Thursday, 31 January 2008

The Good, The Bad and the Cinematic: The Good Night

It's rare you'll find a first-time director with a cast as good as this. Martin Freeman, Simon Pegg, Penelope Cruz, Danny DeVito and Gwyneth Paltrow. In fact, I have a strong feeling that it's solely down to the last cast member that the rest are there - she is, after all, the director's sister. It's a shame, really, that the cast are all horrendously bad choices for the roles they play. They are good actors, of that there is no doubt, but none of the roles fit any of them at all. And the film tries too hard to be the next Eternal Sunshine... it isn't. And my, I just can't be arsed with it all. It was just such a tiring film, so little to offer and only the occasional laughs. Meh.


The Good, The Bad and the Cinematic: Sweeney Todd

It's almost surprising to find that Sweeney Todd is Tim Burton's first feature to receive an 18-rating in the UK. His dark stylings have long scraped by purely because they remain no more than heavy undertones. Frankly speaking, Johnny Depp was so disturbing in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that I would have given it an 18 rating after two minutes of him being on screen. Perhaps more surprising is that when Burton finally does achieve and '18' I reckon it only deserves a '15'. Yes, it's violent, and yes there is lots of blood, but due to the theatrical nature of the blood and the fact that Depp is generally singing (quite well) when he does takes away from the shock value somewhat.

It's a fun enough film though, with a fantastic aesthetic provided in the murky streets of a forgotten London, and Sondheim's fantastic score coming across well on screen - perhaps the only criticism of the music could be that, like in other established successes (Phantom of the Opera springs to mind), after a while all the songs sound rather similar.

The problem with the film is that it never quite reaches the expectations it sets for itself. A Tim Burton musical horror with Johnny Depp in the lead. And it's good, it really is. It just isn't spectacular, or even great. Just good. It's still worth a watch, don't get me wrong - just try No Country For Old Men first.


Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Cuban walls and ticking clocks...

I was shopping for clothes the other day in H&M - this is of no real surprise, approximately 70% of my clothes and 100% of my socks come from this one store - and as usual was enjoying the background music on offer. Often I will find myself the lone appreciator of Zero 7 or even, once, Brendan Benson. This one day I found what was clearly Coldplay's fantastic single 'Clocks', albeit with a distinctive latino feel to it. My mind made one jump after another and quickly worked out the source of the music. A while ago I stumbled across a member of The Buena Vista Social Club working with Franz Ferdinand as part of an album that fell along similar themes - the fantastic Cuban collective taking on a more western sound. I immediately headed up to my favourite store in Nottingham - Fopp - and tracked down said album, ignoring the seven pound price and buying it nonetheless. That afternoon I sat down and fell in love with it. Bands I love (Coldplay, U2) were given a new kick with the Cuban feel and bands I wouldn't normally worry about, but somehow still own albums by (Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Dido, Maroon 5) were all made bearable again. No, more than that - enjoyable. And as such, please do download the two tracks below, and if you like them I insist you buy the album - every track is fun and flawless.

mp3: 'Clocks' by Coldplay (with members of The Buena Vista Social Club)
mp3: 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' by U2 (with Coco Freeman)

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A divine track.

These last couple of days have been pretty snazzy for me - I've been listening heavily to various dance tracks, reigniting my love for the genre as a whole. All was helped by a fantastic night out at Nottingham's fourth best club, Oceana, which was filled with the crap and the spectacular - I almost roared with joy when Britney's 'Piece Of Me' came on.

Anyway, the best track of the last couple of days (ahead even of Gnarls Barkley's 'Run') is Sebastian Tellier's fantastic track 'Divine' - one I have been sending to anyone who would have it. It's a pure fun track, and it knows it, and that latter part makes all the difference. I'm also loving the album cover (above).

mp3: 'Divine' by Sebastian Tellier

Sunday, 27 January 2008

The Good, The Bad and the Cinematic: No Country For Old Men

Never has a film struck me on all fronts quite so immediately as No Country For Old Men. From the opening scenes and the fantastic Texan slur of Tommy Lee Jones' monologue until the end credits started to roll there is barely a moment when the intelligent viewer is not in awe at this film, a true benchmark in the quality of cinema.

Visually, No Country is strikingly shot, and stunning throughout. The Coens have an eye for the little things that make the scene in much the same way as Spielberg does - scuff marks on the floor add to the terror of an early murder, even once it has long finished, a dead dog just increases the horror of the discovery of a drug deal gone wrong.

All three of the lead actors (and that is, really, what they should be described as) deserve Oscars for their roles. That only Javier Bardem was nominated - and in a supporting role, at that - is a minor crime. That isn't to say he doesn't deserve it, beyond a doubt Bardem is the strongest contender for said award. His heartless killer is a more human, and thus more terrifying, equivalent of the Terminator - his air-powered murder weapon a chillingly original tool to death.

Tommy Lee Jones, in what must be at least his fifth fugitive-chasing role, does not let this one slide by. As ever, his performance is well-placed, well-judged and impeccably acted, adding both wit and pathos to a film already subtly soaked in both.

It is so hard to say everything there is to say about this film - everything that makes it so wonderful, so worthwhile and so rewarding. A necessary watch.


Friday, 25 January 2008

The Good, The Bad and the Cinematic: P.S. I Love You

Rather than review this in a calm and composed manner, I would rather just list the reasons why this film was so unforgivably awful. I'll limit myself to ten, or we may be here all night.

1. There has never been a more unnecessarily schmaltzy film than this. My female friends watching this with me were mostly in agreement that the film wasn't that good. They still cried. Lots. You know why? Because P.S. I Love You is an emotionally manipulative mess that is sad for the sake of sadness. It brainwashes you into feeling pity for a barely likeable, let alone lovable lead character. You'd have to have anti-brainwashing training to be a woman and not leave this film in tears. Guys will be fine. We're all dead inside anyway.

2. Hilary Swank is an uggo. She looked like the most miserable woman alive. And that was before her husband died. Even when she smiled she looked suicidal. That said, I would too if I had a face like hers. It's like someone cloned Julia Roberts and then smacked her in the face with a spade. Repeatedly.

3. The film used a song by Camera Obscura, a wonderful Scottish band. This is wrong for two reasons: Firstly, they used it because it had an 'Irish' feel to the vocals. Of course, like Americans generally cannot distinguish South African from English, neither can they distinguish Scottish from Irish. And second of all: Using a band that good in a film this crap takes away from the awesomeness of the band. I don't like that. Boo to them.

4. Harry Connick Jr. is a good actor. Except, somehow, not in this. I blame poor writing and lazy thinking - his character was an unintentional charicature of about fifty other chick-flick men. A thin character, a stereotypical character. A character without character.

5. Everyone was stereotyped! Every bloody character! It made the film more predictable than the fate of a Star Trek extra.

6. Lisa Kudrow's character was detestable. Even after a speech explaining that she was allowed to be detestable because of years of men being detestable the audience is just left thinking 'but, really, ultimately, you're just a bitch, right?'

7. In a film where three of the four lead characters sing, the only one left out is the one with the bloody record contract! Harry Connick Jr. can sing. The other two men were okay (read: okay. I know Butler was in the film adaptation of Phantom, but still. No. Okay.), and Hilary Swank was (supposed to be, and succeeded in being) awful. Harry Connick Jr. can sing. Well. Blimey. Fools.

8. James Marsters was under-used. As the only good actor in the film not to inexplicably lose all skill in the process of production, it is solely down to Marsters that this film maintains it's 2/10 rating, and doesn't fall lower. Still, regardless of this he is barely seen, if at all, in the last half hour and at a brief moment of genuine interest at the funeral, when Marsters starts to tell a lad's story of the deceased, the camera drifts away from him to Swank and her dull mother, who then proceeds to talk over him. You can still hear him in the background, but can never make out the story. It's like switching on Die Hard and then locking you out of the room with the tv in.

9. The 'younger' versions of Swank and Butler is flashbacks look exactly like the modern day versions. Hilary Swank wears stupid clothes. Butler wears exactly the same look. They're supposed to be about fifteen, maybe twenty years younger. No effort. Whatsoever.

10. What sort of husband writes love letters anyway?


Have a Harry Connick Jr. track:

mp3: 'It Had To Be You' by Harry Connick Jr.

The Good, The Bad and the Cinematic: Charlie Wilson's War

I'm going to be honest here, and it's going to hurt me, or at least any reputation of me that you have built up in your head. I can't stand Julia Roberts. I really, honestly, utterly can't see what everyone sees in her. That smile? It comes straight from the world of Wallace and Gromit. Except, being a non-fictional human, it clearly doesn't, and is therefore creepy. Her acting? It isn't bad, I'm not going to claim that, really, I wouldn't dare. But it isn't the best acting in the world, is it? If we're all being friends here, and we're all honest, and, well. Yeah. Meh.

I struggle with Tom Hanks a little, too, if I'm honest. With the exception of Gump, of course. And I haven't seen Philedelphia - I'm reasonably confident I'd love it. But otherwise, I don't know, he's never seemed to be enjoying himself in his films.

In this sense, Charlie Wilson's War was a pleasent surprise. Tom Hanks was truly wonderful, a little bit chirpier than normal, a whole lot more convincing and a whole lot more convinced. As Charlie Wilson Hanks was fantastic, and with that off of my mind, the whole film glided a lot easier. A slight comedy based on a true political story was never going to be easy to pull off in any area. It would either fail to remain interesting throughout, or fail to be funny, at all. It could have failed on both fronts, but somehow Mike Nicholls (a sporadic success over the past forty years or so now) manages to hit double bonus points on each side of things. Partly this is down to a fantastic supporting cast - Philip Seymour Hoffman fully deserves his Academy Award nomination (though having now seen No Country For Old Men - more on that soon - I can't offer my support for the win) as 'loose-cannon' CIA agent Gust Avrakotos. I put the 'loose-cannon' part in inverted commas because although he is most certainly a loose-cannon relative to the world in which we live, he is certainly no Harry Callaghan or John McClane. That is, in this case, I good thing.

Amy Adams, who took the lead in Enchanted, is overshadowed on the 'Big Name' front quite heavily, thanks to the threefold combination of Hanks, Roberts and Hoffman, but this by no means allows her to glide along in their path. Actually, it probably could have meant that, but to her credit Adams works hard to stand out in a film of standouts, and there is a reason why in the end credits she is billed second only to Hanks. A nomination is deserved, but unfortunately overseen.

Even Roberts shines here as Joanne Herring, and not just because a well-placed pool-side scene proves it is only her face that distracts from things. She is a dense character, perhaps not entirely opened up to full potential by Roberts. Regardless, it is solely down to the superb acting and dedicated direction that this film works. It drags on occasion, and despite Nicholls' best attempts at times there are less than necessary moments that serve only to prolong a film that had more than enough to fill its time with as it was. It is a fast paced political drama, though, and that is not a phrase uttered often.


Thursday, 24 January 2008

Bringing Down The Krankenhaus

After the triumph that was last year's Krankenhaus EP, and the release of new album Do You Like Rock Music? (answer: yes, if it all sounds like this), British Sea Power reached Nottingham in the midst of their January tour, and impressed as I have been of late by the band's soaring music, I found myself in Rescue Rooms on Tuesday night, thoroughly enjoying myself.

Why? Because it turns out British Sea Power are very good at every aspect of being a band, live and otherwise. The set spanned three albums worth, and covered almost all of my favourite tracks (neglecting to play, unsurprisingly, nine-minute epic 'The Pelican'). Please Stand Up, the best track from sophmore effort Open Season was fantastic, as was Atom, the song which opened the Krankenhaus EP and featured again on the new album.

The band were excitable, to say the least, with Noble performing his traditional scallywaggery, scaling the balcony of Rescue Rooms, throwing himself into the crowd halfway out of the venue and riding one crowdmember piggy-back style to the front again. Now that - that's rock and roll.

mp3: 'The Pelican' by British Sea Power

The Good, The Bad, and the Cinematic: Enchanted

There isn't a sensible person in the world who doesn't enjoy the occasional Disney film. I, myself, am pushing the boundaries of an acceptable fondness for Disney with my quest to own all their animated classics on DVD - 14 so far, and probably 15 by the end of today, should things go my way. Still, the idea of an animated Disney princess being thrown into the real world is one that should rightfully terrify any respectable film fan. Alternate reality switcheroos tend to end badly in terms of how good the film actually is, especially when the film is one aimed primarily at children. Characters get overplayed to an embarrassing level of pantomime acting, and jokes become increasingly slapstick as the film goes on.

Not in Enchanted. Well, not much at least. The characters are charming and lovable where they should be, destestable without being silly when demanded, and generally well rounded. Even Timothy Spall, who is left with the comic-relief henchman role and is responsible for the few moments of pantomimery (new word!) in the film pulls himself together superbly (if predictably) by the end. Lead actress Amy Adams is clearly on the verge of real success, and is so fantastic in the role of Giselle that were it not for intelligent career choices already made (such as her role in Charlie Wilson's War) she would risk being typecast as the perfect princess forever more. Patrick Dempsey plays down his role, and is a great success in doing so, and the exceptional supporting cast, including James Marsden and the always-fantastic Susan Sarandon don't let down the film for a second.

Perhaps what makes this film such a triumph for Disney is their willingness to take a step back from recent failures and return, even though they maintain a modern feel, and pay tribute to the classics that made the studio such a success in the past. There are more references to past films than Tarantino pays to pop-culture in his - the actresses behind no less than three previous Disney princesses make physical appearances, references to famous scenes are made, and even when a scene contains no references it is written so well that it often feels like there is one.

The greatest parts of Enchanted though are the song and dance numbers, each a perfect addition to the Disney songbook. Not only are they the first memorable Disney songs since perhaps even Hercules, which was released over ten years ago, but they are also fantastic songs in the context of the film alone - it is no wonder that three of them have been nominated for an Oscar. The standout song, and the one that deserves above all to win the Academy Award is 'That's How You Know', possibly the best Disney song since The Little Mermaid's 'Part Of That World'. The scene, too, is fantastic - a live action representation of all the animated dance numbers in the vain of Aladdin's 'Prince Ali' or The Lion King's 'I Just Can't Wait To Be King'. The film smartly satirises itself when Dempsey's character wonders aloud at the beginning how everyone is able to sing a song nobody knows - 'How do you all know this song? I've never heard this song before!'

mp3: 'That's How You Know' by Amy Adams


Tuesday, 22 January 2008

R.I.P. Heath Ledger

My thoughts are with the friends and family of actor Heath Ledger (left), who was found dead tonight after a suspected overdose. His roles indcluded 'Ennis' in the multi-award-winning Brokeback Mountain, the lead role of William Thatcher in A Knight's Tale and the role of Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You. He recently finished filming his role as The Joker in new Batman film 'The Dark Night' and was in the process of filming 'The Imaginaium of Doctor Parnassus, directed by former 'Monty Python' member Terry Gilliam, at the time of death. He was a fantastic actor, and father to one daughter, Matilda, aged two.

The Good, The Bad, and the Cinematic: St. Trinians

What is perhaps saddest about St. Trinians as a film is that it is defined for me not by its quality, nor by its occasional moments of genuine comedy, and not even by its small but rather choice selection of hot young things. No, St. Trinians will be defined to me solely as 'the last film I watched in the cinema before I got my unlimited pass'. That's sad really, especially for a film aiming to re-ignite interest in a British institute long since forgotten by the new generations of cinema-goers.

Why does this film let us down, then? Well, first and foremost is its intrinsic lack of originality not simply within the context of cinema, but even within the St. Trinians series. Was the producer's smartest decision simply to rehash the plot of the original Belles of St. Trinians? No, not really. Not even if this film is a 'reimagining' rather than a sequel. The plot was tired and stretched paper-thin.

The writing, it has to be said, is not to fault. Rather, the directors, the crew and the older actors who should have know better are to blame. As filmmaking goes, St. Trinians was a shoddy example of what could barely pass here as a 'craft'. As acting goes, whilst the young actresses do their best, and for the most part do not embarrass themselves (Lucy Punch being one notable exception as the daughter of Firth's character), it is the more experienced actors who let the film down most often. Rupert Everett pushes both his roles into new levels of misjudged comedy campness, and Colin Firth should really be elsewhere. Like back in the mid-nineties, when his wet-shirt look was fresh and brought mothers everywhere to their knees. In St. Trinians he just looked like a damp squib. What the fantastic Toby Jones was doing in this film remains a mystery.

There were moments that were funny, yes. Generally whenever the two young twins and their pyrotechnics were onscreen the film picked up, albiet briefly. Seeing the most annoying girl in the film get hit in the head during hockey - that was enjoyable. But for every cheeky moment of giggles there was an equally awkward moment of a joke fallen flat or involving the 'chemistry' between Everett and Firth. If that didn't offense you could be sure the desperate attempt to cosy up to American teen comedies by stereotyping horrifically would. One early scene felt like a crossover between MTV, Bratz and Brat Camp as head girl Kelly (a shamelessly sexy Gemma Arterton) shows a newcomer the various social groups of the school - chavs, emos, posh totty, first years and so forth... it echoed a similar but far more successful scene in the far superior school-based comedy Mean Girls.

Ultimately, the film is flawed, and very obviously so. The performances from the young female cast and the occasional joke that works save it from utter oblivion, but this is not a film that will do anything great for British cinema here or abroad.


Monday, 21 January 2008

A (belated) New Year, and a (belated) new start.

Yeah, so I got bored of lists before I really even managed any. For those of you who care, track of the year was Maximo Park's immense 'Our Velocity' and album of the year was The Hold Steady's delightfully Springsteen-esque 'Boys And Girls In America' with, as it happens, Springsteen's own 'Magic coming second. If you haven't heard the latter yet, track down opener 'Radio Nowhere' and the untitled hidden closer.

Now on to the new: I've marked the beginning of 2008 in several ways. The first: I've been naughty with my dvd and cd purchases. Since New Year I have bought ten new dvds and almost as many albums. The second: I've been naughty with my ticket purchases. Five in a two day period, as it happens. The third: I've been very naughty with my cinema-themed purchases. I spent nearly £150 (or around $300 if you're a stateside reader, which is unlikely, but I'm an optimist) on an 'unlimited' pass to all Cineworld multiplexes - a brand I am fortunate enough to enjoy both at university and at home.

What does this mean for me? Well, I need a job now. So there's that. But also I shall be going to the cinema more often in order to make this worth my while. Whilst I've worked out approximately two visits a month as necessary to make the expense worthwhile, I'm aiming for far more. I made a list of films out this year that I want to see and it almost hit 70. And that's not including the crap ones I'll go see with friends because no one else will go with them (Madagascar 2, anyone? National Treasure's sequel, perhaps?). So I will be seeing a lot more films this year.

And finally, what does this mean for you? First of all, more gig reviews. I'm seeing the superb British Sea Power tomorrow, and you can also expect reviews of Alphabeat, The Go! Team, Kate Nash and Elbow all before the end of March. And the second, more substantial change, will be the inclusion of film reviews amongst the music. I'll try and catch you up with my recent film trips (St. Trinians, Enchanted and Charlie Wilson's War before I see Sweeney Todd on Thursday and finally make it to I Am Legend on Friday).

As a starting point, I was lucky enough to catch Lightspeed Champion do an instore in the Nottingham Fopp store last Wednesday, and found him not only smart, sweet and easily intimidated by sixty to seventy people watching his every move. His debut album came out today and I bought it immediately. He is a shiny beacon of modern English folk, which is very similar to the Bright Eyes school of folk, really (not surprising, bearing in mind his producer on the album), and involves no morris dancing or ukeleles it all. Which, on the latter's front at least, is a shame. We won't hold it against him though. There is no better folk musician with music out in the last year or so by my books, and until Emmy the Great (who provides backing vocals sporadically across the album) releases her own debut, there will be no other to equal him. Enjoy his cover of 'Flesh Failures' from the musical 'Hair' below.

mp3: 'Flesh Failures' by Lightspeed Champion