Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where is the love?

The Screen Actor's Guild (SAG is such an unfortunate acronym, no? It's doubly unsuited for actors, for whom sagging is anathema) announced their noms this morning. I had expected them to show some love for Laura Linney's turn in The Savages. She's getting left out in the cold for her portrayal of Wendy Savage and not one of the American critics have nominated her, which is baffling. Linney is an actor's actor, it's an unshowy but memorable perf and she's continuously been excellent in everything she's done. Let's look at the Best Actress SAGs:

Best Actress
Cate Blanchett
Julie Christie
Marion Cotillard
Angelina Jolie
Ellen Page

I thought Christie and Jolie were both excellent in Away From Her and A Mighty Heart respectively. I'm kind of surprised that Jolie is getting recognised, I thought she was lovely and understated as Marianne Pearl but there's so much baggage attached to the role (like, she kind of blacked-up...not exactly pc...I didn't have a huge problem with it but nobody seems to be talking about it). Cotilard got a lot of hatred and muck thrown at her, but I was still moved by her Piaf. The film was muddled, but Cotillard didn't edit the damn thing and in my opinion she deserves her placing. Juno hasn't opened her yet, but I'm enthusiastic about the indie/young actress push. Which leaves Blanchett. Ahem. Some people don't exactly love her and are (perhaps rightly) angered by her place here. I didn't bother seeing The Golden Age but from what I heard it was a godawful mess in which Blanchett yelled a lot. Reviews were universally middling, so why the constant worship? She's not an actual queen, ballot writers. Heads won't actually roll if you don't write her name on the ballot paper! I actually am quite fond of Blanchett (this is residual habit, left over from her Galadriel. We used to have fights in the playground, Galadriel v Arwen and I always backed the Lothlorien Queen) but she doesn't have to be nominated for everything she appears in (even though she didn't get a Best Supporting Oscar for her best role yet, in Coffee and Cigarettes).

The solution, as I see it, would have been to give Blanchett a Supporting nod and leave the fifth space for Linney. But no, look at the Supporting Actress noms:

Best Supporting Actress
Cate Blanchett
Ruby Dee
Catherine Keener
Amy Ryan
Tilda Swinton

Oh. Hi Cate. Again. Why a double nod? Why? She is a good actress, but The Golden Age is not a good film and you've already rewarded her in another category. Gah! Stop being such an award hog!

I haven't actually seen The Savages yet (it opens in Ireland late January). But I'm still cross that Linney's being snubbed. Partly because of this. Also, this. But mainly because I'm saddened that Jindabyne is not getting any notice whatsoever, in any category.

Bah. Dispelling any bad vibes I'm transmutting through the web, Hairspray got an Ensemble nod and three of the Michael Clayton team (Clooney, Wilkinson, Swinton) got recognised.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Top Thirty Songs of 2007

2007 was, I'll say it here right now, an amazing year for music. New albums by some of my favourite artists (Radiohead, Buck 65, the blessed triptych of female rock Polly Jean, Tori and Bjork, solo work from Siouxsie), new discoveries (Feist, The Bird and the Bee, Janelle Monae, Panda Bear), some of the best pop singles of the new millenium and some wonderful live shows made the musical scene a great place to lose a few days, absorbing all the good tunes. We had our missteps (Fergie, Fergie and...uh...Fergie), but overall I enjoyed this year's output more than I have in ages.

Naming my top ten albums is still proving a headache, but I've finally compiled my top thirty songs of 2007. The criteria were loose, my only restriction being the One Song Per Artist gamit, Not all of these were singles and some were even released in 2006, but they were the songs that had the greatest impact on me during the year. I don't profess to have the most finely tuned musical taste in the world, but I know what I like. These thirty tracks represent my tastes; esoteric covers, tearful ballads, pop songs that blazed through my skull, pop culture referential rapping, wit, imagination and, above all, great tunes. Enjoy.

1. “Violet Stars Happy Hunting”

Janelle Monae
It couldn’t be anything else, really. Since I first heard of her in July of this year, there hasn‘t been a day when I haven‘t spun VSHH. I listened to it during my exams, to cheer myself up. I listened to it in the car. I listened to it out walking. It was the soundtrack to most housework and shopping I did throughout the year. It got to the point where I felt guilty for listening to it too much. If Janelle Monae isn’t the darling of the blogosphere this time next year, I’ll despair of people’s ears. The robotic cackle of the intro is only a taster of the sensory assault that’s to follow in the next three minutes. If Michael Jackson circa “Thriller” released “Hey Ya” on the Blade Runner soundtrack in the year 2719 and stored it in a time capsule which was hurled back to the present day in the Tardis…the resulting tune wouldn’t be half the song VSHH is. It sounds futuristic, timeless, tongue-in-cheek and totally earnest. Glittering production, the best vocal work of 2007 and, wait for it, a narrative concept involving cyborgs and drones and a chase and doomed love and something called Electro Daggers. Download, buy, steal, borrow or beg for this song. Damn, she's good. Listen to the song here.

2. “Too Little, Too Late”

Daniel Rossen
The acoustic-version-of-pop-song trend has lost a lot of it’s original appeal. For one, the smug
“Aren’t we ironic?” thing grates very quickly and for another, the original songs (Toxic, Breathe, Umbrella) are often a lot more enjoyable and musical than a dour pale bloke with an acoustic guitar. There are exceptions, however, “Too Little, Too Late”, formerly recorded by JoJo and covered earlier this year by Daniel Rossen. Far from being one guy bashing out the tune on an acoustic guitar, it’s a lush production affair. Layered vocals caress the painfully unironic lyrics over a fragile guitar and piano backdrop, drums quietly intruding now and again and driving the song forward with a welcome sense of urgency. The descending guitar line giving way to “I was young and in love” tingles with anticipation and longing. Although fragile and delicate, the song never feels like it’s about to collapse in on itself or suffocate under the singer’s knowing grin (both traps which are laid anytime an “indie” covers something like this). Repeat listens uncover a subtle menace undercutting the sadness. I listen to this song and give thanks for JoJo - a measure of this song’s worth. Listen here.

3. “Out Of Control (Song for Mutya)”
Groove Armada.

The introductory note of “Out Of Control” instantly fills me with happiness. Finally out of the series of revolving doors that is the Sugababes, it took Mutya Buena a collaboration with Groove Armada to create the best mainstream pop single of the year. The self-referential vocal, false ending and that squelching fuzzy bass at the song’s into make this the best ‘Babes-related song since “Freak Like Me“. One of the few singles I bought this year (along with The Go! Team, Feist and PJ Harvey), on vinyl with three different remixes attached. Listen here.

4. “1234”
Wait, hear me out. An iPod advertisement and widespread plays does NOT a bad song make. I admire Feist for letting this song be used in an ad and thus spreading the joy to thousands more listeners than she would have otherwise had. Feist deserves the acclaim she’s finally receiving (it’s been a long time coming) and “1234” was the perfect song to catapult her into the big time. Leslie Feist has one of the most unique voices in pop music, careening, wild, haunted and warm. Something about the lyrics calls to mind “Rubber Ring”, an overlooked Smiths b-side, which is such a positive point of reference for me that I nearly cry every time I hear this song. The song’s best attribute however, one of those spine-tingling, heart-warming moments of perfection, is the rapid piano slide at 2.30. Listen here.

6. “Colleen”
Joanna Newsom
Newsom is so uncool that it aches. Who else would have the blind self-belief it takes to release a 7 minute folk song about a woman realising she was once a whale and release it on an EP called “Joanna Newsom and the Ys Street Band”? That awful pun alone would alert you to the fact that Joanna does not care a fig what others think of her, and that’s before you examine the lyrics. She’s still the only modern artist I can think of who can use the word ‘perturbed’ without batting an eyelid. “Colleen” is relatively simple in structure, compared to some of the songs on “Ys” but the quiet way it builds up, the odd yelps she squeezes in between verses and the power of storytelling worm it into my top ten, unexpectedly. Watch it live here.

6. “Take Pills”
Panda Bear
“Person Pitch” is a very good album, although I sometimes find it a draining listen. Sounds slip in and out of your headphones, recognisible snippets of a tune siddle in but are replaced by organic dreamscapes, electric drills or what spiritual harmonies. Everything blends in to one another, creating a comforting quilt of an album that could prove smothering in too strong a dose. Sick in bed with a muzzy head, listening to the album and reading “number9dream” was an overpowering experience, to say the least. Everyone fawned over “Bros”, but the second track was my personal favourite. It noodles along unassumingly until the track’s real intention reveals itself, a jaunty pop ditty instructing us to”Take one thing at a time”. Drowned in otherworldly noises and squelches, Panda Bear’s looped vocals are warm, harmonic and unexpectedly sensible. A delight. Watch it here.

7. “1957”
Buck 65
I like Buck 65 a lot, enjoying both his earlier hip-hop stuff and his more recent albums, which pay a heavy debt to Tom Waits and that particular brand of grizzled Americana. I never thought this enjoyment would waver, but he surprised me with his new album, Situation. Not that it’s bad, far from it. It’s purely that the first song (not counting the intro), leads with the lines, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed / Devoid of conviction, conflicted, annoyed” made me almost punch the air with delight. Buck 65 referencing Howl? My brain just about exploded and I fell for this song, hook-line-and-sinker even before he name checks Humphrey Bogart. In a year when I was relatively disappointed by hip-hop, Buck 65 swoops down in a busted Chevy to rescue me. Here's the mp3.

8. “All My Friends”
LCD Soundsystem
Once upon a time, James Murphy penned funny dance tunes about hipsters. The indie world was delighted and they praised Murphy for giving them dance music they could relate to. He got the geeks up and dancing and across the land, Daft Punk were playing at everybody’s houses. A few years later, Murphy grew up and he penned introspective dance tunes about hipsters. Some people didn’t like these as much, but most did and Murphy found himself topping lists all over the internet. “All My Friends” starts off like Steve Reich-lite but when his distinctive sing-talking voice starts, lamenting ageing and growing up and realising your life might have been a waste, I begun to understand where the list-makers were coming from. Whether the people calling this the best song of the year were identifying with the lyrics or just getting blissfully lost in the repetitive keyboards, “All My Friends” stands as one of the most iconic, and sad, songs of the year.

9. “Umbrella”
It was so tempting to stick “Breakin‘ Dishes” at this spot. While everyone who heard “Umbrella” acted like an idiot, dancing ironically with their own raingear, I was a firm believer that there were better songs on Good Girl Gone Bad. “Breakin’ Dishes” is Rihanna’s version of Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats”, except a little more psychotic. It had a great beat and a giddy little keyboard refrain, but even as I was typing up the short blurb about the song, “Umbrella” came on Windows Media Plater and I had to stop. Disregarding Jay-Zs half-hearted opening, “Umbrella” is an amazing song. Rihanna may profess to be an RnB singer, but I’ve a feeling she wants something else. Remember her sample of “Tainted Love” on “SOS”? The hint she gave there fully manifested itself here; Rihanna loves her dirty synth pop. Quite apart from the lazy, disinterested vocals she’s blessed with, “Umbrella” works because of it’s backing instrumentation. Listen to the synths that kick in after the “Because!” that signals the arrival of each chorus. Inanimate objects were so hot this year (see; “Lipgloss”) and Rihanna’s monster of a chart-topper song (allegedly passed over by both Britney and MJ Blige) was the undisputed champ.

10. “Tears Dry On Their Own”
Amy Winehouse
I was in France when this song first became big and I was so frustrated that I had no means of listening to it. There was a record shop near where we were staying which had “Back to Black” on one of those listening posts and when I discovered it I fell upon the headset, dying to hear this song. Imagine my disapointment when I realised that it only played 30 seconds of each song. Still, I devoured those thirty seconds over and over again. Based on the backing track of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, Winehouse transforms the Gospel song of praise into something entirely different; beaten down, her voice cracking, “Tears Dry On Their Own” is a feel-good song rooted in harsh reality. It could turn into the “I Will Survive” of our generation if we allow it. Whatever else you might think of Amy Winehouse, there is no denying she has a true talent.

So, that's the top ten. Here are my next twenty.

11.“Identity Theft,” Nellie McKay The latest album from the tiny snarky Miss McKay was so hit and miss I'm astounded people weren't injured by her stray arrows. When she's good, she's very good and "Indentity Theft" is her at her very best.

12. “Black History Month,” Saul Williams. Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails) tried to ruin Saul's latest album by smothering it in a horrible industrial fuzz. Still, one of the best poets of our generation could rap himself out of a paper bag and he managed to make this a furious, intelligent listen.

13. “Under The Ether,” PJ Harvey I really don't know what's going on with Polly Jean at the moment, whether the air of disassociated melancholy so prevelant on "White Chalk" is her real mood or just an act. Either way, it makes for a haunting, pared-down listen.

14. “Fucking Boyfriend,” The Bird and The Bee. Gratuitous cursing is so fun on sweet indie-pop ditties like this. The Bird and The Bee soundtracked my lazy Summer days, with air trickling in the open window like a drug.

15. “Grip Like A Vice,” The Go! Team. Yes, it sounds exactle like their old album. Yes, it's still brilliant. Feel-good track of the year.

16. “For Reverend Green,” Animal Collective. The standout track from Animal Collective's much admired/discusssed 8th album. Some disliked the way the vocals were brought to the front of the mix; I embraced it.

17. “Break My Body,” Hanne Hukkelberg. A Pixies cover that's better than the original? By a twenty-something from Norway? Awesome.

18. “None Shall Pass,” Aesop Rock. I found the parent album to be a locked door, but this single was the key. The "I Huckabees" namedrop is just the entrygate to Aesop's intelligent, brooding vocabulay-rap.

19. “Everything I Am,” Kanye West.
(Alternate title) In which West stops worrying and learns to love his faults. Kanye in an introspective, quiet mood for a change. And it works.

20. “Three Steps,” Paris Motel I don't know much about Paris Motel save for it's one woman who isn't from France. A minor epic which wind swirls and violin scrapes and lyrics about sailing ships to Galway (for some inexplicable reason).

21. “Nude,” Radiohead. If you had told me that I'd ever place a new Radiohead song outside a top twenty, I'd have looked at you in disbelief. Consider yourself scathingly glared at. Even though it's not actually a new song, dating from around OK Computer time, it's the only track I can really get worked up about on In Rainbows.

22. “Say It Right”, Nelly Furtado. It's no "Maneater". What it is, is a lovely slice of melancholic pop, complete with wistful, Timbaland-voiced "Oh"s.

23. “Hot in Herre”, Jenny Owen Youngs. Another cover, this time of the Nelly classic. I'm not sure who Jenny Owen Youngs is, but this cover is a lot of sassy fun.

24. “Heaven and Alchemy,” Siouxsie Sioux. The news earlier this year that Siouxsie had divorced long-time partner and bandmember Budgie shocked me. The couple had been going for years, ever since the Banshees and had released many albums together under The Creatures. She refused to divulge the exact details of their split, but it's all here to see in the lyrics of this (gasp) ballad. Heartache has never sounded lovelier.

25. What’s A Girl To Do?” Bat For Lashes. The Bat For Lashes album kept frustrating me. There were times when I was thinking "This is great...this is great...keepitupkeepitupkeepitup" and then the song would just end flatly. I'm maybe being a bit harsh, because every now and then there would be a song like this.

26. “Big Wheel,” Tori Amos. As time goes by, my feelings towards Tori wax and wane. Sometimes I can't get enough of her craziness, at other times she irritates. Still, having the balls to call yourself a "MILF" in the lead-off single for your new concept album was genius. Too bad the rest of the album didn't follow in this rocking, rollin' vein.

27. “Like A Boy” Ciara. I keep forgetting about this song, even though I loved it when it first came out. Extra bonus points for the hilarious video

28. “Northern State”, Sucka Mofo. Hooray for cheesy female rappers! Okay, Northern State aren't really that cheesy. They're whipcrack funny, smart-alecky, jokey and socially aware. Just wait till you get to the line about global warming...

29. “LoveStoned/I Think She Knows” Justin Timberlake. I know. I know. It's not really 2007. But it's beautiful.

30. “Earth Intruders” Bjork. The album was a frustrating listen, but "Earth Intruders" is the best Icelandic, Timbaland-produced, battle cry against global warming of the year. And that's a fact.

Comment! Listen to the tracks, spread the love, tell me what you think, rag on my taste or tell me I'm wrong.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Top 100 Tracks

Well, I posted just in time. Pitchfork's top 100 tracks have been published today, with their albums due tomorrow. I forgot to mention it yesterday, but for me, reading lists of individual songs is more enjoyable than full album capsule reviews. A 3 minute pop song (or 12, if you're Panda Bear) can be sweet perfection and may inspire full fledged love, passion, hatred or regret.

Trawl the net at Pitchfork, where they've helpfully given links to downloads or videos of each song. No surprises with the top spot, LCD Soundsystem's All My Friends. I'm so glad I finally heard this song, it's appearing in everyone's list right now. A deserving win, I think, although it won't be my favourite of the year.

Take a gander at their top 10. I've helpfully provided YouTube videos of each song you can make your own judgements, especially if you haven't heard any of them (I wasn't familiar with two). Not bad, although I'd have made different selections from the Animal Collective, Rihanna and Panda Bear albums.

10: Jay-Z [ft. Beanie Sigel]
"Ignorant Shit"

9: Animal Collective

8: Justice

7: LCD Soundsystem
"Someone Great"

6: UGK [ft. Outkast]
"Int'l Players Anthem (I Choose You)"

5: Rihanna [ft. Jay-Z]

4: M.I.A. [ft. Bun B and Rich Boy]
"Paper Planes (Remix)"

3: Panda Bear

2: Battles

1: LCD Soundsystem
"All My Friends"

I'm working my own Single Song list. Expect it within the next few days.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

What you waiting for?

I've been checking Pitchfork daily for their annual Best Music list. I have a love-hate relationship with Pitchfork; they are great for music news and free tracks, but then they write a review like this (pretentious drivel) or this (oh, how funny?). Their approval is notorious for making/breaking bands and theirs is probably one of the most anticipated music lists in the western world (the music press are dying a slow, prolonged death). It's not likely to arrive for a while, but I'm curious. LCD Soundsystem are taking the top spot in lots of lists this year (which I found completely odd, I can't remember the album having any buzz when it came out - though I've finally heard it and it's goooood) with Boxer by The National (which I haven't heard) also proving popular. Will the Gods of Indie Snobbery follow suit? I'm going to hazard a guess and say Battles, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, lil Wayne, Jens Lenkman and Feist are going to figure prominently.

I'm also torn over my own list. Unlike Pitchfork, it's going to be a more subdued affair, with 10 or 15 places instead of 50. But I'm finding it sososo difficult. I was on a forum the other day when I was asked for my top 10 albums of 2007, no rankings necessary. I typed away merrily, clicked out of the screen and then, a minute later, was filled with dread. The list was awful. I'd forgotten half the people I needed to reward, gave spots to albums I only half liked. I was distraught (well, not really, but I was still upset). And that was without ranking them.

Of course, it's not a big deal. I'm not having a major crisis over it, for example. But I would like to know, do I rank Thurston Moore over PJ Harvey???

While I'm deliberating, here are some fantastic music-related photos from 2007 that I nicked from the site.

Sufjan looking like a badass angel

Karen O outdoes herself in the fashion department

The Go! Team

Jarvis Cocker

Thursday, December 13, 2007

And her soul walks beside her...

The ending of a film is really important. Unexpected twists are fine when utilised properly (and disasterous when they're lazy or poorly conceieved) but I'm referring rather to the moment when the screen fades to black, usually with musical accompaniment; if it's done well, it can be overpowering, surprising, beautiful, moving, funny or a combination of all three. It goes without saying that music is integral to this process. A good example I can think of is "Imagine Me And You" playing at the end of Adaptation. Another, more recent film would be The Golden Compass. Of course, I knew Kate Bush was contributing a song to the film, but I'd forgotten and so was thrilled when it began to play over the credits. I haven't been that pleasantly surprised during a credits sequence since Siouxsie and the Banshees turned up and the end of the greatgreatgreat Monster House.

"Lyra" was written by Kate especially for the film, and you can tell. Some of the lyrics aren't the greatest ("Lyra...and her face..." is especially laugh-worthy). But she only had 10 days to write and record it, which is a stunning achievement for a noted perfectionist like her. And it is beautiful. Her voice has matured so well, if you listen back to some of the earlier recordings of Wuthering Heights, she sounds like she's strangling herself sometimes (in a good way, of course) but in "Lyra" you can really appreciate her vocals. There's not much of a tune, so if you're a die-hard tunesmith this probably won't tickle your pickle. But for those who appreciate a bit of ambience and fans of Kate Bush will certainly enjoy it (that's two for me, then).

Anyway, the point of this was to look at the songs eligible for the Oscars. The full list can be read with disgust here. There's nary a decent song on there (save for about three or four), so I'm crossing my toes in hope "Lyra" gets a nod. Purely to see Kate at the ceremony, because that woman is downwright crazy and brilliant and it could be the funniest performance since
"It's Hard Out Here For A Pimp".

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I like to be in America...

If I said to you, "It's
Aunt Mirta's birthday!", would you care? Probably not. What about Cousin Anita? Thought so. Today marks Rita Moreno's 76th birthday, which is kind of astounding. Not to sound rude, but I had no idea she was so old! She was a welcome addition to the camper-van of celebrities that appeared in Ugly Betty last year (that's where Aunt Mirta comes from). West Side Story is obviously Moreno's masterpiece, showcasing her warmth, her strength of characterisation and her singing talent. Yep, she was dubbed on "A Boy Like That" (my favourite from the film's soundtrack, it's underrated, no?) but that voice you hear on "America" is pure Rita. Soeaking of that country, there's another famous birthday today (Mos Def) who manages to encapsulate the U.S.A. in a piece of art.

I don't believe I've seen any of his films, but I have to give the man a respectful mention because of one piece of music. An album that is so distinctive, so evocative, and so much fun. Filled with heart, vinegar and beats. One that defined a culture. What you talking 'bout, Catherine? Well, I'm talking about "Black Star", the 1998 collaboration album between Mos Def and Talib Kweli.

It's such a strong album, furious and positive and playful all at once. Kweli and Def have distinctive rapping styles, but they work well together. It'd be a stretch to say it's my favourite hip hop album, but it's probably my most important, the formative work in my collection. C'mon,

One two three
Mos Def and Talib Kweli
We came to rock it on to the tip-top
Best alliance in hip-hop, wyahhhhh
I said one two three
It's kind of dangerous to be a emcee
They shot Tupac and Biggie
Too much violence in hip-hop, wyahhhhh.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

The Golden Compass (2007) Weitz

If The Golden Compass had been an hour longer, it would have easily been one of my favourite films this year. Director and screenwriter Chris Weitz should have believed in the strength of the material as strongly as Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens did for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, letting the enormous back story, history and culture of the world seep into the film while giving the characters time to breathe before rushing into the next battle scene. It’s far from being a short film clocking in at just two hours, but it’s not lengthy enough to fully absorb us into the world. And, despite having never read the books, I can tell it’s a world that deserves to be as magnificent and enticing as Middle Earth.

Thankfully, the film is still more LOTR than Hogwarts or Narnia in the depth of story, visuals and general tone. The comparisons to the LOTR trilogy are numerous; from the opening image of New Line’s logo that still immediately brings to mind the trilogy (The Fellowship of the Ring was, I think, the first film in which I took note of the production company) to the presence of Ian McKellen (wonderful as the voice of the armoured bear, Iorek ) and Christopher Lee (woefully underused). Unlike Harry Potter, which mixes the mundane and the magical to comedic effect, The Golden Compass is fully immersed in its magical aspects. Set in a world parallel to our own, where our souls are represented as tangible animals called Daemons who walk beside us and the menacing Magisterium (a thinly veiled version of the Church) watch over everything, the story
concerns the orphan girl Lyra (a spirited performance by the “other” Dakota) who lives in Oxford under the guidance and tutorage of her uncle, Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig, who deserves much more screen time). To describe the intricacies of the plot would be futile, as I have no idea where to start, save to say it moves at a zippy pace, throwing out information at the viewer at a dazzling speed. If you’re unfamiliar with the source material, as I was, then you need to have your wits about you, paying careful attention at all times. Like the LOTR, the source material is heavily allegorical (although Tolkien would reportedly fume whenever anybody referred to his books as such) and this seems to be where many of the books fans get annoyed; in order to make the film financially viable, all mentions of religion and god were shaved off completely. I can understand how this would anger people, yet I don’t think the filmmakers completely disregarded this integral element. Although it is never explicit, it must be very obvious to the more thoughtful members of the audience that the Magisterium stands for organized religion and that their policy of severing children from their Daemons is a pretty blatant statement about how religion cuts off our faculty for independent thought and free will (at least, that was my spin on it. Not having read the books, I can’t be sure if this is the exact meaning, but it’s close enough). To many of the children sitting in the cinema watching this film with me, these subtleties were undoubtedly lost, but I would hope that their parents would have picked up on them. Laying on the subtext any heavier would have transformed the film into something completely different; but this is what we are given and we must judge the film on what it is, rather than what it isn’t.

What it is, is a solid fantasy epic, with terrific acting, lovely set-pieces and a welcome sense of threatening doom. The Daemons, although not always fully realistic in appearance, are a delight nonetheless; the human character’s interactions with their Daemons, especially in the case of Ms Coulter (Nicole Kidman, surely in line for some Best Villain award) and her spiteful orange monkey, provide some great cinematic moments. In Lyra, we have a fantasy film with a proper female heroine, plucky, inquisitive, brave and sometimes misguided. Dakota Blue Richards gives a vibrant, stubborn performance, creating a rounded character with plenty of faults as well as her considerable talents. Acting against an inanimate object isn’t the easiest job in the world, but her interactions with her CGI Daemon (voiced by, of all people, Freddie Highmore, who has suddenly become the requisite casting choice for every family film) and Iorek feel unrehearsed and natural. It’s certainly darker than most recent family film, with some frightening scenes in which I was genuinely troubled.

Great plaudits must be given to the production cast of the film. Despite its faults, one can’t deny it is visually stunning. Neither claustrophobically mal-lit nor aggressively bright; each location has its own distinctive lightning and palette; the costumes are both fully believable as wearable clothes, and marvellously over the top. The CGI for the most part holds together well. The parallel world is rendered in good detail (but it’s hardly, it must be said, Middle Earth) and there’s a playful spirit in some of the early scenes in Oxford, with the Daemons scampering around their humans, that are a joy to behold. This is sadly forsaken as the film progresses, and the two battle scenes are frustratingly cut short, leaving us with no real idea of their outcome. I had major problems with the very last battle; primarily because it seemed incredibly short and I had no idea who lived/died/was wounded etc, but also because when the witches and Gyptians and the bears banded together to fight a common enemy, the triumph and jubilation I was aching to feel wasn’t there. If we had been allowed more time to get to know these characters, to doubt their motivations a little more, then that final fight would have been breathtaking.

I left the cinema on a high, discussing the film with my sister eagerly as we left the building. We both had questions about the plot and faults to discuss, but on the whole she felt the same as I did about it; namely, WOW! Above all, I was left curious about the source material. If Chris Weitz’s film has accomplished one thing above all else, is that he has served to increase the appeal of Phillip Pullman’s book. Typing that sentence, I am wondering whether there are any kids in the world who haven’t read His Dark Materials, or whether I’m the lone freak. To be fair, I once began the first book when I was about twelve, but I then heard a radio interview with Pullman where he criticised some aspect of Tolkien’s writing and from thereafter I swore never to read His Dark Materials ever again (I was going through my hardcore LOTR phase back then). I’ve grown up a little since then, and my loyalties to Tolkien are no longer so fiercely defended. Watching this film has piqued my interest in something that had eluded me for years. In that respect, if no other, it has triumphantly succeeded.

As a last point, if none of that entices you to go see the film, please take this into consideration: you get to hear Ian McKellen say the line “You want to ride me, do you?” which made both me and my sister crack up, while everybody else either pretended not to get the joke or suppressed their giggles. Now there’s a reason to see the film.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Feist's entire career wiped out!

Although I dervive great enjoyment (and occasionally mild heart-attacks) by reading End Of Year music lists, I have no interest whatsoever in The Grammy Awards. Partly because they're so boring and stodgy and mostly because their musical taste have no correlation with my own. Unlike, say, the Oscars which will usually showcase at least one or two of films I've loved during that year, The Grammys are annually an impenetratable minefield of U2 albums. This year however, they've actually pulled a few surprises out of the bag. Nominating the psychotically brilliant "Before He Cheats" for a couple of awards including Best Song, for example. Yet one choice fills me with wonder, horror and amusement. Lemme show you:

Best New Artist



Taylor Swift

Amy Winehouse

Okay, you could quibble with the Winehouse being on the list, but direct your eyes upwards to that first name. Leslie Fiest has released three albums since 1999 (four if you include last year's remix album). She's collaborated with Broken Social Scene since 2000 and has been mixing and shakin' with various groups and solo stars for yeeeeears. I'm not arguing that she shouldn't be recognised, but just because one has a iPod commercial that brought one's music to the masses doesn't mean one is a new artist. She already won a New Artist of the Year in 2005, anyway.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I got tagged! The lovely and enthusiastic Joe (of Joe's Movie Corner) instructs me to undertake this fun meme, whereby I put my media player on shuffle and fire away with these questions. Some of the answers turn out to make an odd kind of sense and others are just plain stupid. Enjoy!

The Rules:
1. Put your music player on Shuffle
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. YOU MUST WRITE THAT SONG NAME DOWN NO MATTER WHAT (this is in capital letters, so it is very serious.) Catherine's note - I didn't fully stick to that rule, as my playlist in Window's Media Player also contains all my podcasts (NPR, Guardian Bookworm, Mark Kermode etc). When one of these came up, I disregarded it because they're not technically songs.

1. IF SOMEONE SAYS “IS THIS OKAY” YOU SAY? "Sold Out" by Sleater Kinney, . Uh that seems a little rude of me. Or else really punk rawk.


3. WHAT DO YOU LIKE IN A GUY/GIRL? "Love Stoned" by Justin Timberlake. I'm all about the junkies.

4. HOW DO YOU FEEL TODAY? "They Also Mourn Those Who Do Not Wear Black" by Sufjan Stevens. Cheerful.

5. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE’S PURPOSE? "I Looked All Over Town", by Magnetic Fields I'm either going to be an explorer, Private Dectective or a homeless person.

6. WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO? "Consuelo" by Belle & Sebastian. Shittiest. Motto. Ever.

7. WHAT DO YOUR FRIENDS THINK OF YOU? "Washington D.C." by Magnetic Fields I'm going to be president?!? Niiiiice.

8. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR PARENTS? "I Hate Camera" by The Bird and the Bee Hahahha. Nothing to make of this one.

"Good Life" by Kanye West Every morning when I wake up, all that's going through my head is "I, I go for mine, I gots to shine..."

10. WHAT IS 2+2? "Save Me" by Aimee Mann. Funny, that's exactly the thought that goes through my head, sitting in maths class.

11. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR BEST FRIEND? "One Year A.D." by Feist. This song actually mentions friends, but not in a very positive way.

12. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE PERSON YOU LIKE? "Kennel District" by Pavement

13. WHAT IS YOUR LIFE STORY? "English Girl" by Eagles of Death Metal. Wrong country.

14. WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GROW UP? "Mike" by Xiu Xiu. Okay, so I couldn't really remember this song and so I looked up the lyrics. I have some serious issues, according to the lyrics which I will post in full:

"Dad, what was Nigel supposed to do with your body?
a life that I will never understand
whose false teeth were gently pushed back into your
mouth by your daughter's husband
what am I supposed to do with this?
I feel like I am not nice because sometimes
it is hard for me to think something happy about you
except for that dad, I love you and will always, always miss you
pull my finger-

15. WHAT DO YOU THINK WHEN YOU SEE THE PERSON YOU LIKE? "Oompa Radar", by Goldfrapp. Oh, the innuendo.

16. WHAT DO YOUR PARENTS THINK OF YOU? "Peacebone", Animal Collective.

17. WHAT WILL YOU DANCE TO AT YOUR WEDDING? "Grand Canyon", Magnetic Fields

18. WHAT WILL THEY PLAY AT YOUR FUNERAL? "Hate That I Love You", Rihanna. I kind of like this choice. I'm imagining the mourners all grooving, but in a really...mournful way.

19. WHAT IS YOUR HOBBY/INTEREST? "Kneeling Bus", Pavement. Ah, a Pavement b-side. I can take this to mean I have very esortic, indie and disorganized hobbies. Yup!

20. WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST SECRET? "An Buinneán Buí", Skara Brae. My biggest secret? That I actually listen to trad sometimes.

21. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF YOUR FRIENDS? "Motivators" by A Tribe Called Quest. Well, they are "motivators". Although whether they bring "Rugged, raw material" is up for debate...

22. WHAT SHOULD YOU POST THIS AS? "Airbag" by Doveman

Feel free to mock my musical tastes, empathise with some of the dodgier choices or even better, do your own version!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

"I had a great time tonight... was like the Nuremberg Trials."

Woody Allen is an old man. Well, that's nothing new - Woody has been an old man since he popped out of the womb, an incredible 72 years ago today. And he's still churning out films like his life depends on it (which, y'know, it probably does). I'm no great Allen fan, but I have to hand it to him for Hannah and her Sisters (1986), his best, most sympathetic and warm-hearted film. It's a favourite of my mam's, and we watched it together as a family last year. It's funny, beautifully acted and shot (New York is idolised in Manhattan, but it's a real, living city in this film) and there's a genuine goodness of heart to be found. Take this scene, when Mickey (played by Allen himself) describes how he managed to overcome his depression:

I'll tell you.
One day about a month ago...

The film abruptly cuts to Mickey's flashback, a visual
counterpoint to the story he is telling Holly. A close-up
of a nervous, perspiring, and panting Mickey alone in his
apartment appears on the screen as his voice is heard.

...I really hit bottom. You know,
I just felt that in a Godless
universe, I didn't want to go on
living. Now I happen to own this

Mickey raises the barrel of a rifle to his forehead. He
shuts his eyes tightly.

...which I loaded, believe it or
not, and pressed it to my forehead.
And I remember thinking, at the
time, I'm gonna kill myself. Then
I thought...what if I'm wrong?
What if there is a God? I mean,
after all, nobody really knows that.

The camera moves past the desperate Mickey to a mirror on
the wall behind him. Its reflection shows his spiral
staircase and some standing lamps. A clock faintly ticks.

But then I thought, no. You know,
maybe is not good enough. I want
certainty or nothing. And I
remember very clearly the clock was
ticking, and I was sitting there
frozen, with the gun to my head,
debating whether to shoot.

The gun goes off with a loud bang. The mirror shatters.

All of a sudden, the gun went off.

Mickey, holding the rifle, is seen running over to the
shattered mirror. The sounds of his excited neighbors,
their shouting, a knocking door, are heard as he continues
his tale.

I had been so tense, my finger had
squeezed the trigger inadvertently...

(offscreen, overlapping)
What's happening? Wh-wh-what's
going on?

...but I was perspiring so much,
the gun had slid off my forehead
and missed me.

(offscreen, overlapping)
I don't know. I heard a gun. Is
everything all right?

Mickey, still brandishing the rifle, runs into his sunlit
living room. He looks around frantically, his shirt loose.

Finally, he throws the rifle down between the sofa and the
coffee table. The gun goes off a second time. Mickey,
standing nearby, jumps, his hands flying to his head. The
doorbell rings; the neighbors begin pounding at the door.

And suddenly, neighbors were, were,
pounding on the door, and-and I
don't know, the whole scene was
just pandemonium. And, uh, you
know, and I-I-I-I-I ran to the door.

Mickey runs offscreen briefly to answer the door.

I-I-I-I didn't know what to say.
You know, I was, I was embarrassed
and confused, and my-my-my mind was
r-r-racing a mile a minute...

He returns onscreen, panting; he looks frantically once
again around the living room.

...and I-I jus knew one thing.

The film cuts to a West Side street. It's an overcast day.
Mickey, walking slowly along the sidewalk, passes several
other pedestrians and numerous storefronts, including
Klein's Pharmacy and a "Bar-B-Q" take out. Occasionally, he
is obscured by a tree trunk on the opposite side of the
street; a few taxis go by as he talks over the scene.

I...I-I-I-I had to get out of that
house. I had to just get out in
the fresh air and-and clear my head.
And I remember very clearly. I
walked the streets. I walked and I
walked. I-I didn't know what was
going through my mind. It all
seemed so violent and un-unreal to
me. And I wandered...

The movie cuts to the exterior of the Metro movie theater,
with its smoked glass entrance doors and its Art Deco feel.
An old publicity photo hangs inside. Mickey's reflection is
seen at the almost-transparent doors, as well as the
reflection of the street and various cars whizzing by. His
reflection walks towards the theater entrance; he continues
his story.

...for a long time on the Upper
West Side, you know, an-and it must
have been hours! You know, my, my
feet hurt. My head was, was
pounding, and, and I had to sit
down. I went into a movie house.
I-I didn't know what was playing or

Mickey walks into the movie house. He is seen through the
glass doors, which still reflect the street and traffic
outside. He makes his way through the lobby into the actual

I just, I just needed a moment to
gather my thoughts and, and be
logical, and, and put the world
back into rational perspective.

The film abruptly cuts to the theater's black-and-white
screen, where the Marx Brothers, in Duck Soup, play the
helmets of several soldiers standing in a line like a live
xylophone. The sounds of the "xylophone" are heard as the
movie cuts to the darkened theater, where Mickey slowly sits
down in a balcony seat. The "xylophone" music stops and
changes to "Hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-hidee-ho" as sung
by the Marx Brothers and ensemble in the movie. The singing
continues faintly in the background as Mickey continues his

And I went upstairs to the balcony,
and I sat down
and, you know, the movie was a-a-a
film that I'd seen many times in my
life since I was a kid, an-and I
always u-uh, loved it. And, you
know, I'm, I'm watching these
people up on the screen, and I
started getting hooked o-on the
film, you know?

The film cuts back to the black-and-white movie screen as
Mickey continues to talk. The Marx Brothers, as well as the
hundred-odd other cast members in Duck Soup, are kneeling
and bowing as they sing "Hidee-hidee-ho." They kick their
heels up in the air. They sway back and forth, hands
clasped, singing "Oh-h-h-h-h-h..."

...And I started to feel how can
you even think of killing yourself?
I mean, isn't it so stupid? I
mean, l-look at all the people up
there on the screen. You know,
they're real funny, and, and what
if the worst is true?

The movie cuts back to Mickey, sitting almost obscured in
the dark theater. The Oh-h-h-h-h-h's coming from the
offscreen movie are heard as he continues to speak.

What if there's no God, and you
only go around once and that's it?
Well, you know, don't you want to
be part of the experience? You
know, what the hell, it-i-it's not
all a drag. And I'm thinking to
myself, geez, I should stop ruining
my life...

As Mickey talks, the film cuts back to the antics of the
Marx Brothers on the black-and-white theater screen. The
four brothers are now swaying and singing and strutting,
their voices indistinct over Mickey's narration.

...searching for answers I'm never
gonna get, and just enjoy it while
it lasts. know...

The film is back on Mickey's dark form in the audience.

...after, who knows? I mean, you
know, maybe there is something.
Nobody really knows. I know, I
know "maybe" is a very slim reed to
hang your whole life on, but that's
the best we have. And...then, I
started to sit back, and I actually
began to enjoy myself.

This is why we watch films, the transcendental nature of movies. The almost spiritual connotations of the cinema. something Allen understands very well. There are times when I really, really dislike him; and then there are times like this.

Happy Birthday.