Caught Cameron’s speech about ‘character’ the other day and it sent me reeling, truly unable to decide if it was depressing or cheering. He was (or seemed) sincere: a consummate communicator, empathic, thoughtful, sensitive, ready to draw inspiration from passion and belief and from evidence and research. He seemed (or was) willing to discard the old, hateful, Tory rage and resentments, willing to take on the best of the new ‘liberal’ realities. He seemed like a decent bloke. And there wasn’t a word I disagreed with. Not a single Labour or Liberal politician has engaged me in that way for more than a decade. And I think- I know, after that speech- that he’s going to get in, Trojan horse for the old enmities and divisions and brutal lack of curiosity of a party that still worships Thatcher. I hope he means it all and I hope he finds a way to keep his stone-eyed, malevolent mates away from our schools and healthcare and culture: if he doesn’t, the paranoia and collective delusion and principle-vacuum of these last days of New Labour could feel like a golden age.
Always hated Guy Ritchie films: all bluster, empty flash and cartoon-brutal violence. As stomach-churningly unrealistic a portrayer of London gangster life as Richard Curtis is of its middle-class counterpart, Ritchie also had the temerity- him, an awkward, class-confused Englishman!- to find himself living with Madonna (for the official SAE stance on the former Mrs R, see here). So I knew this was going to be crap- superficially glittery-tricksy, noisy, self-consciously now. And it is all those things, but- disturbingly- it’s also beautiful to look at (the shots of a half-built Tower Bridge are breathtaking), seductively atmospheric, empathic and- in places- genuinely exciting. It’s not quite as clever as it thinks it is, not quite as funny, but it’s good: Robert Downey Jr is excellent- an agitated, agitating, neurotic, strung-out Holmes who Conan Doyle would recognise- and Jude Law understated and (remarkably) not remotely annoying. And for that, if for nothing else, we should praise Guy Ritchie.
Gingerly, awkwardly, apprehensively: you approach any new Woody Allen film these days with few preconceptions and not a little fear/thrill. Bouncing from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the Jewish Manhattan mastery of those neurosis-celebrating, razor-edged words-as-wonder cinematographic feasts to Melinda and bloody Melinda, from all-wise seer/alarmingly attractive nerd to dodgy past-his-best paedophile: it’s been a long journey, and an uncomfortable one. Not a linear, regressive one, though: while Allen’s never quite relived those early glories he has, nevertheless, made some pretty decent stuff in between the dross in recent years. And now he comes along with this. It’s got Penelope Cruz in it. Its got Scarlett Johansson in it. It’s got Gaudi’s Barcelona in it. And it’s by one of the finest, most literate directors in film history. It’s bound to be good, isn’t it?
Well- no. It looks brilliant, obviously: gorgeous, exquisite. It’s got an engaging little plot. Penny and Scarly have a snog. In a stunning villa. For a brief, adolescent, moment I (as I’m sure Allen intended) wished I was the bloke who has to (emotionally and physically) wrestle P and S and the other one (the other one being the subtle, soft-brittle Rebecca Hall who does the most learning, almost finds redemption and who, actually, I found far more alluring than the other two- which probably says something about me or Woody or both of us or . . . )
Ahem. That’s about it. We’re challenged (a bit) to reconsider our views on intimacy and monogamy and risk and settling for the good-enough. We try hard to find a genuinely witty line or really feel anything, to discover a sign that this is A Woody Allen Film (TM), that it is the work of an auteur, as opposed to being, merely, a slightly bent-out-of-shape but generically-directed rom-com. We don’t succeed, though. It’s OK. Just OK. Let’s see where he goes next.
Christ, this is hard. Hard because this is- mostly- soul music. Hard because this is good. Hard because it hints at, winks at something majestic. Hard because just a bit too much is good, not quite enough is great.
Whisky music, beer music, wine music. If you’ve come across Lucinda before, you’ll know which one this album is. She says she wrote it at her kitchen table in California but you can’t really imagine her sitting at a kitchen table. Or in California. On beds in musty, stained mid-West motel rooms, on stools in deep blue Southern bars, in beat-up Chevys in the dusty Badlands, bottle in hand, yeah, you can imagine that: sitting there, broodingly, waiting, lost but still emotionally predatory. And you can imagine her- yeah- struggling to her feet, beaten and bloodied but on the move again, off on the endless search, guitar-on-back, lusting, yearning . . .