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Random thoughts about sound and vision.

News Under Neon - Nightcrawler review.

 

Meet Lou Bloom.

Lou is in dogged pursuit of the American Dream. He knows what he wants in life, he knows what he has to do to get it and he has the determination to succeed. Surely a shining example to thirtysomethings everywhere. 

Unfortunately, Lou is also a sociopath and Scary As Fuck.

Lou's the central character in NIGHTCRAWLER, a brilliant, tonally pitch black exploration of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Caring. Bloom runs a small independent news team, cruising late night Los Angeles whilst trawling his police radio scanner. To win in this game, you have to be the first camera on a crime scene. Get the footage - as bloody as possible. "If it bleeds, it leads." notes one of his competitors and he's not wrong. The local TV companies will pay handsomely for grade-A footage. And Bloom will do whatever's necessary to get the exclusive and the sale.

Jake Gyllenhaal has turned in solid acting work for years but this is something else - a "sit up and take notice" situation. Trust me, this is a performance that demands your - and Oscar's - attention. Gyllenhaal is mesmerising as Lou Bloom, whether it be inducting wary new employee Riz Ahmed or relentlessly coming on to tough newsroom boss Rene Russo. In lesser hands, Bloom could easily have been a joke - a stereotype psycho, cranked up to 11. Not here. Gyllenhaal brings the crazy when necessary but delivers it with laser focus and burning intensity. You don't laugh at Lou Bloom. You daren't.

Writer Dan Gilroy doubles up as first-time director on this film and makes an auspicious debut. He paints Los Angeles with neon colours on a black nighttime canvas - a nod to the imagery of THIEF and DRIVE.  Two set-pieces stand out - firstly, a tense sequence when Bloom manages to beat even the cops to a multiple homicide. He hurtles around the victims, shooting as much footage as he can before the police black-and-whites arrive at the murder scene. There's also a good old-fashioned car chase in the third act, a refreshing change after the recent CGI-enhanced stunts of the FAST & THE FURIOUS movies.

NIGHTCRAWLER's uncompromisingly dark and cynical heart may be too much for voters come Oscar time. No matter - this will surely end up as one of 2014's best movies.

NIGHTCRAWLER (15) is now showing across the UK. 

Hell: The Freeze

The Spandau Ballet documentary SOUL BOYS OF THE WESTERN WORLD is out on DVD/Blu-ray this week - and it's one of the films of the year.

Really? I hear you cry in disbelief. Spandau Ballet: The Film up there with 12 YEARS A SLAVE, CALVARY and GONE GIRL?

Well - yes. Director George Hencken has diligently ploughed through hours and hours of old footage of the band. There's plenty of music videos, TV interviews, in-the-studio footage and rare 8mm film shot by the band themselves. What emerges is a riveting account of how five have-a-go boys from London stormed the pop charts and became music stars around the globe.

For a decade, the Spandaus surfed the wave of success but come the '90s, the fickle music-buying public started to look elsewhere for their pop thrills. Heated arguments broke out and abruptly, Spandau Ballet was no more. Then came that court case...

The likelihood of Spandau band members shaking hands and drawing a line under all of this was about as likely as hell freezing over. Fortunately, Satan's homestead did undergo a sudden temperature drop and Spandau Ballet ascended phoenix-like from the ashes of friendships and flop records. Come 2009, (SPOILER ALERT!) the band is back together again, new songs are recorded and a sell-out tour takes place.

To its credit, the documentary pulls no punches about the rise, fall and rise again of the band. Songwriter Gary Kemp is painted (unfairly) as the black-hatted bad guy but by the end, all is forgiven. It helps if you like their music (full disclosure: I do) but if you don't - no matter; there's more than enough to keep even the casual viewer hooked. The story of how the New Romantic movement appeared in the early '80s and made Spandau Ballet its frilly-shirted figureheads is a fascinating one.

If you're old enough to remember those halcyon days of the early Eighties, you'll love SOUL BOYS OF THE WESTERN WORLD. And if you're not - give it a go anyway.

It's terrific. I know, I know that much is true...

Er - sorry.

Nik Kershaw - Me, Myself & I gig review

"So - what's The Riddle about then, Nik?"

A pause, a reflective stroke of a beard - then a grin.

"Actually, it's a load of bollocks."

Nik Kershaw on stage at The Regent Centre.

Nik Kershaw on stage at The Regent Centre.

Welcome to Nik Kershaw live, 30 years on from first appearing in the pop music charts and now on stage at the Regent Centre in Christchurch. It's the last night of his "Me, Myself & I" solo acoustic tour and he's busy answering questions from the audience. Those cryptic lyrics to his November 1984 smash "The Riddle" ? Only meant to be temporary but the rushed production schedule meant he never had the chance to change them to something sensible. Cue a thousand anguished cries from Kershaw fans who have been desperately trying to decipher their meaning for years.

Kershaw is being rather modest with the description of this show. Whilst, yes, it is just him solo on stage, he is joined by an Apple laptop and a battery of foot pedals and effects. There's also behind him a triptych screen, neatly showing a crossword puzzle that's gradually filled in by the titles of songs when he's performed them.

Ah, the songs. This is one of two major revelations tonight. Shorn of their synths and '80s production, his early hits - "Wouldn't It Be Good?", "I Won't Let The Sun Go Down On Me", "Human Racing" - show that they are Proper Songs and not reliant on production gimmicks. In particular, his oh-so-Eighties hit "Dancing Girls" is stripped down to the bone to great effect.

Kershaw's songwriting obviously didn't finish when the hits dried up. "Red Strand" is a highlight - a charming account of a night on the beach with his future wife. "Have a Nice Life", from his '99 album "15 Minutes", was written for his young son and his hopes of a bright future for him. There are skilful covers of Bowie's "Drive-In Saturday" and Stevie Wonder's "I Wish"...and "The One And Only", the song he wrote for Chesney Hawkes that finally in 1991 gave Kershaw a number 1 record.

The other revelation is Nik Kershaw - Raconteur. I had him pegged back in the day as the "snood with the mood" but how wrong I was. Kershaw is self-deprecating, being devastatingly honest about his faults. He exhibits a dry wit that regularly cracks the audience up between songs. It's clear that at 56, he's rightly comfortable with his life, his songwriting, his performing and the legacy of those '80s hits.

Meeting his fans after the gig.

Meeting his fans after the gig.

At the end of the gig, he warmly thanks the audience then promptly heads out into the foyer to sign autographs and pose for photographs with fans. Nik Kershaw is clearly more than just a bunch of fondly-remembered singles - it may well be that his post-Eighties catalogue will finally get some proper recognition. Wouldn't that be good?

Sky Fall

"There is no sound in space." 

Just a simple line, shown onscreen at the beginning of GRAVITY. However, the effect is immediate - you sit up, you pay attention. These filmmakers aren't conveniently forgetting that space is a vacuum and sound waves can't travel. For a change, here's a film that's going to take its science seriously.

Gravity-poster.jpg

 Fortunately, this is also no dry exercise in astrophysics.  Quite the contrary - GRAVITY is a white-knuckle experience from start to finish, rivalling the best of the summer blockbusters for spectacle and thrills. It's also a relief that there's no slow build up to the action. Within minutes, a freak accident has hurled astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney into space, far away from the shattered remains of their shuttle. With air supplies running dangerously low, they have to find a way back to earth fast.  

With its lean 90 minute running time, smart script and stunning visuals, GRAVITY packs one hell of a punch. Co-written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón,  it's an intelligent thrill ride that doesn't underestimate or shortchange its audience. The science is, in general, accurate - where it isn't, it's due to the demands of dramatic licence. After you see the film - certainly after, not before, as it's spoiler-heavy -  I'd recommend a trip over to AICN and reading Andy Howell's thorough examination of the film's scientific rights and wrongs.

Here's another recommendation - think carefully about where you're going to see this movie. Quite frankly, GRAVITY is going to be best appreciated on the biggest screen you can get yourself to - full-blown IMAX if possible. The use of 3D is more subtle than I expected it to be, preferring to emphasise spatial (no pun intended) relationships over the cheap thrill of putting Sandra Bullock in your lap.

The film has been a huge hit in the US -  $200 million at the box-office already and rising - plus there's early talk of Oscars. Hopefully GRAVITY's legacy will be to show that there really is a market out there for intelligent SF movies...and the scientific fact that in space, no one can hear you scream. 

GRAVITY opens in the UK on November 8th. 

Olympus Has Fallen: a black day for the White House

Washington DC. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is under siege from heavily-armed North Korean terrorists. President Aaron Eckhart is held prisoner 120 foot below the Oval Office in his fortified bunker. And America's only hope of rescuing him prowls in the shadows of the West Wing - rogue ex-Secret Service agent, Gerard Butler...

Olympus-Has-Fallen-Poster-Official-570x844.jpg

Yes, it's Die Hard in the White House. Or that's what action thriller Olympus Has Fallen aspires to be. Oh, it really wants to be Die Hard. One small drawback, however - it doesn't have a tenth of the style, wit or intelligence that film possesses. Not to mention that there are plot holes in the Olympus script big enough to fly Air Force One through. And whilst Gerard Butler is a decent enough actor and believable in his (many) fight scenes, he's no Bruce Willis.

But it's OK. Olympus holds its own alongside other Die Hard wannabes that are still a fun watch: Under Siege, Sudden Death and - er - Die Hard 2. Olympus also boasts an impressive supporting cast of Oscar winners and nominees - such as Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster - who between them manage to make the ham-fisted dialogue work.

Gerard Butler in  Olympus Has Fallen

Gerard Butler in Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus Has Fallen is a decent enough popcorn movie - arguably not worth buying a cinema ticket for but certainly worth catching on its inevitable release on DVD. It's also that rare thing these days - a red in tooth-and-claw action thriller. Olympus is no heavily diluted Good Day To Die Hard nonsense. It wears its '15' certificate as a badge of pride, with bloody onscreen violence, a sky high body count and the 'F' word used in extremis. The initial attack on the White House - with terrorists strafing the Washington DC streets from their customised Hercules plane - has real impact, particularly in this post-9/11 world. True, there's some horribly shoddy VFX in this sequence but the action is efficiently directed by Antoine Fuqua and compellingly brutal.

It's also worth noting that this is not the only "White House under siege" movie we're getting this year. In one of those bizarre Deep Impact/Armageddon, Dante's Peak/Volcano-type coincidences, it's under attack again this summer in White House Down. Which is directed by Roland Emmerich, who, after Independence Day and 2012, has made levelling the President's official residence an art form in itself...