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Archive for May, 2010

Kick Ass: The film served many purposes for me. Interesting fight sequences, a respectable amount of gore and a story that lends itself to be vaguely interesting. Matter of fact, if it weren’t for Peter Stebbings’ Defendor, I would have liked it a whole lot more. Aaron Johnson is Dave Lizewski, geek by day and Kick Ass, geek in a retarded costume by night. Aaron has put in considerable effort into the role, trying to come across as the Tin Man with a purple heart, but I guess he’s at least a decade and a few Natural Born Killers away from bringing the sort of credibility that Woody Harrelson does in Defendor. Thankfully, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as D’Amico Jr / Red Mist, Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl and Garrett M. Brown as Mr Lizewski tune in good performances and make this film worth a second viewing. I wasn’t a fan of Mark Strong as the psychotic gangster; he uses the same steely-eyed glares from the Archie character in Rock N Rolla to convey pretty much every emotion from anger to excitement and it doesn’t quite work this time around. The conversations between him and his son (Mintz-Plasse) make it glaringly obvious that one of them is trying really hard and the other clearly phoning it in.

Nicolas Cage’s awkward tribute to Adam West almost ruins the entire film. He even reenacts Mel Gibson’s Freedom cry in Braveheart right before his own daughter (Chloe) fittingly puts a bullet in his head and ends his misery and ours, as well. I’ve heard there has been a lot of public outrage regarding the full-on violence and gore involving teens in Kick Ass, to which I can only reiterate, go read the goddam crime section of your local newspaper. Our world can be a messed-up violent place where children and angels get hurt all the time. We aren’t ostriches to stick our heads into the mud and pretend that everything is fine. Plus, when global food and water shortage along with genetic mutation run rampant in the near future, we’d look like absolute morons, getting our faces devoured by zombies and our refrigerators pillaged by those surviving, mostly comprising horror movie buffs and wrestlers. Uhmmm. Yeah.

Daisy Chain: Aisling Walsh’s The Daisy Chain thrives on the weight of superlative performances from its lead actors. Samantha Morton is one of the best actresses to have graced indy films recently. She’s the Parker Posey of the 2000s, taking up roles that would leave A-list actresses breathless from the fright of having to read a well-written screenplay. Then there’s Steven Mackintosh, the stoner guy who had that killer “You went out six hours ago to buy a money counter and you come back with a semi-conscious Gloria and a bag of fertilizer. Alarm bells are ringing” line in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. He’s in such great form in The Daisy Chain that you can almost hear a time bomb ticking every time he hides his discontentment. These two play a grieving couple who have moved to a remote Irish village to mourn their daughter’s death only to be scared shitless by a bug-eyed spooky autistic kid (Mhairi Anderson as Daisy).

Trouble brews to a feverish pitch soon enough, with Martha (Samantha) obsessively considering adopting the little critter and Tomas (Steven) all convinced that Daisy’s a nasty fairy who brings awful luck to all those close to her. The ending falls slightly off track, but with all the great acting and fantastic cinematography by Simon Kossoff, we can hardly even notice such fallacies.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: Director Mike Hodges took a long absence from directing films after releasing the stylishly film noir Croupier, with Clive Owen. Fifteen years later, he comes back to make I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, a darker and grittier slice of film noir that follows Will Graham on his trail to uncovering the facts behind his younger brother’s suicide. Clive Owen, playing Will, is back to complement Hodges’ no-nonsense storytelling with his Cary Grant meets Red Dragon charisma-slash-viciousness. He’s almost hypnotically brooding in both movement and dialogue; great look too, sort of like a moody Hell’s Angels member who theorizes passages from Wuthering Heights when he’s not raising hell.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who actually doesn’t muck about as much as I thought he did, is a treat to watch as he brings out his character’s cockiness without breaking a sweat; he plays Davey – Will’s sibling – a carefree drug dealer and part-time hustler. Malcolm McDowell however grabs the spotlight from everybody in sight. He’s spectacular as Boad, the vicious man in a suit and deserves as much credit as William Hurt did in History Violence and Karthik in Mouna Ragam. His monologue towards the end is so good that it qualifies as disturbing. Also, Mike Hodges was the brains behind the Get Carter – the original version.

Eulogy: This story about a family wallowing in the confines of their socially-retarded suburban wasteland rinses and repeats from a long list of movies about dysfunctional families. It borrows a bit from Death At A Funeral (dad’s funeral, sexual deviances), and throws in a few scenes from American Beauty (quasi-unhappy conclusions), Royal Tenenbaums (genetic disorder) and such. Director Michael Clancy realizes that it’s a formula that would only work if the actors brought something unique to it; luckily for him a few of them do. Despite its unoriginality, Eulogy is entertaining in respectable portions. Zooey Deschanel doesn’t show any of the decay that films like Failure To Launch and The Happening would soon have her fruitlessly fighting against. Here she’s still one of the reigning indy queens, wide-eyed, seductively pale-faced, uncomfortably adjusting her shoulders, pursing her lips and squinting her eyes to squeeze out every bit of intensity. Hank Azaria, Kelly Preston and Debra Winger also bring it like we know they can. Ray Romano breaks free of his sort of squeaky-clean sitcom image and goes all Bob Saget on us, saying scandalous stuff like “don’t throw a lemon at me in front of a lesbian”. Sometimes it makes you laugh, other times it makes you go “where have I heard that before?”. Sort of like this movie.

Sherlock Holmes: Did Guy Ritchie have an orgy with Van Helsing DVDs, the entire cast from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and lots of mescaline before directing this? This is ‘Michael Keaton as Batman’ bad. No. No. Scratch that. This reaches ‘George Clooney as Batman’ levels of depravity. Also, casting Jude Law as Dr Watson has set the benchmark for boneheaded-ness unless someone builds a time machine, kidnaps Zac Efron and goes back in time to convince Sydney Pollack to cast him as Dorothy Michaels to Dustin Hoffman’s Michael Dorsey in Tootsie.

Death At A Funeral (2010): First director Neil LaBute absolutely murdered The Wicker Man, one of the finest horror films ever, and left its corpse rotting in Nicholas Cage’s trophy case. Now he has surgically removed everything that was funny in Frank Oz’s Death at a Funeral, a great Brit rib tickler, and left us with a piss-poor version of it that features the tamest of the Def Jam comedy crew. Thank heavens he at least had the fortitude to retain Peter Dinklage from the original and as expected, his awesomeness is the only saving grace in this film. Everything else hurts as much as this.

Also, me like the reviews at http://www.pajiba.com. Me thinks you might too.

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39. Down – Ghosts Along The Mississippi

Phil Anselmo’s a beast. The uncrowned prince of southern-tinged thrash metal and whatnot. Along with his merry band of traveling badasses (Pepper Keenan, Jimmy Bower and Rex Brown), he belts out one of the best metal ballads I’ve heard since forever. Yes it’s a ballad. Just that Anselmo’s narrative skills are really really scary. Just so you know, Down’s Bustle In Your Hedgegrow is a keeper.

38. Pharoahe Monch, Common & Talib Kweli – The Truth

Some folks sleep better at night, knowing that Hip Hop is only about silly braggadocio and profane limericks. Yeah sure, man. Metal’s all about “Fred Durst and his nookie”, Blues is nothing but an erstwhile John Mayer solo stuck in transit and hey, what is Jazz but a fleeting moment encapsulated inside those reverb-laden Buddha’s Bar albums, right? Wankers. Rappers Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli and Common turn their spittle into laidback conscious rhymes as ethereal strings dive bomb all around them.

37. Weezer – Brain Stew (Live at AOL Sessions)

The anthemic pop punk explosion of Green Day’s original is given a shock treatment by the underrated LA hipsters Weezer. They sedate the track into sounding like therapeutic murmurs that burst into full-blow argument in favour of insanity, thanks to a fantastic piano breakdown. Fun fact: Rivers Cuomo eats cookie-cutter punks like Billie Joe for breakfast.

36. Corrosion Of Conformity – Rise River Rise

I bet James Hetfield secretly wishes that Metallica had made America’s Volume Dealer instead of Corrosion Of Conformity. Soul-stirring, bone-crunching and flat-out amazing. Senor badass Pepper J. Keenan on vocal duties and rhythm guitar plays us like a fiddle, especially on this track.  Fun fact: Pepper Keenan burps out hags like Hetfield after a diet coke.

35. Mark Lanegan – Bombed

Mark Lanegan’s sandpaper-grated, whiskey-soaked vocals surface above the sparse acoustic strumming, along with PJ Harvey’s velveteen whispering, to create the sort of experience that a measly minute truly doesn’t deserve. Like QOTSA’s Lullaby but a million times better.

34. Jon Brion – Theme from ESOTSM

Jon Brion just happens to be one of the most talented multi-instrumentalists out there. His compositions for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind work wonders with Charlie Kaufman’s fantastic dialogues. Existentialism has never sounded lovelier.

33. Crowbar – To Touch the Hand of God / Odd Fellows Rest

I have wussied out and chosen Louisiana’s sludge kings Crowbar’s tamest and most palpable tracsk. Matter of fact, these could be the most fragile ballads to have ever emerged from the NOLA metal scene (along with COC’s Shelter). Not many completely fathom the unbridled intensity of their slow-paced, downtuned brooding, but it would take nothing short of busted eardrums to circumvent the breathtaking artistry of these two.

32. Aceyalone and Goapele – Moonlit Skies

As a founding member of the Freestyle Fellowship, LA rapper Aceyalone was one of the forerunners of jazz rap. Goapele is one of those neo soul musicians who playfully messes around with downtempo and trip hop. Together they…yes, I do believe the word I’m looking for is magic.

31. The Eels – Hospital Food

In case you’re new around here, Mark Oliver Everett has my vote for any King of Pop list. I don’t know any other singer-songwriter since Lennon and probably Elliot Smith to a lesser extent who has been this consistently good. The 1998 album Electro Shock Blues has some of the most gloriously twisted pop music there ever was, with this track’s erstwhile saxophone meltdown providing its most cathartic moment. “He’s always got a problem, he’s a very bitter dude, and now he’s complaining ’bout his hospital food”.

30. Portishead – Only You (Live In Roseland)

Let it be known that Portishead’s Live In Roseland, NYC, is one of the best live albums of the Nineties. With the New York Philharmonic Orchestra backing her up, singer Beth Gibbons lovingly embraces her smoky bar-room mystique and launches into a bone-chilling version of this track.

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50. Eagles of Death Metal – Anything ‘Cept The Truth

Palm Beach-based Eagles of Death Metal, despite what Axl Rose might say, have paid proper respect to the almighty desert rock groove. Sometimes light-headed, mindlessly rhythmic rock music is what the soul craves. This track from NHL 10’s soundtrack is just that.

49. Gypsy Soul – Wicked Game

I have felt guilty about liking Chris Isaac’s original version as much as I used to. California-based Celtic pop band Gypsy Soul, with their singer Cilette Swann coaxing the melody to travel to a far more ethereal place, makes me feel cool again.

48. Iggy Pop – King Of The Dogs

Iggy Pop has reinvented himself in a sensibly drunken way. The Godfather of Punk went eclectic jazz and lounge pop in his latest album Préliminaires, shining like a mad friggin diamond on this track. I can’t help but wonder if the meeting with Tom Waits in Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes had something to do with this.

47. Aimee Mann – One Is The Loneliest Number

Not since Bjork’s All Is Full of Love has a woman’s voice had me feeling this giddy and diffident at once. You might have heard her during one of those wonderfully screwed up sequences in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. I heart Aimee Mann.

46. Colin Meloy – Summertime

I have a very high regard for the music of The Decemberists; Colin Meloy’s their singer and songwriter, and a very fine one at that. A million artists have covered George Gershwin’s Summertime but a nay a musician in recent years has done it with such style and restrained grace.

45. KlaxonsNo Diggity

It’s scary how good Klaxons were in conducting this experiment in weirdness. Blackstreet & Dr Dre dare not complain; these London-based new wave poppers have done them proud, with an insanely catchy cover that has no business sounding as good as it does.

44. Mos Dub – Ms Vampire Booty

Max Tannone’s remix project lets Mos Def’s badass verbosity loose on the dancefloor with some funky reggae sampling to keep it company. The killer snares behind acapella vocals dare you to sit still.

43. Circa Survive – Spirit Of The Stairwell

Pennsylvania-based Circa Survive makes common music with uncommon talent. Their brand of lo-fi acoustic music isn’t going to win you over with originality, but the altruistically dreamy psychedelia of tracks like this one will whip your ears into soulful frenzy. Check out their 2010 album Blue Sky Noise.

42. Cold War Kids – Electioneering

This isn’t if for everyone, kiddies. Amongst all the tracks on the OKX album, Stereogum’s tribute to Radiohead’s 1997 masterpiece, the Cold War Kids’ cover is probably the boldest. The militant thumping of percussions, along with Nathan Willett’s dry-throated call for political compromises, takes me back to the first time I heard APC’s Counting Bodies Like Sheep.

41. Josh Homme & PJ Harvey – Powdered Wig Machine

Josh Homme’s decade-long pet project – Desert Sessions – has him collaborating with the coolest musicians from the vastly underrated Palm Desert Scene. PJ Harvey brings sultriness back with the ferocity of a she-wolf in heat, seducing, howling, “Come on, come to me”; very, very sexy.

40. The Constellations – A Perfect Day

I get misty-eyed whenever heavy slabs of soul are injected into the veins of straight-up rock music. Little Richard spawned it. The Beatles stole it. The Rolling Stones lost it. Coldplay and Maroon 5 almost screwed it all up. Now The Constellations have resurrected it on their Southern Gothic album. If only their songwriting improved, they’d be a force to reckon with.

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Good music that defies any sort of categorization is hard to find. Most times we know what to expect the moment the first track of the album starts playing. Whatever comfort there is in familiarity is overshadowed by the thrill of unpredictability. However few bands out there now can risk this level of experimentation given how touchy popular audiences can be when their silly expectations have been compromised. Detroit’s progressive newcomers – Neon Escape – thankfully just make great music without fretting about the genre of their sound.

Their debut album We Won’t Wait Any Longer blazes through the general vicinity of progressive rock, with suitable explosiveness. Dan Rose and Randy Roberts on guitars, Alex Drazin on bass, and Mario Perry on drums don’t just stop there; they grab indie rock by the throat and shake it until it bleeds a rawer, more garage sound. They even bring back memories of Freddie Mercury’s theatrical balladry in their title track and the whimsically more poppish Skyscraper. Night Lights, with its Korn’s Blind-like intro fed on amphetamines, and Ivan with decidedly warm indie vibes are my other favourites.

Also, great artwork on the album, guys.

About Neon Escape:

Neon Escape is a Detroit band in their mid twenties, pooling together a vocalist with classic rock tastes, a gospel drummer, and a band with both progressive  / modern influences as well as a keen ear for musical past times. Even with hints of Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, and Led Zeppelin, Neon Escape gives you something fresh and contemporary, with a cultured sound you just can’t find anywhere else.

Listen

Previews of all their tracks

Buy

We Won’t Wait Any Longer

Read

About them on Earsucker, Effigymusic, Examiner and Music Reviews For Idiots

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Shifty: Eran Creevy’s Shifty is remarkably better than the average British film about drug deals gone sour. What it lacks in a proper budget it more than makes up for with grit and candour. Set in the heartland of London suburbia, it follows Shifty (Riz Ahmed), a young drug dealer trying to hold his life together in the face of changes, both good and bad, and sometimes downright ugly. Lately he has been stuck with a fit of miserable luck too. First, his prodigal buddy Chris (Daniel Mays) does a shoddy job of mending fences with him. Then he gets screwed over by unscrupulous middlemen and is very likely to going to get killed over it. To make matters worse, his elder brother Rez kicks him out of the house and into the streets that look to eat Shifty and burp out his need for redemption. Director Eran Creevy is brave for sidestepping the possible drama. Given the anti-racial tones that permeate the second-half of the film, it might have been an enticing prospect for the director to call to mind September 11 or some other weak reference like that. Instead he remains calm and composed to make sure that subtlety is omnipresent. The acting is shockingly good, as well. Riz Ahmed, much like Dylan Duffus in Penny Woolcock’s 1 Day, lets the quiet moments do most of the talking. He also has a credible puppy dog expression whenever things don’t go well that makes us sympathize with him even more.

Daniel Mays, the actor from dreary gems like All Or Nothing and Half-Broken Things, and crap such as Pearl Habour, is in exceptional form here, as Shifty’s best mate. There’s a scene in which he confronts the devious dope fiend Glen (great cameo by Jason Flemyng) that stands out as a great template for young actors learning how to lose their cool in front of the camera, without looking like their anal virginity has been compromised. We are also treated to Nitin Ganatra’s portrayal of Rez (Shifty’s elder brother) – an odd mix of Christoph Waltz’s intensity and my paternal uncle’s sense of misplaced youth. Good film, great performances…just the way uh huh uh huh I like it.

The Baker: Maybe Hollywood would have been kinder to the storyline given its willingness to laugh uproariously at itself at the slightest behest. For instance, if Cameron Crowe had directed the film with Colin Farrell cast as the hit man “seeking refuge from his boss by finding work as a baker in a rural Welsh village” alongside Cameron Diaz, I might have enjoyed it a little more, considering how low my expectations would have been. For an independent UK film directed by its debuting screenplay writer and starring a bunch of talented performers, The Baker ends up looking a bit out of place. Make no mistake director Gareth Lewis has made an entertaining film chockfull of wry one-liners and consistent acting, but somewhere down the line, you might start looking for something more tangible – perhaps a tighter storyline, a less preposterous climax or at least a breakout performance.

Damian Lewis, who plays the Milo, one of those assassins looking to turn a new leaf, and Steve Speirs as Bryn – the bumbling bartender, keep things interesting with their nifty delivery of dialogues. Kate Ashfield, who was awesome in Colin Teague’s Spivs, plays Milo’s trepid love interest as thought it were the easiest thing in the world, which is never a good thing. At one point everything said and done in the film becomes so predictable that we almost want Chuck Norris to make an appearance and knock somebody’s head off. Almost.

A Film With Me In It: Ian Fitzgibbon’s A Film With Me In It is a hilarious retelling of the story of Job, with a dash of Murphy’s Law thrown in for good measure. The story centers on this gigantic failure of an Irish actor called Pierce (Mark Doherty, who also wrote the film’s screenplay) who gets pulled into a hyperbole of a situation in which his loved ones end up dead, one by one, every ten minutes. His deadpan responses to these random deaths are great to watch, considering that Mark looks like Seinfeld’s Kramer after three bottles of morphine.

Dylan Moran, the Irish comedian who played similar roles in Shaun of the Dead and Run Fatboy Run, also stars in A Film With Me In It as the slacker best friend. With a gruesome sense of irony and a large helping of good-old fashioned Irish banter, the duo pulls no punches with the sheer savagery of their moral conclusion. The scene stealer however is a tenderly bitter moment which Pierce shares with his wife (Amy Huberman); the couple uneasily cuddles together, as haunting strings chalk out a moment that looks exquisitely out of place. I can’t help thinking how over-the-top awesome it would have been if it were a short film.

Rock n Rolla: If it weren’t for Snatch or Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Rock N Rolla might have ended up a better film. Guy Ritchie has used up all his best one-liners, twists and turns that once made cockney gangster films remarkably entertaining. What we are left with are reckless machismo and borrowed storytelling. Even though this was the first time Ritchie has included politics of property management in his storyline, his style of cross-cut storytelling is so tiresome and lazy that it felt like I have seen it all before. The acting, apart from the ever-so awesome Tom Wilkinson, is dodgy at best. Gerard Butler is so bad in this that it must have made his inner homoerotic Spartan warrior go, “this is madness”. As for Thandie Newton, who plays another horribly scripted cliché in this film, the chemistry she has with Gerard makes Robbie Williams and Nathan Lane’s relationship in Birdcage look veritably Romeo and Julie-esque. Also, the Johnny Quid (Toby Kebbell) character was as much of a saving grace as a Dhanush fight scene normally is one of his obnoxious movies. Pissed-off, punk ass, gawky rich kid who has daddy issues and resorts to snorting coke and spewing existentialist one-liners? No thank you. The actor playing Quid is however extremely talented. Kebbell has shown a lot of fire and intensity in films like Control, Wilderness and Dead Man’s Shoes and along with his David Blaine (but not as remarkably irritating) persona he should be going places.

As for Rock N Rolla, well, I’ll end this one with an excerpt from Peter Bradshaw’s review….” That title of Mr Guy Ritchie’s new featcha. Means geeza. Or mobsta. Top bruisa. In his London manna. Sad to say, the film’s a shocka. A right depressa. Bit of a dispirita. For this directa, it ain’t exactly a departcha. And the title means as well as everything else Mr Ritchie’s become a dodgy spella. What a dismaying orthographical decline since his last pictcha” You betcha.

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