Archive for August, 2009

U2 @ Wembley

Posted in Music on August 18, 2009 by alexlarman

u2Is there a more uniformly loathed frontman than Bono? Probably – the likes of Fred Durst and Axl Rose spring, irresistibly, to mind. Yet most lead singers are hated because of their boorish arrogance, whereas Bono, superficially at least, seems close to sainthood. This is probably the problem. It’s been very hard to enjoy U2 for what they are – a rock band – for a very long time now, as the endless St Bono speechifying, along with its faux-humility and, oh heavens above, all the lengthy and self-aggrandising campaigns, ‘me, me, me!’ posturing, the sunglasses, the obvious hypocrisy of a band preaching against global poverty (my favourite joke about this – Bono clicks his fingers. Three seconds later, he clicks his fingers again. ‘Every time I do this’, he intones portentously, ‘a child dies.’ ‘Well stop fucking doing it then!’ comes the inevitable reply) who move most of their financial assets to Holland to escape text.

So there Bono the man. But there is also no denying that, on a good day, Bono the rock star is a mesmerising proposition, combining faux-sincerity, rock star swagger and flawless showbiz instinct and training to thrilling effect, as it proved last Friday at Wembley stadium. He was helped by numerous factors (although apparently not by a dodgy sound mix – it seemed fine from where I was encamped, in the media section) – a fantastic, eye-catching stage set that resembled a giant spider and allowed the action to take place entirely in the round; the usual astonishingly virtuoso playing by Dave Evans, and the rhythm section’s flawless tightness (although Adam Clayton now looks about 60); a fabulous support act by Elbow, raising the bar to a daringly high point without overwhelming the main act; and a really well chosen setlist which combined the old favourites (One, With Or Without You, Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For) with the best of the past few years (Walk On, Vertigo), the odd unexpected but welcome addition (Ultraviolet) and the better tracks off the new album.

The friend I went with said, at the end, ‘I’ve always quite liked U2, but that was significantly better than I thought it was going to be’. Despite myself – and I’ve discussed my love/hate relationship with U2 before – I’d have to concur.

Mesrine & Vincent Cassel

Posted in Film on August 3, 2009 by alexlarman

mesrineTo the unlikely surroundings of the Genesis Cinema, Whitechapel (the kind of place that sounds as if it’s going to be a fantastic arthouse cinema a la the Brixton Ritzy but, to be quite honest…isn’t) for a surprise double-bill of the two Mesrine films, starring Vincent Cassel as the titular anti-hero. The reason why it’s a surprise is that they’re not released until later in the month, but there was no special fanfare or reason why a nondescript East London cinema should be holding this kind of preview; nonetheless, it made for a fascinating four hours of cinema.
 
Jacques Mesrine is a legend in France, but an unknown quantity in the rest of the world. From inauspicious beginnings (a brutal career in Algeria; some small-time thuggery and robbery) he found himself becoming notorious as his criminal career prospered and his increasingly flamboyant escapades (including several apparently impossible prison breaks and audacious escapes, including, memorably, by kidnapping a judge during the middle of his trial) saw him become something of a Robin Hood figure in France, until, at least, his violent death in 1979, which is believed to have been something of a state-authorised execution.

Jean-Francois Richet, the director of the two Mesrine films (Killer Instinct and Public Enemy Number One) has done little of note beforehand, though I rather enjoyed his remake of Assault On Precinct 13. Here, marshalling what is evidently a very large budget, numerous locations (including France, Spain, the US and Canada) and an extremely talented cast, he makes something that, if not a Sergio Leone-esque masterpiece, is nonetheless a very capable piece of filmmaking. He is helped immeasurably by Vincent Cassel’s brilliant performance as Mesrine, a character who is, alternately, charming, likeable, highly sympathetic, thuggish, loathsome and tragic. Cassel is probably the greatest French actor of his generation, and one of the very few who has any kind of real international clout; in this, which is probably his best appearance to date, he manages to make Mesrine a truly compelling protagonist. He’s ably supported by a brilliant cast including Gerard Depardieu (avoiding self-parody in a very Brando-esque role as Guido, the local Mob boss), Bond baddie Mathieu Amalric, the very sexy Ludivine Sagnier and Cecile de France as the two key women in Mesrine’s life, and many others.

If you want four hours of shoot-outs, escapes, chases and action, you’re not going to be disappointed. If you’re looking for a more in-depth examination of Mesrine’s character and what makes him tick, you may be; Cassel and Richet appear to suggest that he was motivated by a desire for fame, self-aggrandisement and the indulgent trappings of his lifestyle (all of which looks rather fun), but some late developments that appear to suggest that he wanted to get involved in more political movements seem half-thought through, as if the filmmakers were uncertain as to whether to suggest that Mesrine had any convictions whatsoever, other than criminal ones. And watched all in one go, this exceptionally rich banquet can be rather overwhelming. Yet this is still a hugely watchable, highly enjoyable experience, with a fantastic lead performance that makes this lengthy journey a compelling one.