Archive for April 2011
From Clash, April 2011.
Toby Kebbell is clearly one of Britain’s most underrated actors. Despite being the best thing about Guy Ritchie’s ho-hum RocknRolla, stealing a few scenes in Control, a great debut in Dead Man’s Shoes and reaching the mainstream with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, he doesn’t appear to be swamped with offers for lead roles.
The Veteran, however, is a welcome exception. Kebbell plays Robert Miller, a young soldier whose heroic feats in Afghanistan can’t help him land gainful employment back home in London. Haunted by post traumatic stress disorder, Miller’s inner turmoil and struggle to meld back into society makes for a fascinating character and a strong premise – especially with the contrast between the respect he commands from the self-appointed kings of the underworld and the obvious lack of support that he receives from the authorities.
That strength is lost as the film’s central narrative flails wildly as it fails to find a coherent direction. While Miller is soon aware of the parallels between the war on terror and the war on drugs, his realisation is lost amidst a muddled hotchpotch of undercover surveillance, terrorism and sink estate violence. It’s really only Kebbell’s strong performance, a handful of visceral moments and some occasionally classy cinematography that help it to rise above TV movie indifference. Just when The Veteran looks like a huge disappointment, its violent and terrifying extended conclusion is stunningly convincing; Kebbell’s intensity matching his former co-star Paddy Considine’s role in Dead Man’s Shoes.
With such inconsistently, there’s no denying that The Veteran is massively misbalanced, but it should at least help to rebuild director Matthew Hope’s reputation after the reaction to his previous movie The Vanguard – although with Kebbel, Brian Cox and the again decent Ashley ‘Bashy’ Thomas involved here, he already has some strong backing. For now, though, The Veteran, won’t trouble award season unless someone invents a new gong for Most Inconsistent Movie.
Review from Clash, April 2011
The world of film possesses many mysteries. Such as why would James Franco, Natalie Portman and Zooey Deschanel agree to star in Your Highness, a fantasy quest pastiche seemingly aimed at stoned Games Workshop graduates? Portman’s arse-kickin’, wise-crackin’ heroine is clearly the best performance of the three; Franco’s ‘dude, where’s my castle?’ shtick runs out of steam pretty quickly, while needing to appear doe-eyed, vacant and looking fine in medieval garb isn’t a huge stretch for Deschanel – especially for those who saw her in Shyamalan’s eco-comedy The Happening.
Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green was presumably hoping to emulate Mel Brooks’ blend of farcical slapstick, sex jokes and parody rather than the Farrelly Brothers’ less refined sense of humour. To his credit, Your Highness is often funny and sometimes hilarious (the majority of the best lines are delivered by a fine comedic performance by Danny McBride), yet he seems to forget that the plot should be the conduit for the jokes – far too often, the film gets bogged down with expensive but pointless battle scenes and a suitably dumb narrative weakened by an excess of detail. Slaying twenty minutes from the running time would greatly enhance the experience.
Reports of a remake of The Harder They Come reminded me of this interview from May 2007 in which Jimmy Cliff spoke about his plans for a sequel. Originally published in Clash.
The Harder They Come has exerted an enormous cultural influence since its release in 1972. Jamaica’s first feature film took the then nascent reggae scene to a global audience, giving the genre an international reputation as a vital, energising art form. The accompanying soundtrack is bursting with songs that have become staples of reggae with several Jimmy Cliff classics (including You Can Get It If You Really Want, Many Rivers To Cross and the title track) accompanied by the likes of Desmond Dekker’s Shanty Town and Pressure Drop by Toots & The Maytals. Its legacy has spread from being referenced in The Clash’s Guns of Brixton to being reinterpreted for the stage.
Jimmy Cliff was already a success in his own right before making The Harder They Come with top ten hits on both sides of the Atlantic. Cliff starred as Ivanhoe Martin, a singer who comes to Kingston to find fame and fortune but who is confronted with a city in which corruption rules. Cliff’s character was based upon Ivanhoe ‘Rhygin’ Martin, a notorious and enigmatic outlaw of the late forties.
“What attracted me to Ivan in the first place was that he was an outlaw. And I’ve always been a bit of a rebel myself. When as a child growing up you heard about Rhygin, it was a name that shot terror in people’s minds,” explains Cliff, apparently still shocked to this day. “No-one had guns in those days, so for someone to have a gun and to shoot the police, that was really unheard of. I liked the idea of being a rebel.”
Rhygin’s status as an anti-hero was established by his love of self-publicity and his continued evasion of the authorities.
“He did have friends amongst the poorer class of people,” adds Cliff to expand upon Rhygin’s phenomenon. “What I heard as a child was that he used to wear a ring and every time he touched the ring he could disappear! And that’s why the police couldn’t catch him. The mysterious side of him also intrigued me.”
When writer/director Perry Henzell cast Cliff as Ivanhoe Martin, he took elements from Cliff’s background to create a character whose criminal activity was matched by a background in music. When the fictional Martin cuts his debut single, he finds that not only is he ripped off by a music industry monopolised by one producer, but also that same producer has control of the nation’s airwaves. It’s a situation steeped in reality.
“There were two giants [record labels] in Jamaica and a few smaller ones. I tried all of them. For my first recording, I was offered a shilling because I was still going to school at the time. I really dared to ask, what is this about? Am I not supposed to be paid for it? I was asked to leave the premises!” Cliff’s hearty chuckle suggests that he doesn’t hold a grudge. “My third recording I actually got something like five pounds and that was a good amount of money those days. But that was all; we didn’t have knowledge about royalties or anything like that. You get your five pounds and consider it to be a good pay day.”
The success of The Harder They Come could’ve been the central point from which the Jamaican film industry developed a continuing international reputation. But that scenario has never quite materialised with not a single work matching The Harder They Come despite a steady trickle of features.
“I know that there are quite a few people who tried to set-up the industry, but I always heard that it was a problem of money. But my personal view of the situation is that it’s not only a problem of money, but it’s also a problem of good scripts,” he empathises. “There were films that came out after like Smile Orange and a few others, but none had a script on a same level as The Harder They Come. Perry was a very bright man and he had a good awareness of the political situation in Jamaica. So if one writes a comedy about what’s going on in the north coast, which is what Smile Orange was about, it wouldn’t have the same international appeal. A few more movies came out, like Dancehall Queen, but they just didn’t have the broad, in-depth view that Perry had, so I think that’s what was lacking for the industry to develop and that continues through to today.”
Cliff declares that acting is his first love and even now considers himself to be a more accomplished actor than he is a singer. It’s hard to disagree that The Harder They Come represents a special moment in which both of his talents are utilised. That combination is set for a revival as it is planned that a sequel to The Harder They Come will commence shooting next year
“I’m still going to play Ivan. He almost died, he had an out of body experience after being shot by the police, came back to life, served a long sentence and is now back on the streets,” he explains with a tangible sense of excitement. “For him to have served over twenty years in prison and to come out to face the world again, it’s like when he first came to Kingston. I’m part of the writing team and we’re endeavouring to capture the time of what’s going on and the energy of today. All of these years, I’ve been touring all over the world and people are still saying, when are you going to make the next one? So there’s still a real demand for it.”
If Cliff and his collaborators can make a sequel that comes even close to matching the power of the original, we can expect something quite remarkable indeed.
A biog on Emin, sometimes better known as Emin Agalarov, written for his label Saffron.
Emin has that rare ability to turn his dreams into gold.
The vocalist and songwriter progressed from singing in a covers band in New Jersey to become one of Russia’s foremost pop stars. Simultaneously, just a few years after starting a one-man business, he was appointed as a key director in one of Moscow’s most visionary corporations.
Now Emin has set his sights on spreading the success of his music to the UK and around the world. With a background as glittering as his, as well as the creative backing of hit maker Brian Rawling (Enrique Iglesias, Cher, JLS, James Morrison), it seems like the world is his to conquer.
Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, Emin Agalarov’s family relocated to Moscow when he was young. As a teenager, he headed to Switzerland to pursue his education and to “open my mind to the world.” Later he moved again, this time to complete his studies in New Jersey, USA.
Life in the States was, he says, “a great experience as it gave me a sense of independence.”
It was here that Emin’s first musical project, as a singer in a band playing classic rock ‘n’ roll, hit the local open mic nights. “When you’re a teenager in New York, it’s amazing to be able to simply go on stage and to hear your guitar ringing,” he enthuses. “No matter how good or bad you are, people love it!”
Emin experimented with recording his own songs too. He found a collaborator who offered to arrange a song for him for the princely sum of $100. “You can imagine the arrangement you get for a hundred bucks, right?” he laughs. Nonetheless, the experience proved to be a valuable investment as it gave him his first insight into the recording progress.
The dual demands of school and the band would be enough for most teenagers, but Emin had business interests of his own. His first business was an import / export online business that sold Russian items to a global market. Selling over 500 items a week, the business grew to the point where Emin had to take on multiple roles. “If someone phoned up to chase a missing order, I’d tell them that I’d put them through to the distribution department. Really, I’d just put them on hold and transfer them to my cell phone!” he chuckles.
A boutique shoe store on New York’s prestigious Madison Avenue was next and its success prompted an offer to form his own company within Moscow’s Crocus Group where he’d relish the role of Commercial Director. His projects were diverse; the construction of the Crocus City Mall gave Moscow an upmarket shopping centre bigger than London’s Westfields, while his huge fashion portfolio includes Celine, Emanuel Ungaro, Pacini, Uboat and Foci. The company’s launch of Jennifer Lopez’s J-Lo brand saw twenty-five stores open across Russia in just three years.
As immensely successful as he was, something important was absent in his life. “When I came back to Moscow I didn’t have as many friends here as I did in New York,” he recalls. “I was very busy working, would come home late, be alone and I’d play around on the piano. When I didn’t do it, I’d feel really empty.”
And thus sparked a chain of events that would lead Emin to where he is now. “Whatever I was doing in my life, I always dreamed of being a singer. It was always about the music” he explains with evident passion. “I thought that if I don’t do it now, I’d be forty-years-old and would realise that I didn’t even try. I would have betrayed my own personal dream.”
The result was his 2006 debut album ‘Still’. It sold 50,000 copies, a phenomenal quantity given the extreme prevalence of piracy in the local music industry. Three subsequent albums – ‘Incredible’ (2007), ‘Obsession’ (2008) and ‘Devotion’ (2009) – sold similar quantities as Emin starting filling arena-size venues across Russia.
The ambitions that underpinned his business career would influence his next step: “I wanted to move onto something bigger and my friends and management in the UK helped me find that direction.” Emin’s constant desire to fulfill his potential helped to identify the man who could fulfill his ambition: producer Brian Rawling. Together, the duo worked with great songwriters such as the multiple Ivor Novello winner Paul Barry (Enrique’s ‘Hero’) and Wayne Hector (‘Everybody in Love’ and ‘Beat Again’ by JLS).
“These guys don’t waste their time,” states Emin emphatically. “They believe in the music too, just as much I do. It lifts you higher because you feel like a team. You feel like you’ve achieved something together. That’s the real deal.”
Rawling’s sage advice to the singer was simple: “He’d tell me not to be nervous or scared, but just to enjoy the experience.” And what did Emin learn from the process? “You can go in any direction you like, but you have to be comfortable with it, be yourself”.
Importantly, two of the album’s key songs – the title track ‘Wonder’ and the first single ‘Obvious’ – were both written by Emin. “Both of these songs are stories of emotions and feelings for someone you love, someone you miss, someone who’s not around anymore,” he says wistfully. “Every song is a story from my life.”
Based around irresistible melodies and immediate pop choruses, those emotions are reflected throughout the album, most notably on one of the stand-out tracks ‘Any Time You Wonder’ which sublimely combines a tender verse with an uplifting stratospheric hook that recalls the best of Take That’s ballads. The yearning ‘Don’t Go’ swirls evocative strings over a compelling, contemporary beat, while ‘One Last Dance’ and ‘You Don’t Even Know’ raise the tempo to mesmeric effect.
It’s easy to hear an element of Enrique Iglesias or Michael Bublé at certain moments, but Emin’s personality and innate charm rise to the surface. “The album has to reflect who I am right now, both lyrically and musically. I couldn’t be happier with the sound and feel of the album.”
Emin’s combination of raw talent, hard work and his ability to build a team is set to help him fulfil his dream of becoming a global star.
It’s the ethos behind Emin’s special Midas touch. Watch him soar.