Friday, October 29, 2021

last night in soho

Please lock me away / And don't allow the day / Here inside where I hide / With my loneliness are the opening lyrics, written by Paul McCartney (and attributed to Lennon-McCartney) to Peter and Gordon's lilting hit 1964 ditty "A World Without Love" which glosses over the appealing main title sequence (more narrative main title sequences in contemporary movies please!) of Edgar Wright's messy, overwrought, occasionally smashing Last Night in Soho. Our protagonist, Eloise "Ellie" Turner (played by Thomasin McKenzie), waltzes through her room to the song with a newspaper dress (a very literal representation of "yesterday's news") she designed herself, imagining her life has a designer. Wright packs a lot for this character in a few moments: the dreamy Eloise stuck in the nostalgia of the swinging 60s, a deceased mother who appears in mirrors (Aimee Cassettari), and a glowing grandmother (Rita Tushingham) who has raised Ellie and has been supportive of her ambitions. 

Quickly, after receiving her acceptance letter, we watch Ellie trot out of the doldrums of the countryside to attend fashion school in London. It's here, the shy, introverted Ellie is thrown into a large pond, meeting snotty roommate, Jocasta (Synnøve Karlsen) and a warm, friendly schoolmate, John (Michael Ajao), who shows attraction towards her. Wanting to break free of her dorms, she moves out to the top floor of a run-down flat in the Soho district, run by a craggy landlady (the iconic Diana Rigg, in a memorable final performance). And here, Ellie is willingly and feverishly, locked up in her loneliness, up in this dreary room, and begins to sink into a dream-reality transporting her back to the music-soaked, neon-lit, dazzling Soho of the mid-1960s, where she becomes a body double of sorts of glam, blond-bobbed Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy, particularly striking and distinctive in this role). Ellie's dreams are fanciful and exciting at first, but soon meld into nightmarish, destructive visions that rampantly plague her.

For those who sometimes are too attached nostalgic elements of the past (music, fashion, lifestyle), may find a certain joy and connection watching Ellie's predicament (the good and the bad). Through her ghostly visions, as Ellie uncovers the particularly rough treatment and torment by Sandie's male suitors, the idealized fairytale version of the 1960s is upended. 

In some ways, Last Night in Soho, while fully embracing of the glam, fashions and tunes of the era (especially when contrasted with the drab, blandly corporatized present day), is a cautionary tale about getting "too lost" in the past. Interestingly, the early 60s-mid 60s British kitchen sink dramas which Wright's cast alludes to (Terence Stamp, Rigg, and Tushingham), showed an "alternate," grimier side of London-living, in stark contrast to the bubbly Bond, Beatles and Bacharach of its pop culture. Wright's actors, like the Sandie Shaw Eurovision earworm cheese suggests--which figures in a brilliantly-staged scene (where the wound-up picture also begins to snap in two and unfurl), are merely puppets on strings for this splashy carnival-esque world. McKenzie is an actress I've admired in her career so far, especially for minutiae in intimate dramas like Leave No Trace and Last Night is a big, old creaky movie she has to sail through. Maybe that feeling of "can she sustain getting through this giant movie?" works on a meta-level on both her as a character and her as a performer. That fusion ends up sort of working, and I'm glad to see McKenzie getting a more grandiose turn. 

Per usual, Wright is able to meld infectious pop songs into the narrative, in ways that feel equally organic and snazzy. His ostentatious style does, however, go overboard, especially as it thunders towards its ponderous conclusion. Luckily, a breezy little coda ultimately helps lighten the lead. Many aspects in the more horror-centered second half are quite obvious, hokey and predictable, which would be fine, except here, they are fashioned to seem shocking. Those who like Brian De Palma movies may enjoy all the homages (those body doubles and mirrors; knife slashes; that white-fitted trench (the eye-catching costuming is by (Odile Dicks-Mireaux)--a similar silhouette as in Dressed to Kill... or even a bit like Judith O'Dea's get-up in George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead (note, wriggling zombie ghosts will figure). There's, of course, with any of Wright's pictures, many popcorn movies referenced to chew on, but Wright certainly makes a singular vision realized with the framing (the film is shot with fervent flair by Chung-hoon Chung) and styling of Anya Taylor-Joy's look in particular--a compelling screen presence here for sure, and the perfect ghostly figure to haunt this picture. ***

-Jeffery Berg

just like it was before

New single, "Just Like It Was Before," from LUXXURY featuring Jill Lamoureux.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Friday, October 22, 2021

dune: part one

Denis Villeneuve's mammoth adaptation of just a sliver of Frank Herbert's multilayered, enduring Dune universe is full of tech wizardry, a bombastic, too on-the-nose Hans Zimmer score, and appealing actors. Akin to Lawrence of Arabia, it seamlessly zips between the miniature (sweat beads on a mouse-like creature's ears) and the vast (a rumbling, slithering sandworm), but overall, the movie feels as airless and dry as its monotonously beige and gray color palate and desert landscapes. It's difficult, however, to be critical of a current Hollywood film with such ambitious aims, not only in scale, but in cinematically re-working intelligent science fiction. It's also difficult to critique a film that feels incomplete, and is purposefully rendered as just a bite of a larger whole yet to be seen. 

Written Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, the script is shaped primarily by a somewhat rote hero's journey of Paul (Timothée Chalamet), son of a Duke (Oscar Isaac) from a militaristic society. Because the story seems so driven by interiority, by palace intrigue on the outskirts, we are left mostly with Paul to propel the baggy narrative forward. Intermittently, Paul has visions of crucial future incidents--especially those on the planet Arrakis. This planet, which is of more diverse racial make-up (the Fremen), is repeatedly ravaged for its vital spice resource (the allegory of this to contemporary times, and throughout the history of humankind, remains a resonant and salient aspect of this tale). I hungered for the perspectives of the intriguing Fremen tribe leader Stilgar (Javier Bardem and his throaty baritone) and the bewitching Chani (Zendaya), who Paul is transfixed by. It does help that the two main leads of the story are well-cast: Chalamet as the wiry, somewhat naïve, but curious, Paul and Rebecca Ferguson as his steely mother, Lady Jessica; both have compelling looks and demeanors. Yet, when there isn't a grand action sequence swirling, both actors have to resort to a lot of wooden posing and whispery line readings. While an important aspect of Paul's psyche, and also one of the reasons why he's able to advance through the story, his future visions add and pad the film's seemingly endless running time without further developing Paul as a character. 

In fact, the characters presented in this chapter are rather lifeless, dare I say "flavorless." Charlotte Rampling, as Gaius Helen Mohiam, weirdly makes an exception (interestingly while her face is almost completely shrouded in black lace), in a short scene that pops between her and Chalamet: a tense "game" / exchange ("Gom jabbar") with young Paul (I thought of a similar, "do not fear" scene in Phantasm). Afterwards, Mohiam tells him, "Like sifting sand through a screen, we sift people. If you had been unable to control your impulses, like an animal, we could not let you live. You inherit too much power." This is one the rare moments of the film where I felt a glimmer of emotional breakthrough, a sense of tension. Perhaps this is purposeful since it's a game to test Paul's humanity--where "humanity" and true fear has a chance to shine intensely for one too brief moment. And this clocks in barely before the thirty minute mark.

What's more interesting to me than Dune: Part One, the movie itself, is how Dune: Part One the movie fits in the current landscape of movies. Huge mainstream movies that may have gotten a peek at prestige festivals (Dune: Part One specifically to get some critics and audiences on board ahead of time) are now delivered simultaneously via the theater and studio streaming services. While this has been discussed by pundits and filmmakers (many with scorn), it continues, as the pandemic sadly wears on, to seem we are at a major turning point in motion picture culture. Also that Dune doesn't really feel like a film, but one gigantic miniseries (at the end, an angered patron near me leaped from his seat and said, "Are you fucking kidding me? That was like four chapters? I'm going to have to watch five or six of these damn movies!"). With spectacles, we've been groomed to expect a sequel or a batch of sequels, reboots and origin stories. As years go by, I feel like the appreciation of the "movie timeline" is evaporating--people and their money seem to be increasingly leaching on to long, drawn-out episodic series and franchises. As a movie lover and a lover of the medium of movies, and what it's able to fit in a determined runtime, I can't help but be somewhat discouraged by this direction. One wonders, will Dune: Part One be more impactful as a collection than this on its own as a first foray? So far, I was served so much muchness, and yet so little. ** 

-Jeffery Berg

Friday, October 15, 2021

Thursday, October 14, 2021


One of my favorite albums this year so far is Cassandra Jenkins' LP An Overview on Phenomenal Nature.

Here is a track, "Hailey (Premix)," which is part of a forthcoming collection of outtakes, demos, first takes, and more, (An Overview on) An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, due November 19th.

Current Track list:

1. Michelangelo (demo)

2. New Bikini first take)

3. Crosshairs (interlude)

4. Ms. Cassandra

5. American Spirits

6. Hailey (premix)

7. Ambiguous Norway (instrumental)

8. Hard Drive (security guard)

Preorder CD / Vinyl here.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

anybody's guess

Coco, featuring members of the Dirty Projectors, have released this mellow stunner "Anybody's Guess."

The band shares: “Anybody’s Guess” is the last song on our record, and serves as a summary of sorts. In general we were thinking less about traditional song form and more about creating a narrative arc through scene changes - a suite. The bassline melody that accompanies the “doot doot”s is worth pointing out because its origins were in some ways emblematic of the whole record’s approach - we all came up with our own basslines and stitched together the best bits from each one."

blue rose

Lovely live performance at Old Soul Studios in the Catskills of track, "Blue Rose" by Ryan Martin, off the album Wandercease.

"A blue rose doesn’t exist in nature; it represents the desire we feel for things that seem so beautiful and alluring but are actually illusions we conjure up in our minds. It was written about heroin but it could be anything – a relationship, possessions, social status. It was a favorite among the studio band and very much inspired by the music of Pat Hull, a songwriter I have loved and played around with since my earliest days in Chico back in 2007." –Ryan Martin

west end music

Dj Giac Bootlegs aka Giac the Lad does a nice job mashing up Pet Shop Boys with Madge.

ryan tagged

Not that I can afford TAG Heuer, but I am loving this Ryan Gosling as ambassador ad campaign. Photos are shot by Pari Dukovic.

Saturday, October 2, 2021