[Movies] Calvary (review)

Priest (Brendan Gleeson) in Calvary

Director: John Michael McDonagh // Screenplay by: John Michael McDonagh // Distributor: Entertainment One // Release Date: April 11th (UK) // Starring: Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Kelly Reilly, Pat Shortt, Aiden Gillen and Domhnall Gleeson.

Review: It’s rather galling just how inevitable the subject of child abuse has become when discussing priests. Accounts of unspeakable brutality echo through the minds of a generation at the mere mention of the catholic church; provoking either a moment of sombre reflection or the urge to make a cheap joke. In a move indicative of his film’s often stifling self-awareness, director John Michael McDonagh practically herds the expected elephant into the room with a parade in Cavalry’s opening scene, when community cornerstone Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) hears out one man’s childhood trauma during an anonymous confession. With the perverted priest responsible for these acts now dead, his unseen victim vows to kill Father James in a week. Bemused, and with this rendezvous on the periphery of his mind, Father James keeps himself busy aiding the roster of eccentrics that populate his rural Irish town.

The plot holds promise, but Calvary craves a crackling energy in place of the dead air that haunts too many of its scenes. Some of these just about coast by on the charisma of established Irish actors turning in reductive variations of their established schtick, from Pat Shortt’s salty everyman routine to Aiden Gillen’s inky misanthropy. Other supporting players either lack conviction (such as a curiously flat Chris O’Dowd) or are ill-served by portentous characterisation (Dylan Moran’s oily banker seems tailor-made to give viewers left embittered by the recession an excuse to hurl their drinks at the screen.) McDonagh’s script holds some cute observations – most of which pertain to Father James’s interactions with either his dog, or M. Emmet Walsh’s crusty writer – but is largely comprised of turgid pseudo-philosophical babble that goes nowhere. Father James’s visiting daughter (Kelly Reilly), meanwhile, exists only so he can contradict her cynicism with cloying wisdom.

Just as his character is a guiding light to a town full of misfits, Gleeson remains the film’s one true saving grace. Earthy and affable, he navigates the film’s episodic structure and tonal inconsistencies with a strong screen presence. The universal praise he’s been receiving for his performance will ensure vehicles more proportional to his talent are a distinct possibility, but for the almost thankless task of carrying Cavalry, he will forever be in our prayers.

3.5/10

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[Music] Kelis – FOOD (review)

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Available to buy from April 21st on Ninja Tune Records.

Of all the noughties R&B divas to pre-empt every misogynist’s favourite punchline and get back in the kitchen, Kelis Rogers seemed the most unlikely. Alas, fifteen years on from her debut single “Caught Out There” becoming a neo-feminist anthem, FOOD sees Kelis don the persona of a soulful hausfrau. On “Floyd”, a shoegazer in the spirit of The Dark Side of the Moon’s more downtempo moments, we find her at her most co-dependent: “Sure I’m self-sufficient / Blah blah, independent / Truthfully I got some space I want that man fillin’.” More than a renouncement of her autonomy, Kelis’s sixth record is instead a celebration of our most carnal instincts, which she kindly boils down to fucking and dining over the course of thirteen tracks.

The record kicks off with a triptych of sunny, well-meaning mashes of soul-driven funk – including last year’s “Jerk Ribs”, which still shimmers like a lost Jackson 5 classic – but these are almost a clearing of the throat. The album’s latter half treks far more interesting terrain: “Change” mixes “White Rabbit”-esque brooding with James Bond-theme theatrics, the tidy piano riff of “Biscuits’n’Gravy” is interrupted by a rousing horn section, while “Rumble”’s one-line chorus (“I’m so glad you gave back my keys”) and balmy atmosphere demonstrates a serious progression from the senseless post-break-up rage of “Caught Out There”.

Dave Sitek’s warm, honeyed (if occasionally identikit) production fits Kelis’s voice like an oven-mitt. She’s offered far more room to experiment than on her 2010 dance album Flesh Tone, particularly on “Cobbler”, where the usually demure singer breaks into an impassioned operatic falsetto. And while the encompassing food theme does seem a bit arbitrary, big-band showstoppers “Cobbler” and “Fish Fry” both pop like hot oil.

7/10

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[Movies] Eraserhead (review)

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Director: David Lynch // Screenplay by: David Lynch // Distributor: Libra Films International // Release Date: March 19th, 1977 // Starring: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, and Jeanne Bates. 

Review: Early in Eraserhead, Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) holds a mirror to the audience’s inevitable bemusement. As he tells his boorish father-in-law, Henry, rather like the viewer, “doesn’t know much of anything” – but that’s OK. Knowledge rarely equals power in the world of David Lynch.

His first feature-length picture comes with a fresh-out-film-school verve that is at once immersive and uncomfortable, with its black and white aesthetic serving as a perversely cosy frame for some nightmarish images of DIY body-horror. The imagery is so blatantly sexual that a Freudian analysis would almost be as redundant as an elaboration of the plot. Henry’s arc revolves around his mounting obsession with a swollen-cheeked chanteuse credited as the Lady in the Radiator, who offers him reprieve from his malformed child; a sperm-shaped humanoid with snake-like qualities that may very well have been a prototype of the chestburster from Alien.

Much of the film’s horror is derived from its hideously bleak set design, with the gloomy cinematography and paranoid soundscapes colliding for a sombre viewing experience. But Eraserhead is more than just a mood piece. The intermittent presence of Henry’s darkly seductive neighbour lends the film a noirish feel, while Henry’s shocking response to the duties he’s been burdened with is a highly unnerving set-piece.

Lynch found mainstream success with slightly more conventional works since, but the taciturn Eraserhead is still essential viewing. If the plot seems underfed on paper, then open your mind, press play and let it devour you.

8.5/10

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[Prose] Sweetheart

by Robert Gould

The elevator hummed as it ascended the spine of a Canary Wharf tower block. Encased within its carpeted walls was Heather, who pinched the grey fuzz between her fingers and mentally likened it to the filter of a low-grade vacuum cleaner. It looked incongruous in an otherwise lavishly furnished building. For a young Welsh migrant, Heather had a convincing air of grace and self-assurance, but even she felt intimidated by the lobby’s amber-flavoured aesthetic. She had done the route a countless number of times, but never alone, and certainly never at an hour as late as this. She was mildly relieved to see a familiar face behind the reception desk as it reduced the risk of her being mistaken for a prostitute, but she was a paranoid drunk, and so a kernel of dread remained.

Her heels hit the marble flooring with a set of hard clicks as soon as she reached the building’s fourth level. This hastiness saw her coat catch on a resident fire extinguisher, loosening it from its hook on the wall. It fell with a dense, echoing thud, and Heather cursed under her breath. She decided not to replace it for fear of creating more noise, as she knew Charles shared this floor with Theodore Wyard, a wealthy but disgruntled geriatric who once divulged a sordid marital history to Heather when she insisted on bringing him a bottle of port as a joint Christmas present from her and Charles. Mr. Wyard invited her in for a nightcap, and three measures later she left his apartment with knowledge of a wife and child who he had left behind in Windsor. It seemed the only thing he retained from this pastoral setting was his love of hunting. Before closing the door on Heather, Mr. Wyard imparted one last fact: if she or Charles were to cause any excessive noise after 10pm, he would detach his antique Browning shotgun from the living room wall and pay them a visit.
“And you can be sure I won’t be looking to borrow some sugar.” Mr. Wyard said with a wheeze before shutting the door.

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[Music] Veruca Salt – IV (review)

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Review: The lack of imagination behind the titling of Veruca Salt’s fourth studio album is reflected in its overall sound. Upon its release in 2006 – twelve years on from the band’s debut – there remained only two constants in the VS camp: the relentless pursuit of the fuzzy 90’s alt-rock aesthetic that had long been their bread and butter, and the presence of singer/guitarist Louise Post. The implosion of the group’s original line-up – completed by singer/guitarist Nina Gordon, drummer Jim Shapiro and bassist Steve Lack – was followed by 2000’s Resolver, a deeply vitriolic collection of songs that wore its vengeance-seeking credentials on its sleeve with tracks such as “Officially Dead” and “Used To Know Her”. Sonically, IV may pack as hard a punch as its predecessors, but the overarching tone is surprisingly fun and hedonistic.

The chorus of thrash-happy lead single “So Weird” – “You don’t know me / you don’t own me / you’re just passing through my life” – may sound distressingly similar to something Ashley Simpson would have recorded at the height of her success, but there’s an irreverent bent to the verses that make it a worthy spiritual successor to previous singles “Volcano Girls” and “All Hail Me”. Listeners may be more intrigued to learn what exactly “texting vegan sex again” entails than they are by the stop-start riff, but it nonetheless makes for an arresting opener. The momentum’s maintained by “Centipede”, which may very well be the most adrenaline-fuelled track any member of the band has put their name to, and the misfiring “Innocent”. The latter’s blend of cruel lyrics (“We’ve got a cutter in the bathroom / She kinda busted out of high school”) and churning guitar evoke an effectively sleazy fleapit atmosphere, but the lazy chorus disappoints. The excellent “Damage Done” tackles related themes, but with fuller production, tough, frenetic riffs and a snarly, stuck-up vocal from Post.

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[Music] Top 35 Tracks of 2013 (#5 – #1)

5. Mutya Keisha Siobhan – Flatline, TBA

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Before being swallowed into an never-ending maelstrom of pushbacks and false starts, it seemed like the S.S. MKS was in pretty competent hands. The girls’ story – that of three girl group members who were each alienated from a once-credible British institution over a period of nine years – was as hipster-friendly a narrative as anybody who performed on CD:UK could ever hope for. A sly A&R team hooked the trio up with a clutch of hot-property producers including Sia, Naughty Boy, and Dev Hynes, who gained notoriety helming acclaimed tracks for Solange and Sky Ferreira. “Flatline” chases the sleek, disenchanted 80’s sound of 2012 favourites “Losing You” and “Everything Is Embarrassing”, but rather ironically lacks the sugary energy of either.

The opening lyric of “Don’t say it, no / Please wait till were sober” is delivered with a depressed choke by Siobhan Donaghy, whose own 2008 solo album “Ghosts” would be the most obvious reference point were it not also so obviously inspired by the work of Kate Bush. Hard, thundering drums and riotous male-led battle cries evoke memories of “Hounds of Love”, although it appears someone onboard was smart enough to corroborate “Flatline” against a checklist of the original line-up’s own idiosyncrasies. Mutya Buena’s gravelly tone and Donaghy’s verbose lyricism both make appearances, while Keisha Buchanan’s trademark adlibs draw a devastating break-up anthem to a strangely euphoric close.

4. St. Lucia – Elevate, When The Night

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This is St. Lucia’s second appearance on our list, and it’s a tribute to the South African-born musician’s range as a performer that he can just as easily put his name to a relentless  EDM banger such as  “Modern Hearts” as he does to more organic fare like this. That’s not to say “Elevate” is lacking in thrills; conversely, it’s something of an aural carnival. Gilded synths swirl like an ice cream van’s siren, while swathes of electronic fuzz aim to leave your head swimming. The ecstasy of the song’s production offers a distraction from the dark subject matter; “Elevate” is ostensibly a love letter to a rather tragic character. “No one / elevates you / elevates you, now”, St. Lucia (née John –Philip Grobler) belts throughout the song’s chorus, presumably to a loyal if despondent friend. It’s tempting to see the irony of such a lyric being used as such a soaring, undeniable hook, but perhaps that’s the point; sometimes a song isn’t enough.

Not that you’ll be focusing on subtext by the halfway mark. The real magic of “Elevate” comes with the arrival of a morbidly obese bassline, squalling trumpets and a barely intelligible chant that dominates the track’s denouement. If it sounds like a mess, let it be known that this flourish is achieved with a stupefying sense of elegance, resulting in a song as colourful, bittersweet and regrettably brief as life itself.

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[Music] Top 35 Tracks of 2013 (#20 – #6)


20. Miley Cyrus – Wrecking Ball, Bangerz

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No chorus this year described an artist’s arrival into the pop arena better than “Wrecking Ball”. The reinvention of the artist formerly known as Hannah Montana was one of the most blatant stab-in-the-dark attempts at relevance in recent memory, but when you consider how Disney stars of a similar pedigree have fallen to the wayside over the years, you can admire Cyrus’ smash-and-grab approach. And as tiresome as her schtick could be, this gutsy, Fleetwood Mac-esque ballad offered the twenty-one year old some redemption. The main concern when it comes to ballads in the 2010’s is that they be appropriated and rendered anonymous by the singing competition circuit, so kudos to Cyrus for providing a raw, impassioned, twerk-free performance that should by right go down as her greatest achievement to date.

19. Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal, Immunity

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Jon Hopkins’ astonishing collection of muscled dancefloor odysseys was one of the most acclaimed albums of 2013. Gone are the soft ambient flavours of his early work; the weighty anthems of “Immunity” crack and fizz at an often hypnotic pace, lulling the listener into a state of astral projection. Standout track “Open Eye Signal” repurposes the dancefloor as a battlefield. Razor-sharp synths gurgle and race over a 4/4 beat, with occasional detours to the cosmos, and – at its finest moments – Heaven itself.

18. Sasha Keable – Careless Over You, Black Book Mixtape

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With production from All About She – who, between their dark electro-banger “Bullet” and Top 20 hit “Higher (Free)”, have been demonstrating their range for some time now – this magnetic mid-tempo chimes along as Keable’s vocal flits from smoky to breathless. The production is dense but never overpowers – ceasing almost entirely in time for an interpolation of Rudimental’s melodramatic hit “Waiting All Night”. It’s an inclusion that could have gone either way, but Keable manages to convey all of the heartbreak without any of the histrionics.

17. The 1975 – Chocolate, The 1975

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In 2012, Madonna included a song called “Masterpiece” on her twelfth studio album. The track is pleasant enough on its own terms, but considering the a) the stature of the artist in question and b) the portentousness of its title, the listener expects – nay, deserves – more, and as a result we’ve come to regard this track with disdain. Any track named “Chocolate” runs into a similar problem. How does one commit the many sensory pleasures associated with said food item to an aural experience? Kylie Minogue mapped out a sexy little number based on the stuff, and while we know The 1975 aren’t averse to the subject , their hit single is instead a colourful tribute to the joys of smoking marijuana. Frontman Matthew Healy may have the worst rock star name in recent memory, but his nasally squall is refreshing for its blunt emoting and bold lack of pretension.

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