Eddie the Eagle
Everyone knows and loves Eddie the Eagle, the plucky Brit who took to ski-jumping in his quest for Olympic glory, cheerfully acknowledging his lack of talent and piercing the pomposity of professional athleticism along the way. This film was fairly inevitable then, but it cheered me up no end to see it done so well, with a semi-professionalism worthy of the man himself. The CGI is often woeful, guest stars turn up for no particular reason, and the soundtrack is so painfully obvious it’s laughable (‘Jump’ by Van Halen plays over the finale); but in the context of the plot about a plucky amateur, these issues in fact become rather endearing. The commitment and humour brought to the title role by a fresh-faced Taron Egerton helps matters enormously, and if Hugh Jackman’s role as an alcoholic coulda-been-a-contender type coach is a painful cliché (critics have been quick to point out that his character is a complete fiction), he sure makes you forget about it. So Eddie the Eagle is British to the core, right down to its suspicion for sex and foreigners (these naturally provide much of the humour). It wants you to leave the cinema grinning so badly, at one point it even has a montage of people grinning. If you don’t find that endearing and loveable, perhaps you’re just not British enough for this; maybe it’s just not your cup of tea.
A sci-fi film about a child with telekinetic abilities, aliens watching us from above, and a government conspiracy to cover it all up. These might sound like familiar tropes, and that’s because they are; Midnight Special is intended as a pastiche compendium of Spielberg films, particularly Close Encounters and E.T. Those films had a rare magic, a sense of wonder at the infinite possibilities of the universe, and touchingly realised that looking up into the stars makes children of all of us. Midnight Special never reaches those giddy heights, primarily because its visual sense is not half as awe-inspiring. Furthermore, the characters are shamefully undeveloped; we never really get a sense of the child, named Alton, as a child. We don’t see the world through his eyes and sense his vulnerability as we would in a Spielberg film, which leaves the finale feeling rather cold when it should be inspiring and filled with wonder. This is a shame, because Jeff Nichols is one of the most promising young directors in America, with his earlier film Take Shelter in particular combining fantasy and drama in a uniquely foreboding manner. Here he unfortunately wastes good actors and an interesting premise. Nichols has another film, Loving, coming out later this year, about a civil rights court case; let’s hope he doesn’t squander this next opportunity to showcase his talents.
ANTI – Rihanna
Rihanna’s appeal has only ever struck me intermittently before; I just can’t get enough of such aural treats as ‘Disturbia’, ‘Take a Bow,’ ‘Rude Boy’ and especially the magnificent ‘Umbrella’, but her albums have never moved me in the same way. Great album cuts are few and far between, making her oeuvre rather difficult to work through. This has all changed with ANTI, in which she considerably ups the ante. From the bouncy opener to the heartfelt ‘Kiss it Better’ to the fragmented ‘Woo’, this is easily her most consistent and melodically inventive collection of tunes. Her stern voice has always commanded attention, but rarely has she shown the humour displayed in the nonsensical vocalisations of ‘Work’, much less the emotional resonance of the unrestrained doo wop outburst ‘Love on the Brain’, which I thought was her finest performance to date until ‘Higher’ took it much, much higher. Overall it’s a commanding and complex performance, her first album worth hearing start to finish; but it’s not perfect, with a lame Tame Impala cover chiefly to blame for sapping some of the energy out of its overall drive. Still, the beautiful piano-driven closer just about makes up for it.
Updated 05/12/16 (prev. 4 stars): The album I’ve listened to the most this year.
Human Performance – Parquet Courts
Ostensibly a punk band, Parquet Courts have frequently proven themselves anything but. It’s not that they play around with longform jams or dip into various musical genres from country to blues to even rap (check out their greatest track so far, ‘He’s Seeing Paths’), as punk is a type of music which has always welcomed the inclusion of multiple genres. It’s that their aesthetic is essentially removed from punk: like their clear forebears and key influence The Velvet Underground, they like to switch it up between the hard and the soft stuff, revelling in the low-key melancholy of ‘Steady on my Mind’ and the sweet mellotrons of the title track as much as they do the hoarse, blistering guitar attack of ‘Two Dead Cops’. Certainly their music contains distinct echos of American hardcore bands (long) past, such as Pavement, Minutemen and Hüsker Dü, but like any decent group these comparisons don’t quite do justice to a sound which is distinctly their own. And lyrically they certainly stand out, turning the mundane into the surreal and somewhat amusing: ‘Dust is everyhere/Sweep!’ they repeat gleefully throughout the opener. Fractured and inconsistent this record may be; but it’s still their most humane performance to date.