Welcome to September’s Music & Movies eNewsletter, Spring Edition. Sure, sitting inside watching DVDs is arguably a winter sport, but I trust there’ll be enough southerlies and possibly some freakish hail to justify the couch life for a little while yet.
Matthew McConaughey kicks things off in his trademarked slightly-dilapidated style in the Lincoln Lawyer while the John Cassavetes Collection is a must for the top of the DVD player to assert your intellectual capital. As for the Killer Inside probably not the best date movie, but a compelling watch nonetheless.
Add to that Scorcese, a touch of David Hartnell and a new release from Bon Iver and you have the proverbial something for everyone. Or possibly an intriguing remake of The Shining.
Many of our staff are avid cinephiles – here are their latest film and TV recommendations…
The Lincoln lawyer.
After a series of forgettable rom-com’s and pseudo-action movies Matthew McConaughey finally finds a decent role in this adaptation of the Michael Connelly novel, playing Mickey Haller, a lawyer who operates his practice out of a chauffeured Lincoln town car. When he lands the case of a rich real estate heir (Ryan Phillippe) accused of brutally assaulting an escort, he thinks he’s finally hit the money jackpot. In previous roles McConaughey’s charisma usually comes across as glib & facile but in the slightly soiled Haller character he finds a perfect fit for his smooth shtick, as he hustles clients, cuts deals, & manipulates opposing counsel. What follows is an old fashioned legal thriller, full of twists and turns as McConaughey begins to realize that his client is not all he seems to be and that he may be the one being manipulated. Full marks go to all the supporting cast (which includes Marisa Tomei as his ex-wife and fellow lawyer, & William H. Macy as his investigator) all of whom invest their characters with a real vitality. (Mark)
John Cassavetes: the collection.
John Cassavetes’ first and all improvised movie, Shadows, was made in the same year (1959) Jean-Luc Godard shot Breathless. Both films were equally fresh, bold and ahead of their time. While Godart became one of the biggest names in the movie history, Cassavetes remained an indie iconoclast. However, despite being largely ignored by Hollywood, Cassavetes was undoubtedly a most influential American filmmaker. In Cassavetes’ movies, characters are so real. They talk and move just as they feel, and sometimes even go out of the screen or get too close to the camera (becoming out of focus) – as if the rectangular frame is nonexistent. Cassavetes directed spontaneously in a cinéma vérité style to capture the real feelings of people, and his movies are made up of a sequence of live moments, not of planned and composed scenes. His influences are now mostly seen outside America, and two outstanding Romanian films, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu and 4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days are great examples. He had a little commercial success (‘Gloria’ is the most notable one) in his later career, but the films in this collection, which he made while facing huge financial difficulties, are treasures that enlarged movies’ horizons. (Shinji)
The almighty Johnsons.
Life can be tough when your mother is a tree! This is the life of the Johnson Brothers, part Kiwi blokes, part Norse Gods. They have some supernatural powers, but to regain the rest they start a quest to find “The One”. The characters are funny, rude, sad, hopeful, weird and, at times, hopeless. This is a fabulous series and I’m looking forward to series two. (Liz)
This is a magical little gem. Set in a beautiful mountain forest in Turkey, it is a story about a young boy, Yusuf, focusing on the relationship with his beloved beekeeper father. Surrounded by magnificent nature, the movie unfolds Yusuf’s rural life quietly and intimately. There are enough dramas in the story, but the film gives the impression that nothing much will happen, because it is depicted in a very subtle way without any frills (and no music as well). Every scene is shot meticulously and with great delicacy. It reminds me of the beautiful European movies I saw in the ’80s such as ‘The Tree of Wooden Clogs’ or ‘Hohenfeuer’. The budding director Semih Kaplanoglu has only 5 movies under his belt so far but has already collected more than 40 awards, and this exquisite movie won the Golden Bear (Best Film) of the Berlin International Film Festival in 2010. It was well-deserved. (Shinji)
Bored to death. The complete first season.
Jason Schwartzman plays a very nebbish New York magazine writer/novelist who is stuck on his 2nd novel. Depressed after his girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) leaves him – because he spends too much time smoking pot & drinking wine – he comes across an old copy of Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely. After immersing himself in the book he decides to place an add on Craigslist advertising himself as an unlicensed Private Investigator, as a way of getting over his doldrums. Soon he’s taking on cases that range from unfaithful boyfriends, to blackmail & missing skateboards, aided by his best friend Ray (Zach Galifianakis) – a cartoonist henpecked by his demanding girlfriend – and his boss George (Ted Danson) – the marijuana obsessed editor of an ‘Esquire’ like magazine. It’s one of those ‘love it or hate it’ shows, as the kind of humour that follows is probably not to everyone’s taste, a kind of sly take on male self-absorption filtered through Raymond Chandler pastiches, but there are some very funny moments and Ted Danson is hilarious… (Mark)
After losing the love of his life 40 years before, Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) has lived like a hermit ever since. With death on the horizon and guilt weighing him down, the “crazy ol’ nutter” decides to go out with a party. As he tells funeral director Frank Quinn (Bill Murray in top form), “Time for me to get low.”.. Before he leaves this mortal coil, Felix longs to hear the tall tales the town folk have been spreading about him. While preparing for the big day, he reconnects with Charlie (Bill Cobbs), a preacher, and Mattie (Sissy Spacek), an old flame who returned to the county after her husband’s death. Their encounters, which have a gentle sweetness, encourage Felix to share the truth he’s kept bottled up inside for decades…” (Adapted from Amazon.com)
Supernatural. The complete fifth season.
“How’s this for a story arc: the Gates of Hell are opened, unleashing both Lucifer himself and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and bringing to an end civilization as we know it…This is fantasy storytelling for television at its best–broad in scope and heavy with special effects, but never forgetting that the core of the show is the relationship between Sam and Dean and their joint quest to rid the world of evil. Both are well represented here in a season that brings the show’s main story line to its fitting and satisfying conclusion…” (Adapted from Amazon.com)
”Limitless isn’t exactly a morality tale, but the made-up drug that turns Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper) from a scuzzy loser into a master of the universe does become a metaphor for ambition, menace, devastation, and ultimate success. Eddie is a writer who can’t write, his girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) just dumped him, and his squalid lifestyle has driven him to the breaking point. After a chance meeting with his mysterious ex-brother-in-law, he’s offered change in the form of a little transparent button, a pill code-named NZT that allows the user to access 100 percent of their brain. After he pops it, Eddie is transformed. Everything he’s ever heard, seen, glanced at, or passed by becomes neatly ordered in his mind. He has total recall, total access to knowledge both known and unknown, and he understands exactly what to do….” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk)
The killer inside me.
Flawed but interesting stab at adapting crime writer Jim Thompson’s seminal novel ‘The Killer Inside Me’ by Michael Winterbottom. Set in small town American South circa the 1950’s, Casey Affleck takes the lead role of Lou Ford, a seemingly polite well adjusted Deputy Sheriff engaged to a local schoolteacher (Kate Hudson). However, a meeting with a prostitute (Jessica Alba) that he is supposed to run out of town provides a catalyst for his re-emerging pathology, and he gradually begins to orchestrate a murderous scheme to gain revenge on a local businessman that he blames for the death of his step-brother. The novel, like a lot of Thompson’s work, is a first person narrative in which the reader gradually becomes aware that the likeable narrator is not all he/she appears to be – and is often completely unhinged – but by then the character has engendered enough sympathy or empathy that you keep reading, no matter how weird & disturbing things get. Thompson’s novels were controversial for their time, and violent, but being published in the 1950’s the majority of the violence and general depravity was implied. Winterbottom, however, decides to push the violence to the forefront of the story, to the extent that it feels exploitative, and specifically during the lengthy drawn out beating of Alba’s character, truly repellent. None of which adds to the viewer’s engagement with the lead character. Affleck also seems too physically slight for the role, his accent off, lacking any of the ‘good old boy’ southern charm of the book’s narrator. But that seems like what Winterbottom was after, a bunch of choices that defy whatever conventional wisdom exists in the making of a ‘post-modern’ neo-noir such as this The overall result is that while some of it works, some of it doesn’t, and it tends to end up in the ‘fascinating but repellent’ category of films. Worth watching if you’re a Thompson fan, or just intrigued, but be warned, the sadomasochistic violence is pretty extreme in parts. (Mark)
Film and television books
Have a conversation with extraordinary people from the movie industry; from the director to the gossip writer.
Conversations with Scorsese / Richard Schickel [interviewer]. “Martin Scorsese’s career is a dense map of critical darlings and experimentalfilms–from “Mean Streets” to “Shutter Island.” Now fans are given the chance to see all of his movies, and moviemaking in general, through the eyes of the master director himself.” (Syndetics summary)
The Faber book of French cinema / Charles Drazin. “Producing such distinctive film-makers as Jean Renoir, Marcel Pagnol, Sachy Guitry and Julien Duvivier, the French cinema’s Golden Age boasted an intelligence, maturity and flair that classical Hollywood could admire but struggle to emulate. Suggesting a Gallic attitude that has always considered the cinema to be as much a cause as a business, Drazin looks at the extraordinary resilience of the French film industry during the Second World War when, in spite of the national catastrophe of defeat and occupation, it was still able to produce such classics as Le Corbeau and Les Enfants du Paradis. Finally, he traces its remarkable post-war regeneration. He seeks to capture the essence of the French film tradition and why it continues to matter to anyone who cares about the cinema…” (Description from Amazon.co.uk)
David Hartnell : memoirs of a gossip columnist / [in collaboration with] Hazel Phillips. David is well-known by all New Zealanders. His gossip columns and much awaited annual ‘Best and Worst Dressed’ lists are legendary, and we read with bated breath his behind-the-scenes Hollywood tattletale reports in the weekly magazines! David Hartnell is David’s life story in his own words. Bursting with remarkable photos and stories of his encounters, including a surprise lunch with Alfred Hitchcock and Bette Davis, his close friendship with the legendary Phyllis Diller, little-known secrets about the Royal Family’s crown jewels and many, many more, this book is for anyone who loves behind-the-scenes gossip and enjoys a rollicking good read. (Drawn from the summary at Fishpond.co.nz)
Joan Crawford : the enduring star / Peter Cowie ; foreword by Mick Lasalle ; afterword by George Cukor. Joan Crawford’s classic beauty, dazzling confidence, and sheer toughness made her the very definition of a star; her formidable talent won her an Oscar for Mildred Pierce and shines through in other classics such as Grand Hotel and The Women. Focusing on the often overlooked first half of her career, this is the first visual book to reclaim her place in the canon of glamour. Crawford pioneered a new depth that had not been seen before in roles for women. Her domineering charisma gave audiences a new kind of heroine, laying the path for today’s actresses from Meryl Streep to Cate Blanchett. (Syndetics annotation)
Here are some more new CDs to hit the shelves at Wellington City Libraries. Bon Iver delivers his anticipated follow up to ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’; Ron Sexsmith works with producer Bob Rock for a more commercial sheen on his new ‘Long Player, Late Bloomer’ album; Madeleine Peyroux collaborates with Rolling Stone Bill Wyman on ‘Standing on the Rooftop’; and Gillian Welch returns after 8 years with ‘The Harrow & the Harvest’…
Bon Iver, Bon Iver.
”For this follow-up, Vernon and band.. have developed the sound of For Emma… without over-stretching themselves and making a mess of arrangements which are all the more effective for their striking intimacy…To some, the consistent mood that pervades this set – of reflection, introspection; bruised and sincere, but never cloyingly so; melancholic, but not without a blurry, horizon-line optimism – might lead to attentions wandering. And there’s no doubt that this eponymous collection isn’t the step into immediacy that some might have expected, or even hoped for. But the majority of listeners will surely come to this aware that…each spin will uncover something previously missed, a tiny but essential nuance that was obscured by a hypnotic motif the first and second time around…” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk)
The harrow & the harvest.
”Ending an eight-year recording break that set in soon after Gillian Welch’s profile-boosting appearance in O Brother, Where Art thou?, The Harrow and the Harvest marks a lovely return. Simplicity is often the hardest thing to achieve, and it’s a challenge this wistful singer-songwriter has always embraced. In fact, her 2011 album revisits the austerity of the Grammy-nominated, horribly-titled Time (The Revelator) after a rare outburst of optimism and full-band arrangements on 2003’s Soul Journey. It’s no bread-and-water diet, though. Welch’s partner and producer David Rawlings conjures a rich soundscape with just acoustic guitars and voices, and as her fingerpicking accompanist he weaves a delicate melodic tracery through the melancholy…” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk)
Standing on the rooftop.
“On Standing on the Rooftop there’s one very interesting collaborator that may have the key to opening new doors is the Rolling Stones’, Bill Wyman, whom Peyroux met at the Nice Jazz Festival while waiting to hear B.B. King, and the two then began writing together. A strong point for Peyroux this year was performing their song for the children of a displaced persons’ camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti this summer. The song, entitled ‘The Kind You Can’t Afford’, Peyroux says, is a testament to owning what money can’t buy. Other current collaborators include Jonatha Brooke, David Batteau, Andy Rosen, and Jenny Scheinman…” Description adapted from Amazon.com)
Now that’s what I call music 36.
The latest in this series of compilations.
“On Free’s, the oddly titled penultimate song on Bill Callahan’s Apocalypse, the singer ponders what it means to “to be free in bad times… and good”. Ultimately (despite some misgivings) he seems to embrace his own freedom, or at least recognise it. Because while this record draws from a sparser palette than 2009’s sun-cracked opus Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle – and even though it’s called Apocalypse, and is the latest from a singer renowned for his subversive outlook – it isn’t a bleak or downcast affair… Rather, Callahan has gifted us perhaps his most subversive set to date: an album less about apocalypse and ruin than it is upheaval of the positive variety, and one of the most contented and rewarding of his career…” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk)