Blakeson - Writer

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

Thursday, February 05, 2015

"Inherent Vice" / Wales Theatre Awards / Songhoy Blues

I’m a huge fan of the early novels of Thomas Pynchon – “Gravity’s Rainbow” and “V” are works of towering genius. I haven’t yet caught up with “Inherent Vice”, though – thus I was delighted to hear that it was being adapted for the cinema by Paul Thomas Anderson, another of my favourites (“The Master”, “Boogie Nights”, the flawless “Magnolia”). Having watched the film, I’m still unsure what I think of it.

Set in California in 1970, it stars Joaquin Phoenix as a hippyish private detective who becomes involved in a case which is Chandlerian in its impenetrability, involving a missing millionaire, a drugs ring, white supremacists, shady corporations, counter-cultural double agents and several enigmatic women. The tone is woozy, designed to evoke serious events experienced during a druggy haze; this calls to mind the Coens’ “The Big Lebowski”, although the humour here is less freewheeling. Phoenix is reliably watchable and surprisingly funny; Josh Brolin also impresses as his straight-arrow policeman counterpart, who has mysterious motivations of his own; and Martin Short crops up as a hedonistic dentist.

Anderson suggests that the film resembles a Neil Young song, and a couple of his tunes turn up on the soundtrack, along with Can’s “Vitamin C”. Johnny Greenwood’s score is not as prominent as his music for “There Will Be Blood” was, which seems a pity.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Inherent Vice” feels more like a novel than a film, sucking you into its characters’ paranoid discontent, leaving the impression that there is a lot going on that we’d rather not know about. Ultimately, the theme appears to be the need for human connection in a world of greed and untrustworthiness. But I could be wrong. Intriguing rather than entertaining.

I was delighted to attend the Wales Theatre Awards at the Sherman last Saturday – there as one of the critics who had a small role in the decision-making process. As I say in my report for the British Theatre Guide, the big winners were Welsh National Opera, and Theatr Bara Caws for Sion Eirian’s play “Garw” – there was a nice moment when he was handed his trophy by his wife, Erica. A night of celebration, and a valuable reminder of the depth of talent across all areas of the performing arts here, even if funding is more stretched than ever, as evidenced by the number of co-productions which were nominated.

Last night I attended my first gig for some time; my first visit to the legendary Clwb Ifor Bach in a good few years – to see Mali’s Songhoy Blues.

The first support act was Rhyader’s Toby Hay, with a selection of lively, nature-themed (as he explained as part of his genial patter) guitar instrumentals. Next up were H.M.S. Morris – a bilingual, keyboard-heavy trio whose likeably melodic pop-rock betrayed prog influences.

And then came the headliners, famously forced to leave their home region in Mali when music was outlawed by joyless Islamists. With the conventional rock line-up of two guitars, bass and drums, their hypnotic rhythms didn’t take long to raise the temperature in the ice-cold venue, with lead singer Aliou Touré proving a charismatic cheerleader; a little reminiscent of the sadly deceased Biggie Tembo. Even their declaration that “England is our second home” (someone obviously having forgotten to give them The Talk) failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd. Apart from a slow, bluesy number dedicated to “our father, Ali Farka Touré” (not actually their father), the songs were upbeat; defiantly, infectiously celebratory, with current single 'Al Hassidi Terei' a particular highlight. A good night.

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