Archive for February, 2010

Marina And The Diamonds

Posted in Music with tags , , , on February 24, 2010 by alexlarman

West London’s ornate Bush Hall recently played host to the woman we must call ‘2010’s hottest pop sensation’, Marina and the Diamonds. The excellently-named Marina Diamandis (the ‘Diamonds’ part refers to her fans, rather than to her backing band, as might reasonably be supposed) has been tipped by music critics and pundits alike to be one of the most successful acts of the year. She’s been compared to singers as eclectic as Kate Bush, Alison Goldfrapp and, more tenuously, Britney Spears.

The amusing thing about Marina’s rise to fame is that it’s not some five-minute wonder, but the careful culmination of years of hard work. She might only be 24, but she originally attempted to start her career off treading the boards in the West End, before realising that her quirky talent was best expressed through creating her own songs, which have now been released on her debut album The Family Jewels, which has emerged to critical praise and healthy sales.

At her London gig to launch the album, the ever-glamorous Marina might have been feeling slightly under the weather – ‘I’ve got a fever, so I don’t want to sneeze over any of you’, she declared halfway through – but you’d never have known it from her stylish and thrillingly theatrical performance. With a powerful octave-spanning voice that seems more suited to arenas and festival fields that the comparatively bijoux surroundings of the Bush Hall, she performed most of the songs from her album with vim and pizzazz, thrilling the trendy Shepherd’s Bush crowd.

No mean shakes as a keyboardist, as shown by her performing solo at one point, she’s equally at home with finely crafted three minute pop songs (‘Hollywood’) and slowly unfolding torch songs (‘Obsessions). But the highlight of the night, as on album, is her beautiful paean to emotional insecurity, ‘I Am Not A Robot’, which was the first single that she released last year. Chances are that it’ll become one of the year’s defining songs come the festival period, and, on this showing, you wouldn’t begrudge her any of her success.

Find out more about Marina at www.marinaandthediamonds.com

Alice In Wonderland

Posted in Film with tags , , , on February 22, 2010 by alexlarman

There’s been some fascinating behind-the-scenes politicking surrounding the release of Tim Burton’s new film of Alice in Wonderland. Disney, the distributors, have attempted to compel cinema chains that would show the film to only have a 12-week distribution window before its DVD release, rather than the customary 17. Ignoring the fact that this is primarily an academic consideration – firstly its 3D release means that it’s likely to be popular at the cinema regardless of timeframes, and secondly few major films are still showing after 3 months, let alone 4 – this means that the film will be in the odd position of not showing at the Odeon and Vue chains, in all probability, meaning that a good number of major cities simply won’t have branches showing one of the year’s biggest films.

Alas, much as I’d like to report that this is an unmissable piece of breathtakingly innovative cinema, I can’t. Although it’s got some nice images and good moments in it, Burton’s highly variable directorial style is here submerged in a curiously uncertain film which doesn’t know if it’s a Disney children’s picture, a sophisticated meta-cinematic take on Carroll’s original book or just a big commercial Johnny Depp vehicle that will make lots of money.

It begins with a nice, if odd, prologue, with Marton Csokas as ‘Charles Kingsley’ – presumably a tongue-in-cheek nod to the author of The Water Babies? – reassuring his daughter Alice that her fantastical dreams are just that. Then, thirteen years later, he has died and a grown-up Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is being taken off to a society ball by her mother (Lindsay Duncan) to be married off to some nittish lord. All this is fine, but takes up far too much screen time. Then, much to her surprise, she finds herself following a white rabbit, and falling down a rabbit hole, where she finds herself in a Wonderland ruled by the psychotic Red Queen (Helena Bonham-Carter, enjoying herself in a performance that riffs on Miranda Richardson as Queen Elizabeth in Blackadder) and her henchman the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover). What then follows is a rehash of the original book, with the Mad Hatter (Depp, naturally) moved centre stage, and a slightly contrived destiny saga about Alice being compelled to battle the fearsome Jabberwock.

It’s not a complete waste of time, because Burton is too visually talented to make a visually unremarkable film, though I can’t help thinking that the cartoonish CGI and occasionally irksome 3D effects have done him no favours. But there’s nothing of any particular interest here. Wasikowska has an uncertain British accent and a screen presence that seems petulant rather than compelling, and Depp is shamelessly indulged in a hammy part that sees him look strikingly odd and then does nothing of any note with him. The rest of the cast tend to be either one-note (Anne Hathaway’s White Queen) or British actors picking up pay cheques for doing voiceovers (Stephen Fry, Alan Rickman, Christopher Lee et al).

I’ll be intrigued to see how this does at the UK box office if the threatened boycott goes ahead. No doubt it’ll still make gazillions, but it’s a crushing disappointment, all things considered.

The Irrepressibles

Posted in Music on February 16, 2010 by alexlarman

As 2010’s new acts look to be mainly similar to last year’s – attractive girls with attitude, big hair and a fondness for 80s music – then anyone who is staking out a new furrow should be applauded. Welcome, then, the arrival of The Irrepressibles, a ten-piece mini-orchestra, led by the charismatic and flamboyant Jamie McDermott. Staking out a place in modern music somewhere between Antony and the Johnsons, the Arcade Fire and a sort of male Joanna Newsom, with a smattering of early David Bowie, The Irrepressibles promise to be one of the year’s most striking discoveries.

At the South Bank’s Queen Elizabeth Hall, the collective took Valentine’s Day as a suitable date to launch their first album Mirror, Mirror with a live performance. As you might expect, the theatrical elements of the evening came strongly to the forefront, with the back of the stage being decorated with full-length mirrors, all of which were illuminated by cabaret-style lightbulbs. This glitzily impressive backdrop proved a suitably lavish accompaniment for the band to perform their beautiful, offbeat and strange (in the best sense) music.

While I’m not convinced that this album will establish the band as a mainstream chart-topper – nor was it designed to – there’s a wit and playfulness to many of the songs, such as ‘Anvil’ and ‘My Friend Jo’ that will chime with anyone who likes theatrical and stylised pop music. However it’s the album and set closer ‘In This Shirt’ that hints at greater things still. Over the backing of a mournful organ and an increasingly complex string arrangement, McDermott’s eerily compelling voice soars as he recounts the story of what might be a lost love affair, or simply a paean to his tailor. Either way, it’s one of the most beautiful and stirring pieces of music I’ve heard in the past year. If this is their future, there’s no stopping them.

The album Mirror Mirror is now available. Further details of the band are at www.theirrepressibles.com

A Single Man

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by alexlarman

A Single Man, Tom Ford’s directorial debut and an adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel, opens in the UK the same week that Alexander McQueen killed himself – an unsettling, if entirely coincidental parallel, given that the film revolves entirely around a man’s decision to commit suicide after the death of the person closest to him. Given that Ford’s Gucci group acquired a controlling stake in McQueen’s company in 2000, there is a connection between the two events that lends an added poignancy to a film that needs little extra.

Revolving around a day in the life of George (Colin Firth), an English professor in America who has decided to end his life after the recent death of his partner Jim (Matthew Goode), the film is, first and foremost, a triumph of its aesthetic. Set in 1962, with the Cuban missile crisis in the background, Ford ensures that the period details are utterly pitch-perfect from start to finish. (As you would expect, Firth, clad entirely in Tom Ford, is immaculately styled, groomed and presented throughout.) As the protagonist encounters a besotted student (Nicholas ‘Skins’ Hoult), has dinner with his old friend Charlie (Julianne Moore) and prepares to put his affairs in order before facing the great beyond, Ford stages the action in pitch-perfect detail and clarity. Moving between deliberately desaturated colour to show the empty, hollow nature of George’s life and heightened colour to indicate the changes in George’s fortunes, Ford demonstrates a compelling visual aesthetic that makes this a wonderful watch.

Thankfully, it’s not just  a feast for the eyes either. Firth, so often an actor who looks uncomfortable or out of place on screen, is perfect from start to finish, conveying equal parts stoic resolve, oh-so-English repression and a sly wit and intelligence, all qualities which were absent from, say, Nanny McPhee, apart perhaps from the English repression. It’s very much his film, and he’s very moving, especially in an early scene when he’s curtly informed of his lover’s death by his cousin over the phone, and the grief and shock is written over his face, even as he tries to keep his emotions under check. Compared to him, the other actors can only really play types, although Moore is very good as his booze-sodden old friend who still holds a torch for him, and Goode is dependably charming in the flashbacks that give a sense of George’s previous life.

Sadly I imagine that Firth will lose to Jeff Bridges come the Oscars, but nonetheless this is a powerhouse performance in a splendidly mounted and executed film, which promises great things from Ford. My colleague Catherine Bray has speculated as to what an adaptation of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History by him might be like – on this evidence, I can only say I’d be intrigued to see.

UPDATE: Can I also commend the score by Abel Korzeniowski and Shigeru Umebayashi, which sounds like a cross between Nyman, Glass and Hitchcock-era Herrmann? Glorious stuff.

Youth In Revolt

Posted in Film with tags , , , on February 8, 2010 by alexlarman

Ten reasons why you should see Youth In Revolt:

1) It’s hilarious from start to finish. The freewheeling, picaresque story of Nick Twisp (Michael Cera), an anxious young virgin who finds himself creating an alter ego, Francois Dillinger, there are more laugh-out-loud moments of absurdity than I’ve seen in a film in aeons.

2) Portia Doubleday.

3) It’s a brilliant adaptation of CD Payne’s acclaimed cult novel, which manages to include the book’s absurdist high points without feeling strained or self-conscious.

4) Portia Doubleday.

5) The cast – Fred Willard, Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, M Emmet Walsh and Mary Kay Place, to name but a few, offer deeply quality support, and are all hilarious, particularly Willard as Cera’s eccentric neighbour who is devoted to hiding illegal immigrants in his basement.

6) Portia Doubleday.

7) The dialogue is often laugh-out-loud, with a stylized quality vaguely reminiscent of Wes Anderson or Diablo Cody’s work, but less obviously stylized, although any film that contains a line like ‘I’m going to wrap your legs around my head and wear you like the crown you are…if that’s alright with you’ has to be taken as a good business.

8)  Portia Doubleday.

9) The film introduces some terribly talented young actors, including PD and Adhir Kalyan as Twisp’s jolly-hockey-sticks English-accented best friend, and also manages to allow Cera to extend his guileless naif range beyond the usual ‘oldest virgin in school’ shtick thanks to his performance as Dillinger, a kind of extended parody of Brad Pitt in Fight Club.

10) And, lest we forget, Portia Doubleday, in one of the most enchanting ingenue performances I’ve seen in a film in years.

Perrier’s Bounty

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , on February 6, 2010 by alexlarman

I went along to the cast and crew screening of the new Irish crime/gangster film the other night, Perrier’s Bounty, which stars the likes of Jim Broadbent, Cillian Murphy (who were both at the screening) and Brendan Gleeson. It follows in the footsteps of the sub-genre of Irish comedy/crime capers that have been emerging over the last few years, including the magnificent In Bruges and Martin McDonagh’s short debut Six Shooter, the not bad I Went Down and the not very good at all Intermission and The Actors.

Perrier’s Bounty falls somewhere in the midst of these films. It’s certainly an improvement on Intermission, which also starred Cillian Murphy and shared the same writer, Mark O’Rowe, but it is frustratingly mired in ‘good’ rather than taking the plunge into ‘excellent’. Perhaps it’s because the set-up is well-worn territory. Michael (Murphy), a luckless petty criminal, owes some money to the local gangster Perrier (Gleeson), and, in lieu of payment, is being threatened with having his limbs broken. In a desperate attempt to gather the money, he takes part in a house break organised by another gangster, ‘The Mutt’ (Liam Cunningham), which all goes accordingly to plan, but the involvement of his ne’er-do-well father (Broadbent), his suicidal and lovelorn neighbour Brenda (Jodie Whittaker) and various other characters, including some dog lovers and a pair of gay thugs, soon see him on the run with Brenda and his father, pursued by several different factions, all of whom are after the price on his head.

If it sounds convoluted, that’s because it is. Directed capably enough by Ian Fitzgibbon, it maintains a good balance between comedy and thrills, licks along at a decent pace and doesn’t outstay its welcome. It also boasts two excellent performances from Gleeson, playing a Dublin godfather-type with suitable gravitas and weight, and Broadbent. The latter is cast against type and with a wandering accent, but making up for it by injecting an interestingly weird subplot of existential dread in which he claims to have been visited by the Grim Reaper, who will then take his soul when he falls asleep, and so he is forced to stay awake by increasingly outlandish means.

It’s an entertaining hour and a half, but eventually the predictable nature of it all becomes wearying, and I can’t help thinking that Murphy is better off playing baddies – there’s something so sinister about his feline, blue-eyed charms – and that Whittaker’s charms are somewhat lost upon me. It’s also too violent to be wholeheartedly funny in places, with a lingeringly nasty edge to much of the goings-on that dent the fun.

Still, for all that, it does have some excellent moments and nice touches, and bowls along pleasantly enough. And if you’ve ever wanted to see Jim Broadbent do his best Tony Montana through a blizzard of coke, this is your film. Oh, and ten points if you recognise the Famous Irish Actor doing the voiceover. I didn’t, not until the credits.