Music Break: the music of Joy Division performed by Sam Riley in CONTROL (2007)

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It’s been nearly a month since I saw this rock biopic, but I’m still haunted by Control. I mentioned in this post that no other film affected me quite like this one. It’s a beautiful film in so many ways, the cinematography, the acting, the dialog… but it’s also a sad, utterly heartbreaking film that will likely stay with you for days, or in my case, weeks.

What’s incredible about Anton Corbijn‘s debut [as well as Sam Riley‘s in his first ever feature film role], is that many people become fans of Joy Division, three decades after it was formed in 1976. Even people who attended Ian Curtis’ 30th anniversary tribute admitted they were introduced to him through this film.

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Joy Division’s style of music isn’t exactly my cup of tea but I can’t help but being quite mesmerized by it. I’ve been listening to their music, both the original and the ones performed by the actors in Control. Strangely enough, after watching clips of the real band on youtube, I actually prefer the live performances of the film version. Even my co-worker who’s a huge Joy Division fan said the same after I lent him my dvd just days after I saw it. I was surprised he hadn’t seen Control given how big a fan of Joy Division he is.

tumblr_o01tslI47v1r1yqj1o10_500So this post is my tribute to the band’s frontman Ian Curtis, as well as Sam Riley who practically became the character. Riley and the actors portraying the band did their own singing for the film, and they did a spectacular job. Sam was in a band in his early 20s called 10,000 Things (which you can listen to in youtube), so he’s got that natural rock star vibe. But the way he conveyed Curtis’ despair and sense of isolation is incredibly convincing, quite a feat for any actor, let alone a complete newbie in his first ever film role.

In fear every day, every evening,
He calls her aloud from above,
Carefully watched for a reason,
Painstaking devotion and love,
Surrendered to self preservation,
From others who care for themselves.
A blindness that touches perfection,
But hurts just like anything else.

Isolation, isolation, isolation.

Mother I tried please believe me,
I’m doing the best that I can.
I’m ashamed of the things I’ve been put through,
I’m ashamed of the person I am.

Isolation, isolation, isolation.

But if you could just see the beauty,
These things I could never describe,
These pleasures a wayward distraction,
This is my one lucky prize.

Isolation, isolation, isolation…

I still cry every time I think about the tragic ending of Curtis’ life when he hanged himself on the eve of the US tour. Curtis’ songwriting was filled with imagery of desolation, emptiness and alienation, if only people had realized he was writing about his own pain.

This scene is undoubtedly one of the most entrancing scenes of the entire film. Not only was the song itself had me in a trance but so was the performance. The epileptic dance, that strange look in his eyes as he performed the song… it’s as if he was possessed by Curtis’ soul as he sang this.

Here’s the first live performance by the band Warsaw, so it’s before they became Joy Division.



Joy Division’s music is truly a seminal one… and it shall always live on.


Hope you enjoyed today’s Music Break. Are you a fan of Joy Division or have seen Control? I’d love to hear what you think.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Blogathon – A Most Wanted Man (2014) review

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This review is part of Epileptic Moondancer’s PSH blogathon. I selected the second last completed movie by Hoffman before his death. He died a week after the premiere of the film at the Sundance Film Festival.

A Most Wanted Man

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A Chechen Muslim illegally immigrates to Hamburg, where he gets caught in the international war on terror.

It seems that spy movies in Hollywood often fall into two camps, the high-octane action thrillers a la James Bond and Jason Bourne, or the slow-burn, analytical style you’d find in John le Carré‘s work. This one falls into the latter, and I feel that one must have a certain patience to fully appreciate these kind of slow-burn film. The last film based on le Carré’s work I saw was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The main draw for me to see that one was Gary Oldman. Similarly, I was drawn to see this for the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in the lead role. It’s set in the city of Hamburg, Germany, where my late mother went to college for a couple of years.

The film opens with a mysterious hooded man sneaking into the city whom we later learn is a half-Chechen, half-Russian refugee, Issa Karpov (Grigoriy Dobrygin). An espionage team led by Günther Bachmann (Hoffman) suspects from Russian intelligence that Issa is a potentially dangerous terrorist. There’s also a matter of a Muslim philanthropist the team is monitoring as there’s reasons to believe he might be funneling funds to terrorist activities.

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Honestly, the way the plot unfolds is pretty slow and I had to turn on the caption. It’s something I wish I could’ve done when I was watching ‘Tinker Tailor‘ on the big screen as the plot was pretty complex for my little brain to discern. But what’s fascinating to me is how the whole spying thing seems rather uneventful. For the most part, it’s a lot of eavesdropping, observing, and a whole lot of talking. No shootouts, foot/car/boat chase or physical fighting for a good chunk of the film. The protagonist Günther isn’t exactly built for THAT kind of action, though he did punch a guy for being abrasive to a woman at a bar, but that’s about it. Yet the story was still quite engrossing and it kept me curious to find out just who this Issa guy is. One of the main reasons is Hoffman’s acting.

It still pains me to realize he’s gone. He was such a skilled thespian who could *disappear* into his roles. Here he totally became the character — a chain-smoking, world-weary, astute, yet compassionate intelligence agent, complete with a believable German accent. Even his voice sounded different, slightly lower than I usually hear him speak, and he managed not to overdo the accent that might resort to simply an impersonation. It’s a testament to his charisma as an actor that I enjoyed watching him do mundane office stuff or simply conversing with people.

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McAdams with Dobrygin

As I mentioned above, this film doesn’t paint a glamorous life of a spy. It’s a grounded, more realistic look at the business of espionage where everyone has secrets and it’s all about maneuvering through shrewd, calculating and duplicitous people so you don’t fall into their trap. Apparently John le Carré was a member of British Intelligence at some point, so the plot definitely rang true. I have to admit I had to really pay attention and try not to miss any details. It was rewarding as you became invested in the journey, though the ending was quite a frustrating one. Not that it was badly-written, but it’s more about me expecting a hopeful ending that’s tied neatly with a bow. Well, if you don’t like endings that get you all riled up, this is not a movie for you.

This marks the first Anton Corbijn film I saw, but looking at his filmography, the Dutch filmmaker seems to specialize in slow-burn, measured thrillers (Control, The American). So I guess he’s the perfect director to adapt le Carré’s work. He assembled a pretty solid supporting cast here, starting with the always watchable Robin Wright. She had a key role as an American diplomatic attaché who also took a keen interest in both of Günther’s cases. I enjoyed watching two excellent character actors bantering and outsmarting each other. As a German banker, Willem Dafoe played quite an understated role here, which kinda messed with my head a bit as I kept expecting him to do something totally bonkers.

I was quite impressed by Russian actor Dobrygin in his English-language debut. I actually thought he was a UK actor as he has one of those familiar faces. It’s key for his role to keep the audience guessing whether he’s a good or bad guy and he certainly pulled that off. He kept us at a distance but somehow able to garner our sympathy. I hope to see more of his work so hopefully Hollywood would cast him in more English-speaking roles. As for Rachel McAdams, though she did her best, somehow I didn’t quite buy her in this role. I guess I pictured someone with a bit more edge as an immigration lawyer, someone like Noomi Rapace perhaps? 

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As the film gives us a glimpse into the bureaucracy and intricacy of espionage, it’s apparent that it’s a world full of gray and not much black/white. “To Make the World a Safer Place” is a line uttered in a couple of key scenes by two different characters. It may sound like a simplistic, even clichéd line, but the second time I heard it, I realized the significance of it and what it was intended to be. This film astutely illustrates that in the world of secret intelligence, nothing is ever what it seems to be.

This film is not for everyone as the deliberately slow pace might be considered boring to some. I can’t lie that there are times I feel it’s perhaps too slow-moving, though the quiet moments are still charged with suspense as the stakes get higher and higher. The stunning cinematography, especially the night shots, give a foreboding, atmospheric feel that help immerse you into this world of intrigue. The thematic elements and relevant subject matter definitely stay with you after the end credits. I highly recommend this for fans of slow-burn espionage films, but even if you’re not, it’s still well worth a watch just for Mr. Hoffman’s electrifying performance.

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Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Well, what did you think?