Friday, 22 July 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Bombay Bicycle Club’s “Shuffle”

Bombay Bicycle Club's sophomore album Flaws was my favourite record last year. Since their so-so debut I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose, the band has released a new album every year, with their third LP A Different Kind of Fix scheduled for release on 29th August 2011.

The first single from A Different Kind of Fix is titled Shuffle and sounds different to the gorgeous acoustic folk sounds they developed in Flaws. It's a sprightly track, more fitting to a band of English kids who are barely into their twenties.

What's less pleasing is the lacklustre music video they've put out today to accompany the song. Bombay Bicycle Club is signed to the world's biggest record label, Universal Music, so money can't be an issue.

Like seriously, is this the best Britain can do when it comes to releasing music videos for white guys with guitars?  (Okay, Suren de Saram is not white, but for the sake of argument, let's just say he is.)

Didn't we as a nation practically invent the music video phenomena, releasing quality output to feed an incipient American cable network called MTV? Were not we the country that turned music videos into an art form? Where did it all go so wrong?

For what it's worth, here's the video. Just close your eyes, avoid the images, enjoy.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

-Music Videos on my Mind- Free Energy’s “Bang Pop”

Yes, I am aware this video came out over 18 months ago. Yes, I am aware that the actors playing adolescent students are 10 years too old to be in high school. Yes, I am aware that if Free Energy were still in high school they'd probably get the shit kicked out of them for looking like extras from The Hills Have Eyes.

But I'm still going to blog about it.

The American high school experience seems like such a glamorous affair compared to the dour comprehensive educational ordeal most of us British citizens had to endure. (No Hogwarts where I come from.)

Directed Josh Nussbaum and produced by Ben Nabors, Bang Pop sits comfortably with classic American high school themed music videos like Nada Surf's Popular and Deftones Back to School.

The video is equal parts homage and piss-take of an experience some of us have to piece together from the US movies and television shows we've seen. For those of you who lived through the American high school experience I'm sure you'll tell me it was more like surviving a gruelling drive-by.


Thursday, 7 July 2011

A Freudian Slip

Ikea Knightley... sorry, Keira Knightley, is set to play the titular Anna Karenina in Joe Wright's adaptation Leo Tolstoy's beloved tome.

Having neither read the book nor watched any of the previous movie adaptations of Anna Karenina, I can't really present anything resembling critical analysis of Wright's casting of Keira Knightley in the lead role. However, I have seen enough of Keira's films to say that she can't really act. In fact, I'd say she's pretty poor at acting.

Keira is a pretty lass, that is if you have a penchant for skinny white girls with the body of a 10 year old boy.

Keira is also rather well spoken, which for American audiences often translates into having extraordinary performance skills. (Legendary film critic Pauline Kael once famously said: "The English can write and they can act, or at least speak beautifully, which is enough to cripple us [Americans] with admiration.")

Keira epitomises everything that's wrong with movie-stardom, and that is because she has managed carve out a successful career without having the core skills to justify the praise and adoration she's received in the past for many of her acting roles.

Keira's starred in a lot of films now. She's played everything from a soccer player to a hitgirl. She's featured in tentpole summer blockbusters that played to masses and in arthouse cerebral films that played only to her mother. Despite the varied range of films she's starred in there is one overriding common denominator that binds nearly all of her acting roles and that is she has always played a posh English girl in every performance she's given.

There were some exceptions. Keira's breakout role was in Bend it like Beckham, in which Keira was required to play an upper working-class soccer obsessed tomboy from Hounslow in West London. It was a performance that was viewed with suspicion as there was a fundamental flaw of her not being able to portray the mannerisms of a 'commoner' (which is what 99% of British girls are). This meant that some questioned why she had been cast.

Unfortunately the overwhelming response to Keira's performance in Bend it like Beckham was irrationally positive, so much so that poor Parminder Nagra, who had been cast in the lead role of Asian soccer ace Jesminder "Jess" Bhamra, had to unfairly settle for second fiddle because Keira had stolen much of the celebrity limelight. Whereas Keira, according to Forbes, became the second highest paid actress in Hollywood having reportedly earned $32 million, Parminder Nagra went on to comparatively modest success despite giving a better performance in the same film. Nargra's major claim to fame was a reoccurring part of an Asian doctor on ER (a real stretch of imagination there).

As not to kill her career too early, Keira wisely chose to stick to roles that didn't demand too much range. She eventually got cocky and tried to don a piss-poor American accent in John Maybury's dull 2005 psychological thriller The Jacket. It didn't work.

Keira went back to doing posh English girl parts in a series of undemanding roles for which she bizarrely drew great praise. She garnered a Best Actress Oscar nomination for playing Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice and was later nominated for a BAFTA for her showy performance in Atonement.

The subsequent positivity generated for her film work meant that Keira foolishly thought she had become a truly good actress and she gingerly stepped on to the West End stage in Molière's The Misanthrope. The gamble largely failed to pay off, with The Guardian stating that the nature of Keira's undemanding role meant she was "not unduly stretched". The Daily Mail went one better, describing her acting as "little better than adequate".

Having learnt her lesson on the stage, Keira decided to stick to what she's "good at". She came back to cinema, only this time eschewing soulless blockbusters and instead choosing to exclusively star in serious projects helmed by distinguished filmmakers.

Last month saw the unspooling of David Cronenberg's trailer for his period thriller A Dangerous Method which dramatises the turbulent relationships between fledgling psychiatrists Carl Jung and his mentor Sigmund Freud, with Ikea Knightley playing Sabina Spielrein, the beautifully troubled young woman who comes between them.

The Dangerous Method trailer looks pretty swish and assuredly presented, that is until you witness clips of Ikea―apologies―Keira, overacting her bollocks off and talking with an embarrassingly ersatz Russian accent that may only end up convincing the Americans of her poised performance skills... the very people who decide the Oscar nominations. (Click here to be amazed by Keira's histrionic Soviet pronunciations.)

It looks like Keira is fairly sure that she's a shoo-in for positive plaudits now that she's acted in a Cronenberg film, hence why she'll next appear alongside Steve Carrell in a kooky comedy called Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, in which she plays Penny, a girl who puts a wrench in her neighbour's plans to reunite with his high school sweetheart when he discovers a giant asteroid will end the world and everyone on it. (Lord, please don't let her feign another cringe-inducing American accent.)

There may be some people reading this post getting angry at my vilification of Ikea (Jesus, I can't stop doing that) Knightley and will say she's a darn good actress with incredible range. Those very people will say that although Keira stumbled in certain roles, she has always been committed to her craft. That may be a noble gesture but it doesn't make it right. Keira was never a struggling actor who clawed her way out of the gutter. Rather more, she's from a privileged position being the daughter of Sharman MacDonald, an award-winning playwright, and Will Knightley, a theatre and television actor. Her parents used their media contacts to secure the services of a top talent agent to do the legwork their daughter's acting talents could not muster independently.

Ikea is adamant on proving herself a serious actress and not just a big film star. That's dandy, but there are strong signals suggesting illusions of grandeur on her part. This wooden skilled performer is once again returning to the stage in The Children's Hour to have another crack at proving her critics wrong. Ikea's critics often suggest she is nothing more than a pretty face, which led her to tell Elle magazine: "I always feel like I'm the one with everything to prove".

She's right on that one, but so far I'm not convinced she's got what it takes.

The truth is that Ikea has received a number of award nominations for both her film and stage work, but I will argue that that has more to do with organisers wanting famous celebrities to its festoon glitzy award ceremonies rather than any warranted recognition of her talents. (After all, that's why Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp were nominated for Golden Globes for their substandard turns in last year's The Tourist).

Just to hammer home my Swedish furniture metaphor one last time: goods bought from Ikea are affordably unspectacular items.

Acting roles given by Ikea Knightley are an expensive version of the same thing.