MonthNovember 2016

The Unknown Girl review – a rare misfire from the Dardenne brothers

A new edit of the Belgian auteurs’ oddball detective story can’t help its fundamentally baffling tone and form The Dardenne brothers’ new film, The Unknown Girl (unveiled at Cannes earlier this year), makes its UK appearance in a new edit, with six minutes cut from the running time. The new version can make no real difference to its fundamental problems: a bafflingly inert, undirected performance from Adèle Haenel and a borderline ridiculous detective story narrative, in which minor characters are laboriously wrangled on and off screen to tell Haenel important things. The movie is at its most effective in the opening five minutes: stressed GP Dr Jenny Gavin (Haenel) is giving her intern, Julien (Olivier Bonnaud), a harsh telling-off at the end of a long day, after surgery hours, and so ignores a door buzzer going off. Later, she is told by the police that this was a young African woman in a desperate state who was later found dead; if Dr Gavin had answered her call, she might still be alive. Stricken with guilt, she then makes it her business to find out who this woman was – as a doctor, she has a kind of carte blanche to go around asking questions. This detective routine is sometimes ingenious: taking a pulse while casually making inquiries is a good lie-detector test. But Haenel’s blank, slightly bug-eyed solemnity gives no sense of her inner life; the parade of minor figures is mostly implausible, and the climactic revelation is melodramatic and unsatisfying. A minor misfire from these major film-makers. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Bleed for This review – swaggering boxing drama lacks emotional punch

Miles Teller is plenty tough as Vinny Pazienza, a real boxer who came back from awful injury to fight again, in an enjoyable film with little or no dramatic insight Martin Scorsese serves as executive producer on this film, a feelgood boxing-comeback drama with superficial style borrowings from Raging Bull: sparring sessions going too far, family strife, fanatical dedication, woozy fight sequences, sans-serif intertitles. But this film – enjoyable though it is – doesn’t explore the real emotional pain that deeply, or at all. Related: Aaron Eckhart: ‘I’m 48. For 20 years I’ve made mistakes’ Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Moana review – Disney’s amiable Polynesian adventure

Princess Moana battles to reunite an ancient goddess with a precious stone in the studio’s latest attempt to match Frozen Is Moana the next Frozen? Or is that Frozen 2? Either way, Disney has contrived an amiable new animated musical that speaks to the tween-princess-sleepover demographic while tapping into Polynesian myths and making a modest, decently intentioned gesture at diversity. But it does this by feeding these components into its well-honed narrative machine, and producing a story with obvious but well-managed borrowings from The Lion King – with a bit of The Hobbit and even the Book of Exodus: it’s a pretty traditional exile-quest narrative with a sense of monarchical destiny. Newcomer Auli’i Cravalho voices Moana, the smart, rebellious daughter of a Polynesian king; she is entrusted by the ocean-spirit with a precious stone: a sweet initial scene with the uncomprehending one-year-old Moana waddling into the magically parting surf. Her people are terrified by the sudden disappearance of fish and Moana’s mission will be to solve this eco-crisis and heal the cosmic wound by reuniting the stone with the ancient goddess. To do this, she needs to team up with swaggering bad-boy demigod Maui (voiced by Dwayne Johnson): a mountain of muscle and tattoo. Maui and Moana squabble their way through a sibling meet-cute before becoming a devoted animated duo, facing up to a scary, funny giant crab, Tamatoa (Jemaine Clement). As for the songs, they didn’t seem to me as catchy as the great refrigerated masterpiece, but time will tell. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Deadmau5: W:/2016ALBUM/ review – genre-surfing EDM that’s better than he thinks

(Mau5trap) In a series of tweets last month, EDM superstar Joel Zimmerman all but disowned his eighth album, calling it “rushed” and “slapped together”. “I don’t even like it,” he claimed, adding that he is only releasing it to pay the bills. There were two tracks he reserved praise for, however: Whelk Then, a strange experimental offering that wavers between bursts of clangy syncopation and the ASMR-y sound of dripping water; and Snowcone, which mixes plunderphonic aesthetics with a chunky trip-hop beat. Both are diverting on their own, but slightly confusing as part of an album that skirts all over the shop, genre-wise, covering trance-house fusion, bleeping 80s electro and seemingly everything in between. It’s possible that it was this lack of focus that led Zimmerman to feel dissatisfied with his work – but he shouldn’t really. This might be far from a perfect album, but it’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

The Dreamed Ones review – a poetic postwar love affair revisited

Two young actors become involved with Paul Celan and Ingeborg Bachmann’s letters in this intriguing study of a famous relationship Austrian film-maker Ruth Beckermann has created a cerebral chamber piece from the love letters of postwar poet Paul Celan, whose parents perished in a Nazi concentration camp, and Ingeborg Bachmann, the author whose father had been a Nazi party member. Performers Laurence Rupp and Anja Plaschg play versions of themselves, reading out selections of the letters into studio microphones, apparently for a radio programme. We see them taking a thoughtful cigarette break together, or getting lunch. Maybe their own relationship is being influenced by Celan and Bachmann’s? Most of the film consists of their faces in closeup, reading the text. It is an intriguing exchange, like a controlled but dreamily unhappy dialogue which can’t represent the length and rhythm of the silences that existed between each letter: Celan was hurt by these silences. The historical issues between them are never alluded to, except at the end, when Celan is infuriated by an antisemitic remark in a German review of his great poem Death Fugue, and then by Bachmann’s calmly dismissive attitude to his outrage. It could also be that he was not entirely pleased at Bachmann’s growing literary prestige. This reminded me a little of Margarethe Von Trotta’s film Hannah Arendt, which was itself a bit like a radio play. It also reminded me of Julia Leigh’s erotic nightmare Sleeping Beauty, in which one sex scene is bizarrely preceded by a discussion of Ingeborg Bachmann’s work. This is more forensic than erotic. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

The Trouble With Templeton: Someday, Buddy review – moody Twilight Zone soundscapes

(Bella Union) The past 12 months have been so sad and seismic that it feels as if there’s no more room in the world for additional musical melancholy. Brisbane alt-rock group the Trouble With Templeton are named after an episode of The Twilight Zone, which signals their songs’ late-night, spectral qualities, and bring the sentiment and soundscapes of the moody, spacious guitar bands who still lurk on festival bills but hardly capture the zeitgeist: the Antlers, Sigur Rós, Patrick Watson, etc. Influenced by early Radiohead and the sulky post-rock that used to be celebrated on Pitchfork, frontman Thomas Calder is dedicated to his doom; sometimes sulky (“Don’t make me explain again”), other times slacker. The slow-motion misery of I Want Love is a little too drenched in its own fragile despair, but the lazy, wilted quality of Bad Mistake is better; a tired, grunge-lite lollop, more Stephen Malkmus than all-out macabre. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism review – mirthless and shoddy

This adaptation of Georgia Byng’s plucky-orphan story features a cracking cast but has all the appeal of a disposable Christmas stocking novelty Georgia Byng’s children’s novel Molly Moon’s Incredible Book of Hypnotism is well admired by many for its vivid heroine and its fresh twist on the old plucky-orphan narrative gambit. This film adaptation assembles a cracking cast, starting with the terrifyingly impressive Raffey Cassidy (the pretty android from Tomorrowland) in the title role, with assists from some illustrious thespians, including Lesley Manville as the mean orphanage director; Emily Watson as a kindly staff member; Celia Imrie as the cook; right down to Joan Collins, resplendent in a red wig and a ton of slap, as an evil criminal mastermind. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Childish Gambino: Awaken, My Love review – a prog-tinged freak-funk opus

(Glassnote) Given that he’s the creator/star of a TV comedy – the brilliant Atlanta – that’s embedded in the world of hip-hop, you’d be forgiven for expecting Donald Glover to cover similar territory with his musical alter ego Childish Gambino. Indeed, his previous album under that name, Because the Internet, did just that. For his follow-up, though, Glover decided to run a mile from the genre: instead, Awaken, My Love is a prog-tinged funk opus situated somewhere between Sly and the Family Stone and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. In his rap incarnation, Glover was sometimes mocked for being inauthentic – a Hollywood type trying a rap career on for size. Yet any sense that his latest evolution is merely an affectation is disabused by opener Me and Your Mama, an opus that builds from hushed gospel to howling freakout. Glover has a keen ear for genre idiosyncrasies and Awaken, My Love is full of tiny rewarding details: the pinched surf guitar of California; the squalling organ blasts of the Parliament-Funkadelic-ish Riot. Only the limitations of his voice occasionally let him down – he doesn’t quite have the range to nail Awaken’s more ostentatious vocal lines. Still, it’s a minor gripe when there’s so much here to enjoy. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Gurr: In My Head review – fizzing joy of Indie As It Used to Be

(Duchess Box) You wouldn’t have a clue that Laura Lee and Andreya Casablanca were in a group based in Berlin in 2016 by listening to their first album. Even the presence of one song in German, Walnuss, wouldn’t convince you that In My Head was anything other than something unearthed from some US liberal arts college after sitting in a record shop rack since the early 90s. Gurr’s sound is bright and shiny: not the polished metallic sheen of state-of-the-art studios but the tinny reflectiveness of the foil wrapper around a tube of Rolos. In My Head sprints through its 11 songs in half an hour, dispensing fizzing, punky guitar pop at every turn, with some amusingly baffling lyrics leaping out along the way: “Kissing you feels like 1984!” offers Breathless. It’s very much Indie As It Used to Be, all the way through, but In My Head serves as a reminder that the combination of good tunes and bags of enthusiasm can gloss over a lot of shortcomings: the Mo Tucker drumming, downstrummed guitars and just-about-there harmonies of #1985 sound like bottled joy. Continue reading… [hmp_player]

Heritage of Love review – wretched, retchworthy Russian romance

An insufferable love story set in St Petersburg pre-1917 and Paris today, this regressive, saccharine film may have made serious rubles, but it has no merit So soaked with sentimentality, bogus emotion and cliche, to watch it is to feel as if one is being pelted by a spongiform romance novel soaked in alcopop, this St Petersburg-Paris set drama is the very embodiment of the Russian notion of “poshlost”, a kind of corny vulgarity that Nabokov dissected at length in his book on Gogol. It’s a depressing sign of the times, along with the election of Donald Trump and the vote for Brexit, that this rubbish was one of the highest-earning films in Russia recently. Former Eurovision contestant Dima Bilan plays with equal woodenness two different characters in two different time periods, who both fall in love with Svetlana Ivanova’s simpering blonde princess and her descendent. During the 1917 Russian revolution, they are separated by wars and pesky, evil Bolsheviks. In 2016, they are separated by their inability to navigate the Parisian Métro system, which is at least understandable. By Russian standards, this allegedly had a huge blockbuster production budget, and yet it looks surprisingly gimcrack and shoddy. At least there are giggles in store watching it tick off the romantic movie tropes, including not one but two scenes where our lovers run towards each other in slow motion. Continue reading… [hmp_player]