Sunday 31 October 2010

Mad Max (1979) - George Miller

A younger, better-looking, leather clad Mel Gibson pouts his way through this revenge film with a firm emphasis on impressive vehicle stunts.  The over the top machismo borders on camp at times, but is twisted with some (for the time) gruesome violence and a sadistic ending that apparently inspired the Saw films.  Unfortunately, the action sequences can’t negate the lack of a decent, coherent plot, which only really serves the stunts.  In a dystopian future, a gang of motorcyclists want revenge on Max for the death of ‘Night Rider’.  In turn, Max seeks revenge on them for the terrorising of his wife and child.  Yawn.  The script and acting don’t fair much better.  The opening car chase is thrilling, but the middle section with Max and his wife is plain tedious.  The film is vehicle stunt porn - quite enjoyable, but I’d prefer some brains to go with the brawn.


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Wednesday 27 October 2010

The Lovely Bones (2009) - Peter Jackson

I'll admit, I'm slightly biased with this one.  I'm a big fan of both Alice Sebold's novel and Peter Jackson, so I was bound to like this before I'd even pressed play.

This is a family drama centred on the Salmon family in the 1970s, as they experience life after the murder of their daughter Susie (Saoirse Ronan).  The twist is that the story is narrated by Susie herself, stuck in the Inbetween between her family's reality and heaven.  Visually, this film is magnificent, though it deviates somewhat from the novel.  Jackson has chosen to emphasise Susie's world, filled with fantastical, surreal beauty.  The bright, soft lighting and primary colour pallete highlight Susie's innocence and the fact this story is very much hers.  Also look out for a cheeky Lord of the Rings reference in the book shop at the start...

The payoff is that the film lacks some characterisation, whilst the book tells a darker and more detailed family drama.  Jackson focuses on the father-daughter relationship rather than the wider family complexities.  In particular, the relationship between Susie's parents (Wahlberg and Weisz) is not given enough screen time.  Susan Sarandon's portrayal of the grandmother is perhaps overly comic.  And we never really find out enough about the murderer to know why the events took place.  The trouble, of course, with all adaptations is that you can't include everything.  What is included here is very well done, but the film works best as a companion piece to the book.

As a standalone film, it still works.  But purely as a creative piece of film, it's well worth seeing.  Just read the book first.


Tuesday 26 October 2010

Despicable Me (2010) - Coffin & Renaud

Kids films.  They don't make 'em like they used to.  Take Disney for example.  After the classics of our childhood like The Lion King and Aladdin, kids today have to suffer with computerised animations of Rapunzel - the upcoming Tangled which looks terribleOther trailers included the new Narnia (Potter, your crown is still intact) and a live action/computerised version of Yogi Bear.  Yes...Yogi Bear.  In a park.  Stealing picnic baskets.  Thank God then for Pixar.....

...oh.  Wait.  This is Universal?  Oh.

Despicable Me is their attempt to rival Pixar.  In fact, it starts off as fairly anti-Disney, with supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) plotting to steal the moon, complete with conventional Russian accent - as Bond has taught us, all evil geniuses are Russian.  But the introduction of three orphaned girls causes the story to plummet into fluffy, pink, soppy mush - you can guess the rest.  It's a shame as the evil premise is quite refreshing, though (funnily enough) being past the age of puberty, my cynical opinion is fairly biased.  The comedy is very much slapstick, revolving around the adorable yellow minions, which kids and big kids alike will appreciate (myself and the mostly adult audience included).  The voice talent is very respectable - I had no idea that Russell Brand, Jason Segal and Julie Andrews were involved!  It's just a shame the ending is so vomit enducing I sicked up slightly in my mouth.  And that's before the song and dance routine (ripped from Shrek), though the boy dancing in the ailse in front was enjoying himself.

At the end of the day, it's a kids film, and in that respect it's certainly entertaining.  But comparisons to Pixar are somewhat unavoidable and Despicable Me lacks the witty script and charm of the competition.  Recent Pixar releases - the nostalgic Toy Story 3 and warm-hearted Up - are streaks ahead in every way, most notably in character design, animation technology and style.  The characters in Despicable Me aren't particularly original (little Agnes even looks like Boo from Monsters, Inc) and there's nothing visually strikingThe (obligatory) 3D isn't all that either.

Despite these flaws, it's still a fun film.  It may not be as humorous as Shrek or as charming as Toy Story, but it may just put a smile on your face.


Monday 25 October 2010

Nadine Coyle - Insatiable

Everyone has their favourite member of Girls Aloud - I always felt Nadine was the most...erm...talented.  But now that Cheryl is 'the nation's sweetheart' (really?!), this single is Coyle's push to steal the pop crown.

It's certainly a better effort than Promise This.  It's total pop, but with a slightly rockier, funkier edge and a bright brassy chorus.  It's catchy, though it feels like Coyle is trying a bit too hard to be sexy and lyrically this is simplistic stuff.  I also hate the vocoder in the middle eight. 

Still, it's not a bad effort - the focus is clearly on the vocal rather than tabloid headlines (yes, I'm looking at you Cheryl...).  Let's be honest, both songs are a bit shite, but for me Nadine has the vocal edge.


Sunday 24 October 2010

The Graduate (1967) - Mike Nichols

After three years of University, what happens next?  In the twenty-first century, we have Avenue Q.  In 1967, there was The Graduate, breakthrough film for Dustin Hoffman. 

Ben Braddock (Hoffman) is a recent and successful graduate with no idea what to do with his life.  The answer?  Have an affair.  After being seduced by family friend the sultry Mrs Robinson (Anne Bancroft), Ben is trapped into an illicit relationship.  I will say no more for fear of ruining the story, but what follows is essentially the story of what a guy will do for love as he is thrown into the 'real' world, post-college.  The height of the story is undoubtedly the infamous seduction (every young guys fantasy?) and the story does fizzle out a little after this.  But the emphasis is clearly on the characterisation and the acting.  Although the star of the narrative is Mrs Robinson, it is Hoffman who really shines.  His portrayal of Ben as he grows from boy to man is superb and as a character, Ben has something for everyone to identify with.  The direction is also fantastic - this is incredibly well filmed.  The opening scene brilliantly depicts the entrapment of Ben under the pressure of his parents and their friends, with a single close up shot of Ben constantly invaded by others.  The direction continues throughout as Ben moves from the entrapment of family and success, to the entrapment of love.  All of this is accompanied by the iconic and beautiful soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel, though it's a little overused. 

This film is '60s through and through and although it may seem more relevant to graduates of this age (i.e my Dad), the film certainly has resonance with more recent graduates...

Here's to you, Mrs Robinson.


Friday 22 October 2010

Rent - South Manchester AOS @ RNCM

We enter the studio theatre.  Chairs are arranged for the audience.  Scattered across them?  Durex condoms.  This is either my lucky night, or I'm in danger of catching something....

Do you know what...I'm going to be nice.  For an amateur society, with an average age of (I'm guessing) 30ish, the standard was impressive.  I'm going to do this through the medium of the compliment sandwich:

* Aforementioned condoms.
* Angel.  Very well cast and able to do both comic sass and pathos brilliantly.  In fact, the whole gay relationship between him and Collins was sensitively portrayed.
* Maurine looked hot in a catsuit.  And had a good voice.  As did Joanne.
* The use of the screen, although the material by the cast was copied from the film, was great.
* The random chorus cameos.  Especially the random tramp who shouted "You fuck!" at Roger.  Hilarious.

* The direction.  End of.

Best (my two favourite moments):
* Start of Act 2.  The intro begins for the big song...
Random chorus member: "Fiv.........."
Rest of the cast, four bars later: "Five hundred twenty-five thousand......."

* Mimi dies.  The room is silent....except a random muso who loudly whispers "Shit!" from behind the curtain, for some unknown reason.

In all honesty, I really thought the cast were fantastic and there was some genuine talent in the leads.  I just feel so sorry for them that, after all their effort, they were completely let down by the completely amateurish Director (rule no.1: don't turn your back on the audience), Musical Director ( copy the soundtrack) and Choreographer (step together, step togetheer, PUNCH THE AIR).  There was nothing visually interesting, nothing exciting or unique.  The cast deserved to be treated like adults, then maybe I wouldn't have been laughing for all the wrong reasons.

At the least, it reminded me what an excellent musical this is.  Now I'm off to watch the film for the millionth time...


Thursday 21 October 2010

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud (2010) - Burr Steers

I love having a friend who works at the cinema.  It means when I sit through shite like this, I don't feel bad for not paying.  The best thing about this film was the Harry Potter trailer at the start...

It's basically Dawson's Creek meets The Lovely Bones and The Sixth Sense, with a dash of High School Musical in the form of Mr Efron himself (is it just me, or is he looking increasingly like Jared Leto?).  It's sentimental dross - after his younger brother dies in a car crash, talented sailor Charlie (Efron) must learn to move on with his life and MAN THE HELL UP.  The whole film is just a showcase for Efron's...erm...'talents' (plenty of Twilight style topless shots).  It's enough to make you sick.

Guys: Just don't bother.  Go and see The Social Network instead.

Girls: Take a tissue.  With Zaccy boy in this weepy film it won't just be your eyes that are moist.


Bat for Lashes - Two Suns

I know this one's a bit old now, but I've recently got back into this album, so thought I'd give my humble opinion.

Natasha Khan (or perhaps we should call her by her alter ego, Pearl) has a unique sound, though there's definitely something of Bjork or Kate Bush about her.  Her music is sparsely textured, sounding almost simplistic.  Her breathy, ethereal vocal floats effortlessly over deep percussion, penetrating bass, synthesiser (often sounding like an old 80's casio keyboard) and crystalline sound effects.  I often have images in my head when listening to music, especially classical.  This music wouldn't sound out of place on a weird, 80's gothic fantasy film, complete with goblins, elves and nude pagan women dancing in the moonlit shadows of a bleak snowy forest...

Ok, so now I sound like a pretentious prick with an overactive imagination (who clearly needs to get out more).  But what I'm trying to say is that this music is slightly odd, but in a good way - just take a look at the album cover above!  The live version of Daniel illustrates my point.  The use of synth church organ is reminiscent of gothic horror, which the haunting vocal and heavily reverbed percussion only add to.  Yet the album version, despite a change in instrumentation, still retains this ethereal quality.  Other stand-out tracks such as Glass and Two Planets continue the superbly haunting, surreal beauty of this music.  It is beautiful weirdness.


Tuesday 19 October 2010

The Social Network (2010) - David Fincher

There's a lot of buzz around this film, particularly with regards to Oscar season.  But it's definitely too early to be discussing that, especially with this film.  Yes it's good, but it's not that good.

The Social Network narrates the rise and rise of Facebook, the world's favourite pastime.  It's a film about the power of the internet.  More so, it's a film about friendship - the essence of social networking - and how easily it is corrupted by success and money.  The film questions, literally, what is the price that friendship must pay when faced (see what I did there) with sucess?  The narrative juxtaposes scenes of the site's conception with the various lawsuits Zuckerbeg (Eisenberg) must endure.  The final moments sucessfully reflect this dichotomy, the monetary facts starkly contrast with the human emotions of friendship.

A film such as this really does rely on characterisation and acting ability.  The main trouble is that none of the protagonists are particularly likeable.  Zuckerberg is portrayed from the outset as a bit of a cock, arguing with his girlfriend and retiring to his dark bedroom to relay his feelings through blogging monologues.  How ironic that such an unsocial being could design such a successful social network - a key element of the film.  Still, despite his witty and intelligent banter in the lawsuit scenes providing some much needed comic relief, the audience are left expecting some form of redemption which never really happens.  It is therefore a rather pessimistic view of fame and fortune.  Like the sleak, clinical offices, it's all a bit cold and heartless.  Perhaps this is a comment on the business world of today.  But it doesn't necessarily amount to an entertaining film.

It's certainly a well acted and well made film.  Just don't expect to walk out jumping for joy.


Mike Posner - Cooler Than Me

Ok, so he looks like the lovechild of Justin Timberlake and Plan B, and he's clearly not much of a singer.  But this track is all about the production.  Electro-pop that throws in a heavy bass, the production is contemporary and well suited to the radio and the dance floor.

The main problem with this song though is its lack of a typical verse-chorus structure.  Kudos for doing something different, but as a result this track is missing that much needed killer hook or sing-along chorus.  It's a shame the synth melody at the end doesn't come in sooner.  It's still, however, a very cool pop record that deserves success and a download.


Rihanna - Only Girl (In The World)

Good girl definitely gone bad.  Like a rotten scarlet egg.  Bets on this reaches number one when it's released.  But it really shouldn't.  This is just your typical RnB/Dance record that could be sung by anybody, though with Rihanna's name it'll make a few buck.  Turn 'girl' into 'guy' and BAM, the latest Taio Cruz record....

Yes, it's quite catchy.  Yes, it's got a good beat.  And yes, we'll all be dancing to it in the clubs.  It's a solid track that lacks any form of personality.  Slightly ironic she's dyed her hair red, she's definitely not on fire.  Rude Boy this ain't. 


Monday 18 October 2010

The Naked and Famous - Young Blood

Best described as the love-child of MGMT and Passion Pit, this is indie-pop music with an electro twist.  The Naked and Famous are a five-piece band originating from New Zealand (not so boring after all...) where they reached the top of the charts.  This is one of those songs that, no matter how you're feeling, will never fail to put a smile on your face.  Catchy and melodic, with vocal harmonies and electro hooks, this track is very radio friendly.

The single Young Blood is available to download now, as is their album Passive Me, Aggressive You.  And for anyone in Manchester, they're playing at the Ruby Lounge on November 10th.  Definitely worth a watch.


Sunday 17 October 2010

Zombieland (2009) - Ruben Fleischer

I'm not going to lie, I didn't have high hopes for this film.  Seatbelts on kids, you're in for a bumpy ride.

The main premise of this zombie film is the set of rules that 'Columbus' (Jesse Eisenberg) must follow to survive.  Unfortunately the film follows a similarly fomulaic approach.  Zombieland ultimately boils down to another film about a geeky guy trying to lose his virginity, this time complete with puking undead, comedy zombie kills and cliched use of Mozart.  The characterisation is tired - Eisenberg does a poor Michael Cera impression, Emma Stone is pretty much your typical hot stuck up bitch (despite protestations from the script), Woody Harrelson is your gung-ho action man with a soft heart (who should know better) and Abigail Breslin is nowhere near as kick-ass as Chloe Moretz.  Not even a cameo from Bill Murray can save the film. 

The one redeeming feature is the running time - less than 90mins.  Despite its flaws, Zombieland is a silly yet entertaining film for a Sunday afternoon.  But if you want a 101 ways to kill a zombie, get yourself a games console and a copy of Dead Rising.


My First Tooth @ The Castle Hotel, Manchester

This up and coming four piece from Northampton are most certainly worth your time and attention.  Currently on tour around the UK, their album Territories is released tomorrow!

The sound is pop-folk at its best.  Catchy guitar riffs and vocal melodies by Ross are backed by punchy bass and drums by Jo and Gareth.  All of this is punctuated by the multi-talented Sophie, providing everything from gorgous vocal harmonies to violin, lead guitar and percussion.  Catchy, upbeat songs you can dance to but with some poignant and heartbreaking lyrics - Sleet and Snow being a personal highlight.  I entreat you all to buy this album - check out some tracks on


Saturday 16 October 2010

Groove Armada @ O2 Academy Birmingham

Groove Armada may not quite be at the forefront of music these days (minus that irritating car advert...), but this gig proved the guys have still got the groove.

This is music with a kick.  The majority of the gig consisted of material from their most recent album Black Light, History featuring Will Young being a particular highlight, as well as Paper Romance and Look Me In The Eye Sister.  But later came the brilliant Song 4 Mutya and an encore of At the River and Superstylin' which really got the audience going (including the annoying git who through beer all down my back...).  From a dance group, it was fantastic to see electro music taken off the computer and performed by a live band. Awesome stuff.

Special mention should be given to the female vocalist SaintSaviour, whose performance made up for the fairly wooden band.  As the outfits became skimpier, the dancing became more and more hypnotic and erotic (thrusting revealed new uses for a microphone...).  You could practically smell the sweat dripping down her cleavage - she looked knackered by the end.  The jamaican dude is simply a legend.  The lighting too was incredible.  The whole back wall was covered in flashing bulbs and neon lasers showered the audience, making for a truly spectacular show.  Close your eyes and it was almost Glasto. Almost.


Tuesday 12 October 2010

Alexis Jordan - Happiness

This one isn't out until the end of the month, but it's been doing the rounds on the radio for a while now.  Who is this girl?  A quick Wikipedia check reveals she reached the semi-final of the first America's Got Talent and was quickly snapped up by Jay-Z.  Good job he did.  Happiness samples Deadmaus' Brazil (itself a brilliant track), but the inclusion of Jordan's vocal adds an extra dimension, lifting the song into a hybrid pop-dance track.  Her voice sounds great, with haunting harmonies and a soaring chorus.  It's catchy, well produced, you can sing it, you can dance to it.  Simply put, it's a superb little pop song. 

Monday 11 October 2010

Cheryl Cole - Promise This

Now, I'm all for a bit of cheesy synth-pop now and again.  And, though I hate to admit it, Fight for this Love is a guilty pleasure of mine.  But Cheryl is rapidly going downhill with this one...

Apparently she chose the song because she related to the lyrics whilst struggling with malaria.  That's right folks, she didn't write it herself.  *shock horror*.  The song is a bit like malaria really: annoyingly catchy and fairly sickening.  But despite disliking it, I know I'll probably be singing it all week.  What's with the 'alouette' section?  Is she going French on us?  That famous French/Canadian song is about plucking a skylark.  Wait...that explains the singing then...

Promise this Cheryl.  Stick to looking pretty, it's what you're best at.


Joe McElderry - Ambitions

There's a reason the X-Factor is called the X-Factor.  Yes it's a singing contest, but it's also about start quality, something Joe lacks.

Ambitions? You'll need more than that Joe.  A decent songwriter would be a good start.  This song is just so bland, there is nothing exciting about it at all.  He does have a good voice, but this song does nothing to show that off.  I don't think he'll even make no. 2 with this one.  At least with the Mika-esque falsetto and George Michael haircut he's embracing his sexuality....


Sunday 10 October 2010

Planet Terror (2007) - Robert Rodriguez

Everyone loves a good zombie flick, right?  Planet Terror is a grindhouse film for the GTA generation, complete with gratuitous, hyperbolic violence, sex and a slightly contrived sense of 'cool'.

Set in Texas, a zombie outbreak has taken place, turning its victims into disease-ridden, pustule popping living dead.  The storyline is utterly ridiculous, complete with crude special effects and over the top violent action.  And just when you think it couldn't get any more absurd, in steps producer Tarantino, whose cameo has the most disgusting penis joke I've ever seen.  But, you're not watching this film for the story are you?  The film is an hommage to the grindhouse films of the 1970s, complete with grainy visuals and a spoof trailer at the start (now extended into the soon to be released Machete) which perfectly sets the tongue-in-cheek tone of the film.  Planet Terror will frequently have you squirming in your seat with equal measures of disgust and hilarity.  It suffers somewhat from style over substance, but is successful as a piece of unsolicited yet entertaining revulsion, though doesn't quite hit the heights of Rodriguez's previous Sin City.  You won't want to watch, but you just can't help it.


Friday 8 October 2010

Avatar (2009) - James Cameron

I feel Avatar is getting a bit of a bad reputation at the moment for not quite living up to the hype, despite being the highest grossing film EVER.  Yes, more than that other epic Cameron film Titanic.  But whilst the narrative may not be the most original, the world of Pandora deserves your complete attention.

The story takes place on the forest planet of Pandora, inhabited by the (notoriously blue) Na'vi.  Enter Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic marine assigned a mission to infiltrate the Na'vi's home using a remote controlled 'Avatar' - part human, part native.  The humans are after the valuable 'unobtanium', and of course there just happens to be a massive supply beneath the Na'vi's home tree.  Soon after, Jake falls in love with Na'vi princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and is drawn into the world of the Na'vi.  The film sees him questioning his motives, deciding whether to side with humanity or his new found alien companions.

Yes, this does amount to a fairly standard sci-fi yarn, with clear overtones of the Iraq War (doesn't everything these days?).  The acting is solid, the script does justice to the story and the action sequences are of epic proportions, as you would expect from Cameron.  But the real star of the film is the world which Cameron has created.  I recently saw the film for a second time at the IMAX which really does make a difference, the huge screen drawing you in to the believable world.  Of course, this is also dependant on Cameron's spangly new 3D technology.  The sumptuous visuals, coupled with Horner's fantastic musical score, totally immerse the audience in an exotic and beautiful alien realm.  It's largely due to the success of Avatar that 3D is rapidly becoming the new industry standard.  Cameron has a lot to answer for...

Despite being over three hours long, the time flew by and after the credits finished, I could happily sit back and watch it all again.  And again.  Even Leona Lewis does a good job on the theme song.  Smurf me up Cameron, I wish I was blue...


Thursday 7 October 2010

Kings of Leon - Radioactive

Now I have to confess, it's only since the phenomenal Sex on Fire that I really started listening to Kings of Leon and I don't think anything will ever top that.  But Radioactive certainly comes close.  It's got all the hallmarks of a classic Kings track: a simple but memorable guitar riff, anthemic chorus and incomprehensible lyrics.  It's no wonder that they have rapidly become one of the world's top bands.  As a taster to the new album, it appears the future is brighter still for the band.  Cannot wait for its release (and hopefully massive tour?!).


Janelle Monae - Cold War

Wow.  This song is incredible.  I literally cannot get enough.

Her latest album, The ArchAndroid, was released back in May this year, but it's only very recently I've heard her work.  Cold War, for me at least, is the stand-out track.  Her style mixes a soulful vocal with a modern twist, epitomised by this track.  Powerful vocals.  Thumping, driving, almost drum and bass style, percussion.  And an awesome guitar solo in the middle eight.  Brilliant stuff.  I sincerely hope she receives more exposure in the UK soon...


Check out her dancing to another of her tracks, Tightrope, on the Late Show:

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Beyonce - If I were a boy

I thought I'd do a short review of this turd of a song, after all the recent exposure it's had on X-Factor sung by hundreds of Beyonce wannabes.  It just reminded me how bad this song is.

Now I'm not doubting that Beyonce herself is a beautiful, talented woman whose voice I could listen to all day.  The song has a powerful melody, is well produced and has a good video to boot.  But what I cannot abide by is the sexist and generalising lyrics. Not every guy 'drinks beer with the guys'. Not every guy lies about 'sleeping alone'.  Not every guy 'puts himself first'.

In short, not every guy is a lying, cheating bastard who ill-treats women.  If I were a boy?  Stick to being an independant woman Beyonce. Trust me.

But hey, I'm just a boy.  What do I know...?


The Fountain (2006) - Darren Aronofsky

Having never seen an Aronofsky film before, I had no idea what to expect when I started up The Fountain. But what a surprise! This film is superb and well worth a view.

The film is essentially the tale of Tommy (Hugh Jackman), a medical scientist, trying to save his cancer stricken wife Izzy (Rachel Weisz) from near death.  This is juxtaposed with two other storylines: a conquistador sent by his Queen to search for Eden and a traveler floating through space in a bubble (no, really...). Aronofsky uses visual motifs to link the three tales together, each played by the same actors, as well as colour symbolism, but contrasts them through the use of shapes - squares, triangles and spheres respectively.  This makes for a visually impacting film - the use of macrophotography for the space scenes is particularly beautiful. The three storylines combine to consider different aspects of mortality, the essence of humanity, and the consequences of eternal life - themes I was left to ponder long after the film finished.

The performances are also excellent.  The film becomes a showcase for Jackman's acting ability and he proves he is capable of more than jumping around as Wolverine (though still plenty of facial hair).  Weisz also succeeds in her tragic role, looking beautiful (as ever).

Some may find the film a little pretentious, but I couldn't help but be sucked into it's thought provoking narrative.  Now I'm off to watch Requiem for a Dream....