#008 — It Looks Just Like a Window
Hi, hello, how are you? This is Tendrils, a newsletter-shaped miscellany from me — Adam Wood. Things with the annual Sipped Ink summer read-along keep truckin’ (we reach the half-way point this weekend), so let’s find out together the extent to which that’s crampin’ my newsletter-writing style.
To start with, let me tell you about a pair of movies: the worst, and the best, that I saw this week.
The Batman dir. Matt Reeves (2022) ★★★☆☆
It’s a source of consternation to me that DC controls two of the superheroes I have enjoyed most since childhood, and yet they seem entirely disinterested in making an enjoyable film with either of them. At this point there hasn’t been a great Batman movie since The Dark Knight (2008), and Superman’s last great silver screen appearance is even older: 2006’s Superman Returns.
The latter (which, FWIW, may be my favourite superhero movie) felt like a direct response to 9/11, addressing a need for hope and a belief in something better. Since then, however, it has felt like DC is interested only in essaying increasingly ‘grittier’, ‘darker’, and more ‘real’ versions of these characters, with diminishing returns. Perhaps it’s a response to the war in Iraq, the collapse of faith in institutions, and the evaporation of concepts like collective good, and objective truth. Whatever it is, these movies have become dour and self-serious to an extent that I find increasingly unpalatable.
This particular entry is far too long, given than it’s not going anywhere special. Its central plot is three steps too complex for its purposes, possibly in an attempt to trick the viewer into thinking it’s cleverly constructed. Thirty minutes could have been lopped off the running time by simplifying it a little, and necessitating fewer interminable exposition dialogue scenes between two characters standing, in yellow light, in the rain… which happens a lot. I’m not sure it would have helped much, however. Ultimately, in both tone and narrative, this isn’t a film that’s very interested in hope and inspiration. In one moment towards the end it pretends to be, but the beat rings hollow, the preceding 160 minutes having given us no indication that anything will, or can, improve.
Please DC, give me something to believe in again!
Cha Cha Real Smooth dir. Cooper Raiff (2022) ★★★★☆
I loved the tone of this movie, and particularly the pitch that Raiff (as Andrew) & Dakota Johnson (as Domino) are able to find for their characters’ relationship. Given the template of this story — about a young man’s relationship with a married woman and her autistic daughter — it feels as though most writers, directors, and actors, would choose to move in the direction of drama and histrionics. Raiff’s version of the story is told with an admirably light touch, and features characters who talk to one another when it would be easy for the script to have them shout.
The film is also sensitive and considered about each of its relationships, both those most central to the narrative — Andrew’s with both Domino, and her daughter Lola — but also the comparatively peripheral: between Andrew and his brother, and both of them with their mother, and stepfather, Greg. No matter the set of characters on screen in any given scene, the script has interesting things to say about what it means to grow up, to (re)assess one’s place in the world, and to relate to one another. This carries through right to the denouement, where Raiff settles upon something less neat, and perhaps more difficult, than what might be considered the expected, ‘happier’ ending. It’s a neat turn, which had me reconsidering the film’s opening sequence in a new light.
On Wednesday night we saw St Vincent at her Glastonbury warm-up show here in Oxford. It was the first time I’ve been in an enclosed space with more than a handful of people, sans mask, since March 2020. But, once I managed to let go of the weirdness of that feeling, I was able to enjoy a really good show. The setlist was weighted towards the most recent record — Daddy’s Home (2021); ninth on my favourite albums list last year — with alterations made to a couple of other, older tracks, so that they felt more at home with the funk / soul vibe. Most notably this applied to opener ‘Digital Witness’, reworked as a down-tempo lounge band piece, instead of the smooth-surfaced neo-disco of the album version (on 2014’s eponymous LP).
Clark is a mercurial presence on stage, blending and swaying with the trio of backing dancers / vocalists in one moment; the next, dropping to her knees for a solo raucous enough to unplug her Jag-Stang from its amp. From song to song she also proves herself to be capable of as many guises as a vocalist: cooing through ‘…At The Holiday Party’, and assaulting the latter part of ‘Pay Your Way in Pain’ in something close to a scream. She is as earnest on ‘New York’ as she sounds menacing on ‘Your Lips Are Red’. My personal highlights were the inclusion of my favourite track from the latest album: ‘My Baby Wants a Baby’, and — perennial live favourite from 2011’s Strange Mercy — ‘Cheerleader’, which it felt like a real moment getting to witness live.At the time of writing, for folks here in the UK at least, her Glastonbury set is scheduled to be available on BBC iPlayer for the next month.
It wouldn’t be Tendrils without bullets, and hence, bullets:
• Be amazed, not grossed out, by the fact there are a lot of bug bits in your tea;
• I published a second episode of my podcast experiment, Flux Observer, discussing REM’s 1994 album Monster — search for it wherever you get your podcasts, or follow links here1;
• I thought this New Yorker profile of Yoko Ono was excellent;
• More playlists under the Finest Hour formula have sprung up: Robert Rackley wrote about the process of making his, here; there’s a selection from my good friend James on Spotify (he may well be a respected Professor of International Law, but he still left ‘Black’ out of his Pearl Jam selection); and more of my own on Apple Music;
• I love everything about this project to build a mini-library;
I’ll leave you here, with my very best wishes that the week ahead treats you kindly. It feels like the heart of summer truly is with us now that festivals are in full swing, play starts at Wimbledon tomorrow, and the F1 British Grand Prix is next weekend. Even if it’s not your favourite season (I’m more of an autumn, myself) you have to admit that’s pretty rad. I’ll write soon.
Update: the podcast is on hiatus and has been archived ↩︎