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Monday, 27 December 2010

The New Socialism


Have you ever wondered what a collaboration between all your favourite creative people would look and sound like? To be honest I had not - it's such an improbable event, the chances of such a thing happening are so remote, that it's not even worth thinking about...

(Roll VT)

I am sitting in the superb Grosvenor Cinema in Glasgow's West End about to enjoy the latest offering from David Fincher, The Social Network. I knew that it was scripted by Aaron Sorkin - he of West Wing fame - either one is a strong recommendation on its own, but both together bodes very well indeed, I am anticipating eagerly. Trigger Street Productions - ah, an unexpected bonus, my favourite actor of the 90's Kevin Spacey (Glengarry Glen Ross (92), Swimming With Sharks (94), Se7en (95), Usual Suspects (95), LA Confidential (97), American Beauty (99) - an incomparable body of work in such a short period) has produced, truly a stamp of quality.

Even now a full house has not even entered my head, and then the opening bars of the soundtrack creep from the speakers as the camera tracks up the stairs, only the first handful of notes are required, it's only Trent Reznor who's written the soundtrack, prophet of an alternative generation and my touchstone for musical inspiration. Right from the opening lines you have to run to keep up. Sorkin's dialog is as snappy and intelligent as the West Wing or Studio 60 ever were, it's nasty, smug, angry when it needs to be, but always, always, very, very clever. Who do you pick to write a script about a 'computer genius'? A scriptwriting genius of course.

The central performances are all good, Jesse Eisenberg in particular as the anti-hero Zuckerberg, excellently portrays a detached and somewhat bemused persona that I would imagine most computer 'geniuses' have. The protagonists all have their faults and none of the characters elicited any sympathy from me. That's usually my cue to switch off, but The Social Network transcends the characters and the plot, which is largely irrelevant in the sense that we all know how the story ends (to this point at least). But the script holds everything together and I found it impossible to take my eyes off the screen. On paper this is a turkey, a movie about an Internet billionaire and the contractual and legal fog that surrounded his success? It could not be a better example of what true genius can deliver to the screen. As a child, like most children, I used to think that the actors did all the work, and I wondered who all the other people in the credits were - if ever there was a lesson in how wrong that childish view is it in the team that brought us The Social Network.

So This Is Christmas...

You know you're over the hill when...

Santa stops leaving Kerrang! in your stocking and leaves Classic Rock instead! But am I disappointed? Not a bit (probably the biggest giveaway that the sentiment is true!). Rush received the Living Legends award at the magazine's annual honours bash this year, and it could not be given to a more deserving group of gentlemen.
Over the decades Rush have conducted themselves with absolute decorum, through good times and hard times, concentrating on delivering the most stimulating, challenging and enthralling rock music that I have ever heard and (I strongly suspect) will ever hear. They are second to none, and I mean none. No one can do what they do, the power, the virtuosity, the insight, the passion, the sensitivity.

Truly inspirational, and you can dance to most of it.


'Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength.'

Long live Rush, and thank you.

Thank you Doug, thank you Paul, thank you Robert

It would be easy to give too much credit to the excellent Bourne Trilogy for making an intellegent and sophisticated film like The International possible. It has become something of a cliche to give a heavy nod towards Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass, and their slick realisations of Robert Ludlum's source material whenever a thriller appears that is set anywhere east of Norwich, and to forget the films that went before like Funeral In Berlin, The Quiller Memorandum, The Third Man, to name but three, is regretable.

The International is however brilliantly constructed in its own right by Tom Tykwer, director of Run Lola Run and Perfume, and Clive Owen is excellent as the brooding investigator with a troubled past. Naomi Watts shines as always, pleasingly not glammed up as DA Eleanor Whitman (despite the obvious temptation), and Armin Mueller-Stahl brings effortless depth to insider Wilhelm Wexler.

The shoot out in the Guggenheim is a visceral centre piece. Owen's Salinger is no black ops killling machine, he is a man on a mission, driven to succeed at all costs. Indeed he and his temporary associates seem positively fragile as they scurry and dive to avoid the hail of gunfire that rips through the gallery set. There are further signs that Salinger is increasingly on the brink as events rattle forward, and Owen conveys that sense of running on the edge of control so well.

Like so many things in cinema, as in life, however it is the journey that is the real experience. So it is with The International, by the time it arrives at the denouement all the best scenes have passed. It is a disappointment that nothing better than a brief rooftop pursuit can be conjured up by Tykwer and writer Eric Singer - and the coup de grasse lacks true impact, despit the attempt at a twist.

But don't let this minor personal quibble put you off, The International is entirely worthy of 2 hours of your life, and desveres to be widely recommended to anyone who does not want to leave their brain in a jar in the cloakroom.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Now and Venn

Music is a strange thing. There is really no predicting what will move a particular person, how wide their taste might be. One thing that is fairly reliable is that no-one's taste will be exactly the same. One person will evangelise about an artist that will leave his friend completely unmoved.



I have a close colleague who is a real muso, possibly (probably) more devoted than I am - his thirst for knowledge and history greater than mine. Our tastes are, inevitably, different - however what I find fascinating is where our particular Venn diagrams of listening touch.

I hope he will forgive me if I make some statements here (corrections always welcomed!). He likes what I think is referred to as 'New' country music, he seems particularly interested in 'solo' artists and singer-songwriters. Ryan Adams, Bowie, Dylan, Morrison, The King, The Boss. Above all else I believe he is a Bruce acolyte, a devotee if you will, with huge know of the man and his work. Me, I'm more or a band man. I am perfectly happy listening to many of those classics, but they are not cornerstones of my collection.



And here there is a great source of enjoyment. For me there is nothing quite like finding a point of unexpected agreement with a fellow enthusiast, that moment of discovery when you realise there is some profoundly enjoyable common ground, where you imagined there was more distance. I have always been, and still am, am an ardent metal-head. My tastes are very broad (I think), but are centred on the heavier side of life. Norah Jones, Jack Johnson, Counting Crows - all in my collection - but Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Tool and Iron Maiden (to name but a few) are mainstays.


I like Bruce Springsteen, he has some truly awesome songs, but he was always peripheral in my listening. Hence my great joy in discovering a video on my friend Norrie's site. Rather than me including, go see for yourself. As a huge Trent Reznor fan I have nothing but admiration for the sheer unrestrained energy of Bruce's performance here. He really is on the edge - it is an absolute joy.




Shut the Door. Have a Seat

It is so rare these days to find a drama that is not hackneyed and dumbed-down, or characters that are not cardboard cut-outs, a pastiche of stereotypes or ‘zanily quirky’ (c). At first glance I thought Mad Men was an unlikely prospect, and I dismissed it as a historical soap at the cost of a three year gap before discovering it. The loss was entirely mine, because Mad Men is a hidden gem. It does for Ad Execs what The West Wing did for public servants, etching fascinating characters that bleed, sweat and cry. They are so human, so individual, that they must be real, chock full or vices and virtues as they are. Drinking and womanising are tools of the trade, chauvinism and discrimination of every flavour are rife, men are men and a woman’s place is in the home or a seedy hotel room possibly. But MM is not a lecherous romp, it is very much what is advertised, a way of life in 60’s America.






It is also an enthralling saunter through a seismic period of history, a crossroads in so many ways. It is just starting to be revealed that smoking is harmful. MLK speaks and America listens whether it likes the message are not. Kennedy defeats Nixon, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Dallas Texas. The issues of the period are woven into the fabric of the Sterling Cooper agency and its staff. They are shaken by these world-changing events in a way that we can only imagine. But it is not the breadth of the canvas but the detail, the nuance the charming, hateful humanity of the characters and their workaday lives that give MM its true power. Roger Sterling is an arrogant bully who inherited his success, and yet he falls in love. Bert Cooper is a true eccentric and yet his judgement is incomparable. Pete Campbell is a grasping, jealous young executive but truly skilled at what he does. Peggy Olson is an anachronism, a talented, ambitious young woman who does not fit the new Barbie image, achieving success in a man’s world.

And then there is Donald Draper. How can anyone have sympathy for Don? The serial infidelity to model wife Betty, lies upon lies and the near-callous disregard for his staff, the charmed, seemingly effortless career – Don is fated to succeed, a genius in his field, the man with the golden tongue. And yet for me there is something fragile about him and a fascinating background, and there are secrets, oh boy are there secrets. You won't like Don Draper, but if you are a bloke you just might want to be him. Not since The West Wing has there been a drama from the US that has been so keenly observed and utterly immersing. In my view its creation was seminal in the field of TV drama. Mad Men is unashamedly TV for grown-ups.