Sep 29, 2011

"Which is where “Ides of March” came in. That film teams a pair of stars who stand on either side of the generational line: George Clooney, who has hit his superstar peak (and who is now at about the same point where, say, Cary Grant was in the 1950s), and Ryan Gosling, who is just coming into his own. Everyone knows who Clooney is, as well as his cohort: Brad Pitt, Hugh Grant, Robert Downey Jr., Johnny Depp, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe. They’re a generation of actors who picked up the gauntlet in the 1990s, battled their way through heartthrob and flavor-of-the-month status to achieve a certain longevity. They’ve now reached their prime or are just gliding past it. Gosling is now where Clooney or Pitt were 15 years or so ago: an actor with some strong credits but not quite the mass-audience awareness. Gosling and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are part of that new generation. And a few others: Jake Gyllenhaal, Ewan McGregor, James Franco, Adrien Brody, even (we’ll see) Seth Rogen and Jesse Eisenberg. You could put Leonardo DiCaprio at the head of this particular class, though he’s a few years older than Gosling and Gordon-Levitt. He’s the group’s biggest superstar, Scorsese’s new chosen muse; he is to his peer group what De Niro and Pacino were to their generation – the gold standard." — Marshall Fine, Hollywood & Fine

Sep 26, 2011

REVIEW: Moneyball (dir. Miller)

Things we loved about Moneyball:—
1) The fact that ever single baseball movie cliche — it's about heart, spirit, pluck, je nes sais quoi and other time-tested intangibles — is to be found in the mouths of the scouts, not our heroes. The movie sets course against received wisdom and sticks to it.

2) The way the stats uncover the players with true worth — brushing aside the showboats and superstars. The confirmation this gives our sense of the insolence of office and the spurns / That patient merit of the unworthy takes.

3) Brad Pitt's eyes. Shot in extreme close up. The disappointments they have seen. The mixture of bravado and naked terror combined therein — always the combo in any Pitt performance, but normally tripping it up, rather than powering it along. Also, his name: Billy Beane. The perfect follow-up to Benjamin Button.

4) His snacking. Sometimes an irritant but here conveying this particular human's need for calories, energy — juice.

5) The dying fall of his dud pep talk (something like "You're winners, play like winners, and, uh, that's it") as opposed to the one-on-one advice he sprinkles in the next scene. The love of process. Patience. Of a piece with Miller's love of pixillated imagery.

6) The daughter's song — tuneful but not too much so. The look on his face when he listens to the lyrics. On both occasions but particularly the first.

7) Miller's love of horizon lines — Texas in Capote, the field in Moneyball — and the way it comports with his minimalist ethos: the use of silence, the wonderfully spare soundtrack from Mychael Danna, the uncultured frame. Crying out for a curve-ball.

8) The cruelty of baseball — the transfers, the cutting, the look on the player's faces, Pitt's tough love. Hoffman's sullenness.

9) Jonah Hill's inexpert high five. Also his deadened inflection.

10) The final speech from the Red Sox manager about revolutionary smarts, making this Sorkin's sequel to The Social Network. Two hours really seem to unlock him.


Sep 17, 2011

For everything else, there is Mastercard

"There have long been some very strange contradictions. The first is the notion that we need to control healthcare costs so they stop strangling the private sector and racking up massive debt in the public. The second is that the private sector is much more efficient than the public, as it fosters competition, and that any attempt to restrict treatments or make cost-benefit analyses in healthcare is a form of Nazi eugenics. Even a simple measure that would cut healthcare costs drastically - counseling Medicare patients on power-of-attorney issues if they are incapacitated - is demonized as "death panels"- Andrew Sullivan
The argument between left and right over healthcare is, it seems to me, essentially an argument about something else: the value of money. If money is not just a means of buying things but the ultimate measure of an individual's worth, then yes, a private system makes sense. The rich get better care than the poor and that's not unfair because the rich are rich for a reason, and that reason goes to the heart of what makes a human life a worthwhile thing. If on the other hand, you believe that there are other ways of measuring human worth besides money, then a public, or state-sponsored system is better. The rich do not get better healthcare than the poor but are treated equally because their economic stature is secondary to other factors — such as their right to exist in the first place. It comes down to whether equality trumps economics, like that weaselly pivot in the Mastercard ad. "Some things money can buy. For everything else there is Mastercard."

Sep 16, 2011

REVIEW: Drive (dir. Refn)

Drive is something else: a cocktail of candy-colored retro-eighties stylings and convulsive ultra-violence, in which people go around stomping on each other's heads to the sound of airy-smooth synth pop. The other major activities in this film, apart from executing hand-brake u-turns, are a) staring at a moody Ryan Gosling, b) being stared at moodily by Ryan Gosling, and c) staring moodily at Ryan Gosling while he takes you in staring at him, moodily. Boy is this film in love with its star. Gosling plays a getaway driver who chews on toothpicks and wears a satin jacket with a scorpion on the back, and if that isn't iconic enough for you: he's known only as The Driver. I always knew that the grin playing in the corner of Gosling's mouth was a sign that the unimpeachably scuffed naturalism of his performances wasn't entirely to be trusted: there was someone who longed to be a movie star in there, waiting to get out. Together with Crazy Stupid Love, Drive constitues something of a coming-out party for Gosling who here pushes his method-moochiness closer to classic less-is-more movie-star minimalism, channelling Steve McQueen and Rumblefish-era Mickey Rourke, wielding silences and silken sotto voce line deliveries that push the performance close to parody. I half expected a mob of Tigerbeat-reading teens to spill around the corner and mob him, instead of which we have young Carey Mulligan playing a slightly unlikely Los Angelino who needs protection from a violent gang. The film makes great hay with Gosling's gallant streak although I didn't buy his wild swing into psychopathology at the halfway mark. An apt summary of his movie career, which started withThe Notebook and then took a sudden left turn for roles in which he got to smoke crack or cross dress. There's a callowness to some of these explorations, to be sure — the sense of ex-Mouseketeer over-correction, trying on more darkness-of-soul than was rightfully his. Gosling is part of a generation of movie stars — including Kirsten Dunst, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johannson, Justin Timberlake — for whom the term 'child star' means nothing for the simple reason that everyone is a child star these days: 12 is simply when most Hollywood careers get started. The result is radically foreshortened careers, like butterflies: your teens are your hey-day, your twenties the time you experiment and deconstruct your stardom, and if you haven't won your Oscar by the time you're 30 then forget it. The 'method' used to be the way actors in their 30s and 40s fortified their performances with real-life experience, but what have these guys got, in terms of lived experience, other than the experience of being stars? The result if that for all their talent, their performances suffer from an experiental dearth — an empty rattle at their heart. I felt it during last year's Black Swan, in which Natalie Portman jumped through the hoops for Darren Aronofsky, apologising endlessly for her lack of a dark side, trying desperately to get some mileage on her clock. That's what the film was about: a young artist attempting to speed-dial experience into her art. And I felt it watching the Driver who is set up as a sleek escapologist, the kind of guy beloved of Elmore Leonard who casually threads his way to the exit while everyone waves guns around — and then, an hour into the picture, he takes a sudden leftward lurch into violence himself. A big mistake. It's not the violence I disliked — which is instructively shocking — but the mess it makes of his character: an Leonard cool-cat mashed into a Scorsese hothead. I'm not sure that people will notice or care. The picture casts a spell. It's poisoned candy, all sugar and sting, with an acrylic, ersatz kick — with echoes of Michael Mann's Thief, Walter Hill's The Driver and John Hughes's Pretty In Pink. Even the Driver himself works part-time as a movie stunt driver, as if every self-respecting criminal thug dreams of a career in movies. This is their movie — viciously shallow, thoroughly enjoyable, noir lit with a vivid neon glare. B+

Sep 15, 2011

My first great musical love: Kraftwerk

It's been a while since I last professed my deep and abiding love for Kraftwerk. Not that I've avoided the subject, exactly. It just so rarely comes up. So few conversations beckon in the direction of strange German synth quartets from the seventies who pretend to be robots. A conversation about Africa Bambaataa will get you there, because he sampled Trans Europe Express on Planet Rock. The other conversation that gets me there is "what was your first concert?" People normally say things like "Haircut 100" or "Bon Jovi" and laugh with affectionate irony for their old teenage selves in all their awkward, knock-kneed glory. Or they go "the Police" or "The Jam" and everyone goes: cool. Then someones says "What about you, Tom?" and I say "Kraftwerk" and everyone goes quiet. There's Strange German synth quarters from the seventies who pretend to be robots are kind of conversation killers. They're not the kind of thing you can put down to growing pains, or teenage angst, or anything awkward or embarrassing you can laugh about afterwards. They're about the opposite of all these things. They're about locking yourself up tight and pretending to be robot so that no-one can get to you. They're about much more than that, of course, but that was the appeal for me, primarily, in 1981, when I went along to the Dome in Brighton, a recent child of divorce, to see Kraftwerk perform live in 1981 along with my fellow Kraftwerk fan, Eddie Cresdee, with whom I had spent most of that summer recording Kraftwerk inspired dirges on two Moog synthesisers. We had chosen another friend of ours from school to provide the vocals, not because he could hold a note, but because he was German and wore black shirts that he buttoned up at the collar in an impressively emotionless fashion. Looking back, it's just as well that we had successfully located Kraftwerk as role models. If you are two English school boys with a couple of Moogs and a German friend who can't sing, Kraftwerk and not just a very comforting model to have, but pretty much the only one in sight. I don't know why Jan wasn't with us that night, but there we sat there, two whey-faced English boys obediently drinking in every bleep and bloop, swaying mesmerically to every electronic arabesque and arpeggio, contained and held aloft within a sonic universe that seemed to be unfold inside our heads and all around us, until it was difficult to tell where we ended and the forces of anonymous modernity began. I was moved and still am by Kraftwerk's music, in ways that are hard to explain. But I recently attempted with my wife. "What you have to imagine," I said, "is a Germany that was obliterated in the war, who could not even talk about the past and whose only hopes seemed to rest in the speed and efficiency with which technology could deliver them an entirely new future. The Trans Europe Express. The Autobahn. Nuclear power. To grow up in Post-War Germany was to be witness to a lot of construction and if you were a young German boy you saw a lot of cool-looking machines building stuff that all the adults around them seemed very invested in. They were the Marshall Plan made into music, basically." My wife seemed satisfied with that. She listened, nodded, and then she went back to her magazine.

Sep 11, 2011

REVIEW: Contagion (dir. Soderbergh)

I wasn't as wild about Contagion as some. I loved Damon, who brings a wonderful lustrelessness to his Home Depot Dad, and Jennifer Ehle who plays one of the few believable scientists I have seen onscreen — a superb mixture of blitheness and feral concentration. The film is smart and forensically researched but a few more cheap thrills wouldn't have hurt. (Missing scenes: the story goes national, the first person to survive, and: a follow-up with Gwyneth's Chicago lover.) It feel skimpy, rather than elliptically modernist. I wanted another $10 million spent on it. B-

Sep 10, 2011

INTERVIEW: Ryan Gosling

“If I’m still acting at 46 I’ll be surprised,” says Ryan Gosling in his soft Brooklyn accent, which sometimes makes him sound like he is chewing a small potato. We are sat on a park bench in a park in New York’s East Village. It is a hot day. Around us, the bums and winos occasionally breaking into spirited bouts of cursing, sometimes at one another, at other times themselves. Gosling is neither noticed nor bothered, protected by a force field of perfect grooming. Dressed in a v-necked shirt and pants, loafers, his ankles as evenly tanned as his gym-toned shoulders, he looks casual but immaculate, an expensive version of himself, an object lesson in the Los Angelino art of maximising one’s resources — Gosling 2.0., Gosling in excelsis, Gosling at 30. “How many characters can you play?” he asks, pushing back on the bench. “I don’t know how longer you can really do it for. I’ve been acting since I was 12. If I was just starting now, maybe. But now I’m 30. I do this for ten more years I’ll be shocked.” It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Hollywood has met its match in his slim, courteous form: the talent has learnt to play the game better than anyone. The smirk that seems permanently lodged in the corner of his mouth, no matter the role, should perhaps have tipped us off to Gosling's game-plan. His performances in both Drive and Crazy Stupid Love announce a new phase in his career, one in which the unimpeachably scuffed texture of his recent performances — so redolent of Rumblefish-era Mickey Rourke — peel back to reveal the chrome gleam of the movie-star waiting underneath. He's like Rourke without the urge towards self-crucifixion. His seduction of Hollywood is complete. The seducers have been seduced. “They’ve always wanted him for this kind of part,” says Glenn Ficarra, half of the directing duo behind Crazy Stupid Love. “But he really took his time. He’s a smart guy as well as beign a smart actor. He really thought about the success of The Notebook and where he could have gone and I think he really felt he needed to live life and get his street cred in order. He did not want flash in the pan success. He wanted to do it in his own time. Someone really prominent in Hollywood came up to us and said good work guys you’ve finally made Ryan a star. And we said no, no. Ryan decided to be a star and we were lucky enough to get him. He’s his own man. He came to us. We just said action and cut.”
from my interview with Ryan Gosling in The Daily Telegraph

Sep 7, 2011

REAR VIEW: Walter Hill's The Driver (1978)

Maybe it's my heedless infatuation with Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn's touching ode to handbrake turns on a crowded intersction, or more probably just my unslakeable thirst for teenage kicks right through the night, but I've been on a run of car-chases recently — first with Robert de Niro and Natasha McElhone white-knuckling their Audi steering wheels in Ronin, and now sending the hub-caps flying with Ryan O'Neal and Isabelle Adjani in Walter Hill's The Driver. Okay so the jury is still out on whether O'Neal could play a tough anything, let alone a nameless getaway driver known only as The Driver — why don't these getaway dudes ever get names? Did they hit the gas at their own baptisms? — and Adjani disappears behind her porcelain doll impersonation, but if it's Adjani cavorting in a yashmak with Beatty and Hoffman in Ishtar, or Adjani reeling off Walter Hill's one-liners like a last minute entry to the Lauren Bacall face-off at the 1978 tough guy convention, I'll go with the Hill. The Driver has the splutter and kick of an engine flaring into life. It's badly cast, occasionally sounds like TV, and the hat Adjani wears in the final chase makes you want to shoot it off her head, but the chase sequences are things of rare, rangy beauty, the camera slung low to the ground, eating up the road in a fashion that so impressed the young Jim Cameron, who would rip off the fender-mounted camera work and parking-lot settings for The Terminator, six years later. And its nameless driver, Euro side-chick, minimalist backchat and neon-lit cinematography make it the clear progenitor for Refn's and Gosling's 2011 picture. (My favorite line? O'Neal's "Give up.") Why don't more people know about it? For all the nippiness of O'Neal's driving, The Driver got stuck in one of those unfortunate cul-de-sacs in film history — released a year after Star Wars it was cold-shouldered by a public more in the mood for x-wings giving chase to Death Stars than boring old cars, chasing other cars, but by comparison with the groundless bluster of today's fireball queens — the Bays and Scotts and Ratners of this world — Hill's direction is a masterclass in hard clarity.

Sep 5, 2011

Is Close Encounters post-modern? (Are you?)

"Is Close Encounters of the Third Kind the first and greatest work of postmodern art?" asks Jonathan Jones, on his Guardian blog:—
What makes me call this film "postmodernist"? Partly it is the homely suburban world where Spielberg sets his story. American films have a long heritage of adventure. Big films before this tended to be set in big places with big characters – but Richard Dreyfuss plays a nobody who lives in nowhereseville to whom something weird happens. In high art, postmodernism was the moment when the idea of the avant garde as a radical movement – rejecting conventional society and pushing perception forward into an ever more ambitious vision of the new – collapsed. The lofty idealism of a Rothko was suddenly unconvincing to advanced artists. The idea of artists as prophets or priests was abandoned. Artists were not special and neither was art. This was above all an American moment, for it was in America in the 1950s and 60s that modernism attained its loftiest heights and shaped a national culture, from skyscrapers to the space race.
Wow. Who knew? If merely setting your film in suburbia gets you all this, then a lot more things are postmodern than I had hitherto suspected. Most of Spielberg's early movies — not just Close Encounters but E.T. and Poltergeist — as well as the stories of John Cheever, the novels of Richard Yates and John Updike, the paintings of Edward Hopper, Charles Schulz's Peanuts... I always thought you had to do a whole lot more work to qualify as a postmodernist — feature your insides on the outside, like the Pompidou centre, or else make a really, really big mess in which the randomness of existence can be discerned, like Jackson Pollock — but I have been unnecessarily strict, denying postmodernity to thousands who could otherwise have enjoyed this benighted state. (And who, frankly, doesn't like to feel self-conscious most if not all of the time, or at least let one's innards out for a walk at weekends?).
Close Encounters marks this same moment in popular culture. Science fiction is a form of modernism. It shares modern art's belief in progress and meaningful change: it proposes a history of the future. 2001, the great modernist science fiction film, actually creates a model of history in which we evolve as a species under alien guidance. By contrast, Close Encounters does not offer any sense of history or progress or any theory as to what the alien encounter means. It is rooted in everyday suburbia and the revelation that unfurls is beyond understanding. In fact, it does not feel right to call it "science fiction" at all, for it refuses the genre's rationality.
If I am following Jones correctly, Close Encounters is postmodern because it is to science fiction, what post-modernity was to modernity: a refusal of its efforts toward rational understanding. Now, I repudiate my wife's efforts toward understanding all the time, but had no idea that made me post-modern. What are the perks that come with my new status?
Postmodernism anticipated the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of communism, and a world with a single superpower: a global, American, suburban culture. But as soon as those things came to pass at the end of the 1980s, art moved on again, imaginations railed at the supposed complacency of postmodernism and turned once more to grand themes of death, history and mourning.
It's great, that "anticipate". And there you were thinking that all I did was predate the fall of the Berlin Wall, or co-exist contemporaneously with American global supremacy. No. I anticipated both of those big boys. Both having now passed, I moved on again, railing at the supposed complacency of postmodernism — supposed, a-holes! — and allowed the grand themes of death, history and mourning to find their ugly mugs reflected in my impassive Koonsian chrome surfaces. Deal with it, non pomo mofos!


"Looking for all the world as if the print has been stewed in black tea before being left to gather a few months’ worth of dust in the projection room — and that’s a good thing, I hasten to add — the film proves a happy marriage between two very different brands of understated precision: the British scholarliness of le CarrĂ©’s dense espionage lore and the icier Scandinavian calm that Alfredson brought to his breakout vampire drama, “Let the Right One In.” In many ways, Alfredson directs le CarrĂ©’s self-described “little gray men” of Britain’s MI6 intelligence service as they are themselves vampires of the Cold War: lurking in irremovable half-light, striking efficiently and selectively, and only notionally acquainted with the concept of sunlight, these thickly-tweeded spies appear to bear the burden of their profession as a lifelong alibi for the avoidance of intimacy, social functionality and even standard-issue conversation." — Guy Lodge, In Contention
Lodge is fast turning into one of the better online film critics — smart, dry, descriptive, wary of the type of loose-fitting flannel that passes for judgment elsewhere ("... has seriously confused tonal issues and doesn’t succeed in blending concepts or nailing them individually either" to pick just one example currently etherising its readers. What kind of talk is that?)

Sep 4, 2011

REVIEW: The Debt (dir. Madden)

Jessica Chastain is easily the best thing about The Debt, John Madden's fitfully engrossing thriller about Jewish vengeance. It was hard to tell exactly what kind of actress she was in The Tree of Life, so diaphanous in conception was her character, a radiant earth mother whose main dramatic function was to embody the abstract principle of 'Grace' and put out the washing with small animals in attendance, like Snow White. There's no dispelling the slight air of otherworldiness that attends Chastain's sculpted beauty – I can think of no other actress better placed to play Botticellli's Venus, rising from the ocean atop a clam shell — but The Debt adds to her repertoire some nifty karate moves, not to mention a lethal way with hypodermics, and she seems much the happier for it. She plays a Mossad agent sent back to capture a sadistic Nazi doctor, 'the surgeon of Birkenau', by posing as one of his patients, even submitting to a series of gynecological exams, while the good doctor teases apart her cover story. I haven't been so skeeved by the sight of stirrups since Cronenberg's Dead Ringers. Satisfyingly, Chastain then gets to snap her legs shut around his neck, plunge a needle into his neck and bundle him into the back of a waiting van, and from there to an apartment where they feed him porridge, bathe him and indulge in intermittent bouts of violence designed to show that the Victims are Becoming Their Oppressors. Yawn. From this point, the life slowly leaks from the movie which turns into a housebound version of Munich. I strongly suspected the nefarious influence of a play behind some of the more full-throttle soul-searching, but upon getting home I found out the film is adapted from an Israeli movie, so there you go. But Chastain is glorious. This Venus has game: her acting instincts are quick, sure and unshowy, while her beauty is of that fascinatingly multi-planed sort — alternately luscious and drawn — that makes you hungry for as many angles as possible. Perfect for the movies. I'd love to see her in 3-D. C+

Sep 3, 2011

Towards a unified theory of popularity in the era of Michael Bay's Transformers

An interesting exchange of tweets with a reader about why it bothers me when a salesperson informs me that a shirt I've just bought is "proving popular" but not when a movie I like is a hit. The answer seemed clear enough to me at the time — clothes are a personal statement whereas movies are a mass medium, such that finding your reactions echoed by 200 strangers is part of the fun. But not everyone shares my populist enthusiasms, my movie tastes are still in many way more personal than my choice in clothes, and, truth be told, my populism is a little patchy these days. I love that Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a big hit, but it causes me untold mental anguish pain that Transformers 3 was, partly because it reinforces the stereotype that the mass audience is dumb and that some filmmakers are successful by appealing to the "lowest common denominator." I've never got that phrase, and always resisted the way it equates what is lowest in us with what is most common, whereas I believe the opposite: that what is lowest in us appeals to our selves only, and commonality offers us our one shot at transcendence. I have never been happier than when lost in a 600-strong crowd, all rocketting out of our seats at the sight of a hand reaching out of a grave to grab Amy Irving's hand. It's part of what I love about the movies. This being so, I clearly have to find a way of explaining Michael Bay. I had a shot at it in my book Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Summer, where I road-test the idea of tiered movie love. Simply put: the endorsement of a film implied by a ticket sale isn't of uniform strength, but varies from film to film and from era to era. It used to be a fairly safe bet that a ticket bought was a sign of a happy customer. One imagines most of the people who went to see The Godfather upon its release had a good experience with the film — the odd grumpus aside. Today, in the era of franchise filmmaking and $100 million marketing campaigns and 'pre-saleability', it has become possible for the studios to gaurantee a certain number of bums on seats. Not entirely. Word of mouth is not dead — Transformers 3 did worse than the second film, because the second film was so reviled — but remember that the second film made $402,000,000 domestically. That's a film people didn't like. Or to be more accurate: it was a film most of its audience didn't hate. And it is this category of film — neither good, nor bad, loved nor unloved, but which enough people sit there, neither loving nor hating, in enough numbers to generate a profit — that the studios have perfected the art of making. They have learnt to fake a degree of popularity. Popularity is not what it used to be. Transformers 3 is not popular in the same way that The Godfather was popular. A lot of people loved The Godfather, but a lot more people than loved The Godfather didn't hate Transformers 3. It seems obvious enough to say this, but ticket sales do not measure strength of movie-love, which means we here in some highly speculative realm between the byzantine ways of the box-office and the mysteries of the human heart. We are talking about the movies, in other words. But try it next time a movie you hate goes bananas at the box-office or a movie you love drops like a stone: subtract 'pre-saleability' — your best guess, anyway — and see how the world looks then. A world in which Inception is the biggest summer hit of 2010, and Captain America in 2011 (also Apes, which I'm not persuaded has in the way of pre-sold pixie dust, not with the right demographic anyway). A world where Michael Bay's robots and Johnny Depp's pirates scramble for a foothold and Pixar reigns supreme. Suddenly, Hollywood hit-making doesn't seem like such an sulphurous activity, or popular taste as dumb and drooling as it once did. You can resume your place in the cinema queue with less suspicion for your fellow movie-goers and even something like pride.

Sep 1, 2011

Which offers the better diagnosis of alcoholism — Katy Perry's 'Last Friday Night' or Rihanna's 'Cheers (Drink to That)'?

With Rihanna's single 'Cheers (Drink to That)' following so closely on the heels of Katy Perry's 'Last Friday Night' pop fans are doubled blessed: which rousing pop anthem to compulsive binge drinking do they like best? Or, more clinically: which is the better diagnosis of alcoholism? The two pop queens are friends and drinking buddies; both songs celebrate getting royally toasted at weekends, and both feature middle-8s with in-bar sound effects and crowd chants. In many ways the two songs might be considered bookends to the same wild weekend — two rounds of drinks from competing barflies. Perry's is the more colorful end of the saloon, no question. 'Last Friday Night' came first and, in a fashion we have come to expect of this budding lyricist, paints an acrylically vivid picture of a young woman trapped in a gruelling blur of booze, bars and bodies, the first verse opening with a scene of ashen devastation that would bring a blush to the cheek of Clare Quilty:—
There's a stranger in my bed,
There's a pounding my head
Glitter all over the room
Pink flamingos in the pool
I smell like a minibar
DJ's passed out in the yard
Barbie's on the barbeque
Perry's heroine performs a quick body check, finds a "hickie or a bruise" then - to her horror - finds pictures of last nights revels posted online. She herself can remember nothing: "Its a blacked out blur / But I'm pretty sure it ruled." What she is describing is a blackout, as defined by E. M. Jellinek, and as addressed by question 17 in the "The Twenty Questions that helped me Decide That I Was Alcoholic" leaflet, published by Alcoholics Anonymous. (17. Have you ever had a complete loss of memory as a result of drinking?). Other questions that would draw an affirmative answer from Perry's hungover heroine thus far would include 4) Is your drinking affecting your reputation? (that online picture) and 7). Do you turn to lower companions and an inferior environment when drinking? (she doesn't sound too happy about those DJs crashed in her yard). And that's just by the end of the first verse.

Gradually, more details of the night in question come back to her, in a series of nightmarish flash-lit tableaux comprising the song's chorus:—
Last Friday night
Yeah we danced on tabletops
And we took too many shots
Think we kissed but I forgot

Last Friday night
Yeah we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard

Last Friday night
We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a menage a trois
Last Friday night
Yeah I think we broke the law
Always say we're gonna stop-op
By now our concerned addiction counsellor is scribbling wildly. We've got trouble with the law; unplanned promiscuity; the hint of financial problems; the determination to stop drinking capped with the commitment to repeat the whole exercise ("This Friday night / Do it all again"). By the end of the second verse we have problems at work ("
Don't know what to tell my boss"), more unmanageability ("think the city towed my car") and legal problems ("warrants out for my arrest") prompting another acknowledgement of remorse ("that was such an epic fail"), drowned out by another grim-faced avowal to repeat the whole cycle.

In terms of our counsellor's quiz, that's affirmative answers to question 5 (Have you ever felt remorse after drinking), 6 (Have you ever got into financial difficulties as a result of drinking?), 10 (Do you crave a drink at a definite time?), 13 (Has your efficiency decreased since drinking?) and 15 (Do you drink to escape from worries or trouble?). The publishers of the '20 questions' leaflet advise that if you can answer two of the questions in the affirmative, you are probably an alcoholic. Perry's luckless heroine can answer nine. The depthless irony with which she addresses both her determination to stop ("Always say we're going to stop") and her hopeless inability to stay stopped ("Do it all again") make the song not just a vivid picture of the demoralising cycle of addiction, but very close to a cry for help. Her denial stretched paper-thin, Perry's heroine is just a few drinks from her first meeting.
Rihanna presents a more battle-hardened Samurai mask to the world, as befits her faithless, cross-me-and-I'll-cut-ya persona and sullen alto. The heroine of her lyric for 'Cheers (Drink To That)', anticipating a weekend binge after a hard week, issues comradely advice to others similarly oppressed ("Don't let the bastards grind you down"), and a bellicose toast to "the freaking weekend" before leading us into the chant that makes up the chorus:-
There’s a party at the bar everybody put your glasses up and
I drink to that, I drink to that, I drink to that
(Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah)
Her girl is far more stewed in her resentments than Perry's, more belligerent in her stand-off against both the universe and her accusers ("People gonna talk whether you doing bad or good, yeah"), more openly dismissive of her money worries ("put it all on my card tonight, yeah / Might be mad in the morning but you know we goin hard tonight") with a regret count of zero. Her denial is outright, her hedonism less that of the hapless barbie-drunk who can't source her hickies, and more that of a battle-hardened warrior-lush, zeroing in on her objectives like a Terminator assessing kill ratios:-
Got a drink on my mind and my mind on my money, yeah
Looking so bomb, gonna find me a honey
Got my Ray-Bans on and I’m feeling hella cool tonight, yeah
Everybody’s vibing so don’t nobody start a fight, yeah-ah-ah-ah
The more enjoyable drinking companion, no question. Of the 20 questions quiz, Rihanna scores only three —
6 (Have you ever got into financial difficulties as a result of drinking?) 10 (Do you crave a drink at a definite time?), and 15 (Do you drink to escape from worries or trouble?) — compared to Perry's nine. A mid-stage drunk, rather than a late-stage alcoholic. Take Perry's heroine out and you'd end the evening holding a pair of broken Blahniks and handing out Kleenex. Rihanna's gal would still be at it as you tip-toed off to bed. Our addiction counsellor would be in for a long wait.