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Monday, December 29, 2008

Design: The Best Car Designs of 2008

This year turned out to be a true annus horribilus (Latin for bad anus) for the world's car makers. Designers continued to be creative though even as the year ended with the industry on a precipice. In no order whatsoever here were my favorite new designs of the year:

1. Mazda Furai Concept
Mazda extended their watery concept design language to a racing car platform to stunning effect. There is little possibility of production but hopefully some of these cues will work their way into vehicles anyone (with credit) can buy. The swirling lighting forms at the front and sides demonstrates the Mazda fascination with water flow and how it shapes sand and rocks.

2. Cadillac CTS Coupe Concept
Unlike many of these concepts this Cadillac has a good shot at making next year's list as a production car. Taking the sharp existing front end of Caddy's CTS from the A-pillar forward and grafting it to a radically splayed roofline that nearly results in a hatchback leads to one of the best examples of their current look. The side sculpting, protruding taillamps, and flared rear fenders leave a powerful impression. Let's hope GM has the money to build it.

3. Land Rover LRX Concept
Another casualty of bad times, Land Rover was sold off along with Jaguar to India's Tata motors. What seemed like an abrupt way for Ford to wash their hands of two promising (but cash sucking) divisions now looks like genius as Ford has enough cash to weather much of what ails Chrysler and GM. Still, Land Rover's attractive LRX suggests a reasonable solution to the problem of big expensive SUVs. This compact vehicle posits a Land Rover that competes with the high-end versions of VW's Golf and why not? The detailing is superb, particularly the sweep of the headlamps into the wheel arch and side vent. The greenhouse emphasizes the sporty stance, helping the LRX straddle the line between sport hatch, SUV and crossover. Something like this is sure to hit production - let's hope it's exactly like this.

4. Dodge Challenger Production
The Challenger is the rare production vehicle that actually looks better than the concept on which it's based. Most of this comes down to simple detailing such as the elimination of the Dodge target style grille. I resisted this mightily. The most retro of all the pony cars revived in the last few years, every inch of this car says it's the early 70s. Of course the lack of tucked under bodywork and comparatively large wheels and tires belie the fantasy but how can one look at this and not dream of those few years between 1968 and 1972 - before the reality of oil economics and safety and insurance rules sent the American car industry into the first of several tailspins. The car inspires lust and in this day and age that's enough to land it on this list.

5. Saab 9-X Concepts
GM trotted out the lovely concept above and an equally sweet convertible version. Too bad they have consistently dropped the ball with their Swedish Saab division and all signs point to this never making it to production. After all these are the same cues that have been popping up on Saab concepts for several years without ever finding their way to market. The money simply wasn't there then, and it ain't there now. Pity.

6. Ford Fiesta Production
Ford previewed much of this last year but it's gratifying to see most of it reaching the showroom floor - in Europe now but soon in the United States. It's a fun exuberant look with sharp lithe surfacing and details that say "Play with me."

7. Citroen GT Concept
Citroen has one of the richest design histories of any car company. The GT is unlikely to take a place next to ground breakers like the Traction Avant but the undulating lines and interconnected surfaces made it one of the stars of the Paris auto show.

8. Mazda Kiyora Concept
Another fine Mazda concept that continues with their thematic motifs. At this point they have an entire lineup of concepts which one hopes is meant to soften us up for the production application of the innovative flowing lines and side surfacing as well as lamp technology. Mazda produces some handsome cars for the public but none as interesting and desirable as these - neither their new 6 nor their 3 sedans made my list this year.

9. Nissan Nuvu Concept
A wonderful pure concept that explores all kinds of surface, glass and form treatments. It may look odd but it's a rewarding design to savor and delve into from the tiny detailing around the headlamps to the overall shape of the body.

10. Chevrolet Orlando Concept
There's nothing mind blowing here, just a handsome design that gives the optical illusion of a much bigger vehicle. Though this is only a bit larger than a PT Cruiser or Chevy's own HHR, the bold geometric forms give the sense of a mid sized SUV. This is also one of the best examples of the current Chevy "face". Probably a go for production.

11. Aston Martin One 77 Concept
The One 77 denotes that every buyer will get one of just 77 examples of this aggressively beautiful Aston. What's been revealed so far has no interior and un-detailed lighting areas but whoa, Nelly. I can't wait to see the actual production version sometime next year.

12. Chevrolet Camaro Production
Calling the Camaro the least retro of the current pony car crop is like saying someone is the world's tallest midget. Still the stance and detailing is clearly modernist while still keeping the intent and feel of the late 60s Camaro which is its inspiration. Only this is way better looking in my opinion. Be that as it may, much of the excitement has been sucked out by GM's overlong buildup to actual vehicles being delivered sometime next year. The time from concept to this year's production reveal has been filled with endless spy shots, teaser photos, and a starring role in a movie, Transformers, that functioned as a giant ad for the car a good two years before anyone could buy one.

13. Pininfarina Hyperion Concept
Though some of the detailing was a bit broad this Pininfarina take on a Rolls Royce convertible showed that the legendary Italian design house still had life in it beyond their Ferrari commissions. The classical long hood/ short deck shape recalls the golden age of 1930s coach building.

14. BMW GINA Concept
A wonderful bit of whimsy that was sequestered for several years inside BMW's advanced design studios before being made public this year. The fabric bodied roadster served as inspiration for a number of their most radical production and concept designs so it's fitting that as BMW turns again to more conservative shapes this touchstone should be shared as sort of an icon at the end of an era.

15. Honda Racer Concept
Designed as part of a Hot Wheels contest to come up with a new toy model, the outrageous Racer concept shows that there are living breathing designers amongst the engineers at Honda. It's easy to forget as so much of what they produce leans towards the blandly functional but this two seat dual fuselage wonder is great fun.

16. BMW M1 Homage Concept
Sadly the financial crisis seems to have scuttled nascent plans to build this beautiful tribute to the original M1, BMW's wedge shaped late 70s supercar. Like Chevy's Camaro this is a futuristic take on a retro theme - in this case the wedge is turned into an undulating curve.

17. Alfa Romeo MiTo Production
Ill-advised name aside, the MiTo is a lovely little hatchback that manages the tough trick of applying styling cues from a $100,000 + flagship to an entry level offering. Some designers have complained that the nose is a bit birdlike but this only adds to the distinctiveness.

18. Webasto LigHT Concept
Webasto is a parts supplier so you wouldn't expect them to come up with a full blown concept like this smooth convertible which echoes the old Fiat Spyder. The chiseled surfaces and simple forms combine into an eye-catching and unadorned shape.

19. Ford F-150 Raptor Production
Ford and Dodge both came out with new versions of their best-selling pickups that were handsome evolutions of their existing designs. Ford's new Raptor variation on their F-150 goes one step further by embracing the go-anywhere ability that made pickups great - this ain't no Eddie Bauer Edition. What makes this thrilling from a design perspective is the huge difference some fender flares and a new grille can make. This comes across as a totally new look for Ford with the bold letters embedded in the grille replacing the venerable blue oval for the first time in decades. The integration of the skidplate with the lightweight bumpers along with the face sunken into the bulged bodywork all speak to the truck's abilities.

20. Morgan Life Car Concept
Morgan is best known for building the same wooden chassis car by hand in their British assembly factory as they have for decades. Over the years a few models have come and gone to join it but they are resolutely old school. Thus the hybrid Life Car came as a shock - a gorgeous interpretation of classic Morgan themes given a retro futurist treatment out of Fritz Lang's Metropolis with the most modern of eco-friendly power plants.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Music: The Best Albums of 2008

At first blush 2008 seemed like a, well, sucky year for new music. As I listened more it turned out to be less sucky, if still not a high water mark. Here are my top 40 favorite albums of the year - with a special shout out to my top 10. You can also see my best archival music of the year here

1.  Deerhunter – Microcastle
Deerhunter's Cryptograms, released last year, along with their debut album suggested a band in thrall to art punks like Swell Maps complete with song fragments and experimental interludes. Some of that spirit shows up on the bonus disc of Microcastle entitled Weird Era but the album proper is stuffed with amazingly tuneful songs bracketed by the occasional introspective short instrumental. The songwriting and arranging is spot-on and the chugging guitars seem to meld Velvets drone with bratty Pavement melodies.

2.  The Hold Steady – Stay Positive
Here's a band that by all rights should have been a novelty act. Craig Finn, former vocalist with Lifter Puller, made his mark on Hold Steady's 2004 debut Almost Killed Me as more of a ranter than a singer. His sing-songy cadences and clever clever lyrics were fun over one album of standard issue bar band tunes but this is album number four - how'd they get to be my 2nd favorite of the year? Mainly by growing in leaps in bounds from each release. The band is tighter with better, more complex arrangements and killer choruses. Finn actually carries tunes here and his stories have the weight, economy and sadness of prime Raymond Chandler. Harpsichords are bought in, reggae beats are toyed with and I'll be damned but it all works as the sing-along record of the year.

3.  TV on the Radio – Dear, Science
Their last album had some great songs but the production was stultifying and it wasn't a rewarding experience to revisit. Like Radiohead's In Rainbows though the latest from TV on the Radio opens up their sound to let the songs breathe, leading to the first album to reward the promise of their debut ep. For a change their sense of humor and their sexiness is allowed free reign and at times there are hints of vintage Talking Heads - a pop art musical touchstone.

4.  Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Dig Lazarus Dig!!!
Nick Cave ought to be off writing his goth novels and screenplays for his Australian cowboy films but he keeps coming back to making music. Last year's Grinderman side project showed him moving from balladeering back to raw guitar noise and this one splits the difference a bit with the Stooges quoting "Today's Lesson" jostling with the beat poetry of "Moonland." It's Cave's most vital album in years, and one of the best in his catalog.

5.  Of Montreal – Skeletal Lamping
A sequel of sorts to last year's artistic breakthrough, Skeletal Lamping finds Kevin Barnes giving his hedonistic impulses full flower. Beyonce may have Sasha Fierce but Barnes has Georgie Fruit, a bisexual soul singer who gives this album the sound of Beck circa Midnight Vultures crossed with the ADD songwriting of The Fiery Furnaces. As awful as that might sound, it's a paradise of hooks, pumping rhythm, weird falsettos, and sleazoid lyrics.

6.  Neon Neon – Stainless Style
Super Furry Animals guy Gruff Rhys has seen his band abandon the earlier electronica flourishes that made them one of the best britpop bands and embrace increasingly uninteresting beardy psychedelia. For his Neon Neon side project he fully embraces  that which has been rejected with the help of producer/collaborator Boom Bip. The album's unlikely subject is disgraced swinging car entrepreneur and would-be coke dealer John DeLorean. Somehow it works, with great songwriting and beats underscoring the need for a chin implant in "Michael Douglas" and even room for a side trip to Star Wars love in "I Told her on Alderaan."

7.  MGMT – Oracular Spectacular
If you don't like a song on this Brooklyn band's audacious debut wait, the next one is likely to sound completely different. Though this does little for coherence, the songs themselves range from good to amazing. The comparisons have been to The Flaming Lips, and they share a producer in David Fridmann, but that fails to embrace their LCD Soundsystem -worthy "Let's Pretend" in which they imagine themselves as rock stars with model wives who eventually choke on their own vomit or "Electric Feel" where they channel classic late 70s disco sounds.

8.  The Knux – Remind Me in 3 Days
 The long sad decline of hip-hop continued this year but The Knux suggested a jury rigged hybrid where indie punk and indie rap meet halfway. Dressing like throwbacks to the fat gold rope days, playing their own instruments and laying down rhymes, The Knux suggests a way forward for an ossifying genre. And you could shake your ass to it too.

9. Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles
There was some good electronica in '08, and then there was Crystal Castles which melded an Atari 5200 sound chip into mind bending melodies and  hypnotic beats. They get a surprising amount of variety from what could have been a limited palette. Named after an arcade game but anything but toylike.

10.  Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Modern Life
What could be wrong with a band who's name so threatened the New York Times that Ben Ratliff's review referenced a band named ------ --. Aside from being the funniest music review in the paper since, well, ever, it was obvious what band he was talking about. Taking the shouty vocal chord shredding vocals and pummeling beat of hardcore punk, Fucked Up spikes it with guitar washes and subtle melodies that entice and draw the listener in.

And the rest...

11. Department of Eagles – In Ear Park
12.  Lambchop – OH(Ohio)
13.  Nas – Untitled
14. Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer
15. Apes – Ghost Games
16. Gnarls Barkley – The Odd Couple
17. Girl Talk – Feed the Animals
18. No Age – Nouns
19. Flying Lotus – Los Angeles
20. Joan as Police Woman – To Survive
21. Chandeliers – The Thrush
22. Dr. Dog – Fate
23. Martha Wainwright – I Know You’re Married but I’ve Got Feelings Too
24. The Breeders – Mountain Battles
25. Murs – Murs For President
26. The Fall – Imperial Wax Solvent
27. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy – Lie Down in the Light
28. Be Your Own Pet – Get Awkward (UK Version -avoid the censored American release)

29. Alias – Resurgam
30. Blitzen Trapper – Furr
31. Okkervil River – The Stand-ins
32. Plants and Animals – Parc Avenue
33. Portishead – Third
34. Randy Newman – Harps and Angels
35. RZA as Bobby Digital – Digi Snacks
36. Santogold and Diplo – Top Ranking
37. Stephen Malkmus – Real Emotional Trash
38. Truckasaurus – Tea Parties, Guns and Valor
39. Atlas Sound – Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel
40. Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes

Friday, December 12, 2008

Music: Best of 2008 From the Archives

This year showed that the box set - due to price and lack of material - is on it's way to becoming a rarity. Where New Order or The Replacements could have boxed up their notable songs with a bunch of rarities and called it a day, they instead went with the catalog re-issue route - fleshing out their original releases with bonus tracks and discs. This isn't necessarily a bad thing and it's probably more lucrative for the artist and labels.

I've listed my favorite archival releases of 2008 below, in no particular order. Enjoy!

1. Big Dipper – Supercluster
Underknown and underappreciated during their late 80s heyday Supercluster collects their first two albums and ep, plus  abonus disc of an unrecorded esarly 90s record - leaving out only their major label misfire on Epic Records. It's not missed, as their indie material was far superior and presciently hinted at the sound of later bands like Pavement and Wolf Parade.

2. Mission of Burma – reissues
The core of Big Dipper were refuges from ex-Mission man Peter Prescott's follow-up band, Volcano Suns. Though the Suns were pretty good Mission of Burma is essential listening for anyone who is serious about post punk or indie rock. The key records here are Vs. and Signals Calls and Marches - an EP expanded here to album length with the crucial addition of the band's first single and bonus tracks. Pristine production helps define the band's gargantuan sound and effortless dynmics, with tunes that span the gamut from hardcore to power punk with a touch of progressive rock styled time-signature trickery.

3. Willie Nelson – One Hell of a Ride
Willie Nelson is the perfect artist for a box set and One Hell of a Ride shows why. 4 Discs of prime Willie from demos of songs he wrote and were made famous by others to 70s outlaw classics to his standards period to his sometimes cheesy star duets this has it all.

4. The Replacements – reissues
The catalog of Minneapolis' finest rock band finally resides under one roof at Rhino, which has done a fantastic job of reissuing their Twin/Tone and Sire albums with lots of juicy bonus tracks, including sessions produced by Alex Chilton. If you're not sure where to start, the trio of Let it Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me are the band at their most consistent. A huge influence on bands like Wilco, The Hold Steady, and the usual punk emo crowd who could learn a few tricks about songwriting from Mr. Westerberg.

5. Steinski – What Does it All Mean?
The first track I ever searched for back in the days of an unfettered Napster was Double-Dee and Steinski's Lesson 1 - the grandaddy of all sampling. Only it was done before there was such a thing as a sampler. Every song snippet and line of movie dialogue had to be done by hand with a razorblade and audio tape. Steinski went on to make many more incredible tracks and most of the great ones are here. Even better is the second disc which is an extending radio show that shows the depth and breadth of his style. Essential for fans of Girl Talk.

6. Dennis Wilson – Pacific Ocean Blue
Tragic Beach Boy Dennis Wilson is often overshadowed by equally tragic but still living brother Brian. Dennis started coming into his own a as a sonwriter as both Brian and the Beach Boys entered their long period of decline. Frustrated with the band's conservatism he struck out on his own with this brillianst slice of 70s gritty singer songwriter rock.

7. The Jesus and Mary Chain – The Power of Negative Thinking
Mining their b-sides for gold, the Jesus and Mary Chain give fans and newbies a treat. The quality of these outtakes are uniformly high and essential tracks like single "Sidewalking" make this a must have for any JAMC lover.

8. Roy Orbison – The Soul of Rock and Roll
This is why box sets were invented - a stunning career overview with all te highlights that puts an extraordinary talent in perspective. From fascinating early recordings alone and with the Teen Kings to his last album and cuts with supergroup The Traveling Wilburys this is a revelation.

9. The Clash – Live at Shea Stadium
Their opening gig for The Who at cavernous Shea Stadium isn't the concert gig I've been dying to hear from this legendary band but it's pretty great nonetheless, right down to Joe Strummer scolding the typically New York audience for yammering. I'll always prefer Topper Headon as a drummer but Terry (Tory Crimes) Chimes acquits himself well, even with the newer material. The recording quality is superb. Now how about those Bond's Casino shows?

10. Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs
Dylan's Bootleg Series jumps around as much as his autobiography did, this time taking in recent outtakes and stragglers. Luckily he's been in a purple patch of late and his alternate versions of tunes always fascinate as he never plays the same way twice. Boo on the ultra-expensive 3-disc version though.

11. New Order – Reissues
Fascinating re-glimpse into one of the 80s best and most innovative bands. Out of the ashes of Joy Division came a band that at first hewed to the mopey rock of their earlier incarnation but soon fell in thrall to club beats and synthesizers. The albums have been smartly packaged with their contemporaneous singles which were often more poppy and innovative.

12. Various Artists – Love Train – The Sound of Philadelphia
A fine collection of 70s soul that finds room for some late 60s and early 80s tracks and doesn't hew overly closely to its theme. The meat is some great moments from the Spinners among others that showed those MFSBs what the TSOP was all about.

13. Belle and Sebastian – The BBC Sessions
Alternate radio versions of some great B & S classics plus a later live show. Not the place for non-fans to start but for those who already know what's in store, pleasure awaits.

14. R.E.M. – Murmur
One of the greatest debut albums ever is finally remastered, showing anew the deep strangeness and great songwriting and playing of what many still consider to be this band's finest album. Disc two adds an amazing period live club show. It's hard to remeber how much R.E.M. owed to Wire and P.I.L. until yougo back to this early stuff.

15. Pavement – Brighten The Corners –Nicene Creedence Ed.
Matador continues their superlative Pavement re-issue series with this underrrated gem. as is the costume, the value of my rare singles is droppe dby appending them as well as previously unheard bonus tracks and obscurities.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Movie Review: Slumdog is a Dark Fairytale - The Best Kind

Slumdog Millionaire is unusual in that it’s a fairytale built on a core of the real misery and struggle that exists in cities like Mumbai. Then again, maybe it’s not so unusual – the Grimm’s fairtytales had some extremely disturbing elements and at a time before urban sprawl and centralized law and order staying out of the forest was probably a wise idea. There is also a trace of Dickensian London, a mass of humanity with different rules for different classes.

Director Danny Boyle shoots everything with bold colors and a panoramic eye, unstinting in the depiction of life in Mumbai slums but never wavering from the focus on character. The aptly named Chris Dickens edits each sequence perfectly so that the movie has a rapid pace but without sacrificing meaning or impact.

The basic premise is hoary: a slum kid makes it to the final round of India’s version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. No-one can figure out how he can know the answers to many of the questions he gets right so the police question him, often using enhanced tactics that will seem familiar to Dick Cheney.

This device provides a framework to explore the love triangle between slumdog Jamal, his brother Salim, and Latika, a girl from the neighborhood. Unusually it’s Salim and Latika who vie for Jamal’s affections throughout the movie. The three are orphaned at a young age when their families are victims of anti-Muslim violence. It’s a sequence that yanks the film out of distant observational interest and firmly ties it to the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai – it’s nearly too much for the confectionery story to bear.

It does manage the load, helped along by an extraordinary sequence that takes place on a train which is stunning in its visual beauty and storytelling simplicity, all the more so following as it does the darkest most Dickensian vision of a Mumbai orphanage.

The child actors are simply incredible and despite the tragic surroundings of their lives their joy in simply surviving is palpable. Though I always have a little trouble with multiple actors playing characters at different ages it mostly works here.

If there is a flaw it's that the third act feels a little bit rushed and that can diminish the magic (and indeed magical realism) that Boyle aims for. Still, if  great movies show you people and places that you might never get to see ordinarily. Slumdog Millionaire fits this bill perfectly.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Music: If You Don't Love This Video There is Something Wrong With You

The BPA fet. David Byrne and Dizze Rascal, "Toe Jam". Is it any surprise that Norman "Fatboy Slim" Cook is involved in this?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Movie Review: Rachel Getting Married Hitches Great Performances to Revitalized Demme

Rachel Getting Married is a film that, by description, promises studio indie cliché by the boatload. Big name director (Jonathan Demme) and a big star (Anne Hatahway) looking to show her Oscar chops in a drama set around a big dysfunctional family gathering. Plus, the star plays an obnoxious off-putting sourpuss. Cue Noah Baumbach’s Margot at the Wedding with Nicole Kidman as the obnoxious sister arriving for her sister's wedding, or Katie Holmes in Pieces of April.

The gratifying surprise then is that Rachel Getting Married is a revelatory gem, a naturalistic film in both acting and photography that never devolves into melodrama. The aces up its sleeve are a remarkable cast and a re-energized director. This is Demme’s best film since Silence of the Lambs, and is also the best screen performance to date by Hathaway, who is mesmerizing and unsparing. Her big eyes seem to swim around in a way that appears predatory but eventually registers as deep wariness, searchlights scouting for the next enemy plane.

The characters are never allowed to devolve into archetypes or one-notes. Yes, Hathaway’s Kym is a needy, dramatic screw-up who can suck the oxygen out of a room, but we get to see enough layers to understand that she is desperately fighting to shoulder the weight of what other see when they look at her.

There is a dark family event that tugs at the corners of the truly happy joining of the film’s title, and Demme doesn’t toy with the fact that Rachel is at its center. It’s neither sprung as an “Aha!” moment nor used as an excuse but it’s present for everyone in subtle and profound ways.

Hathaway is matched by a trio of stellar performers. Bill Irwin as the girls’ father is drawn into Kym’s drama helplessly, ever protective to a fault. His sweetness and crinkle-eyed gaze give him the aspect of someone stunned. Underneath his caring exterior there is brittleness and deep pain. It's a transformative role for a man better known for onstage clowning and movement.

The titular Rachel is played by Rosemarie DeWitt, seemingly plucked from life. There is nothing contrived in her performance or her character. She struggles to make her wedding the centerpiece of attention, as it should be, just as she struggles to get some of the attention mopped up by Kym. Her anger is as palpable as her love, both for her damaged sister and for her husband to be, played quietly by TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe.

Finally there’s Debra Winger as the mother keeping her family at arm’s length to protect herself. Both daughters desperately want her attention – it’s clear that her distance may have been emphasized by divorcing Irwin but started much earlier – perhaps was always there. It’s a brave, nuanced performance – she’s not a monster. Just deeply hurt and self-protective.

This is an unusual film for Demme. He thanks two major directors, Sidney Lumet (whose daughter Jenny wrote the screenplay) and the late Robert Altman, and features his mentor Roger Corman as part of the cast. Of the three his style here is most influenced by Altman and his A Wedding (1978) as well as Dogma 95 films like the classic The Celebration (1998) by Vinterberg.

The feel is of improvisation, though the structure of the movie and the overall subtlety suggest that most of what happens and what’s said was scripted. The camerawork is of the handheld digital variety and Declan Quinn’s cinematography makes much use of natural light. At first it can be a bit off-putting and also can be a bit of a cliché but it begins to serve and heighten the story. The framing and shot choices are anything but arbitrary.

Some have seen this as a return to Demme’s classic 80s style, but despite the welcome presence of offbeat previous Demme stars as Sister Carol East and lazy-eyed Paul Lazer and the liberal use of musicians interwoven as actors and doing their stuff on their instruments (including Robyn Hitchcock) this is light years away from his candy colored breakneck 80s films like Something Wild (1987) and Married to the Mob.(1988) There is a touch of the humanity of Melvin and Howard (1980) but it’s still on a much more intimate scale.

Nor is Rachel Getting Married similar to his big-budget 90s Hollywood stuff typified by the excellent Silence of the Lambs (1991) and the awful remake of The Manchurian Candidate (2004). What does tie this in with Silence of the Lambs in particular is Demme’s fascination with women’s lives (something he shares with Altman), and the nuances of character detail - something increasingly getting lost as he’s gone from the 90s through the present decade. If anything this has more in common with his smaller scale documentaries like Cousin Bobby (1992) ove rthe past few years.

It will be a shame if this gets lost in the hoopla at awards time. Rachel Getting Married shows a director returned to full force and mining new territory, ably aided by a great cast. At the end of the day there is no "happy" ending and the closure that Kym wants is not necessarily what she gets, at least not in totality. Still the audience is left with the idea that the far-away island of happiness that Rachel has found in Hawaii may be in reach, someday for Kym too.