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Album Review: TBA

Friday, November 30, 2007

Gig Review: Asobi Seksu @ The Portland, Cambridge

Green Mind Promotions’ final show is back where it all began, here at The Portland, and it’s a full house. Sounding like a cheap rail company, Econoline kick proceedings off energetically with their geeky brand of upbeat pop-rock. They revel in the packed crowd and set the tone for the excellent Scanners who delight with their angelic harmonising and thudding rhythms. They play us their debut UK single “Raw” and plug their album which is finally due in January, having already been released stateside many months ago. From the sound of it, we’ll be hearing a lot more of their sweet indie pop in the near future.

Asobi Seksu roughly translates as “playful sex”. Tonight they’re a four-piece from Brooklyn, N.Y., and are all leather and jumpers; tall and tiny. They peddle a strange brand of trance-inducing shoegaze indie. The diminutive Yuki has a fascinating vocal which is indecipherable live but remains beautifully clean and resonant. It’s a fearsome fifth instrument over frenetic guitar and drums, high-fretted Cure-like bass and ebbing keyboards, and features a hefty dose of echoing sustain. Perhaps to emphasise the dreamlike nature of the music, the stage lighting is kept low with the occasional strobe effect. New single, “Stay Awake” is the star of their set and is a sprawling deeply-layered number which gets the crowd nodding along; most finding themselves lost within the sound. Despite this peak, most of their set tonight lacks variation and isn’t quite as inspiring or memorable. It’s a shame because they obviously have much to offer and shouldn’t be simply dismissed.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Film: The Darjeeling Limited

Hotel Chevalier, the short film before the main event, was first shown at the Venice Film Festival and has since been gracing the small screens of digital music players far and wide. It’s a pretentious and unnecessary pre-cursor that introduces the character of Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman) as he woos his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) into bed. One can’t help but suspect that Schwartzman’s co-writing credits included this whole scene for his own good.

Thirteen minutes of posturing and pouting and thankfully the main show begins. It’s an intriguing tale of three Whitman brothers, who’ve drifted apart since the death of their father, and their journey of spiritual enlightenment to find their errant mother (Angelica Huston) through the colourful backdrop of India. Each brother has his own set of neuroses that he brings to the melting pot. Jack is quiet and often thoughtless, Peter (Adrien Brody) has many insecurities and Francis (Owen Wilson) is overwhelmingly controlling.

Cut to the bare bones, it’s basically Wes Anderson doing a buddy road movie. He’s as clever as ever in his attention to detail and the framing of his shots is excellent - often a character will be missing from the crop only for his head to fill the small remaining gap as he leans in to deliver a line. The beautiful landscapes of India have been captured in a multitude of vibrant blues, oranges and reds. The slow pace of the film suits its surroundings but it does tend to blunt the impact of certain scenes.

It’s a film that both delights visually and infuriates emotionally in equal measure. The inert and meandering script can leave one feeling rather detached from events. With actors like Bill Murray and Owen Wilson on display there is a smattering of humour, even if it is rather black humour, which lifts the oppression albeit briefly. Ultimately, The Darjeeling Limited is certainly not going to be, ahem, every one’s cup of tea.

For fans of: The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Rushmore

Friday, November 9, 2007

Film: 30 Days Of Night

Adapted from the graphic novel by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, 30 Days Of Night whisks us to Barrow, the most northern town in Alaska. Bleak, barren and freezing, only the hardiest of souls can survive in such an environment. As the sun falls below the horizon for the last time for 30 days, the first of many brutal killings alert the townsfolk that they’re not alone.

Eben (Josh Hartnett), the town sheriff, is handed the task of protecting his own and in the middle of the mayhem he manages to get as many as possible holed up in a hidden attic from where they view a killing spree initiated by a large group of particularly brutal Nosferatu hell-bent on the town’s complete annihilation. “Their heads must be separated from their bodies. Do not turn them”, drawls head-vamp Marlow (Danny Huston).

The director, David Slade, has made a good attempt at translating the grim novel from page to screen and employs some clever camerawork in places. The overhead pan as the vampires attack their victims is particularly effective; a bird's-eye view of bright-red blood stains on pure-white snow, gun shots fired aimlessly, and dark figures fleeing and chasing; an eerie detached way of viewing the carnage. Unfortunately, he subsequently allows the continual doom and gloom to suffocate the film without respite.

There are some particularly gruesome effects and, in places, the make-up work is terrifying. Danny Huston’s is particularly effective as he’s transformed from everyman into the worst kind of walking nightmare. Barrow's isolation from the world certainly comes across well as it slowly becomes a ghost-town, resembling scenes from a Western only with snow in place of dust.

The casting of Josh Hartnett is both a blessing and a curse. He’s particularly adept at depicting the off-camera horror in his face but, in general, having a well-known actor for the lead detracts from the impact of the film. Ben Foster, bringing a particularly nasty evilness to his role as The Stranger, and Mark Boone Junior (Beau Brower) were both deserving of more screen-time.

It’s, at first, a particularly intense and effective vampire chiller, but eventually it ends up overwrought, wallowing in its own bleakness, and lacking in innovation. The final nail in the coffin is the ending which is both rushed and inconsistent. Those 30 days have passed and I still haven’t seen the light.

© Johnskibeat

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Film: Death At A Funeral

The easiest way to describe this film is to imagine ‘Four Weddings & A Funeral’ without the weddings. It’s a character-driven funeral farce that draws a large proportion of it’s comedy from the determination of the English stereotype to keep a stiff-upper lip under the most extreme of circumstances.

Daniel (Matthew Macfadyen) is desperate to move into his own place with his wife, Jane (Keeley Hawes). When his father dies his mother (Jane Asher) is unable to cope and they are left to organise the funeral for a whole bunch of dysfunctional family members and friends.

With each family member we are introduced to another unwelcome character trait and, in turn, another twist to the fiendish plot emerges. Andy Nyman puts in a notable performance as a downtrodden and insecure hypochondriac who’s determined to be the centre of attention without causing offence; whilst Rupert Graves should be applauded for his serene portrayal of a painfully selfish brother for Macfadyen to bounce his character off. However, the majority of laughs are reserved for Alan Tudyk and his incredible range of facial acting skills as he brings the torment of a featherweight’s first experience with narcotics to life. “Why are my hands so… big?” he whines, so kick-starting another chorus of audience laughter.

Frank Oz directs and his consummate comic timing and pace are very much in evidence as he weaves Dean Craig’s savvy script into shape. There are moments when the humour becomes clich├ęd but it’s not so distracting as to diminish the impact of the film. The one thing that makes this stand out from many of this year’s comedies is the fact that it never takes itself too seriously. It’s just a clever and outstandingly witty British film, big on modesty and delightful in delivery.

© Johnskibeat
Commissioned by Local Secrets online magazine...

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