Tuesday, 27 August 2013


Just saw Elysium in what I think was full IMAX at the O2 (formerly the Millennium Dome). Stepping inside this monolithic temple to entertainment is a truly surreal experience somewhat akin to entering Elysium itself. South African Neill Blomkamp's new film, about a man desperate to get to the offworld paradise of the super-rich in order to heal himself of a lethal dose of radiation poisoning, is a grand sci-fi spectacle heavily indebted to both Mad Max and Aliens and starts off, at least, as an intriguing social parable which clearly aims to draw parallels with today's gulf between rich and poor. It's intelligent and interesting - and then, about halfway through, it turns into a completely different movie which is primarily stuff blowing up. There's a ludicrous overuse of shakycam, so much so that during many of the action sequences it's actually hard to tell what is going on. None of the characters is particularly likeable or memorable and it's hard to care about any of them. Sharlto Copley's preposterously over-the-top, psychotic supervillain Kruger gets all the best lines, but half of them are incomprehensible, so thick is his Boer accent. Another pivotal character has exactly the same problem except with a South American accent. Taken simply as a sci-fi spectacle it's awesome and is definitely worth seeing, but it's not nearly so incisive or intelligent a social critique as its director obviously thinks it is. On the strength of this showing, Blomkamp shows promise, but definitely has some way to go. One thumb up.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Gotcharocka - "Crisis"

Gotcharocka is the new band of Jui, erstwhile frontman of the sorely lamented Vidoll - one of the best VK bands of the last decade, if not of all time. After a quickly tossed-off contractual-obligation solo album, he's back on an indie (God Child Records, the label run by Asagi of D) and has teamed up with guitarist Jun, formerly of Spiv States, for an album of catchy light rock with both funky and heavy moments. Jui, ever the Casanova, is in full swing here with his usual slightly dirty, pervy lyrics (see "Qtie" and "Virginity"). Thanks in part to his unique voice, and to some similarity in the musical style, this does sound quite a lot like Vidoll, but it's rather more self-consciously classicist; Jun has obviously got a bit of a guitar god thing going on, and there's a distinct classical influence in some of the lead guitar work, with recycled baroque melodies. On the whole it's a really good album with some great riffs and loads of singalongable choruses. Two thumbs up.

Friday, 16 August 2013


Watched Passion the other night, Brian De Palma's lurid new straight-to-video shocker starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace as advertising executives whose bitchy rivalry escalates into murder. Based on the recent French film Crime d'Amour, it's absolutely vintage De Palma as he uses every cinematic trick in the book from his 70s and 80s heyday - dream sequences, weird camera angles, funky lighting, even split screen! - to confuse and confound the audience as to what is really going on. The dialogue is terrible, the acting hammy, the plot ludicrous, the ending a confused and muddled mess, and you can see the twist coming from a mile off - I loved it. The two leads are both terrific fun, and Pino Donaggio's haunting, beautiful score is simply the icing on the cake. It doesn't stand up with the best of this great director's work, but should certainly please his fans. One and a half thumbs up.

Only God Forgives

Went to see Only God Forgives this evening - my goodness, what a film. It's sure not going to be for everyone - the Gosling fangirls in the row in front were baffled - but if you're a lover of the art of film, you will love this, because it's basically an exercise in pure cinema. I can put it no better than The Guardian's film critic, who, giving the film one of its few positive reviews, said "each scene is executed with pure formal brilliance". You could write the plot on the back of a postage stamp, but this is not about the plot. Dark, mysterious, extremely minimalist, incredibly stylized and exceedingly violent, it has the fingerprints of David Lynch all over it. It also reminded me of Blade Runner, for some weird reason. At times, it even feels a bit like a spaghetti western mysteriously transposed to Bangkok. It's almost worth seeing for Kristin Scott Thomas's searing performance alone, as Gosling's monstrous, domineering mother. Vithaya Pansringarm, previously unknown in the West, is also superb as the chillingly impassive antagonist. Naturally, the lighting, design, and cinematography (by Larry Smith, who shot Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut) are all impeccable. Cliff Martinez's roiling electronic score provides the film with a lot of its atmosphere and is also highly to be commended. All in all, love it or hate it, this is not a film you will forget in a hurry. Two bloody thumbs up.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Superhero Fing

Mark arrives in New York, naive and full of enthusiasm, to study drama, and falls for Stephanie, a gorgeous waitress wiser than her years, who seems to hide an enigmatic secret. After a shocking incident at the theatre, Mark encounters Stephanie once again and is drawn into a strange and dangerous world of costumed vigilantes with mysterious powers, that will change his life irrevocably. As dread forces converge on the city, will his romance with Stephanie survive - and will he?

(c) John D. Buchanan 2013


In a future where cybernetic technologies are strictly regulated by the state, The Church of Might is a powerful lobbying group, able to use its privileged status as a religious organization to provide nanotech implants to its congregation. With two of the church's most powerful leaders standing for re-election, a trio of its  senior figures - a beautiful heiress, an artistic loner and a reformed career criminal - agree to put aside their enmities, forming an uneasy alliance with the aim of unseating the pair. As a high-stakes, cut-throat game of political power plays, manipulation and double-dealing ensues where nothing - not even murder - is off the cards, the lines are blurred, all bets are off and it's anyone's guess just how far the three will go to achieve their aims - and whether, ultimately, they can even trust one another.

(c) John D. Buchanan 2013

Imagination working overtime

Dreamt up a couple more mad blockbusters while on holiday so I'm going to post the synopses here today. Look out for others coming in the near future. If you fancy making a movie based on any of these, get in touch!

Friday, 9 August 2013

Marcel Fengler - "Fokus"

Marcel Fengler is a resident DJ at Berghain, the Berlin club that has come to embody 21st-century techno, and this is his debut album for the club's in-house label Ostgut Ton. Those expecting a monolithic platter of the label's usual nosebleed techno will be disappointed, however. That said, this is a really good album that incorporates all sorts of electronic music styles. Yes, there is techno, but the influence of minimal, house, ambient, dub and even acid are all apparent. It's a much lighter, warmer, more inviting album than we usually get from the label, which in this case is a really good thing. Two thumbs up.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Sweet Bird of Youth

Went to the Old Vic the other night to see Tennessee Williams' late shocker Sweet Bird of Youth, starring none other than Sex and the City's Kim Cattrall as Alexandra del Lago. I'd never seen this before, though I've seen a couple other of Williams' classics. I'd forgotten just what melodramatic and over-the-top potboilers they are, and this one is no exception - indeed it might even be one of his most extreme. It's really good, though, and very funny, with some superbly caustic one-liners and moments of almost slapstick comedy. The whole thing actually teeters on the edge of farce, but is prevented from going there by the wonderfully dank, humid, Southern Gothic atmosphere that Williams does so well. I'm aware of Kim Cattrall's reputation as an actress but I'm not sure I've ever actually seen her in anything before. Here she is a revelation, brilliantly portraying a used-up, broken woman who's only kept going by the memories of her past glories.  Playing opposite her is young American Seth Numrich, who has really divided the critics. I thought he was great. All the principals were good, in fact - this kind of stuff works best if you really ham it up, and they fair chew up the scenery. The production design, music and sound are all excellent too and really help to enhance the atmosphere of the piece. Well worth catching. Two thumbs up.

RIP Sussie Ahlburg

I was shocked and very saddened to read in the paper this evening about the death of Sussie Ahlburg, a wonderfully talented photographer who inexplicably drowned earlier this week, aged just 50, in the Hampstead Ladies' Pond. Ahlburg was primarily a portrait photographer, and shot many beautiful album covers and promotional images for major-label classical musicians. I first became aware of her work when I saw the stunning and radiant portraits she shot of my friend, the pianist Christina Lawrie. After that, working with classical music, I started to see her work everywhere and became a great admirer of it. Her portraits have a wonderful sense of intrigue, and often wit, with a masterful use of light. Her death at such a relatively young age has robbed the world of photography of a major talent.

Shake Shack

After going to the movies I decided to hit the new London branch of American burger chain Shake Shack, which was salivated over by foodies when it opened a month or so ago. After a long queue (I probably waited half an hour in total for my food) I walked into the high-tech serving area where I was assaulted by painfully loud rock music. Once my order was taken I went to find a table, clutching a buzzer with my order number on it, which vibrated and flashed when my food was ready to pick up from the window - quite a cool system. And the food itself? The "Smokeshack" burger, with bacon and chillies, was really delicious - you can tell it's made with proper high-quality beef - and the bun, made partly with potato flour, was wonderfully squidgy. It did feel a bit small though, despite supposedly being a quarter pounder.The crinkle-cut fries were superbly crispy and salty. The pièce de resistance, though, was the shake - they're the company's main thing, hence the name. Basically, imagine drinking about half a pint of partially melted, extremely high quality strawberry ice cream. The only downside, really, is the price - this meal set me back over £13. Overall, I'd say it's very good, if not quite worth what you pay for it. One and a half thumbs up.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Breathe In

So I went to see Breathe In yesterday evening and I really loved it. It's the latest feature by Drake Doremus, who made Like Crazy, a fan favourite that starred Felicity Jones, who also appears in this film. Some people who loved that film have taken issue with this one; I haven't seen it, so I went into this with no real preconceptions. I thought it was a very well-made film indeed - ostensibly a slow-burning indie drama, it becomes so much more, really ratcheting up the tension into melodrama without ever becoming ridiculous. Some people have complained that it's a film where nothing really happens; personally, I felt this was one of its major strengths. In fact, one of the best things about it is how real it seems; all of the characters, their actions and their motivations feel really authentic. Most of all, though, it's a love letter to music and to the creative impulse. If you're a musician - especially a failed one - you'll love this movie. Dustin O'Halloran's score is simply gorgeous and complements the action wonderfully. Shot in lots of muted hues of blue, it's also a stunningly beautiful film to look at, albeit with a slight over-reliance on shakycam. The whole cast is great - it's a subtle film that requires them to do a lot of acting with just their eyes, and they do it very well. The two leads are especially good. I've seen Guy Pearce in a couple of other things before, but I haven't seen Felicity Jones in anything else. Beautiful and talented, she's surely a young lady with a very bright future ahead of her, and I'll wager you'll see the director's name in lights before too long as well. Two thumbs up.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Merrily We Roll Along

If you had told me only a month ago that not only would I go to a musical theatre production, but would enjoy it so much that I would actually consider going again, I would have laughed in your face - but that's exactly what happened when I went to see Stephen Sondheim's "Merrily We Roll Along" the other week. My only previous experience with musical theatre was the execrable "Starlight Express", the nadir of Andrew Lloyd Webber's career, which understandably put me off for years, but I'm so glad I was persuaded to go and see this. "Merrily" is the story of successful movie producer Frank, who seemingly has everything but who hates his life because he's sacrificed his integrity and his friendships to get to the top. It starts at the end and moves backwards through time, revealing the decisions that have got him where he is today, ending at the beginning with him naive and full of enthusiasm. The result is almost unbearably poignant. Make no mistake, this is an absolutely superb work of proper grown-up adult entertainment. It's everything that musical theatre should be and so often, sadly, is not. There are no glib clichés, no trite nonsense, no green witches or singing lions - just a wonderfully well-conceived story with fantastic music that actually drives the plot along. It all feels heartbreakingly real, which I think is just about the highest compliment you can pay a musical. Two gigantic thumbs up.