The assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford


I confess, I’ve been slow getting round to this.  I was given it on DVD for Christmas and what a gift, because this is one masterpiece of a movie.  As it progressed it became clearer and clearer to me that the brooding and grumbling soundtrack (all instrumental) sounded distinctly like Nick Cave and so it transpired; written as it was by him and his Bad Seed partner Warren Ellis (the Big Beardy one).  The soundtrack is only one of the great perfections of this movie, because like everything in it it sticks like Araldite together in perfect symmetry.

Let’s turn to the cinematography by Roger Deakins.  This is photography at its very finest and he won an Oscar this year (but not for this which was surely the runner up).  He won it for No Country For Old Men which I have raved about elsewhere.  What sets the photography apart here is that he introduces a strange stressing of the picture at certain points (when the narrator speaks mainly I think) and my guess is that this is to reflect Jesse James’ failing eyesight which is referred to early in the movie.

Now the casting.  You will surely never see a greater Brad Pitt performance and Casey Affleck as the Coward Robert Ford who first idolises and then vilifies James is quite outstanding and rightly was Oscar nominated for the performance.

The story is a little tricky to follow because a lot of characters are referred to in contexts that one might not understand if not a student of Jesse James; which I’m not.  Anyway, it hangs around James’ final days in which he’s taking more risks than he should.  His gang is breaking up and his loyal recruits ain’t as loyal as they used to be.  James knows this (or at least senses it) and you see him become increasingly paranoid in a way that Daniel Day Lewis totally overblew it in There will be Blood (for my money this a far better movie with a far subtler exposition of madness and the pursuit of a different kind of power).

As the film progresses the young (19) Thomson becomes completely disenamoured of his erstwhile childhood hero (for many, James was the Robin Hood of America) and sees instead only James’ self driven anger and thirst for revenge.  To gain the £100,000 bounty on his head Ford and his brother Charlie (also brilliantly played by Sam Rockwell) plot to overthrow him.

In the end the moment of execution is an anticlimax for the pair (but not the viewer) in that James seemingly surrenders and takes a bullet to the back of the head.

At first lauded (mildly) Ford soon sees the backlash as America proclaims him not a hero but a coward for killing an unarmed man by shooting him in the back of the head.  Ford’s life is ended in a further revenge killing and the whole futility of it all becomes apparent.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough.  Long it may be (2h 40min) but it’s all the better for that because we never really wanted it to end.

Bravo

10/10

the feel bad movie of the year? I simply cannot wait.


Cheer up son. It's not the bloody end of the world. Is it?

I am a massive fan of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (and while you’re at it “No Country for Old Men” is a beast too).

Anyway the movie of the book opens on Jan 8 here in the UK.

Here’s an early (fairly mean)review from NYC. It currently 8.4’s on IMDB.

Doomsday sagas have never been far from our collective American imagination, but they’ve rarely been closer. The end-of-the-world cult of 2012 (Mayan calendar, solar neutrinos, bad vibes from the planet “Nibiru,” etc.) will only fatten its membership in the wake of the idiotic movie of the same name. Throw in (likely) environmental catastrophe, worldwide economic collapse, peak oil, Al Qaeda with Pakistani nukes, Obama the Antichrist, a zombie-cannibal plague, and apocalypse is in the air, la-la. Now comes the starkest doomsday movie yet, The Road, from a novel by Cormac McCarthy, our priest of high-toned despair. McCarthy will never get over the end of the Age of Good Men (which never existed, but don’t tell him that). He has staked his career on the idea that we’re entering a time of humanity in extremis, one in which chaos is ascendant and cannibalism, literal and metaphorical, is the rule, not the exception. The road of The Road is paved with literal cannibals. But it’s also a metaphor for the blind imperative of a father, “The Man” (Viggo Mortensen), to keep his son, “The Boy” (Kodi Smit-McPhee), both eating and uneaten.

What brought about the blinding flash that ends civilization? McCarthy isn’t telling, and neither are director John Hillcoat and screenwriter Joe Penhall. Project on this disaster what you will. (See the list above.) The dying world through which father and son trudge is monochromatic—faded browns, grays from sooty to milky, an occasional splash of dark blood. Green is history. Bare trees tumble. Fires spring up. Human bones dot the landscape. There was once a mother, “The Woman” (Charlize Theron), whom we see in The Man’s dreams, but her maternal instincts fell (strangely) by the wayside. Only The Man persists. “The child is my warrant,” he narrates. “If he is not the word of God, then God never spoke.” It might have been Darwin who spoke—but let’s not go there.

On its own grueling terms, The Road works. It brings you down, down, down, and its characters’ famishment is contagious: Your heart leaps at the sight of a can of peaches. Mortensen, bearded, smudged, greasy-haired, has a primal, haggard beauty. He lectures his son on the need for “the fire inside,” and that’s what we see in his unblinking eyes as his body wastes away. He clutches a gun with two bullets and teaches The Boy to put the barrel in one’s mouth and pull the trigger—the thinking being that a quick death is better than slow starvation or being eaten. But that’s a last resort. Mostly he uses that gun to threaten and/or blow away anything that imperils his son. What’s odd is that although The Boy never knew the brotherhood-of-man era, he pleads—in a voice that hasn’t broken—to share their food and trembles with grief when his single-minded father remains unswayed by his humanism. Yet the father doesn’t mock his son: Part of him must want to keep The Boy a boy. “Are we the good guys?” his son asks again and again, as if chanting in prayer. “Yes,” says The Man.

The movie has a dogged integrity. An inept thief (Michael Kenneth Williams, the magnetic Omar from The Wire) seems too pathetic for The Man to punish but is cruelly punished anyway. When Robert Duvall totters on as “The Old Man” (a guest-star survivor, akin to the guest-star hillbillies in Cold Mountain), we think they might adopt him as a surrogate Gramps. But The Man sees him only as a drain on their food, and The Old Man gets the drift without being told. What a tough, smart actor Duvall is. The Old Man seems enfeebled, perhaps senile—until Duvall gives you glimmers of his caginess. Affecting frailty is a survival mechanism, too.

Evocative as it is, The Road comes up short, not because it’s bleak but because it’s monotonous, and because McCarthy’s vision is finally as inflexible as his patriarchal hero’s. (Having Mom lurch off is quite an evolutionary statement.) That said, the author-hero of 2012 (John Cusack), who wrote a book in which humans cling to their goodness on the brink of extinction, seems boobishly naïve. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle. But unlike these overeager doomsday fanatics, I hope never to find out.

Recent Reading. The Death of Bunny Munro by Nick Cave


“I don’t believe in an interventionist god” sings Nick Cave as the intro to one of his finest songs.

The sheer outrageousness and majesty of his writing hints at what lies in store for readers of “bunny.”

Actually, the tone of this, his finest moment, with its epic scope is closer in tone to the content of “bunny.”

It’s the story of a fundamentalist lothario.  All he lives for is “pussy”.  He fantasises about Avril Lavigne  and Kylie throughout as he makes his way across the south coast of England.

thedeathofbunnymunro1

Meanwhile his wife, aware of this, takes her life as their son pads through rooms scattered in coco pops.

Post funeral Bunny takes to the road with Bunny Junior and seeks solace in yet more psexual activity with increasingly unsavoury outcomes.  His son, meanwhile, fantasises about his deceased mother and nurses scabrous and mind-numbingly painful eyes.

He is, in short, a misogynist and cares not.

Or does he?

In fact, this foul and bawdy romp, which makes Irvine Welsh read like Enid Blyton is ultimately a tale of remorse and a thing of great beauty.

I wholly recommend it.

The best of 2008


OK

It’s that time of year again. The wrap. After a great deal of deliberation I have arrived at my Albums of the year and my best of 2008 CD.

You’ll not be surprised to see my usual heavy inclusion of female singer songwriters, although in percentage terms they are rather lower than usual – only about 25%. There’s more Rock ‘n ‘roll than previous years. Don’t know why. Just a good year for rock I suppose.

In no particular order my albums of the year were.

Dig Lazarus Dig!!! by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Reviewed here. A total classic that is full of cracking and totally unique songs. I absolutely adore this record.

dig-lazarus

Third by Portishead. Ten years in gestation it was worth every second of the wait. Eerie, disconcerting. Unique. I reviewed it here.

portishead-third

22 Dreams by Paul Weller. I’m not a fan usually, but this record is wonderful. Reviewed here.

paul-weller-22-dreams-4337311

The Very Best of Ethiopiques by various artists. What a wonderful discovery. In a classic year for world music, in particular african stuff this blew me away as I explained here.

ethiopiques

Welcome to Mali by Amadou and Mariam. Just in. Just Wonderful. This Malian couple make stunning fresh pop music. Not had time to review it yet.

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The Seldom Seen Kid by Elbow. Deserved winners of The Mercury Prize. This album came from nowhere and was a hot contender for my album of the year. I reviewed it here.

elbow_-_the_seldom_seen_kid

Only by the Night by Kings of Leon. They just keep getting better. This is a fine record with great grinding melodies.

kings-of-leon

Stay Positive by The Hold Steady. What a wonderful, opoetic record. The other big contender for album of the year. Reviewed here.

hold_steady-stay_positive

Glasvegas by Glasvegas. Yikes. Scotland’s best this year. Huge sound great lyrics and Geraldine is a gem of a song. Reviewed here.

glasvegas

A Piece of What You Need by Teddy Thomson. This is a great underground folky, rocky album by the son of Richard and Linda Thomson that has been on heavy rotation this year. I suspect Jeana would have it as her album of the year. Very good. Reviewed here.

tedthompson

Juno Soundtrack by Various Artists. One of the movies of the year and a cracking soundtrack to go with it. Another one that received heavy rotation in the spring and summer. Reviewed here.

juno

Aman Iwan by Tinariwen. Last but certainly not least it was actually released in 2007 but it only came to my attention this year. The third of my much loved African albums on the list. Reviewed here.

tinariwen

I have to say in conclusion that Dig Lazarus Dig!!! wins my overall album of the year.

And so, to my best of the year CD…

As usual, if you want a copy you need only ask.

Probably the hardest decision of all was to leave off One day Like This by Elbow in favour of Starlings, but my rules only allow one song per artist.

Overall I thought 2008 was a vintage year and I think this might be my best ‘best of’ yet…

Here’s how it pans out.

1. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
2. That’s not my name by The Ting Tings
3. Cler Achel by Tinariwen
4. The Rip by Portishead
5. Come On Over (Turn Me On) by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan
6. Have You Made Up Your Mind by Paul Weller
7. Freeway by Aimee Mann
8. Family Tree by TV On The Radio
9. Lights Out by Santogold
10. In My Arms by Teddy Thompson
11. You Cheated Me by Martha Wainwright
12. Geraldine by Glasvegas
13. Starlings by Elbow
14. Daydreamer by Adele
15. The Age Of The Understatement by The Last Shadow Puppets
16. Crawl by Kings Of Leon
17. Lord, I’m Discouraged by The Hold Steady
18. 5 Years Time by Noah And The Whale
19. Sabali by Amadou and Mariam

So good was this year’s stock that I’m strongly considering a ‘B sides best of”.

What do you think?

The aforementioned One Day Like This would feature, as would a couple of tracks from the Very Best Of Ethiopiques, and a great Karine Polwart song called Sorry are among the contenders…

monumental


I’ve been catching up on old Jools Holland Shows and I’ve only a few left before I am in real time.  Imagine my delight then to fall upon this – Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds playing probably the best song I’ve heard this year (perhaps The Rip by Portishead excluded).

Just dwell on this won’t you.

Look at the passion of every single member of this immense band.  And try to work out thier average age.  I’ll give you a clue.  Cave is 50 and for my money he looks one of the youngest.  The boy on Rock and Roll violin is sublime.

Later in this particular show I stumbled upon this.

My mate Iain Hawk has been raving about Glasvegas for months in a visionary sort of way. This demonstrates why – thier own song; Geraldine.  One thing I really like about them is the way they’ve inverted the usual rock and roll cliches.

The drummer’s a burd.  And bloody good at it too, despite the lack of a bass drum (Yes, I know… White Stripes…)

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