Wednesday, 20 November 2013
Never judge a film by it's trailer - that is exactly what I did with Real Steel and I nearly missed out on what is a moving, funny and heart-warming film. Damn it, this film made me cry and that is probably the biggest compliment I can give it.
At it's heart Real Steel is a father and son flick and in that lies a hint to why it affected me so much. What makes this film so interesting is the story of Charlie Kenton (Wolverine) and his estranged 11 year old son Max Kenton (Dakota Goyo, a better Jake Lloyd... you know, the kid from the Star Wars: Episode 1) which is at times very difficult to watch.
Max is a washed up ex-boxer who controls fighting robots - and he is very bad at it. For the first hour or so, we watch his robots get destroyed and Max take advantage of the little good will that he has left from people who care about him. Even when his ex-baby mama dies, Max is only interested in his son because of the potential financial gain. I'll tell you what, Hugh Jackman is a very good actor because in lesser hands his character would stray too far into dick territory and lose the audience. With that said Jackman is charismatic and the transformation he experiences throughout this film is believable and surprisingly subtle.
The trailer sells this film as a happier family version of Transformers and like Mr Bay's creation, I didn't expect it to have much of a story - so to watch this almost unvarnished story of a father that initially doesn't care for his son and only sees him as a means to an end was oddly refreshing. The film is a little over 2 hours and throughout that time the two are piecing together their relationship until you get to the inevitable happy ending. And that happy ending has been earned, I felt like I have been put in the ring with one of these robots.
For the little boy in me, it was pretty cool watching robots beat each other up in a context that doesn't involve the end of the world. The robot fighting was an after thought for me when the film finished, not because the visuals were bad or I found the fight scenes boring - it was simply because the film really wasn't about the bots for me.
This film was a huge surprise, It made me all warm and fuzzy and, the kicker, it made me miss my dad. It made me think of all the arguments we had and all the shit I used to bitch about - it also made me realise how lucky I was that he was there to listen to me bitch. It made me think about how I never told my dad that I loved him and by the end of this film I realised what a huge mistake that was and how I may regret it for the rest of my life.
But yeh, very good film.
Friday, 15 November 2013
I believe that Eminem is the best rapper alive and the second greatest rapper of all time (rest in peace Notorious BIG). That is just my opinion and people have the right to differ.
But I was nervous about Marshall Mather LP 2. I thought it was a mistake to name the album after one of his three classic records (the other two being Slim Shady LP and Relapse. Again, my opinion). MMLP was generational defining – it was the soundtrack of my teenage years. I was angry, sensitive, stupid and irrational as a kid and it was amazing to hear all of these traits reflected back at me – from a white boy no less.
For me, the only sour point to Em’s catalogue is Recovery. It was that record, not Relapse, where he sounded unsure of himself. He sounded too forced, uncomfortable and importantly devoid of humour. Humour is the one ingredient that people overlook when it comes to hip-hop, it is a vital piece of the cog. Notorious BIG had it in spades, so does Redman and so did Eminem but he lost it in Recovery. I hated the pop-hooks and the constant screaming verses.
So, yes, I was scared that I would be disappointed when it came to finally listening to MMLP2. Berserk dampened a lot of my fears but as soon as I heard the Ri-Ri assisted The Monster, I started to worry again.
Although I pre-ordered the album, I also illegally downloaded it when it leaked a couple days before it’s 5th November release date. What I heard surprised me and says a lot about Eminem’s place among today’s rap elite.
First things first, this album is not as good or close to being as good as the first Marshall Mathers LP. Surprised, right?
A big reason for this is the lack of Dr Dre anywhere on this album. I don’t know if Eminem thinks that Dre beats no longer cut it in hip-hop but the musical foundation the good Doctor provided him in Relapse says very different. In fact, it was the illusion of Dre that provided one of the highlights on this new album – Brainless sounds like a Dr Dre beat, with its running piano lines and smacking drum beat. It was great to hear.
Another mark against the album is the number of choruses that are sung by pop artists. Don’t get me wrong, the choruses are not as bad as the ones on Recovery, but they did leave me a little disappointed. It kept the album from feeling more ‘hard-core’ than it could have. For instance, Legacy could have been a great song but the chorus makes it almost unlistenable.
The biggest mistake on this album is the song Stronger than I was. It is a terrible, terrible, terrible song. Just terrible. I have played this album for a little over a week and not once have I managed to listen to this song all the way through. Eminem cannot sing, his whole career tells you as much and yes he has gotten away with it in the past but this was a step too far. I discovered that there was a rap verse on this song through agreat video review by the fellas over at Dead End Hip Hop and it is sensational but it still doesn’t save that song. It is just bad. So bad.
Given the little time I have had with MMLP 2, I am reluctant to make any absolute judgements about it. I thought Recovery was the best thing since The Eminem Show and I ended up growing out of love with it to the point where I regarded to be a lesser album that Encore. But what I will say is this I felt more at ease with this Eminem album than I did with his last three offerings.
If you're not a fan of Eminem, you will not like this album. If you are a fan of one element of the Eminem ethos, you still may not like this album. But if you’ve been a fan since ‘My name is’ and you appreciate the different elements to his character and how he has evolved as an MC, the likelihood is that you will love this album. There is some wacky Slim Shady LP shit on here (So much better, Brainless), some Marshall Mathers joints (Bad Guy) and some songs which will have your jaw on the floor (Rap God).
Importantly, this album sounds fresh and makes you feel like Eminem is breaking new ground as an MC and a lot of credit has to go to Rick Rubin and his (ironically) nostalgia inducing beats. I loved Rhyme or Reason from the moment I heard it – the beat is unlike anything I've heard Eminem rap on which made it so refreshing. The same can be said for Love Game, which I believe should have been the first single for this album. Kendrick Lemar holds his own on the song until Eminem shows why he is truly one of the greatest with his second verse.
But the highlight from the Rick Rubin joints for me is So Far, a truly unique Eminem song. This is a song that grew on me with every listen – again, it is unlike any other Eminem track that I have heard and the whitest hip-hop track to come out of Dr Dre’s camp since… well, White Trash Party, I suppose. What makes the song interesting is not the way the beat switches up but the way Eminem tells a story about an aging successful hip-hop star who, like all parents, struggle with new technology and pop-culture. Jay-Z tried to do the same thing with a track off of his much maligned comeback album, Kingdom Come – it didn’t work. So Far is a very mature and self-aware hip-hop track which many are overlooking.
This new mature outlook is more prevalent on the track Headlights. Again, if you have been an Eminem fan from the start you will understand why this track is important, emotional and shocking. Shit, I mean just listen to the first song from the previous Marshall Mathers LP. It also illustrates why Eminem is one of the best rappers working today – I don’t think as audience members we deserved or needed to hear this very personal song, but he put it out anyway.
Marshall Mathers LP 2 surprised me by being better than I expected it to be. It isn’t a very consistent album, the feel of the album is very erratic and the lows of the album sometime reach ground floor. I am also very uncomfortable with how comfortable I was with the homophobic and sexist lyrics on this album – I just carried on nodding away to the beat.
But at its best, some songs on this album rival anything Eminem has ever released. His word play is still second to none ("maybe that’s why I’m so bananas, I appeal to all walks of life") and he still makes you laugh when you don’t want to ("I’ve got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one, she’s all 99 of em, I need a machine gun").
The album finds Eminem at a very interesting point in his life and he is very aware of this.It is clear that Eminem is not like many rappers doing their thing today - Em is embracing his evolution and his transformation into being an elder states-person of hip-hop
I want to finish by talking about Evil Twin. It is the greatest Eminem song of all damn time.
Just my opinion.
Sunday, 10 November 2013
I can’t even tell you how I got round to watching Calendar Girls, but I regret not watching it sooner. Pride and an inflated ego stopped me from watching one of the most charming, well-acted and heart-warming British films I have ever seen. I own Notting Hill for crying out loud but I never gave this much superior film the time of day. Shame on me.
Maybe one of the reasons why it took me so long to watch Calendar Girls is because I considered the film to be ‘too white’ and It is exactly that – I only saw one black face which funnily enough was the daughter of one of the Calendar women. There are themes and ideas in this film that transcend race and class and all that – family, love friendship, death and of course, sex, being key among them. What surprised me most, though, is the sophisticated way this film chooses to depict the said themes and how three dimensional all the characters are, even the smaller roles – this is not a simple film by any means.
Take Penelope Wilton’s character for example (known as Lady Crawley to most of us) – Ruth at first is a shy, very self-conscious about her body and mentally downtrodden thanks to her struggling marriage. She uses the calendar as a way to rekindle her husband’s interest in her but it doesn’t have the desired effect. Instead of the experience being the end of her, it transforms her into a white English Aretha Franklin-esc character full of self worth. I am doing her metamorphosis in the film a disservice but let me say that it takes a hell of an actress to pull the range of emotions Wilton displays in this film.
Wilton isn’t even the half of it – the whole damn cast is fantastic. This whole film could have been cringe worthy throughout, and I expected it be, but it wasn’t. It was funny – consistently funny and a lot of credit has to go to Mirren and Walters but, as I said, everyone plays their part. One thing though, where the hell was Dame Judi Dench?
Friday, 1 November 2013
I carry a small candle for Katie Holmes, a light that has been present since my teenage years. I was head-over-heels in love with Joey Porter and I remained that way until the end of Dawson’s Creek - no matter how many times she played best friend against best friend.
So with that in mind, I accept that I may hold a bias view when I discuss Holmes’ turn in Batman Begins. She has been described as the weak link in the movie, one of the worst casting decisions made by Nolan and describedcruelly as ‘terrible’ as Rachel Dawes. Hand on heart, I don’t see what others see in this movie, especially if I compare Holmes’ performance with that of Maggie Gyllenhaal’s.
The test for both actresses is whether you believe they are the long-time friend of Bruce Wayne and whether you buy their ‘destined to be together’ plot arch – Holmes does nothing that makes me question these points.
At a push, Holmes’ Dawes is more crudely written than Gyllenhaal’s – the speech she makes to Bruce after he admits to nearly killing Joe Chill is, well, unfortunate. You could also point to the hotel scene when she meets Bruce again after his time in self-imposed exile. These moments feel forced and I blame the words given to Holmes rather than her performance of those words.
I also can’t help feeling that a lot of the hate towards Holmes’ stems from who she was romantically linked with at the time. As I have said previously, audiences find it difficult to separate an actor’s personal life from their professional. Holmes did not give a barnstorming performance but neither did Jake’s sister and I have yet to read a review where Gyllenhaal has been lampooned.
(Sigh) I can feel my inner Holme’s flame burning as I write this. As I said at the beginning, I may be biased when it comes to this subject. I don’t know.
Sunday, 20 October 2013
I love the Christopher Nolan Batman films with all my soul – I truly believe each film is a classic. What Nolan did for the character is not easy – he made Batman, in the eyes of the mainstream audience, into a serious character. Previously, under different directorial regimes, I just couldn’t take character seriously.
But as well as all three films being wonderful, there are moments in the Nolan series that just make you remember why you love movies. Moments that force you to say “wow” and moments that conjure a chill at the back of your neck.
These are my favourite 10 moments in the Nolan Batman series.
Ten: Ras al Ghul reveal
I feel that Batman Begins gets a bad rap among fans and critics – I think it is a very good film that expertly lays the ground work for The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. There are moments in the film that are as good as any in the series.
I remember the first time I watched Begins and seeing Bruce Wayne’s birthday scene and being blown away. The tension from the whole film pretty much builds to this moment. You realise that the real big bad of the film was a bloke you thought was a good guy and probably dead – Liam Neeson’s Ras al Ghul. From this moment on, I knew this was a very different Batman story than those that came before.
Nine: The Lau Extraction
This scene is the best bad ass “Batman” moment in series. I love it because it brings home a point that Heath Ledger’s Joker mentions earlier in The Dark Knight, “Batman has no jurisdiction.” It is the clearest demonstration of why Batman is more important than the Gotham City Police.
It is also just very cool.
Eight: Do you feel in charge?
As I have said before on this blog, I am shit scared of Bane and you only have to watch the below scene to understand why. In a moment, with a light touch of the shoulder, the whole dynamic of the conversation between Bane and John Daggett (played by the bloody brilliant Ben Mandelsohn) changes – and it is shocking.
Seven: Ninja Batman
Something that people overlook about Batman is that he is supposed to be a fiercely intelligent individual that thinks on his feet – a detective if you will. That is best illustrated in the Ninja initiation scene in Batman Begins.
First off, Ninja’s are just bloody cool anyway, so this scene was always going to stick with me. But I love the way that in this one scene you see Bruce using all of the knowledge Ras has passed on to him (or the knowledge we have seen him pass). This is where you pretty much see the transformation – this is the birth of Batman.
Six: The Bane walk
You take the boss hostage and threaten his life in front of his people who are ebbing closer and closer towards you. So you fight them with the help of a bloke that dresses as a bat, but more men keep coming. Chief among those approaching you is a big bastard with his hands on the collar of his jacket.
Question: What do you do? My answer: Shit myself.
Five: Joker’s coward
The thing with me is that I keep forgetting how great Ledger’s performance was as the Joker. I try to downplay it because of the incredible hype it gets but when you watch The Dark Knight you realise what a remarkable performance it is. Truly jaw dropping.
One of my favourite moment is when he taunts a police officer into an altercation. It is the way that Ledger achieves being extremely threatening and funny at the same time.
I chuckle every time Ledger mouths “six” in this scene - I don't know why. And when he drops his “do you know why I use a knife speech” you realise what Ledger was doing in this film was not normal.
Four: Joker reveal
There is probably nothing I can say about this moment that hasn’t already been written. It is my third favourite introduction to a film behind The Godfather ("I believe in America") and The Lion King ("Circle of life"). It is already iconic and rightly so.
Every time someone argues with me that Nolan isn’t a technically gifted director, I mention this scene because it is nigh near perfect beginning to a wonderful film.
And yes for a third time in a row I choose a Joker moment – I left out so many.
I’m really not that bothered about the rest of this scene (which is awesome in its own right), it is just the “hi” moment that delights me. Again, it shows you the level of detail Ledger put into his performance.
Firstly, it’s funny and secondly, for that to be the first word you say to a man who you ruined is just sadistic.
Two: Darkness is Bane’s ally
Tom Hardy’s Bane is one of my favourite villains of all time and just surpasses the Joker. As I have said before, I find him trulyterrifying and is an evil that speaks to my generation.
The fight scene in the sewers between Bane and Batman encapsulates everything terrifying about the character – but it is his “darkness” speech that tips me over the edge every time. Terrifying.
One: Fire Engine
It is just funny.
I remember laughing out loud in the cinema when I saw this visual gag. The thing is, I wasn’t the only one laughing.
Again, it sharply shows two important elements to the Joker, his humour and sadistic nature. But somehow, his humour is the thing that shines through the most – at least for me it is. I really don’t know what that says about me as a human being.
And that is my lot.
Saturday, 19 October 2013
I’ve never pretended to be a comic book expert – I’m not – but thanks to the explosion of films which were inspired by the medium I have started to appreciate them a lot more.
It is all about storytelling and like TV and film, some of the best stories can be found at the grassroots level.
“Tales from a lonely planet” is a collection of stories by grassroots comic book writers and artists put together by Stu Perrins. Importantly, all proceeds from the anthology will go to Cancer Research UK.
It is the editor of the anthology that kicks off matters with his satirical strip “No such thing as bad press”. I must admit, the artwork of Nick Gonzo put me off at first but once I started to read the story his contribution became evident.
Gonzo adds a lot of charm to Perrins’ funny and sharp writing and by end of the story you want to read more about the adventures of Harvey Spig.
But it is the next strip, “Dogs” by Niall Doonan which is the stand out piece of the anthology. Inspired by the characters of Tarantino’s iconic debut film, it follows a hilarious conversation about one of the Dogs becoming a vegetarian. It is a little gem of a strip – it’s surreal, laugh out loud funny and also strangely familiar. The art work by Trystan Mitchell is just fantastic and adds even more quality to the strip.
Every story in ‘lonely planet’ is peppered generously with humour, but I also enjoyed how different the art in each story was. No story looks the same and this makes starting a new strip feel like a breath of fresh air. There will probably be some strips in this book that may not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s fine – that’s the point.
What this book demonstrates is just how unique comics are. There are ideas and little fables in this anthology that will stay with for a while (Blas Bigatti’s piece is just beautiful) and they show you that comics can be so much more than your Batmans or Supermans.
I loved “Tales from a lonely planet” and I applaud Mr Perrins for putting this together. Importantly, I can’t wait to see what these artists come up with next.