Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Fisher King (Criterion Blu Ray)

As a teenage Python obsessive at the turn of the Nineties I devoured anything related to them whether it be the genius of Ripping Yarns to tangential rubbish they had been involved in (take your pick) and I think I didn’t really get with The Fisher King in 1991. It had one of my childhood heroes Mork in it but it wasn’t a laugh riot from end to end.
Picked up the Criterion Blu Ray on TFK last week as it dipped in price in the sales and gave it another shot over the weekend as I know it’s good and I recall watching The South Bank Show at the time which gushed over that scene in Grand Central Station. I was a na├»ve young fool back then is my only conclusion who like Jeff Bridges’ Jack at the beginning of the film didn’t believe in magic.

For a start – when it is funny, its really funny – not just Robin Williams’ portrayal of Parry the street person’s psychosis in full flight – a mix of Shakespearean verse, quips and close harmony singing but the extremely well drawn female characters have some of the best lines. Amanda Plummer’s Lydia, the unrequited love interest of Parry, is equally as oddball as some of down n outs but somehow manages to hold on to a job and semblance of reality. Mercedes Ruel’s Anne as Jacks supportive, sarcastic and strong girlfriend helping him rebuild his life after a tragedy that he inadvertently caused acts up a storm whether wisecracking or letting fly her frustrations.
Of course with hindsight the most aching part of the film is Robin’s performance – not just in terms of the narrative arc he goes through from street bum, his past trauma, looking for and finding love and losing grip of reality whilst pursued by an imaginary red knight that symbolises – well, it’s up to you what it means but as always Terry Gilliam brings these fantastic images to life with a cartoonist’s eye.
Its those moments of lucidity that Parry has where Williams plays the scene pretty straight but without the mawkish edge that tainted so many of his other performances that make you wish he was still around so he could shine again like this just once. The sweetness of his scenes like Plummer on their date mixed with clowning and one liners ‘I’ve got a hard on for you the size of Florida’ is entirely believable and real. He was able to pull back on the manic persona when needed to show real depth and humanity – the dark core of his own personality perhaps but don’t wanna get all psyche on yo ass
New York looks fantastic in the movie, you are knocked out by the variety of structures and building styles in amongst the steel and glass, showing off the best of the city. The story is about redemption love, madness and magic shot through the prism of Arthurian legend, Dante’s Inferno and Tom Waits as a diaabled Vietnam veteran. You don’t get that from Michael Bay

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Death Of Stalin


When Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was discovered face down, stinking of his own urine at his dacha in March 1953 his faithful friends and committee members didn’t immediately send for a doctor as all the prominent ones were in gulags or had been shot. He had lain undisturbed for some time as his guards were afraid that if they disturbed him after a bout of heavy drinking, he would have them killed. It is just this atmosphere of farce, fear and black comedy that drives the funniest film I have seen in years.
That’s not to say it’s a broad comic romp as that would be a far more lightweight affair – it’s the fact it touches on sadistic executions, torture, child rape, bloody violence and horror whilst still delivering brilliantly funny line after line that demonstrates what a masterful writer / director Armando Iannucci is. The source material of a French graphic novel demonstrates the paranoia and true life absurdity that was Russian society during the fag end of Stalin’s rule.
The cast I simply stunning that it’s hard not just to list their names but Simon Russell Beale pulls very few punches as Beria, Stalin’s chief executioner drawing up lists of those to die for no more reason than because, as Khrushchev later advises, ‘their story doesn’t fit with the party line’. He embodies the banality of evil so perfectly, playing it dead straight leaving the rest to crack wise around him. I don’t think I would be likely to see Paul Whitehouse go toe-to-toe exchanging insults with Steve Buscemi on the big screen but he’s just one of these great comic actors that zing lines at each other like pros.

Buscemi captures the careful scheming of Khrushchev as he returns for a boozy night with Stalin and the committee and dictates the events to his wife to record what Stalin liked or disapproved of so he could tailor his future behaviour accordingly. Jeffrey Tambor as the heir apparent , a bumbling vain figure of fun akin to Tambor’s genius creation, Hank Kingsley from Larry Sanders is contrasted by Michael Palin’s quiet brilliance as Molotov. A scene where he outlines what Stalin would or wouldn’t have done as his comrades try and figure which way they should vote amongst one of the best things he has ever done.
Smaller parts by Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend and Andrea Risborough as Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, the oasis of sanity and perception throughout are wonderfully realised with the decision to let the actors use their own accents a shrewd one. Firstly because it doesn’t get in the way of the comic dialogue and also because Stalin’s own court was full of different accents so it really doesn’t take anything away. The film isn’t trying to be a faithful recreation despite being based on actual events, however bizarre the situations may seem.
Despite the embarrassment of rich comic and acting chops on display, Jason Isaacs as a Yorkshire war hero General Zuchkov steals scenes in the same way Rik Mayall did on Blackadder by storming in, unworried about who he offends, ignoring the political chess the rest are playing and cusses up the place with relish. The film flips from flat out farce to genuinely unsettling horror so quickly that it often shocks but never seems to jar with an audience.
You may need a certain kind of jet black gallows humour to get the most out of the film along with a little foreknowledge of the cast of characters but only a true dullard (and predictably they have) would baulk treating a terrible period of history in such a skilfully funny and oddly educating way. The trailer does make it look a bit ‘Carry On Comrades but it’s more intelligent, thoughtful and funny than that.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Disappointment Choir - Vows


There’s a saying ‘if your friends aren’t going to tell you that you stink then who will?’. This really misunderstands the nature of true friendship as you expect those you like to be honest with you even if it hurts a bit. This is a roundabout way of declaring that two of my friends made this record, no not Facebook friends or people you know off Twitter. They are people I have met, occasionally looked in the eye (it’s a phobia of mine and I should try harder) and traded Blackadder quotes with. Yet I also want to make clear that doesn’t mean this is me doing them a favour or a solicited review. I’m doing it because I have always supported the artistic endeavours of my pals because so many sit on their fat spotty behinds while some take a risk on their talents. So with that all clear, on to ‘Vows’ the second album from The Disappointment Choir
It kicks off with a bloody synth earworm that ver League wouldn’t have minded having back in the day a little pop gem with Katy n Bob’s voices weaving a bit of free advice if you’re thinking of dating that damaged person that’s otherwise lovely – don’t – delivered as strings swirl and bells chime in a happy counterpoint to the bad news. ‘1971’ kicks out at nostalgia, an inability to accept that the past isn’t the only place where fun and excitement exist plus just maybe the new isn’t as scary as your own prejudices would suggest. Can’t imagine where the inspiration for that song lies.
I’m always fascinated by song writing and what makes something memorable, the sounds and moments that leap out at you, drawing you in and, for example, the quiet power of ‘Need Someone’ to recreate that feeling you get when someone takes your breath away. Yet also the wish that others see us that way too – getting to the heart of the matter.
Saying that the songs on the album don’t outstay their welcome isn’t meant as a negative. There is no labouring of a point, guitar solos, no funk workouts getting in the way of the real emotions. The album is quite varied in sounds and style but maintains a mix of the old and new. OK that may suggest that today’s musicians are just recycling the sounds of early electro pop but I think that give the album a broader appeal. It’s not really trying to be either of those things but whether you are 14 or 44 the energy of ‘Vows’ will send a message to your pleasure centres.
‘Heartstrings’ would, I guess, in the olden days of the record industry, be the single and it’s a great taster for the album as a whole. If this don’t get you tapping an appreciative toe, frugging in the queue at Waitrose or slapping the steering wheel in the morning commute as you sing along to its bittersweet chorus then you are lost. The drops of Lightning Seed magic in ‘I Am Awake’ as the machine skitters and slides across your consciousness not your bag either? Shame.
What I am clumsily trying to say is that if you love pop music, that annoying stuff that made generations sing, dance, bonded them together and spoke about love, loss and the human condition then you will find lots to enjoy here. There is introspection, its not superficial and disposable but neither is it morose and pained. Sad things are expressed in front of beautiful backdrops of sound
like ‘Winter Hill’ but there is hope everywhere. And I sort of need that kind of thing in my life sometimes.
Although Bob takes the majority of the main vocals, Katy provides great harmony, a great vocal sparring partner on the duets and on ‘Centre Of The World’ she really shines with a real aching longing in her voice. Their vocals meshing really make this record but often it’s Katy’s ghostly vocal shimmering, like on the aforementioned ‘Winter Hill’, that catches the ear.
Pop songs with inventive arrangements that linger long after the stop button has been pressed. For pop kids of all ages – this is good for banishing those winter blues.
And just for the record – neither have personal hygiene problems as far as I am aware