Jon Favreau’s entertaining genre hybrid Cowboys and Aliens casts Daniel Craig as an amnesiac fast-drawing westerner (come on, Errol Flynn also rode the Old West) who comes equipped with a mysterious device on his arm. Dang if he doesn’t know where he got it. Harrison Ford is the town boss who’s a bit miffed that his wastrel son (Paul Dano) has been given a very public shellacking by Craig—and has subsequently been arrested for shooting a deputy. Meanwhile, the lovely Olivia Wilde hovers in the background as a very mysterious young woman--and then the aliens come attacking. Craig’s device proves very useful in repelling the attack, but not before the aliens take some very high-profile hostages including Dano and Sheriff Keith Carradine. After all the (somewhat negative) hype, I’m pleased to say the movie plays it fairly straight. The opening scenes convey a dusty flavor and an air of foreboding, while the subsequent melding of genres (complete with Indians and cowboys forging a tentative truce to fight a common enemy—albeit an indestructible enemy with a seemingly impregnable spaceship) provide the opportunity for several exciting, well-staged action sequences.
Alex Clare is a musician based in London; he recently released his debut album ‘Lateness Of The Hour’. The record is a bag full of surprises, containing soulful voice comparable to the likes of John Legend and James Morrison, he also presents some pretty deep lyrics that will touch the listeners. However all this is shrouded with generic dubstep beats, which have become all too common to today’s music listeners. Now this isn’t to say that there is something wrong with dubstep as a genre, but this kind of feels like an attempt to grab extra fans, which is a shame as this album had some real potential.
Captain America: The First Avenger is a stirring, old fashioned, and highly enjoyable preamble to the highly anticipated 2012 Avengers movie. Set (mainly ) after America’s entry into World War II, Joe Johnston’s action-packed adventure boasts a sincere and appealing Chris Evans as Steve Rogers, the perpetual 4-F weakling who willingly becomes the subject for a military top-secret body enhancement experiment because it will give him the chance to fight those nasty Nazi bullies.
The Vaccines are the latest craze in the ever-increasing British indie music scene. The release of their debut album What Did You Expect From The Vaccines? was welcomed to widespread acclaim, reaching number four in the UK album charts, not bad for a band that released their CD only ten months after forming.
The band claims to have many musical influences, such as 50s rock ’n’ roll and C86, and have also had comparisons drawn with the likes of The Ramones. These different musical styles can really be heard throughout the different tracks. One rather strong point on the record is the vocal ability of lead singer Justin Young, who not only has one of the most distinctive voices in the industry at present, but is also slightly reminiscent of White Lies lead singer Harry McVeigh.
The album itself is a prime of example of good indie rock, full of catchy guitar jingles and dark lyrics all strung together with an upbeat tempo. However it shouldn’t be treated as yet another commercial indie record. It is well thought out, and what make The Vaccines really special is that they don’t rely on just a single aspect of the band’s skills to make it worth listening to. Instead, each song switches its strongest point from good, meaningful lyrics, such as the song “Post Break-Up Sex,” which shows the bands more hard-hitting emotional side, with lyrics that many who have had break-ups can relate to, to the fast-paced, rhythmic song “Nørgaard,” which shows the airy classic indie talents the band possess and will get stuck in your head for days on end. This is one big positive about the record—the rich amount of variety the CD contains. It really separates the band from the rest. No two tracks are quite identical and will evoke a different emotion in their listeners.
PJ Harvey is a well known English Singer/Songwriter, a veteran in the music scene making her professional debut in the 1990’s. Harvey has been known for changing sound with each new album she releases as to not repeat herself twice. Her newest eighth studio album ‘Let England Shake’ is no exception; we see a very unique idea for an album, one that can only be described as courageous with an artist that has a big following.
The album, which was recorded over a five week period in a church giving a slightly airy feel to it, entered the UK album charts at #8. Harvey sticks with one main theme throughout the CD and that is the sense of ‘English Pride’.
It contains strong undertones of patriotism; with one of the titles itself named England. You really do get this sense of English pride from the album, without the pretentious ‘we are better than everyone’ attitude. The artist claimed she researched historical conflicts whilst creating the record, this influence is made very clear by tracks such as ‘The Glorious’ with bugles playing in the intro. On the whole it seems to give off a slightly more upbeat and less folksy Laura Marling ‘I Speak Because I Can’ vibe. On the downside the album does start to get a bit repetitive as it nears the middle, and transcends from an individual and bold CD of Glorious England into one long list of why England is good.
Samuel Bazan is an unsigned singer/songwriter from Olympia, WA; now living locally in NoHo, who recently recorded his debut album ‘Slow Down’. With many unsigned artists who release their first album, wonderful things can’t really be expected, but Samuel does a very good job of bridging the gap between amateur and quality, recording some catchy alternative rock tracks on the record.
The album, which was self-produced by Samuel, is full of well thought out love songs, with a vocal style and lyrics that will remind his listeners of a young Rob Thomas and guitar skills that are Santana-esque. Some stand out tracks on the CD are ‘Tell Me’ and ‘Forgiveness’ which I think set the general feel of the record. One thing that really stood out above the rest was the lyrics. There are no sound effects or pretentious ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ that you find in so many pop songs; just a man and his words with a good firm musical beat to back him up.
Samuel has certainly made a very solid album and the passion and hard work that has been put into making it can be felt. With more coverage he could have the potential to revive what seemed like a forgotten market in the industry, and with talent like that it is hard to imagine why this guy isn’t signed.
I urge everyone to give this Samuel Bazan a listen, just click the link below:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the remarkably satisfying finale in the Harry Potter series–an entertaining, exciting, enthralling journey into darkness that will move even those who missed Hallows, Part 1. Without revealing too much, this final chapter pits Harry against the shadowy Hogwarts now-headmaster Snape ( Alan Rickman) and the apogee of evil himself Lord Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), who for various reasons, is driven to destroy Harry- and those who might protect him-- as in the students and staff at Hogwarts, who (with the notable exception of Draco) have grown awfully fond of Harry over the years. After a talky beginning and a sequence that borders on an Indiana Jones theme-ride take-off, the movie plunges Harry into deep water–and sure ground-- as the various plot machinations lead to the inevitable showdown between Harry and Voldemort. Along the way, motivations are revealed, , sacrifices are made, destinies are decided, and the entire school becomes a symbol of grace under pressure. Steve Kloves’ screenplay does a fine job of streamlining J.K. Rowlings’ hefty tome; David Yates’ direction places characterization above spectacle throughout; and the performances by all are top-notch: Daniel Radcliffe is an assured yet conflicted and vulnerable Harry; Maggie Smith is a tower of strength as Harry’s champion and Snape’s nemesis; Rupert Grint’s Ron and Emma Watson’s Hermione are as sensible and appealing as ever. There are also welcome re-appearances by Michael Gambon, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Helena Bonham Carter, to name but a few. Fiennes’ Voldemort is a magnificent creation, ruthless, menacing, and almost purring when Harry seems within his grasp; he is matched by Rickman’s Snape, a haughty, tortured soul whose character arc is an essential emotional component of the series. Worth seeing more than once (preferably non 3D if the option is available).
Leaving your brains at the door may not be the only way to enjoy Bad Teacher and The Hangover 2, but it certainly helps. In Bad Teacher, Cameron Diaz is the recently dumped, sexy, calculating, educating vixen who is on the prowl for a rich man (on a public school faculty? Perhaps they should call her Crazy Teacher) while trying to finance her breast-augmentation surgery by any means possible. For Diaz buffs, this involves actively participating in the school’s car wash-- and giving it her absolute all. It also means going to any (illegal) lengths to secure a student performance-based financial bonus. Diaz is certainly b-a-d---she’s just not particularly f-u-n-n-y. I have no objection to unsavory characters being the leads of comedies (as in the superior Election), but it seems the development of Diaz’ character stopped abruptly at its conception–the non-Politically Correct script offers few surprises and relatively few amusing lines. Additionally, in a school brimming with wildly caricatured teacher-types, Diaz is overmatched comedically by a game Justin Timberlake as the object of her (financial security) desires: a wealthy substitute teacher (as you can see, the movie also incorporates fantasy elements); Lucy Punch as her chief professional-and romantic nemesis- an overly enthusiastic teacher just shy of a meltdown; and Jason Segel as a down-to-earth gym teacher who patiently waits in the wings for his chance at the comely Diaz. What he sees in her (besides the obvious) is anybody’s guess.
Benjamin Francis Leftwich is a twenty one year old English Singer-Songwriter from York. His debut album ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’ hit shelves recently. Whilst this studio album may be the first time a lot of listeners have heard his music, many will feel familiar with it as he is very reminiscent of the late Elliott Smith.
The main strengths of the album are the lyrics, they aren’t just commercial pop songs - they're enchanting heartfelt poems and each track tells a story. Comparisons could be drawn with Damien Rice with the way he makes the listener feel as if they are being allowed to share his personal thoughts.
The new track ‘Holla’ is collaboration between UK artist Priscilla Angelique and US rapper Major D. The song is very unique in its own sense adding something new to the seemingly plastic and repetitive dubstep scene.
What makes the track so enjoyable is the fusion of different influences that make up the song; the dark and grimey bassline/dubstep beats blended with the fast paced West Coast Hip-Hop lyrics. They have taken two very different genres and made them flow surprisingly well. The use of synth sounds are also a nice addition to dress up the music. It isn’t just the sound of the music that makes it good, but the vocals themselves which are very fresh. Priscilla Angelique has that Ms. Dynamite ‘Fire’ feel about her and Major D has a distinct voice and sounds like the track was made for him. This song is perfect addition to your playlist on for a night out and would fill any dancefloor.
They say the sophomore slump is an uphill battle; these words have never been truer than with the release of Reading based band ‘Pete & the Pirates’ new album ‘A Thousand Pictures’. After the critical reception of their first album, great things were expected from the indie boys, but it seems that they have failed to deliver results.
Technically the album can’t be faulted; it contains everything that a good British indie album should have, depressing subject matter and the upbeat sound to go with it. For some reason however, it just has no spark. Perhaps it the way that the record feels like nothing new, just extra songs left off their old album. The band has seemed to have made literally no progression since their last album. Don’t get me wrong though, it is a good listen, but it lacks drive and gets boring and repetitive within a few songs.
Every now and then you come across a band that once you’ve heard once you are instantly a fan of their music. GSPT are definitely one of those bands. I had the pleasure of hearing this band live last New Year’s Eve, and since then I’ve been hooked on them.
GSPT have blended alternative & Hip-Hop very well to produce a completely unique sound and are able to collect many different types of fans. All that mix of different sounds have paid off because they have really created something special in their mixtape ‘A Band Apart’ and it’s hard to think why they aren’t internationally known.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris opens with a montage of the wonders of Paris set to Sydney Bechet’s music, and while it doesn’t have quite the same impact as the New York-Gershwin fanfare that opens Manhattan–it does make you want to book that coach ticket (who can afford first class–heck, who can afford coach?) to France and wander the same cobblestone boulevards while savoring a baguette. And the movie itself? Well, its really rather enjoyable, a light, attractive fable about Americans in Paris. Established Hollywood screenwriter (and implied hack) Owen Wilson is trying to finish his first novel (art!) while dealing with his frustrated fiancee (Rachel McAdams) who wants to both subject him to some seriously overpriced shopping sprees with her supremely snobbish mother and explore the sights in the company of her pedantic American friend (Michael Sheen).
The entertaining Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides is a marked improvement over the last two installments in the seemingly never-endng Disney money-making franchise. Johnny Depp returns—this time under Rob Marshall’s direction-as Captain Jack Sparrow (quite frankly, there’s no series without him) but Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are no longer with the firm; shed no tears though, for the lovely and lively Penelope Cruz is on board as Angelica, a seductive fellow pirate (who has a history with the Captain) who coerces Jack into helping her and her father (the one and only Blackbeard) locate the Fountain of Youth.
Artist: The King Blues Album: Punk & Poetry Location: London
The King Blues are one of the, if not the most, underrated bands of current time. With a unique blend of Punk, Ska, a set of raw vocals and some of the most thought provoking lyrics you are likely to find, they have all the ingredients to be a terrible band, but instead they have pulled it off and created some of the best music I have ever heard. They are back with their third album ‘Punk & Poetry’ and have comeback hard. Tracks such as ‘We Are F****** Angry’ shows the society questioning, anarchist side of the band that fans have grown to love; whilst songs like ‘Headbutt’ show their lighter playful side. The King Blues are one of the few bands that are continuing to evolve in their music and their lyrics, and deserve way more credit than they get. This album is a must for any music fan, anarchist or anyone who generally questions the government. Go out and by it now, you won’t be disappointed.
The not quite Marvel-ous Thor from self-proclaimed comics afficionado Kenneth Branagh (who it seems, was only biding his time with all his Shakespeare movies), is the most schismatic superhero movie since Will Smith’s Hancock (Is it funny? Is it tragic?—What!!) The lesser part of Thor (in every way) is set in an outerworldly realm with a one-eyed king (Anthony Hopkins in regal warrior mode), his hotheaded, arrogant, hawkish son (the mighty Thor played by the seemingly mighty and fairly likable Chris Hemsworth) and his quietly brooding brother.
Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Sara Gruen’s novel Water for Elephants is a beautifully filmed, old-fashioned romantic melodrama about forbidden love in a barnstorming circus during the Great Depression. Hal Holbrook continues his string of sterling latter-day turns as old Jacob Jankowski, who has memories of his days in the doomed Benzini Brothers. Circus, circa 1931. Cue flashback and in comes a soulful, brooding Robert Pattinson as young Jacob, a veterinary school dropout (he’s got reasons) who hops the circus train and quickly becomes enmeshed in the filthy (literally and figuratively) side of circus life. His knowledge and compassion for animals quickly catches the eye of star horseback rider Reese Witherspoon –and her alternately charming and sadistic husband, the ringmaster and circus owner Christoph Waltz. Enter Rosie the new elephant and star attraction and before you can say love quadrangle, Witherspoon is making googly eyes at Pattinson, Pattinson is making googly eyes at Witherspoon-- and Rosie (nice chemistry there), Waltz smiles and glowers at everyone depending on his mood or plot development.
Artist: Chipmunk Album: Transition Location: London
Chipmunk, one of the king pins of Grime is back with his new album ‘Transition’; and what a transition it is indeed. Little Chip Diddy Chip has grown into an international, chart topping rap star, but is it a good change for his music? I think the answer is yes and no. He is with no question a very talented artist and has created another album of hits and catchy songs, such as the anthem ‘Champion’ featuring Chris Brown; but the switch to mainstream seems to have taken away some of the more grittier sounds and lyrics that made chipmunk great and unique. For new fans it is a change that will not be noticed or cared about, but for some of the older fans it is an obvious change and one that probably won’t be favoured, as he is just becoming like every other Urban artist out there. However, this is still a very good album with some prominent artists featuring on the tracks, and definitely worth a listen. I just hope Chipmunk doesn’t forget his roots and start to cater for a mainly American audience.
Atrist: Katy B Album: On A Mission Location: London
I like to think I have a wide music taste and I’ll admit Katy B’s singles before the release of her debut album ‘On A Mission’ were pretty good. She mixed powerful female vocals and dubstep beats perfectly. When I downloaded her CD, I was expecting something new and upbeat but when I listened to it I felt that she is a bit of a one trick pony. Her track ‘Broken Record’ sums up her album very well, it is just blends into the same noise, which becomes very repetitive and boring quickly. I’m not saying she doesn’t have talent, her wide range of vocal chords and soulful voice shouldn’t go unnoticed but it’s as if she got praise of her singles, and stuck to that sound with no variation. I would defiantly give this album two thumbs down, and wouldn’t recommend purchasing it, unless you are a DJ and looking for some good beats to play. Besides that though you are just wasting money.
Before the first Scream came along, characters in slasher films would often act as if they had never seen a slasher film–or any other horror film for that matter. You know the kinds of behavior I’m referring to: the knock in the middle of the night that causes someone to leave the safety of her house to ask the fatal question, “Is anybody out there?”; a character going to the basement --alone-to retrieve something despite the fact that a homicidal maniac has just been spotted in the neighborhood; a character trying to flee someone by climbing up the steps of her home and then locking the door because gosh, that will keep the killer out. (I almost forgot the villain who talks and talks while he should be administering a death blow). So it was refreshing when Wes Craven’s Scream trilogy poked pointed fun at the horror/slasher movie genre, populating the films with characters (heroes, villains, and victims) who know the genre and try to survive or avert disaster –according to the rules of the game.
It’s difficult to review the entertaining, involving, fast-paced sci-fi thriller Source Code without giving too much away, but I’ll give it a go…Jake Gyllenhaal wakes up on a train opposite a beautiful, interested young lady (the beautiful, interesting Michele Monaghan) who seemingly knows him, even though he claims not to know her. Worse, when he looks into a reflecting surface, he does not see himself—he sees the reflection of the stranger pictured on his license. Even worse, the train explodes—all this in the first eight minutes. What we discover is that Gyllenhaal has been chosen –because of a physical/mental affinity with one of the dead passengers of this train—to tap into that person’s memories of the trip (based on the supposition that the brain survives even after the body is dead) in order to discover the identity of the bomber and prevent a possible future calamity . Furthermore, Gyllenhaal has only eight minutes at a time before he is hurled back to “reality.”,only to be “transported” to the train again by his mysterious ‘superiors, —only knowing more than he did previously. Think Tron meets Groundhog Day only the stakes are much higher, as the minutes that Gyllenhaal relives are used in a race against time to alter the future. And then there are more complications, as in when Gyllenhaal comes to care about the beautiful Monaghan and decides to….Perhaps I’m revealing too much. Suffice it to say, the films works extremely well in spite of—or maybe because of its outlandish premise. As in the comic Groundhog Day, Gyllenhaal goes through a series of stages---bewilderment, then impotent rage at the inability to alter fate (as his handler Vera Farmiga says, “It’s only a computer program”), and finally confidence in his ability to respond to things before they happen—and possibly change certain outcomes. Ben Ripley’s script and Duncan Jones’ direction keep things moving, Chris Bacon’s herrmann-esque score transports us to the terrain of North by Northwest, and Gyllenhaal and Monaghan have a lovely chemistry that one hopes—against all odds—will translate to happily ever after. In the end, how you feel about Source Code may be determined by your reaction to the developments of the last twenty minutes, which help push the film even further into the realm of fantasy. It worked for me, but whatever you decide, Source Code is one heck of a ride.
White Lies are one of those rare bands that sound like no one else out there and never leave you bored. Naturally when I first heard they were releasing a new album I was extremely excited. On my first listen of ‘Ritual’ however it was a different story. It seemed that the band had simply produced a new album that sounded more or less exactly the same as their last one and hadn’t evolved as artists. When I gave it a second listen though it grew on me quite a bit. White Lies have kept their original sound, which is what make them great. They have dug deeper into their emotions than before and pulled out something much more lyrically sound than their debut album. ‘Ritual’ is another prime example of how truly talented the British music scene really is, and the unique vocals of Harry McVeigh will leave you playing their music over and over.
Did you hear the one about the pair of British sci-fi/ comic book fans who attend the San Diego Comic-Con and subsequently meet a bona-fide foul-mouthed alien? You probably did if you ran across ads for Paul, the latest writing/starring collaboration from Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The opening section is indeed a hoot for Comic-Con fans as myself (indeed, I wish there had been even more footage) as they pester pompous authors, take endless pictures, and wander with wide-eyed delight during their first trip to America. Pegg and Frost have such a nice rapport (if you want to see them in prime form, rent Shawn of the Dead or Hot Fuzz) that the arrival of the fugitive alien Paul, voiced by the ubiquitous Seth Rogen inevitably alters the balance, and not always for the better. Rogen’s Paul has his moments, especially when he recounts his use (or misuse) by the government, but the movie threatens to turn into the Seth Rogen show, when in fact, there are a number of worthy rivals for your attention, especially the wonderful Kristen Wiig as an extremely religious, father-dominated woman who becomes liberated by Paul and becomes a walking fount of profane malapropisms. Jason Bateman (who also seems everywhere) is on target as the government agent who’ll stop at nothing to find Paul, while a familiar disembodied voice is the head honcho dedicated to Paul’s destruction. The movie overall is likable enough, but I missed the nonstop inspiration of the Pegg and Frost’s earlier endeavors (which were helmed by Edgar Wright–this was directed by Greg Mottola). The pacing is uneven and occasionally meandering, and the comic set pieces, while funny enough, rarely even come close to scaling the heights of hilarity. Still, Pegg and Frost are such a winning team that you’ll generally keep smiling, which makes it at least twice as good as what passes for comedy in your local multiplexes.
I also wanted to pay tribute to a cinematic giant. You know who I’m talking about...the late, great Michael Gough, whose theatrical flair graced the screens from the 1940's till shortly before his recent death. Broadway fans might know him from his Tony-winning turn in Bedroom Farce Batman fans know him as Alfred the butler in the Tim Burton Batman films; fright fans know him as a Hammer Films villain, as in the underrated Phantom of the Opera-- my Michael Gough is the gleefully overblown, fantastically florid menace of such films as Horrors of the Black Museum, The Black Zoo and the glorious Konga. To see Gough in these films is to see a master of supercilious self-assurance which frequently gives way to raging rants at a moment’s notice. In his finest over-the-top vituperative outbursts (usually stemming from his reaction to a world that he feels does not understand him), Gough goes from zero-sixty in the span of a nanosecond. To see him erupt at his wife in the Black Zoo is to make the Martha-George exchanges in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf look like a waltz in the country. To see him try to force his affections on an unwilling coed in Konga, or better yet when he shrieks to his overgrown creation, “KONGA! PUT ME DOWN, YOU FOOL!” to witness a kind of theatrical magic seldom seen elsewhere. On a few occasions when I’ve acted, certain friends will say I remind them a little of Michael Gough. I say with no trace of irony that the sentiment is greatly appreciated. Mr. Gough, you will be missed.
When Bobby Long released his debut album ‘A Winter Tale’ I don’t think many people expected it to be this good. The 24 year old from West England will remind his listeners of an early Bob Dylan. Bobby generated popularity after writing the song ‘Let It Sign’ for friend and actor Rob Pattison to perform in the twilight film. Long has continued to produce musical gold and has captured the true essence of folk perfectly on his first album. He is one of the few artists that don’t get the recognition that they deserve.
Limitless, directed by Neil Burger, is an action drama with a sci-fi kernel lurking within its taut storyline. Handsome, blue-eyed Bradley Cooper stars as Eddie Spinola, an aspiring novelist suffering from writer’s block who is two steps away from becoming a homeless loser. His life and career turns around after he chances upon a top-secret drug that grants him super human mental capabilities. Next thing you know, our hero is Icarus striving to reach the sun. Eddie’s insatiable greed for power, fame and attention fuels his quest for glory, but is his fall inevitable?
Artist: Jessie J Album: Who Are You Location: London
Jessie J exceeds expectations with her debut album ‘Who You Are’. Mixing a blend of pop, urban and soul into one album obviously paid off as it earned her the number two spot on the UK album charts on its release. She shows that she is not just another pop singer, but a talented singer capable of a wide range of vocals.
There is one genuinely funny bit in Hall Pass–a married supporting character fantasizes what his life would be like if his wife gave him a “hall pass” (a coansequence-free week off from marriage and his scenario is a quick homage to Double Indemnity/Blood Simple, replete with illicit passion, murder, witnesses and a backyard which soon becomes a graveyard. It’s fast, clever and hilarious. Alas, it comes about 95 minutes into the movie– long after the main conflicts have been resolved and immediately after a title card flashes “Directed by the Farrelly Bros.” The rest of Hall Pass reeks of both laziness and desperation.
Artist: Skepta Album: Doin' It Again Location: London
Skepta, who is arguably one of the most influential MC’s on the grime scene, has come back hard with his third studio album “Doin’ It Again’.
The CD was released on Boy Better Know Records, which Skepta is a co-founder of along side grime artist and brother JME. Before its official release four singles from the album were available, all of which made there way into the UK top 40.
London's 02 Arena was packed with celebrities and fans alike (although the tickets were a hefty price of around $140), for the Brit Awards, 2011. Host, James Corden, was at times a bumbling presenter who seemed to be out of his depth on this occasion, often appearing nervous and his timing left a lot to be desired.
Cee Lo Green was on form when he performed Forget You but let's not forget the part where he nearly went head first into the audience after he tripped on (and actually ripped) the dress of Paloma Faith. But all in all it was an entertaining evening with no great surprises, other than that one.