The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance, Tate Modern, 14 Nov 2012 – 1 April 2013

Tate Modern’s major winter show has finally opened, and it embraces the "blockbuster exhibition" philosophy to the letter – famous names, iconic art works, and a whole-hearted welcome for the fact that nudity is never gratuitous in art.

A Bigger Splash is a survey of the relationship between performance and painting from 1950 onwards. It’s centred on the era-defining drip paintings of Jackson Pollock (laid out on the ground as they were when he painted them), and the 60 years or so of artists responding to his principle that painting is physical. As you’d expect, icons abound – Hockney’s sun-drenched swimming pools hang next to Yves Klein’s famous experiment of what happens when you use a naked woman as a paintbrush. There are so many defining names of 20th-century art that the show has the aura of a quick rush through Modern Art History; Yayoi Kusama, Bruce Nauman, the Vienna Actionists. This is art at its most visceral, pig guts, mass nudity and the occasional orgy are all included in the ticket price.

Theatre

Constellations, Duke of York Theatre, until 5 Jan 2013

Melding quantum multi-universe theory with beekeeping may not be the most obvious preamble for theatre, but critics were universally delighted with Constellations when it debuted earlier this year. That critical consensus lead to Constellations being one of the biggest success in the Royal Court's history, and now its back for a second run. Written by the award-winning playwright Nick Payne and now directed by Michael Longhurst, Constellations is a romantic drama with a difference. Shunning the convention that play narrative lines must unfold along the temporal limits of the time and space – Constellations exists in a parallel world where every possible situation unfolds simultaneously on stage. The action unfolds in not one universe, but several, as we see a couple meet, greet and a relationship grow in a plot which twists in and out of every chance not taken.

Music

Nouvelle Vaguem, Hammersmith Apollo, 16 November

Since their formation in 2004, Nouvelle Vague have repeatedly demonstrated that no one carries off effortless insouciance quite like Parisians. The French foursome are returning to London for another tour, and demonstrating, once again, their mastery of the cover version. Their synth and dubstep overhauling of classic Eighties pop may sound like a recipe for over-ironic disaster, but this band have repeatedly shown that style and soul are an inherent part of their repertoire. Head over to west London tonight, for versions of "Blue Monday", "Love will Tear us Apart" and "Dancing with Myself", as well as new covers and a changing line-up of singers.

Dance

Wayne Mcgregor Random Dance, Barbican Curve Gallery, 18 November

The Barbican has enjoyed tremendous success recently for bringing Londoners more of what they just cant get enough of – rain.  Just in case you're not feeling damp enough outside, you can head on indoor to this multi-sensory installation by Random International currently at the Curve Gallery, where motion sensors and digital technology bring rainclouds to you.

From this Sunday, the Rain Room, will play host to a cross-disciplinary collaboration with Wayne McGregor, who is choreographing an extensive and original new work which sees dancers performing experimental pieces as they dodge in and out of the indoor downpour. With an original score by Max Richter, this promises to be a truly unique melding of contemporary art and dance. Admission is free, but get there as early as possible to beat the queue.

Film

Jewish Film Festival, various locations, until 18 November

The final week of the nationwide festival, which, for the first time hosts screenings in London, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester.

This is a unique chance to see a broad range of international cinema, much of which it is difficult to get access to within the UK otherwise. Five UK premières are on over the weekend alone, and other highlights include the closing night gala of the French-Israeli-Canadian A Bottle in the Gaza Sea. Panel discussions will follow screenings of Joel Fendelman’s David, and the award-winning God’s Neighbour.

David Hockney, A Bigger Splash (1967), part of the A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance exhibition, now on at the Tate Modern. Photo: David Hockney / Tate Modern
Marvel Studios
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In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2, every other line reeks of a self-help manual

This lame sequel suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing.

The 2014 romp Guardians of the Galaxy boasted the budget of a blockbuster and the soul of a B-movie. What that meant in practice was that audiences had to endure the same biff-pow battle scenes and retina-blistering effects as any space adventure, but they were rewarded with eccentric characters and tomfoolery for its own sake.

Despite the Marvel Studios imprimatur, the film showed the forces of intergalactic evil being fought not by superheroes, but by a ragtag band of bickering goofballs: Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), aka Star-Lord, a self-regarding rogue in the Han Solo mould; the green-faced alien Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax (Dave Bautista), a literal-minded hulk; Rocket, a racoon-like warrior (voiced by Bradley Cooper); and Groot, a piece of bark that says “I am Groot” over and over in the dulcet tones of Vin Diesel. Movies this odd don’t usually become $770m smash hits but this one did – deservedly.

Those characters return in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 (the “Vol 2” reflects Peter’s love of mix-tapes) but the new film suggests the makers have largely forgotten why the original was so refreshing. Gags are rehashed; several sequences (including an interminable slow-motion section involving a laser-powered arrow) are dragged way beyond their desirable lifespan. Late in the day, Rocket tells his shipmates that they have too many issues, which rather pinpoints the problem with the screenplay by the director, James Gunn. Gunn has saddled his characters with unreasonable baggage, all of it relating to family and belonging. No matter how far into space they travel, all roads lead back to the therapist’s couch.

Peter, raised by his late mother, is delighted when Ego (Kurt Russell) materialises claiming to be the father he never knew. The old man makes grand pronouncements, only to undercut them within seconds (“’Scuse me, gotta take a whizz”) but, on the plus side, he has his own planet and pulls the whole “One day, son, all this will be yours” shtick. Gamora also has family business to contend with. Her blue-skinned sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan), wants to kill her: Nebula has never quite got over Gamora being Daddy’s favourite. To be fair, though, he did force them to fight one another, replacing parts of Nebula’s body with metal whenever she lost, so it’s not like we’re talking about only one sister being allowed to watch Top of the Pops.

The more Peter gets to know Ego, the less admirable he seems as a father, and soon we are in the familiar territory of having parenting lessons administered by a Hollywood blockbuster. The reason for this became obvious decades ago: the film industry is populated by overworked executives who never get to see their children, or don’t want to, and so compensate by greenlighting movies about what it means to be a good parent. Every other line here reeks of the self-help manual. “Please give me the chance to be the father your mother wanted me to be,” Ego pleads. Even a minor character gets to pause the action to say: “I ain’t done nothing right my whole life.” It’s dispiriting to settle down for a Guardians of the Galaxy picture only to find you’re watching Field of Dreams with added asteroids.

Vol 2 gets by for an hour or so on some batty gags (Gamora misremembering the plot and star of Knight Rider is an especially juicy one) and on the energising power of Scott Chambliss’s glorious production design. The combination of the hi-tech and the trashy gives the film the appearance of a multimillion-dollar carnival taking place in a junkyard. Spectacular battles are shot through scuffed and scratched windscreens, and there are spacesuits cobbled together from tin pots and bubble-wrap. This is consistent with the kitschfests that inspired the Guardians aesthetic: 1980s science-fiction delights such as Flash Gordon, Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.

If only Vol 2 had mimicked their levity and brevity. Gunn ends his overlong movie with a bomb being attached to a giant brain, but this is wishful thinking on his part. He hasn’t blown our minds at all. It’s just a mild case of concussion. 

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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