Thursday, 28 January 2016

​​Can I interest you in a forgotten Ziggy Stardust album?

After "the kids had killed the man" The Spiders From Mars made ​a few​ more record​s, one great, ​​before they had to break up the band​.

The official Spiders From Mars album isn't too great

this is more like it

Slaughter on 10th Avenue, the first solo album by glam guitar deity Mick Ronson.

Well, no okay it isn't a Bowie album... and though it is his greatest backing band playing songs written by him for a them I don't think Bowie even plays on it.

But Holy Look-in, Tomorrow People Magpie it sounds like a Bowie album. Ronson actually does a fairly convincing Ziggy  Stardust impression even with the vocals.  It sounds like an album of a particular era as well, 1975, not an uncreative time. The lineup of musicians on this album, aside from Ronson, was the exact same used by Bowie on his 1973 covers album, Pin-Ups.​

This was a time when Bowie was SO creative he could throw thunderbolts of inspiration at people like Mott The Hoople, a wasted Iggy Pop and a discarded Lou Reed and rescue them from mortality.

In Mick Ronson's case he had already been basking in this creative radiation for some time and was perhaps reaching peak exposure. Mick was the guitar god that drove the first stage of Bowies career, effectively Chief Arachnid in The Spiders From Mars. With Ziggy gone the Spiders were gifted one last album and this is it.

Sadly it was released with perhaps too much fanfare around the time Bowie himself was releasing Diamond Dogs, against which it must have looked like a cash-in.

Opens with he definitive glam rock version of Love Me Tender, and ends with a nice souful glam instrumental. Along the way it has a few bumps, (​Pleasure Man is like a bad Black Sabbath experiment) and the bonus tracks it has been laboured with over the years make a slightly repetitive experience even worse as the central Slaughter riff is played over and over again. (Bonus tracks really are the curse of the album since the 90s, mushing the end to end experience with content the artist was usually correct to keep obscure.)

I'm not claiming Slaughter on 10th Avenue a classic, I'm not even claiming its up there with the albums for others that Bowie breathed on​​ (let alone his own product from that era) but it defiantly deserves more attention. And if you are still too sad to return to Bowies own stuff it is a gentle re introduction.

STEVE JOBS (2015) seems more Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle than Steve Jobs, but that's what makes it great

We may not have met many people like Steve Jobs the visionary, but I'm sure you have met a few like Steve Jobs the father.
Danny Boyle/Sorkin hybrid poster from here
In a previous post I compared two previous dramatic screen interpretations of Steve Jobs. I didn't hate the Ashton Kutcher version (it's great propaganda) and the fantastic tv movie that preceded it is sadly incomplete now.

Which brings me to Steve Jobs (2015) which I've been approaching with some trepidation because I knew I'd have to compare it with the others and while I'm comparatively ignorant about Steve Jobs, Danny Boyle is already a historic figure in the UK (Olympics) and I'm a massive fan of Aaron Sorkin.

+ Kate Winslet

So how could I objectively cover this without the usual gush?

I'm ashamed I didn't see this at the cinema. It was in the wake of the disappointing Max Max Fury Road which I thought was over-hyped.The luke warm (UK) reviews for Steve Jobs put me off (Seeing Bowie's career as a whole has since reminded me of the worth of critical opinion). Every time I sit with others openly chatting or reading phones in a cinema I make a scene, which happens a lot these days. I don't pay £16 to half hear other people chat.. I was busy.. etc etc etc

I'm ashamed I didn't see this at the cinema because it is instantly my favourite Sorkin piece and my favourite Danny Boyle film. It also probably contains my favourite performances from Kate Winslet and Seth Rogan. Mr Fassbinder is difficult to judge. Not seen Macbeth yet.

This movie, which could work well as a stage play, knocked me for six and it is difficult to stop thinking about it nearly a day later. I actually dreamt about it last night.

There is obviously less technology than Pirates of Silicon Valley (though they both start and end with heavy references the Ridley Scott 1984 advert ) and there is less personal mush than the 2013 version, and yet somehow weaves enough of both into a great tapestry that may not be 100% realistic but really captures the drama, uniqueness and tragedy of the character in a brilliant way.

Danny Boyle could get showy but carefully steps back and allows the actors and script to be the fireworks and they explode all over the screen.

Most obvious stand out is Kate Winslett as Joanna Hoffman the Polish "work wife", actually a marketing executive.

(Please note I'm only evaluating as characters, I really don't know enough about the real people to judge)

Winslet has to be the conscience and front for a thoroughly heartless bastard for most of this movie. She has to drag Fassbinders hateful carcass across the screen for at least an hour before the script provides enough explanation for the main characters behaviour. She has to play a kind of realistic character you not often see in a movie - part of a long time platonic friendship and working relationship between a man and a woman. This is a serious acting performance in that it takes you away from the experience of watching film star Kate Winslet, yet is not showy and is convincing.

Not sure about the accent but as she says to

"...her accent, is fairly complicated. She grew up largely in Armenia, spent some time in Poland, and has Russians in her family, so she has all three accents, but she’s been in America since she was a teenager, so she had American rhythms. You know, she really has this accent that goes way up and down. It’s almost impossible to copy because of just how singsongy it becomes. So I had to put it into my own register. But we were all doing accents. I mean, Michael’s Irish, and he’s playing Steve Jobs, for God’s sake."

Just noticed
Winslet won a Best Supporting Actress and Sorkin won Best Screenplay at the 73rd Golden Globes, while Fassbender and Winslet were both nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, at the Academy Awards.

Seth Rogen, as Steve Wozniak, has to play bromance turned to near hate and gets though some tough convincing scenes  - despite having to look like Fozzy Bear.

Jeff Daniels plays supposedly the villainous CEO who kicked Jobs out of Apple. Here he is mainly continuing the sympathetic boss unhinged by circumstance character in Newsroom but I'm happy with that. I'm so depressed Newsroom got cancelled I still can't bring myself to watch the final series.

And so onto Sorkin - who packs in Olympian banter, great one liners, history defining ideas and explanations with a heartbreaking human story that is extremely easy to relate to.

We may not have met many people like Steve Jobs the visionary, but I bet you have met a few like Steve Jobs the father.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

SPY (2015)​ could be your antidote to a grim new year

Up until now I've found Melissa McCarthy ​fairly funny​ but not hilarious​​... she tries too hard​,​ the usual ​self deprecating attempts at humour come across as painful self pity

​but.. in SPY (2015)

Add Jason Statham,, Miranda Hart and Peter Serafinowicz​, Jude Law​ ​and a few others to vary the humour a bit (bat infestation at the CIA?) and the results ​are just.. hilarious. I enjoyed SPY more than SPECTRE.

The joke in this Bond parody is NOT that the Spy is a big woman, the joke is that the Spy is a big woman and she's eventually revealed to be a highly competent super agent -​ ​while having an unfortunate choice in friends​ (Miranda Hart)​, a potty mouth and general lack of class and self control. Melissa McCarthy's desk job agent gets her promotion to the field when her CIA boss finds footage of her in training, where she runs out of bullets in a training exercise and is so motivated she attacks targets and later the trainers with her bare hands.

Miranda Hart I would think must be big Hollywood movie star from this point and Statham will probably just be doing comedies for the rest of his film career. You'll love the way Jude Law is playing effectively a classic Fleming/Kingsman Bond and Statham is playing a Daniel Craig "Blunt instrument" 007 taken to Monty Python extremes.

Like Kingsman it is completely subversive of the Bond film (in Kingsman it is Bond as a working class kid, here it is Bond as a generously proportioned woman) and like Kingsman beyond a certain point it takes itself completely seriously. The action in both Kingsman and Spy is good enough to feature in actual Bond films, most notably there is a sensational knife vs frying pan fight in SPY.

Mostly you'll come out giggling at memories of Miranda Hart ("that sweaty Big Bird!") and Jason Statham's insane character but still what made me laugh the most was Hart and McCarthy talking Spy names

which are apparently ​y​our ​p​ets ​f​​i​rst ​n​ame + ​s​treet you lived in = your spy name

​Hart's characters spy name works out as
"Amber Valentine"​

and McCarthy reveals hers is
 “Meatball Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.”

This review was held over from last year after a bit of personal heartbreak.
2015 was truly a classic for spy films which I put in this order.

  1. Bridge of Spies
  2. Kingsman
  3. Mission Impossible Rogue Nation
  4. SPY
  6. The Man From UNCLE
not seen SPOOKS movie yet

Friday, 22 January 2016

Best of Enemies (2015) is a great intro to the classic Medium Cool (1969)

The best documentary of 2015 nicely sets up a criminally neglected movie classic from 1968.

Best of Enemies a brilliant new documentary showing how the drama of 1960s American politics
and how it's treatment in the news media feeds right back into events today. Both show the central role the media had portraying and reacting to the apparent mass break down in law and order in the United States during the Vietnam era, particularly around the violent confrontations outside the Democratic convention in Chicago in 1968.

Best of Enemies covers the red hot political confrontation taking place on TV screens as the two leading thinkers on the left and right of the political divide slowly lose their composure over a series of live televised debates. The documentary commendably stays politically neutral, further illustrating the gulf between debate then and the partisan shouting matches between intellectual pygmies we see today.

Amongst some of the footage shown in Best of Enemies are clips from a contemporary movie, almost a semi-documentary itself, Medium Cool.

Having just seen it Medium Cool has to be the best movie I'd never previously heard of.  I don't know what Medium Cool is comparing itself against but from here it looks a lot more than 'medium'.

Beautifully shot against the actual settings and events being reacted to in Best of Enemies it has a great non obtrusive soundtrack played into  hyper real locations. This movie is shot on the hoof, actually on location in the middle of history nearly half a century ago and yet still looks like Terence Malik's Days of Heaven (without the glacial pace). It's like standing on the street corners yourself - in fact hold your nose when your cameraman to gets tear gassed at about 1hour35. You will see blood, and it won't be fake.

It features a star performance from a young Robert Forster who I only know from The Black Hole, Jackie Brown and Breaking Bad. After Medium Cool I'm even more amazed he wasn't a major Hollywood star, here he looks like a young Brando. You'll also be able to pick out in the female lead the haunting face of Marianna Hill from her harrowing starring role in High Plans Drifter.

Negatives? If you've seen this era of movie you'll see the ending from a mile off but it oddly compliments similar material rather than detracts.

While I'm on the subject I really should have blogged my experience watching Two Lane Blacktop, a another ancient movie whose startling authenticity similarly blew me away.

You begin to wonder if all that time just watching Easy Rider over and over again was time well spent.

Lumiere London Review

Nathan Barley does Blackpool Illuminations

Though, I liked the gasometer

Monday, 11 January 2016

Overview of David Bowie's brilliant career reveals contemporary critical opinion is mainly horseshit driven by fashion

Now we can see Bowie's career from beginning to end it is possible to see how consistent it is. And how chasing critical opinion (1983-87) was nearly the end of it

I was going to review Blackstar over the weekend. It's good, very good, but like The Next Day (covered here) and a lot of Bowie over the course of his life the critical reaction seems ruled by fashionable opinion in the media of the artist.

Then.. this morning.. he's dead. Quite a shock. If there is one contemporary artist who I thought could evolve past that whole tiresome death thing it would be Bowie. Bowie directly inspired almost everything creative I've ever done - and I'm a writer!
God knows how musicians are feeling today.

In the wake of his death I anticipate a mass re-writing of  critical history, in which the period he was ridiculed is quietly forgotten.

This is his career as I see it, charted against how fashionable it was to be a fan.

Bowie's career starts unfashionable and laughed at as a novelty Anthony Newly knock-off

David Bowie (1967)

He then catches the zeitgeist and becomes fashionable with Space Oddity

Space Oddity (1969)

and after that goes on a run of incredible creativity perhaps unsurpassed in popular music

The Man Who Sold the World (1970)
Hunky Dory (1971)
Aladdin Sane (1973)
Diamond Dogs (1974)
Young Americans (1975)
Station to Station (1976)
Low (1977)
"Heroes" (1977)
Lodger (1979)

He is then obviously shocked to the core by the assassination of John Lennon, prompting what I think is his masterpiece

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) (1980)

After which he seems to panic. Ever present on an adoring media and critically sanctified, he jumps headfirst into chasing popular mainstream acceptance in an execrable pop phase, which (at the time) was critically lauded

Let's Dance (1983)
Tonight (1984)
Never Let Me Down (1987)

reaching a climax with a film that was hyped in the UK to Star Wars sequel levels by a suffocatingly cozy media

Absolute Beginners

.. and...then the film subsequently vanished from the face of the Earth. Bowie was the only decent thing in this gaudy stinker - hugely ironic as an entire industry in film criticism was built around running down his career as an actor. (Already forgotten in the coverage today).

At the end of the 80s, having over exposed himself to the point of ridicule ('Dancing In The Street') Bowie tries to  crawl out back out of the cheesy Saturday Morning kids show his career has become but he's left it too late and has become unfashionable. Attempts to bury himself in Iggy Pop's guitar crew are met with a wide ridicule oddly never applied to Iggy Pop.  The fearless drastic career right turn later performed by Radiohead (into KID A) is years away.

Tin Machine (1989)
Tin Machine II (1991)

Tin Machine was widely mocked, usually from the Britpop critics otherwise extolling the sophistication of classic (at the time) Oasis albums like Be Here Now. After that for the rest of the decade he was mainly is regarded as a comedy figure producing weird albums, not only unfashionable but also now OLD

Black Tie White Noise (1992)
Outside (1995)
Earthling (1997)
'Hours...' (1999)
Heathen (2002)
Reality (2003)

Bowie finally turned critical opinion decisively by turning himself into a hermit  just in time for the nostalgia industry to rediscover the talent they claimed he'd lost with  The Next Day.

I've spent all weekend listing to BlackStar and like The Next Day it's very good. Is it significantly better than
Outside, Earthling, 'Hours...'?
No not really, certainly not better than Outside, but then now, he's fashionable again, so that makes all the difference

It is all forgotten now but there were periods in the 90s when it seemed the only acceptable way to listen to Bowie was the ripped off sample in Ice Ice Baby. I remember disbelief when I explained to people the brilliant soundtrack contributions to David Lynch's Lost Highway, David Finchers Se7en and Paul Verhoeven's classic foreshadowing of the Iraq War, Starship Troopers, were all from Bowie and Eno's Outside.

Brian Eno's tribute to Bowie mentions Outside as their one (their last) collaboration which 'fell through the cracks'. I expect it will be top of the list as a rehabilitated classic in the re-written history.

The fluctuations in credibility never seemed to bother him much, in fact you can see him sending himself and the whole circus  up in Zoolander.

Fame, Fashion.. he wrote several classic songs about on the subject himself after all.

But it does demonstrate the bitchy incompetence in the critical press. Example : at the time I would have like to have known that Black Tie White Noise was written as a soundtrack to his own wedding (which it was) instead of reading endless pages of yuyuks at Tin Machine and the Laughing Gnome.

As a gauge of how actually in-the-know these clowns in the music press were, the very Britpop bible in the 1990s mocking Bowie's crawl back to respectability was also telling us at the same time that the

emerging 'internet' was a fad and it would be the "CB radio of the 1990s"

Thank you, long extinct SELECT magazine, that one is only going to get funnier with time.

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Death Star : a lesson in incomplete documentation

The Haynes workshop manual for the Death Star is impressive as far as it goes, and ordinarily I would say 128 pages is large for a single volume piece of physical documentation - but to cover a subject the size of a small moon this is pitifully inadequate.

The Boeing 747 for example represents a million pages of documentation.

We can assume with this lack of written oversight and planning just building the Death Star is some achievement but lack of decent documentation really makes itself felt in the hands of users, and here we can see the usability issues apparent in flawed planning and conception stages. The Death Star is only successfully used against only one peaceful defenceless planet, and as for it's first disastrous use in actual combat it appears the only people fully documenting the critical exhaust port issues were not part of the intended user group.

We can assume the Empire's Information Governance issues re: Death Star plans will be covered in the forthcoming documentary ROGUE ONE.

In the light of several ongoing issues with similar projects (Death Star II, Starkiller Base) I'm prepared to make myself available to cover legacy issues on such large scale projects going forward. The Galactic Empire and The New Order wouldn't be my first choice but my several stints working for British newspapers show I'm prepared to do a job for a wide moral spectrum of clients where the need arises.

I bought someone Hayne's Millennium Falcon workshop manual for Christmas and he loves it.
Reading my own copy again I'm surprised to find FORCE AWAKENS apparently stays consistent with it. That new square radar dish on the Falcon is actually the original civilian equipment for that freighter. The round dish we saw on the Falcon in Star Wars, Empire (and lost by Lando at the end of Jedi) was a military spec mod added by Han and Chewbacca.