04 July 2015

The grime of blues, the menace of punk

Tonight I watched for the first time Julien Temple's film Oil City Confidential, a 2009 documentary about the Essex band Dr Feelgood. This was an ideal introduction to the group, about which I knew too little - the only time I had seen them was on a clip from 1975 on the BBC music programme The Old Grey Whistle Test. For time in the mid-seventies Dr Feelgood was the leading live rock band in Britain, achieving a chart-topping live album in 1976, sandwiched between the pop powerhouses of the Stylistics and Abba. 

The band's mix of gritty blues-rock and ominous (some would say menacing) stage presence combined to bring Dr Feelgood into the spotlight and contributed to broad popularity with rock fans across Britain and Europe. Their success was also despite their unfashionable pub-rock roots, and their defiantly unglamorous style and origins (being from down-at-heel Canvey Island in Essex, a bleak seaside oil refinery town). It was only the departure of lead guitarist and main songwriter Wilko Johnson in 1977 that prevented the band from becoming world famous. 

The film is a valuable insight into the personality of the surviving members and a testament to the commanding stage presence of frontman Lee Brilleaux who died of cancer in 1994. It's a pleasure to hear the confident young chancers jokily dismissing the long-haired loon-panted prog rock that was in vogue when they first emerged as 'girls' music', and to soak up the tumbling avalanche of anecdotes from Johnson, who recently won a reprieve from cancer and teamed up with Roger Daltrey for an album (Going Back Home) that was definitely not called Roger Wilko. 

Here's a cracking 1975 TV performance from the Tyne Tees show The Geordie Scene that's a useful sampler of the band's commanding stage performance - featuring all the elements: Lee's swaggering, gravelly delivery and propulsive harmonica breaks, Wilko's machine-gun lead guitar, glowering 40 yard stare and deranged stage wandering, a John Lee Hooker cover to puzzle the 15-year-old girls trying to throw disco moves in brown cardigans, plus John B Sparks and The Big Figure in the back keeping things tight. The only pity is the stage is too small for Wilko's proper perambulations, and the daft wazzock introducing the items.

01 July 2015

Anticipating the Film Festival

It's that time of year again - the time to shell out hundreds of dollars for the privilege of viewing marvellous, obscure, treasured glimpses of cinema from outside the megaplex mainstream. It's always the highlight of the season and a chance to see what inevitably turn out to be some of the best movies I see throughout the entire year.

In 2015 my roster is the largest I remember booking - 19 films in total. While there is the notable omission of any New Zealand films in my list this year, most of the usual bases are covered. I'm legitimately thrilled to be seeing yet another modern classic from the Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu, whose family dramas I Wish and Like Father, Like Son made previous festival outings so special. There's also the chance to see the eternally idiosyncratic Canadian director Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room, savouring his singularly peculiar filmmaking that in a previous film, The Saddest Music in the World, saw Isabella Rossellini cast as a legless brewing magnate's wife who performed a cabaret dance with glass beer-filled legs. There's a great selection of documentaries and music films, an Icelandic family drama, and a sure-fire crowd pleaser in The Assassin from Taiwan. And who could fail to be charmed by the prospect of Lawrence Arabia performing live accompaniment to a 1928 silent film?  

Friday 24 July, 6:15 PM
’71 (dir. Yann Demange, UK, 2014)
Troubles drama :: The Roxy Cinema 99 mins

Saturday 25 July, 7:15 PM
The Forbidden Room (dir. Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson, Canada, 2015, feat. Mathieu Amalric, Charlotte Rampling)
General surrealism :: Paramount Bergman 130 mins

Sunday 26 July, 1:00 PM
Lambert & Stamp (dir. James D. Cooper, USA, 2014)
Music doco - The Who's 'management' :: Embassy Deluxe 117 mins

Sunday 26 July, 3:15 PM
Jauja (dir. Lisandro Alonso, Argentina, 2014, feat. Viggo Mortensen, Vilibjork Mallin Agger)
Drama - Viggo's gaucho tale :: Embassy Deluxe 108 mins

Tuesday 28 July, 6:15 PM
From Scotland with Love (dir. Virginia Heath, feat. music by King Creosote)
Found footage of Scottish memories :: Paramount 75 mins + Q&A to follow

Wednesday 29 July, 8:30 PM
Best of Enemies (dir. Robert Gordon & Morgan Neville, USA, 2015)
Doco - Gore Vidal & William F. Buckley Jr.'s telly rivalry :: Penthouse Cinema 88 mins

Saturday 1 August, 1:30 PM
The 50 Year Argument (dir. Martin Scorsese & David Tedeschi, USA, 2015)
Doco - the New York Review of Books :: Paramount 97 mins

Saturday 1 August, 6:30 PM
The Assassin (dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 2015, feat. Shu Qi)
Nie Yinniang
Epic historical drama :: Embassy Theatre 105 mins

Sunday 2 August, 1:00 PM
The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt, USA, 2015, feat. Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel, Becky Ann Baker, Anna Chlumsky, Joan Cusack)
Dramatisation of a famous interview with David Foster Wallace :: Paramount 106 mins + short

Sunday 2 August, 6:00 PM
Kiss Me Kate 3D (dir. George Sidney, USA, 1953, feat. Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ann Miller)
Technicolor widescreen 3D garishness :: Embassy Theatre 110 mins

Sunday 2 August, 8:30 PM
Inherent Vice (dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, USA, 2014, feat. Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio del Toro)
Pynchon on the big screen :: Embassy Theatre 149 mins

Tuesday 4 August, 6:15 PM
Rams (dir. Grimur Hakonarson, Iceland, 2015)
Two estranged brothers, butting heads :: Paramount 93 mins + short

Wednesday 5 August, 6:15 PM
The Wrecking Crew (dir. Danny Tedesco, USA, 2008)
Legendary sessioners for hire :: Light House Petone 101 mins

Thursday 6 August, 6:15 PM
Very Semi-Serious (dir. Leah Wolchok, USA, 2015)
New Yorker cartoons and their awesomeness :: Penthouse Cinema 83 mins + short

Thursday 6 August, 9:00 PM
The Diary of a Teenage Girl (dir. Marielle Heller, USA, 2015, feat. Bel Powley, Alexander Skarsgård, Kristen Wiig)
Coming of age black comedy :: Embassy Theatre 102 mins

Friday 7 August, 8:45 PM
A Poem Is a Naked Person (dir. Les Blank, USA, 1974/2015)
Music doco - Dr John :: Embassy Deluxe 90 mins

Saturday 8 August, 6:15 PM
Queen and Country (dir. John Boorman, UK, 2014)
Drama - National Service in 50s England :: Embassy Theatre 115 mins

Sunday 9 August, 2:00 PM
Lonesome (dir. Paul Fejos, USA, 1928)
Live Cinema with Lawrence Arabia and Carnivorous Plant Society
Live accompaniment to a forgotten silent film classic :: Paramount 69 mins

Sunday 9 August, 3:30 PM
Our Little Sister (dir. Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan, 2015)
Umimachi Diary
Japanese family drama of three sisters reunited :: Embassy Theatre 128 mins

28 June 2015

Bing & Bob

It was in Hollywood, hick town or no, that he got paired with Bing Crosby, a much bigger star, in a small buddy comedy called “The Road to Singapore” (1940). This was the first of the series of “Road” movies—“The Road to Morocco,” “The Road to Utopia,” “The Road to Rio”—which made him a household name, and are his best shot at posterity. They really are funny, and curiously modern, and a key part of this, strange to say, is Hope’s sex appeal. He’s a self-confident wise guy—exposed as a coward but not as a nebbish. Riding the back of a camel with Crosby in “Road to Morocco,” he’s as at ease in his undershirt as Brando.

Zoglin is right that the meta-comedy, “the fourth-wall-breaking,” of those movies is still charming, and must have seemed startling at the time. After Hope stops to recapitulate the plot in “Morocco,” Crosby protests that he knows all that. “Yeah, but the people who came in the middle of the picture don’t,” Hope replies. This is a stunt, and we buy it because the characters are so companionable—the real subject of the movies was Bob and Bing’s friendship, and our sense that, as with Redford and Newman later on, they were funny, attractive equals. Crosby isn’t truly a straight man; Hope isn’t truly a clown. The Hope character doesn’t see himself as ineligible for Dorothy Lamour, just squeezed out.

The simulation of that brotherly relationship turns out to be an artistic invention of the movies. In truth, the two men barely tolerated each other. “He was a son of a bitch,” Hope remarked after Crosby’s death. Hope’s brand of sullen and Crosby’s brand of sullen were different: Hope’s outwardly genial and inwardly inert, Crosby’s fuelled by alcohol and anger, and perhaps by enough intelligence to make this great jazz singer, once described as the “first hip white person in America,” think that he was wasting his talent on these matters [...]

For a decade, from 1939 to 1950, Hope was consistently and even irresistibly funny, in a way now hard to analyze, since its later inferior, mechanical TV version is so close to it in style. Part of it is period parody. Hope is to the tough guys and hardboiled dicks of the forties what Woody Allen was to the smooth seducers of the sixties—at once boldly aspiring and obviously inadequate. “It only took brains, courage, and a gun,” Hope announces in his 1947 parody film noir, “My Favorite Brunette.” “And I had the gun.” We know that’s not a Groucho line, typically an overwrought boast that dissolves into wordplay. (“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I don’t know.”) The key is the feint at courage, and the rueful confession of inadequacy. (As with his simple statement in “The Road to Zanzibar,” as he leads Crosby into the unknown: “Oh, come on, you follow me. In front.”)

- Adam Gopnik, 'Laugh Factory', New Yorker, 17 November 2014

15 June 2015

What Phil Savage wants from E3

What I want: New games! Ones that don't have a number after them. Or ones that do have a number after them, but only as a bold commentary on the over-reliance of franchisable brands. I want a dour studio executive to stand on stage and reveal a new sandbox roguelike about skateboarding horses. Not anthropomorphic ones, either. Just regular horses. On skateboards. Or perhaps a survival game where everybody has to walk on stilts? Maybe the floor is lava, and you wobble around the world QWOP-style, trying to push other players over. Look, I haven't thought this through. The point is that I want to be surprised.

- via PC Gamer, 12 June 2015

The Sunday morning train to Verona Porta Nuova

A lightning storm of epic proportions envelops Venezia Mestre, the mainland rail terminal of Venice, as I await the 10.19 regional service to Verona Porta Nuova. Flashes of lightning crease the sky every minute, and as the pounding rain increases in intensity I can only wonder of the chaos it must be inflicting upon the crowded tourist alleys of Venice itself and the slickened, pigeon-pecked paving of St Mark's Square. On time, the single-deck train arrives from the island to whisk a dozen or two Mestre passengers and me inland. Well, whisk might not be a strictly accurate description, because the regional service may reach a fair clip on the open rail, it is also designed to service the dense network of rural stations serving small towns along the route, every five minutes or so: Ponte di Brenta, Mestrin, Grisignano di Zocco. Italian train boarding is not a hurried operation, so it pauses for a leisurely few minutes at each stop, and as I'm in the front carriage I can observe the conductor leaning out the foremost door, checking that any passengers have alighted and new ones boarded safely.

For the first half an hour I have the front 2nd-class carriage to myself as the train emerges from the scraggy light industry of Mestre into satellite suburbs intermixed with wealthy farming country. An unexplained halt to allow a faster train to pass gives a moment to appraise the carriage. It's a tidy affair, with 34 seats decked out in suitably regal Italian blue vinyl, plus room for a wheelchair or prams. Each set of three or four seats has a small litter bin with a pair of built-in power sockets for passengers to charge their phones or laptops. It's all very tidy and civilised. All it needs is a gelateria and it'd be perfect.

At Padova (Padua) several more dozen passengers join the train, including three in my front carriage, two of whom are chatting on their mobiles. We are soon cruising through the lush flat fields of the Veneto farmlands, with square pale yellow-washed farm houses floating amidst a lapping sea of wheat and corn. There are no bends in the track: it is as if the Roman army built this ferrovia, the iron road.

At Vicenza all my carriage-mates alight, including the mobile-talking woman who has nattered in Italian for her entire journey. Their only replacement is a thin, quiet, elderly gent grasping a well-furled black umbrella and an art case. He departs a few stops down the line at the grape-growing town of San Bonifacio, where a man props his young cycle helmet-wearing son upon his shoulders to admire the arriving train. Tree-clad hills emerge alongside the valley route, peppered with steep crop-fields and the odd monastery. We pass a pallet factory (closed for the weekend), a tumbled-down farmhouse, and a fancy vineyard with a carpark dotted with bright white vehicles.

Soon the train nears Verona itself, stopping at Verona Porto Vescovo on the outskirts before entering the heart of the city to the terminus at Verona Porta Nuova. The journey has taken two hours - twice the time of the fast train but costing a mere €8.60 (NZ$13.50). Now it's time to explore another new city.

05 June 2015

Bagging a king pair

Mine occurred when Middlesex played the Pakistan tourists in 1974. I never could play leg-spin, an unfathomable mystery, so it was no surprise in the first innings I was lbw to Intikhab Alam. Second time around, it was a different leg-spinner Mushtaq Mohammad bowling from the Pavilion end, so as I passed him I asked him what he would bowl. “I will bowl you a googly,” he said. It is possible to over-intellectualise these things: I played for the leg break, the ball spun back in instead, through a gate the team bus could have got through and I was bowled. Mushie, a wonderful fellow, chortled away. “I told you I would bowl you a googly.” “Yeah, thanks a bunch Mushie,” I muttered as I went back past. “I thought at least I could trust you to be fucking devious.”

- Mike Selvey, Guardian, 4 June 2015