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Ian Briggs » 2012 » May

Gig review: Evan Christopher, North Down Museum, 30th May 2012

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 31st May 2012 at 6:59 pm

Categories: Music | Tags: , , , | No comments

It is not often that world-class musicians visit Northern Ireland, so when the opportunity arose to see one of the very best clarinettists close to home, I couldn’t afford to miss out.

Evan Christopher

Evan Christopher

Direct from New Orleans, Evan Christopher played a concert in the North Down Museum in Bangor, where an audience of almost one hundred people turned out to see him.

In a previous blog post I wrote a review of his last visit to Northern Ireland in 2010, in what was a great gig at the Black Box in Belfast. This time he returned with the same group of stunning musicians: David Blenkhorn on guitar, Dave Kelbie on rhythm guitar, and Sebastien Girardot on bass.

The playing was top class: beautiful interactions between the instruments, virtuosic playing from all the ensemble members and repertoire that was a mixture of slow, romantic songs (including one with Christopher singing vocals which was a nice interlude in the programme) contrasted with full-on, high-energy rhythms.

The solos were inventive in their style, but also full of that blues roots that screams New Orleans jazz. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that the performance did not follow the usual jazz format, in that the solos were mixed up and seemed to blend into one another seamlessly.

Christopher’s clarinet playing is sublime; a breathy, sultry low range lifts into a vibrant mid range and the clarity and ease with which he hits the very top notes is just amazing. As with all pro musicians, he has an incredible ability to make the most difficult things looks very easy, and this is true of the rest of the group: David Blenkhorn’s guitar playing is subtle when playing with the others, and yet he produces brilliantly crafted solos when needed.  Similarly the rhythm guitar playing of Dave Kelbie is so relaxed but provides that solid straight-ahead percussive ‘beat’ that drives the music forward, and is backed up by some fantastic bass playing from Sebastien Girardot who manages to create a rich, resonant sound and include some percussive slap-bass technique that gives  his solos a difference dimension.

It was another fantastic gig from this quartet and a great opportunity for people to hear this unique sound. I have embedded a YouTube video of the group below, which is well worth a listen. Check out this fabulous group if you ever get the chance.


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Belfast Film Festival Preview

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 28th May 2012 at 9:46 am

Categories: Films | Tags: , | No comments

The Belfast Film Festival kicks off later this week and in preparation, here are the films that I have booked to see along with a brief description from the festival’s website.

Good Vibrations

Terri Hooley is a radical, rebel and music-lover in 1970s Belfast when the bloody conflict known as the Troubles shuts down his city. As all his friends take sides and take up arms, Terri opens a record shop on the most bombed half-mile in Europe and calls it Good Vibrations. Through it he discovers a compelling voice of resistance in the city’s nascent underground punk scene. Galvanising the young musicians into action, he becomes the unlikely leader of a motley band of kids and punks who join him in his mission to create a new community, an alternative Ulster, to bring his city back to life.

Starring: Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker, Michael Colgan, Karl Johnson, With Liam Cunningham, Adrian Dunbar, Dylan Moran

Screenplay: Colin Carberry, Glenn Patterson

Producers: Chris Martin, Andrew Eaton, David Holmes.

BBC Films presents with the participation of Bord Scannán na hÉireann/IFB and Northern Ireland Screen. In association with Immaculate Conception Films a Canderblinks Film & Music, Revolution Films and Treasure Entertainment production.

Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn. United Kingdom / Ireland 2012, 102min 

The Verdict

Screening at Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice. Introduced by a prominent member of the Northern Irish legal profession. 

In Sidney Lumet’s powerful courtroom drama Paul Newman stars as Frank Galvin, an alcoholic Boston lawyer who tries to redeem his personal and professional reputation by winning a difficult medical malpractice case. He is assisted by his new girlfriend, Laura (Charlotte Rampling),. Frank, down on his luck, is presented with the case of his life when he is approached by the family of a woman who has been left in a coma following an operation in a large hospital. Helped by his assistant Mickey (Jack Warden), he agrees to take the case, hoping for a fast settlement. When he visits the victim in the hospital, he becomes emotionally involved, turns down a sizable settlement offer made by the hospital, and decides to bring the case to trial despite the formidable opposition of the Church and their lawyer, (James Mason). Oscar-nominated for “Best Picture” and “Best Director” (Lumet) as well as for “Best Adapted Screenplay” (David Mamet).

Directed by Sidney Lumet. USA 1982, 129min

Woody Allen: A Documentary

Beginning with Allen’s childhood and his first professional gigs as a teen – furnishing jokes for comics and publicists – Woody Allen: A Documentary chronicles the trajectory and longevity of Allen’s career: from his work in the 1950s-60s as a TV scribe for Sid Caesar, standup comedian and frequent TV talk show guest, to a writer-director averaging one film-per-year for more than 40 years.

Exploring the ultimate “independent filmmaker’s” writing habits, directing, and relationship with his actors, acclaimed filmmaker Robert B. Weide travelled with Allen from the London set of You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger to the Cannes premiere of Midnight in Paris. He also filmed Allen at home, in the editing room and touring his childhood haunts in the Midwood section of Brooklyn. New interviews provide insight and backstory, with actors Antonio Banderas, Josh Brolin, Penelope Cruz, John Cusack, Larry David, Mariel Hemingway, Scarlett Johansson, Julie Kavner, Diane Keaton, Martin Landau, Chris Rock, Mira Sorvino, writing collaborators Marshall Brickman, Mickey Rose and Doug McGrath, longtime managers Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe, and Martin Scorsese, among many others.

Directed by Robert B. Weide. USA 2011, 92 mins

Come As You Are

Winner of two major awards at the Montréal World Film Festival, Come As You Are is an off-beat Belgian road movie about three young disabled men on a quest to lose their virginity. Jozef is nearly blind, Philip is a paraplegic, and Lars suffers from a disease that keeps him wheelchair-bound. These buddies enjoy the finer things in life, including wine and song; the only thing missing is the women. Isolated by their disabilities and cared for by their parents at home, they convince their families they need to go on a “wine tour” to Spain. But this is a cover for their true goal—a Spanish brothel, which Philip has heard caters to disabled men. Accompanied by a large woman caretaker named Claude who only speaks French, they take off in a beat-up van for the journey of a lifetime.

Never condescending and constantly unpredictable, this film provides a warm look at people whose bodies may not cooperate, but whose souls yearn to breathe free.

Directed by Geoffrey Enthoven. Belgium, 2011, 115min

Don Hertzfeldt

A special selection of cult animator and Academy Award nominee Don Hertzfeldt classic animated shorts, culminating in the exclusive premiere of his newest film, It’s such a beautiful day: the third and final chapter in a trilogy about a mysterious man named Bill.

Chapter One, Everything will be OK, won the Sundance Film Festival’s Jury Award in Short Filmmaking and was named by many critics as one of the ‘best films of 2007’. Chapter Two, I am so proud of you, received twenty-seven awards and was described by the San Francisco International Film Festival as, “[his] best yet… even the Hertzfeldt faithful may be too stunned to laugh.”

Nearly two years in the making, the 23-minute ‘It’s such a beautiful day’ is Don’s longest, and most ambitious, piece to date. Don Hertzfeldt is the creator of many short animated films, including the Academy-Award nominated Rejected. His animated films have received over 150 awards and have been presented around the world. He was the youngest director named in the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of The 100 Important Animation Directors of all time. In 2012, Hertzfeldt was ranked #16 in an animation industry and historian survey of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Animation.

Directed by Guillaume Canet. France 2011, 154min

Shadow Dancer

Even as a child, Collette was to experience at first hand the bloody consequences of the conflict in Northern Ireland when her little brother was killed by British security forces. Years later, Collette is herself now a mother and, like the rest of her family, still involved in the Republican cause. When she is arrested for her part in an aborted IRA bomb plot in London, a British secret service officer offers her a choice: lose everything including her little son and go to prison for twenty-five years or return to Belfast to spy on her own family. SHADOW DANCER is a psychological thriller in the truest sense of the term: it does not merely focus on the external elements of the plot; it also explores the moral dilemmas that face its protagonists. When the secret service man begins to worry about Collette’s safety she decides to feign interest in the agent – a duplicitous, risky game.

Director James Marsh depicts the conflict in Northern Ireland from the point of view of a woman whose daily life is a constant struggle for survival but who is nonetheless determined to create a better future for herself and her son.

Director James Marsh will introduce the film. Cast and crew will be in attendance.

Directed by James Marsh. UK / Ireland 2012, 101min

Witness For The Prosecution

Screening at Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice.

Agatha Christie tale of a man on trial for murder: a trial featuring surprise after surprise.

Witness for the Prosecution casts the great scenery-chomper Charles Laughton in Agatha Christie’s courtroom play. Marlene Dietrich plays the wife of Tyrone Power, accused of killing an old lady for her money.

A delicious Billy Wilder mixture of humor, intrigue and melodrama, Witness for the Prosecution is distinguished by its hand-picked supporting cast and perfectly crafted dialogue. Wilder plays the suspense well, but this movie belongs to Laughton, who makes his every line resonate like music and thunder: “I am constantly surprised that women’s hats do not provoke more murders”.

Directed by Billy Wilder. USA 1957, 116min

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Film Review: Le Quai des Brumes

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 21st May 2012 at 3:40 pm

Categories: Films | Tags: , , , , , | No comments

A film I saw recently at the BFI Southbank was Michel Carné’s 1938 film Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows).

Having seen a couple of French films from this period recently, I was expecting something enjoyable but fairly light and straightforward. Instead, the film was startlingly bleak, outright dark in places and understandably controversial given the time in which it was made (it was actually banned for some time in France).

Le Quai des Brumes

Le Quai des Brumes (1938, dir. Michel Carné)

More comprehensive reviews of the storyline are available here and here, but in short, a solider who has apparently deserted from the army appears en route to Le Havre, when he is spotted on the road by a passing driver. Once in Le Havre, he tries to flee the country on a boat bound for Venezuela, but he meets, and falls in love with a young girl, Nelly, whose torturous relationship with her guardian provides the main thrust of the film.

I was particularly impressed with Jean Gabin’s performance as the eponymous lead character. He was excellent in Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion, also recently shown at the BFI, but in Le Quai des Brumes, he leads the film almost by himself with a much more powerful role. Some of his scenes in the local shack/bar (called Panama) are brilliantly played and full of emotion but also perfectly natural. As part of a second plot-line in the film, there is also the slightly laughable appearance of the most unthreatening mobster in any film, in a story which proves central to the overall plot.

Interestingly, this review also draws parallels between Le Quai des Brumes and later Holywood films such as The Big Sleep and Casablanca, though this film is probably a bit more pessimistic throughout. It is also interesting to compare the similarities between the life in the town in this film and in Aki Kaurismaki’s recent film Le Havre.

Le Quai des Brumes was a thoroughly enjoyable film that was determined, dark and steered nicely away from the dreaded happy ending. I have also included links to some other reviews of the film below:




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Website Update

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 3rd May 2012 at 4:06 pm

Categories: Computing | Tags: , , , , | No comments

I have been spending the last month or so studying some HTML and CSS, thanks to a birthday present I was given!  I have now managed to completely redesign my website and have, for the first time, designed it from scratch coding most of it myself.

I then converted my HTML code into the right format for WordPress (including many hours learning PHP and WordPress functions to bring all the elements of the pages together), and produced a site that is fairly clean, and contains most of the elements I want to show off.

There are now new sidebars on most pages with links to things that I read often, and I have updated my photo galleries to hopefully show off the photos a bit better.  I have also tidied up the blog section and hopefully made the posts a bit clearer.

Feel free to have a browse and point out any issues or bugs that I haven’t been able to troubleshoot myself.

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The films of Federico Fellini

Posted by: Ian Briggs on 2nd May 2012 at 10:55 pm

Categories: Films | Tags: , , | 2 comments

I have been doing some reading on Federico Fellini’s films tonight and wanted to share some interesting links that I have found.

First up is Strictly Film School which gives a few reviews including some interesting points made on La Strada, which I saw recently for the first time at Screen St Ives.  The religious metaphors are common themes in the Fellini films I have seen, and this post points out some of the more subtle points to pick up on in the imagery portrayed.  This story provides an extended essay on Fellini’s religious beliefs which will take some time to read fully, but it is clear that some of his early experiences with the church had a profound effect on his life and is therefore prominent in many of his films.

One thing I have thought about Fellini’s work in the past is backed up by this comprehensive analysis which says of the imagery used in his films:

…these spectacular images increasingly lacked artistic discipline as well as narrative connection.

This was evident, to a certain extent, in La Strada, where I often felt images were inserted to give an effect; I just wasn’t always sure what the effect was meant to be.

However, from what I understand, La Strada was not the worst offender in this respect. I have still to watch 8 1/2, but by all accounts this is Fellini’s most surreal work, with a storyline that is perhaps self-indulgent, and less constrained than some of his other works.

By far the most surreal of his films that I have seen is Amarcord.  An interesting analysis is given here which states that:

…[the film] seemed to practically have no existing plot – I could never fully understand exactly what was going on.

This is something I definitely agree with – I remember having to watch bits of the film again as it just didn’t make sense; it seemed to flit between classic Italian romantic cinema scenes to slapstick ‘Carry On-style’ comedy.

This is also something that has been discussed in regard to La Strada, including in the post-film discussion at Screen St Ives, and while I don’t think it applies to that film, I felt Amarcord truly did wander through Fellini’s imagination.  I don’t know how much of the film was improvised, but in an interview as part of Mark Cousins’ Story of Film, Claudia Cardinale makes the point that various scenes in 8 1/2 were improvised, and lines were made up by Fellini on-the-spot.

It is perhaps this kind of freedom and creativity which I have not yet got used to in Fellini’s work.  Nights of Cabiria and La Dolce Vita are both excellent films and by far my favourites, but perhaps I need to try harder to understand his other films.

Thoughts and comments greatly appreciated below…

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