Reviews of movies, music, books and more by David Goody.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Pick Of The Month: August

Though Stubbs And The Horse contains some moments of breathtaking genius it is sustained musical quality that wins out this month with the Shortwave Set's album The Debt Collection pipping The Postal Service. The Debt Collection is a joyous concoction of lilting folk and cut and paste production that retains it's freshness after many sessions.

DVD: Ripley's Game

A truly uninspired case of cliches by the numbers. John Malkovich is a civilised psychopath, Ray Winstone is the cockney wideboy and Dougray Scott is the refined Brit who can't keep up. There are sparce pleasures to be had from this sedate thriller but given the cast and source material you'd expect much more than to be roused from apathy occasionally by parts of Morricone's score. A truly tired sequel that should have been called The Talentless Mr Ripley Film.

DVD: The Ladykillers

Are the Coen brothers becoming more mainstream or is the mainstream becoming more Coen brothers. Whichever is the case The Ladykillers, like the underrated Intolerable Cruelty before it, shows the Coen brothers producing a oddball laugh out loud film that should appeal to all without overly diluting their trademark quirkiness.

Tom Hanks shows that comedy is still his forte with an inspired turn as the verbose professor masterminding a heist from an old ladies basement. His cronies may snatch many of the laughs but Irma P Hall steals the film as the old lady who won't take any back chat. This isn't in the same class as films like The Big Lebowski and O Brother but is a still a fine lightweight comedy.

Monday, August 29, 2005

DVD: Bonnie And Clyde

Glamorous criminals also demand our sympathy in the movies. Whether it's for random acts of kindness, like letting a kindly looking sole keep their spare change while you clean out a bank, or that you are stuck with people you dislike and can't get away from because you are all on the run for the law. Mainly it's because after committing a list of crimes long enough to make War And Peace feel inadequate you start to wish you had a quiet life.

Bonnie And Clyde is a seminal film in the crime genre. It's still looks glorious and packs a number of thrills along the way. However the characters don't lend themselves to empathy so when the final shots are fired there is a sense of closure, and nothing more.

DVD: The Hours

The Hours is a film about three depressed women. That sentence alone is probably enough to put off a significant amount of viewers. To be more precise it is about three women whose life is shaped by the novel Mrs Dalloway. Virginia Woolf, as she writes it, a fifties housewife as she reads it and a present day editor in New York as she is defined by it. The clever script jumps between the timeframes very effectively and the performances from the award seeking three leads to the starry supporting cast are all strong without showboating. The problem is that the film encourages the viewer to appreciate the intelligence of the idea and the quality of the execution rather than leaving you to engage in the emotions. In this case less may have been more and a film following on of the characters may have been stronger.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Art: A Picture Of Britain at Tate Britain

A Picture Of Britain is a companion to David Dimblebys chummy BBC One series. It is split into six geographical sections, each taking a particular theme. The South East is Britain at war, the Midlands is the industrial revolution, the South West is spirituality and so on. This conceit makes the exhibition seem narrow in it's view of region whilst seeming too thinly spread trying to cover the whole country. Despite the presence of some fine paintings by masters such as Turner and Constable and some compelling work by more modern artists the exhibition ultimately suffers from this loose collation.

Books: Jennifer Government by Max Barry

Any book that has a quote by Naomi Klein, the author of No Logo, on the front is unlikely to be wholly positive about corporations. Such is the case with Jennifer Government, an action satire set in the near future where Mattel runs schools, people use their employers name as their surname and where the government has little say in the way the world is run. The book follows Jennifer Government as she tries to nail ego-maniac marketing executive John Nike for the murder of 14 children as a publicity stunt for a new pair of trainers.

The book flings it's characters around global locations and into pitched battles with big explosions and entertaining cynical views of the future. While this cavalcade of ideas and events makes the book an effective page turner the characters acquire little depth along the way, something not helped by their brand named based monikers. If you like cocking a snook at the big bad capitalist world and don't mind some cliches along the way Jennifer Government makes for an entertaining light read.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Film: The Dukes Of Hazzard

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the ultimate redneck movie. If you like good ol' fashion cussin', cars being driven over big ramps in ways that are sure to destroy them, ricketty old jokes that seem to keep on going somehow, unfeasibly proportion women dressed for hot weather and many, many car chases then The Dukes Of Hazzard is for you.

Unlike the recent movie adaptation of Starsky And Hutch, The Dukes Of Hazzard does not get an ironic makeover. Instead it's leans heavily on the fact that the cast don't get close to needing to act. Willie Nelson is an amiable old rogue with no respect for the war, Johnny Knoxville does crazy stuff, Seann William Scott acts dumb and Jessica Simpson smiles sweetly. Sound familiar? If they hadn't made everything look so shiny and professional the film would resemble cinema verite. As it is you have 90 minutes of mindless entertainment that never strays from it's limited raison d'etre.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Art: Joshua Reynolds at Tate Britain

The Creation Of Celebrity is the grand claim this exhibition makes of Joshua Reynolds accomplished portrait work. Collected here are military top brass, lords and ladies, famous artists and beautiful prostitutes. Once you add the stories of those concerned and the catty comments helpfully affixed next to the paintings you have a high class version of heat magazine. Thankfully there is no trace of Geri Halliwell or Big Brother contestants.

Whilst the many of the paintings are limited by the need to flatter their subjects there is ample depth to savour in the ruddy rendering of Samuel Johnson and the hearty picture of David Garrick being dragged from Tradegy by a buxom Comedy. He doesn't look too displeased. The exhibition falters in giving to little information on Reynolds technique but as classical pictorial tittle tattle goes it is a success.

Books: Tideland by Mitch Cullin

The profile of Tideland is likely to swell in the upcoming months with Terry Gilliam's film adaptation being released in the Autumn. In fact the front of the book already boasts the supermarket unfriendly description of "f**king marvelous" from the ex-Python. The story follows a young girl into the fantasy world she creates when taken to a remote house by her comatose rock star father. This gives Cullin scope to let his imagination run wild as the little girl and her Barbie doll heads seek out adventure in the long grass.

Gilliam has clearly relished the flights of fancy the book revels in. Whilst there is a wonderful sense of place conjured up by the book it looses it's way in the blur of reality and fantasy requiring a high degree of concentration from the reader.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Music: The Debt Collection by The Shortwave Set

Three piece The Shortwave Set give a radically different take to folk music going electric than Bob Dylan gave in the 1960s. Instead of plugging Fender guitars into large amplifiers they root out records from charity shops and sample them in the style of The Avalanches. At their most straight forward on tracks like Repeat To Fade and Yr Room they recall Beth Orton and Mazzy Star in a gentle and inoffensive way. At their most vital on tracks like Slingshot and Is It Any Wonder their glorious staccato clash of often cheesy source material recall the best work of The Beta Band and Beck. The 40 minutes running length of The Debt Collection is a tease that makes you glad you don't have to pay per listen.

Art: Stubbs And The Horse at The National Gallery

A great talent is one that exceeds it's genre. The National Galleries exhibition of horse paintings by Stubbs is a perfect example of this. Even those with no equestrian interest will find something of value. The first room contains Stubbs' anatomical drawings showing the process that allowed him to capture the form of the horse. The high point is the vast portrait of Whistlejacket in the third room. A stunning life size portrait of an Arabian horse painting against a plain background that grabs the viewers attention and won't let go.

The more tradition portraits capture the horses so beautifully that you want to reach out and stroke them, even if all the backgrounds look the same. The later rooms of the exhibition show Stubbs trying to move away from the horse painting that made his name. There are some interesting compositions, notably in the mythologic works, however none show the same genius as the early work. That said few artists work does.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Film: Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Roald Dahl's magnificent children's books have conjured up many images in imaginations both young and old. However it seems unlikely that many people envisaged Willy Wonka as Michael Jackson with a bob and dentists gloves. Then again Tim Burton, the director of the film version of Charlie And The Chocolate factory has always had a slight skewed view of life to say the least.

The centre piece of the film is Johnny Depp's eccentric take on childhood favourite Willy Wonka and unfortunately the rest of the film is a little pedestrian in comparison. The design of the film is vivid and busy but never quite feels stunning. The rest of the film seems slightly truncated with the Umpa Lumpa's songs slicing Dahl's lyrics down to short repeated phrases.

Despite these reservations the film still proves to be one of the most fun pieces of family entertainment seen in a while. It may be totally lacking in substance, but sweet things always have been.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Books: The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss

Mark Gatiss must be a busy man at the moment. Between the League Of Gentleman film and scripting episodes for Doctor Who he has also turned out a novel. Unfortunately The Vesuvius Club lacks either attention of talent. A whimsical story of a Victorian detective it tries to be arch and outrageous but is dragged down to earth by plodding prose and a lack of laughs. Gatiss has written many a Doctor Who novel but the change of style here seems not to have suited him.

Theatre: Beauty And The Beast

For the past few years The Belgrade Theatre has been staging plays in the bombed out ruins of Coventry Cathedral. This years production of Beauty And The Beast was advertised with gothic posters, however the play itself was far closer to pantomime. Devised and written by the company the script consisted of little more than ad-libs finding humour in the energetic stage design with intermittent blurts of exposition. This left the play as uneven as Fox news coverage and serious in need of a dedicated script-writer. Next year something weightier than a feather from a sparrow on the Atkins diet is in order.

Music: Funeral by The Arcade Fire

The Arcade Fire are one of this year's critical darlings. Their sound tips nods to Talking Heads, Echo And The Bunnymen, New Order and The Pixies. Unfortunately Funeral is not so much reminiscent of these bands as a reminder that you haven't listened to their records in far too long. The esoteric bunch certainly have a lot of ideas but they are still a way from creating a truly compelling record. Hopefully their time will come.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Music: Give Up by The Postal Service

Give Up is a beautiful concoction of mournfully purring synths and rattling electronica drums. Above this gentle industrial burr plaintive and mildly absurd songs about kissing like Clark Gable are sighed. The most touching songs are the duets in which the male and female voices balance each other perfectly. There isn't a weak track on this album which is worth an hour of anyone's time.