The Week That Was (01-02-2010): Sundance; Daft Punk?; Midlake; The Cove…

A week filled with cinematographic news based in Sundance, the most important of independent festivals in the US, which reached its conclusion. Many of this edition highlights had strong music links; from The Runaways biopic to Animal Collective’s audiovisual hallucinations collected in a feature film called “Oddsac”. Grizzly Bear hit the news too by being involved in two movie soundtracks: Philip Seymour-Hoffman’s directorial debut “Jack Goes Boating” includes five of their songs; whereas the score of new Ryan Gosling starred film “Blue Valentine” is rumoured to be written by some of the band’s members.

This year hasn’t produced any film with the same repercussion “An Education” or “Little Miss Sunshine” had in past editions. They both generated a growing buzz that took them to the gates of the Oscar. The most buzz-worthy in 2010 was “The Kids Are alright”, a comedy about a lesbian couple’s parenting issues directed by Lisa Chlodenko with an all-star cast including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Annette Bening. However, the big prize went to Debra Granik’s “Winter’s Bone” , which dragged comparison with past winner “Frozen River” for covering similar dramatic territory. (Check the full list of winners here)

For movie of the week we finally managed to catch the excellent documentary “The Cove”, in which a group of experts and militant ecologists organize the adventure to travel to Taiji, a small town in Japan where the government is uncovering an operation destined to capture regularly thousands of dolphins. The most fortunate specimens are sold for their exploitation in captivity; the rest is sacrificed in bloody massacre. The ups and downs these voluntaries have to go through in order to obtain evidence to denounce these practices are shaped in one of the most impressive documentary works we have seen in recent history. The Oscar should go straight to the hands of its director, Louie Psihoyos, as many other honours already have. Another movie worth mentioning is “La Nana”, the second work of Chilean director Sebastian Silva; a solid drama describing the alienation felt by a maid, employed during many years by the same family, who felt her position compromised with the arrival of a younger maid in order to help her with home duties.

The rest of this week’s film contingent –all of it sharing some Oscar potential- is disheartening at best. Clint Eastwood’s “Invictus” is based in the real story of Nelson Mandela resorting, after becoming president, to rugby as a tool to provide his country with a new post-apartheid identity, raising the pride of black and white citizens equally. The exaltation of conservative patriotic and athletic values and some characters that despite the excellent cast –Morgan Freeman impersonates Mandela and Matt Damon is the rugby team’s captain- lack of the necessary depth are here at the service of the tale of a long and historic match –taken to the screen in soporific manner- in which South Africa against all odds won the world championship, fulfilling with it its political goal. After the already weak and emotionally manipulative “Gran Torino”, “Invictus” feels as further proof that Eastwood’s until now impeccable trajectory as director is dangerously leaving behind its best days.

More sporting activity, but far worse storytelling arrives with “The Blind Side”, a star vehicle for Sandra Bullock to crown her comeback year with a nod for the Oscars. Bullock, however, still hasn’t learned how to act well and it shows in this bland drama about a charitable republican – yet modern – lady, who finds an enormous black kid under personal and familiar turmoil, pities him; gives him a ceiling; even adopts him! all to encourage the kid towards the path to model citizenship – via College grant for athletic merits. The film is an explosion of traditional American family values in such syrupy glory that you ‘d need to go back to Disney’s most rancid times or the golden era of TV movies to find something as excruciatingly cheesy. It has been a smash at the US box office and , besides earning a near-locked nomination for the popular star; God not helping, it may lure the oldest members of the Academy into giving it a spot among this year’s 10 chosen films. Avoid as if you life depended on it!

Also a deception, although this one provides a few laughs, is the new Nancy Meyers comedy “It’s Complicated”, in which a dazzling cast – Meryl Streep; Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin- take to the big screen the supposed fantasy between middle aged, divorced women of reconquering the ex once he’s remarried and becoming the mistress. In this case, the plot adds the attentions of a second lover to the equation, forming a charmless emotional triangle in which not even the unstoppable Streep saves herself from falling into an annoying collection of performing tics. Why did we bother?

Television series keep on expanding over the territory that the finest film-making used to occupy. And we are in high season. This week the third offering of the acclaimed drama about the advertising revolution of the sixties “Mad Men” reached the UK waves. News in the plot include Don Draper’s agency being bought by an UK counterpart and the organization changes that follows. Judging on the first two episodes it’s easy to see the high standards are going to be maintained, if not bettered, and the series will establish the misadventures of Madison Avenue’s creative wizards, and the social changes they helped forging, as one of the best dramatic offers available to any audience.

It’s also awards season and last night the Grammys took place, in a year in which the industry seem to aim at connecting back with a younger public by giving way to more pop acts among the nominees. Regrettably, the distance between their conservative nominations and the best music currently available around the globe cannot be any longer. Beyoncé; Lady Gaga; Taylor Swift y Kings of Leon were the big winners. And the few deserving winners were: ¿Phoenix for best alternative album? Calle 13 for best latin urban/rap álbum and Neil Young, whom apparently received his best ever Grammy in all these decades for his “Archives”. Funnier and much more relevant was the speech Karin Dreijen-Andersson gave while collecting her best Swedish female artist trophy –see video above. Fever Ray are close to win a few Robers too, so we extend this thanking speech to those who voted for her.

The kings of French electronica were in a teasing mood this week. Both Justice with “Beginning of the end” and Daft Punk first with “Fragile” and then with “The Crush” –both rumoured to be part of their long awaited soundtrack for the new “Tron” remake- saw respective new tracks circulating online, promptly denying they had anything to do with them. Luckily, none of them really made them, erm, any justice.

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On the live front, Midlake, the band from Denton, Texas to whom it can be credited the revival of seventies’ dad rock –his singer’s voice still reminds us of The Moody blues-, released with a showcase in London’s iconic shop Rough Trade their third offering, “The courage of others”. An excellent album, following the melodic tone of its predecessor, that can still be heard in full through NPR.

Erykah Badu offered the first taste of her much anticipated Nu Amerykah 2, “Jump In The Air”, featuring Bilal and the unavoidable Lil Wayne. The song will only feature as a bonus track in some of the record’s formats and carry on the same sonic vibe of her acclaimed former album. Another awaited comeback, with new album and international tour stopping at the Royal Albert Hall is The National’s, after a couple of years hiatus in which some members curated the compilation for the “Red Hot” organization, “Dark Is the night”.

And finally, the sad news of the death at the age of 91 of the legendary writer J.D. Salinger. The author of “The Catcher in The rye” was famous for his elusive ways, which contributed to create a myth around his persona. The interesting documentary “Catching Salinger” offering insight about what’s known of his life, and about his main character, Holden Caulfield, can be currently seen, divided in parts, in you tube

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