Previous Joints

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Dads and Robots: Reel Steel

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.

                           Real Bear

Friday, 15 November 2013

Alternative: Marshall Mathers LP 2

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.

                               Chocolate Slim

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Calendar Girls is golden

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?

So, if you haven't already, give Calendar Girls a try, even if you consider yourself to be a gangster of Dr Dre proportions. I have a feeling that this film may surprise you.   

      Dame Chocolate

Friday, 1 November 2013

In defense of Katie's Rachel

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.

                                           Chocolate Dawes