Posts from January 2018

31
Jan 18

Read Harder Challenge (2 of 24): HORTUS VITAE

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 102 views

Hortus Vitae: Essays On The Gardening Of LifeHortus Vitae: Essays On The Gardening Of Life by Vernon Lee

(Read as part of the 2018 Read Harder challenge. Category: A book of essays.)

Vernon Lee, pseudonym of Violet Paget, was an essayist, story writer, and aesthete active in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. She’s not quite forgotten now – there’s a Vernon Lee society with its own journal – but her essays come quite low down the list of things people remember about her. She’s better known for her supernatural fiction, her feminism and pacifism, and her theories of psychology and aesthetics – she was one of the first people in English to use the word “empathy”.

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30
Jan 18

The Freaky Trigger Movie Poll 2017: #20 – #11

Do You See3 comments • 247 views

CiIKHzWVEAE2lJKHi, I’m Lori Quaid, just an ordinary boring housewife living my suburban life, doing housework and maintaining my 80’s hair. 2080’s hair of course, its 2084, the future where I live with my even more boring husband Doug. He’s so boring he doesn’t want to go on holiday but rather wants to have the memory of a holiday implanted in his head. Hooo – boy, is he going to be surprised when that all happens and I end up kicking him in the head a lot. You see I’m not really his wife. I’m basically a plot device. And as such, once I have sorted out stupid old secret agent Doug, and sent him to Mars, I’ll probably go back to that implant centre and get the best films from 2017 implanted in my head to watch. They are proper oldies to me!

Thanks Lori, I was always on your side. And yes I think you will enjoy this batch, with a few strong females who are more than just plot devices.

20: Your Name

A bit of a cheat here as it was actually released in the UK for a day only in 2016. But the dubbed version was released in 2017 so I allowed it. And it still stands as a terrific little fantasy, a body swop, catastrophe take on The Lake House, hitting a perfect tone for the humour in the first half that grounds the high melodrama in the second half. I am sure the dub is inoffensive, but this is a great bit of anime.

19: John Wick 2

Fighty fighty, kicky punchy. Keanu Reeves gets back into the suit, the film has a bit more money so can globe trot a bit more, but on the whole it is much more of the same just a bit more violent, a bit less focused and a lot more pointless. Still Keanu is always worth watching doing this kind of thing and the practical stunts do deliver a lot of OOOF for your buck.

18: Lady Macbeth

A bit like Andrea Arnold’s Wuthering Heights, Lady Macbeth takes the British period drama and shifts the perspective to a more modern, feminist position. It also rolls strongly with its lead identification character, who is hard enough to initially be admirable, and her actions are always understandable if increasingly horrific. Florence Pugh commands the screen and the film is composed and controlled enough to fool you into thinking it cost a lot more money. A regency version of don’t hate the player, hate the game.

17: Cameraperson

One of the great things about the more experimental trend in journalism, Cameraperson is a slightly more dour out-takes clip show. But what these out-takes tell us about the process of documentary, and about the person who is filming them is huge. Kirsten Johnson has worked with some of the biggest names in documentary, and we see takes from work with Poitras and Moore, but also we see how operating a camera is authorial, and how it is an empathy machine – both from the big projects and the more personal items she has shot. Plotless, without a clear timeline, with no linking narration or context, it tells a strong story about how cameras create stories on both ends of the apparatus.

16:The Beguiled

Sophia Coppola’s remake of the Beguilled has its critics (it doesn’t engage in the racial politics of the Civil War), but its female gaze makes it a fascinating pairing with the original with Clint Eastwood (watch the trailer to the original to see how many similar shots with a different gaze there are). The women are the stars here, and once Colin Farrell’s injured soldier starts to flirt you can see how the tensions between the women will stretch their relationships but eventually it becomes a very one sided battle of the sexes where the power imbalance leads to triumphant tragedy. A steamy little potboiler.

15: Logan

Perhaps it pushes its Shane / revisionist Western tropes too far but it takes almost twenty years of an often trashy and incoherent film franchise and creates a moving and satisfying conclusion for a wholly ridiculous character. It does that by granting Wolverine a surrogate child, an infirm father figure and a hopeless picaresque impotent quest, there are more Western cliches in here than you can throw a stick at. But the returning actors are so comfortable and pleased with how they are developed, Mangold leans into the myth making and there is a great physical performance from Dafne Keen. Franchises punt out so many films these days some will be good, and some will even end up being quite artful.

14: Manchester By The Sea

I saw Manchester By The Sea at the London Film Festival in 2016, and was impressed by the way it managed to create empathy with a man living with grief and guilt, and positing that growth still probably does not allow you to give all of that away. But I was also aware that Kenneth Lonergan, with all of his skill, ended up falling back on a number of less subtle tropes, the man who expresses with his fists what he cannot deal with verbally, the leaning on thoroughly manipulative (and cliched) music in scenes which did not require them. In one scene Michelle Williams does more, and conjures up a more interesting movie, and whilst It thing it is a hugely powerful piece of work, it didn’t really blow me away (and the Casey Affleck issues certainly haven’t help win it over for me).

13: Baby Driver

Speaking of actors with issues. Its OK, Kevin Spacey plays a despicable bad guy here. They all do. And perhaps that is my problem with Baby Driver, is its flip, impeccably sound synced car-dancical was – unlike any of Edgar Wright’s previous movies – in the service of terrible characters being cool. So yes, Baby had a pretty lousy upbringing, but he is still a car thief and dangerous driver, and perhaps looks saintly in comparison with the rest of the cast, but he isn’t. I am pleased therefore with his denouement, but there was half an hour of less fun cars grinding in car parks to get there. And also, the mid-nineties was not the golden age of soundtrack pop this film seems to think it was.

12: Blade Runner 2049

Did the world need a sequel to a flawed cult movie that even its own director is completely sure what the best version of it is. Did it want one that was almost an hour longer? Hmm, its box office receipts suggest not, but what Denis Villeneuve has done is to be faithful to the original without being slavish, to move on that vision and try to find something else in the mix of Philip K.Dick’s pulp and Scott’s monolithic art design (and even Harrison Ford’s original uncommitted acting). He succeeds on nearly all counts, with a beautiful, intriguing puzzle of a film, with some terrible politics and gnomic mysteries. It still feels like a lesser hit from the same drug, but that is a pretty potent drug.

11: Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt’s triptych of small town Americana yet again demonstrates how good she is at quickly creating low stakes but high intensity slices of life. Here she fits in three stories, all with development and drama and wonderfully played female leads, and all which feel contemplative and even slow in its swift running time. Of course the casting is impeccable, which makes the fact the film is more or less stolen by a newcomer Lily Gladstone even more impressive. The moments of emotion in the Gladstone/Stewart story contain some of the tenderest sequences of cinema last year.

Top ten is on its way…. Feel free to express your anxieties about the films that you now think might not make it below.

29
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 4: The Week Of Peel

New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 286 views

NEW MUSIC

first aid kit ruins

Day 24: FIRST AID KIT – Ruins: Slickly produced, occasionally countrified, notes on romantic disappointment by a pair of Swedish sisters who sing with a Nordics-meet-Nashville twang. There’s nothing off-putting or irritating about this record, and several tracks hide a melodic twist which rouses me into brief attention. But that’s about it.

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28
Jan 18

The Freaky Trigger Readers’ Poll 2017: #10-#1

FT22 comments • 625 views

baloonWotcher me old muckers. I’m Nena’s 100th Red Balloon, the one edited out of the final version of the song because I ‘wouldn’t scan proper’. We only come in packs of 100 you know. Whatcha got against a nice round number eh Nena? Can’t complain though, I’ve kept myself busy over the years. After a bobbing about in Paris for a bit I had to make a sharpish exit, but thankfully I landed a good stint as the stunt double balloon in some circus movie – blimey, that weren’t half a scary business! Later on I did a bit of modelling for some rando graffiti artist in East London, that kept me in high grade helium for a good few years I tell you. All the kids love their balloons these days, why, just yesterday I saw a bunch of teenagers with one each, laughing away like they were having a whale of a time. I love a happy atmosphere! Anyway, enough of me gassing on, let’s get on with the poll!

Thanks, Nena’s 100th Red Balloon! Here’s our final batch of results:

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27
Jan 18

The Inaugural FreakyTrigger TV Poll: 35 – 25

Do You See6 comments • 400 views

disposable-heroes-of-hiphoprisy-michael-franteHi I am Michael Franti and I am here to present the first ever FreakyTrigger TV Poll. Now some of you might remember me, and my clumsily named band, The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy and my opinion the Television was The Drug Of The Nation. You may not remember our follow-up hits, Don’t Sit So Close You’ll Go Blind, and Your Eyes Will Go Square They Will. Well even so I have realised that it isn’t the TV that is the problem, and so I have returned with the band for a whole new album called Tiny Mobile Phone Screens – The Opiate Of The Masses and will be making hot takes about millenials bumping into things whilst using their mobile phones in a toilet venue near you soon.

Thanks Michael, nice Spearhead – I mean big toe. So here are the first set of results. The TV vote was a lot more spread out than the Movie one, which had the upshot that under our methodology (you had to get two votes) only 35 TV shows actually qualified. And down the bottom they scraped by on a few votes each. Here are the first 11, so I might get this done in three lists (I have a film list to do too you know).

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25
Jan 18

And Then I Took Some Of THESE

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Mark E Smith, 1957-2018. Some things to read.

My favourite ever piece or sequence of pieces on The Fall is our own Kat Stevens’ stint on One Week One Band. It’s very wide ranging, very funny, and especially perceptive about the different things different musicians brought to The Fall. It also gives the Brix Years their due, which I’m pleased about – it may not be the greatest era of The Fall, but it was where I jumped on.

Another writer who’s good on The Fall as musicians is Douglas Wolk – his review of their Peel Sessions box set is an excellent single-article history of the band’s development, making the argument that they were often at their best in the pressure-cooker environment of the BBC studios. Peel repeated a bunch of their sessions across two weeks in the summer of 1990, and I stayed in night after night to tape them. I don’t think any Fall recording on any format could be as berserk as the session version of “Container Drivers” that kicked off the C90.

Over the last decade or so there’s been renewed interest in Mark E Smith as a literary figure, though. The Quietus has an excellent long piece by Taylor Parkes discussing him as a crafter (and, crucially, performer) of short stories in song from “Spector vs Rector” on through most of the 1980s.

And then there’s the critic I most think about when I think about recent interest in The Fall: the late Mark Fisher, aka K-Punk. Fisher is an interesting critic of The Fall because he was devoted to them but in one specific aspect – he’s quite caustic about Smith’s decline as a visionary writer (the element he loved) and reification as a national Northern treasure. It’s a reading that de-emphasises a lot – mostly the man’s identity as a working musician, a James Brown style bandleader/martinet/monster. And the fact that – granny-on-bongos jokes aside – The Fall were always a collaboration between Smith and specific sets of musicians (or dancers/artists/etc) with specific talents, something that comes out in Kat’s writing. I quit listening in 2000 or so but there are surely great pieces to be written about his late lyrical approach in this punishing, gigging context. This conversation on Smith, Brian Clough and management, from K-Punk’s blog, is an interesting angle.

But there’s much that’s truthful about Fisher’s position as well as harsh. First off, Smith really was a unique, visionary creator – there’s nothing in English pop remotely like, to take one example, “Wings”, the SF yarn Fisher talks about in this essay. And second, there was certainly a Cult of Mark E Smith, of the cartoon curmudgeon and bully, the straight-talking prole with the difficult band and the endless catalogue. He played up to it – crafted it, even – but like all cults I doubt it did him (or anyone) any good.

23
Jan 18

ELVIS VS JXL – “A Little Less Conversation”

Popular44 comments • 3,003 views

#930, 22nd June 2002

elvis jxl 2002 was the 50th anniversary of the charts, and Elvis had been dead for half those fifty years. The scale of the public reaction upon his death took media observers by surprise; the Elvis industry kept on rolling, turning a star back into an icon. By 2002 the name was still household, the face still instant, his life and death bywords for some kind of American promise, or tragedy, or comedy. What about the music? There, perhaps, was a problem. Was Elvis “relevant”?

“Who cares?” you might ask. To the people who stood to make money off it, that response was naive. But for some there was also a question of cultural propriety – Elvis was the first dead rock’n’roll icon whose work risked losing its audience, fading into a gentle twilight, respected but hardly heard. His partisans might not have put it so crudely, but the impulse was clear – Elvis mattered, and had to be seen to matter. The corpse must be re-powdered and kept on show.

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22
Jan 18

2018 Music Diary Week 3: The Week Of Appropriation

New York London Paris Munich1 comment • 287 views

NEW MUSIC

fob mania

Day 19: FALL OUT BOY – Mania: Short, and making no secret of its modern pop inspiration (there’s a song here with a reggaeton beat!), Mania underlines Fall Out Boy’s flexibility and their continuity. Basically, they’re all about those long, epigrammic lyrical unburdenings – what makes FOB FOB is their cadences, not their instruments. Wentz’ lyrics don’t necessarily even connect, they’re a series of verbal poses and the songs, in whatever style, are the catwalk.

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20
Jan 18

The Freaky Trigger Movie Poll 2017: #30 – #21

Do You See + FT3 comments • 317 views

diehard2Hi I’m Former U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel William Stuart, and I am just preparing to rescue General Ramon Esperanza, the rightful ruler of the made up South American country Val Verde. I have a foolproof plan to hold an airport hostage, at which point I will grab Esperanza’s plane, fly him home and where I and my men have been promised lots of money by his legitimate businessmen allies. As preparation there is nothing I like doing than flexing naked infront of a mirror – I believe it makes me more intimidating and not silly, even though it does mean some people call me the Nudey German (even though I am not German). Anyway I am sure my foolproof plan will work, and not be foiled by some meddling cop on holiday who is only trying to meet his wife. Even if that does happen, I am sure I won’t get blown up and thus be unable to watch the Freakytrigger best films of 2017 numbers 30-21 except in vain-glorious hell.

Thanks William, I prefered you in Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey. Here are the next ten movies, including an exciting four way tie for 23.

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18
Jan 18

The Freaky Trigger Readers’ Poll 2017: #20-#11

FT8 comments • 476 views

Heart_of_the_Ocean“Hi there, I’m the Heart of the Ocean, a fictional diamond necklace made famous by Britney asking whether I’d been chucked in the Atlantic Ocean or not when actually I was on MARS. My higher than average refractive index means I have an angle on everything! I’ve often wondered whether Britney has actually seen Titanic all the way through, or if like me, she dozed off in the middle and forgot that (SPOILER ALERT) the old lady was actually Rose all along!!! I don’t know why Billy Zane bothered giving me to Britters anyway, I ended up living in an ophidiarium for 80 years with that anaemic snake. But enough about Matt Damon and that Martian igloo (o-ho), my heart must go on – with the poll results!”

Thanks very much, The Heart Of The Ocean if that is indeed your real name and you are not one of the 3 replicas made for the duration of filming. Here’s the next batch:

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