Blakeson - Writer

Cardiff-based film, theatre and gig reviews, cultural ramblings, whingeing, short films, etc.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

"There Will Be Blood"

While Paul Thomas Anderson’sThere Will Be Blood” wasn’t quite the re-definition of cinema that I might have expected from some of the reviews (after all, he’s already re-defined it twice, in “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights”, as well as performing the miracle of making Adam Sandler watchable in “Punch Drunk Love”), it’s certainly a wonderful piece of work. From the start, it immerses us in the dirty business of extracting oil from the ground, and tells an epic tale of the birth of a modern industrial nation almost entirely via close-ups of Daniel Day-Lewis. That’s an exaggeration, obviously, and the landscape cinematography is very impressive, but the film is dominated by Day-Lewis’ brilliant portrayal of Daniel Plainview as an unstoppable oil-man, bulldozing his way through the West; although the award for best supporting performance must go to Jonny Greenwood’s remarkable score, which doesn’t complement the action so much as comment loudly upon it. The title obviously carries echoes of the simplistic “No Blood For Oil” slogan, and blood is certainly spilt as Plainview builds his evil (if lonely) empire; but the film could also be interpreted as portraying the War On Terror as a struggle between Godless, soulless, rapacious capitalism and ostentatious, hypocritical religiosity (Eli Sunday as played by the excellent Paul Dano). Whatever, “There Will Be Blood” is classic Americana which rewards audience patience with some startlingly emotional climactic set-pieces.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Johnny Flynn / "Juno"

I treated myself to an evening of folk-inflected music in the (frankly unsuitable) downstairs bar of Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach a few days ago. First on were locals The Lionhearts, who were in the semi-acoustic indie mould, and fairly likeable. Next up came the wispier, female-led The Mechanical Bride – notable for much instrument-swapping (they boasted a euphonium/theremin-player), and a delightful cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella”. The headliners were Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit, who started off with their best known song, “The Box”, and also played their new single, “Leftovers” early in the set, displaying a confidence in their material which was, as it turned out, entirely justified. Flynn’s tales of rustic life might easily be interpreted as pastiche; they came across, however as authentic English country music. Again, there was much swapping of instruments, Flynn himself playing trumpet and violin as well as guitar. The only faintly depressing thing about the evening was the fact that everyone on stage looked about twelve.

As a result of a wave of middling reviews, following on from the initial hype, my expectations for “Juno” were relatively low. Happily, though, I was utterly charmed. Ellen Page has been rightly lauded, but there were beautifully subtle performances all round, especially from Michael Cera and Jennifer Garner; Jason’ Reitman’s direction cleverly wrong-foots us at every opportunity; and Diablo Cody’s script is every bit as witty as had been advertised, and only occasionally irritating. It’s quite refreshing to see a film about small-town America which manages to paint the bulk of the characters as basically decent without resorting to sickly sweetness. And its success is also encouraging for those of us who harbour the naïve belief that all one has to do to get a film made is write a good screenplay.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"Cloverfield" / Truman's Water

I enjoyed “Cloverfield” rather more than critical opinion suggests I ought to. Starting out as a standard, whingeing indie-flick about relationships amongst young professionals, shot on a domestic camcorder, it quickly mutates into a visceral, heart-stopping, eye-of-the-storm thrill-ride, as New York is attacked by an inexplicable, unstoppably evil alien force. Some critics seem to suggest that “Cloverfield” is a dumb popcorn movie with a vaguely offensive 9/11 subtext; the truth is that it’s all about 9/11 (a dead giveaway being the fact that 9/11 is never mentioned), and its impact on individuals whose only crime is being vaguely prosperous Americans. Brilliantly realised, and a worthy addition, along with “No Country For Old Men” to the new genre of “Films About The War On Terror Which Don’t Mention The War On Terror”.

I paid tribute to the memory of John Peel by going to see one of his favourite bands, Truman’s Water, at Cardiff’s Clwb Ifor Bach on Friday. First on were local jagged post-rockers, Truckers of Husk, complete with cellist, and wordless jams in 10/8 time; surprisingly danceable, and one song, during which they were joined by a “choir” made up of pals from the audience, was quite moving. Next up were The Bugs (who announced themselves as being “from the home of Quarterflash”), one of those fashionable guitar-drums duos, with the twist that they swapped instruments from time to time; their songs ranged from the wistful to the punky, and seemed pretty charming on first hearing. The slightly more photogenic Bug turned up as bassist for Truman’s Water when the Branstetter brothers took to the stage and proceeded to lay waste to it with their strangely liberating, apparently semi-improvised, thrash-punk trippiness. Highly enjoyable in a “lose yourself in cacophonous unfamiliarity” kind of way.