Thursday 25 May 2023

Rush In Rio

Remember the bad old days of music on VHS, when most videoed concerts ran for a standard TV-show length of 45 minutes? If you were lucky, a premier band released 75 minutes worth, but that was rare. Canadian trio Rush always provided far better value for money than most of their rivals (not that I think they have any equals). Their previous live video, the remarkable A Show Of Hands (1988), filmed over two nights at Birmingham’s NEC, plays for 90 minutes.

This is the first DVD from Rush and, despite various production difficulties including the band’s lack of prep time for a pro sound-check, it’s an amazing film. Shot with 22 cameras in Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium, this venue sees Rush performing for a 40,000-strong audience on 23rd November 2002.

Neil Peart - the Professor

Starting with Tom Sawyer, the band recycles other 1980s’ tracks such as New World Man, before launching into new material like Earthshine. Unlike many progressive-rock bands, Rush play artfully composed instrumentals - including their momentous YYZ - without any danger of appearing self-indulgent, because such works maintain their commitment to creativity and musicianship. The Pass is introduced as one of the band’s own favourites, and it’s followed by Big Money and The Trees, with lyrics that comment on capitalism and politics. Closer To The Heart was a late addition to this tour’s set-list, especially for the Brazilian audiences, because Rush discovered it was the most popular of their songs, down south. The often-neglected Natural Science precedes a brief intermission, but the band return to the stage in spectacular fashion with a cartoon dragon on the main projection screen, perfectly synchronised to physical fire effects to mark the beginning of One Little Victory.

The second half of the show continues with more songs from the latest album, and their live versions of Ghost Rider and Secret Touch are even more energetic than the studio tracks. Dreamline and the brooding Red Sector ‘A’ segue into the main instrumental section of the show, which includes Neil Peart’s awesome solo O Baterista, an impressive piece that aims to present a narrative of drumming and drums. Rush have pointedly ignored rock stars’ vogue for ‘unplugged’ versions of their songs, but here we find Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson sitting down with acoustic guitars for a folksy arrangement of protest-song Resist, which does at least give Peart a break from the circular array of his revolving drum kit.

Geddy Lee

It’s mostly older material from then on, with the powerhouse ‘Overture’ from 2112, a livewire rendition of The Spirit Of Radio (still, I think, Rush’s most successful 45-rpm single), a medley of By-Tor And The Snowdog with Cygnus X-1 (only the intro), in an encore that closes with Working Man - a track from their very first album.

Alex Lifeson

At nearly three hours, RUSH IN RIO (2003) offers magnificent entertainment, complete with Peart’s frankly staggering variety of percussive beats, Lifeson’s hilarious warbling rant about jazz, and there’s also Lee’s unusual stage-decor of laundry machines. If your musical tastes include anything by Led Zeppelin, Rush  are regarded as leaders of the next generation of innovative rock acts. Diehard fans will not be disappointed.

An extras disc features Andrew MacNaughton’s excellent documentary The Boys In Brazil (54 minutes), which details the planning and execution of Rush’s first ever visit to Brazil for the tour’s last three dates (all stadium shows) with the 60,000 crowd in San Paulo being the largest audience Rush have ever played to as a headline act.

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Tolkien 3

Peter Jackson’s epic ‘Tolkien trilogy’ revolutionised fantasy movies, starting with The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001), followed by The Two Towers (2002), and this closing chapter, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003). For this great Middle-earth saga to work on-screen, with original cinema versions and the full set of ‘extended editions’ many liberties were reportedly taken with JRR’s texts. As I have not read those books, my view of what’s widely acclaimed as the ultimate form of literature in its genre, and this adaptation, remains limited to an SF interpretation of the grandiose spectacle as a legend about disarmament. 


It’s a triumph of genuinely noble wisdom over madness, and details valiant efforts to avert the possibility of catastrophic warfare simply by disposal of the doomsday weapon. Since the One Ring can only be un-made in the fires of Mordor, we can see this notion of a meltdown destruction putting an end to such 'evil', and so the ring becomes a prime WMD example. This notion is reflected in varied sci-fi works but, perhaps most tellingly, with the annihilation of the cyborg stealth weapon, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), that saves the future for humanity.


Despite its glorification of warfare, referencing the crusades (as ‘halflings’ can be read as children), here, somewhat perversely, even the long dead are called upon to fight as ghosts. Whatever your views, this remains action cinema of repeatedly astonishing displays when levels of magical threat expands from shire (village), to fortress (city), to realm (the world). There are many grotesque fantasy horrors in Middle-earth's journey, but I always found that Shelob the giant spider is the most nightmare-inducing creature of them all. As for this movie's protracted string of awkwardly sentimental endings, I think Jackson’s ROTK should have shown the newly crowned monarch, with elf royalty, and other people, bowing to the heroic hobbits... and then a fade to black. That would have been a more sensible as the final scene.

Tuesday 23 May 2023

Demonlover

What begins as a routinely credible intriguer about industrial espionage stealthily but relentlessly develops into a meditation upon and an expose of the disturbing and complex roles that sex with violence play in global corporate media markets. DEMONLOVER (2002) by Olivier Assayas, maker of stylised French comedy-drama Irma Vep (1996), delivers his very best movie, so far. It’s one of this century’s new classics and an often dazzling picture that’s the most underrated Euro-Asian psychological thriller of its decade. 


Despite some quite adverse critical reactions, Assayas' extraordinarily perceptive character-studies of women in control, and women being controlled, overcomes initially baffled reservations about its lack of obvious narrative logic, especially on repeat viewings. With the fascinating central performances, by Connie Nielsen, Chloe Sevigny, and Gina Gershon, there is executive rivalry for management promotions on a brokered virtuality project for securing a world monopoly on ‘adults only’ anime. Cold ambitions are stymied by romantic entanglements and office politics. Cat-burglar exploits result in a clumsy murder and subsequent cover-up, but more answers than questions about frequently bewildering crimes when conventional plotting segues, quite inexplicably, into resolutely horrific surrealism. Assayas’ deeply tragicomic leanings are startling in both aspect and affect.


Demonlover defies expectations and dramatic standards by providing no comforting explanations for those in need of reassurance that the heroine will escape, or at least survive. After upsetting all the ‘wrong’ people by hacking into the forbidden ‘Hellfire Club’ website, the unwary thief is kidnapped for (perversely, off-screen) a systematic ordeal of drug abuse and torture, later thoroughly broken by sadomasochistic experience when she returns to work, at an office now run by a mysterious assistant.


Palpable fetishistic eroticism follows during nightmares of gamely fighting a way out of anomalous captivity. Is this just another weirdo activity in a cyber-sexy damnation trial? Glossily mesmeric and peculiarly anonymous, eager to jettison its rationality, while counter-balancing everyday mundanity with an exotic glamour of hyper-fast edits of intoxicating imagery, Demonlover might appear annoyingly imprecise, yet it's overloaded with tantalising subtexts. It’s ironic, as a recklessly unfocussed critique of sociopathic corporations, and a headlong ride into garishly wondrous oblivion. This is essential viewing for anyone who enjoyed Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), and eXistenZ (1999), or Wenders’ superbly enigmatic Until The End Of The World (1991). 

Monday 22 May 2023

Adaptation

Written by Charlie Kaufman, directed by Spike Jonze, and with an excellent dual-role for Nicolas Cage, portraying Charlie and his twin Donald, comedy-drama ADAPTATION (2002) offers an offbeat deconstruction and meta-dissection of screenwriting and the nature of making movies. 


It boasts outstanding support from Meryl Streep, Tilda Swinton, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, with Brian Cox as story-maven Robert McKee, plus endearing cameo appearances for studio flashbacks about Jonze’s classic Being John Malkovich (1999). Prompted by a case of writer’s block, this is bursting with searing pathos for profoundly creative struggles, while attempting to turn literary art-forms into something more commercial.

But “..what if the writer is attempting to create a story where nothing much happens?” It never succumbs to entirely maudlin sentiment or gentle whimsy, but explores with a fascinating wit, various models of documentary realism, bizarre fantasy, and almost everything between such polarised opposites. This peculiarly amusing satire remains essential viewing for any keen fans of genuinely innovative cinema.

Sunday 21 May 2023

Mulholland Drive

Noir desires collide with a sleepwalking detective-story while this mind-bending narrative unfolds with archly trickster mendacity. David Lynch’s MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001) seems to be classic movie-making by happy accident. Much like Richard Kelly’s cult-worthy Donnie Darko (also 2001), this deals out its death cheating hands of marked cards, open to interpretations of romanticised fate that perhaps tolerates no rational explanation. 

Watching it is to just wonder why this puzzler exists at all. Elements from the auteur’s previous work drift into view, every now and then, so looking for visual expressionist references or thematic riffs on Twin Peaks (1990), and Lost Highway (1997), should be a sport you wish to play. Was Inland Empire (2006) supposed to be clarification?

Classification resistant and impossible to pigeon-hole, this mystery about murder and identity on the border of sanity abandons logic but not hope, in a convoluted fairytale that hinges upon Lynch’s apparent fascination with Jungian psychology.

Effortlessly blending dreams with harsh realities the artist’s ingenuity is utterly beguiling, as paired female characters switch from emotional transparency to morally opaque destiny in this dark realm charting the mechanics of creating films, and the overpowering quest for bright transcendental metaphors, whether its director thinks they are revelations or simple illusions. Who really cares what he thought, anyway? 

The Dr is in...