Archive for October 2011
This featured on the Clash site last week.
Although the most famous music scenes of recent music history revolve around Manchester and Seattle, Oxford has provided more notable bands that one would expect from a city with a population around the 150,000 mark.
Narrated by Stewart Lee, the likes of Radiohead, Supergrass, Foals and Ride will prove to be the main attractions for Jon Spira’s debut documentary but it’s the city’s also-rans and cult favourites that provide much of the film’s soul. Spira takes a streamlined approach to unearthing the history of the local scene, using contemporary interviews, retro footage and a consistently engaging soundtrack to address Oxford’s musical lineage.
It’s hardly the most radical approach to documentary making, but it works so well – from Ed O’Brien’s evident love of the bands that preceded Radiohead to Dustball’s Jamie Stuart’s mixed opinions on local indie label Shifty Disco, Spira’s 300 hours of interview footage has uncovered a story both insightful and truly funny. Given the breadth of the bands involved, there’s a huge range of emotions on display: Talulah Gosh’s Amelia Fletcher looks back fondly on the early days of the band, but others seem visibly haunted by their various close brushes with stardom.
Beyond the bands (also including, to name but a few, Swervedriver and Unbelievable Truth), Oxford’s story is given further depth by examining the other key players (local promoter Mac, journalist Ronan Munro, Shifty Disco’s Dave Newton) and the history of The Zodiac and Jericho Tavern venues.
Completed on a shoestring, the film’s lack of budget occasionally shows – the resolution sometimes isn’t as sharp as it could be, the sound very sporadically lacks clarity – but it’s hard to find fault with what is clearly a labour of love for Spira. Sure, it would’ve been nice to seen more of the legendary Mac given that almost every band involved mention him, while the scene itself seems to be a continuous trickle of bands rather than a sudden flourish of breaking talent. Essentially, however, Anyone Can Play Guitar is a brilliantly executed slice of musical history that should be appreciated by music fans beyond those with a connection to the city itself.
Demons Never Die, a debutant effort from director Arjun Rose pitched straight to the mid/late-teen Halloween, starts in dubious taste as it focuses on a group of college students united by their secret online suicide pact. For reasons presumably totally uninformed by the realities of the issue, they collectively decide that life is actually worth living and abandon their exit strategy – only for an unknown masked knifeman to start proceedings without their permission.
Plundering shamelessly from the Scream series, Demons Never Die fails to evoke anywhere near the same standard of satire and shocks of its biggest influence. While the cast is big on Brit youth glamour – including minor roles for X-Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos and Reggie ‘Rastamouse’ Yates – Robert Sheehan and Jennie Jacques are conspicuous as the only really credible performances from the main ensemble cast; one of these “kids”, for example, even has tufts of grey hair.
By the time the film’s one truly nervy scene (at which the Scream influence is jettisoned for that second cliché of teen horror, the found footage genre) is delivered, any hopes of any real quality emerging are long done and quickly finally extinguished by a twist that could be predicted by anyone with even a passing interest in horror. Demons Never Die? More like a Hollyoaks Halloween special.
From the current issue of Clash.
Although a central narrative examining the machinations behind a politician’s campaign to be named as the official Democratic presidential candidate might not sound like the most enticing hook for a film, the calibre of The Ides of March’s cast certainly compensates. Joining director, co-star and co-writer George Clooney is an enviable list of talent including Ryan Gosling, Paul Giamatti, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Evan Rachel Wood and Marisa Tomei.
Clooney leads as the progressive governor Mike Morris who is supported in his race for the White House by idealistic press secretary Stephen Meyers (Gosling). So far, so staid? Certainly. Or at least it is until a young intern (Wood) complicates matters, sparking a chain of brilliantly constructed Machiavellian backstabbing that depicts the inner workings of American politics as being as treacherous as it is glamorous.
As strong as the writing is, Ides of March is dominated by an immense performance from Gosling; underneath his immediate charisma lies an unsettling able to convey the duplicitous nature of someone who needs to lie and charm – in equal measure – to prosper.
Despite its dry conceit, The Ides of March unravels a surfeit of depth as it unravels its slippery tale. Politics does indeed make for some strange bedfellows.
“There’s a load of films being made where a film-maker’s going to a council estate, and ninety per cent of the people there are functional; getting their kids ready for school, paying their taxes, working. And ten per cent are dysfunctional – and they go, that’s what we’re going to make a film about,” said Eddie Marsan (slightly ironically too, given his starring role in next month’s Junkhearts). And that same complaint could be levelled at Wild Bill, the directorial debut from Dexter Fletcher.
The locale is very much the stuff of cliché – rundown shops and gloomy tower blocks in the shadow of the Olympic stadium that are inhabited by bleak back-storied souls and seemingly the same motley crew of bad boys that featured in Turnout. So when Bill (Charlie Creed-Mills) is released from prison, it seems like – cliché alert number two – his desire to escape the city might be compromised by the plans of his old associates. Equally problematic is that his two sons have been deserted by his ex-wife. While Bill is eager to leave them to it, he’s welcomed by his younger son (Attack The Block’s Sammy Williams) but the older Dean (a beefier Will Poulter) isn’t convinced. Thanks to the sudden interest of social services – over convenient plot device number one – this disparate family are stuck with each other.
After scraping through that dubious introduction, Wild Bill establishes a sense of worth, first through some nicely judged comic moments and then through the slowly building connections between the core characters. When Creed-Mills slowly builds his selfish, dopey-faced geezer who can rise above his lack of parenting skills to become an unorthodox father, it’s a surprisingly positive experience – especially as his vicious undercurrent is still lurking if needed. Williams and Poulter compliment him extremely well too, with both able to extract the nuances of growing from boy to teen and from teen to man. Fletcher’s ability to call upon the talents of Andy Serkis, Olivia Williams and Neil Maskell makes for a very credible supporting cast.
While an actor like Paddy Considine was almost expected to make a smooth transition to directing, few would’ve suggested the same for Fletcher. That he manages to create a decent film from a mediocre idea is testament to his potential.
Ulrich Köhler infuses the three sections of Sleeping Sickness (Schlafrankheit) with a disorientating sense of the unpredictable that neatly compliments the topsy-turvy insinuations of its title. Pierre Bokma leads as Ebbo Velten, a German doctor based in Cameroon with the aim of eradicating a parasitic disease that has afflicted part of the country’s rural backwater. Initially professional if not entirely respectful, Velten constructs a surreal addiction to Cameroon which forces him to dread his imminent return to Germany.
Three years on, Dr. Alex Nzila (Jean-Christophe Folly) is despatched by the World Health Organisation to investigate Velten’s ongoing project. What he finds is simultaneously promising, troubling and bizarre. The disease is seemingly under control, but Velten is nowhere to be seen and his clinic seems to be in utter disarray. Eventually he surfaces after Nzila almost botches a horribly convincing caesarean. It soon becomes clear that Velten has become a wild-eyed loose cannon under the grip of some kind of loose jungle fever.
Köhler toys with expectation. After the first introduction to Velten, it seems as if Sleeping Sickness will become a studious discourse on European medical funding in Africa; an impression which builds – if against stereotypical expectations – with Nzila’s own escalating confusion. But then this otherwise straight tale deviates into a nightmarish Heart of Darkness approximation when Velten leads Nzila further into the outback to investigate a building project. Suddenly nothing is quite as it seems; actions drift away from logic as myth edges into reality.
While Bokma impresses as an intimidating unbalanced force and is balanced by Folly’s steely refusal to bend to the insane, it’s Köhler’s weird vision that impresses most – especially with the film’s audacious and absurd closing shot. The wilfully unbalanced structure and tentative build-up are both necessary weaknesses given the writer/director’s fanciful dalliances into the unknown, making Sleeping Sickness an intriguing display of flawed ambitions.