Friday, 28 November 2008

The Five Most Vital People In Hollywood Today

Before we get listing, I thought I'd just mention Blender's End of Year Album List. Now, I've never been a big follower of Blender, and read through their list and you'll see why. First, look at the lay-out: that's no way to write a list! Everyone knows that number one is the last number you want to see! Also, and probably slightly more important - the list features some truly average albums. Right up to, and including the number one spot. Where are Fleet Foxes, Q magazine's number two? Where are Elbow, Kings Of Leon, Goldfrapp, The Raconteurs? I give up. I really do. But... vital people in Hollywood? There are plenty around, but these five are the cream of the crop by my count...

5. Seth Rogen
The freshest comedy talent in years, even after a ridiculously prolific two years (ten films since 2007, seven of which were this year alone), he still remains a key force in the revitalisation of American comedy. Throwing himself around the kids films too, he's appeared in both Kung-Fu Panda and Horton Hears A Who, as well as adding his name to the best-voiced kids film in a long while - the curious Monsters vs. Aliens. My goodness, I'm sorted for a year in the cinema based of Rogen's releases alone in 2009.

4. Casey Affleck
I watched The Usual Suspects the other day, and it was so exciting to watch a fantastic actor like Kevin Spacey in the prime of his acting career - though consistently excellent I don't place any Spacey performance higher than that one. It seemed that his natural successor would be the sublime Edward Norton, who shines in every role he plays. But now it would seem the tides have shifted again, and a put forward a new name for the title of Best Actor In The World Right Now, and that name is Casey Affleck's. Have you
seen The Assassination of Jesse James? Have you seen Gone Baby Gone? In the last two years or so he's launched himself from so-so roles in Ocean 11 and sequels to the most vital actor around. His next to roles, directed by Ridley Scott and Michael Winterbottom respectively, look equally exciting: an amnesiac who falls for his mobster boss' girlfriend and a deputy sheriff unmasked as a 'psychotic killer'. Don't watch his face, just watch his movies.

3. Judd Apatow
It'd be cheating to have both Rogen and Apatow on this list were it not for the surprisingly large catologue of releases Apatow always seems to have up his sleeve - many of which at great odds with Rogen's brand of comedy. Par example: Apatow is behind the production of Ghostbusters 3 - a film Rogen's quoted as being a stupid idea. Still, the two are working on Funny People together, which could prove to be the first great Adam Sandler film. Could be.

2. Clint Eastwood
Even after quitting acting Eastwood holds a high position on the list. Why? Well, first of all there's Changeling, which, though I am yet to see it, has had nothing but great reviews. Then there's Gran Torino - Clint's last role, and a fantastic looking one at that... Even if he's quit acting, we still have directing. Three of his films hold Top 250 spots on IMDB, and Changeling may soon add to that.

1. John Lasseter
The King of Animation, John Lasseter represents all that is great about animation today. Wall-E was a landmark in film as a whole, not least in animation. So vital to animation is Lasseter that since Meet The Robinsons the producer/director has been involved in all of Disney's modern 'animated classics'. This means that the excellent-looking Bolt and the 2D animation The Princess and the Frog are both influenced by him. And, while all this is going on, he's still producing Pixar's first two 3D films - 'Up', which looks to be the most beautiful Pixar film yet, and Toy Story 3, which frankly just makes me excited in disturbing ways. Ahem.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

The Five Least Vital People In Hollywood Today

I was chatting with my housemate the other day, and we found ourselves in a conversation, listing our 'Five Most Vital People In Hollywood'. His involved Guillermo Del Toro, I believe - an excellent choice. You'll see mine soon enough. But it all led me to the other list - the furthest opposite possibility, the 'Five Least Vital People In Hollywood'. I've given it great thought, and I present to you now my list. It's technically six, seeing as I'm counting two people as one. But seeing as their joint worth summates to little more than that, I think I can be forgiven.

5. George Lucas
Once upon a time this man was a titan. He brought us two of Harrison Ford's finest characters in Han and Indiana. He created Star Wars, the Indiana Jones films, and so many more... oh, wait. No. The problem is, Lucas ran out of original ideas by the late 1980s. And that's if we're being generous. Since the third Indiana Jones film his entire career seems to have been seeping the last creative juices out of his previous ventures. The Star Wars legacy is in danger now, thanks in part to Lucas' endless churning out of spin-offs, sequels and prequels. And, you know, I liked the new Indy film. I genuinely did. But I'll be the first to admit there were issues. The same issues that disappointed so many others. Do I blame Lucas for the aliens? No. But I blame him for the shoddy way with which they were dealt. Both Spielberg and Ford had liked Mr. Frank Darabont's script. It was Lucas who vetoed it. Just sayin'...

4. Eddie Murphy
I watched Coming To America for the first time last night. Unsurprisingly, it was rather good. Probably because it was back in the day, when Eddie Murphy was, well funny. It saddens me that he's made such awful choices in the last few years. Two of the worst films of the century so far - Norbit and Meet Dave, both Murphy choices. By my count, the last great film he made was Shrek. And even that is losing it's footing with the increasingly poor sequels.

3. Shia LaBeouf
Another flaw with Indiana's fourth outing? LaBeouf. The man who took the lead role in Disturbia, the biggest tarnishing of Hitchcock's name since that Vince Vaughn version of Psycho. The annoying little twat in the otherwise fairly enjoyable I, Robot. The man most likely to piss me off in a film without being Nicholas Cage. Talking of which...

2. Nicholas Cage
Is there any reason for Cage to continue making films? Bangkok Dangerous is easily the worst film I've seen this year. Ghost Rider may well have taken the title last year. National Treasure, and it's poor sequel, is an even more painful rip-off of Indiana Jones than The Mummy, which at least remains enjoyable in it's utter shitness. The fact is that not only can Cage not act to save his life, but he also looks like a cross between Eastern European terrorist and dodgy car salesman. Next up, Kick-Ass and Astro Boy. Oh very dear. Still, it could be worse...

1. Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg
These two are barely worth enough to warrant one human, let alone two. Seltzer and Friedberg are one of two things: Either they are two eight year-old boys who woke up one morning in the bodies of screenwriters, or they hate the cinematic form and wish to destroy it. Not familiar with their work? Think of a film that has a title ending in 'Movie' and they made it. Disaster Movie. Epic Movie. Date Movie. Oh, and Meet The Spartans. The bad news? People still seem to enjoy these films? The good news? According to IMDB there are currently no more of these vapid, unfunny and viciously shit films on the way at the moment. Maybe the studios finally got their act together and realised that these two genuinely are the least vital people in Hollywood.

Monday, 10 November 2008

My Desert Island, All-Time, Top 5 Bob Dylan Tracks

I was brought up in a Dylan-free house. My parents weren't against him, per se. They agreed he was an excellent lyricist, but they just couldn't stand his voice. As a good little kid I believed my parents were right about everything, both musically and otherwise. It was only somewhere between hearing them praise Alison Moyet and having John Miles 'Music' played to me under the impression that it was worthy of being my first and last love that I started to realise they could, on occasion, be wrong.

Eventually I came round to Dylan. Or, more accurately, as soon as I gave him a chance I came round to him. He is, as my parents always said, a masterful lyricist. But he is also, and I don't need to tell you this, a wonderful singer. In chronological order, my top five Dylan tracks:

1. The Times They Are A'Changin'
Simple, and perhaps a little obvious. But then I've never shyed away from the obvious just because it is so - usually they are deservedly cliched, and here we have a perfect example. I was given a DVD earlier this year of Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival between '63 and '65 and though this song never features on the film, the whole time I was watching I couldn't get it out of my head. It's a time captured, but it's also very much timeless. The other day I read about Obama planning to close Guantamano Bay, and again this song came to mind. It's been doing that a lot recently.

2. Rainy Day Women #12 and 35
Two of the songs on my list come from the fantastic 1966 album Blonde on Blonde - my favourite of Dylan's. There's something about the rompy rhythm and the less-than-sober cheers throughout the song that throws you into a moment. You feel like you're in a very modern cowboy saloon, or a non-traditional Irish pub. It's swaggering excellence, and all the more lovable for it.

3. I Want You
Again, Blonde on Blonde strikes. I don't know where I'd heard this song before I discovered Dylan, but something about it brought back a plethora of memories when I first head it. It still does, gladly, in the same way that the taste of passion fruit does - oddly, unexpectedly, but most welcome.

4. Handle With Care (w/The Traveling Wilburys)
Whilst at first Dylan's influence is not as obvious on the opening track to super-group The Traveling Wilburys' debut album - or at least not as obvious as that of his fellow bandmates, it is ultimately Dylan that makes the song so listenable. Sometimes it's hard to place who is who in the track - Harrison opens vocally, I think, with Orbison taking over for the chorus. Who does the bridge? I'm not sure. Who does the brilliant harmonica that sets the tone for the whole song? Oh, that I can help you with...

5. Most Of The Time
The most recent of my top five is, incidentally, the track that I first got into amongst Dylan's back catalogue. The reference in the title to Nick Hornby's 'High Fidelity' was done entirely because of my love for the book, though is fitting, considering the soundtrack to the film introduced me to this track. It's slow, heartfelt, and everything I couldn't say about love and the resulting moods. High Fidelity's soundtrack was a revelation to me when I first heard it - a change in the way I saw music. It introduced me to so many artists: The Beta Band, Love, The Velvet Underground, John Wesley Harding and - though I already was a firm fan of the artist - the genius of Stevie Wonder's 'I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)'. But the artist who got the most out of that album was Dylan. So thanks Nick Hornby, and thanks people behind that soundtrack. You did good. You did real good.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Obama Won!

Is that gonna jinx it? I hope not.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

The Definition of 'Pop'

I have determined how, with almost 100% accuracy every time, one can determine whether or not a band is 'pop' or not. Whether a band is aimed at ten-to-thirteen year-olds or not. And, rather surprisingly, it's ever so simple. All these years, all these millions of dollars spent attempting to define what is and is not pop, and all along it came down to one thing:

Linear notes.

I know, right? How did everyone miss this for so long? A band is clearly and very determinedly 'pop' if each individual artist gets their own 'Thank You' section in the linear notes. I finally realised this when reviewing The Saturdays' debut album* for The Mic magazine. The linear notes were a hark back to simpler days - each band member, irresistably beautiful in the eyes of any man (and also just teetering on the edge of the legal age limit for leering), has their own 'thank you' section. They flick between loving mentions of people we shall never know, loving mentions of their own band members, loving mentions of all their fans and passing mentions of the dozens of people involved in the making of the album.

They all do it, they really do. Sugababes, Girls Aloud, B*Witched did back in the day... everyone. And here we stumble across McFly's issue. They want to move on and be a big boy's band - a rock group, if you will. They keep playing the same old music though - in fact, it's a little worse of late if anything (a shame, seeing as they actually have the ability to be terrific). That said, this isn't an issue ultimately - it isn't the music that defines you, is it? No! McFly are still very much a pop band because even on their recent 'adult' release they each had individual 'thank yous'. God forbid the fan girls can't get an individual thank you from Dougie! God forbid Harry can't thank the other three for the best years of his life. God forbid. You never saw Queen with individual thanks, did you McFly? No. Pink Floyd? I think not. The Killers? Never. I think that is, as they say in the television, case closed.

* P.S. The Saturdays' album, entitled 'Chasing Lights' after that what stupid people do, is actually literally excellent. If you've ever lied to someone about how great you really think Girls Aloud are, or still feel guilty for claiming not to like Sugababes, then here is your chance to redeem yourself. Buy it. I'd post a track for you here ('Keep Her' or 'Lies' would be my recommendations) but bearing in mind Bloggergate and all that is going on there, I think I better not...