Film Discussion – ‘Her’ (2013)

Her is an interesting film written and directed by Spike Jonze, which differs from many films that I have seen. Jonze’s previous credits come from a variety of areas; music video collaborations with artists such as Daft Punk, Björk and Kanye West, producer for the zany Jackass as well as directing Charlie Kaufman’s mind-bending Being John Malkovich and Adaption alongside the highly-anticipated Where The Wild Things Are. (As a side-note here, I have seen and love Being John Malkovich, but have not yet seen either Adaption or Where The Wild Things Are, however it seems likely they are also great films).

This film represents Jonze’s first screen-writing credits and is definitely successful in that respect, winning several highly-prestigious awards in the process. The storyline is a traditional one, yet different from any you might know and incredibly absorbing. For me it was one of those films that draws you in very early on and just holds onto you until the credits are long gone. This I think is due to several different factors. Obviously the writing is very good and the acting performances also warrant mention here, with the top-billing going to names like Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde and Scarlett Johansson – a pretty good indication that something special is afoot here. The acting itself is, as you would expect from these names, of great quality. However this is not where the greatness ends. Visually this film is stunningly beautiful, with the colour schemes and cinematography (provided by DoP Hoyte Van Hoytema, who was also responsible as DoP for several other films such as Interstellar, The Fighter and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) combining to make a film that is simply very, very pretty to look at. This to the extent that makes Lost in Translation look potentially drab in comparison.

In accompaniment to the visual aspects of the film comes the soundtrack. I am a self-confessed lover of film-soundtrack as a genre of music but this one in particular is very poignant. Scored by the indie-rock band Arcade Fire, the soundtrack fits really very well with the film and the world created by the whole package. Creating a state that is deeply emotional but at the same time very calming and relaxed, the score is understated and lets the slightly unusual arrangements and simplicity of the tunes create the perfect companion to the film. If you feel so inclined I cannot advise you enough to simply listen to the soundtrack as a stand-alone activity. Both with and without having seen the film, it is heart–achingly beautiful and calming, and just generally good for the soul.

Here is a link to the Official Trailer which just begins to set the tone for the film and gives a brief glimpse into the world that is Her. Definitely a must-watch.

Sunday Morning Album: Champion Jack Dupree – ‘Blues From The Gutter’

This week’s Sunday morning album is an old blues classic, Blues From The Gutter by Champion Jack Dupree. Born and raised in New Orleans in the first-half of the 20th century, he was often considered to be the last of the great barrel-house pianists. He lived a tough life, orphaned at an early age and then growing up in a rough area of New Orleans he then spent much of his adult life struggling with addiction, a theme that is present throughout this album.

The album itself in it’s remastered format (as I own it) is in remarkably high quality. Many great blues records including those recorded up to the early 60s often suffered from hiss and scratching on the recordings even once remastered for later re-releases. Luckily the master tapes from these sessions must have been of a high-standard as the music is preserved beautifully, as it deserves to be.

Originally released in 1959 on Atlantic, the album consists of a majority of original tunes written by Dupree accompanied by two older folk tunes, namely ‘Frankie and Johnny’ and ‘Stack-o-Lee’. Each of the tracks on the album is a joy to listen to as Dupree’s moaning vocals with slight N’Orleans’ twang accompanied by his deft piano-playing and the rest of the band’s great back-up create a real sense of the old blues. Special mention at this point should be given to the line-up of the band; Pete Brown, Ennis Lowery, Wendell Marshall and Willie Jones. Each of whom fills their role wonderfully. Brown and Lowery with their tasteful solo playing  and Marshall and Jones who provide a solid rhythm section that melts away into the background but is also unfailingly consistent at keeping the groove flowing.

The majority of the tracks on the album take the form of slow blues’ allowing Dupree and the soloists to languish in the laid-back atmosphere of the tracks. There are several exceptions to this however, for example the upbeat, faster-paced ‘Nasty Boogie’ that’ll get your toe tapping at the very least, as well as my personal favourite track of the album, the final ‘Stack-o-Lee’.

A great example of the older blues music preserved for generations to come and some great tunes to listen to as a bonus.

Happy Sunday.

Sunday Morning Album: Bill Evans – Sunday at the Village Vanguard

Good morning and a happy Sunday to you.

This morning the weekly album choice is Bill Evans’ aptly named 1961 album Sunday at the Village Vanguard. Anyone in anyway familiar with the wonderful world of Jazz will know the name Bill Evans. He played through a great career, trragically cut short as a result of demons that plagued him throughout his life. This album was recorded with his jazz trio, with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. Regarded as one the finest trios ever to play and record together, but unfortunately no longer still with us. 

The album itself is generally considered one of the finest live jazz recordings ever to have been cut. Within even the first few minutes of listening Evans’ tasteful piano voicings and Bud Powell-esque flourishes combine with the fine rhythm work of LaFaro and Motian to create that quintessential trio soundworld. As with all great trios they work as single unit, keeping a tight groove and playing off each other with almost intuitive precision. The ambience of the room with the sounds of the club flowing over some of the quieter sections generates a window into a lost time. Close your eyes and be transported to that room with the smoke curling, glasses clinking and Evans sat at his piano with the music just flowing out of him. This sets a precedent against which live recordings should be compared. Very few recordings actually exude atmosphere quite like this, but this does and in spades. 

Both LaFaro and Evans present wonderful improvisations with tasteful slower sections and more fiery faster runs that carry the motion of the tracks forward and present a sense of virtuosity without once stepping over the line into overindulgence or creating an intensity that overshadows the chilled vibe of the room. Motian follows the pair with unbreaking support and is understated and tasteful in his grooves. Together they present a great recording, one that deserves a place in everyone’s collections, even those who are not die-hard jazz aficionados, alongside ubiquitous albums such as Kind of Blue. It is an hour and 20 minutes of chilled grooves that functions as both full-concentration listening as well as background ambience. It can provide the soundtrack to your morning coffee, brunch, dinner party or evening drinks. 

Give it a listen. 

Happy Sunday 🙂 

Film Review – ‘The Perfect Host’ (2010)

“You can’t kill me, I’m having a dinner party!”

I should preface this by saying that I am not in any way a professional or even experienced critic. I would be hesitant to call this a review, and it certainly will not be comprehensive.

‘The Perfect Host’ has recently become one of my all-time favourite films. I must have watched it around 10-15 times, drawn back by some indescribable quality. The film centers around Warwick Wilson (played by David Hyde Pierce) who is throwing a dinner party when he is interrupted by the arrival of John Taylor (played by Clayne Crawford), who is on the run and looking for a place to lay low for a while.

The major plot twist happens fairly early on in the film but the continued character development and later, smaller twists carry the film on regardless. The entire production of this film (writing, acting, direction, set design etc.) is of stellar quality and it is a shame that it seems to be such an underrated film. I know that I would likely not have come across it had it not been for me running out of Frasier episodes to watch and so looking through Hyde Pierce’s body of work for new sources of entertainment.

The two main characters are so well-written and the to-and-fro of the plot-line make it difficult to root for either one for any length of time. The presence of two main characters that oppose each other yet neither taking the role of either protagonist or antagonist makes this a delight to watch. I must confess at this point that Warwick is one of my favourite on-screen characters alongside big-hitters such as Greg House and Jesse Pinkman. He has some fantastic lines delivered to perfection by Hyde Pierce who creates a character that becomes successively more and more creepy yet more and more likable as the film progresses. Any initial similarities to Niles Crane are quickly dispelled as Warwick soon reveals a very different side to his personality.

Crawford takes the role of the criminal who, whilst on the run from the law following a bank robbery, lands at Warwick’s doorstep in the hope of hiding out. Starting out as a well-organised, in-control thief he quickly discovers that not only has he been identified and is now sought for the robbery, but that he is no longer quite in control of the situation. It is difficult to say more without spoiling some of the better aspects of the plot but needless to say, the film is damn good.