The F*cking Aces Films of 2017

This is not a list of my personal favourite films of 2017 (That list is coming, not that it matters). But because there’s always more films than you can possibly justify putting into one list, and we like to be positive around here, these are the ones that I’ll still defend and champion a year from now. Whatever their flaws, their quirks and ambitions more than make up for it. 2017 was the year I learned to completely own my tastes, and to be more forgiving of flaws where I’d find them.

Tramps

Tramps

A film sadly destined to be buried in the avalanche of Netflix’s mostly disposable-to-terrible original* films, Tramps is an updated screwball comedy, refocused on the working classes who’d actually have to struggle with the consequential actions of the casts of genre classics such as Bringing Up Baby. It has all the laidback mood you’d expect from kitchen-sink budget indies, and that thematic thread is exceptionally well drawn without making the remotest fuss. The basic premise? When his brother lands in jail, Danny (Callum Turner) has to pick-up a briefcase and drop it off. But he screws it up, and so he and his one contact Ellie (Grace Van Patten) head upstate in search of the woman he gave it to. It’s winsome, sincere, and Van Patten and Turner have excellent chemistry; Tramps is full of the subtle onrush of falling for someone, suddenly.

*read: We bought this when we saw it at Sundance and decided to just not tell anybody.

 

Silence

SilenceMartin Scorcese doesn’t make movies that aren’t worth watching. It’s never a good sign if a film is released on New Year’s Day, as it’s usually forgotten by the end. Yet Silence is a meaty and gorgeously understated (and absolutely gorgeous) exploration of faith. There are no easy answers, only questions, and the more you learn about the story (hey, Portuguese Apostate Liam Neeson:  believing that no new faith can take root in Japan is a little ironic since Buddhism originated in India) the muddier the waters get. It’s an undertaking and a half to watch, but mesmerising and impossible to turn away from. Never sleep on Scorcese.

 

Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde

Guys, spy movies are historically the silliest things in the world. There are multiple, highly lucrative franchises about male power fantasies swanning through Europe, blowing things up, jumping from ridiculous heights, and beating up failing Western rule in critical self-flagellation (hello Jason Bourne!). Atomic Blonde leans into the silliness: it has a Berlin club lighting palette, a gleefully on-the-nose soundtrack, James McAvoy giving his second hammiest performance this year, and of course multiple all-too-clever scenes where opposing characters know something they think the other doesn’t know, or maybe they do, but we’re sure the hero will make it out alive. Meanwhile, Charlize Theron gifts us another ass-kicking, genre-elevating performance through multiple scenes of hardcore punishment, all setting a new standard for hand-to-hand combat in American action filmmaking. If 30% more summer films were this cool and honest, we’d all be happier.

 

The Beguiled

The Beguiled

You could fill a 100 pages with shots of sunlit weeping willows and candlelit murder dinners from The Beguiled. It’s sexy, propulsive, full of note-perfect performances, and overflowing with tension. Colin Farrell is in a groove of rocking the older seductor vibe, but proves here that such an artifice of politeness can be used to hide as much weakness as it did manipulation in Fantastic Beasts. Special mention too, in a stacked female cast, to breakout Oona Laurence.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth

Speaking of gorgeous movies about women dealing with the physical and figurative structures trapping them. Lady Macbeth is so mean it makes The Beguiled look like 10

Things I Hate About You. Florence Pugh’s performance is simply sensational, with her methodical, hyper-internal Katherine drawing the much more open performances into her orbit, before this sympathetic woman turns savage. I can’t wait to revisit the heart-stoppingly cruel third-act so I can read all the different ways throughout that Pugh plays the simple image of Katherine sitting or standing with her hands clasped over impeccable dresses, her china-doll face belying an impossible iron will.

 

Kong Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island

I’d have this on any list about 2017 just to celebrate director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ vicious takedown of CinemaSins, and subsequent self-deprecating appearance on Honest Trailers. It helps that Kong: Skull Island, subtle though it isn’t with its inspirations, is one of the most gorgeous blockbusters this decade. The images of a giant ape using a boat propeller to beat up a skeletal cavern-crawling beastie, or using a helicopter to smash other helicopters, or watching those same crawlers munch on our party of expendable heroes in the midst of a green fog graveyard. Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask, with a katana, slicing up lil’ pterodactyls? Yeah, this movie fucking rules. Kong: Skull Island only makes sense in the cinema, and you can ask no more from a giant monster movie.

 

Their Finest

Their Finest

Spoilers

This is exactly what you think it is, but a lot better in the execution. A warm, playful, feminist-leaning nostalgic comedy about making movies in wartime Britain, with Bill Nighy? How could it possibly surprise you? Well Their Finest proves to be made of steel with a development that recontextualises the characters efforts to make a movie that inspires people: whilst on set after a bombing raid, writer Buckley (Sam Claflin) dies in a freak accident, the very second after he and writing partner Catrin (Gemma Arterton) finally confessed their mutual love. Suddenly, this warm film about making movies to lift spirits and mobilise people shows you what has been building the entire time: the movies are not enough. They can comfort, as Catrin finds out herself, but what really matters is showing up and doing the work. It’s a bold, cruel choice on the part of write Gaby Chiappe and director Lone Scherfig, but it’s what makes Their Finest significantly more memorable than its appearance.

 

 

Alien Covenant

Alien: Covenant

H.R. Giger’s creation is still the most terrifying movie creature in existence. But Ridley Scott, not content with adding to the species roster with the infinitely nasty Neomorph, makes Michael Fassbender’s David the hero of his own nihilistic, genocidal story. Characters and cardboard cutouts drop like flies here, and Scott’s having a blast using them to get inside the head of possibly the most exciting and disarming AI since Roy Batty. Sporting killer horror and action sequences, and the ever-valuable Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup, Alien: Covenant is a gleeful Frankenstein melding of classic schlock and pretentious divergence.

 

A Cure For Wellness

Cure For Wellness

 

It’s been a year of great horror movies big and small, and the most exciting thing about it is how many times a studio-backed film with an insanely high budget swung hard for the fences, when it came to scares and subtext. And perhaps no film (except mother!) swung with more mania than A Cure For Wellness. Wonkily structured it may be (the batshit insane third act climax is actually somewhere in the fourth act), and barely bothering to hide the “in-plain-sight” danger by casting Jason Isaacs (with a none-more menacingly hammy performance), it’s nonetheless a riot of big, trippy spectacle, haunting sound and production design, and themes of decaying morality, amidst characters trying to live forever.

 

 

Valerian And The City Of A Thousand PlanetsValerian & The City Of A Thousand Planets

I’ve already written at length about why this rules, so in short: this was the biggest sugar rush of the summer blockbuster season. Sometimes overwhelming, often very silly and eye-rollingly hard to stomach, but it’ll also fill you with a giddy buzz unlike anything else this year.

 

Happy Death Day

Happy Death Day

Ditto in the case of this hyper crowd-pleasing slasher. Jessica Rothe is a star, and I’m going to remember the split-diopter shot and the baseball death transition for a long time, for their sheer visual fun. They’re not even close to all the moments director Christopher Landon makes a neatly premised slasher so much more original.

 

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Interview: Pale Waves

This article was first published to The National Student on 18th December 2017

Remarkably, considering how inscrutable their cultural presence is, Pale Waves sold out their first headline tour.

Everything, from their interviews, to the two songs with black space artwork available in October, and their all-business social media presence, is small and unassuming.

Besides their background (singer-guitarist Heather and drummer Ciara met in 2014 while studying at the University of Manchester, soon connecting with bassist Charlie and guitarist Hugo), the most frequently discussed aspect about them is their relationship with The 1975, one of the most assuming bands of the decade. So how did they feel about that so consistently discussed link?

It’s because of who they are. They’ve only produced two tracks and we’ve gone on tour with them, it’s not like we’re a different part of their band” said Heather, with matter-of-fact resignation. “Because The 1975 are so popular, people wanna mention it all the time. If we worked with someone else for two tracks, why would it be such a big deal?

Ciara, with telepathic timing, added “we don’t resent it, we love those guys. It’s just that when people give us criticism for kind of leeching on them-” before Heather takes over: “that was never anyone’s intentions. We just love them, and they love us, and we wanted to make some art together.”

Our EP is finished basically, it’s just being mixed, we’ve recorded all of it. And we’ve wrote like half of our album” said Ciara, answering the hanging question of when that art’s coming. “We’re going to release our album next year fingers crossed, we just need it to be perfect. We’re not going to wait too long, because it’s in quite high demand. Somehow!

Given their stint in America, their own headline tour, and the downtime in-between, they must have found inspiration for dozens of songs. How would they choose what went onto the album?

I like watching a band grow, watching the music develop and change” Heather tells me. She continues, “obviously when you write a song you get really excited about it, and so you want it to be everywhere-”, before Ciara cuts in “-But if you hold onto those songs that you think are better than the old ones, wait until the second album ‘cause then you see progression and better writing.” It’s important that they show who they were when they started, as well as where they are now.

This self-awareness comes out on multiple topics: one is what advice they’d give to students who wanted to start a band. “Don’t rush anything figure out what you want to do, how you want to be seen. And just spend the time on getting it right” Heather tells me, getting straight to a principle that appears to consume Pale Waves: managing expectations.

So why next to no interactions with fans or idols on their twitter page? Why only announcements and PR pictures. “I like mystery, I don’t like it when people know every single thing about you” answers Heather.

They know a lot about us just through our music… I don’t feel like you have to create conversation with every single person, because when someone goes to your profile, all they see is this conversation, and you’re not instantly impacted by what they look like or by what they’re doing.

It’s a rare position on social media to see a new band take – instead of showing delight at the creator-audience relationship it creates, they’re concerned. Not that they begrudge it: they would rather “connect with people in real life-”,says Ciara, before Heather finishes that new train of thought “- [it’s] a big thing for us, like we love it. Every night when we can go out we just will, and talk to them”.

Heather and Ciara seem uniquely observant. When asked about how their listening habits stretch beyond their obvious affinity for 80s music (“It’s the best decade for music”), Ciara launches into a passionate defence of listening in general:

If you listen to a variety of music, you’ll be so much more creative. ‘You could listen to people talking on a tube, or you could watch a film, and get inspired by anything. You can get inspired by the door making a noise… People have ears but sometimes they don’t use them…[To] actually take things in that could really be useful to you, not even in the music industry, just in everyday life.

Since discussing music, even with musicians, is often esoteric or repetitive, how would they feel if asked about politics. It comes up often in interviews discussions with many artist, but usually only with those that write songs about it.

Heather hesitantly began “Yeah like… we try… we’re here to talk about the music more than other sort of issues really.” before Ciara took over animatedly: “Stuff like “Labour” and “Conservative”, stuff like that I would not be interested in talking about, because I’m more interested in society, and how people treat each other, and the way people are viewed. Because, to me. that’s more personal, and we really care about that, especially being girls in the music industry.

As if summing up, Heather added “We wouldn’t bring up politics if we wasn’t asked.” Which is fair – as they quickly confess, people don’t ask them those questions. Maybe because they don’t expect answers – despite the chips on his shoulder, nobody asks Ed Sheeran about his thoughts on taxes. With Pale Waves, their strength in emotional observation hasn’t transferred into anything fiercely political. Even when it feels increasingly vital to have a stance, stating their politics makes an artist stand out. Despite their distinctive gothic-grunge make up (black hair, bright eyes), neither Heather and Ciara are completely comfortable with being seen.

We don’t wanna give it all away live, and all away on social media” Heather told me. “We’re quite restricted people.

People should listen when they start talking more. Their earlier inscrutability won’t last, once debut EPs and albums are behind them. But that won’t have been a marketing choice; the heady youth in their music is being written by canny adults full of empathy, and fresh perspective on their own origins.

My Best Albums of 2017

This article was first published to The National Student on 30th November 2017

Unintentionally, not a single artist on my list is from Britain. And only one is from outside of North America.

It’s a reflection perhaps, of how consumed my anxieties and anger has been by the age of President Trump, that I’ve also simply chosen to briefly forget (where I can) that the UK is simultaneously hurtling towards a cliff edge in so many ways. Maybe because the U.S. feels more distant, yet its music never does – whether in circles of critics or artists, converations find a way to turn towards America. And whilst few of these albums are directly about politics, they and so many other great offerings from this year foudn themselves on repeat because they represented more than escape from our darkest timeline. These artists’ and their frankly stunning music have this year brought sincerity, vulnerability, optimism, the deliriously mad, the surprisingly nuanced, and an entire Dulux warehouse’s explosion worth of colour, in an effort to both reflect the changed world, and improve our understanding of it. So, without further ado:

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Interview: Mount Kimbie

This article was first published to The Edge on November 9th 2017

If you’ve been paying attention to The Edge this autumn, you’ll know that one of our favourite albums was the “Experimental-Indie” electronic music of Love What Survives. It’s the third-LP from the London-based duo of Mount Kimbie. Ahead of the duo’s end-of-year UK tour, we caught up with Dominic Maker, who spent the best part of last year living in LA, creating a transatlantic split with partner Kai Campos. However, that split was far from the disadvantage that it would appear to be, as we found out in the interview – along with how the pair have dealt with new collaborating experiences, and how they feel about their older music looking back.

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Live Review: Pale Waves @ The Joiners, Southampton (23/10/17)

This article was first published to The National Student on 30th October 2017

For Pale Waves to sell out even a small venue such as Southampton’s Joiners on their first headline tour, with just two officially released songs, says more about the precision quality of their record sound than it does about the actual live show.

Granted, those two songs (‘There’s A Honey’ and ‘Television Romance’) are deliciously addictive pop gems, with the uncertainty, longing, and relative sadness of their lyrics all coated in the sugary tones that brought us The 1975. Yet with just those two songs, you maybe can’t blame the mixed age crowd for being shy to engage in sing-alongs. Not that they were asked to.

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Film Review: Happy Death Day

This article was first published to The Edge on October 29th 2017

Slashers do not want the Popular girls to live. No matter where the killer’s doing the stalking, the first one to die and “deserve” it is the bitch. Happy Death Day doesn’t just know this, it indulges us in this. But once its indulged you, you’ll find a subtle subversion of the trope, by getting straight to the core of why it exists: these movies believe we (a typically young audience) want this type of woman to die, because it’ll exonerate us from our own bad behaviour:

“If you sleep around, get drunk, lie to and disregard your friends, and show no regard for others, you will get what’s coming to you – violently.”

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Live Review: Superfood at The Joiners, Southampton

This article was first published to The Edge on October 11th 2017

Given how nonchalant many of Superfood’s songs sound, you woud be forgiven for having no set expectations for their live show. Surely, to create a memorable experience, more would need to be done than just amplifying the sound? Even in the enthusiastic environment of The Joiners, there’s still the question as to how exactly the more out-there grooves and rhythms of Bambino would play to the crowd; little did I know that the roughly 100 people in the Joiners’ crowd came to play. And, so did Superfood.

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Interview: Superfood

This article was first published to The Edge on October 26th 2017

After a three-year album hiatus full of hiccups, this year Superfood have bounced back massively – their latest album Bambino is a quirky thing of boundless enthusiasm and subverted expectations: their October headline tour saw welcoming, delighted crowds chanting back the new lyrics, and in November they’re embarking on a UK tour with Edge favourites Wolf Alice. We caught up with vocalist and guitarist Dominic Ganderton when they played at The Joiners in Southampton earlier this month, to talk the new album, the new tour, and their most embarrassing festival run-ins.

This interview has been edited for clarity

 

You’re touring with Wolf Alice and Sunflower Bean, when you come back to Southampton and play the Guildhall in November. Are you looking forward to that?

Yeah, really looking forward to it. I mean we haven’t really spent that much time in Southampton, so it’s going to be really good to play at one of the more established venues. We’ve played at Wedgewood rooms before… Are we close to Portsmouth?

About a 50-minute drive.

Yeah, okay I got mixed up. But that’s what I mean, we haven’t really explored Southampton that much gig-wise, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to do a bigger venue.

Have you met the gang from Wolf Alice or Sunflower Bean before?

No, I’ve met the guys from Sunflower Bean once, seemed like really nice guys, the guitarist looks a bit like Bob Dylan. But Wolf Alice, we know them pretty well, we see them pretty much every weekend, every time we go out, we’ve both been writing records and doing other things. We started touring with them like 4 years ago, and ever since then we’ve just kept a friendship with them, and it’s gone really well.

Now you and Ryan are just a two-piece, and your new style music [compared to the]previous album has all been retooled. You’ve got Sunflower Bean, who also have a separate feeling and then Wolf Alice, who are all over the shop. Can you talk a bit about how you feel, [putting together]these different styles on your tour?

I think every conversation I’ve had with Theo and them, I think no-one really wants to pigeonhole themselves. Especially when you still feel quite young in terms of our careers, I think [we like]experimenting, and just trying to work out where you want to go. Because I think it’s really hard to create something that’s really brand new nowadays. I feel like everything’s been done. Do you know what I mean? It’s like you listen to Aphex Twin, to Black Sabbath, everything’s been done. So, I don’t know, it’s [about]trying to find a good mix about what you want to use for your sound. I think you’ve got to try your best to keep it like, fresh for yourself…

I think it’s always been just what your subconscious is doing for yourself, and just kind of knowing the kind of vibe. I can kind of see what it looks like, visualise it. Not necessarily meaning that we’re going to have like great videos and great press shots, but I can visualise what it’ll end up like.

It’s just you two in the studio, does anyone else get involved in the mixing or producing side?

Yeah, I think that’s our main thing, where we can just send it to mix engineers and they can take their own spin on it. You’ve gotta rely on a mix engineer nowadays to do a lot more than they used to do, because people are recording albums in their bedrooms, and sending them to mix engineers to make them sound posh.

You said that you “see” the music, and the big artists like Lorde and Kendrick Lamar who come to mind, have this reputation for seeing music in colours: Kendrick Lamar will be in the studio like “I want this to be more purple”.

Well that was the whole concept, y’know I didn’t want to jump on that bandwagon, but that was the whole concept with our artwork. My original idea, I went to Sam, who does all the artwork for most of the bands on Dirty Hit. I said I wanted one shape for each song, that had its own colour, that all fit together to make this other shape, and that’s kind of where we got to in the end, and I think it looks really cool. But yeah, I guess you just see it, like ‘Raindance’ on the album is like a blue song; ‘Where’s The Bass Amp?’ starts off it’s like pink, purple, bright stuff. I think it’s important to think about it like that, and not think you need 10/10 rock guitars on everything.

Is it fair to say that you’ve got a different organisation comparing your studio approach with your live shows?

Oh yeah totally, totally. Our studio approach is that we’ll work hours from 7pm ‘til 3am one day, and then two hours the next day from 2pm. There’s no organisation with that, it just comes and goes when it needs to be done. But when it comes to touring, I’ve always been bad. Like James Brown – I’m not comparing myself to James Brown at all, but it’s like seeing someone play something wrong in a practice, I just can’t help but cut them a horrible glance, [I have to] make sure it’s perfect. When it comes to that, it’s a lot less free-flowing, and you just want to serve the record, and get it sounding like the record through the PA speakers, so that’s the main thing. Luckily, we’ve got some fucking amazing players with Aramis (drums) and Alice (bass), and we need to get a keyboard player in soon enough. It’s gonna be great.

How do you feel about the reception to Bambino?

I love it, it’s been amazing seeing people coming out of the woodwork, and seeing people sing back the words to some of the songs we’ve already released. We always knew that this record wasn’t going to be like “Put it out, Top Ten!”. We’re not in that position. But I hope it just grows and grows, and with people sharing it, sending it to their mates. And I hope in five years’ time, people go into bargain bins in record shops, and see that fucking shape, and are like “What the fuck is this?”. But it’s all building it up for our next album, which I’ve got high hopes for. I wanna tour and tour and get some hype together for this next one.

Is that coming up quite soon, do you think you’ll be in the studio again for it [soon]?

I’m not sure. We’ve started it, we’ve started writing for it. We’ve got a song we want to get like, Macy Gray on. So, it might be Macy Gray, but it probably won’t be, it’ll probably be me and Ryan pretending to be her. And that’s like most of the records, we’ll [say]“Yeah, let’s write this song it’ll be like [so-and-so].” We watched this Paul McCartney interview once, and he [said]“If you just write a song pretending you’re someone else, like Amy Winehouse, if you pretend you’re them, then write and sing it like them, you can transform yourself into a different vibe.” But we’ve got six or seven songs, I don’t know if it’s going to be an EP or another album, but we don’t wanna leave it like two years, we wanna keep it going now. We want to tour until it’s “Okay, everyone’s done with this album, let’s put it out.” I wanna have it ready to go, and just keep going, going, going.

That’s good, I’m getting ever more excited the more I see artists who release album within a year of each other, rather than waiting two years. Every time I see a name I recognise from last year, I just go “Yes, I want to listen to that immediately!”

Yeah, it’s ’cause then you know artists are on a roll then, when you know they’re like in their zone, and it’s good.

There’s one band at the moment, King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, who’ve released three this year, and another one before the year’s over.

I saw them at Field Day this year. I’ve seen them a few times, but Field Day this year, he does that Jimi Hendrix thing where he’ll be playing the guitar and singing the same vocal melody as the guitar, with just sparse stuff [*Dom mimics a KGATLW riff*]. I love that band so much.

Have you met them in person at festivals?

Nah, they’re one of those bands who just do their own thing, they’re in and out, you’ll never see them. Saying that, I thought I’d never meet Kevin Parker from Tame Impala, and then ended up one night at a party, and there was ten of us there, and he was there with his girlfriend. I was like “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He had flip-flops on, in pure Kevin Parker mode. And I sat next to him, – and I don’t know why I said [this]to him, I blew my chance, I was really drunk – we were listening to Whitney Houston, and I was like “Y’know what you need to do? You need to write a song with no guitar pedals, that sounds like Whitney Houston man!” And he looked at me, and was just like “O-kay, cool.” He turned away, back to his girlfriend, and I was left like “Aw, sweet, I just blew that completely!”

Are there any other highlights of festival encounters recently?

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Interview: Priests

This article was first published to The National Student on October 19th 2017

Washington, D.C. (post) punk band Priests really do feel like the kind of band that the polarised, post-truth world of 2017 needs.

Fiercely DIY (releasing their music through their label Sister Polygon) and tapping squarely into the Washington tradition of politicised punk they wrap their messages in music that is full of as much melody as it is riffs and intense hooks.

In the best post-punk tradition they play with the expectations of the genre, contradicting seriousness with an immense sense of fun.

After bubbling away on the underground for years 2017 saw the release of their debut full-length album Nothing Feels Natural, which immediately became one of the most vital releases of the year. Priests are the complete package for what we need right now.

Currently out on the road, once again, across the UK we managed to catch a quick, but enlightening, chat with Katie Alice Greer and Daniele Daniele from the band.  Continue reading

Two creators, credit enough for one: Mother! & misogyny

This article was first published by The National Student on 28th September 2017

Mother! is the least “meh” movie of the year. 

I still can’t believe a major studio released this ever, let alone in 2017. Is it flawed? Yes. It’s drowned in metaphor, and its structure is designed in full-on worship of “film-as-allegory”. The subtext doesn’t just become text, it becomes a sledgehammer that smashes you in the face, and proceeds to ask, “do you get it?”*.

The setting and protagonist are scant of mundane details, to a difficult-to-relate-to degree, were it not for the permanent POV of Jennifer Lawrence’s protagonist. She and Javier Bardem’s ‘Him’ are not a warm and loving couple, but neither is it a screaming daggers relationship. The film is also not nearly as tense as it thinks it is, and as delightful as Michelle Pfeiffer’s scenes are, they’re hilariously awkward, not unnerving. Aronofsky doesn’t quite balance his Hitchcockian instincts with his jet-black streak of humour. And, the obscenely bananas finale is cruel beyond the exploitative. This is a horror movie for horror movies.

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