Never Stop & Buried

I realised I don’t do reviews as much as I used to so here in lieu of Gamer Baiting *wink* is a review post. As I have a free evening and have been doing lots of exciting things lately and am in a good mood I’m giving you two for the price of one. Aren’t I generous?

So my favourite band are the Bad Plus at the moment and they have just released a new album called Never Stop. They are an acoustic Jazz trio who rock-the-fuck-out but are still a bit ‘free-jazz’ and strange. They achieved notoriety/fame by doing deconstructions and loving homages of classic pop/rock songs (Lithium/Heart of Glass/Iron Man/Life on Mars?). This meant a lot of people described them as gimmicky and too clever for their own good. Now whilst I don’t like 50% of their output I do not agree with this. People seem to be ignoring two really rather glaringly obvious facts if you were to listen to an album by this amazing group. First, they are consummate and gifted musicians of which there are few achieving the kind of fame they have in this day and age of hyper-production and digital rescuing, Second, they write a lot of their own material. This album is their first album made up totally of original material.

Whilst the whole album is yet again not to my taste, it is ambitious and shows what a wide range the Bad Plus and what fantastic songwriters they all are. Reid Andersons’ (upright Bass) pieces are undoubtedly the stand out tracks, Dave King’s (Drummer) tunes are also epic and beautiful, even Ethan Iverson’s (Piano) are more listenable than usual, preferring aleatoric, math Jazz as he does. As I say they are not all perfect and at the moment (as I listen) there are only 4 tracks I would say I like as complete tunes. Which, to be honest, is an average ratio for their albums. However, there are wonderful moments in each piece.

The album was recorded ‘live’ at Pachyderm Studios (where Nirvana recorded, no less) and this is audible. They normally have a very close, dry sound in their mix which makes them sound bigger but on this album you can hear the room more and gives it more of an ‘organic’ feel. The drums especially benefit from this more expansive sound design which, when it’s Dave King playing them, is always a good thing. In this respect it is a very traditional jazz album – all the tracks were recorded as first takes, for instance – but it is its compositions which make a truly progressive album. And I don’t mean progressive as in strange men in beards and capes playing songs that go on for 30 minutes.

‘The Radio Tower has a Beating Heart’, ‘People Like You’ and ‘Super America’ are utterly brilliant pieces immaculately performed but it is the title track that sweeps the board. With pumping beat, obscure syncopation, power ballad chords and kickin’ last 60 seconds or so this tune should put them in the pop sphere. It won’t but this is no stranger than many other dance tunes played in clubs at the moment it’s just played entirely acoustically which apparently makes it weird. In short, this is simultaneously their most accessible and least accessible album but it represents a giant leap forward for them (again) and places them squarely at the forefront of any type of music, people just seem to be ignoring them. I doubt they care. And neither do I if they maintain this level of quality. Catch them live when they tour here in November if you can.

Buried is a film by Spanish Director & Editor Rodrigo Cortes. The crew is entirely spanish also. It is made by The Safran Company, Versus Entertainment, Dark Trick Films, Kinology and Studio 37 as funding studios, it cost less than $2 million to make and was shot entirely in a 6 foot wooden coffin. No this is not some art house foreign ‘think-piece’ this is a-balls-to-the-wall, nail-biting thriller starring one person trapped in a box for an hour and half with no cut-aways, flashbacks or other characters appearing on-screen at anytime. The ‘person’ in question is (weirdly) Ryan Reynolds who I knew as the bastard who took Scarlett Johanssen off the market and starring in some really shit comedies but apparently the boy can act! Who knew?! Not only can he act, he can do it well. Considering he is the only person in the whole film essentially, he carries the whole film and is utterly believable as a macho jock brought to real terror and desperation.

Lots of people refer to the film’s conceit (like the Bad Plus) as a ‘gimmick’ which is true but I take issue with the derogatory nature with which it is applied. In the same way as restrictive forms of poetry prove even more illuminating and make the artist more creative by having to think (pardon the pun) outside of the box. It is the same with this film. Hitchcock knew this, hence why he restricted himself to long, single shot takes in Rope or single window views in Rear Window. Buried has garnered much the same praise since its premier at Sundance but for once soundbite hacks have hit the nail on the head. This really is Hitchockian and all the better for it.

Essentially, Ryan Reynolds wakes up in a box buried underground – illustrated with a daring 2 minute starting shot of total darkness and no dialogue – and from their we watch as how he got there and what he has to do to get out is revealed via a mobile phone, a zippo and some glow sticks. Not once does the film cutaway or flashback, everything is left to your imagination, yet the brilliant script keeps you guessing throughout and, not only that, keeps the tension ramped up right till the last frame. The camera work too is exceptionally varied and interesting so for a visual medium it works perfectly well, if not better than most films. The whole thing is incredibly inventive and brilliantly executed. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

It is not a story of hope, however. There is no let up in the claustrophobic atmosphere, ratcheting tension and utter, utter despair, so if you’re up for a laugh go and see Zac Efron look like a tit as a Cloud (or whatever the hell that film is called). The whole film is NOT hollywood and is all the better for it. The fact there were no money men making demands and forcing concessions out of the script makes it all the more pleasing. But not only all that what I love most is its highly critical tone towards… well… everything. The lead is not a hero in any respect and no one on the other end of his lifeline seems to sympathise or care about his situation as he is bumped from call centre to call centre desperately pleading for rescue. Not only that American Foreign policy is damned throughout and corporate evils are savaged in a particularly harrowing way too. Also there is an English accent in the film and at no point does he either a) Turn evil b) Die or c) Express a love for tea and crumpets. Progressive thinking indeed… This is not the product of bang for your buck Hollywood Blockbuster yet has all the gloss, look and feel of it. If this is still the kind of produce we can expect out of independent filmmakers and studios from abroad I still don’t know why more people don’t pay attention.

Buried is a very unpleasant yet very enjoyable, very exciting and very brave bit of cinema and I think the filmmakers should be rewarded with your money for making a film that would never have got made in these parts. Ryan Reynolds has also gone way up in my estimations not just for his performance but also his savvy for picking the role up when any other C-List comedy actor would have sneered it down in favour of some Eat, Pray, Shit toss.

Kudos Ryan. I’m still not forgiving for stealing Johanssen though. You bastard.


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