ve followed it from the start much int he same way that I really got drawn into the presidential race right from the get-go. Maybe I’m finally becoming a yankophile?

So to the pictures themselves. Slumdog Millionaire – which I wrote about previously on here – was the first one of the five I caught, before in fact the nominees were announced. I was particuarly gushing about it at the time about a month ago, and I stand by that. Its a well made, attractive film with an uplifting, yet grounded theme. Let down only perhaps by some of the acting. This stands a good chance nonetheless, if for no other reason than the feel-good factor pushing it through in these “dark and uncertain times.” It would be good to see a British film shot in India win at the Oscars, but I wonder whether Hollywood will just stick to its own?

Second came The Reader. This to me was an ok film but nothing more. There was nothing about it that blew me away. Whats more I didn’t really understand what the moral of the tale was. Ron Rosenbaum’s piece in Slate makes interesting reading (http://www.slate.com/id/2210804/). Mr Rosenbaum points to the New York Times’ lumping of the film in with tales of personal triumph. Indeed, why should we care that an extermination camp card has learnt to read whilst in prison? Theres more to it than that, I guess the suggestion is that Nazism was not a black and white issue. Arguably Mr Rosenbaum goes too far in his piece to suggest that this was in fact the case, I for one can certainly imagine grey areas, but the fact remains as far as this particular movie is concerned I was left feeling unsure eactly what I was supposed to take away from it. Well directed I suppose by Stephen Daldry but not well enough for me to get overly excited about his long awaited adaptation of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.

So onwards to Frost/Nixon. This I found to be an interesting film but not much more. Frank Langella was brilliant as Nixon, and at times I really thought I was watching Tricky Dicky himself, but as for Michael Sheen I really just can’t get past Tony Blair. Its sad I know, but thats type casting for you. I actually saw this more as a comedy, but I’m unsure whether it was meant to be read that way. Whatever the case, it hasn’t really stuck in my mind, so in short – is Nixon the One? I doubt it.

I caught David Fincher’s Oscar effort The Curious Case of Benjamin Button last night. Clocking in close to three hours, oddly this seems to be the front runner for many. I for one don’t see what all the fuss is about. It seems like I’ve said this about all the films I’ve talked about here, but this was ok/average but nothing more. Really for me it was just a stylised version of Forest Gump. Sure, technically it may be breaking new ground and it had some nice shots, but much of the atmosphere and shooting style of the film seemed completely contrived. And for all the technical brilliance fo the film, there was not mcuh of a storyline to hook it upon. Which is sad when you consider that the source material comes from none other than the great F Scott Fiztzgerald. One of my favourite ever authors, and someone who has an untouchable talent of turning a tale, particularly in his short stories of which Benjamin Button was one. This was completely lost on this film which bares little in common with the short story bar its title. To be fair my ambivalence towards this film doesn’t surprise me. I’ve never gone nuts over Fincher’s previous work, and share the same ambivalence towards SevenFight Club et al (shock horror!).

To complete my Oscar set, tonight I caught Gus Van Sant’s Milk. Like my attitude towards David Fincher, none of Gus Van Sant’s previous works have done much for me. I found that dreamy detcahment that he employs in Elephant and the like, to be quite cold and emotionless. Maybe thats the point, but I needed more than that. But shit, Milk actually delivers the goods. Its almost the polar opposite of Elephant, the camera gets right in there and it becomes an amazing character study bursting with emotion. Whats more in a year when everyone is going on about the all male cast (see  Valkyrie, Frost/Nixon, W) noone seems to have mentioned the amazing male cast in this film, but jesus it is special. Until now I’ve sworn blind that Mickey Rourke has to be the shoe in for best actor for his role in The Wrestler (a frankly seminal film which in my opinion totally should have been up for Best Picture, but hey), but after seeing Sean Penn as the epynonomous Harvey Milk I’m not so sure any more. Moreover, Penn is supported by unbelievable supporting performances particularly from Emile Hersch  but also of course James Franco (he’s come a long way from Daniel Desario!), Josh Brolin (he’s come a long way from Brand Walsh!) and  Joseph Cross. Just everything about this film seemed to work, it was just really well stiched together, I don’t know what else to say beyond that.

So to sum up, if I had the vote for the Academy Awards, firstly the nominees would include The Wrestler and  In Bruges and a whole host of other films that trumped those that did make the final cut. But stuck with those five, its Milk hands down for me. Followed by Slumdog Millionaire with the rest just falling by the wayside. In reality come February 22nd I can see the gong going to either Slumdog or Benjamin Button. Watch this space…

Leave it all behind

February 4, 2009

Wednesday 04th February 2009

All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane (2007)

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I went to see this Australian film at the Barbican, because I guess I associate the time I myself spent living and travelling in Australia almost a decade ago now, as a real time of transition and pleasant uncertainty in my life. I’d just left school, and didn’t really have much of a clue about anything. Not of course that I have much of a clue about anything here and now, and I guess my life hasn’t completely petered into predicatble stillwater, but I can’t deny that I occasionaly miss that transient mystery of not really knowing what each day, week or month might bring.

Unfortunately there was nothing mysterious or really particularly interesting about this film – a kind of poor man’s Reality Bites with Australian accents – but it did allow me the chance to cast my mind back and indulge in some carefree memories.
And needless to say it presented an infintely more positive outlook on life than my last cinema outing a couple of days ago to see Sam Mendes’ unrelentingly bleak Revolutionary Road. That offered a life of compromise, drudgery and long forgotten dreams. All My Friends Are Leaving Brisbane at least reminds us that we should go out and seek our excitement int he world wherever it may be.

Apparently Australians are silly enough to believe that that excitement lies here in London, or more specifically Earls Court. But at least they’re out there trying. Thats the main thing…

Purgatory’s kind of like the in-betweeny one. You weren’t really shit, but you weren’t all that great either. Like Tottenham.

January 30, 2009

Friday 30th January 2009
In Bruges (2008)

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Commuting on the London Underground as I do, I often find myself picking up on particular things I notice, be they the same assortment of strangers that I always seem to share my route to work with or less inanimate objects like adverts and one sheets that catch my eye. Its normally some indefinable quality that draws me to these things, but whatever it is, there always seems to be something at any particular period. One of these was the one sheet for the film In Bruges. I always found my eye drawn to it, and I cant really explain why, but whatever it was it didn’t at all inspire me to want to go see the film. Maybe because it starred Colin Farrell, who to be fair I’m fairly ambivelent about, but wouldn’t drive me to see any film he stars in. Or maybe because the one sheet didn’t really say much at all. Whatever, I didn’t end up seeing it until this cold Friday evening cosied up on the couch on my own after a looooooong week.

To be honest, as you can probably tell by the rambling largely unintelligible tone of the previous paragraph, I’m not feeling particularly verbose this evening, and so I’d feel a mite guilty about writing now about this film. Guilty, because, well in short, its absolutely fucking brilliant. See told you I wasn’t feeling verbose.

Perfect script, brilliantly acted (especially by Colin Farrell…), blackly comic, just a wonderful wonderful film. And whats more its a first feature from director Martin McDonagh. There has always been something that held me back from really loving Quentin Tarantino’s films. In Bruges, I felt had a certain Tarantino-esque quality to it, but all the elements came together to draw me in and hold my awe and affection in a way that has always been lacking for me with Tarantino.

Anyway, I’ve now seen the majority of the films up for best picture at the 2009 Oscars and most of those that narrowly missed out, and for some reason In Bruges has never, as far as I’m aware, been mentioned as a possibility – even as an outsider.

For the life of me I don’t know why, because it is easily the best film of the last year.

New crowned hope

January 14, 2009

Tuesday 13th January 2009

Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

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My evening started with the sight of a dead body getting wheeled away. This isn’t a clever Sartre-esque way of commencing a blog entry. This really did happen. I arrived back in the environs of my flat after work tonight to find the whole area cordened off by the police and the aforementioned body slowly getting carted off. I didn’t see the thing, thank christ. It was covered in a red blanket that looked really itchy. Not that the person under it probably cared. Sorry if that sounds insensitive, but those were my thoughts. I stood and watched for about twenty minutes unable to take my eyes away. Finally I dragged myself indoors and sat and listened to Pavement for some reason.

So to the film, the reason why I’m supposed to be writing this and you’re supposed to be reading this. If indeed you are reading this of course. You could be forgiven for not, considering this is my first entry, in a supposedly dayly blog, in about 2 and a hlaf months. Oops. Between my last entry Quantum of Solace and now, I’ve watched a tonne of films as is my want. Some good some bad, but in typical Thom style, once I got out of the rhythm of doing something I found it very hard to get back. But for some reason tonight, whilst cleaning my teeth having just got back from watching Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire at the Genesis, I suddenly felt inspired to WRITE.

Did I love the film that much?! Well actually I did really rather enjoy it. The film is currently being gushed over by anyone and everyone, and more often than not I steer well clear of such things, but I was intregued to see if it stood up to the praise. It was unadbashedly feel good, which some may label a cynical ploy to win the public’s heart, considering the shitty situation the world exists in at present, but why not?

In a way the film is just tugging at the same heartstrings and emotions that saw us all willing Renton to get away with shafting his friends from a pile of money, almost 15 years ago in Trainspotting – which incidentally is in my opinion the only other good film Danny Boyle has ever made. Slumdog is of course an infinately more mature effort. And what many critics have forgotten to mention is that it is brilliantly shot. Antony dod Mantel was the DOP, who I remembered as directing photography on a lot of the old Dogme 95 films. You couldn’t really get much further than Dogme95 than Slumdog Millionaire, but i digress.

Slumdog actually provides a similar emotional progression and payoff to Trainspotting, but whilst the latter film reeked of the cultural and economic values of want that we all held dear in the mid 1990s, Slumdog offers a far more suitable world view for today. I guess without wanting to sound gushing, that world view is one of hope, and in which sense reminded me of Linha de Passe which I wrote about in this blog several months back. I guess hope is important.