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Mr. D. Harvey "royalgonzo" (Cambridge)

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Anomalisa [DVD]
Anomalisa [DVD]
Dvd ~ David Thewlis
Price: £5.92

7 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Anomaloser, 11 Mar. 2016
This review is from: Anomalisa [DVD] (DVD)
I've loved every film Charlie Kaufman's been involved with either as scriptwriter or director. They've all had a deep undertone of unbearable sadness where maladjusted characters struggle to find their romantic counterpoints against the backdrop of the most bizarre scenarios and settings. On paper, despite being an animation, "Anomolisa" appears to be no different.

In the film, a married salesman,  Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) meets the dowdy wallflower Lisa at a conference where he's delivering a motivational speech. She makes an immediate impression on him where he's drawn to her unique voice - she's the only other character in the film not voiced by Tom Noonan.

In Kaufman's other projects I've always found myself rooting for the main characters but Michael is the exception. He's a very, very creepy creation. He's pedantic, self-centred and unhinged - a real contast to Kaufman's earlier affable neurotics. In simple terms he's unlikeable.

Usually I'm not concerned whether or not a character is charming or not if their attributes serve the narrative. With Kaufman however I suspect his lead males are largely autobiographical (literally in the case of Adaption), therefore the viewers ability to connect in some way becomes intrinsic to the arc of the films themselves.

This is where my problem with Anomolisa lies. Kaufman's previous directorial effort "Synedoche, New York" might've been the most melancholy film I've ever watched. I came out of the cinema almost flattened by the weight of the sadness in it. Yet despite this, at its core, there was still a chink of light, a ray of hope and optimism and a resilient belief in love that I found powerful beyond words.

"Anomolisa" has no such optimism, not even in tiny measures. It's a relentlessly bleak and sneery movie. Any connections that are made between the characters are immediately shown to be superficial. Any declaration of affection a temporary delusion born out of paranoia or outright madness.

"Anomalisa" has the claustrophobic, ominous feel of a Kafka novel. All quirkiness has been discarded this time out in favour of an oppressive and cynical world-view. I felt really unsettled and queasy the whole way through it.

Apparently the script dates back as far as 2005 when Jennifer Jason Leigh (the voice of Lisa) and Thewlis performed it as a stage play. There's a part of me that hopes the nihilistic tone of the piece dates back to this time and doesn't reflect Kaufman's current frame-of-mind. I may be reading into things a little too far but, in the context of his previous work, it felt as though, in this film at least, Kaufman had been defeated in some kind of way.

On the plus side the film looks amazing. The stop-motion animation is incredible and genuinely innovative too, especially considering it was a low-budget Kickstarter crowd-funded project. Despite this I simply couldn't find an in-road into "Anomolisa". It was just too sour, too pessimistic.

In essence "Anomolisa" has the body of a Kaufman film but it's missing the heart.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2016 1:46 PM BST


The Hateful Eight [Blu-ray]
The Hateful Eight [Blu-ray]
Dvd ~ Samuel L. Jackson
Price: £6.73

10 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Slothful Eight, 7 Feb. 2016
Tarrantino's eighth film for me was a bit of a chore to get through. It's 3 hours long just like "Django Unchained" and both in my opinion could have easily had 60 minutes edited off their running time in order to make them less ponderous and bloated.

I really enjoyed "Inglorious Basterds" (released in 2009) but this came from an earlier script Tarrantino had lying around in development for more than a decade or so. In recent years ("Death Proof" included) action, plot and entertainment have been sidelined and swamped by his self indulgent prioritisation of the dialogue in his work. This is particularly apparent in "The Hateful Eight". 90% of the film occurs in a single room, the other 10% in a stage-coach. Ultimately it feels more like a stage play than a cinematic experience.

With an awesome Ennio Morricone soundtrack and the presence of some incredible actors (Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern and Walton Goggins are all super charismatic) there's a lot of charm in places but the slow build towards the grim humour of the film's bloody climax undermines any positives by virtue of being, for the most part, relentlessly tedious (1hr 40mins elapse before a pistol shot is fired).

Other aspects to recommend include the 70mm Panavision film-stock. The movie looks fantastic, it authentically re-creates the mood and look of some of Sam Peckinpah's and Robert Aldrich's finest 60's/70's westerns but in reality this is thin icing on a big, bland cake.

Tarrantino's main focus with this project was, I think, the writing. He takes a very literary approach throughout but he lacks the discipline and economy that some of the great novelists possess, the ability to refine and streamline a narrative to its purest form.

I'm sure this movie will divide audiences. For many of Quintin's fans the dialogue alone will probably be worth the price of admission but for the rest of us the boredom of the first two-thirds of the film will entirely overshadow the audaciousness of the remainder .


The Revenant [Blu-ray + Digital Copy + UV Copy] [2016]
The Revenant [Blu-ray + Digital Copy + UV Copy] [2016]
Dvd ~ Leonardo DiCaprio
Price: £8.00

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revenant Reverance, 16 Jan. 2016
Most people coming to Alejandro G. Iñárritu's new film, "The Revenant", his follow-up to the wonderfully odd "Birdman", will in all likelihood already be aware of the bear attack element of the plot. They may also be familar with the revenge aspect of the narrative where the real-life trapper Hugh Glass sought revenge on the members of his hunting party who left him to die in the barren, icy wilderness of 1820's North California. None of this prior knowledge should however detract from the great rewards and unexpected suprises this film has to offer.
 
Being a bleak Western its tone is of course, on the surface, very different to the highbrow humour of "Birdman". It's viscerally violent and brutal for a start. The images of torn sinew and unflinching blood-letting throughout will, I suspect, be tough viewing for some (the CGI in particular is particularly impressive in this respect). The beautiful and stunning outdoor cinematography also offer a far more expansive and grandiose canvas for this story than the enclosed theatrical backdrop of "Birdman". Where "Birdman" was reliant on dialogue and character interaction to explore its multiple ideas and themes "The Revenant" by contrast has very little in the way of language to fall back on. It reminded me very much of Andrew Dominik's underrated classic modern western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford". Both owe a huge debt to the film-making of Terrence Malick where nature and landscape become characters in themselves, every bit as important as the film's protagonists.

There are though many, many similarities between Iñárritu's two films. They both posses a deep, meditative religiousity. They both involve lost and broken men on spiritual quests of sorts and perhaps most importantly they also share surreal elements of dream imagery that evoke the transcendent hopes of those men.

With its lack of dialogue "The Revenant" becomes a hugely physical movie. This is most evident in the acting. After the "Wolf of Wall Street" DiCaprio has  delivered yet another astonishing, possibly career-defining role. His fearless portrayal of a man with near fatal injuries never once leaves the viewer questioning the authenticity of his performance. Tom Hardy, under the direction of  Iñárritu, also finds a part that finally lives up to the sinister, charismatic promise he showed in "Bronson". 

All in all "The Revenant" is a truly masterful film. Along with Michael Haneke's and Paul Thomas Anderson's respective catalogues Iñárritu's films have now put him right at the top of the roster of the great modern directors.

"The Revenant" is a flawless ride. There's not a single clumsy or ill-judged moment in it. It's an action-packed, visually rewarding and intellectually stimulating cinematic experience. In an age of relentless re-boots and super-hero sequels its a shame films as clever, imaginative and brave as this are still so rare. I suspect it's the kind of film that'll probably find its audience over time, through word of mouth rather than setting the box office alight immeditely. I know it's early but I'd genuinely be suprised if a better film gets released in 2016.


Mississippi Grind [DVD] [2015]
Mississippi Grind [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Ben Mendelsohn
Price: £5.99

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time for you to find the Grind, 14 Nov. 2015
Mississippi Grind will hopefully serve as a launch pad into bigger things for the incredible actor Ben Mendelsohn after his two previous stellar performances in "Killing Them Softly" and "Starred Up". The film is very much in the vein of '70's cinema - gritty, nuanced and character driven. The two leads are utterly superb (this is easily Ryan Reynolds best film to date). They display great charisma and chemistry as they riff off each other throughout. Think Redford and Newman in "Butch Cassidy.." or Hoffman and Voight in "Midnight Cowboy". With its gambling theme there are also shades of "Rain Man" thrown in. The script (which avoids obvious moral cliches), direction and cinematography are all as flawless as the performances. In addition It also boasts a truly fine and funky blues soundtrack. There's nothing particularly new here. There's been similiar low-key movies about down-at-heel hustlers and chancers before but Mississipi Grind has such an easy graceful charm I'm sure with word of mouth it will become a highly regarded classic.


Simple Songs
Simple Songs
Price: £11.97

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Stunning Songs., 18 May 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Simple Songs (Audio CD)
This album's title may be intentionally misleading. This collection is anything but simple. O'Rourke is a reclusive musician, he usually releases his records without much fanfare or publicity. This one was no different. It popped up on NPR's website out of the blue last week as a complete album stream. O'Rourke's done stuff like that before. About two years ago he released eight album's worth of unreleased music directly to Soundcloud which fans could download for free. The difference was those "songs" were virtually unlistenable, avante garde experimental pieces. Simple Songs is a much more accessible and rewarding listen. O'Rourke's back catalogue is huge but its hit and miss. He's a prolific collaborator and producer. He works across multiple genres and some of his work is quite extreme. I don't think there'll be many people who follow and listen to everything he does. In the internet age it's easier to sample his new releases rather than commit to purchasing them. More often than not I'll be merely curious about his output rather than fully enthused. It was with these kind of reservations that I approached his latest release. From the first minute of the first song, "Friends with Benefits" all of these concerns were instantly blasted away. Simple Songs follows on from his two other song-based albums Eureka and Insignificance. I loved those LP's but this album is way more more ambitious. The second Loose Fur record which he worked on with members of Wilco was a great album too but again the quality of songwriting, performances, production and arrangements are bettered here by a wide margin. Simple Songs is obviously a labour of love. The crafting is exquisite, the delicate layers of overdubs and attention to detail phenomenal. It's a rich treat for admirers of classic and contemporary rock alike. There's gritty electric guitars that are just as thrilling as White Denim, witty musicianship every bit as audacious as Steely Dan, string interludes that invoke the sophistication of Andrew Bird and arrangements reminiscent of the granduer of Van Dyke Parks. This record has everything I want as a listener. It ticks every box for me. I've never reviewed a record I'd so whole-heartedly endorse. I've listened to it about twice a day, every day for the last week. Each time it's sounded just as exciting and just as impressive. I can honestly see Simple Songs featuring amongst my very favourite albums for a long, long time. It's a masterpiece, pure and simple.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 10, 2015 11:32 PM BST


Constant Bop
Constant Bop
Price: £7.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Less Chops, More Bop, 14 April 2015
This review is from: Constant Bop (Audio CD)
White Denim overtook Wilco a few years ago as my favourite recording artists and live act. What got me hooked, and probably a lot of other people too, was their incredible musicianship. They seemed almost old-fashioned in their willingness to rock out and show off their instrumental chops. What was less obvious but became far more apparent over repeated listens was the songcraft. Behind the odd time signatures and funky guitar lines you'd often find some really catchy melodies, lyrics and hooks. James Petralli's debut solo album takes off from here and concentrates on presenting a collection of finely crafted, instantly accessible pop songs. Whilst the impressive guitar work and Petralli's soulful voice are still present in big measures there's nothing particularly challenging or difficult to contend with here, just great tunes enhanced by inventive lo-fi production. I was expecting Constant Bop to have a side-project or stop-gap feel to it like some of the White Denim EP's but its anything but. I think this collection might be Petralli's most cohesive and successful album to date. Its certainly his most charming. There's not a bad track on it, my album of the year so far.


Carrie & Lowell
Carrie & Lowell
Price: £7.99

33 of 65 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Grievin' Stevens., 30 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Carrie & Lowell (Audio CD)
I have to entirely disagree with the general consensus and positive reviews for Sufjan Stevens latest record. On the surface it sounds more like a Sufjan Stevens record than most of his recent output and I'm sure that's what a lot of people are getting immediately enthusiastic about. Listening to this though I'm of the opinion that his genius is very much on the wane. "Come On Feel The Illinoise" would be in my top five, 21st century records. It was bold, bright ambitious and zany. It was like The Mothers Of Invention fronted by Paul Simon. There were incredibly huge arrangements, hundreds of instruments and voices, audacious time signature changes and most importantly thoroughly beautiful, astutely realised lyrics. The mood swung from celebration and joy to fragile vulnerability and back many times over in a thoughtful and artistically considered manner. It was a masterpiece record that would obviously be difficult to follow. Both the impenetrability of "The Age of Adz" LP and the "All Delighted People" EP which followed it confirmed this for me (and probably a lot of other listeners too).

Musically Stevens obviously wanted to try something different (I'd argue he fell short here too) which is commendable but it was the lyrics for me were the most problematic aspect on his post-Illinoise work. The depth and the warmth, the acute, clever and humorous observations in his words had been replaced with something much less refined. Something more self-indulgent and at worst - pretentious.

This decline into awful, depressive artistry has continued with "Carrie and Lowell". In my opinion this album is perhaps a lesser work than its two predecessors simply through its monotony. This is a terribly dull record. It lacks any kind of pace, every single song is delivered at approximately 80 bpm with the same double-tracked, soft, breathy vocals giving the listener very little to differentiate between. I recognise that this is a record about death and so of course it's going to be gloomy but that in itself is not the problem. Neil Young's "Tonights The Night", Lou Reed's "Berlin" and Big Star's "Sisters/Third" are amongst some of my all-time favourite records despite being relentlessly bleak. What they had and what "Carrie and Lowell" lacks however is musical and lyrical contrast, light and dark. They were not boring. This record is. It's boring beyond words.

I think a lot of people are confusing sadness with depth when they've assessed this record. For example look at the simplicity of "John Wayne Gacy". I don't think there's ever been a darker song, but due to way it's been carefully assembled it immediately connects in a powerful way. As a listener you don't have to second-guess its intent despite its ambiguity. The lyrics on Carrie and Lowell however are much more elusive and dense. They read like the unedited scribblings of a potentially suicidal sixth-form student rather than an artist in total command of his craft.

Unfortunately "Carrie and Lowell" isn't much more than a half-baked collection of half-finished demos. It bemuses me that it should be so well received and saddens me that it couldn't have a whole lot better given how talented and entertaining Stevens can be when he's more focused and dare I say it - happy.
Comment Comments (14) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 25, 2015 5:22 PM GMT


The Sculptor
The Sculptor
by Scott McCloud
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Scott McFlurry, 18 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Sculptor (Hardcover)
I read a stunning review of this book in the Guardian and decided to buy it despite not being familiar with the writer. The story's fairly straightforward (for a comic book): a failing artist makes a pact with Death, he's given the ability to sculpt whatever he pleases but he'll die in 200 days. The events that follow lack pace but the characters are more problematic. They're pretentious and unlikeable, there's nothing mischevious or rogue-ish enough about them to get the reader involved emotionally. Their concerns are unrelentingly insular and humourless, over 500 pages this is unforgiveable. It touches on romance, family, friendships and the bigger issues of life and death but in a sterile, MTV-light post-modernist way. Its nowhere near as deep as it thinks it is. Perhaps, with more focus and far, far fewer pages this could've been a much tighter, more focused novel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2015 6:16 PM GMT


Generation War [DVD]
Generation War [DVD]
Dvd ~ Volker Bruch
Price: £9.98

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Generation Chore., 25 Jan. 2015
This review is from: Generation War [DVD] (DVD)
This series looks great. The production is fantastic. The battle scenes in particular are on a par with anything Hollywood can produce. The acting too is top notch. The problem for me comes with the script. The first episode, set in Berlin away from the frontline, is plausible and engaging but what comes after could only be described as cheesy at best. The five main characters, separated by the course of the war, encounter and survive a multitude of perilous encounters over and over again to the point where the viewer becomes impervious to any danger they might face. Their paths also cross in the most unlikely of places given the sheer, vast geography of the conflict in Europe. A handsome looking show but ultimately very silly and unrewarding.


Heigh Ho
Heigh Ho
Offered by A2Z Entertains
Price: £6.74

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blake's Heaven, 27 Dec. 2014
This review is from: Heigh Ho (Audio CD)
I bought this record purely off the back of an excellent review in Uncut magazine. Other than that one article I had no knowledge whatsoever of this incredible songwriter, I'm sure there are lots of other fans of good music who are equally oblivious at the moment. This is bound to change with word of mouth reccomendation.

This is one of those LP's like Robert Plant and Alison Kraus's "Raising Sand" or Nora Jones "Come Away With Me" thats equal parts sweet and challenging. Blake Mills really has it all to offer. He's got a deep, rich voice equal to Harry Nilson, he can play guitar as well as Ry Cooder and he can fashion arrangements every bit as sophisticated as Van Dyke Parks. It is however his incredible songcraft which sets this record apart. Mills is up there with Randy Newman and Paul Simon on "Heigh Ho". Lyrically and chordally his choices seem timeless, there's not a throwaway line or a clumsy moment to be heard anywhere. The mood is mostly a mellow fusion of country, soul and jazz like Willie Nelson doing " Stardust Memories" or "Mona Lisa". Mills will however, every so often throw in something sonically abrupt, a filtered, distorted guitar sound mixed way too high, or introduce a brief atonal burst of strings to remind the listener that this is a contemporary, serious record. There's an urgency and a darkness to the lyrics too which offsets the risk of veering into easy listening territory. The song "Dont Tell Our Friends About Me" contains the refrain "I know I f***ed up" over and over again in an ambiguous, adult narrative. It is perhaps the centre-piece of the collection and a mission statement in itself.

Song by song there's no filler. "Heigh Ho" has been carefully and thoughtfully constructed. Its a classic in every sense of the word. I dont think it'll be too long before its widely recognised as such.


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