Monday 28 November 2011

For the Love of Ryan Gosling - 'The Ides of March' (2011), 'Blue Valentine' (2010), 'Drive' (2011), 'Half Nelson' (2006)

For the Love of Ryan Gosling

There are very few moments that I gush about a mainstream actor or actress with a few movies under their belt. For the most part I think it is best to look to people like Judi Dench, Ed Harris, Sean Penn, Al Pacino and the other veterans for true talent. But there is a star emerging that I want to draw your attention to if you don’t know his name yet. I remember when I first saw Brad Pitt in ‘Thelma and Louise’. He was a pretty boy in a pair of jeans and a six pack. No one would have expected his role as psychopath in ‘Kalifornia’ or his future-seeing lunatic in ‘Twelve Monkeys’. We couldn’t expect his charismatic handling of ‘Fight Club’ as the anarchist Tyler Durden and we also wouldn’t have thought him capable of the understated cool we saw in the first ‘Oceans Eleven’. By the time I saw him ‘Babel’, it was obvious this actor had shades of Robert Redford and in my opinion even better breadth. The actor who has emerged, the next Brad Pitt, who I have all my chips on (more impressive if I was a gambler perhaps) is of course: Ryan Gosling.

Now I must admit that I think this man is certainly eye candy. I think he is stunningly good-looking on screen and able to captivate all audiences with his cool. But this is simply a veil of handsomeness on a core great actor. The first film I saw him in was ‘Half Nelson’ (2006) where Gosling plays a drug addict teacher who is falling out of control of his addiction. Gosling plays this challenging role with an ease that is extraordinary, nothing short of what Leonardo DiCaprio brought to his early drug addiction film ‘Basketball Diaries’. It is utterly believable and the on-screen chemistry he creates with his schoolkids (also good actors) is also so real that we can’t help but be drawn in. Most memorable is the bathroom scene when Gosling’s character feeds his crack habit and is rumbled by one of his students. The scene is so very moving, Gosling opening up the human predicament in a truly remarkable piece of acting. If you don’t mind seeing a clip, take a look for yourself ( ). It is easy to think it is the impressive camera work that delivers in this scene and that Gosling adds to it. I think I thought that too. But then I saw ‘Blue Valentine’ (2010)….

‘Blue Valentine’ ( is an impeccable piece of film-making if ever there was one. I saw it soon after my marriage finally broke down (not the best timing for the film) and this film really tore me apart with its heart-wrenching honesty and beautiful simplicity of design. The film tells in short the start and end of a relationship at the same time, the couple pictured happy and in love as they start to date and fall in love and, parallel with this shown, many years hateful of and pained by each other as they break apart. The film was astonishingly profound to watch, drawing comparisons one would rarely see made between the way we can openly and meaningfully love things about a person and then come to openly and meaningfully hate those same things. Ryan Gosling was matched like for like with another rising star, Michelle Williams, whom I also note highly due to her performance in ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and the highly anticipated new film ‘My Week with Marilyn’. I have indeed been watching her for many years as an avid ‘Dawson’s Creek’ fan whilst at university… The two stars were weighted perfectly on screen and seemed for all sense and purposes a thoroughly believable couple. This perhaps has a lot to do with their living together in a small flat to get in to character for their role. You could feel their relationship in every corner of their performance and this was made clear by the fact we didn’t need the story between their meeting and their breaking to understand their life together. Gosling however stood out once again. If you were under the illusion it is the film that is making it work for him, you can see in ‘Blue Valentine’ that this is quintessentially not the case. I surely have never seen such a convincing depiction of a real, un-idealised man falling in love and then being ended with against his power and wants. He shows beautifully man’s inability to articulate feelings, to change, to understand, to admit inadequacies and insecurities. He also shows however how seductive a man can be by being himself. We believe Williams’ character falls for him because he is so genuine and most importantly a symbol of strength for her. I was blown away. I was a believer and couldn’t wait for another of his films to catch my eye.

It was the recent film ‘Drive’ (2011) that I went out of my way to watch ( I knew I was going to love it and sure as hell I did. An entirely different film to the others, this film highlighted further breadth for this wonderful young actor. With hardly any lines, and a splattering of disarmingly sudden ultra-violence, Gosling embodies a getaway driver who gets in over his head with a local crime boss. Gosling is the epitome of ‘cool’ in this film. Strong, controlled, silent, deadly. Think of the dark side of Steve McQueen and you have his character in a nutshell. Again Gosling has a superb director at the helm and an inspiring cast who do very well too, but nothing can take away from this star as he is truly magnetic on screen. Forget men wanting to be ‘Alfie’. They want to be Gosling’s anonymous ‘Driver’. I heard that the director came up with the idea for the film watching the actor as he drove him in his car. Yes, the director had had a lot of medication as he was ill but I can still entirely believe that this could occur. Gosling oozes charm. It comes out in his interviews and it comes out in his film choices.

George Clooney’s fourth and most accomplished directorial piece ‘The Ides of March’ (2011) is the very latest film to feature Gosling’s consummate talent ( Clooney has always had an eye for actorial skill. He launched Sam Rockwell for the most part who is another star worthy of mention. It is no wonder that he took on Gosling in the main role in his complex anti-political drama. Gosling plays a Stevie Meyers, right hand media PR man to Clooney’s Governor Morris as he moves forward toward presidential election. Clooney pulls back from the spotlight to let Gosling come forward and shine as a young man full of idealistic principles and true belief in the worthiness of Morris as the future president who then sees the errors of his idealism and belief in the political system. We follow, as in a Greek tagedy, the fall of his character from such clean, moral heights to someone who must utilise dirty politics in order not to be smeared and lose his career in the process. It is a masterful piece, another excellent anti-establishment choice by Nespresso-toting Clooney. I must give Clooney the credit he deserves. Clooney knows what films are going to rattle people with its questioning of power, its deconstruction of corporate or national politics. Just look at ‘Syriana’ (2005), ‘Michael Clayton’ (2007), ‘Three Kings’ (1999) and ‘The Men Who Stare at Goats’ (2009). This is an actor who knows what he is doing. I really hope that he is going to take Gosling under his wing and encourage the young actor to keep going as he has done so far. With good film choices, good directors, good supporting casts etc. Less films like ‘The Notebook’ (2004), less sell-out romantic comedies, and more good solid dramas. Gosling is someone who needs to go the distance.

In short, if you have not seen these four films, please please go and see them and remark at the handsome genius of Ryan Gosling. He really is one to look out for. And yes, I am slightly in love with him.

Jana Manuelpillai

Tuesday 22 November 2011



Does anyone remember the 80s cartoon ‘Penny Crayon’?( About the girl who draws on walls with her magic crayon and those things she draws coming alive. Okay so it really didn’t go down in history as groundbreaking animation but it was the first thing that came to mind when I met charismatic and cheerful artist, Anna Bruder, at her ‘Aline 117’ installation at the Dalston Superstore on Kingsland High Street. Like Penny Crayon, Bruder always moves around with a thick black, flat-tipped marker in her bag, ready to graffiti, adorn, embellish and create wherever she sees a surface of interest. However, where Penny Crayon (don’t worry I’m gonna leave Penny soon) draws in order to bring to life things that are not there, for Bruder this is not always her interest. In the majority of her work, Bruder two-dimensionalises the world reducing it to black outlines with no implication of tone or shade that would add three-dimensionality. Before approaching a space she paints the entire area white, neutralising it of colour and as much shape as possible. She then applies her black marker line, often outlining what is already there. At her recent installation, ketchup bottles are made to be brandless, generic items very unlike how see them today. Flowers lose their sentimentality, romance and sculptural quality. They become under Bruder’s inspection and recreation flat pieces of card with standard flower shapes outlined on them sticking out of a basic container vase.

The real world is recreated as a series of synonymous emblems of the real world, an alternate place that simply points to what was there or could be there. In this way Bruder’s work activates the viewer in two ways. We have to fill in the blanks as it were, to work backwards from her rudimentary drawing to the real world. Secondly we are activated in that we feel a new romance brought out for this new vision of the world we live in. One that leaves behind the hub-bub and literally goes back to basics. Bruder describes her technique as making a ‘Wendy House’ of the world. This aligns her work with a childish view of the world where the wendy house epitomises a simplified existence. It is a creation of a perfect new space for us all to live in, full size rather than miniaturised, filled with humour and personality. Simplified it may be, but paradoxically we start noticing things rather than overlooking them. In other words, we realise we don’t need the detail. 

Viewing ‘Aline 117’ at Dalston Superstore one is filled with the artist’s love for the world rather than distaste for it. It is undeniably optimistic, particularly due to its location in gritty Dalston. Black outlines on the wall describe shelves of wine glasses, cups and champagne flutes hanging mirrors, fireplaces, lampshades, a bowl of goldfish, a solitary and tame pet kitten etc. Above us fly cut-out giant birds and airplanes. Dalston is given perhaps an ironically middleclass view of the world, idealised and deliberately short-sighted while all the while the poverty of the area is viewable from the window. I remember leaving the space for a smoke outside and standing by the roadworks and polluting cars in deadlock on the busy street and thinking that this is what her installation stands in contrast to. Dalston for a short time is given relief from itself. This is not to say that this idyll is what everyone in or outside Dalston aspires. This Wendy House is simply a manifestation of aspiration in a general sense. It is a parody perhaps of our middle class ambitions or our need to live in a perfect world away from the reality of life today.   

In the last ten years, Anna has had the opportunity to work in a variety of settings and venues, some more unconventional and prestigious than others. From major art galleries and theatres (Somerset House and The Barbican), to TV commercials and full-scale performances at Wembley Arena, her work successfully translates into many varied artistic contexts. She is planning a series of Pop-up Shops to display and sell her work to interested collectors but before this, on Sunday 27th November, she will be hosting a colouring-in party at the Dalston Superstore to mark the end of her installation. Audiences are invited to come and colour in her black outlines, in a sense activate and personalize them before Bruder’s Wendy House disappears. She invites all to come down and enjoy this experience. It is from 7pm onwards at the Dalston Superstore, Kingsland High Street, E82PB. I would get there early to see the space in all its detail-less glory.

Jana Manuelpillai

Tuesday 25 October 2011

POSTMODERNISM: STYLE AND SUBVERSION @ the Victoria & Albert Museum until the 15thJanuary 2012

We all like to bandy around the word ‘Postmodern’ like it’s anyone’s business, right? Well I do. But how many of us stop and actually question what we really mean by this or at least why do we use that word rather than others? When do we most use it? And to describe what? I think most of you right now are thinking the same as me, that we mostly use that word in an ironic sense with a determinable sarcastic note. For example, I have many people come with me to an exhibition in Dalston and, when they see something wacky, they sarcastically exclaim, scratching their imaginary beard: ‘Oh it’s so Postmodern!’. We all then have a good laugh and move on. Sound familiar? A few days ago I went to the V&A’s exhibition, ‘POSTMODERNISM: STYLE AND SUBVERSION’ (@V_and_A) really to see when this term came to be, what it really meant and how it is important to our lives. Now as I did a degree in English Literature and have studied some contemporary art during my time at MASS MoCA in the States, I had some idea of what ‘Postmodernism’ meant in terms of literature and art but still was wanting a firmer footing in this precarious conceptual minefield.
The show was an interesting one. The first thing one must say is that the show certainly has its limitations. For instance the big claim as being the first major exhibition on Postmodernism worldwide does ignore the fact that this for the most part is a show about Postmodern design, fashion and architecture. It doesn’t take in art and literature into its remit even if that also was subversive. Having said that, it does contextualise these three areas to some degree in relation to film and music. Now that we have renamed this exhibition in our minds as ‘Postmodernism in Design’, we can look at its great triumphs. This exhibition is a wonderfully-curated show detailing a period that many of us lived through and of which were part: the late 1970s, 80s and most of the 90s. Through a multifaceted array of objects and styles of display at different eye levels, this exhibition brings this period to colourful life. We are taken (not that far) back to a time with bright luminous colours, clashing fashion styles, androgynous off-centre hairstyles, garishly stylistic TV and music videos, and over the top typefaces and advertising. What came to my mind most was the scene when Michael J. Fox’s character first walks out into the main town square and then into ‘Café 80s’ in ‘Back to the Future: Part II’ ( ; and is hit by a bombardment of disjointed occurrences. The famous town hall (yes, the one that gets struck by lightning) is situated right next to an absolutely crazy structure with no attempt to match styles for so-called neat townscaping. It has jutting out edges and facets that block the view of the pristine 1950s town hall, serve no real purpose, and almost purposefully seems to accentuate its poor continuity with its bright blue colouring. Inside the café, Fox is astonished to see people decked out in randomly chosen bright, synthetic plastic-looking clothing though drinking and eating to the music of Michael Jackson’s classic track ‘BAD’. American nostalgia is scattered around the space awkwardly, juxtaposed with haphazard technology. TV monitors career around the room taking people’s orders. Rather than real faces doing the waiting, we have a stylised Michael Jackson and Ronald Reagan, irreverent and unlikely. What was described in essence was a Postmodern future rather than a Modern one. This was the overriding image of Postmodernism as portrayed by the V&A.

Whereas Modernist design aimed at inferring modern efficiency, utopian ideals, streamlining, flat colours, the discreet hiding of technology and clean edges (IKEA is probably the biggest example of this in many ways), Postmodernist design, by contrast, pushed forward the jarring juxtaposition of the old and new, or at least conflicting styles. Thus in the late 70s and early 80s, architectural designs were taken forward that took classical motifs and threw them with more modern structures. The finished products look deliberately awkward and fly in the face of idealism and the user-experience. Fashion and music, exemplified by Grace Jones in the exhibition, had outfits that brought together sharp, non-symmetrical, angular dimensions with the elegance of classic dress. Likewise fashion and hairstyles that meshed the classically male and the classically female in look were also the ‘in’ thing. I thought of the Pet Shop Boys and their outrageously over the top videos of the 1980s, The Tube and its ancestor The Word in the 1990s. These all seemed Postmodernist in many ways, dystopian, chaotic and irreverent. In terms of furniture and jewellery, we are shown cabinets, armchairs, bookshelves and necklaces that are cut across in styles – classical design meets garish, plastic-looking, brightly-coloured blockiness. The exhibition took the seminal film ‘Bladerunner’ (1982) by Ridley Scott as the archetypal Postmodernist film: a vision of the future that was far from somewhere we want to live, where identity is up for grabs and we live in darkness everyday. Costumes, music and imagery were displayed in the exhibition as proof of the hybridity of this important film, a piece that refuses to sit comfortably in the categories of sci-fi, film noire or fiction. At one amazing moment in the exhibition, and I do not use that word often, many of the exhibition visitors were standing in a square space looking from one large screen above us to another adjacent to it, all showing 80s music videos. It felt like we were droids, anonymous sheep-like humans staring at our past in a strange future. It was very ‘Bladerunner’ to say the least.

The exhibition was a success. It opened my eyes to Postmodernism in relation to design and in relation to this early period of my life. We had all been part of it and it reminded me that we should always keep our eyes open and realise what is happening around us, never take anything for granted. We may have never come into contact with Postmodernist high fashion or furniture but we certainly saw the outcomes trickle down into music videos and hairstyles. My only complaint about the show is that it became a bit generalist in its approach to the term by the last segment. Postmodernism seemed to blend into the key concepts of the Pop Art movement and, although there were certainly overlaps in ideas, this was a shame. I think it would have been better to stop the show at 1990 and bring in contemporary art’s response to Postmodernism. For example, does Postmodernism in art have less meaning than Conceptualism when it comes to this era? Where were the Fluxus artists and the Minimalists? In literature, where was Salman Rushdie’s Metaphysics and Fabulation, the increase in black humour or dystopian playfulness, or indeed the much touted ‘death of the author’. Experimental music was handled through the consummate American composer, Philip Glass, but altogether a little too loosely. Dance and theatre likewise were meagre inclusions.

I left the show wishing for more on this important couple of decades, though certainly knowing more about what it means to be ‘Postmodern’. I must admit I did feel that this exhibition was an important start in the continuing deciphering of the term. As such it came across as superficial at points, drawing together aspects of the eighties that were in our face at the time and saying it was Postmodernist in retrospect. Having said that, the period was so recent that it is hard to be totally objective about it all. Either way I enjoyed the show immensely and would recommend it highly to any of you. It occurred to me in conversation with my friend afterwards that one might postulate that when you see your next wacky artwork at a small pokey gallery in Dalston and someone raggedly dressed in your group says in that mock-refined tone that it is ‘soooo Postmodern’, that in their pretended posh speak and choice of words, as well as in their choice of place to say it, they are ironically being Postmodern even if the work is not. There’s something for you to get your head round.         

Jana Manuelpillai

‘An Eternal Cycle: Paradise and Purgatory’ by Park Seo Young and Lyoo Song Nyeo – Buddhist Art Exhibition @ Mokspace Gallery --- Exhibition closes 10th November so see it now!!

I had my first taste of Korean contemporary art at Mokspace near the British Museum on the 14th October and I have to say it was a good introduction. Situated over two floors, the ground floor showing images of Hell and upstairs describing concepts of Buddhist Heaven, this exhibition aimed to decrypt ideas of death and its inevitable consequences for its audience. Park’s paintings of Hell are based on the works of the Joseon Dynasty and show the Great King Yomna and the other nine kings of Hell judging whether people go to paradise or purgatory. What struck me most about these works was how much they had in common with Western interpretations of the same subject matter. We see customary scenes of torturers with their lines of victims awaiting their fate much like we would see them in works by artists such as the early Dutch painter Hieronymous Bosch. They are intricately painted by Park to make us think about our lives and consider the implications of our mistakes. No one wants to meet with these nine kings just as we do not want to be introduced to Satan or Lucifer and his fallen angels of Hell. Dante would be proud of these works. The detail Park employs almost feels like a painterly repenting for her own sins, the creation of realistic images of Hell being a way of the artist relieving herself of guilt. As with Renaissance images of this subject matter, moving from the top of the composition downwards generally means a movement from purgatory or the potential of purgatory to the judgements of a painful, never-ending agony made possible by ‘demon’ types who enjoy their occupation a little too much. I was struck by the manner that Park employs different artistic techniques to situate the action before us. Outside the foreground, nature is shown through a wash technique, whilst the main foreground barometer of pain is made to come forward with more scrupulous painting and subtly stronger colouring. It is as if the natural world is beyond the touch of this world of Buddhist judgement that has opened up before us. Somehow I always imagined the Buddhists would go easy on us. Not so much.

Upstairs Lyoo paints paradise as a welcome, if not surprising, relief. Subverting the traditional Buddhist paintings of this subject matter, Heaven is created as a festival of drinking and merriment, quite different from Western interpretations of Heaven. It is in this way made by Lyoo to be a very earthly Heaven, ironically subject to the human cravings of living in a modern age. In some ways it is a traditional depiction of Heaven under the influence of heavy marketing and PR: it gives us more of what we love and that we know perhaps is bad for us. Thus this show depicts the difficult relationship of our everyday ills to what will become of us after death. Deep down we hope that Heaven will have more of what we crave on earth but feel guilt over. In other words, we hope simply that it will be an end to guilt. Fascinatingly, Lyoo shows that even Paradise has a hierarchical structure where those who drink at the bottom of the image are drinking the dregs of what those at the top have been bathing, drinking and frolicking in due to its abundance. Sexual freedom and lust is also hinted at with the decorative use of human bottoms often acting as fountains and such like. I would hurry all of you to Mokspace to see this show before it closes on the 10th November. Whilst you are there, decide for yourself which is worse: a Hell that is what you expect of Hell or a paradise after death that, far from being otherworldly happiness, is simply more of the decadence and indulgence of our lives here on earth.

Jana Manuelpillai

Thursday 20 October 2011

Julia and Angus Stone - 'Big Jet Plane' - Worth a listen. Simple lyrics and simple video to match.

This is a really charming, sweet track. Definitely worth a listen. Lulls me to sleep.

Review of Woody Allen's 'Midnight in Paris' (2011) - A superficial hallucination of a film

Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ – a superficial hallucination of a film

I have to say I am getting tired of the hype surrounding Woody Allen’s films. As much as I love his early work, particularly the witty script and analytical psychology of ‘Annie Hall’ and ‘Manhattan’ (the definitive part of his film career, one might say), his recent films have all left me cold. Take Allen’s new film, ‘Midnight in Paris’ with Owen Wilson that I saw recently at glorious Phoenix Cinema (@phoenixcinema) last week. This film was, to me a poor effort for many reasons. First and foremost I thought the story was altogether one-dimensional, overly sentimental and nostalgic and rather predictable for Woody Allen. We follow Owen Wilson as a successful film screenwriter who wants to get back to literary ‘roots’, so to speak, and realise his dream of writing fiction for a living. On a suffocating trip to Paris with his overbearing fiancé (with whom he has seemingly nothing in common apart from his lust for her body and her lust for his money) and his equally oppressive in-laws, he escapes into the Parisian night to re-walk the paths of the great European writers before him for inspiration against his writer’s block. From the start of the film, he is painted obtusely to be a writer with a classic continual idolisation of the past, in this case 1920s Paris: the ambiance, music, art, literature etc. We gather all this information in about twenty minutes. I think even on writing this you can work out that in the end he will (a) realise his fiance is not right for him, (b) un-block his writer’s block ,(c) stop living in the past. And all this unsurprisingly takes place. At a push we may guess that he probably come to replace his fiancé with someone new who he has more in common with, perhaps someone in Paris? Yes, this happens too.

How all of this happens in the film is unusual, a surprise to be sure. Each midnight, Wilson’s character is transported in time to 1920s where he meets all manners of artists, musicians, patrons and writers. They all mill around the story as it progresses – F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, John Steinbeck, Edgar Degas, Toulouse Lautrec etc. The story appears to wind around these character cameos, most of the time superficially delineating them (Dali sees ‘rhinos’ in everything, Steinbeck relates everything to the stark realities of war etc.), each sycophantic appearance getting a self-congratulatory chuckle from the audience. Through meeting these artists and writers, getting his book appraised by Stein, and meeting someone in the 1920s who idolises the late 1800s, Wilson’s character accomplishes everything in the above paragraph. The irony is Allen shows a writer realising he shouldn’t live in the nostalgia of the past by creating a film that well and truly depends on nostalgia of the past. Allen delights in the costumes, the music, the scenery and backdrops, the cars and of course the cameos, all executed with precision and a directorial eye for detail, yet in their use these attributes amount to nothing more than a sentimental, stereotypical view of Paris: the city of love and romance where esoteric artists and writers walk the streets, entertain in indulgent parties and ponder and drink to oblivion in quaint, basic bars. Mythical Paris, where everyone is beautiful, liberal-minded and fascinating in personality, conversation and talent. While Allen idealises Paris we are supposed to be interested in a writer learning not to idealise Paris. It is utterly ridiculous. Lovely to behold, but a hallucination. Marginalised in Allen’s 1920s Paris is the poverty, racism and prostitution of the day. One might argue that there was no need for these serious issues to be handled but I would say that there was so little to this flimsy film that it could have done with some depth somewhere along the way.

Indeed this is not the first time that we have seen this of the veteran director, Woody Allen. To some extent what irritated me about ‘Match Point’ (2005), was his cultural stereotyping of London’s inhabitants – cold characters with a grey sensibility and a great deal of reservation accompanying. As if someone on the Deathstar has removed their costume and acted the same in a London character drama. In addition it was a poor film with little of the real tension it claimed. ‘Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona’ (2008) showed Allen on directorial holiday in Spain. Again, we saw classic stereotypes: Javier Bardem as the passionate, charismatic, cultured Spaniard with heavy soulful eyes in touch with all deep matters of the heart, able to awaken such passions in the holidaymakers from the US. Penelope Cruz as the free-thinking, dynamic, past lover of Bardem’s character, also led by the heart and her turbulent bipolar emotions. I remember my Spanish assistant being irritated with the stereotyping, that Bardem and Cruz should lower themselves to these roles and that Allen, a favourite director of hers, should in turn create such a superficial film. At the time, it didn’t bother me so much. It was when I saw ‘Whatever Works’ in 2009 that I realised that this director is best in New York, or at least in the USA. He is at home there and he creates intelligent films, his best works, there in that city we all know he knows so well. ‘Whatever Works’ wasn’t perfect, it also suffered like ‘Midnight in Paris’ from an anticlimactic ending. Still it was a much better film and made the recent piece a silly bubble by comparison.   

Jana Manuelpillai

A strange and moving animation about our need for relationships and community.

Thursday 13 October 2011

True street art that banksy look like yesterday's news - INSIDE OUT

What a breathtaking way to change the world forever. Thanks to @theleano again for showing me this.

This stunning video by Bon Iver is worth a gander. Such amazing symmetry found between the music and image

A voice to listen out for - aloe blacc

A great female mc and voice from the land down under - Vida-Sunshyne

‘BROKEN GLASS’ by Arthur Miller @ The Tricycle Theatre, now @ Vaudeville Theatre, West End

‘BROKEN GLASS’ by Arthur Miller @ The Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn
Now @ Vaudeville Theatre until 10th December

Arthur Miller’s ‘Broken Glass’ could have been better than it was. It wasn’t a bad play – don’t get me wrong. The performances were on the whole very strong, the story one could tell had the potential to be very powerful, the theatrical execution was justly understated and added tone. With Arthur Miller’s script at its heart, to me, this play had everything it needed to work. Yet it didn’t. Well, not completely.

The story follows Phillip, a hardworking Jewish man obsessed with work and his own desire to be assimilated into New York aristocracy. Phillip is suddenly shocked and upset to find his wife, Sylvia, unable to walk, seemingly paralysed after reading newspaper reports of Kristallnacht in Germany. An enigmatic Dr. Harry Hyman is called in who uncovers the psychosis of Sylvia’s obsession and points its relationship to her husband’s own personality and deepest desires. The most interesting element of this play is the paradigm of projected fear, sexual attraction, complex love and self-hate that forms itself. We are drawn in through the juxtaposition of the two very different dysfunctional couples: the ‘ladies man’ Dr. Hyman and his irrepressibly upbeat non-Jewish wife, versus the stuffy and uptight Phillip and his Jewish wife Sylvia, the apple of his eye now chair or bed-bound. Both men love their wives though appear governed by forces that they feel are out of their control and that therefore take them away from their wives. Hyman, by his wandering eye for women, a leftover of his Casanova days of youth, now finding focus on Sylvia; Phillip, by his need to be far away from his Jewish origins (shown in his inability to empathise with those suffering in Germany and his need to disassociate himself from the Jewish community of New York in front of his employer). In this way, much in the play pivots on Sylvia. And therein lies the rub. Sylvia’s character seems to not carry well in the story and in a sense starts a chain of discrepancies in which other characters appear not to tally either. Her relationship with her doctor is on the brink of an affair, his lusting verging on tipping her over the edge into adultery though paradoxically bringing feeling to her legs. Yet she is supposed to still love her husband. Hyman loves his wife yet seduces Sylvia in an ambiguous manner where we are not certain if it may be a test of her disability or a genuine amorous approach behind Phillip’s back. Either way, Hyman’s relationship with Phillip seems very genuine and well-meaning and it is hard to believe that he would do that to him as he is aware on some level that he is Phillip’s only friend.
Likewise Sylvia appears by the second act to have a friendship with Hyman’s wife and does not appear to feel any guilt for the illicit closeness she and Dr. Hyman enjoyed. The ways in which the different characters come to interact appear to get more and more confusing and unbelievable even though the concepts behind the play strengthen. In the second act, Phillip comes to understand that his dictatorial stance with his wife in the past, his prevention of her humanity, combined with the lack of sexual attention and (most important) hatred of all things Jewish (as if it were a bad word), has morphed him in her mind into a Hitler figure of sorts, an unfeeling tyrant. It is him in fact that has paralysed her. This seems a surprise to the audience as many lines in the script are given over to the amount of love Philip has for her and it is hard to imagine that he has been so unfeeling as to be the sole cause of her disability. We learn how she is the reason he works so hard and she is clearly the one and only love of his life, even if he cannot show it or cannot make love to her. All in all, by the time the realization comes to Philip in the play, the audience are half an hour ahead of him and so his sudden enlightenment as to his self-loathing takes on a slightly comedic element that I am sure was not intended by Miller. Sylvia getting her abilities back and Philip being bed-ridden after a heart attack seems positively over the top and unnecessarily symbolic. By the end I got the sense that the play was intended to have the effect of, say, a piece like Ariel Dorfman’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ but fell well short. I enjoyed the play mainly due to the basic concept of a Jewish person being unable to function due to sympathy for other Jews suffering far away and another Jewish person being unable to empathise due to the need to function in a land far away from other Jews. This dichotomy alone made the play worth a watch. I just hope that the nuances of the character’s interactions are made more realistic when the play moves to the Vaudeville Theatre in the West End. I fear the replacement of Tara Fitzgerald as Sylvia may help in this area. Although she generally performed well, she certainly stood out as least convincing on stage.                   

Jana Manuelpillai

How to make an art thief of us all - Volkswagen Art Heist

Wednesday 12 October 2011

The Exciting Future of Sri Lankan Contemporary Art

The Future of Sri Lankan Contemporary Art

I believe an exciting future lies ahead of Sri Lankan contemporary art, one that stands apart from the glory days of the 43 Group and the days of Imperial art education before this. One that is distanced from India and China’s dominant art scene that moves at an untameable speed across the waters, forcing, in some ways by example, the route for other smaller countries in Asia wanting to enhance their art market. Sri Lanka has the chance, in this economic upturn, to tread carefully, to take each step with grace and, in this, stand out in the stampede.  

Many who come to my gallery ask me why I am excited about Sri Lankan art? What makes its future special? I always tell them that as much as war destroys, ravages, rapes, scars and burns, it can also inspire creativity. Of course, this creativity never makes the past war worthwhile. That would be an insensitive and naïve thing to say. However the creativity is unmatchable and within that creativity is often a strength of conviction that astounds as much as heals. I honestly believe that the art that will now emerge in these post-war years will help Sri Lanka and it will be creative like nothing before it. It will never re-build, un-ravage or vanish a scar but as it is borne from this tragedy, as such it will be a potent antidote, like a poisonous snake’s venom being used for a victim’s cure.

The future I am excited about involves an increasing desire to artistically respond and attend to Sri Lanka’s recent history, its civil war that ensued from 1983 until May 2009. How can such a historical haemorrhage as this period do anything but create new ideas, mediums, new senses of self and new understandings of what it is ‘to move forward’? I envision artists rising to this challenge, describing Sri Lanka’s unusual modernity with open emotion and daring courage like war veterans stepping forward to express their trauma or else long-ignored soothsayers, their portentous voice overlooked for the sake of louder, inflexible voices in the crowd. I look forward to this as much as I wait with baited breath for Tamil artists to come to the fore in the art world to add variety to Sri Lankan contemporary art. Right now art is dominated by talented Singhalese artists, the vast majority of which, from my experience, working out of Colombo.

What art will war torn areas like Vanni and Jaffna give rise to? What movement will returning talented artists like T. Shaanathanan initiate in the Northern province? How will artists in Colombo that have been political, or at least socially-motivated, in their art for many years re-direct their work with this new freedom given to them. I am excited to see how artists like Jagath Weerasinghe, an outspoken artist if ever there was one, will respond in his work and how we in return will respond. Anoma and Jagath Ravindra, two established artists, have for a long time been interested in themes of finding redemption, salvation, peace and escape from this world. What will they find in their abstract forms and layered meditative surfaces that will refresh and guide us in our progress to a new Sri Lankan future?

It will take a greater variety of artistic minds to make of the art scene something idiosyncratic and worthy of exploration (and indeed investment) on a global level. But I believe that the variety exists. Ready or reaching maturation. I believe that artists have now a chance to help society rebuild itself, to right history, to correct identity and in doing all of this restore faith and hope to a country that for so long has been without any, shrouding its despair in tourist beach resorts, fashion shows and umbrella-ed cocktails. Artists in this way are charged with the greatest of all commitments at one of the most pivotal periods in Sri Lankan art history. This is why I am excited. The route artists take, and the decisions art dealers, gallerists and buyers make in the coming years, will shape art from this small island for a very long time.

Jana Manuelpillai
The Noble Sage Art Gallery, London   

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Lana del Rey - New Music

I am really enjoying this new music by Lana del Rey. I cannot wait to purchase her new album. never thought of pre-ordering but this really has got me dancing! Enjoy! Like a tarantino film waiting to happen...

Friday 9 September 2011

BATMAN - LIVE (2011) at Birmingham NIA & O2 Arena, London

Theatre has changed a great deal in the last ten years much like art exhibitions. With the need to fill seats, to account for government arts spending, to grow audiences and break stereotypical ideas of the nature of museum or theatre-goers, to appeal to a wider age spectrum of the general public, these spaces of so-called ‘high art’ have had to make some big changes to the type of shows they put on. These changes are good on the whole. We see the V&A putting on an exhibition of outfits worn by Kylie Minogue for example – not something I would see but I know my aunt who is not a museum-person would enjoy it. We see Royal Academy putting on yet another Hockney show - whatever spin you put on it, it still simplifies to another Hockney show over, say, a lesser known artist. We see even the high and mighty Royal Opera House edge toward performances such as ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as they have mass appeal and instant recognisability. Cinemas keep the ‘blockbusters’ on for just that bit longer to get every last enthusiast who wants to see that film on the big screen. Theatre perhaps has had the most change of all, not all of it good. The famous West End has become home to a variety of musicals such as ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Mamma Mia’, ‘Jersey Boys’, ‘Thriller’, the list goes on and on. They are for the most part poor stories hashed together around very famous songs by even more famous singers such as Michael Jackson, the performers of Motown Records, Queen… I think I just saw the latest one start to advertise itself: the strangely titled ‘Rock of Ages’ starring a winner from Pop Idol and the guy who sings ‘I believe in a thing called Love’. It will have a line up of big rock ballads for people to sing-a-long to such as ‘The Final Countdown’. I find these musicals rather strange. Not musicals per se as much as cartoon plotlines as vehicles for well-known songs. This is not ‘Evita’ or ‘Cats’ territory, nor is it the stuff of ‘Bombay Dreams’, ‘Pricilla Queen of the Desert’ or ‘The Lion King’. These morph together a karaoke sing-a-long with puffed-up pantomime to be a genre in itself, profitable but for the most part vacuous. They are simply a ‘night out’ a la Strawberry Moons Nightclub disguised as a West End show. There are exceptions of course. ‘Mamma Mia’, for example, is one of them, said to be very enjoyable –the best of a bad bunch. My problem with this rising phenomena is that it is not worthy of the theatres it claims. It gets crowds in but at the price of watering down the artistry of musical/show theatre. I’m not getting all toffee-nosed about it all. I’ve been to the Vegas ‘Legends’ show (musical impersonators) and it was good clean fun. I am the last person to turn my nose up at singing along to the hits of MJ. I just am not sure whether I need to go to a theatre and pay West End prices for this experience. I also find the crappy stories a mockery of my journey into town and the amount of money I have paid for my seat.

These shows are made worse by the other revivalist musicals that abound like the ‘Sister Act’ Musical or the ‘Dirty Dancing’ Musical. Now I like these films (well I like Sister Act) but I just do not know why we need a musical of the film. At least these films have song and dance in them, I guess. What about the ‘Ghost’ Musical? What on earth do we need a Musical of the Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore film? Is there that much of a fan base? Is the whole idea for this category of revivalist theatre pinned to the hope that thousands of people want to sing along to ‘The Time of My Life’ or see the Righteous Brothers sexy clay-modelling scene played out on stage? I think so. I think these musicals are notionally conceived, the product of a one-line sales pitch: Wanna see a Patrick Swayze look-a-like lift a girl in the air like in the film but this time in real life? Did you like the film ‘Ghost’ in the eighties …? I think it’s simple as that. A similar one-line thinking is happening in mainstream film: Remember ‘Shaft’, ‘The A-Team’, ‘Miami Vice’, ‘Transformers’, ‘Starsky and Hutch’, ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ on TV? Wanna see them again but with actors you might know on a screen 24 times bigger? On TV, Pop Idol and X Factor do the same thing. They are essentially a contest where viewers are not rating musical talent. If we are honest, the recognisability of the song is crucial to the show. They have replaced Top of the Pops with unknown singers (for the most part) impersonating/promoting well known singers. We never see original material in them.

As I said, there are exceptions worthy of note such as the sell-out ‘Fela!’ that just finished at Sadlers Wells, the story of Fela Kuti, the African musical legend. And of course, ‘The Lion King’ which continues to be enjoyed in the West End like the first day it arrived. True crowd-pleasers with true art to their finish. They aim high and deliver. However surrounding these gems are such trashy, throw-away shows that don’t even deserve the title of ‘musical’ or ‘show’ in my opinion. They are ‘Hen Night Shows’. I must admit I am not a big musical lover but still I can see that there is a huge chasm between ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and ‘Legally Blonde – the Musical’. It doesn’t take a genius to see that.

Having said all this, I do think that there may be a few diamonds dressed up as rabbit droppings (so to speak) that do in fact bring in new audiences to the West End, widen the appeal of theatre and create new stage experiences with a high level of finish and fun (I’m not against fun!). ‘Shrek’ is one of them, I hear. It didn’t look promising to me but I have indeed heard great things about it if you catch a good performance. ‘Wicked’ the story of the good witch in Wizard of Oz is an inspired tale that captures the minds of young and old in a fun, upbeat, visual style. My personal favourite, The Lion King’, which I have seen five times incidentally, is still awesome to behold. A theatrical experience that draws new audiences from all over the world, an exhibition of the best outcome of an animated film being adapted for the stage. To this list I would like to add my most recent experience: ‘BATMAN – LIVE’. This live action comic book play is a first of its kind, following only minor attempts in theme parks and such like. Its only predecessor is ‘Spiderman – Turn off the Dark’, a musical which is currently playing Broadway. It was considered critically as a giant failure or comic (get it?) proportions.

Now before I start describing the success of ‘BATMAN – LIVE’, I would like to make a rather large admonishment. I am a self-proclaimed Batfan of the highest order. I have been collecting comics, books, paraphernalia and figurines in regard to all areas of Batman since 1989 when the Tim Burton film first came out. In fact in my bedroom is my pride of joy – a glass cabinet displaying everything I have collected over the last twenty-four years. I like ‘The Animated Adventures’, the new futuristic cartoon takes on Batman in the future such as ‘Batman Beyond’, the 60s camped up television series, the Christopher Nolan re-creations and most of all the Tim Burton gothic masterpieces. I can even find positive things to say about the Joel Schumacher monstrosities that were ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman and Robin’. My being a fan, makes going to ‘BATMAN – LIVE’ a potential failure of the highest echelon (disappointing a Batman fan, like disappointing a ‘Star Wars’ fan, is a knife in the heart) or another successful rendition of one of the greatest revenge heroes of our time. There was a lot at stake.

I loved it. A fun mix of the television series, the original batman comics and the animated adventures, with a dash of Joel Schumacher’s pop kitchness, this show demonstrated the great variety within the ‘Batman’ mythology. The show, though spring-boarding off the success of Nolan’s Batman trilogy (the new one is coming very soon), left aside the dirge of Industrial Gotham and Burton’s dark, moody ideas for the metropolis, to show the city as an alternative New York, colourful and character-ful rather than mean and foreboding. The city is still important to this vision of Batman -don’t get me wrong. We view the streets of Gotham from above, miniature buildings lit on stage with full sized Gothamites moving among them. Then we move in closer to set pieces colourfully described in the surroundings of Arkham Asylum, the Iceberg Lounge, the Gotham Circus, Wayne Manor and the Batcave. Perhaps the most impressive feature is the integration of an IMAX style screen behind the stage. The imagery on this screen sometimes gave deeper perspective to the action on stage (for instance a background to the action at the circus gave the performers before us a sense of a larger three-dimensional reality i.e. the comics coming alive like a pop-up book). Sometimes this screen provided comic book imagery during fight scenes or further enhanced ideas such as a character falling or jumping from great height or else provided, with the turning of comic book pages a scenes change, imaginary time passing and the introduction of new characters. It reminded me of the ‘Batman’ logo interrupting the sixties show now and again before the customary narration: ‘Meanwhile in Wayne Manor, trusty butler Alfred is….’ It was a very hi-tech version of this interruptive insignia.

The acting was over the top but then how else could one play characters such as The Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, let alone Batman and Robin? The script for most of these characters was poor but the delight of seeing these figures alive before us was so great that it did not matter. Textual spotlight had been given to The Joker anyway, being the most famous adversary of Batman. The Joker, played by Mark Frost, had all the best lines and also all the best set pieces. He was played somewhere in between the character in the sixties show, the original comics and ‘The Animated Adventures’ – a psycho clown with a devilish sense of humour. It was great to see this rendition of the character after so much praise of the late Heath Ledger’s version of the maniac. It was nice to see the character simplified again to a menacing madman with a penchant for circus-inspired crime. It was wonderful to see the lesser-known, Harley Quinn, Joker’s girlfriend on stage, an enjoyable comedy counterpart to the psychopath, fairly unknown to most unless you read the comics. 

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me was Batman himself. Even Robin came off better (and I hate Robin). His entrance was disappointing, Batman swinging forward in what was meant to be slow motion onto the edge of a building to confront Catwoman. I wasn’t against the use of wires. It worked well in other places, particularly the circus scenes and Catwoman’s burglary scene (which looked satisfyingly straight out of the comics incidentally), it just didn’t work here and made Batman look like he was about to sit on the loo as he was unbalanced for his landing. It wasn’t the elegant arrival for which we had hoped. Once there it became obvious that his suit was not right either. A metallic grey (probably to make him stand out against the black), he just didn’t look like The Dark Knight we all know and love, and that criminals fear. This was a great shame that was only made up for by the later fights scenes, and the awesome scenes in Wayne Manor and the Batcave -not least by the elegantly designed ‘hoverboard’-style Batmobile. Still, Batman was the hero we all came to see, young and old, and so this was a measurable disappointment.

‘BATMAN - LIVE’ proved two things to me. The need to bring new audiences into the theatre, or at least to the stage, can be a good thing. There were definitely kids there that will grow up with an appreciation of live action because of this performance. I remember the first impactful piece I saw: Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. I think of it even now and remember the excitement of being in the audience as a child. The second thing it proved was that there are so many areas to be explored in terms of stage spectacle that still have credibility and novel vision, yet on the surface perhaps look superficial as ideas. This show couldn’t exist without ‘Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger’, ‘The Matrix’, popular animation and of course the Batman franchise and yet was closest to comic books, a form never before merged with theatre in this way. It brought a whole new dimension to theatre in the way that ‘Starlight Express’ did a long time ago. In that it was worthy of its spot at Birmingham NIA and the O2 Arena in Central London. Why wasn’t something like this in the West End? Surely it has more to offer on paper than a musical version of the film ‘Ghost’? Perhaps this is the problem. It has more to offer than the ‘one-line selling pitch’ I discussed before. But this is what theatre is all about, right? That’s for you and I to decide as the paying public, I guess.                                         

Jana Manuelpillai

Even though shot from the audience seats up high, this still rocks! Rodrigo and Gabriela - BOMB TRACK cover with Zach de la Rocha

Wednesday 7 September 2011

The future of dubstep hip hop remixes

‘The Skin I Live In’ (2011) - Another triumphant film by Pedro Almodovar

Thinking back, I think it was Almodovar’s ‘Tie me up, Tie me down’ (1990) that was the first foreign film, certainly the first Spanish film, that truly excited me and made me realise that there were contemporary film-makers elsewhere in Europe that had a vision that was quite extraordinary and one-of-a-kind, a breath of fresh air from stodgy (but enjoyable) British cinema. It was during an A-Level Spanish lesson that this film was shown to me as a break from language and vocabulary-learning. Just as when ‘The Mission’ (1986) was shown to me during a Geography lesson (randomly part of plate tectonics), this moment turned into a cinematic occasion that I would never forget. Today, twenty-one years after ‘Tie me up’, Almodovar’s films continue to bring me a huge amount of joy. They are always original and stylish, have a superbly crafted script and an inspired cast to mount these words onto the screen. I know it is not the politically-correct turn of phrase to describe Almodovar’s characters and narrative as like that of a ‘circus’ as he often deals with important issues such as transgender identity, homosexuality and transvestite lifestyle but I do feel that it does summon up the correct sense of large, often theatrical, set pieces accompanied by extravagant characters with dramatic acts to perform. However, where circus life is often equated with the ‘freak show’, or meaningless but entertaining performance, or else old-fashioned ideas of what constitutes something foreign or exotic, where human characters are superficially rendered and posed for audience naïve enjoyment, in Almodovar’s cinematic canvases the characters are far from skin-deep (sorry about this pun), far more than their sexuality or habits. His films show a new tolerant modernity emerging where being foreign to the norm is a characteristic we all inhabit and something we can all enjoy together.         

‘The Skin I Live In’ is a classic piece of Almodovar pie. It tells the story of a brilliant plastic surgeon, Robert, (played by Antonia Banderas) who due to the scarring of his wife in a car accident with her lover (and subsequent suicide due to her horror at her own visage) begins an unhealthy obsession with skin and muscle manipulation and transplantation. From a viewing of the trailer, immediately a ‘Frankenstein’ story springs to mind and one wonders whether this will be an Almodovar take on this classic story. However, this assumption would be wrong and the product of, frankly, an ineffective trailer. Robert’s surgical obsession finds form in the victim of Vera (played beautifully by Elena Ananya), a test subject held captive upstairs in his mansion home and private surgery premises. We learn early in the film that Elena has been moulded (physically and mentally) to be who she is today though to what extent one only understands as the story unravels. We note from characters such as his faithful, though morally questionable, housekeeper and accomplice, Marilia, that Vera has an amazing resemblance to his late wife…. Naturally I do not want to give away the story and spoil this delicious tale for you. My intention is only to describe the talent of Almodovar as he is able to take a seed idea like this and build multiple stories and implied meta-stories to complicate this basic line and show the varieties of motives always involved in one person’s act and the spectrum of routes that we, the audience, can view that same act. For instance we hear of Robert’s daughter many years back committing suicide, unable to deal with her mother’s suicide at her feet and her erroneous belief that her father, Robert, raped her. We learn of the housekeeper, Marilia, being both the secret mother of Robert and the mother of the man who stole Robert’s wife and left her burning in a crashed car as he fled. When she says that her womb gives birth to insanity, the words ring in our ears and we truly feel for her though, strangely, simultaneously distrust her. We can’t help but feel the mother must be like her sons. We meet the runaway son, a conventional madman, juxtaposed with the elegance and poise that the plastic surgeon brings to the same psychosis. He is dressed in a tiger suit straight from the carnival (this is not a euphemism; he literally is coming from a Spanish carnival). Further afield in the local town we meet the actual rapist of his daughter, Vicente. Unlike what one would expect, he is a soft-natured, talented seamstress and tailor at a local fashion boutique who appears to, on the one hand, be in love with or at least admire his lesbian colleague in a shy, schoolboy manner and, on the other hand, drop pills, ride a motorcycle and roll around the party scene with his attractive male friends looking for girls. Even his lesbian colleague and his mother, both fleeting characters for the most part, have stories attached to them through the director’s insinuation. One wonders whether a relationship is there between the two, even though they are years apart. We never know but we wonder due to subtle little moments of intimacy between the two women. This makes us wonder whether Vicente is attracted to his colleague because she is the sexual interest of his mother or because he feels usurped by her as the apple of his mother’s eye. The mother is cunningly counter-posed against Marilia, the housekeeper. This is not made blatant. I don’t think they are ever in a scene together. But they are the same age and where Vicente’s mother comes across as a dutiful, loving woman, the other comes across as epitomising motherhood as a perversity; where a son’s psychosis is allowed to run riot due to the enabling love of his mother.

As one would expect from the title of the film and from any understanding of how the director works, it is not a surprise that the notion of ‘skin’ is a running theme in the film. Think of all the phrases we know that involve skin and one can easily apply them to moments in the story. Almodovar gets under the skin of his characters both literally and metaphorically. His story peels like an onion, each individual shedding being translucent showing its inter-relationship to the wider story and to the other characters around and within. Most of all, Almodovar uses the idea of skin as an underlying metaphor associating it with private identity and hidden sexuality/homosexuality. One notes the subtlety with which this is transported to us on screen: the hose-washing of Vicente where his clothes stick to his body; the body-suit designed to mould and hold the body in shape (assistance and captivity in an ‘all-in-one’); the tiger costume of the estranged son of Marilia, ridiculous yet manipulatively designed for emotional impact on his mother. In this film, skin is not private, it is not sacred, it is not a surface which signals one to stop. It is penetrative and abusable. It is porous and osmotic, breathing in disappointments and regret and giving out poisonous psychosis and lies.     

It is hard not to be carried away in describing the artfulness of this film. I hope I have tantalised you enough to see ‘The Skin I live In’ as it is indeed a triumph. No less for the return of Antonio Banderas to our screens as a controlled, strong, inspiring lead. The film reminds us of the quality of acting Banderas once gave us in his early films such as (here is my full circle, wait for it…) Almodovar’s ‘Tie me up, Tie me down!’ I remember that was the first time I saw him on screen and he really did carry that film just as he carries this one twenty-one years later. Here we see Banderas utterly at ease, working his actor muscles once again under a director that surely must be his muse or visa versa. We suddenly forget the ills of ‘Zorro’ (that sounds like the title of the film – it isn’t), the average ‘Desperado’ and pretty bad ‘Once upon a Time in Mexico’, the ‘Spy Kids’ franchise and the comedy Spanish cat in the Shrek films that frankly any actor could have undertaken. We forget all of this and remember his stunning performance in ‘Evita’ and ‘Frida’. Ironically the roles he has been given by Hollywood have been to spotlight him as a cool, sexy male character with that ‘oh-so-Spanish’ esoteric charm. Yet I do not think he has ever looked as cool and as sexy (and has as much charm) as he does in this movie. In this film we see in Banderas, shades of Christian Bale in ‘American Psycho’ (2000) where being psychotic involves a mixture of nonchalance at the absurd, skilfulness at execution and a selection of the best suits money can buy. This film is proof that Banderas is a good actor without good roles. If Hollywood can’t find them, I suggest he goes back to good ole Almodovar.         

Jana Manuelpillai