Monday 30 May 2011

Limp Bizkit - Shotgun

The year 2001.  Like many thirteen year olds, I was going through that emo/punk/metal stage, spending most of my time listening to Blink 182, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit.  It unleashed the angsty teenager, the angry young man.

It's only Linkin Park that really survived though; evolving and still releasing excellent music.  Blink 182 went as far as they could with the three chords they learnt, relying solely on Travis Barker's drumming skills.  And Limp Bizkit were best listened to for comedy value - Hot Dog being a particular favourite (has anyone counted the number of times the f-bomb is dropped?  I think it's 48...).

Now in 2011 Fred Durst and co. are back with *click**click**boom* the sound of a shotgun.  The band haven't matured much over the past decade, but their raw energy is infectious.  It'll get the people in the moshpit screaming for more, jumping from the sound of a shotgun.  Sure.

Does this mark a metal rennaisance?  No.  But it's one hell of a nostalgia trip.


Sunday 29 May 2011

The Hangover: Part II (2011) - Todd Phillips

The first Hangover film was a surprise.  I'm not normally one for crass lads humour, but it was so bizarrely insane and totally random, I couldn't help but laugh until my stomach couldn't take any more (naked asian man in the boot - need I say more?!).

And now "it's happened again".

Sort of.

You see, recreating this sort of magic is never going to work.  You can never recreate an incredible night out - it relies on spontaneity and luck.  Likewise, Phillips was never going to repeat the success of the first film, except that's exactly what he's tried to do - practically scene for scene. 

Wedding?  Check.
Alcohol and drugs?  Check.
Stolen animal?  Check.
Prostitutes? Check.
Photo replay over the credits?  Check.
Hilarious, crazy asian man?  Plenty.

Sure, it's now in a different city with a slightly different plot, but it sticks stoically to the original formula.  It's lazy and disappointing.  Ok, so it's still laugh-out-loud funny in many places and undoubtedly a highly entertaining film.  But that's largely due to its similarities with the first film.  Somewhere along the way, they lost the magic.  Yet somehow this time it comes as no surprise...


Saturday 28 May 2011

Blue Valentine (2010) - Derek Cianfrance

Less a film, more an insight into a real relationship.

Except, it's acted.

Williams and Gosling give stellar performances in this romance drama detailing a tumultuous relationship.  The narrative is fragmented, juxtaposing episodes of the birth and death of marriage.  This contrast gives the plot emotional weight and clever directorial touches link the plotlines together.  Gradually alternating in quicker succession, these plotlines merge together to depict a pessimistic view of love through the generations.  The title says it all concisely enough - this whirlwind romance will leave you feeling blue.

The success of the film, though, is wholeheartedly down to the central performances.  Totally believable, much of the dialogue was improvised which proves the emotional investment the actors put into these characters.  And as viewers, we too must invest in the film.  It's slow, rather long and often difficult to watch.  But this is also the beauty of the film - its intensity is testament to the realism it portrays.


Wednesday 25 May 2011

Chad Valley - Now That I'm Real (How Does It Feel)

Just in time for summer comes this sublime piece of electro-pop chillwave. 

Chad Valley, real name Hugo Manuel, has encapsulated the sound of summer in this record, not least for the commendable use of steel drums.  Synth pads meld together, like the final drops of sunset bleeding into the ocean; silhouetted figures dance in the sand to the infectious beat.  Equal parts heart-warming and melancholic, like a summer romance it's beautiful while it lasts, but it's over all too quickly.

So here's the details.  This track can be heard on Nick Grimshaw's Radio 1 show as his record of the week.  The upcoming album 'Equatorial Ultravox', on which this track features, is released on the 20th June.  If you can't wait that long, the self-titled EP is available now and includes the eighties inspired Up and DownAnd click here for a very cool remix of Foals Spanish Sahara.


Tuesday 24 May 2011

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011) - Rob Marshall

It's clear that after four films in the Disney franchise, the creators are running out of ideas to keep this ship afloat.  This may be stranger tides, but it's an all too familiar tale.

On Stranger Tides is exactly what you'd expect from a Pirates film - tediously so - with a healthy dose of Indiana Jones mystery thrown in.  They may have removed the wet Bloom and Knightley from the cast, but nothing has been gained in the process.  The plot itself is relatively simple: various groups are after the Fountain of Youth, whether it be for the draw of eternal youth, or to stop those who desire it.  Yet the storytelling is so bad that the narrative feels more complex and confusing than it should.  Knowledge of the previous films isn't strictly necessary, but it may help.

As for Depp, his flouncing around as Captain Jack Sparrow has just become a parody of the original character.  This isn't helped by an appearance by Keith Richards - Depp's initial inspiration.  The mantra of "it's not so much the destination as much as the journey" - quoted by Sparrow - has been taken to heart by the filmakers.  The cast and crew clearly had a huge amount of fun making the film, but this doesn't transfer to the audience.  As expected, though, Hans Zimmer's music is superb and the excellent Rodrigo y Gabriela add a welcome spanish guitar twist. 

Amongst all this, the film is stolen by Dame Judi Dench in a ten second cameo towards the start.  Like the film itself, it's frivolous fun but ultimately unnecessary.  However, the next film is undoubtedly in the works - stay after the credits for a quick (though pointless) taster.

Still, at least the trailers included X-Men: First Class and the Harry Potter finale.  Expect reviews of those in the (very) near future.


Sunday 22 May 2011

The Disappearance of Alice Creed (2010) - J Blakeson

Gemma Arterton wasn't nominated for the Orange Rising Star Award purely for her ability to pout in Prince of Persia or look good naked covered in oil.  No, she was nominated because she is a genuine rising star - and this film proves it.

This is a deeply dark and disturbing tale about two ex-convicts who kidnap the titular Alice Creed.  It's a tightly focused narrative that centres solely on these three characters.  The opening sets the scene as the men prepare for the events to come with cold and clinical precision, no words spoken, their characters and their chilling plan left to the audience's imagination.  But every nightmarish turn in the plot brings another thrilling twist - all is not as it seems.

The acting throughout is superb; Arterton, Compston and Marsan playing the protagonists with conviction and believability.  Their performances are integral to the film's intense atmosphere.  Special mention must also be given to the music composed by Marc Canham - its morbid tone perfectly suits the mood of the film.

Though unsettling, The Disappearance of Alice Creed is a powerful thriller and proves that a minimal budget has little effect on a well-cast and exciting drama.


NB. I have kept this review spoiler free - it's better not knowing anything until you see it.  However, the trailer below reveals a little too much of the story for my liking. You have been warned.

Saturday 21 May 2011

The Saturdays - Notorious

Now there's a very obvious reason to be excited about a new Saturday's single.  Visually at least.

It's a shame then that the music doesn't match.  The girls have had a few decent pop tracks in the past, but Notorious just doesn't hit the mark.  It's always a bad sign when the first bit of singing is so overly autotuned it sounds like a squeaking Barbie doll.  The production is typically dance tinged and lyrically, this is vacuous stuff - "I'm like, I'm like, I'm like this beat, yes, crazy and infectious".  Erm... not really.

Most criminal of all though is the chorus - or distinct lack-of.  More so than being bad and gangster, the girls are notorious for their catchy, hook-laden choruses.  But this song is an absolute anticlimax, crescendoing to nothing.  Couple that with the visuals and it's like a teenage boy's wet dream, but without the happy ending.

For my money, there's only one track that can bare the name 'Notorious' and that's this


Wednesday 18 May 2011

Bounce - Calvin Harris feat. Kelis

This collaboration had the potential to be HUGE. 

Instead it's just disappointing. 

The initial bleeps and bloops wouldn't sound out of place accompanying Mario bouncing along in his early NES days and provide the central hook of this track (ed. I've since realised it's basically the Tetris theme tune).  It's a great hook, if a little overused.  This builds into a twenty-first century rave that has Harris written all over it.  Sure it's catchy enough, but the production feels obvious and lacks excitement.  It never really goes anywhere, so what's meant to be a high energy club track ultimately feels lacklustre.  How ironic with a name like Bounce.  And then there's the lyrics about...well...bouncing.  Imaginative guys...really. 

Both Harris and Kelis have delivered some progressive pop music.  Just consider their previous hits: from Harris' classics Acceptable in the 80s and Not Alone, to Kelis' sexy Milkshake and more recent club hit AcapellaIn fact, just imagine some sort of hybrid Acapella-Not Alone mash-up.  Yeah, that's what this should have been.


Tuesday 17 May 2011

Bon Iver - Calgary

This track is a dream.

Not least because fans of Justin Vernon's work have been waiting since 2007 for the band's next album - self-titled and set to arrive on June 21st.  Mark that in your diaries.

More so, Calgary offers a musical dreamscape.  Like the watercolour painting of the album's cover art (pictured), it's soft and ethereal with a wintery chill.  Unlike the typical acoustic tracks of 'For Emma, Forever Ago', such as the beautiful classic Skinny Love, this track has a more electronic, ambient feel.  Synths waver listlessly, perfectly complimenting Vernon's falsetto vocal.  As the song builds, light percussion punctuates the silky texture and electric guitars shiver with distortion. 

Fingers crossed Calgary is exemplary of the upcoming album - definitely one to look forward to.

Before that, click here to download Calgary for free.  No excuses.


Monday 16 May 2011

A Scanner Darkly – Richard Linklater (2006)

The first thing you’ll notice is the visuals.  Linklater uses interpolated rotoscope, animating the film in a unique, pop-art style.  It’s disconcerting at first but fits the theme of psychosis – the actors are clearly recognisable yet totally fabricated.  Downey Jnr in particular gives a comic performance that percolates through the artistry.  This distinctive technique is the future of animation.

It’s based on a novel by Philip K Dick of Bladerunner fame.  In a dystopian and not-too-distant future, Keanu Reeves plays an undercover cop sent to uncover an illegal drug operation of the obscure ‘substance D’.  Drug abuse and its impact on the mind, is central to the film, the protagonists consumed in chaotic unreality.  Perhaps this chaos is intentional, but the plot is overly confusing and difficult to follow.  With the mesmerising visuals, the film feels like a crazy drug-induced yet dissatisfying dream. 

A typical case of style over substance.


For more 150 word reviews visit Screen 150.

Sunday 15 May 2011

The Barber of Seville (Or Salisbury) @ The King's Head

Click here to see my review of The Barber of Seville (Or Salisbury) at the King's Head Theatre, as written for On The Fringe.

Click here to view a trailer for the production.

And just for comedy value...

Saturday 14 May 2011

Blue - I Can

From the depths of oblivion and career failure, Blue are back and hoping to win the hearts of the nation and the continent.

What a waste of time.

Is this a number one single?  No.  It's like a time-warp back a decade.  Nothing's changed.  It didn't work well the first time, so why make a comeback?  Nobody cares.

But this song should really be judged on its Eurovision merits.  So, is it a winning song?  No.

Sure, it's a relatively catchy, camp pop song - typical Eurovision fair.  But it lacks any form of Euro-quirkiness which makes the contest interesting.  Where are the transvestites?  The poorly translated words?  The crazy costumes and props?  Essentially, it's too boring and too British.

And that's the problem: the lads won't win because we're British.  Their hopes rely solely on an ageing fanbase (and maybe a Royal Wedding).  Let's face it, despite paying for the contest, nobody likes us.  The winner win undoubtedly be some relatively unknown country in the middle of nowhere who everyone will vote for for fear of being invaded. 

Sorry Blue, you'll never win, though it's not entirely your fault.  You can sing I can all you like, but you can't change the minds of Europe.  Losing is something we're all accustomed to by now...

Nil points sur cinq.

Thursday 12 May 2011

Winter's Bone (2010) - Debra Granik

The Oscar nominated film that won…nothing.  Shame.

Set in the rural Ozark Mountains of America, it tells the tale of a young girl (Ree Dolly – Jennifer Lawrence) forced to look after her younger siblings and invalid mother after her father leaves home.  When he skips bail, she must confront her kin and track down her father, or risk losing her home. 

It’s set in a male dominated world of perpetually grey winter – black, silhouetted and jagged trees cut sharply into the white, clouded sky.  Bleak doesn’t begin to describe the look and feel of this film.  Winter’s chill is ever-present, the hand-camera practically shivering in the cold.  Typically American, the dramatic setting is equally foreboding and beautiful.

The population of this world are incredibly territorial.  Women act as gatekeepers for their mafia boss-like husbands and succumb to their every whim.  Ree must penetrate this world, simultaneously acting as caring mother and providing father to her family as she hunts for her dad.  Lawrence plays this role brilliantly, a young girl old before her time who you can’t help but empathise with. 

It’s an intense and captivating thriller.  Whilst the plot may be a little convoluted, Winter’s Bone is artfully shot and well deserving of its Oscar nominations.


Saturday 7 May 2011

Pagliacci @ The Kings Head

Click here for my review of Pagliacci at The Kings Head, as written for On The Fringe.