Under The Skin

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Ok, I went to see this at the Prince Charles so it’s at the end of it’s distribution run.  Which means everyone that wants to has seen it, surely?  No? Ok, I’ll try an avoid spoilers.  But, if you want to know nothing about this look away now.  I’ll keep it to what I already knew before going to see it.  And, will try an not let anything else slip*.

Scarlett Johansson is some sort of entity/alien driving round Glasgow in a white van, picking up blokes for nefarious purposes. She is magnificent.  Her performance switches perfectly between dangerously alluring (and, oh, she is) and, cold and, well, alien.

Director Jonathan Glazer builds one of the most unsettling atmospheres I’ve experienced in the cinema in quite some time.  Blending the bleak Scottish winter (urban and otherwise) with his weird shiny other-worldly elements.  Not only does he have the excellent central performance to work with, but there is also an interesting soundtrack (from Mica Levi) and and all round imposing soundscape throughout.  Quite an achievement.

Is that enough?  You know that way that when The Man Who Fell To Earth (which this owes a nod to, atmospherically not just the plot) drops down a gear and starts to fall apart and get weird? It carries it off because of the absolute genius of the casting as Thomas Newton.  This doesn’t happen here.  Which is to the films credit here: Casting a Hollywood a-lister has only ensured a wider audience, there is nothing in there relying on that.  But, as we move to the last act of the tale here, the lack of exposition (usually a killer) leaves you with more questions than answers. What was that bit meant to symbolise? Why has such-and-such happened?  I’m not really one for being spoon-fed, but although I followed the ‘action’ I’m still wondering why most of it happened.  To the extent that I’ve got more and more annoyed about the movie in the day since seeing it.  Of course, that also means I’ve been pretty much thinking about it since then, too. Oh, conflicted. (Which, right this minute, is a good thing.  Ask me again in an hour.)

A lot has been made of the use of guerrilla camera work in the film.  There have been suggestions that some of the scenes are just ScarJo rolling up on unsuspecting weegies, and tempt them into her van.  I’ calling bullshit on that.  There may be some moments of her leaning out the window that are genuine, but that’s it. If you’ve seen any of Impractical Jokers (the original US version is superior) or the recent trend in horror towards candid camera style viral stunts you’ll have some idea of where we’re at with hidden cameras.  This stuff is far too sophisticated. Besides, the dialogue ring genuine to me.  (Maybe I’ve just been away too long.)

*Of course, there’s not actually anything else to really let slip.

Written by Tony Kiernan

06 April 2014 at 2:39 am

Posted in Film

The Understudies – The Lexington (30 March 2014)

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Having previously been tickled by The Understudies, and it having been a bit quiet on the gig front for a bit, I decided to haul ass north for their gig to launch debut album Let Desire Guide Your Hand.

It’s Sunday, and an early gig (6 o’clock doors).  It’s also the day the clocks went forward.  And, I some sort of engineering works going on.  So, by the time I get there, the second support act are finishing their set.

The Understudies’ particular brand of indie is well crafted songs, with whip-smart lyrics (I’m assuming from the few that I catch in detail, the titles certainly are).  There’s a definite classic shape to their compositions.  Redolent of girl-groups and 50′s pop.  I find myself thinking they remind me of someone that Nick Lowe would’ve produced, but can’t really put my finger on who.  I mean that in the best possible way.

The band have dual boy/girl vocals.  The former, with an interesting, breathy, falsetto.  However, he’s poorly tonight, so maybe not in full throttle.  So when the female keyboard player takes on the vocal duties, the songs seem to work better.  Just a little more powerful.  A few songs in, and they start to have more of a dual vocal thing going on.  Another piece of the familiarity clicks into place an I realise I’ve been reminded of The Beautiful South.

I always feel awkward when using a comparison to another band to describe one.  At best, for me, it looks like lazy shorthand.  For the band, accusations of being derivative.  But, all rock ‘n’ roll is derivative.  By definition.  The baroque and jazz have just as many conventions and tropes.  And, although reminiscent of Heaton & Co, we’re not talking parody or direct lift.

The are joined about half way through by A Little Orchestra to add (as the name suggests) a little strings etc to what their doing. To be honest, the definition is a little lost(chestra boom-tsch!) over the amplified instruments, but they do manage to at least fill the sound out a bit.

Seeing as it’s their big night, the band are going to have an encore.  They tell us this.  Mainly so we don’t leave.  They didn’t have to, they are brought back on stage to rapturous applause.  They can probably chalk this one up as a win.

Written by Tony Kiernan

01 April 2014 at 7:03 pm

Posted in Gigs, London, Music

Robin Ince/Kiri Pritchard Mclean/Holly Walsh/Iain Stirling – Amersham Arms (24 March 2014)

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Iain Stirling will, no doubt, be referred to as “the Scottish Jack Whitehall”.  He keeps telling us he is funnier than we seem to think.  He does not provide any proof of this.

With Glasgow Comedy Festival coming up, our usual host Holly Walsh, is standing down from compere duties this week and doing the work in progress stuff. Thanks to Lou Sanders she’s run some of this stuff past us previously. But, still, it’s nice to see her in proper stand-up mode. There are a number of really brilliant bits in there; what’s intrinsically dodgy about guide dogs and her British alternative to the base system particularly tickling me. Again, I shall express intention to catch a full ‘proper’ show from her ASAP.

I have seen Kiri Pritchard Mclean live before. I cannot remember where or when. This really bothers me. So much so, I keep missing bits of her act. Which is a shame, because she’s good. Chatty persona, dabbling in the slightly darker corners of only being able to get on the property ladder next door to a brothel. The diabetes joke made me laugh more than it really should. Never did quite place her.

I guess I need to stop going to cheap comedy gigs. I’ve seen Robin Ince, maybe, four times in he last year and on each occasion he’s been definitely working up his Imp of the Perverse schtick.  Tonight it seem at its most fully formed so far. As you would expect.  Ince attacks a stage, a ball of ire and energy.  Compare an contrast that with the love-me lickspittle that opened tonight and you’ll see…well, experience.  Practice in the art.  Even if no-one’s listening, you can always out-shout, out-rant them.  And, once you’ve got their attention…  That’s how he does it.  Unfortunately, the nod is given too early for anyone’s liking and the newer, calmerly delivered, stuff gets less time than intended.  Shame because its good.  Its all good.  OK, Ill add him to the “go to a proper show” list too.

Written by Tony Kiernan

25 March 2014 at 12:53 am

Half Man Half Biscuit – Shepherd’s Bush Empire (21 March 2014)

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In the two years since I moved to The Smoke®, I’ve manage to catch Half Man Half Biscuit five times. Which beats the once-a-year average I’m accustomed to.  Admittedly, those have not all been in the city.  And, one was back in Glasgow.  But, I like those odds.

Of course, it then leaves me with a bit of a problem: The band are, in my experience, such a consistent live prospect about all you can comment on is the venue/sound and what cover they close off with.

Well, last time they played here I was ‘invited’ to leave for expressing concern about the mix to the sound man.  Apparently, this looked to the casual observer like me hollering the phrase “shame on you” at him repeatedly.  So, a little trepidatious.  Tonight it’s a million times better.  Almost good.  The vocals are good and clear (imperative at a HMHB gig).  The two guitars, however, are very low in the mix and there is practically no definition between them.  This time I just caught his eye.  I think he recognised me and understood the better-guitar-stare.  Still didn’t act on it.  Had to force my way to the front to hear them from the stage.

And, Patio Song (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci).

Written by Tony Kiernan

22 March 2014 at 11:37 am

Posted in Gigs, London, Music

Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld – The Union Chapel (18 March 2014)

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I’m sure that I’ve owned records by Einstürzende Neubauten. Not even necessarily in my most winkle-pickered and polo-necked period. I can even see the covers, sat next to the Bunnymen records. Can I tell you anything about them? They were a bit industrial…had some German titles… No. Not really. I mean; I must have listened to them. At least once. Head honcho Blixa Bargeld will always be, to me, the bloke last seen clogging up the Badseeds ‘wafting about’ his fairly pointless guitar. So, when he was announced as playing a gig with Teho Teardo – an Italian ‘musician, composer and sound designer‘, I’ll be honest, I was expecting pretentious wank of the highest order: Lots of noise and things that make you use the word ‘atonal’.

Why choose to expose yourself to such expected guff? BECAUSE. Just because… And, most importantly, you never know.

Turns out, the latter is most apt. My lack of knowledge runs deeper than you’d think. Seems the album this two have put together are a bunch of mid-european style laid-back croons. TT providing designing the sounds and BB mumbling and rumbling along over the top of them. Actually, just he kind of thing that suits this (as I’ve said) wonderful venue.

The little Italian guy has a guitar midied up to a laptop. So, he strums and riffs along, but creates a techno bed. Accompanied throughout by cellist Martina Bertoni, and for the latter part by a full string quartet. It’s all rather lovely. Mr Bargeld mumbles and grumbles over the top, doing that Cohen/Gainsbourg thing that all old goths aspire to. He seems to be having a great time cracking jokes with the first two rows. We’re in the third, so can’t hear a word he says. There’s a bit of pedal work on the vocals and some clicking and squeaking. But, it stays the right side of silly.

There’s not exactly a surfeit of tunes here that you’re gonna leave whistling (in fact the catchiest thing in there is a Tiger Lillies cover). But, that’s not the point. I’m sure with time you could come to grips with the work and it’ complexities. For the time being, I’m just more than happy to just let it all wash over me. Which it does, brilliantly.

Written by Tony Kiernan

19 March 2014 at 3:29 pm

Posted in Gigs, London, Music

Ghost Stories

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Jeremy Dyson is the other one from The League Of Gentlemen; the one that just did the writing and didn’t want to appear in it. Andy Nyman is an actor and magician. This latter bit is the important one. He directed and co-wrote most of the Derren Brown telly and stage shows that really made his name. Ghost stories is the show they co-wrote, which Nyman directed (and originally acted in), and which has returned to the west-end for a run prior to going totally global.

Using the framing device of a lecture from parapsychologist outlining the most chilling and inexplicable accounts he’s come across, this is a portmanteau play consisting of three spine-tingling tales. Definitely inspired by the success of The Woman In Black (“the most terrifying live theatre experience in the world”), the show uses – literally – all the tricks of the trade to scare the bejesus out of you. And it’s a great big roller-coaster experience of a show. Including, as you would expect, some stunning effects and a some really hilarious points.

At the close of the show, a voice asks us to keep it’s secrets to ourselves. I shall do so. It is such terrific fun, I really wouldn’t ant to spoil it for anyone.

Here’s an interesting question, though. Some of the acting seemed a little stilted. There were long pauses that felt…unintentional. These things can happen in a show. Yet, because of Nyman’s brain-bongling pedigree, I kept thinking all of this was deliberate. Sleight of stagehand. Breaking up the pace of the story telling to either discomfit us, or distract from what was going on elsewhere. Of course, it is just possible the cast and crew had had a late night.

Written by Tony Kiernan

16 March 2014 at 10:17 am

Posted in London, Theatre

Only Lovers Left Alive

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More tales from my callow years. There was a time when there was only one arthouse cinema screen in Glasgow. On a Friday afternoon, you could see whatever the ‘big’ release for that week was for 50p. So, I’d spend my week scrabbling together the fare, entry price and another good excuse for not being in school then. Such joy in 5th year when Friday afternoons became PE for us and we were given the run of the local sports centre: Sign the register, off down the train station. Never once did anyone ask me for ID. Saw loads of stuff certificate 18, resplendent in my school uniform. I guess that the GFT was close to enough posh schools for them just to assume I old enough. Or, reverse logic kicked in (who wouldn’t hide their uniform). Of course, having the countenance of a middle-aged man from childhood probably helped too.

It was on one of these trips that I caught Jim Jarmusch‘s Down By Law, which was as much of a game-changer for me as THX 1138 or Fury. The story of three men, two framed, one just bonkers, who find themselves incarcerated in a Louisiana prison, their escape and their bid for freedom thereafter. It’s filmed in long, slow (oft immitated) black and white. It made me want to live in New Orleans. It tipped my interest in Tom Waits into a long love affair. Same with indie cinema (until then it was art or world). It was hilarious, sexy, a little bit angsty and cool, cool, coooooooool. Just everything my teenage self wanted (even if I didn’t know that until then).

As much as that is a prison break movie, where you don’t even see the escape, Jarmusch’s latest Only Lovers Left Alive (is there an implicit “are” in the title, or is this a definite article? Of course that may be the point) is a vampire movie. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are a vamp couple. For some reason, she lives in Marrakech, hanging out with Kit Marlowe – y’know, him what wrote the Shakespeare plays. He’s in Detroit, being a retro-goth recluse, fetishising vintage guitars, driving an old charger, being wan, contemplating vampyre suicide and generally being all existential and rock ‘n’ roll. Which should really be quite risible. But, for some reason, it isn’t. I’m guessing as a result of honing this schtick over the last 30-odd years of film making. To help him get out of an ennui rut, Eve rushes to Adam’s side and they drive around the decaying city at night, lie about looking fabulous and just generally exude cool. Had the teenage me seen this, I’d not be affecting gloves and shades at all times of the day.

About the only real plot-point comes in the shape of antagonist Ava, Eve’s ‘sister’ (“not a blood relative”). There’s something happened in the past that makes her arrival on the scene abhorrent to the pair of them. We never find out what did happen, but we get the gist. Ava is played brilliantly by Mia Wasikowska. This is the first film I’ve seen her in. She brings a perfect balance of brattiness and charm to the part. Making her both completely alluring and abso-fucken-lutely annoying. A she really needs be for her part to work so well.

Although it may lack the emotional heart of, say, Broken Flowers (apparently there’s been another film between these two, shame on me), OLLA is still haunting moments of my thoughts. Even if those thoughts are just “I wish I was one of the cool kids”.

Written by Tony Kiernan

12 March 2014 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Film


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