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Archive for July, 2009

This isn’t an official music vid but it’s got the band’s props nonetheless,
and why not? For people of a certain age (ie me) it brings back wonderful Hughesian memories. That Molly Ringwald sure could move… *sigh*

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Walking up the North Circular Road on Saturday evening, it was pretty apparent that, for the second night of three, love had come to town in droves. U2 gigs in Dublin’s fair city are always meant to be something else, the only shows on tour that fans will stream to from all over the world, vying for tickets with the homegrown masses whose pride for the Feckin’ Fab Four has never dwindled, and it would have been interesting to see what the home/away ratio was
in a packed-out Croke Park across the three nights. But when you’re on that perpetual job audition treadmill for best band in the world, it always stands to reason that a U2 Dublin show is both an international event and a homecoming celebration. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way I lost my party hat.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like U2. I do. I like them a lot. But, I don’t love them. Can’t say I ever have. And for a non-committed partner like me, Saturday night’s gig at Croke Park was a show that only a U2 lover – or maybe first-timer – could love: good in spots but an overall disappointment.

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Perhaps it’s the law of diminishing returns; this has been the 4th time I’ve seen them live, albeit over a period of 16 years, and I’ve gotta say that while
their massive “Claw” stage set is monstrously impressive, I just felt a lack of engagement throughout, both in sound and vision. Of course, that’s always
a risk when you’re sitting in the back end of the Davin Upper, but ever since
Zoo TV I’ve always come away from their shows sated by good showmanship,
good music, and a wonderful sideshow of visual spectacle to go with it all;
a dazzling, cutting-edge multimedia accompaniment to keep even those in
Row ZZZ enthralled. Occasional moments aside, the 360 Tour visuals didn’t really do it for me, and as for the band themselves? Well…

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No Line On The Horizon isn’t a bad album, but in the pantheon of U2’s output, it’s by no means a great one; I’d wager that only Moment Of Surrender and perhaps Magnificent will truly stand the test of time. To therefore open with four songs in a row from NLOTH (the forgettable duo of Breathe and the title track, the ludicrous Get On Your Boots and the aforementioned Magnificent) was therefore, as Bobby Womack once said, a helluva tester. For sure they were just warming up – and Bono’s vocals on Breathe were initially extremely muddy – but it certainly failed to rouse anyone outside the fabled Red Zone, and it was only Beautiful Day (a song forever ruined for me by its association with ITV’s woeful early-Noughties Premiership coverage) that really kicked things off.

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A decent Mysterious Ways kept the pot boiling, complete with a Dancing-In-
The-Dark-style fan grab from the front row for an equally self-conscious and delighted Chilean girl who managed the rare feat of rendering Bono temporarily tongue-tied with a request to come to his house. Then things picked up nicely with that stadium staple, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. By this stage, the signs were promising: Bono, The Edge and Adam all looked to be enjoying themselves, and Larry – finally starting to show some long-delayed signs of ageing – was keeping it all tight at the back.

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Then, somewhat of a lull: despite being generally well received, Angel Of Harlem came across as anodyne to me and was followed by the midtempo pairing of
In A Little While and Unknown Caller, another so-so NLOTH offering. When you feel the need to display the lyrics to a new song up on screen, karaoke-style,
it’s hardly the most ringing endorsement of your faith in its right to be on the setlist. It felt like the early momentum which had built so belatedly had dissipated and we were right back at square one. Thankfully, dusk had
given way to night by now, and the tapered cylindrical screen which loomed above the band, having so far only shown closeups of the guys on stage,
really started kicking into life, extending downwards and shimmering
with kaleidoscopic colours as the Edge teased out an extended intro to
The Unforgettable Fire. However, even this U2 classic seemed to ring flat, floating away on the air like gossamer.

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Things got back on track somewhat with a punchy City of Blinding Lights and Vertigo, and an entertaining video sequence of the band’s disembodied heads and hands clapping out an ‘avin it laaaaarge intro to I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight (yet another newie). Its uptempo, tribal rhythm lifted it a notch above the blandness of its album incarnation and paved the way for the triple whammy of Sunday Bloody Sunday, Pride and MLK – all admittedly brilliant.
Due to their heart-on-sleeve support of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi during Walk On, it felt more like a statement than a song, and the bleedin’ literal gesture of getting 40 or so people to – yep – walk on stage holding masks of her face was somewhat undermined by the occasional goon grinning out at the crowd from behind theirs.

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The international incidents keep coming with a Desmond Tutu interlude,
which seems to hint at a neat segue to One, but instead the Edge suckerpunches the crowd with the choppy intro to a somewhat constricted Where The Streets Have No Name, before they do play One, rounding the set off in an 80,000-strong mass singalong.

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Encore time brought a quick wardrobe and mic change for Bono –
an LED-studded leather jacket and “steering wheel” mic on a pole suspended from the Claw which he took great delight from swinging and hanging out of – and they were both to the fore during Ultraviolet, heralded by a bizarre
robotic vocal intro. This was followed by another congregational hymnal of
With Or Without You, and the last song of the night – the beautiful, stately, heartrending Moment Of Surrender. A cracking song, and a cracking rendition, but perhaps a strangely downbeat note on which to finish.

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So on this evidence, are they still the biggest band in the world? Undoubtedly. It felt like a mass religious gathering at times, with zealous fans in regular states of rapture, and even if close scrutiny shows that Bono can’t belt out
the choruses anymore, he’s got plenty of people on hand to do it for him.
On previous visits to the temple I’ve been caught up myself, but on Saturday night I have to say I walked home agnostic.

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I didn’t think anyone could ever top the unholy union of Barney & 2Pac,
but what do I know? Here’s a pair of kid’s TV/sweary hip-hop mashups
which I found on the wonderfully timewasty Unreality Magazine.
Neither are particularly SFW, unless your boss is a playa, in which case
crank that shit up yo…

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This guy’s scarier than Heath Ledger was…

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A little sidebar here to the Moon article:

I saw it in the Light House Cinema, my favourite cinema in Dublin for its space – I’d gladly hang out there for hours if it wouldn’t disturb the staff too much –
and for the little gems you can often find screening there.

However, being the city’s most deliberately focused arthouse cinema, it was a bit depressing to see two trailers for upcoming French movies – Mesrine: Death Instinct, starring Vincent Cassel as the eponymous gangster, and Coco Avant Chanel, starring Audrey Tatou as… well, you can guess. I wasn’t depressed because they were French, but because the trailers gave no inkling as to what language they were in at all. Lots of English on screen titles – “her inspiration was legendary…”, “his crimes shocked a nation…” etc, and lots of shots of
Vince striding round with a gun/Audrey peeking out from behind curtains etc
(you can probably guess which elements belong to which trailer),
but nobody actually utters a word in either trailer.

Now, the cynic in me wonders whether this is to make them palatable for a multiplex audience, to dupe them through the doors before nefariously revealing – ha-haaaa! – that they’re in a foreign language. I was reminded of the trailer for Dreamworks’ Sweeney Todd, which managed to sell it as another gothic Tim Burton movie with Johnny Depp on Cockney overdrive but without any hint whatsoever that it was also a musical. And fair enough, a large film corporation will slice a trailer any way they see fit to increase a niche movie’s demographic get as many bums on seats as possible. (Speaking of Depp,
I saw wildly different Public Enemies trailers in the cinema prior to its release, one very much cops’n’robbers fare and the other focusing on the love story element between his Dillinger and Marion Cotillard.)

But surely when running a trailer for an arthouse audience – and how much can it cost to edit demographic-specific ones as with the likes of Public Enemies – the fear shouldn’t be there that you’re selling something to a demographic who don’t mind the occasional bit of reading when they go to the cinema. Should it?

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Oh I say…

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Whoever coined the now-legendary tagline for Ridley Scott’s Alien had terror in mind when they wrote those infamous words, “In space, no-one can hear you scream.” But once you consider the solitary scenario of Moon’s protagonist Sam Bell – played with wonderful humanity by the great Sam Rockwell – and replace yelps of horror for howls of loneliness, frustration and boredom, it’s a sentiment that could equally be applied to Duncan Jones’ debut feature.

Sam has the type of job you hope pays extremely well: he’s two weeks away from completing a three-year-long night watchman’s stint on a lunar space station, of which he’s been the only inhabitant for the full duration.
Far from man decamping a dying earth to live on the moon, this future posits our favourite natural satellite as just another resource for the human race to plunder for fuel. The machines harvesting the surface for Helium-3 are completely automated, so save for the occasional jaunt in a spacebuggy to make sure everything’s hunky-dory out on the farm, Sam spends his days cloistered in the white-panelled confines of his base trying to keep it together, with any other human faces and voices in his life held tantalisingly out of reach on a monitor screen.

Even at that, actually talking to people is a no-no; poor network coverage (some things never change) has rendered any direct comms with Earth impossible, so he has to rely on pre-recorded updates from his superiors in
the Lunar Industries corporation and the occasional missive from his wife and daughter. His only nominal companionship comes from mundane interactions with the base’s robot, GERTY, who converses with, cares for and advises Sam in the same unnervingly placid tones throughout, with only a smiley face emoticon to indicate his feelings on matters. It’s almost like listening to Kevin Spacey. Hang on a minute, it is Kevin Spacey…

With the end of his shift in sight, Sam seems to be stumbling towards the finish line, suffering nightmares, hallucinations and a gnawing sense of paranoia, which GERTY’s soporific reassurances do nothing to dissipate. (Mind you,
if I had Kevin Spacey telling me everything was fine, I’d get paranoid too.) Matters come to a head when a distracted Sam causes some damage to one of the harvesters and, contravening orders from head office, goes back out to fix it himself. What he finds out there sends things spinning off on an entirely different orbit…

Although it undeniably plays its hand too early – proceedings could have definitely done with a longer thread of suspense – Moon still offers plenty
to enjoy and to get one’s head around. Jones obviously grew up on ‘70s and ‘80s “blue-collar” sci-fi like Silent Running, Dark Star, Outland and, indeed,
the aforementioned Alien, where the various characters were all space pioneers just getting on with their jobs, sacrificing their own quality of life for the greater good of humanity and/or a decent payslip. It’s a vibe he’s recreated here,
and affectionate homage to that particular strain of classic sci-fi is stylistically and visually paid throughout. Indeed, whether deliberately or through low-budget necessity, the whole thing – right down to the pleasingly retro use of vehicle models rather than CGI – feels like it could actually have been in cryogenic storage for decades.

As Sam Bell, Rockwell is fantastic, portraying a man who’s grown desperate for even the simplest of human interactions – a conversation, a handshake – with a wonderful poignancy throughout. As the only performer who’s actually up there in front of us, he’s by turn optimistic, melancholy, funny, confused, anguished and angry. How very human.

Spacey, for his part, brings obvious tones of 2001’s HAL to his vocal duties,
his perpetually emotionless tones and reassurances that he is there to look after Sam hinting at deeper motives or directives within. A small supporting cast are seen via video, although fans of The IT Crowd and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace may find it hard to take Matt Berry seriously when he shows up as one of Lunar Industries’ blithely chipper suits. And while it never quite escapes the trap of making you feel like you’ve seen this sort of thing before, Moon still serves up a slice of intelligent science fiction in the truest sense of the genre, showing us an extremely plausible glimpse of the tribulations certain ordinary Joes will have to endure in the years to come, all on behalf of the rest of humanity.

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