review

Baxter Dury, Halo Maud – Stereo, Glasgow, 20 February 2018

In May this year, Baxter Dury will play at the Casino de Paris, an iconic venue with a capacity of 2000, and venue for an iconic live album by Serge Gainsbourg; Stereo in Glasgow is among the best venues in Scotland, but it’s just a smidge smaller (capacity: 300) - the audience tonight may not know, in a way, just how privileged it is.

Parisians Halo Maud open, perhaps a little bit bashful at first if très charmants, their sound is certainly aligned with what one tends to think of in terms of contemporary French pop music (or at least that which we are exposed to in the UK): somewhat ethereal vocals, minimalist guitar, slightly proggy keyboard washes, melodic and propulsive bass, driving (but never heavy) drums. There’s a lightly psychedelic touch to them, little hints of Broadcast, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Aquaserge – at one point, vocalist and guitarist Maud Nadal (also of Moodoïd) even sings a searching melody that brings Björk to mind. Rightly well-received, their set is dynamic and memorable.

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Baxter Dury’s onstage persona is certainly geezerish but with a knowing glint in the eye present at all times. It’s wholly appropriate for the music, especially numbers from his superlative 2017 album Prince of Tears, a catalogue of sad characters victimised by their own masculinity, too in love their own bravado and braggadocio to notice they’re pathetic, broken.

Across a set composed primarily (but not solely) of songs from his last three albums, Dury is a charismatic stage presence and the music shines. Played live, these songs take on an extra vivacity, muscularity – the band has a great time, and so do the audience. It’s pretty rare for a 16-song set (including encore) to be anything other than irritating/waring/boring by the time of its conclusion, but not tonight. It’s pretty much perfect - sometimes cheeky, sometimes downtrodden, always captivating. Dury should be a household name in the UK but as it stands he’s just another example in a long list of ways our Continental brethren can show us the way. Bof.

Photos: Erika Sella. Words: Andrew R. Hill

DVD Review: 'What Have you Done to Solange?'

DVD Review: 'What Have you Done to Solange?'

Arrow Video continue to impress with their Blu-Ray releases of Italian Giallo films - this time with Massimo Dallamano's salacious and disturbing What Have You Done to Solange?. The film was released in 1972 (at the height of Giallo fever) and it positions itself as one of the more intriguing exponents of the genres. Dallamano (who had previously worked as a DOP on Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and A Few Dollars More) delivers a lush-looking, highly disturbing and suspense-rich work that is enriched by Ennio Morricone's hunting score. 

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DVD Review: 'La Grande Bouffe'

DVD Review: 'La Grande Bouffe'

Arrow Films' recent release, Marco Ferreri's 1973 extremely dark comedy La Grande Bouffe, is unlikely to leave spectators indifferent - for better or for worse. Upon release, the film divided the public, who either hailed it as a masterwork of cutting social and political satire, or condemned it, as Roger Erbert caustically put it, as as a nihilistic 'chronicle of gluttony and self-hate'.

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Edinburgh International Film Festival '14: Five Reviews

Koo! Kin-dza-dza (dir. Georgiy Daneliya & Tatiana Ilyna)

Image courtesy of EIFF

Present day Moscow. World famous cellist and cultural snob Vladimir Chizov and wannabe hipster DJ Tolik are accidentally catapulted onto a strange and desolate planet known as Puke. How will they make it back to Earth? This is the premise of Koo! Kin-dza-dza, an animated remake of the homonymous 1986 Soviet sci-fi satire. 

It's refreshing too see an animation that doesn't have to rely on CGI or 3D, especially when it skillfully infuses a picaresque story line with the absurdist touches of Terry Gilliam's Brazil. In the dune world of Pluke, inhabitants fall into two main categories - Patsaks and Chatlanians (the latter being the dominant people), a humble match (known as a ketse) is the most valuable item, and common sense doesn't seem to apply as strict hierarchies extend to the colour of pants one wears. The two main characters must fight their way through unreliable journey companions, perennial bribes and cacophony-loving  grandmothers. The comic darkness of this dystopian universe is  occasionally provided with light relief: it's hard not too smile when Vladimir plays his cello for an unusually appreciative and rather timid Plukian creature, or when Vladimir and Tolik seem to finally make an emotional connection.

For all its analogue ambition, Koo! Kin-dza-dza is far from perfect -  clocking in at 96 minutes, it feels overlong, leaving us with the impression that the script could have been much tighter in parts. 

Seeing this film presented again in the 21st century, when the USSR has become a distant memory makes for thought-provoking viewing, as its powerful depiction of laughable hierarchical structures, corruption and racism still resonates in contemporary Europe.

Koo! Kin-dza-dza 27 June, 18:15 at Odeon 2

[Erika Sella]


Anatomy of a Paperclip (dir. Akira Ikeda)

Director Ikeda Akira has stated that his starting point  for Anatomy of a Paperclip was his wish to create the modern equivalent of a Japanese folk tale.

The quiet, submissive Kogure is certainly the kind of character that can be found time and time again in both literature and film (his body language and tubby, inexpressive appearance reminded me Italian popular cinema staple Fantozzi); the linear simplicity and even pacing of the storyline (matched by the minimalist, deliberately two-dimensional and immaculately balanced, often symmetrical shots) are also somewhat reminiscent of a parable. 

Image courtesy of EIFF

The flat cinematography also complements the deadpan humour that springs from a world that has become devoid of pleasure - this is Japan, but not as we know it. Kugore lives in a small, bare room, works in a factory (which actually looks like a converted garage) where he is repeatedly abused by his horrific boss, survives on horrible food and is regularly taunted by a couple of thugs who have a penchant for stealing his clothes. This routine is gradually eroded by the vision of a butterfly (a presence usually loaded with meaning in Japanese culture) and the consequent appearance of a woman who speaks gibberish (a 'language' that was invented by the filmmaker) and decides to move into Kogure's bedsit without an explanation.

At the press screening, a fellow viewer felt that Anatomy of a Paperclip was 'essentially a Japanese remake of Eraserhead'; while the bleak, quietly hysterical  atmosphere that pervades the film may certainly recall some aspects of David Lynch's output, I felt this statement detracts from the film's complexity. This is a mysterious and often profound film; a poignant (yet very funny) comment about human nature and the meaning of interpersonal connections. 

Anatomy of a Paperclip, 28 June, 13:15 at Cameo 3

[Erika Sella]


Displaced Perssons (dir. Asa Blanck and Johan Palmgren) 

Image courtesy of EIFF

Pelle Persson is one of the most intriguing characters I have ever had the privilege to encounter on the big screen; perhaps inspired by a childhood adventure book (having recently watched Mark Cousin's A Story of Children and Film, I was reminded of Palle Alone in the World, and not simply because of the similarity of the main character's name), he sets off to adventure as soon as he is old enough to drive, living and working in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He eventually settles in Lahore, Pakistan, where he marries Shamin, and has two daughters. As his children reach adulthood, he finds that his liberal parenting idea clash with the local customs (the girls find they can't leave the house by themselves), and decides to return to his native Sweden. But can you ever go home again? 

This is a documentary that tackles complex issues such as identity, the meaning of national cultures and of family ties. It's hard not to like the Perssons as they face their Swedish adventure with defiance and a great deal of humour, but also with fear and maybe some regret; the camera only needs to sit back and watch them, letting the occasional title card guide us through the passing of time. We see the deadpan Shamin braving the freezing winter and unenthusiastically learning Swedish, Pelle having to prove to the local bureaucrats that he still exists in order to receive his pension, their daughter Zahra struggling with life-changing decisions. There is no place for stereotype here - both Sweden and Pakistan are represented in ways that we not normally accustomed to. We are faced with a family that don't conform to the narratives we are fed by the popular press: Pelle, Sharmin, Zahra and Mia all prove that identity is something complex, fluid and not necessarily defined by a country of birth, and that love and family really can overcome the biggest difficulties. As soppy as that might sound, there was not a dry eye at the screening - Displaced Perssons delivers the kind emotional punch that is becoming increasingly rare. Do not miss.

Displaced Perssons, 27 June, 18:10 at Cameo 3

[Erika Sella]


Snowpiercer (dir. Joon-ho Bong)

It’s quite startling that an actor better known as Captain America (AKA Chris Evans…no, not that one) to many should be the protagonist of a film that critiques Capitalism quite so overtly (if in an occasionally naïve, often daft way). The premise is a bit silly but clearly analogous: in a post-apocalyptic world, a train rattles around the world carrying three groups of people, the last humans left on Earth – an elite that lives at the luxurious front, a servile group that do their bidding, and lumpenproletariat that dwell in slum-like carriages at the rear. Evans’ Curtis leads a revolt, blood is shed and a fable of the perils of Capital emerges through action setpieces and a great deal of humour. It does feel a little lacking in nuance in its politics and is silly in that comic-book-film way at times, but is enjoyable all the same. John Hurt expertly plays the wise old man, Tilda Swinton is a hilariously grotesque Lancastrian spokesperson, Kang-ho Song amuses as the drug-addled security expert and Jamie Bell is an entertaining sidekick (if a little heavy on the Oirish Eejit schtick) to Evans’ hirsute and oh-so-tortured American hero. 

Image courtesy of EIFF

Snowpiercer may struggle to escape the inherent limitations of its form but is entertaining with both heart and head in the right place. One can’t help but feel that Harvey Weinstein has probably bludgeoned Joon-ho Bong’s film into something more straightforward for Anglophone audiences than it may have been in the form shown to audiences in South Korea and elsewhere, but entertains and manages to be not entirely brainless with it, which is more than can be said yer average comic book (sorry, graphic novel) adaptation.

Snowpiercer, 28 June, 20:15 at Cineworld 3

[Andrew R. Hill]


The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black Black Oil (dir. John McGrath)

Buried treasure screened on Saturday afternoon as a part of Dick Fiddy of the BFI’s lovingly programmed Border Warfare: John McGrath’s Work in TV, Theatre, & Film thread at the EIFF 2014. John McGrath’s The Cheviot, The Stag, and the Black Black Oil shouldn’t work; a Brechtian play filmed live (audience and all) with inserted dramatised exterior scenes (with different actors from those in the play), contemporary interviews with real people, Gaelic folk songs, Scottish country dancing and old-fashioned one-liner comedy collide in an hour and a half that is by turns tragic, didactic, polemical and hilarious.

The play takes three instances of the Scottish Highlands being carved up by outside forces, from the Clearances through to the Victorian stag hunting playground to North Sea oil. An unashamed attack on Capitalism, The Cheviot… is a breath-taking work of deceptive complexity – detailed, rich, informative, entertaining and moving. That it was screened on BBC One is astonishing now, especially on a weekend where the BBC News has proven itself to be little more than the propaganda wing of the Tory government, failing to report 50,000 people marching from its own headquarters to protest anti-austerity measures. That the film has yet to be released on DVD is, sadly, not much of a surprise – and, no, a screening on BBC Alba in 2012 isn’t enough (and Auntie’s tack has shifted all too far in the wrong direction in the interim). Luckily, YouTube saves the day – it  really is essential viewing. 

The EIFF should be commended for unshowily yet unashamedly political programming, in an era where artists (by which I include filmmakers, musicians and writers) seem content to shy away from politics altogether, for fear of alienating audiences – audiences that are often very receptive. John McGrath certainly was no such artist and the opportunity to discover (or, indeed, rediscover) his work is an unmissable opportunity.

[Andrew R. Hill]

Review: 'We Are the Best!'

          

 ‘Tell me something good about my life’    

 'You’re in the world's greatest band.’     

                                                                                                                                                   

Lukas Moodysson is back with a film that, at least in spirit, resembles his debut feature Show Me Love (1998): here's the story of three teen outcasts who form a punk band. It’s 1982, and Bobo and Klara are having a tough time both at home and a school. Somewhat neglected by their horrifically liberal-bourgeois parents, and mocked by their peers for looking different, these girls know that something needs to be done: embracing what is best about DIY punk culture, they pick up bass and drums and write one (actually pretty good) song (‘Hate the Sport’). It doesn’t matter that they can’t play their instruments (although they get some musical coaching from the band’s third member, skilled guitarist Hedvig) – it’s their ideas and attitude that matter. 

Image courtesy of Metrodome

Image courtesy of Metrodome

Perhaps I was a soft target: We Are the Best! Feels really close to my heart because I was once a naïve, difficult teen who picked up a guitar and tried to form a band with my then-best friend. It didn’t matter that we never got out of her family’s freezing basement – we felt we were doing the most wonderful thing in the world.  Lukas Moodysson seems to know what it feels like to think you are on top of the world, when in reality you have little going for you: it’s great to see how these three girls bond, how they fight and make up, how they defiantly make a stand against a grey world populated by inane adults (the Youth Centre leaders, their PE teacher) and insipid schoolmates with crimped hair. They’re sketchily portrayed through a narrative that is for the most part episodic; yet the performances and clever (and very funny indeed) script ensure that we are left with an impression of well-rounded, believable characters.

It’s good to see a coming-of-age tale about females; whilst we are used to see young boys bond on screen, cinema’s depiction of teenage girls interacting tends to be outrageously inaccurate, peppered with either over-the-top bitchiness or sickening idealisations of pre-pubescent femininity.  Klara, Bobo and Hedvig bicker a lot, they questions each other’s authority and behaviour, they argue over boys and then eventually put it all right again, their friendship cemented by the experiences they share.

The portrayal of 1982 Stockholm is also something of a delight – a lot of films set in the 1980s  end up being cartoonish, especially when they feature music so heavily. Moodysson and his production design team handle the period setting with care, with little details such as pop-up toasters and Guzzini-like floor lamps being pointers that never feel too forced. The colours are soft and have a vintage 35mm film feel to them, but nothing here screams ‘retro’.

 It’s telling that We Are the Best!  feels so incredibly fresh – Moodysson just seems to have a natural knack at telling us stories about the all-too transient and often awkward period that is adolescence.  This is a film that definitely deserves to be seen widely (here’s hoping it inspires a new generation of riot grrls) – even for the last sequence alone, where the protagonists play a gig so riotous that it puts The Jesus and Mary Chain to shame.