Given its imminence, I’m sorry to say that this month’s selections are a yuletide free zone. No doubt some of you will thank me as I can confirm that this includes Ernest Saves Christmas II. Take a pause before the silly season gets into full swing with some of the best of this month’s movies and music.
Some new DVDs for November include the Kenneth Branagh adaptation of the ‘Thor’ legend; the controversial Facebook documentary ‘Catfish’; the glossy adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling period novel ‘Water for elephants’; and Season two of the critically acclaimed UK comedy ‘Miranda’….
“The slipperiness of truth and lies on the Internet gets played out in unexpected ways in the documentary Catfish. When Nev Schulman receives a painting based on a photograph of his from an 8-year-old girl named Abby in Michigan, he doesn’t realize this is going to lead to a long-distance romance with Abby’s older sister Megan… and that this romance, conducted over the phone and the Internet, will lead to something far more troubling. It would be unfair to reveal more details of Catfish, as the process of discovery is one of its pleasures–but even if you do know the sequence of events, the movie’s ultimate reward is not the revelation of secrets but the surprising and very human interactions of the movie’s last third…” (Description from Amazon.com)
“Blending elements from the celebrated comic arcs…the story follows the headstrong Thunder God (Chris Hemsworth) as he is banished to Earth and stripped of his powers by his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) after inadvertently starting a war with a planet of ticked-off Frost Giants. As his traitorous brother Loki (the terrific Tom Hiddleston) schemes in the wings, Thor must redeem himself and save the universe, with the aid of a beautiful scientist (Natalie Portman). Although director Kenneth Branagh certainly doesn’t skimp on the in-jokes…his film distinguishes itself by adopting a larger-than-life cosmic Shakespearean air that sets itself apart from both the cerebral, grounded style made fashionable by The Dark Knight and the loose-limbed Rat Packish vibe of the Iron Man series…” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk review)
Miranda. Series 2.
”It doesn’t matter what Miranda attempts in life, whether it’s dating or simply dealing with her overbearing mother, she always seems to fall flat, quite literally. Since Gary left for Hong Kong, and her chance at a relationship with him has gone, Miranda has been watching telly all day in her pyjamas with a packet of biscuits for company. She is eventually persuaded, by Stevie, to stop wallowing and move on, starting a new regime and become the new her. She will get fit, lose weight and become the type of woman her boarding school nemesis Tilly, and hard to please mother, Penny, would be proud of…or will she? Full of fun and frolics, Miranda is back, better and funnier than ever…” (From Amazon.co.uk description)
”Dog Pound is Scum for the 21st Century, a tough and brutal film set in a young offenders institute for teenage boys that the system doesn’t know what to do with. The long-term inmates have built a rigid power structure based on fear and the guards use the prisoners to let out their own frustrations. Butch, Davis and Angel are new arrivals. They have never met before but they soon realize that the odds are stacked against them and that their only hope for getting through their sentences is if they watch each others’ backs. But friendship will only get them so far when their endurance is stretched to the limit…” (From Amazon.co.uk description)
Water for elephants.
Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel comes to glossy life in this period romance. A sparkle-free Robert Pattinson plays Jacob Jankowski, who studies veterinary medicine during the Great Depression. After a family tragedy, he loses everything… so he hops a train, where he finds himself part of the struggling Benzini Brothers Circus. Ringleader August (Christoph Waltz) has doubts about the softhearted lad, but..Jacob becomes the company vet, which leads him to platinum-blonde equestrian Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), August’s wife. The two make eyes at each other, but an affair would surely end badly, so they concentrate on their work. When Marlena’s prize steed falls ill, August purchases an elephant, hoping Rosie will turn their fortunes around, and enlists Jacob to train her…(Adapted from Amazon.co.uk description)
Film and television books
In our picks of the film & television books this month: the cultural impact of Darth Vader and his story arc, the life and career of the unforgettable Judy Garland, and the story of how the artists at Weta Digital and Weta Workshop brought Hergé’s Tintin to life on the big screen. Have a browse!
The art of The adventures of Tintin / [written by Chris Guise ; with forewords by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson and introductions by Joe Letteri and Richard Taylor].
“The artists at Weta Digital and Weta Workshop were thrilled to get the opportunity to work with Steven Spielberg to bring Hergé’s wonderful characters to the big screen in The Adventures of Tintin. They spent five years working on this movie. This book tells the story of how the filmmakers started with the original Hergé artwork and books and ended up with what is seen on-screen. It features early concept drawings, previs sequences, models, costume designs and final stills from the film”. (description from amazon.com)
The complete Vader / Ryder Windham and Peter Vilmur ; with a foreword by Stephen J. Sansweet.
An illustrated fan’s guide traces the complete story of the infamous Star Wars villain, exploring his history, myth, and cultural impact while covering his development by George Lucas and spin-off tales as portrayed in comics and novels.(Syndetics summary)
Judy : a legendary film career / by John Fricke.
“Historian Fricke (100 Years of Oz: A Century of Classic Images) has compiled a fine collection of remembrances, facts, and photos chronicling the life, career, and unforgettable personal appearances of Judy Garland. Within her first ten years at MGM, Garland found full-fledged stardom, complete with wealth, fame, and all the harsh truths of show business. Fricke exposes the driving forces behind her career in sound, onstage, and on-screen, which often put her family life and health at risk, while bringing classic Hollywood fans a renewed respect for the determined star. Highly recommended for Judy Garland fans.”(Library Journal)
Film : a critical introduction / Maria Pramaggiore & Tom Wallis.
“Updated and expanded for a new edition, this is the perfect introduction for students of film studies. The book illustrates basic film concepts in context and in depth and addresses techniques and terminology used in film production and criticism, emphasising critically thinking and writing.” (Back Cover)
Need something new to listen to? Here’s what we’ve been listening to lately…
Jack Tatum loves 80’s dream pop and has made a record that is such a loving monument to that era and sound that it is very difficult to resist falling under its spell. Though his love of dreamy, fuzzy, handcrafted guitar-pop craftsmanship is undeniable and the details are spot-on, repeat spins reveal a strikingly innate sense of songcraft that incorporates great lyrics and gorgeous melody lines. ‘Wild Nothing’ doesn’t feel like a facile genre exercise so much as honest personal expression borne of intense musical fanhood. Forget about notions of revivalism, playing this record is like stepping into an extraordinarily sweet dream. (John)
Claire Denis film scores, 1996-2009.
Although Claire Denis’ film ‘Trouble Every Day’ opens with Stuart Staples’ unmistakable voice, I didn’t realise that the collaboration between Tindersticks and fantastic French film maker Denis has been this long and close. However, it may not be surprising as both are slightly-off-mainstream artists, and a kind of ‘cult’ figures in their fields. Denis is an unconventional director with a great visual instinct and the Tindersticks’ moody, ambient sound is well blended in her intense but beautiful footage. The distinction of the Tindersticks’ sound tends to rely on Staples’ characteristic voice (I call him Aaron Neville of Indie Rock) but in this box set, his vocal is featured in only a few songs. This may be disappointing and may not be the best examples of their music, but almost instrumental music here sounds actually very Tindersticks and even richer. As a fan of both artists, I would like to celebrate that all their wonderful collaborations so far are put together, and needless to say, the music is brilliant in its own right. (Shinji)
Some people have real problems.
This is Sia’s third studio album released early in 2008, her latest album We are born came out 2010. This Aussie singer/songwriter has a pop/jazzy musical style in my opinion similar to Katie Melua. Many of Sia’s songs feature in various TV shows, ‘Home and away’ is one that comes to mind. She’s done covers, backing vocals and duets as well. Tracks from this album feature on TV shows Private practice, and of course Aussie favourite Packed to the Rafters. Among her many celebrity associates and musical works, Sia co-wrote with Christina Aguilera the hit song ‘Bound to you’ for the soundtrack/movie Burlesque, she also appears with Aguilera, as an advisor on the TV show ‘The Voice’. Unfortunately due to ill health, Sia’s future promotional events, shows, and recordings are limited. She is an exceptional talent, and well worth a listen. Oh and gotta love the title! (Ethel)
Dog man star [deluxe].
British band Suede’s debut album emerged in the early 90’s ushering in a broad genre that would later be labelled by the music press as ‘Brit-Pop’, with a sound that was an amalgam of 70’s sexually charged glam rock & the moody romanticism of 80’s alternative groups such as The Smiths. ‘Dog Man Star’, their second album, became their defining work, but the song-writing relationship between singer Brett Anderson & guitarist Bernard Butler collapsed during it’s making. Anderson regrouped with new band members for the album Coming Up whose shiny guitar-pop spawned 5 top ten singles. But by the time of the following album Head Music his drug problems led to creative stagnation. Attempts to alter the band’s sound divided critics & fans, and they managed one more album, A New Morning before calling it a day. Anderson had a brief reunion with guitarist Butler as The Tears before releasing a few low key solo albums, the best of which is probably his latest Black Rainbows. Butler also released a couple of solo efforts before moving into production, helming Duffy’s first album among others. 2011 saw the release of the band’s back catalogue in deluxe CD/DVD packages with a wealth of demo’s & B-sides, and a re-evaluation of the band legacy’s after they got lost in the Oasis/Blur onslaught that eventually sank ‘Britpop’. (Mark)
Pop ambient 2011.
Pop Ambient is a sub label of Kompakt, the German electronic label. Run by Wolfgang Voigt, who’s productions under the ‘Gas’ moniker have gained him international fame, Pop Ambient have released a compilation annually since 2001. For fans of ambient electronic music these releases are always something to look forward to and this year’s release is no exception. Featuring regular contributors such as Jorg Burger under his Triola guise and Thomas Fehlmann of Orb fame, alongside new contributors including Alva Noto, the compositions shimmer in a haze of sound largely devoid of beats. The loops are as repetitive as techno, but are gentle and tend to lull the listener into a hypnagogic state rather than induce hip shaking dance-floor action. Strongly recommended for fans of late night deep listening experiences. (John)
For the record : the Pixie Williams collection, 1949-1951.
A New Zealand music legend, Pixie Williams recorded ‘Blue Smoke’ in 1949 with the Ruru Karaitiana Quintet . In 1951 New York music trade magazines described ‘Blue Smoke’ as one of the major hits of the year – a ‘musical jackpot’ with both jukebox and radio listeners. It was covered by a host of international artists, including American crooner Dean Martin who phoned Karaitiana from the US seeking more songs. Now, more than 60 years on at the age of 82, Pixie’s catalogue of recordings from 1949-51 have been remastered and placed in one collection for the first time, allowing the listener to enjoy her wonderful voice anew. “Music – it’s what keeps you going through good times and bad. It kept me sane in the hard times. Forget the pills. When you’ve got music in your life – you’ll be ok.” Pixie Williams. Inspirational listening and a must for any New Zealand music fan. (Alistair)
Passive aggressive : singles 2002-2010 / The Radio Dept.
Sweden’s Radio Dept. are recognised as foremost in the international ‘dream-pop’ movement. Purveyors of this sound look backward rather than forward and continue the musical movement that grew from the original UK indie scene of the ’80s. This compilation includes a homage to those roots with a cover version of ‘Bachelor Kisses’, a hit for 80’s indie-pop band, The Go-Betweens. This is a two disc collection; the first features the band’s singles A-sides, sequenced chronologically, the second disc devoted to B-Sides. The gorgeous melodies, the half whispered vocals and the soaring guitars are all present in this lovely collection of faultless contemporary indie-pop. Highly recommended. (John)
In the spirit of appreciation, this month’s Classical Music recent picks are based on guides, lists, ideas and a few things you may not have seen before. Enjoy finding something new and exciting!
The Classic FM hall of fame / Darren Henley, Sam Jackson, Tim Lihoreau ; illustrated by Lynn Hatzius.
This is a collection of the 300 most popular pieces of classical music, as voted for by the Classic FM listeners.
Weep, shudder, die : a guide to loving opera / Robert Levine.
“Weep, Shudder, Die is an insightful and accessible guide to the grand art of opera for both new and longtime fans. For too long opera was relegated to high society and perceived as stuffy and remote. But now that has changed. A new generation of opera lovers has emerged, inviting a wave of extraordinary new productions and revivals the world over…Weep, Shudder, Die will inspire anyone who has ever been curious about opera but never knew where to start to discover one of the world’s most entertaining and satisfying art forms.” – (adapted from amazon.com summary)
The glory tree [sound recording] : chamber works / by Cheryl Frances-Hoad.
“Cheryl Frances-Hoad has a unique and special compositional voice…Over recent years, she has had numerous notable successes, with commissions including solo, chamber, orchestral and choral works, as well as opera. Champs Hill Records is delighted to present this collection of Cheryl’s chamber music, performed in many cases by the musicians who commissioned and gave the premiere performances of the works.” – (adapted from cover description)
The guitarist [sound recording].
“This is a great collection spanning a wide range of his styles on classical guitar, one CD of traditional classic guitar, one CD of more ‘romantic’ style, and one CD with other musicians, such as guitar duets. Three hours of some of his best classical guitar music at a great price!” – (adapted from amazon.co.uk customer review)
The miracle of the voice [sound recording].
“Since Natalie was first signed to EMI Classics, and later to Virgin Classics, as exclusive artist, her recordings to date are a proof of her versatility as a soprano and musician. From Baroque music to Stravinsky, this 2-CD compilation offers a comprehensive sample of her musicianship, and not only will delight her fans world-wide but will also catch the attention of a larger public and lure them towards the works these excerpts come from.” – (adapted from amazon.com summary)