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Archive for December, 2009

Thanks to this December’s euphoria (turkey gravy, brownies and a week off) I think I finally get reggae. My lifelong loathing of Bob Marley’s music has dwindled into mellow appreciation. I can see what the fuss is all about. Laidback, organic music backed by the sound of a man who was once shot for trying to unite our species. The deliciously mellow High Tide Or Low Tide is that song that withered leaves would dream of falling down the stream to.

None but ourselves can free our mindsBob Marley

Go to the light, Mr Turkey. You have done well this year.

*****

Nickelback is one of the worst rock acts ever. They make Puddle Of Mudd sound competent. Every album of theirs has borrowed heavily from alternative rock’s oldest formula, but with every conceivable verse, chorus, bridge and solo sodomized beyond recognition. The Nineties had seen bands like Toadies, 7 Mary 3, Candlebox and Catherine Wheel adopting the same formulae without sounding like retarded llamas in heat. Yet most of them faded away without a trace. Virginia hard rockers Seven Mary Three, for instance, once did the impossible but were never remembered for it. They stole a worthless Metallica intro and built a decent song around it. Take that, Chad fucking Kroeger.

*****

Electro jazz sextet Cinematic Orchestra is one of those bands that can give you goosebumps without claiming to understand your problems. This is very unlike the preciously emotive music that you watch/hear on TV/radio. “All That You Give” featuring soul starlet Fontella Bass is intoxicating. Your senses will get drunk on the ambience, I swear. Wiki-ians have described their sound better than I’d expect them to, calling it “a seamless combination of live jazz improvisation with electronica, such that it is difficult to tell where the improvisation ends and the production begins.” Yup. Totally.

*****

Lupe Fiasco’s Daydream was heavily based on a sample from a Sixties’ pop rock anthem. Originally record recorded at Abbey Road Studios by the Belgian-based Wallace Collection, Daydream is supposedly is an adaptation ofTchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. A breezy psychedelic pop romp that felt a bit too urgent for the Sixties. No wonder Isaac Hayes dipped the strings of Ike’s Rap II in its gorgeousness. More recently, artists such as I Monster, Tricky and Portishead had lifted the song’s bassline to spark some of their finest moments. Most fittingly of all, German space age pop band Gunter Kallmann Choir also released a version of it in 1971. Uhmmm…super serious, self-professedly futuristic Germans had to go back three years in time to find a relevant sound. Now that’s what I fucking call music.

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Wallace Collection – Daydream

Watch

Bob Marley & The Wailers – High Tide Or Low Tide

Seven Mary Three – Water’s Edge

Cinematic Orchestra & Fontella Bass – All That You Give

Lupe Fiasco – Daydreamin’

I, Monster – Day Dream In Blue

Portishead – Glory Box

Tricky – Hell Is Around The Corner

Isaac Hayes – Ike’s Rap II

Gunter Kallmann Choir – Daydream

Buy

7 Mary 3’s Day & Nightdriving

Cinematic Orchestra’s Everyday

Wallace Collection’s Laughing Cavalier & Serenade

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End Of The Line: Props to director Maurice Devereaux for crafting a great independent slasher film. The religious overtones only make it more unsettling. Sort of like 28 Days Later meets Jesus Camp with a touch of classy B-grade gore. The lead actors – Karen (Ilona Elkin) and Mike (Nicholas Wright) don’t just showcase seventeen variations of their ‘oh god the humanity of it all” faces, they actually act and sucker you into caring about their survival. If Jehovah’s witnesses freaked you out before, wait till you see these bastards in End Of The Line coming at you with daggers and malicious intentions of saving your sorry soul.

The Disappeared: Johnny Kevorkian’s British supernatural thriller is a treat for your senses. Despite having a rather predictable storyline, The Disappeared works tremendously well. For one, it doesn’t take the easy route of insulting our intelligence with meaningless twists and turns. The story is simple enough. A teenager Mathew Ryan seems to lose his mind after the disappearance of his brother. Along the way, he’s not sure what has really gone missing…his mind or his brother. Then there’s the photography and sound, both of which add grimey realism to the whole experience. Harry Treadaway, who plays the distraught teen, is one to look out for. I’m hearing good things about his role in Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank too.

Wilderness: In Wilderness, Michael J Bassett has crafted one of the most engaging pointless films of all time. The storyline does stretch one’s imagination and foothold on logic, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t have one hell of a time watching it. Basically, a bunch of delinquents get stuck on an Island with a sadistic killer on the loose. One of them is so chilled out in a detached sort of way that we, the audience, immediately start rooting for him. Thankfully, Toby Kebbell (also Johnny Quid in RocknRolla) is comfortable in this role and pulls it off tastefully. Also, it is always great to see Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers, Botched, Dangerous Parking). Not much can be said for the rest, but they do shudder and fall down convincingly. The ending could have been so much better, but then again I could also complain about the wrinkles on William H Macy’s face. Silly story, lots of fun.

Summer’s Blood: Ooh this one is bad. Not even enjoyably bad as Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus. Just plain bad. The film revolves around Summer Matthews, your basic American teenager, who is kidnapped by a family of serial killers and led to the revelation that she just might be one of them. Ashley Greene should probably visit her New Moon fanbase and take lessons in creepiness; she comes across as being woefully fragile. Peter Mooney (the son) and Barbara Niven (the mommy) do their best to give Oedipus a bad name. Never before has incest seemed this err awkward? Stephen McHattie, who plays the dad, saves Summer’s Blood from becoming an awful joke. If it weren’t for him, my DVD player would have puked, choked on the bits and died.

New Moon: I didn’t watch New Moon just to make fun of it, you know. I am also a passive sado-masochist and sometimes I get my fixes from watching spectacularly bad cinema.  Still, even pedophilic Nazi transvestites with a fetish for having their skulls scalped shouldn’t be allowed to watch this crap.

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Clint Mansell, former lead singer and guitarist of Pop Will Eat Itself, has created achingly beautiful music for Duncan Jones’ Moon. One of those instances where music elevates cinema, from the distant lullabies to the stars that are “The Nursery” and “We’re Going Home” to the menacing electronica that lurks behind “We’re Not Programs, Gerty” and “Welcome To Lunar Industries”. The lonesome piano notes in “Memories” are breathtaking and saying anything else could only make them seem less affecting, so have a listen. This is the stuff that David Bowie heard inside his head when he created the Ziggy Stardust persona. The sound still makes Kubrick uneasily quiver inside his coffin. The soundtrack to feeling lost. In space. Here. Wherever.

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Clint Mansell – Memories (Someone We’ll Never Know)

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Clint Mansell’s Moon (Original Soundtrack Recording)

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Duncan Jones’ Moon Blu Ray DVD Release

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Gritty films are like fine Yak cheese. Tough to chew on and harder to digest. They make you phsyically react. You flinch, make silly faces, bite your fingernails and queasily throw away the popcorn. You indulge in grand soliloquies about how depraved society has become and worse, the extent to which art has become immune to it. Of course, once we are done being assholes, we realize how much we actually enjoyed the stark realism portrayed. Granted that Hollywood is adverse to such when they aren’t generously sprinkled with kitschy emotions, I get my fix from British films. Now maybe I don’t know better, but fewer lands have been prone to cultural nihilism than England. Call it a subconscious colonial hangover, but I’d rather kick a pimp in the groin in Brooklyn without provocation than ask someone for the time in a London subway (unless I’m in Larry Clark’s version of America). Their Punks, Mod-heads, Skinheads and generic beer guzzlers over the decades have seemed much more imposing than their American counterparts. Recently, word is that a new species of juvenile criminals – the hoodies – have been spreading a culture of mindless violence in the night streets of London; so much so that Guardian has written a very nervous article about their impact on British cinema.

Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown brings the sights, sounds and smell of this hoodie culture. Kids in jumper suits do the darndest things in this film. When night draws its curtains, they lurk the subway and desolate streets, knifing elder citizens, throwing flaming dog shit, and purging on drugs, sexual contact and random acts of violence. Michael Caine (Harry Brown) plays a widowed ex-marine at odds with these hoodies. A quiet old man who wants little else in life than a game of chess, a few pints and the memory of his daughter. However, a senseless act of violence against his best mate drives him over the edge as Mr Brown turns into a lone vigilante seeking vengeance against the psychopathic delinquents.

Truth be told, the film takes a turn for the worse from then on. Predictability looms large in the name of street justice and a tiny bit of melodrama seeps in the form of Detective Frampton played by Emily Mortimer. Hell, I didn’t even sit through the end credits, which personally for me, is a litmus test. Still, Harry Brown is going to end up on my list of the best films of 2009.

It’s simple, really. Michael fucking Caine. From channeling his character’s graceful sorrow in the first half and seething rage in the second, the man hasn’t looked this good since Get Carter. Even more fantastic is the transition that takes place midway. Only a truly gifted actor could pull off a Steven Seagal-like Judo move during a pivotal moment in the film and not look like a total jackass.

The other actors also do their bit to save the film’s descent into predictability. Ben Drew (Plan B) and the other hoodies are mean as hell and make you flinch with their lack of sympathy. I’d totally expect the little psychos in Eden Lake to grown into these types. David Bradley is brilliant as Len Atwell, Brown’s best mate, with his doleful grandfather eyes perfectly capturing the fear and loathing that decent folks might feel in a dystopian environment. Only the last few minutes of the film has the actors messing around with cliches as though they have been given clear instructions to make sure that the we reach for the tissue papers. Even then, Michael Caine pulls it off and spouts obligatory one-liners with such dignified grace.

Now look, unless the universe is sucked into a black hole and spat out inexplicably before the Oscar nominees are announced for 2010, the Academy would, in all likeliness, ignore Caine’s performance and instead choose James Cameron in the Best Actor category for having meticulously played “film directors” for over a decade. So to hell with them, Harry ol’ boy…grab a rocking chair, and sit your ass next to Walt Kowalski.

When Cameron thanks his mom and God for creating a film that technically requires no acting whatsoever, lower your shotguns.

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With the exception of the Revolver album, British pop psychedelia, in typical English whimsy, kept to itself for most part of the Sixties.  The 23rd Turnoff, led by Liverpool songwriter Jimmy Campbell, were just one of those bands way ahead of their time. In fact, most pop psychedelic bands were, with their beautiful distortions of popular music.  The 23rd Turnoff’s Michael Angelo is a perfect example of that evolved sound. Dreamily twirling around Jimmy’s vocal harmonies, it takes us on a kaleidoscopic ride to the future of captivating pop music. I’m telling you…Air’s Moon Safari, Brian Wilson’s Smile, and The Divine Comedy’s Absent Friends …it’s all in there.

*****

Lupe Fiasco is thankfully several shades from going Kanye West on us. He is immensely talented and he knows it. Unlike Georgia’s biggest joke since Jermaine Dupri, he doesn’t fawn over the supposed miracle that he is. Instead he goes delightfully cuckoo on us, rapping about video gamers, cheeseburgers and Third World child soldiers. The music behind his words is what takes Lupe Fiasco’s appeal to another level. Some of the beats in his The Cool album released in 2008 are so futuristic that he probably should visit Childwickbury Manor in Hertfordshire where Stanley Kubrick was buried. A quiet moment between two artists ahead of their times.

*****

Looks like Plan B hasn’t grown up lyrically since I last heard from him. He’s still rapping about the tragedy of being poor and very pissed off. Hard to take him seriously about the poverty bit, considering he was raised in Forest Gate, a residential area in London and had the privilege of a decent education. So rest assured he is just 24 and really really pissed off. For those who are already into the urban British hip hop scene in all its sleazy realism and stark imagery, Plan B could make your heads spin in delight. Alongside Slug, Sage Francis and Mike Skinner, he’s giving whiteboy rappers a good name. In his new mixtape Paint It Blacker he brilliantly uses Radiohead’s eerie piano ballad – Pyramid Song – to lay his rhymes down. I promise, hearing him rap “I aint no stranger to drugs I’ve had my fair share, had my head up in the clouds like a fucking care bear” won’t take away the awesomeness of the Radiohead sample. Like I said, pretty fly for a white guy.

*****

Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish and Parklife gave Britpop lovers a reason to feel cool again during the mid-Nineties. Also, you have got to love Blur for helping the world pay less attention to the criminally-overrated Oasis. They had a nice little formula working for them during that period. Damon Albarn did his ‘eccentric wounded chap at the pub’ vocals that wander hither thither, holding on dearly to Graham Coxon’s electric noodling and Alex James’ bassline, with Dave Rowntree’s organic percussions holding the lot together. Their sixth album 13 had them scurrying away from Britpop and becoming notoriously indie, gathering gorgeous gospel and electronic influences along for the ride. Coffee and TV is like nothing I have heard from them before, with its twisted pop hooks and garage-y freakout towards the end, but for me the highlight of 13 is “Tender”. An aching gospel-laden chorus leads the way, singing, “come on come on get through it, come one come on come on, love’s the greatest thing we have” so convincingly that it just might have us skeptics throwing kitchenware to the floor, sulking and muttering “it is, isn’t it?”.

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Plan B’s Paint It Blacker mixtape

Lupe Fiasco’s Enemy Of The State mixtape

Watch

The 23 Turnoff – Michael Angelo

Lupe Fiasco – Paris, Tokyo

Plan B & Radiohead – Missing Links

Blur – Tender

Blur – End Of A Century

Buy

The 23rd Turnoff’s The Dream Of Michelangelo

Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool

Plan B’s I Am The Captain, Where We Going?

Blur’s 13

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World’s Greatest Dad: I have never liked those wholesome family comedies or dramas. Hated Problem Child. Loathed ET. Cried during The Lion King for all the wrong reasons. Swore upon my grandma’s grave that I’d find and kill the Little Mermaid, Lassie, Flipper and those annoying 101 Dalmatians. That kind of sparked the anger I had as a teenager for Robin Williams. He starred in films such as Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, Toys, Jumanji, Jack, Patch Adams, and Bicentennial Man that tried enticing us with hyperbolic chirpiness. Over time I have grown tolerant towards him and as irony would have it, this comedian looks more convincing in tragedy. Exhibit A to E, Fisher King, One Hour Photo, Insomnia, House Of D and grossly underrated The Big White.

In Bobcat Goldthwait’s World’s Greatest Dad, he plays Lance Clayton – failed novelist, underappreciated teacher and grieving dad of a misanthropic pervert. He is nice enough chap, but lady luck has a habit of kicking him in the side of his head. There’s a young professor who keeps outperforming him in front of his girlfriend. His neighbor is an agoraphobic pot-smoking grandma and even she ignores him. To top it off, his son embarrassingly dies from autoerotic asphyxiation.  Poor old Lance Clayton. Everything he wanted in life kept vanishing into thin air, pausing only to break wind to add to the humiliation of his existence. Needles to say, everything gets turned around once a “suicide letter” is discovered and posthumously published. Few months later, Clayton is the toast of the town. Popular, loved and respected. Sounds cute, doesn’t it?

While the film had all the ingredients of a perfectly respectable indie movie, the second half strays too far from the morbidity that had grabbed me in the first. Even the accidental (hopefully, not ripped off) nod to the final scene in Thomas McCarthy’s fantastic Station Agent doesn’t help matters towards the end. I can only thank heavens that it wasn’t Anger Management climax-level bad.

All’s not lame however. The first half is both funny and fucked up and I quite liked it. Daryl Sabara has shaken off the Little Annie-look that he had in the Spy Kids trilogy; he is quite the revelation as Clayton’s immensely dislikable son – Kyle (who could have run amok the suburban streets with Alex, Dim and the rest of the droogs). Alexie Gilmore does a neat job playing Claire – Clayton’s girlfriend; something about the slyness in her eyes makes her captivating to watch. Oh and Robin Williams just jumped ahead of Marlon Brando on the list of men the world should have never seen naked. It isn’t lame as much it is evil.

Bad Lieutenant: I say this with a heavy heart. I enjoyed Abel Ferrara’s way more than Werner Herzog’s Port Of Call: New Orleans version. The original had Harvey Keitel in one of the grittiest portrayals of a rogue cop, investigating a young nun’s rape while sinking into new levels of decadence and corruption. Herzog’s had Nicholas Cage trying his best to come across as the bad guy. He investigates the drug-related assassination of a family of African immigrants while dealing with his drug addiction. Truth be told, I don’t get Herzog’s casting decisions. I have no friggin clue why he roped in Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, and Xzibit; they were all sorts of bad, especially Val Kilmer (one would think he did more drugs than the bad lieutenant). Thankfully, some worked. Jennifer Coolidge and Brad Dourif (Billy Bibbit!) were impressive as the perennially-sloshed stepmom and the nervous gambler.

On to the Herzog-Cage experiment. One of my least liked actors being led by one of my favourite directors. Well, the thing is, Cage has tried really hard (he even picks up an accent about 40 minutes into the film), so it is hard to fault him. To be honest, it is one of his best performances (Weather Man remains his truest yet), but then again, that isn’t saying much. Unfortunately, this also happens to be one of Herzog’s least impressive films. Just so you know, it had nothing to do with the actors or his direction; it  is merely as petulant to expect him to ape another man’s vision as it is unfortunate  how little could have been done to make Abe’s version any better.

For me, the real surprise lies in the visual elements in the film; never has a Herzog film looked this mediocre. Cinematography had a role in making Keitel’s portrayal of the Bad Lieutenant seem more irreverant that he actually is. In this, Peter Zeitlinger’s photography is surprisingly timid as it plays second fiddle to Lt. Terence’s mental deterioration; quite the contrast to the disquieting beauty he conjured in the truly Herzogian Encounters at the End of the World and Wheel of Time.

Having said all that, you should defintely watch Bad Lieutenant, Port Of Call: New Orleans at least to see what once happened in 2009 when Werner Herzog actually directed Nicholas Cage. Two masters (one of new wave cinema, other of bad one-liners) trying to perfect a strange craft. Sort of like watching Jet Li wrestle Mike Tyson for the beach volleyball title. Awkward, vaguely intriguing and a frankly, very disturbing.

Fear Of The Black Hat: I love mockumentaries because of their silliness. Even the madcap entertainment of B-grade slasher flicks pale in comparison. From Christopher Guest’s pioneering This Is Spinal Tap to the more recent, Justin Lin-directed Finishing the Game, mockumentaries have generally thrived on satirizing popular phenomenon, be it art, religion, social fads, martial arts or whatever. Rusty Cundieff’s Fear Of The Black Hat is a hilarious take on the gangster rap culture. Focusing on the rise and fall of the controversial rappers in NWH (Niggaz With Hats), a very obvious dig at the gnarliest of west coast rap outfits NWA (Niggaz With Attitude), the mockumentary takes us on a tour in the lives and times of MCs Tasty Taste (Larry B Scott), Ice Cold (Rusty Cundieff) and mix master Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence).

Larry Scott brings most of the funnies, with his character shuffling between spoofing Public Enemy’s Flavour Flav and rapper Too Short, I guess. Matter of fact, with the exception of Vanilla Sherbet (Devin Kamin), the archetypal whiteboy rapper, everything else about Fear Of The Black Hat is very funny. Props must be given to the three lead actors, who, despite the silliness of it all, have done a very commendable job. Seriously, go out of you way to see this.

CB4: The problem with Tamra DavisCell Block 4 (CB4) is that Fear Of The Black Hat was released a year later and had pretty much the same story going for it, but only funnier.  Also, at some point in the film, I think that Chris Rock (who wrote the film and starred in it) and the director started getting all serious instead of sticking to taking potshots at this genre of music and the lifestyle it demands. Charlie Murphy gets a few laughs as Gusto, but it was 1993 and he wasn’t even close to the awesomeness he brought to those skits in the Dave Chappelle Show much later. Not even a reworking of Sugar Hill’s Rapper’s Delight could save CB4. Pretty soon, the dialogues start to wear thin as inside jokes turn into semi-preachy one-liners. For instance, MC Gusto hears this from his dad a good hour into the film.

Albert Sr.: You ain’t tough. There are real some kids out there that are going to kick your narrow ass. You ain’t from the street, I’m from the street. And only somebody who wasn’t would think it was something to glorify.

Riiiight…that’s great. Thanks. Now why don’t go fight the power or something.

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60,000 bottles of beer on the blog

Thanks for reading, minions

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