My first and probably only music gig of the year this week, the almighty Depeche Mode at my local Greenwich squatting venue. The Basildon bred boys are on the road to promote their latest album Delta Machine, the closest they’ve come to my mind in equalling their two most prosperous albums Violator and Songs Of Faith & Devotion a mere twenty years and change ago, to be charitable their output has been somewhat erratic ever since musical bulwark Alan Wilder fled the scene after the obliterating Devotional tour which left one of them in a loony bin, and the other two of them in rehab – you can take the boys out of Essex etc. So as I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned I’ve seen them on tour every time since 1990 (apart from the greatest hits tour which doesn’t count – I was on holiday OK?) and this was one of their strongest performances in line with one of their strongest albums of the past two decades, so here’s a few selected highlights of the night;
One of my favourite post 1990 tracks there, and the first time they’ve played in live in quite a while. Similarly for the first time in a very long time I actually quite enjoyed the new album tracks, the openjng chords of ‘new stuff’ usually signal a run for the bar to replenish dwindling alcohol stocks, but they worked this time around and actually filled the space, with this little bruiser being quite effective in getting the crowd going after the mid-set ‘slow’ track Martin Gore section – although he did serenade us with a terrific stripped down version of Higher Love.
I’m guessing most people don’t pick up on these things and pay attention to parochial things such as the music and performance (I’m joking) but as always the visual design of the tour is fantastic, something that the band is renowned for pioneering with their groundbreaking early world tours, with a through line in triangular graphic design which runs through the lighting patterns, screen projections, set design and marketing compositions of sleeve design, posters, t-shirts and other merchandise – although what really got the crowd roaring was of course the music, specifically some of the older stuff;
I do like the O2 as a venue, all too often with stadium gigs the tension of the music can get lost in the cavernous space (Earls Court anyone?), Dave Gahan’s tumultous vocals were clear and powerful, and they were smart enough close the main set with arguably their two best known singles Personal Jesus and Enjoy The Silence, possibly the best version of the latter I’ve ever seen them perform;
OK, I’m starting some (forgive me) ‘Blasphemnous rumors’ here as they actually finished the main set with this which is a new one and it was alright, I’d have preferred something a little more upbeat but here we are. Overall the set list was solid, although I’d have preferred some substitutions you can’t have everything, and even the presence of one of their very early bubble gum pop didn’t quite elicit the groans it normally does – although I do wish they’d look into reviving more of their 1984 – 1986 material for future shows. Good interview here, gig review here, but let’s finish predictably with one of the all time greatest audience participation tracks – yup you guessed it they finished on the obvious;
What a relief. Yes, the good news that after last years unforseen setback we’ve corrected the course of the good ship Menagerie, and we will be covering this years Sundance Film Festival at the O2 in sunny Greenwich. I’ve been waiting with bated breath to hear about this, whilst I was quietly confident you really never know, but the schedule has just come through so now we have to decide which films to cover. Looking at the programme over the four days and weighing up screening times my current plans revolve around The Look Of Love, Touchy Feely, Sleepwalk With Me, Blackfish, Mud, and In A World, and a certain other picture that we’ll come to shortly. It looks similar to the LFF in that there’s a twin track of Press Screenings which start on the Monday, or you can apply for tickets for the public screenings – tricky. I’m actually working up until Wednesday next week which somewhat throws a spanner in the works in terms of the press screenings, which I assume will be early in the morning or at lunchtime – we shall see. Then again every single one of the 22 films I saw at the LFF in 2012 were at press showings which really isn’t ideal, it’s much more fun seeing movies with a paying audience, there’s certainly more chance of a tangible atmosphere which very rarely materializes when a bunch of jaded old hacks get together for a group grumble. Then again with the great unwashed you’re taking your chances with some Doritos munching, phone fiddling cretin whom might sit next to you and destroy the ambiance through their selfish behaviour, it’s a tough life sometimes. Anyway, there’s still not a great deal around in terms of video trailers for the festival, although I have sourced this which may get the celluloid blood pumping;
Not wishing to leave anything to chance I have separately purchased tickets to a certain Upstream Colour, as there is simply no fucking way on god’s green earth I am missing this film, especially since all of the numerous podcasts I listen to have essentially claimed it as the greatest American film of the past five years which in its own quiet way ‘revolutionizes cinema’. Now, granted, these chaps like myself can veer into the dense waters of hyperbole from time to time but it really does sound extraordinary, and one hopes that the hype can meet the movie. The good news is the Sunday screening is at the O2 Super Screen which to put it bluntly is fucking massive, so I’ll try for press tickets first and we’ll have this screening as our fallback – deal?
I’ll probably wanna see it twice anyway, does this give me an excuse to post the trailer again? I mean, it’s not like I watched it half a dozen times over the weekend or anything. I wonder if Shane Carruth is actually gonna be around for promotional purposes, if so then I might bravely broach my first interview opportunity ever…
Given this perpetual winter weather, a persistent mild cold which refuses to be cured and continual economic trembling I reckon I’m due for a laugh, and numerous laughs I got from Louis CK who made his first UK stage appearance in six years at the o2 venue last night. Outside of hardcore comedy aficionado circles he’s perhaps not as well-known here as he is in the States, across the pond he’s something of firmament of the comedy culture and his recent series Louis – now onto its third season – has been securing howling praise across the board, a series which has proved impossible to legally source in the UK until Season 1 began broadcasting on some satellite channel earlier in the year. Other than a few scattered random clips I haven’t watch a single stand alone episode yet, I much prefer waiting for boxed sets to become available and then voraciously devour them in a weekend or staggered over the course of a week (Just mainlined Season 2 of Game Of Thrones, better than the first I thought and great fun) here’s a good example which like the rest of his material is very NSFW;
I’m not sure the gargantuan venue of the o2 was best suited to his brand of slightly confessional, vaguely dirty, mirthfully risqué material, but once he got into his stride he won the 12,000 of us over with particular highlights being the exquisite, ‘c’est magnifique’ status of freshly born ‘straight out of the pussy’ tuna for sharks spinning out from how lucky we are as a species to have evolved beyond the food chain, the usual subjects of sex and dating during middle age, how terrific post divorce life can be, and he even managed to be genuinely insightful and hilarious about one of the most tediously obvious subjects of current debate – social media, the technology and communications revolution and how that is fucking transforming our behaviour and relationships. Now I’m betting my chin-stroking analysis is just lubing up your funny bones isn’t it?;
I like him ‘cause he isn’t just occasionally ‘offensive’ by common cultural standards for the sake of being controversial, it’s clearly in service of making you look at the world and certain issues and aspects of life from a different perspective , the fact that he’s a well honed stage presence, has terrific timing and is a calm improviser doesn’t exactly hurt either. Like any good comedian he left the strongest material for last, fans will be aware of his excellent ‘of course…but maybe’ set closer, if you’re easily offended then it’s probably best to give this strand of his material a miss;
This was the first stand-up show I’ve seen since Doug Stanhope about three years ago, given that I’m remotely fascinated with the stand-up comedy world and the types of people it attracts – I’m a voracious listener to the WTF podcast after Reginald D. Hunter mentioned it in some interview – I really should try harder on the comedy front, I mean jeez, I’ve never even set foot inside the famous Comedy Store after twelve years of London living. Finally, just a very quick RIP to British horror maestro James Herbert. Like any spooky kid the ancient triumvirate of Herbert, Stephen King and Dean Koontz pretty much encapsulated my first graduation to ‘adult’ literature at the age when any young weirdo was graduating from YA material, inquisitively encountering an exciting secret world of gruesome violence and eye-opening sex scenes, particularly in the case of Herbert with some scenes from The Fog warping my adolescent brain. It’s been amusing reading similar reminiscences of my peers across the internet, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has scenes indelibly etched in my mind, and yes one can only hope that the residents of Bournemouth don’t decide en masse to walk into the sea nor the priest administrating his funeral decide to amusingly re-enact that scene from the book. In terms of the movies yes he was adapted a few times but without anything of real merit being summoned, although I was surprised to see that an adaptation of perhaps his best known book The Rats finally got made, or more specifically not that a film had been made but that I’ve never seen or heard of it before this week’s sad news – I don’t think I’ve missed much;
Well, we’ve all been waiting with bated breath since January but today the Sundance Institute and The O2 announced today the programme of panels, feature films and short films for the second Sundance London film and music festival, due to commence on the 25-28 April at The O2 in Greenwich. If you’re so inclined then passes and ticket packages are available at www.sundance-london.com, and individual tickets will be on sale from 9:00 a.m. GMT Friday 15 March. The Sundance Institute, which annually presents the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, U.S.A., selected the film and panel programming for this second year of the best in American independent cinema and music programming, and this years schedule continues its 2012 focus on presenting new work by independent filmmakers and exploring the interplay between independent film and music. The programme announced today includes 18 feature films and nine short films across four sections, including a new UK Spotlight. Twenty-three films will make their international, European or UK premieres at Sundance London. Ten are by female filmmakers and six are by first-time feature filmmakers. The films collectively received 12 awards when they premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, U.S.A.. Among the artists expected to attend Sundance London are Lake Bell, Mike Birbiglia, Jimmy Carr, the Eagles, Barbara Kopple and Peaches, as well as Sundance Institute President & Founder Robert Redford.
Now we’ve got the blurb out-of-the-way I’m enormously relived to see one inclusion on the schedule which we’ll get into shortly, on the other hand I’ve a bit glum that the terrific sounding Escape From Tomorrow isn’t included, I wonder if that films guerilla shooting tactics has resulted in potential trademark problems from the evil house of mouse, or perhaps it was considered too slight a feature for international selection? I’m still waiting to hear on my potential press credentials so we’ll just have to keep the extremities crossed, I have however booked the time off work so that’s one hurdle overcome. Questions about my sanity in spending the first time off in four months by evading any relaxing lie-ins and charging over to the O2 for four days straight of eight to ten hours of movie watching coverage could not be confirmed as of press time. In any case here’s what we have on the cards;
Oh well, not the most exciting promo I’ve ever seen, hopefully that’s just a placeholder and something more official and slightly more assertive will be circulated shortly. I think I have an idea on how to grab your attention, here’s one of the short films that’s screening which a friend sent to me a few weeks ago, I assure you this will burst your Sundance bubble;
Heh, that makes me laugh every time – looks like someones angling for a potential Scanners remake? Right, so what’s on the Minty hit list? Firstly, I’ve been vaguely following the release of this as I’m a fan of the This American Life and associated podcasts, Birbiglia gets around and can be amusing so this could be a pleasant diversion;
After that it gets pretty short on the trailers list, these films are so hot off the press they haven’t even concluded their marketing strategies. I really enjoyed Your Sisters Sister last year from director Lynn Shelton, she’s followed this up with another one of those slightly quirky relationship dramedies Touchy Feely;
After Mea Maxima Culpa (a fantastic, gruelling and important documentary) and almost weekly revelations about the crimes and corruption of various Church factions around the world anything else illuminating these financially self-serving, medieval ideological peddling criminal conspirators gets a holy blessing in my book;
In terms of special events there is a screenwriters panel featuring the exalted presence of Tony Grisoni (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Tideland, In This World, Death Defying Acts), Peter Straughan (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, The Debt, Men Who Stare at Goats), the aforementioned Lynn Shelton (Touchy Feely, Your Sister’s Sister, Humpday), and an afternoon with David Arnold, musical score composer of Bond movies Casino Royale and Tomorrow Never Dies, as well as Independence Day, Stargate, Godzilla, Hot Fuzz and The Stepford Wives. Now, hands up if you liked Take Shelter? Good, well then, here’s the trailer for Mud, director Jeff Nichols follow-up;
There is a UK strand to the festival which highlights indigenous work, naturally a repeat collaboration of Michael Winterbottom and Steve Coogan on the sordid sounding biopic of Soho magnate Paul Raymond is an early riser;
The horror themed In Fear also sounds like its worth a go, alas no trailer yet. Finally thank god Upstream Colour is on the list, this is one of the ‘hottest’ films of the year and I’m pretty sure this is going to sell out immediately given the cult prestige of Carruth’s earlier effort, with one skim-read exception I’ve avoided all reviews but the general feeling out there is that this is an astonishing piece of work which hasn’t aligned with everyone’s sensibilities, so that sounds like Primer II to me…
The things I do for my blog. Hoping to get a jump start on Tuesdays Oscar nominations I scoured the current cinema listings this weekend and found it pretty damn hard to select something that genuinely tickled my fancy, as it seemed certain that either Gabourey Sidibe and Mo’Nique would be gathering best actress nods I finally settled on Precious as this weekends most promising big-screen entertainment, a film if I’m honest whose premise did not appeal to me at all. It’s not that I have a problem with social realist, tough movies –Fish Tank for example narrowly missed being one of my top ten favourite films of last year – I just wasn’t in the mood for such gritty viewing. Nevertheless, after a fascinating wonder around the Greenwich Observatory (which we’ll come to later) I ambled along to the Picturehouse to give this movie a couple of hours of my life, thankfully the experience was not entirely without merit as Precious has some strong performances and an uplifting presence that made a big-screen viewing valuable.
Harlem, 1987. The titular obese Precious is a 16 year old African American girl whose life is almost unfathomably depressing and unbearable. Having been repeatedly raped by her stepfather she has already sired one mentally disabled infant and has another child on the way. Barely literate and with no sense of any self-worth or confidence – her welfare scrounging, abominable mother (in a spectacular performance by US comedienne Mo’Nique) consistently beats her both physically and emotionally – Precious frequently withdraws into a vivid fantasy life where she is a incandescently popular music star or actress, her only coping mechanism to endure her accursed adolescence. After being pushed into a social education program Precious begins to forge friendships with her supportive teacher and classmates, a chink of hope and support in her life, however fate has another litany of cruel events to further test and torture her indomitable will.
Precious is actually quite similar to Fish Tank in many ways, it’s set in a different era and locale of course but the central focus on an embittered female teenager makes for some interesting comparisons. It’s as tough as any sort of mainstream, Oscar baiting tale can get these days, the continual accumulation of misfortune almost tips the movie over into some bizarre black comedy if you’ll forgive the unintentional pun. It’s not all misery and despair though, director Lee Daniels appreciating the axoim that there needs to be some sense of relief by interjecting some well executed comedy to lighten the tone, mostly through some expletive fuelled comic relief emanating from Precious’s fellow classmates at the special school where she finds an uncertain sense of solace. It also avoids the traps of those cringeworthy ‘teacher inspires kids in an urban battlefield’ movies such as Dangerous Minds or One Eight Seven, an almost unrecognisable Mariah Carey is perfectly adequate as Precious’s social worker who actually performs quite well during a tense showdown scene toward the end of the movie. It reminded me of one of my favourite British films Billy Liar with both main characters escaping their woes in a rich and textured fantasy life, and as an old school B-Boy the late Eighties New York setting was entertaining, all the Rappers Delight bellowing from ghetto-blasters and streets choked with graffiti tags always go down well in my book.
So, I’ve been steadily ploughing through the epic Neal Stephenson novel Quicksilver, background details here. Given its focus on areas like scientific discovery in the 17th and 18th century and featuring historical characters such as Newton and John Flamstead it seemed apt to take a look at the Greenwich Observatory which features in the book, it’s a place I’ve been intending to visit for a while anyway. The museum itself is divided into two sections – the Latitude area and the Astronomical exhibitions – I quite foolishly figured I’d have to time to get through both before popping off to the cinema, I was wrong as it is much bigger and engrossing than I anticipated. I got through most of the former area and will need to plan a future visit to the latter, still it was quite entertaining to stand on the spot of the Prime Meridian.
I learnt a fair bit which is always the sign of a good museum (obviously), the things have stuck with me are the facts that the most sophisticated clocks we as a species have forged involve trapping ion atoms and probing them with lasers (obviously) which seems like a waste of a perfectly good laser in my book, my knock-off Tag Heuer watch has been keeping reasonably accurate time for over a decade. Scientists eh? In the Observatory tower proper I also enjoyed the ambient noise which is apparently a transmission of this which is due to last for 1,000 years. Musicians eh? So, this all leads me to conclude on a collection of time travel themed movies, from the obvious to the esoteric, from the recent to the ancient, the foreign to domestic, the superb to the influential, the triumphant to the trivial.