Monthly Archives: February 2013

Lawless

lawless-dvd-cover-97Fine moments lost…

‘It is not the violence that sets men apart, it is the distance that he is prepared to go.’ 

John Hillcoat and Nick Cave’s second feature together has all the hallmarks of a classic genre piece, yet is riddled with bullet holes. Hillcoat’s sparse trademark is more than reminiscent of The Proposition, however, Lawless suffers from underwhelming moments highlighted through a sheer lack of character development. Although there are reprisals in the narrative, it is only during the reliant intensity of the stronger scenes that we are reminded of what we are watching. This is a film that attempts to show stoic figures that have grown to accept their own myth – a beautiful and poetic device that is criminally underused in helping to breathe more life in to the central performances. It is this very notion and heart of the story that Cave’s script dusts over – opting for a style that seems to have been more heavily influenced other gangster films rather than immersing himself in the original source material.

Set during the final years of the prohibition in Depression-era Virginia, Lawless tells the story of the bootlegging Bondurant brothers as they run local deliveries and continue to make a profitable cut. It isn’t long until their illegal distillery business is threatened by the vile, amphibious Charles Rakes (Guy Pierce), a Special Deputy who attempts to bribe the brothers and take control of the local police force who have, up until now, turned a blind eye to their exploits. Jack Bondurant (Shia LeBoeuf) is the youngest of the siblings and struggles with his cowardice and insecurities under his older brothers’ no-nonsense attitude. Although it is LeBoeuf’s character that carries the narrative and shows a defining arc, it is Tom Hardy’s presence as Forrest that delivers the punches and often helps to elevate the dramatic tension. Eldest brother, Howard is practically a non-entity with little to define him next to Hardy’s effortless performance, whereas Garry Oldman’s role as local gangster, Floyd Banner, is nothing more than a cameo and serves very little to do with the plot. Love interests, Jessica Chastain and Mia Wasikowska add a touch of glamour amongst the bullets and moonshine, signifying the little hope we have for these characters to survive this bleak tale.

As with all of Hillcoat’s films, Lawless succeeds in one thing; and that is to leave his audience raw and depleted. This is not the issue with the film – the issue is I need to care for more of the characters, especially when dealing with a true story. Somewhere there is a heart buried in Lawless and perhaps with repeat viewings there is more to remember other than its often brutal and violent nature.

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DatA: Skywriter

DATA-SKYWRITEREpic soundscapes in Retro Rock

As someone still riding the high of Daftpunk’s glorious Discovery album, and more than longing their return to form, there have been few albums to date that have filled the void. Alan Braxe’s 2005 album …and Friends was more than a nod in the right direction along with Justice’s Audio, Video, Disco in 20011 – a truly remarkable showcase of epic, ‘retro rock’ and electro pop-culture. This happy pill of euphoric, electronic beats and progressive sounds is possibly the closest comparison to date – one that transports you right back to Saturday morning cartoons and those forgotten realms so wonderfully realised in Daftpunk’s accompanying feature, Intersella 5555 and showcased further through Justice’s very own music videos.

DatA’s Skywriter is more of the same electro beats, synth sounds and filtered vocals with perhaps more emphasis on ‘pop’. Where opening track, ‘Verdict’ transports us back in time with ‘Tudor funk’ sounds, the second and most accessible track, ‘One in a Million’ is immediately recognised through the Citroen DS3 commercial. ‘Aerius Light’ evokes the feeling of being trapped inside a video game at highspeed pursuit. Relentless, effortless…until the familiar sound of the keyboard seeps through and influences your change in direction. When we reach ‘So Much in Love’ the rifts of robotic vocals and funky guitar are brought to life by the stroke of the keys and solid bass line. Closing track, ‘Blood Theme’ relies heavily on drawing you in with the piano before spinning you off deliriously in to the electro beats fused throughout the album. Overall, DatA’s Skywriter is worthy of placement next to the aforementioned efforts of their contemporaries – pitch perfect renditions of metaphysical, sci-fi landscapes that give birth to a plethora of visual soundscapes.

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Bunraku

bunraku_xlgA silent mix of loud style and tradition

‘Great lessons are often found in defeat.’

There’s a lot to enjoy in Guy Moshe’s cocktail of East meets West – a criminally underrated film that utilizes digital production techniques to blend both pop cultural references with more than enough nods to the art house and early cinema. Part German expressionism, martial arts, video game, film noir, sci-fi, fantasy and comic book – it would be easy to label such a post modern mix of styles a pretentious affair. But where the visual layers unfold, the story follows a simple structure of heroic stereotypes and paper-thin plot which some will argue is its downfall.

In a world reminiscent of communist rule, guns have been outlawed and the sword is once again the way of the warrior. Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman) rules with an iron fist, accompanied by his femme fatale, Alexandra (Demi Moore), nine lethal assassins and his Red Gang that instill more than enough fear amongst the locals. While The Woodcutter’s right hand man, Killer no.2 (Kevin McKidd) taps dances his way through a barrage of assailants closer to a scene from West Side Story, our two protagonists, androgynous samurai, Yoshi (Gackt) and The Drifter (Josh Hartnett) clash in their quest to seek out the evil tyrant. Guided by the wisdom and intuition of The Bartender (Woody Harrelson), our two protagonists cast aside their differences and use combined skills to inspire the downtrodden citizens to forge an army of their own. Through set pieces closer to theatre and reminiscent of silent cinema, our heroes break bones and crack skulls as the screen literally cuts and folds like the pages of a pop-up book and graphic novel.

Closer in comparison to Stephen Chow (Kung-Fu Hustle) than Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, Moshe’s myriad of influences are clearly worn on his sleeve. Here is a filmmaker opening his toy box and although certain ideas seem lost in the sandpit at times, the narrative moves along at just the right pace. It is here where Moshe uses his devices effectively to remind you of role play – the title, Bunraku – a form of Japanese theatre in which puppeteers, dressed in black and invisible to the audience, manipulate their characters, accompanied by a chanted narration and musical instruments – a perfect, one word summary, if ever there was one.

This isn’t a film about depth of story but more a film that allows the visuals to piece the narrative together – which is what all good films should do. Turn the sound off and this is a masterstroke and genuine return to tradition. In that respect, Bunraku works on the levels it was intended.

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Ulrich Schnauss: A Long Way to Fall

ulrich_scnauss

Much more than ambient abandonment

I first discovered the ambient sounds of Ulrich Schnauss back in 2004 when I returned to University for my teacher training. It was the beginning of the end for independent record shops and in my hometown of Derby, Reveal Records had other plans to go on and form a record label after the success of Joan as Policewoman’s superb debut album. What was missed was the intimacy of such a shop where I had discovered the beautiful, mesmerising tones of Ulrich Schnauss’ second album, A Strangely Isolated Place. Aside from his effortless use of poetic titles that accompany his songs, they are no doubt titles that are carefully considered. It wasn’t long before I had hunted down his debut, Far Away Trains Passing By and was equally blown away by his unique sound. Last year’s wonderful collaboration with fellow Engineers’, Mark Peters on Underrated Silence has been followed very quickly with his fifth ‘home’ album, A Long Way to Fall. This is electronica at its finest as we are immediately reminded of those fingerprints of tinnitus sounds interlaced with further harmonious subtleties – where we return to classic Schnauss in the opening track, ‘Her and the Sea’ and continue with themes of rejection and resentment through the title track, ‘I Take Comfort in Your Ignorance’ – a piece of music that has the heartbeat of strong percussion resonating throughout a distortion of overarching synth sounds. ‘Forgotten Birthday’, ‘Borrowed Time’, ‘Ten Years’ and ‘A Ritual of Time and Death’ would go on to suggest that Schnauss may have experienced recent heartache or is simply delivering a powerful message that only instrumentals can evoke. The album is beautifully formatted as a book – no more than a collection of garden sheds photographed in stark neglect and abandonment. Subtle ambiguity to say the least…or simply one man’s notion to escape – without a doubt, Schnauss accomplishes that every time.

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The Black Beetle: No Way Out (1 of 4)

The Black Beetle: No Way Out (1 of 4)

Pulp hero pulls no punches

‘All I can think about is who got to them before I did while I should really be worrying about freefalling from an eighteen story building. Oh, well…’

Eisner Award-winning artist, Francesco Francavella’s creator owned title pulls no punches when it comes to introducing his pulp hero. The less educated are going to make inevitable comparisons to Batman but America’s classic pulp heroes were, as with most iconic characters, a result of their time. I have yet to read Garth Ennis’ rendition of The Shadow and latest series of The Spider – both cvintage pulp heroes that predate The Batman and the subsequent American mythos that followed – with these titles in mind, The Black Beetle is much more than a homage; dripping in lavish inks that capture the noir signatures as effortless as the narration. Colt City holds our eponymous hero in its bowels and during the first issue reveals very little of the cityscape, instead focusing on the set up as our super sleuth investigates an explosion that has killed a number of notorious criminals. The script delivers a delicious narration and sparse dialogue while the atmosphere and mood of the dark alleyways and streets are held together through superb use of layouts and splash pages that build towards a gripping climax centred around a prison. This is much more than a throwaway tale – there is a passion and thirst for the source material that shows a creator building a world around what he knows – and Francavella lives and breathes the smoke and bullets.

For more information visit Francesco Francavella’s official blog over at The Black Beetle.

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