"Based on a true story."
Are there any phrases more likely to induce paroxysms of fear in the jaded and cynical moviegoer? They suggest a comforting over-simplification of complicated historical stories; a sanding down to bland smoothness of thorny issues. On paper, Pride seems like exactly the sort of film to indulge an all of these practices: the story of a group of gay activists who became an unlikely fundraising linchpin in the miner’s strike of the 1980s seems ripe for a calamitous backslapping ceremony of the “isn’t it great we’re so much more tolerant these days?” variety. Which only serves to make the fact that Pride is one of the best, most solidly enjoyable films of the year all the more surprising.
Admittedly, Pride uses a narrative framework and a formula you have seen in countless films before, and will see in countless films to comes. What sets it apart is the ease and the grace with which it adopts, subverts and transcends these limitations. The film’s greatest asset is its effortless tonal acrobatics: it moves from fish-out-of-water comedy to righteous political fury via heartfelt drama with staggering ease. It is a film built upon the constant confounding of expectations; when the members of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) turn up at a rural Welsh village to deliver their fundraising contributions in person, it’s impossible not to prepare for drama-wringing tension. Instead, with the exception of some notably marginalised intolerance, there’s just a rather sweet mutual curiosity. Similarly, just as it seems that the offstage spectre of AIDS will remain notable only by its absence, it is brought shockingly to the fore in a single stunning, heartbreaking scene featuring an admirably uncredited cameo.
It can hardly be a hindrance that Pride also has arguably the single best ensemble cast of any film all year. Elder statesmen like Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton haven’t been this much of a joy to watch in years, while Dominic West’s dance moves and frankly rather alarming hair are worth the price of admission alone. Elsewhere, Paddy Considine positively overflows with understated dignity and Fresh Meat's Faye Marsay pulls off a delicate balancing act between bolshiness and vulnerability that would be the downfall of many a more experienced actor. Some of these characters are based on real people, others are pure invention. The triumph of the cast and of the film is to ignore this distinction. As far as Pride is concerned, all of these people are worth spending time with.
It is this desire to tell celebrate the story and its central players without patronising either them or the audience that has turned an unashamedly lefty comedy about intersectional activism into a chart bothering hit. Pride is a wonderful movie about a wonderful story, but it is also indisputable proof that winning hearts and winning minds don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Having not released an album since 2010, and having not been really relevant to the wider public since those legendary Dave Chappelle sketches (“game, blouses”), Prince has recently seemed to be jonesing for the spotlight once more. Appearing in a prominent role on an episode of New Girl, multiple intimate gigs around London, a stream of download singles and resigning with former foes Warner Bros, the Purple One capped his recent resurgence with the release of two albums on the same day, Plectrumelectrum with his touring band 3rdeyegirl, and the punnily-titled Art Official Age.
It feels kind of wrong to criticise either of these albums too heavily. I mean, two surprise new albums on the same day from one of the most inventive songwriters and pop stars ever? To shit on them would seem ungrateful (and unhygienic too, I guess), and whilst neither Art Official Age or Plectrumelectrum touches Prince’s greatest work, they’re both worthy, interesting and often exciting listens, which purists will likely see as bookending his poor quality period. AOA is characterised by healthy scoops of contemporary influences; EDM, the disco and soul revivals, modern R&B production, and technological paranoia. “Art Official Cage” is the ridiculous pomposity which has long been associated with Prince, but instead of sounding scatty and unfocused, it feels like a huge Daft Punk-esque extraterrestrial fanfare - a grand, funk version of the end of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind - to announce the return of the master, whilst his trademark sensual ballads and slow jams pepper the tracklist. In the hands of anyone else, “Breakfast Can Wait” would come off as cheesy pastiche with its central bass, pitched-up voices and lyrics (“Hotcakes smothered in honey (wait a minute)/I’m gonna have to pass/Fresh cup of coffee, no, no/I’d rather have you in my glass”), but coming from Prince, it’s possibly the best thing on the album.
Occasionally the greater focus on slower tempos leads to the record’s pacing feeling sluggish; for instance “This Could Be Us” and “What It Feels Like” are both typical Prince slowies, but could each do with having a minute or minute shaved off. Thankfully the amazing “Funknroll” arrives late on to pep things up with a wonderful crossroads between funk-rock and club hip-hop. Art Official Age hits its peaks when Prince either gets a bit weird or throws himself into the loose concept of technology effecting humanity, the latter of which seems like it was influenced by Prince’s collaborations with the often very conceptual Janelle Monae, but the sheer amount of down-tempo balladry is just a little too much, eventually becoming a little hard to differentiate between.
Similarly Plectrumelectrum suffers from its tracks being a little hard to differentiate between, but as big-riff funk-rock as opposed to R&B slow jamming. I’ll be honest, even though I’m a sucker for a gigantic riff and a good solo, eventually the whole thing just seems to fade into one big jam band session, with little nuance. That’s not to take away from anyone involved - Hannah Ford, Donna Grantis, and Ida Nielsen are all absolutely superb musicians - but whilst it’s clearly a lot of fun for them to play this kind of stuff, it’s tiresome to listen to for five tracks in a row. Respite comes in the album’s central trio of tracks; “Whitecaps” is a slinky slowburner, not too distant from what a lot of ‘90s-indebted alt-rock bands are producing right now, “Fixurlifeup” is a swaggering slab of arena rock with a great closing funky freakout (and featuring a damning couplet from Prince, “A girl with a guitar is 12 times better than another crazy band of boys/Trying to be a star when you’re just another brick in the misogynistic wall of noise”), whilst “Batches & Cookies” duo Lizzo and Sophia Eris pop up to provide some prime bars on the bubbling pop “Boytrouble”. But there’s little else which really stands up to be counted or stands out at all, other than an alternate, less fun version of “Funknroll” tacked on the end of the tracklist.
At their best, AOA and Plectrum… are interesting, layered, forward-thinking pop with more care and thought put into them than most, and at their worst these albums are evidence enough that any future new Prince album has the potential to be something to be excited about, and really, when it comes to him, that’s all we can ask.
Art Official Age
I remember stumbling upon Hozier’s Bandcamp page last year, and falling in love with the monumental “Take Me To Church” from the EP of the same name instantly. Fast forward to 2014, and “Take Me To Church” has soundtrack dozens of trailers and TV shows, the Irish singer-songwriter is set to play Saturday Night Live and nearly everyone is similarly heart-eyed as I was at the track, and rightly so. It’s an incredible song; passionate and primal, but restrained and reverent, and some truly superb lyrics. It helps that Hozier has an excellent blue-eyed soul voice, which imbues his words with the right amount of power and feeling.
For the most part, this eponymous debut album drifts between sounds more commonly associated with the American south than County Wicklow - blues, R&B, gospel, alcohol-soaked folk (although that one is equally as Irish, to be fair) - and is remarkably successful on the majority of the tracks, conjuring up images of the smoky, swampy bars of True Detective, or the washed-out world of Inside Llewyn Davis (“Like Real People Do” definitely nabs a riff or two from “Green Green Rocky Road”). The swooning, stomping “Jackie And Wilson” is the best song latter-day Kings Of Leon have yet to write, “Someone New” is a string-assisted, sugar sweet soul ode to the brief infatuations we collect throughout everyday life, whilst the fantastically morbid “In A Week”, featuring vocals from Dublin folk singer Karen Cowley, is possibly the closest Hozier comes to the typical sound of his home country; an ornate, Celtic accented ballad about two lovers slowly dying together in a field. It may not sound like the most pleasant subject matter ever, but Hozier and Cowley make it feel like the ultimate romantic gesture.
However, the production across the board feels off. Often elements will mush together and the subtleties become hard to pick out, which only enhances the samey-ness of the album’s back end. At times, the sound verges on Damien Rice and once or twice swings dangerously close to Mumford & Sons, which is enough to make me break out in hives. However, the worst offence may just be that “Take Me To Church” seems to have been re-recorded or remastered from the version that appeared on that first EP, and as a result it lacks the same fire-and-brimstone punch. It’s still great and the best thing on Hozier (or any other album this year) by a country mile, but the feels unnecessarily muted from the roar of the original.
There’s no doubting that this is a very strong debut from a remarkable songwriting talent. The aforementioned influences don’t feel like a mask Hozier is wearing simply to push through the album, or augment his music to sound more interesting: it really feels like this is the music he has to make, like he couldn’t just remould and transpose these songs into something more pop or more electro or more chart-friendly without losing something. It really feels a lot more genuine than a lot of the other young white artists of the moment who revere/rip-off black American music, but some exploration into the deeper cuts of his forebears and an expansion of sound in future could serve up something incredible.
Even if The Boxer was unfairly met with side-eyes and derision, after that last Bloc Party record, a new Kele solo album is relief. Okereke’s leanings towards electronic music led to a scattered and ever-changing sound for Bloc Party which sometimes created incredible music (“Flux”, “One More Chance”) but often resulted in uncertain and unconfident melds between his vision and the rest of the band’s indie roots (most of Intimacy and Four). So naturally, a solo album, free of the restraints of inter-band democracy would allow Kele to fully explore all corners of his genre desires, right?
Well… all corners would be a big overstatement. A lot of Trick feels like knocked-off deep house remixes of unheard Bloc songs, and that’s only because of Kele’s unmistakable voice. Without him at the helm, almost everything contained here would be fairly bland and anonymous. The Boxer carried over and employed the interesting song structure that Kele had near-perfected with Bloc Party whilst branching across a wider spectrum of dance and employing a variety of beats, but Trick plays things far too safe. Don’t get me wrong, the likes of “Doubt” and “First Impressions” are nice and pleasant, and have enough rhythm to be danceable, but they’re about as interesting to listen to as any random club compilation album filler. It smacks of either a lack of inspiration.
There’s little in the way of innovation or deviation from a standard set of genre tropes. “Closer” has guitar lines reminiscent of The xx, “Year Zero” actually feels like a Jamie xx production and “Coasting” features Kele singing in a higher register than usual over a Burial-esque beat, but apart from those high points, Trick could be the work of almost anyone working in dance music right now. If you go back and listen to Bloc Party’s “Mercury” or "The Prayer", they’re fierce, impassioned, ridiculous, frenetic, strange and most of all brilliant take on dance music. It’s disappointing that in a relatively short space of time, Kele could go from making something so unique, singular and forward-thinking to music which sounds dinner party music for ex-clubbers.
Posthumous Album Art of the day: Death Grips may be gone but there’s still one release left for the world to hear. The first half of double album The Powers That B, subtitled Niggas On The Moon and featuring contributions from Bjork, came out shortly before the band announced the split, and according to the band’s Facebook page, the second half, subtitled Jenny Death is now complete. The full album’s front cover, back cover and Jenny Death's cover can be seen at thirdworlds.net. No news on tracklists or release dates or if anyone will feature on the album, but at least we know we’ll finally get to hear the swan song of the most exciting band of the 2010s.
When two horror masterminds get together - in this case, writer Stephen King and director George A. Romero - good things often happen. Creepshow is an often overlooked gem of an 80’s flick from the two legends. Anthology films are almost always impossible to get perfect (recent examples being the patchy V/H/S films), but when it comes to the horror genre, sometimes imperfect is exactly what you want. Creepshow is a collection of five short stories, each quite different from the next and yes, the consistency of the quality is up for debate, but when it’s good, it’s really, really good! And even when it’s bad, well, it’s still kinda’ really good!
Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Ted Danson and Stephen King himself are among the stars of these fun segments including stabs at the slasher genre (“Father’s Day” & “The Crate”), thriller (“Something To Tide You Over”) and even shock body-horror (“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill” & “They’re Creeping Up on You!”). The stories are just different enough from each other to keep it from getting boring and the varying tones are held together nice by a really sense of “knowing” from King and Romero. These guys certainly know their genre and they know their audience. Best of all, they know how to have a lot of fun with it.
Creepshow is up there with the most ’80s-feeling of horror flicks and the ahead-of-its-time tongue-in-cheek approach hits all the wrong chords to make it a ridiculously entertaining two hour time-waster around Halloween.
Well that was very…tame.
After two strong and traditionally over-the-top episodes to kick off the latest season of the long running comedy, the South Park team turned their attention to something more grounded in reality: gender identity.
Prior to this episode’s release, there was considerable and understandable apprehension online from people and groups who assumed that the creators were going to mock and bash transgender and non-binary people, however there was nary a slur to be heard.
The premise of the episode was that Cartman - the shows resident mouthpiece for every disgusting, backward, ignorant, and sometimes downright evil opinion held by the masses - was tired of not being able to have his toilet time due to other users of the boys’ bathroom at school. He then dons a bow, and enters the girls bathroom. When summoned to the principal’s office, he calmly explains that he apparently isn’t comfortable with the gender he was assigned at birth, and was exercising his freedom to identify with the gender he feels most comfortable as, although he pronounces transgender as transginger, simply due to the fact he’s a stupid nine year old kid.
There were no real jokes to be had, and in fact the show took some people to church, with Mr. Garrison (who previously had a sex change which was reversed) and Eric Cartman (who wanted to be referred to as Erica) succinctly summing up certain aspects of gender identity that may escape those who have no education on the matter. For instance, Cartman explains that the gender he identifies with has no baring on the gender he is attracted to, and Mr. Garrison calls out the school counsellor for stating that anyone who identifies with the gender they were assigned at birth is ‘normal’. The school faculty act as the mouthpiece of the writers by stating that Eric(a) Cartman is not a hurting and confused child, but is in fact, Eric freakin’ Cartman, noted bigot and asshole. This seemed like the shows way of saying “we know this is not a full and accurate representation of the topic at hand, however our character is a devious scumbag who will go to any lengths to get what he wants, and this is just the latest of his schemes which we will be focusing on this week”.
The episode continues its foray into the issue of identity with the B-plot examining how Randy Marsh is actually Lorde. Yeah. You heard that right. Even Stan is affected when Wendy appears one day in school wearing typically masculine clothes and asking to be called Wendell (whether this is a permanent change - which wouldn’t be unprecedented for the character - or just to piss off Cartman - also not unprecedented - remains to be see). Upon seeing this, Cartman accuses Stan of being gay, and Stan witnesses his father living a double life as a geologist and a teenage pop sensation. The young boy walks into the girls bathroom and once summoned to the principal’s office, states “There are people really close to me that are having gender identity issues and I’m just really confused”. Once again, there is no joke. Just an honest admission from a confused child. The show even highlights the discrimination faced by some, with Randy/Lorde’s’ female colleague going to management and expressing her discomfort at having to share a bathroom with them.
All in all, the episode doesn’t even begin to examine the complexities and intricacies of gender identity, and to be honest, it’s not South Park's place to do so. It's supposed to be crass, satirical, and funny. This week, it wasn't any of the above. Whilst I am glad that Matt Stone & Trey Parker didn't try and get shock laughs by being incredibly insensitive, I'm a little disappointed that they couldn't find enough comedy to put into the episode without being so. It seemed as if without the ability to be offensive or crank the absurdity levels up to 11, they were at a loss, and in the end we got a pretty flat episode out of it.
The one positive I can take from this week’s episode is that they showed some maturity in not mocking non-binary people, and actually dropped a few lines in to explain a little bit about it. As I said, it’s not South Park’s place to educate, but I’m glad they get the frat-boy humour out of the topic and used the opportunity to inform people.
- Cartman whipping his private toilet, S&M-style, before using it.
- Actually sprinkled tidbits of information regarding non-binary people throughout.
- Didn’t succumb to shock value comedy.
- Continued building on and referencing the continuity established earlier this season.
- Generally flat episode.
- Nothing really actually happened.
- Never really seemed to pick up an firm idea and run with it properly.
Listen: Jaden Smith - Fast: His tweets may often be the pinnacle of faux-deep teen philoshopy, and he may always look worried, but damn if Jaden Smith hasn’t just announced himself as a future rap star and proved that his sister Willow didn’t get all the talent genes from their famous parents. Kid’s got bars and the kind of confidence in his flow that rappers twice his age don’t have, and considering the poor reviews that have met most of his attempts at a film, music may just be his calling. We for one welcome our new Jaden overlord.