Saturday, 12 July 2008

"a thing to do" Part II

In continuation from my favourite albums from each year that I'd been alive (lots of Elbow, no?), here lieth my favourite films from each year of my life.

1987: Lethal Weapon
1988: Die Hard
1989: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
1990: Die Hard 2: Die Harder
1991: Terminator 2: Judgement Day
1992: Aladdin
1993: Schindler's List
1994: Pulp Fiction
1995: Die Hard With A Vengeance
1996: From Dusk Til Dawn
1997: Hercules
1998: The Truman Show
1999: Dogma
2000: High Fidelity
2001: Moulin Rouge!
2002: Hero
2003: Lost In Translation
2004: Garden State
2005: Walk The Line
2006: Little Miss Sunshine
2007: No Country For Old Men
2008: Wall-E

I cannot express how glad I am that due to the wonderful America-gets-it-first system of cinema, No Country For Old Men counts as a 2007 film. It's a shame that the ruling stops Superbad and Death Proof getting a chance to fight it out. But it allows Wall-E an uncontended top spot for 2008 so far.

Of note: 1996's favourite film is listed as From Dusk Til Dawn - a fantastically fun film, but probably not even in my Top 50 list. How did this get to number one in 1996 then? Well, blasphemous as it sounds, I've seen neither Fargo nor Trainspotting yet. I want to, I truly do - and some day I shall. I'd hazard a guess that if I'd seen it, Fargo would be win 1996. On a similar note: Die Hard With A Vengeance is 1995's winner for two reasons. First, I truly love it. Second, 1995 was a shite year for cinema.

On the other end of the scale, you will never know the pain I suffered choosing one favourite from 2004. Natalie Portman's presence may have helped, but despite all the tiresome indie kid love-ins for it, I do still hold Garden State close to my heart. Still, commiserations to Eternal Sunshine, The Life Aquatic and Shaun Of The Dead - all of which are considered amongst my favourite films of all-time.

"a thing to do"

Stolen from here, which stole from here, which in turn stole from here, this is my list of my favourite albums from each year I've been alive. Next up, the same thing for films!

1987: 'Bad' - Michael Jackson
1988: 'I'm Your Man' - Leonard Cohen
1989: 'Storm Front' - Billy Joel
1990: 'Choke' - The Beautiful South
1991: 'Achtung Baby' - U2
1992: 'Rage Against The Machine' -Rage Against The Machine
1993: 'River Of Dreams' - Billy Joel
1994: 'Grace' - Jeff Buckley
1995: 'The Bends' - Radiohead
1996: 'Travelling Without Moving' - Jamiroquai
1997: 'OK Computer' - Radiohead
1998: 'I've Been Expecting You' - Robbie Williams
1999: 'Performance and Cocktails' - Stereophonics
2000: 'Parachutes' - Coldplay
2001: 'Asleep At The Back' - Elbow
2002: 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head' - Coldplay
2003: 'Cast Of Thousands' - Elbow
2004: 'Funeral' - Arcade Fire
2005: 'Leaders Of The Free World' - Elbow
2006: 'Boys And Girls In America' - The Hold Steady
2007: 'Magic' - Bruce Springsteen
2008: 'The Seldom Seen Kid' - Elbow

mp3: 'Stuck Between Stations (Acoustic)' by The Hold Steady

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Facebook Band Group Analysis: Avril Lavigne

I wish I could say I have no fondness for Avril Lavigne at all. She's put out at least two awful albums, both made worse by my sister's former fondness for them, and married a member of one of my All-Time Bottom Twenty Bands. Her song 'Mobile' was one of the least sensical and most musically frustrating I knew as a sixteen year-old. 'I'm With You' just reminded me of prostitutes ("I'm standing on a bridge/I'm waiting in the dark/I thought that you'd be here by now", or "I don't know who you are but I... I'm with you").

But then she had to go and release 'Girlfriend', one of the most ridiculously immoral, fantastically fun songs of the new millenium. And then, ever so occasionally she looks like she does above. It's cruelty, it truly is. And so, it is with these mixed emotions that I approach Avril with my second Facebook Band Group Analysis: an experiment for which there has to be a better name. I'll judge Avril based upon Facebook Groups made about her in support, or in detriment to her.

Exhibit A: '♥ iF y0U l0VE AVRil lAViGNE <3'

A masterclass in how to make a bad first impression without even meeting someone, this group mixes unusual use of upper and lowercase fonts, symbols and text speak in order to let you know that everyone inside the group is an idiot. All 4,578 of them. Also features deep subjects on the discussion board along the lines of 'Avril Lavigne or Hillary Duff?' Is that a question that even needs an answer? And if so, can the answer be 'neither'?

Exhibit B: 'avril lavigne p*u*n*k princess'
Like the Sex Pistols and Stiff Little Fingers before her, Avril Lavigne is the modern embodiment of punk. She also like pink things and tiaras. And not spelling her name with capital letters (which is a claim wildly at odds with the title of the last group). This group is full of punk factoids about Lavigne. For instance, where Lydon was intolerant of the government, Lavinge is lactose intolerant. And has asthma. Take that, establishment!

Exhibit C: '<<...Legend of Avril Lavigne...>>'
One could be forgiven for thinking that because this is the first group to correctly write Lavigne's name it must also be the most intelligent of said groups. But then one reads the group description: "This goup for avril lavigne fans only that we will say one word that 'We love Avril Lavigne'. So. Many. Flaws. First, what is a 'goup'? It sounds like sloppy gout. Second, since when is 'We love Avril Lavigne' one word? It isn't even hyphenated! And really, since when is Avril Lavigne a legend? She certainly robs from the rich world of music and adds to the poor, but to call her a legend suggests that when my sister saw her live in Wembley Arena she was actually watching a near mythical-character.

Exhibit D: 'If this group reaches 100,000 members, Avril Lavigne must cum to A.D. (AbuDhabi)'
With current group membership at a phenomenal 325 people, Ms. Lavigne should probably book her flights now...

Exhibit E: 'avril lavigne can't sing, but by god i'd pork her!'
Agreed, Pamela Popp of Chicago. Agreed.

mp3: 'Knocking On Heaven's Door' by Avril Lavigne

Glastonbury Review: Volume Three

Last year Glastonbury was, as visible above, the year of the mud. It was nasty. Wet, squidgy, everywhere. This year, with the sun out in the sky, the mud relatively non-existent and sunburns a frequent issue there was a need for another definition. Perhaps we could accurately call Glastonbury 2008 the Year of the Old Man. Which brings on nicely to today's Glastonbury Top Ten man:

9. Neil Diamond

By Sunday afternoon the sun had been shining for a solid two days and festival spirits were higher than the population of the Stone Circle at dawn that morning. I squeezed my way down the side of the Pyramid stage and watched Neil Diamond walk out in front of tens of thousands of sunkissed people.

I was front row, but so far over that I could have been fiftieth row in the centre and I still would have been closer. Still, when a man overflows with joie de vie as much as Diamond does, you could be keeping your kids busy at the back of the field and still have the time of your life.

Skipping through every song your regular Glastonbury punter is likely to know, Diamond led treats such as Red Red Wine and I'm A Believer with more enthusiasm than a vampire at a bloodbank, though perhaps a little less sinisterly. Of course, by the time Neil Diamond finished America, the crowd were putty in his hands. Even a three-minute loss of sound hadn't slowed down a man who has gathered every ounce of his experience together to make one of the greatest shows of his generation. When he started Sweet Caroline, there was no real question over how the crowd would react.

There must be some feeling of satisfaction in getting the biggest crowd singalong of Glastonbury 2008, but if there was, Neil Diamond remainded humble nonetheless, leaving everyone who saw him beaming at his fantastic and modest approach to putting on a great set.

mp3: 'Sweet Caroline' by Neil Diamond

Saturday, 5 July 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Kung Fu Panda

Before Dreamwork's latest feature film last night was shown the trailer for Wall-E, the new Pixar effort that I wrote up earlier this week as, well, effortless. It was an unfortunate moment for Kung Fu Panda, because even though I was probably the only one in the screen to have seen the film, the trailer alone got more laughs than the first ten minutes of the film we had paid to see.

Is Kung Fu Panda a bad film? Not at all. In fact, especially not in comparison to the recent dire efforts of its studio. Is it fair to compare Kung-Fu Panda to Wall-E? Hell no. Will it be compared nonetheless? Of course. It wouldn't be right to compare the plot to Wall-E (though if I were, I would point out despite the relative simplicity of both, Wall-E remains the film that feels least laboured of the two on that front). There is one thing that can be compared, one must suppose, and that is the quality of the animation.

On this front, Kung Fu Panda is certainly not flawed. In fact, it is so smooth and fluid - especially in action scenes - that it feels just like watching Tony Jaa and Jet Li dukeing it out in animal form. The scenery itself is pleasent enough, and would defeat the Wuxi finger hold of any previous Dreamworks film.

The problem is though, as it always seems to be with Dreamworks films, that not enough money is spent on making the film watchable - both visually and in the manner of script and plot. Instead, it seems at least 60% of the budget is wasted on big name actors - many of whom are either totally out of place or completely wasted.

Why is Jackie Chan in a role dependent entirely on his voice? No matter how kind and funny a man he is on the red carpet, Chan's English talking has never been a strong point. And here, his inability to both speak and act with just his voice completely sinks his character. As a result, we barely here a peep out of the character in question.

The same goes for Lucy Liu, who for no obvious reason is shafted from almost every conversation in the film, leaving a smattering of lines for which she will have been paid more money than most of us will make in our lives. There is also, as far as I can tell, no added benefit from Angelina Jolie's prescence in the film. That said, I don't think there ever is in her films.

The only characters of mention are those played by Dustin Hoffman, who deserves some sort of Hollywood Knighthood by now, Seth Rogen, a superb David Cross, and Jack Black, who escapes lightly, gliding through a role that was far too easy for a man of his talents.

The whole film is dragged down by unnecessary big names, an issue that is common in Dreamworks. In Pixar's latest the studio sacrifice almost all celebrities, giving instead roles to R2D2 and the MacInTalk program. As a result, more care, time and money was spent on plot, characters and animation. For both films, the priorities shine through.

Is Kung Fu Panda a bad film? By no means, in fact it is most definitely a good film. It just isn't good cinema.


Friday, 4 July 2008

Soundtrack Staples: The Kinks

Another new feature over here at TFSS, I thought I'd look at those artists who are so common in modern soundtracks that a film is missing something without them. The first band in question have been on pretty much every soundtrack made since they formed, and as result are a perfect band to start with.

I'm still not sure at what point The Kinks became vital to my musical life. I remember being made to play Waterloo Sunset on the recorder in year seven music class, and not realising it was actually a pop song. I thought it was something from Victorian times back then, but that was probably just the recorders ruining it for me.

When the 25th anniversary edition of The Village Preservation Society came out, something compelled me to buy it. I'm pretty sure it was the fantastic packaging, but the title track appearing on a free Q magazine CD around that time certainly helped. I paid extra for the three disc edition, featuring the album in both stereo and mono, and a bonus songs disc. Why a sixteen year old boy required not one but two versions of a quarter-century old album is still a question I cannot answer, but regardless the album led me into a deep pit of fantastic music.

In recent years it really has seemed that every respectable film - or respectable indie film, at least - features at least one Davies-penned song. Hot Fuzz, Britain's non-too-serious answer to Bad Boys featured a duo of songs from the aforementioned Village Green LP, with possibly the best utilisation of The Kinks in modern cinema. The nature of the songs fitted perfectly with the film's small-town (read: village) action, and further cemented the ridiculously British nature that made Hot Fuzz so great.

This year's uber-indie Juno featured the wonderful A Well Respected Man, a 1966 single that also featured over the end credits of The Life And Death of Peter Sellers in 2004. One of my favourite films, High Fidelity, featured 'Everybody's Gonna Be Happy', another fantastic track from the mid-sixties.

Perhaps the best recent example of The Kinks in modern film was in last year's The Darjeeling Limited, a film by long-time Kinks fan Wes Anderson. The soundtrack featured three Kinks songs, all from 1970's 'Lola vs Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One', and helped give the film it's distinct character. Enjoy 'Strangers' from said soundtrack...

mp3: 'Strangers' by The Kinks

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Hancock

It's been a good week for new cinema in my books. First, Wall-E turned out to be the most groundbreaking experiment in animation since, perhaps Snow White - or, at the very least since Beauty and the Beast. Now Will Smith stirs up the superhero genre with his best film in over a decade.

This summer, as usual, we're being swamped with superhero films. We have the sequels, and plenty of them - The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk, Hellboy II... We have the first time outing, from Iron Man. We even have the inevitably awful 'Superhero Movie' spoof. Where Hancock immediately holds the high ground is that of all the superhero movies, this is the only truly original one - no comic books or graphic novels on which to base it. Even the references to other comics are sparse - one villian refers to his costume as 'tight-ass Wolverine', but that's about it, really...

Thus far reviews have been far from awful, but never entirely complimentary about the film. Empire, who are without a doubt the most reputable review source I give credit to, gave the film a distinctly average three stars. The main flaw has been suggested many times that Hancock doesn't know what it is - a comedy, a straight superhero film, a parody... in truth, the film does dance flitteringly around all three - though this is far from a flaw.

In the titular John Hancock we see the superhero equivalent of Bad Santa - a techy, bad-tempered and oft drunken man of steel, with a distaste for the name 'asshole' and a tendency to react a little to harshly to those who deny his will - even if they are just ten year-old boys. Without a doubt, the film is funniest when Hancock is an undeniable bastard, and when Hancock is placed into jail the film undoubtably lags for ten minutes or so. But once the second act starts, the film continues along, having a whale of a time as it does.

Scenes where Hancock plays the hero - either as a bastard or not - are delights, and thanks to a strong production would not seem at all out of place in any other of this summer's blockbusters. Perhaps the best scenes of the second act though are those where we can see the chemistry between the three lead actors. Smith and Jason Bateman, who plays struggling PR man Jay, are fantastic together - the naive and cynical mismatch floundering around fantastically. Similarly, scenes with Smith and Bateman's onscreen wife Charlize Theron are some of the most fun in the entire film - one scene in the family kitchen mixes Desperate Housewives with Tom and Jerry. It is also perhaps no surprise that Bateman and Theron play such a convincing couple - after all, they have worked together in similar perameters before on the much-missed Arrested Development.

And so to the final act, which has gathered much scorn from the press, for changing the mood and becoming generic with any other superhero film. And it's true that the mood becomes distinctly more serious, the whole act much more 'generic', if you must. But fortunately the scenes that could be interchanged with the final act of similarly superhero-based films are done so well that they themselves are a treat to watch. Compared with the final fights of, say Iron Man, the scenes are infinitely better looking, infinitely more believable and as a result, a great deal more enjoyable. Compared with the final battles of Batman Begins, the film which remains my favourite of the genre, Hancock's are much more tangible, memorable and condensed, all of which make for an incredible finale to a superb film. To quote the hero himself: 'Good job.'


Thursday, 3 July 2008

The Good, The Bad and The Cinematic: Wall-E

I have this thing in life, that sounds as cheesy as hell, and really is. If I have an opportunity that I am unlikely to ever have again, I take it. Unless it is, say, the opportunity to jump off of a bridge. That'd be silly. But it's the same reason I went to Paris last year, saw Springsteen in May, and have gone to Glastonbury the last two years running.

So when I was at Glastonbury last weekend and saw they organisers were showing a preview of new Pixar film Wall-E, I thought I'd grab a chance to see it - three weeks before the UK release. It meant sacrificing the Sunday night headline slots. But The Verve are boring, Groove Armada tired, and Manu Chao - well, that was a shame to miss. But to see Wall-E... well, it was worth it.

You see, there is little in Cinema that excites me more than a new Pixar film. Another Die Hard would, perhaps. A film in which Natalie Portman portrays, well, anyone... the resurrection of Hitchcock would no doubt garner some interest from me. But other than that, very little excites me more than a new Pixar output.

Wonderfully, Wall-E does not disappoint. In fact, it is certainly their best film since the groundbreaking Finding Nemo, and very possibly the best in the catologue so far. First of all, we have the title character, rendered in the most ridiculously loveable way, an innocent robot with a heart - the sort of description one might expect from a film on par with The Care Bears Movie. But here we see so much more than your average cliched children's cartoon character - we find depth and emotion and... and why is this worth even mentioning? The fact of the matter is that in every Pixar film - bar, perhaps Cars - we are introduced to solid story-telling, wonderful animation, and above all fantastic and well-loved characters. Whilst these are all factors that add to the phemonal rating this film will receive, it is not what raises it above its predecessors.

No, Wall-E succeeds because of the influences Pixar explores in it for the first time. The films screams Chaplin, Keaton and the names of so many other heroes of silent comedy. In a film where dialogue is at a bare minimum, everything balances on portraying voiceless characters and making them lovable. Where better to look first than Chaplin? Wall-E, as a character, owes more to Chaplin's tramp than, say, Short Circuit's Number 5.

All in all, Wall-E stuns. Visually, it is the most beautiful computer-animated film yet to grace cinema. The characters are wonderful, lovable and forever indebted to the silent comedies that have never even been seen by most of those who will see the film. Everything - everything - is wonderful, and never before have I felt so impressed, so in awe of an animated film. Miss this film at your peril.


Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Glastonbury Review: Volume Two

My Top Ten 'Glastonbury Moments' From Glastonbury 2008. By me.

10. Sunday night, about midnight, my mate Rob and I are sitting waiting for other friends in an old cockpit by a bar in Shangri-La. Man in thick-knitted sweater, worn jeans and wellies sits next to me. Looks at me. Raises hand and starts talking to me through tiny wool finger puppet mouse. I find this perfectly normal behaviour.

9. Friday evening, front row of The Holloways set in the Queen's Head tent. Crowd euphoric as the band plays through their old and new tracks with typical energy. I turn to my right. Sixty-year old black man rests on barrier, looking more miserable than anyone who has ever lived before. He is wearing a colourful furry lion hat.

8. Friday night, Park Stage, I am crushed down at the front of a secret gig being put on by Franz Ferdinand. I look ahead to the front row, just two people ahead of me. A small boy, no older than ten is standing watching the band as his father is slowly pulverised whilst attempting to keep his son from mosh-related injuries.

7. Saturday night, by the Cider Bus. I buy a pint of cider and watch on as a giant wicker turtle, the size of a van, is wheeled through the rabble. Costumed men and women are sitting on top, on a matress inside, whilst a few push it along. People stop and watch, everyone laughs. Until it parks in front of about fifty of them at the Pyramid Stage. No one argues. Who's to say what these people are capable of?

6. Saturday afternoon, Other Stage. Elbow finish their set spectacularly, leading the crowd in an epic singalong to 'One Day Like This'. After they leave the stage the crowd forgo the traditional cheering for more, simply choosing not to stop the singalong. The lines 'Throw those curtains wide/One day like this a year would see me right!' are sung in unity by thirty thousand people for a further four minutes.

5. Wednesday evening, Jazz World Stage. A woman shins her way up one of the many flags that pepper the arena. Crowd watches on, calling out encouragement. When the woman reaches fifteen feet or so, the flag simply snaps in half and the woman falls to the ground, lies for a few seconds, gets up and walks off.

4. Sunday afternoon, Pyramid Stage, Neil Diamond leads seventy to eighty thousand people in a sing along to Sweet Caroline. That's all.

3. Sunday night, about 2am. Rob and I have found his friends and are dancing in a group to jive music in a fifties diner in Shangri-La. One friend points to the side of the dancefloor. Mark Ronson pashes with his girlfriend. We all privately consider going over. No-one does.

2. Wednesday evening, Jazz World Stage. I buy a pint of pear cider, and walking away from the bar hear a huge cheer - the sort you hear leading up to a penalty. A rising 'oohhhhHHHHH' followed by a 'Whay!'. I go over to examine. Amongst a circle of thirty sit three people and their mate, who lies passed out on the floor, cardboard cup of cider held loosely in hand. Between his legs, where they meet the crotch, an empty cider cup has been placed. Towering up from this is a lopsided stack of these cups, at least eighty of them, gathered and piled to create a spontaneous alcoholic's idea of Jenga. Every 'oohhhhHHHHHWhay!' comes from the crowd as they watch another contestant approach the tower and carefully place their empty cup in. The tower topples at approximately ninety cups, but the bloke remains unconscious. He is roused by his friends, and a little surprsied to be covered in cardboard cups and cheered by three dozen people. It is Glastonbury.

1. Walking through the Green Fields on Thursday afternoon I stop to join a small group watching a tranny teach a ten-year old boy how to weld. That is all, but it is all I will ever need.

Glastonbury Review: Volume One

Monday was a little slice of tiresome. I had to make the trek back from Glastonbury to Nottingham, which would be a stressful trip in itself, without considering the 175,000 people making similar plans (though fortunately not all to Nottingham), and the fact that I was on my now annual Glasto come-down. Like a musical cold turkey, if you will.

Anyway, after last year's mess of a trip home, the fact that I missed a train, and had to travel home in a cattle-truck of a train carriage - well, they just seemed relatively pleasant. Such is life, I suppose, when you spent most of last year carrying a six-person tent on your back in the pouring rain at four o'clock in the morning. Feeling empathy for a sardine loses it's stress factor after that.

So, to Glastonbury '08. Well, the weather was frankly beautiful for the majority of the time - it's left me with the most British tan ever. My arms and face are a lovely dark shade of man-tan, but if you pull down on my collar, or fold back my sleeve, you risk snow-blindness. It's truly that horrific.

So, for my top ten artists I saw at Glastonbury (because the Top Ten Preview never quite found time to finish itself, did it?). This time I'll do it one artist at a time, and share with you my beautiful pictures from 2007's quagmire - for I have not yet ventured to have this year's developed.

10. John Cale

In at number ten we have one of my unplanned artists of the weekend. John Cale appeared before my third favourite set, and knowing that it would be a busy gig I had arrived early and managed to catch the last half of the former Velvet Underground man's set. I was hit immediately by two things. Firstly, just how similar John Cale looks to my grandfather. It's a tad disturbing. And secondly, just how lively and fun an old man can make a set. This second point was reiterated to me twice over the weekend, once by Neil Diamond and once by ex-Squeeze man Glenn Tilbrook, who included in his set a rapping granny and finale so embrassingly cringe-worthy that it actually turned out to be one of the most fun close to a set all weekend.

But John Cale knows how to work a crowd, how to have fun himself, and above all how to make good music.