Saturday, November 22, 2008

Indiana Jones & the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Sequels: Love 'em or hate 'em?

I have just finished taking a quick squiz at some of the customer 'reviews' about this movie (On and I can only come to one conclusion. Sometimes we can get far too bloody precious about movies! Its shouldn't be a surprise to tell you that we'll have certain preemptive perceptions before we actually see the damn thing!

With certain types of genres & movies, we have general expectations of what we think we will see. Certain genres follow strict (Hey, I am generalizing here-bear with me!) guidelines on the individual crucial aspects that make a genre film what it is. A good example is "Brick" (From 2006; director-Rian Johnson). Although, it is a 'Noir' type film, it plays around with the purported genre very successfully. And I'm going off-track here, so back to Jonesy & Co...

And thus we come to Indy 4. For the record, I loved it. It entertained me from start to finish. I didn't look at my watch once, or drift off thinking about mundane things like what to have for dinner, etc, etc! Is it not the job of a movie to - at the very least, either entertain or maybe, educate you? Generally speaking that's what most movie directors are aiming for. To entertain the audience for the length of the movie. Nothing more, nothing less. Its a noble ideal that most directors aspire to. For me, its been so long since the last one (1989) that my initial expectations were set fairly low. I mean we already had suffered the immense disappointments of the underwhelming Star Wars prequels, so it was a kinda nervous anticipation with this movie.
Thankfully, my reservations were misguided. It is just as good as the other three. If I remember correctly before Lucas & Spielberg started on "Raiders of the Lost Ark", their intention was to pay homage to the rip-roaring action movies that had enthralled them in their teenage years.
So they weren't aiming for high art, just damn good entertainment. On that level alone, they've succeeded very well.

The story sees Indy dragged into yet another all too familiar scenario: Bad guys want him for his knowledge of certain things & his expertise in tracking them down. This time the bad guys are the Russians, led by the very sexy with her black bob haircut Irina Spalko-played with style by the always more than watchable Cate Blanchett. In fact, maybe this would be one of the sexiest roles she has done thus far in her stellar career (More Cate, please !!!) Also early in view is a new sidekick, George 'Mac' McHale, played with a boozy Oliver Reed-ish charm by the charismatic Ray Winstone. Mac immediately makes his intentions clear to Indy by selling him out to the Russian's. After escaping from the Russkie's, Indy inadvertently wanders into a picture postcard perfect American town. Then a warning sounds, announcing a countdown. Bugger! it would be a nuclear test that is imminent. Where does he go for shelter? Hmmm, the result is both funny as hell-and completely over the top! Would love to see this one on MythBusters. With Indy now having motivation to do something about his current events, they introduce the new heir to his throne, Shia LeBeouf as "Mutt" Williams. His entrance is my only real quibble-and that's because its such a rip-off of an iconic actor (& his character) in an classic movie. You movie fan's will spot it in a heartbeat. But, hey, once I got over myself about this blatant act, I could sit back and enjoy his performance. Sure, not the best role the youngster has ever done, but it is early days in his career. Then, we get on the plane and journey to far-off lands to search for mythical treasures, rekindle relationships (a wild-eyed John Hurt is always amusing), fight plenty of bad guys ( plus one sexy girl-did I mention that previously?), fight them damn natives and oh, what Indy movie wouldn't be complete without some supernatural type element thrown in for good measure.

You can, if you really try, and imagine how this movie pans out. Will Indy live to have another adventure before the iconic fedora gets hung permanently on a post somewhere in the future?

Its Hollywood.

Movie magic can happen anytime. The only thing that really dictates in that town is the minor detail of just what number of zero's is the right number next time.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Secret Machines: Secret Machines (3rd album)

I'll start this review with a dirty little four letter word.

PROG !!!

Now, ease back gently & let me elaborate somewhat...

The aforementioned word is not really dirty-except amongst snobby music critics & unadventurous listeners who can't handle tunes that run longer than 5 minutes-or feature unconventional arrangements or time signatures. Why this is relevant is due to something that is totally inescapable: This minor masterpiece just reeks of Prog! Everything about this album features typical prog type influences that are so damn obvious to my own unique musical radar.

So, here's my track by track analysis.

1) "Atomic Heals" This slow burning opener starts out with beefy drums, squawly guitars reverberating metronomically whilst Brandon Curtis wails away about losing his heels.
2) "Last believer, drop dead" A more simplistic repetitive drum pattern anchors this mid tempo tune, with a great combo of guitar effects/chords soaring off into some imagined space.
3) "Have I run out" Starting with supple cymbal splashes, this is another slow burner which kicks into gear at the 1.35 mark, the rhythm picking up a few notches, aided by 2 contrasting guitar lines. Would probably be a monster live in concert. Again, Josh Garza's drumming is first rate. And filled out with powerhouse bombastic synth work (Prog!). First track past the 7 min mark (7.40 to be exact...)
4) "Underneath the concrete" A more urgent up-tempo muscular tune, driven by those pounding, repetitive drums. (If you don't have a great rhythm section in a band, your not really gonna be able to scale the heights of rock 'n roll!). Not my most favorite track, but it will grow on me eventually.
5) "Now your gone" This ballad starts out with the usual machines slow burning intro, then hey, surprise! kicks up a gear or 2 at-you guessed it-the ubiquitous 1.30 mark. But it absolutely comes alive at this point, with a searing lead guitar line, and Brandon's passionate vocal propelling this stunner into the stratosphere.
6) "The Walls are starting to crack" Again, another slow starting ballad which-guess what? yep, your on the money! that bloody 1.30 mark, again...However the true prog influences really kick in at the 4 min point with a scorching synth blast, dynamic lead/melody guitars, some guest backing vocalists wailing away for a short while, before fading out ever so quietly.
7) "I never thought to ask" Easily, this is, A) my favourite track & B) THE most "Proggy" of all these tracks. Beautiful chiming acoustic guitar, spooky/spacey keyboards, soaring reverb drenched vocal, all add up to create one of their most gorgeous atmospheric track's recorded thus far. Reminds me very much of something that an Italian/European group would have recorded in the late 60's/early 70's!
8) "The fire is Waiting" A pulsating, grinding and totally overblown symphonic masterpiece that is just dazzling! Very much a companion piece to the previous track. In fact, this proves just how crucial track sequencing is in trying to make a recording flow and sound as though there's a sort of logical order. Perfect ending to a great record. (And it's the longest track as well, clocking in at very respectable 11 minutes plus!).

This is the 3rd album from this Brooklyn based Group, and the first minus one of the Curtis brothers (Benjamin-who left in March 2007). Any fears that this might have had a destabilizing effect, were thankfully, unfounded. Perhaps freed from constraints & expectations, the revamped line-up (newbie guitarist Phil Karnats) produce easily their most progressive-and dare I say it-best album yet.

Already looking forward to the next one...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Burn after reading

Plot: A couple of Coen Idiots find what they think is the keys to a kingdom of their future-Supposed C.I.A documents that might be worth a buck or breast augmentation or 2 by holding the author to ransom. Bad move-Oz Cox is not a happy man upon this unforeseen development-which started with his cheating bitch wife. Then Harry Pfarrer gets involved and things really start to go outta control !!!


This is easily one of my most conflicted reviews thus far. I am, for the record, a HUGE Coen brothers fan. Their movies are always totally unique. No-one else really comes close to making the kind of movies they do. Its always hard to nail just exactly what are the key reasons why their films are so different, but maybe one clue is their treatment of characters. What they do, how they act in any certain situation, how they look, dress-hell, even hairstyles are eventful in the Coenverse (my shorthand for Coen universe!), the characters are always totally compelling.

So, obviously, coming off the back of one THE most critically acclaimed movies of the last year (The brutally savage "No country for old men"), expectations were not unreasonably high given the tantalizing array of talent on offer. A veritable coenesque mix of the old (Clooney/Mcdormand/J.K Simmons) and the very effective new (Malkovich/Pitt/Swinton) seemed to be a damn near perfect acting ensemble that couldn't really fail... A concept involving spies, cheaters, losers, dickheads, idiots, foreigners & other sundry character types that olny appear in the Coenverse, how the hell could this puppy be anything other than completely loveable? Hmmm and hmmm.... Perhaps, I should jump to how i feel about this now. Again, for the record-I NOW LOVE THIS MOVIE!!! So, what has happened inbetween to make me see the 'error' of my ways? Time is probably the biggest factor. Certain movies, like certain songs or books (or name your own thing!) benefit from the passage of time. Think about movies like "BladeRunner", "2001" "Casablanca" or albums like...(bugger me-i just cant recall at this point in time an example of a massively popular album which was critically reviled at the initial release, but I digress..) Anyways, like a good bottle of wine which gets better after ageing, some movies don't totally convince upon first appearances, but the more you look back, after a time, the better they reveal their undeniable genius to us properly. Burn after reading falls into this type of category because its not an undisputed masterpiece like "Fargo" or "No Country", but it slowly but surely works its charms on you as most Coen films do. Cmon, and admit this to yourself- Ladykillers & Intolerable Cruelty are more than worthy! Sometimes the best way to judge a filmmakers career is by the number of perceived 'failures' that they have over the course of time. No-one is infallible, everyone is capable of making a turd burger or 2. Its the type of turd that defines your legacy to a certain degree.

So here's my selective highlights of this minor-key gem!

Brad Pitt is CHAD! Absolutely effen brilliant !!! Note to Mr Pitt ( whose career & acting I really like) PLAY MORE IDIOTS IN THE FUTURE! SUITS YOU WELL, MATE!!!

Gorgeous George Clooney. Rounding out the last of (in his own words) "Trilogy of Idiots" for the Coens (O Brother/Intolerable/Burn) in fine style, even though I did really wonder about the basement invention. My jury's still out on that particular detail. Liked the fuzz as well George!

The brilliant scenes between Oz's superior (David Rasche-"Sledgehammer" TV Cop show from 90's) and his laconic superior, the always watchable J.K Simmons. The two of them are great on their own, but together-truly Coenesque !!!

The scenes at the Russian embassy. Only the Coens can do that kinda stuff and get away with it!

The closet scene. Didn't see it coming. (You'll understand after you've watched the movie)

The Malkovich. One of his best roles ever. The rage was exciting to watch being unbottled & unleashed to all and sundry!

If your a true Coenesque fan, you'll learn to love this movie in due course. Everybody else can ignore all the hype & criticism and just enjoy the movie on its own terms. It is funny...