Category Archives: review

The Bawdies (with The Happy Endings): East Brunswick Club, 5 December 2008

The BawdiesI promised to start blogging again after the end of exams, but it hasn’t really worked out, has it? I mean, I’ve written three posts since then. Hopefully, the blogging lethargy will wear off soon, and to that end here is another post.

Last Friday, I went with some friends, who had just returned from the Queenscliff Music Festival, to the East Brunswick Club. We went to see The Bawdies, a Japanese rock band they had seen at the festival. The band was co-touring with The Basics and supported by The Happy Endings, both local acts. 

Firstly, The Happy Endings were very good. I always appreciate decent support acts because I never go to gigs expecting much from or knowing much about them, so when they are good, it comes as a pleasant bonus. I also picked up that some of their songs sounded very similar to other artists, among them Foo Fighters, The Killers and Jet— although whether the band was influenced by these artists or if it were just coincidence or over-analysis on my part is debatable (not that anybody would really care to debate it…).

The Bawdies were absolutely fantastic. Their music was unpretentious, simple, old school rock’n’roll. They looked like a Japanese version of The Beatles and their enthusiasm and joy gushed out of them (as did a fair amount of perspiration, given the fact they were clad in suits and ties). Although their music was not groundbreaking (many of their songs were 12 bar blues or followed progressions such as 1-6-2-5), they certainly did not lack instrumental skill (evidenced in Jim’s brilliant guitar playing) and delivered greatly as performers, entertaining the audience and really getting them pumped.

dsc01065Definitely my favourite of The Bawdies (and not to imply that the other members weren’t great!) was Jim, whose massive toothy grin and childlike, ecstatic manner was very entertaining; as was his showmanship, which included energetic guitar solos combined with the appropriate “rock god” posturing or kneeling into the adoring crowd, his floppy hair flapping around. 

All in all, they were very enjoyable to listen to and although I would recommend checking out their songs on last.fm and their Myspace page, the entire power of their performance only comes across live. Before seeing them, I had listened to some of their songs online and liked them, but it was only when I saw them live that I was blown away.

They were also very fun to talk to after the show, as I talked to them while I obtained their autographs on my souvenir poster. It turned out that most of them knew about as much English as I did Japanese, which made for an amusing exchange of what little I remember of that language– gems such as “どうぞよろしく” (“pleased to meet you”), “子の音楽はとても楽しいです” (“This music is very fun!”) and “ボーヂーズが大すきいです” (“I love The Bawdies”). However, they were very friendly and only too happy to oblige when asked for a photograph (which I will upload when Cheryl puts them on!!!)

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay to see The Basics but was informed they were nothing special. Apologies to that band if they in fact were, however it was a very fun night indeed.  I will be sure to see The Bawdies again next time they’re in Melbourne (barring a death in the family, namely my own). 4.5 stars.

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RocknRolla

I went to see RocknRolla yesterday with fairly low expectations, which were partly fulfilled and partly exceeded. Though on the whole, I found the movie unsatisfying, it was stylish and pleasing to the eye; and had just enough humourous moments to keep me from nodding off altogether.

The biggest problem with the film is its beginning, which was overly loaded with exposition and took about as long to get started as a bomby car in a horror movie. Probably the entire first half hour of the film was devoted to tediously introducing the various characters one by one, without much of interest occurring at all.

The second problem was the plot, which, though conceivably attractive in synopsis, didn’t really go anywhere. Too much seemed to be going on, but not in a good way (if I may put it that simply). There were many threads to the storyline, all interacting, but because this was poorly executed, the result was lacklustre and at times confusing. The plot centres around a deal between a shady London mobster and a Roman Abramovich clone (down to the football stadium); and the involvement of other criminals, junkies and miscellaneous ne’er-do-wells with the deal and the criminal underworld, united by a McGuffin in the form of the Russian businessman’s “lucky painting”.

Though this may sound good in concept, it was poorly translated to a film of just under two hours (but one which seemed a lot longer). Though a great fan of multi-thread storylines which demand the complete attention of the viewer (i.e. Pulp Fiction, 21 Grams), this particular one could not pique my interest and thus, for me, failed with respect to its plot. This could perhaps be excused if the characters were interesting or developed in some creative fashion, but unfortunately, this aspect of the film was also lacking. Though the film featured a large and varied cast of characters, they remained through its duration rather one-dimensional and uncompelling. In addition, the dialogue was often unconvincing or pretentious.

One redeeming feature of the film was its visual appeal, being gritty and stylized. At least this aspect of directing was carried out well, with a variety of colourful settings, decent cinematography and stylish costumes. Another positive was the humour throughout the film, which was, admittedly, quite funny and well-done (less amusing was the raucous laughter of the person of indeterminate gender about rows in front of me). Particularly funny was the slow-dance scene and the seemingly invincible Russian thugs.

However, for a film primarily about violent gangsters and with an MA rating (in Australia, R in America), there seemed to be a conspicuously low level of violence and mostly concentrated in the latter half of the film, as if inserted as an afterthought. Perhaps it was my fault for expecting more action in the film, but I felt that a touch more excitement would engaged the viewers more, given the lack of engaging characters and compelling storyline. This grievance of mine is perhaps best summarised by critic David Stratton, who says:

“Scenes of violence are downplayed in ROCKNROLLA, which may disappoint Ritchie fans. The trouble is that nothing all that interesting replaces them”

One particularly (for me) cringeworthy aspect of the film was the awful Russian accents of some of the actors, which detracted from the appeal of their characters. In addition, the subtitling of the Russian dialogue sometimes seemed quite bizarre, as in one scene where one character said “I don’t like her” in Russian, but the subtitles read “Hand me my gloves”.

All in all, RocknRolla was not a terrible film. It was not even a completely boring film, but nonetheless it was less than satisfying. Its undeniable visual appeal did not make up for what was an essentially confusing and flat storyline. It seemed as though the director brainstormed as many interesting ideas for a film of the gangster genre as possible and then failed in putting them into a successful and coherent whole. Perhaps one main reason for my largely negative response to it was its first half, which actually had me wishing for the film’s conclusion. However, the second half was more interesting, and the humour and wit were well-done. Despite a good deal of “cool”, some quite enjoyable scenes and a decent soundtrack, my overall impression of the film was lukewarm. 3 stars.

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Children of Men

Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men.” Psalm 90:3

A truly fascinating film, Children of Men is an unusual spin on the dystopian genre: mirroring the Nativity story in “a world without children’s voices”. The year is 2027 and the world has gone to shit: for a mysterious and inexplicable reason, the world’s women have become barren and no child has been born for over eighteen years. Unlike in many other films, there is no single apocalyptic event that threatens mankind; there is only the more frightening prospect of extinction by infertility: the world is to end, as T. S. Eliot might say “not with a bang, but a whimper”.

But the movie itself opens with a bang. The protagonist, Theo, witnesses a terrorist bombing following a news report detailing the stabbing of the world’s youngest person, the last person to be born. There is very little exposition of the setting in which the film is placed but for some news reports:

[first lines
Newsreader: Day 1,000 of the Siege of Seattle. 
Newsreader: The Muslim community demands an end to the Army’s occupation of mosques. 
Newsreader: The Homeland Security bill is ratified. After eight years, British borders will remain closed. The deportation of illegal immigrants will continue. Good morning. Our lead story. 

Later, another news report shows the state of the rest of the world and the collapse of (apparently) all other societies. As a result, millions of refugees have flooded Britain, which has become a police state. For me, one of the best things about Children of Men is that there is a refreshingly small amount of exposition. Nothing of the world situation or the reasons behind the infertility is revealed, unlike in other movies in which the viewers are given a priviliged position, told information that the movie’s characters do not know. I feel this enables the viewer a greater deal of connection and empathy with the characters. Director Alfonso Cuarón says in an interview with the Seattle Times:

“There’s a kind of cinema I detest, which is a cinema that is about exposition and explanations. Cinema has become now a medium — well a lot of mainstream, and even indie sometimes — it’s become now what I call a medium for lazy readers. It’s illustrated stories. You can close your eyes and you can follow the movie. What’s the point of seeing the movie? Cinema is a hostage of narrative. And I’m very good at narrative as a hostage of cinema.”

The film centres on Theo’s journey to get the first pregnant woman in eighteen years, a refugee named Kee, to safety, facing danger both from the government and the activist movement intending to use her baby for political reasons. The journey takes them to a refugee ghetto reminiscent of Schindler’s List and into a firefight which freezes at the sound of the baby’s cry. Without giving the ending away, it is possible to say that, consistent with the rest of the film, it departs from mainstream film and does not have a definitive ending which gives the audience closure. Instead, Cuarón says that he “wanted the end to be a glimpse of a possibility of hope, for the audience to invest their own sense of hope into that ending”.

The theme of hope is developed along with the parallels to the Nativity story: Theo as the protector (but not father) escorting the mother and the child for which the world is waiting on a perilous journey. This mystical religious sense is highlighted by contributions to the soundtrack by Eastern Orthodox composer John Taverner. In addition, the film contains several elements of social criticism: including depiction of extreme anti-immigrant sentiments, human rights abuse, totalitarian government. The use of newsreel footage is particularly effective, as it draws parallels with contemporary society and acts as a warning: referencing detention camps such as Guantanamo, the War on Terror, the PATRIOT Act, etc… The round-up of the refugees is reminiscent of Nazi images (such as Schindler’s List mentioned before) but the idea of allowing the government to take such radical measures in response to crises resonates with a post 9/11 audience: “It shows what people can become when the government orchestrates their fears for its own advantage” says commentator Richard Blake.

The visual aspects of the film are particularly appealing: namely its lengthy single-shot sequences. One apparently single-shot scene goes for over seven minutes and is set in the middle of a fierce urban battle. Although it seems like a single shot, scenes like these were actually filmed in several parts and stitched together using CGI. However, they are still extraordinarily effective, and according to the director, notoriously difficult to film. The visuals are wonderful and the decision not to make the future terribly futuristic makes the film look not too much different from our own world. Another visual aspect is the pervading bleakness throughout the film’s urban settings, originally in East London and then in the refugees’ ghetto. Here, as in the other visual aspects, special effects were used and to much greater effect than they normally are. Whereas most action films use special effects as a technological crutch, often as a trick to distract the audience from a lacklustre plot, Children of Men utilizes them excellently, in a way that it is not obvious they are being used at all. Colin Covert of Star Tribune says: “In most sci-fi epics, special effects substitute for story. Here they seamlessly advance it”.

Children of Men is a most effective film, combining an refreshingly unconventional approach to the dystopian futurist genre with themes of both social criticism and hope. Plot, acting, cinematography and soundtrack are all excellent. A compelling and emotionally powerful film. 4.5 stars.

An effective unofficial video synopsis of the film, with Muse‘s “Apocalypse Please“:

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Siren

Easily my favourite Roxy Music album, Siren contains so many fantastic songs. There are other albums that I love to bits yet are not so consistent. Yet with Siren, all but very few songs are excellent. With the possible exception of End of the Line, I never skip its songs if they come up on Shuffle.

Although, being a member of the iTunes generation, I rarely listen to albums straight and always play tracks on Shuffle from a large (1000 tracks or more) playlist, I really enjoy listening to Siren straight. Take Shuffle off, play Love is the Drug and don’t stop until Just Another High (well, unless there’s something really pressing!). The album just works so well as a coherent and continuing whole (although I am often tempted to repeat tracks).

Definitely my favourite song on the album would be She Sells. There are not many songs that I know of that grab the listener in the first picosecond and actually continue into a song (rather than a jingle). For me, the piano intro is just the best thing there is and the short bursts of syncopation in the verse is powerfully driving. The double-time towards the end also works, although the fade-out at the end of the song is a tad unsatisfying considering its powerful beginning.

The next favourite is Sentimental Fool, which begins a bit like something by The Mars Volta. A lengthy (about two and a half minutes!) introduction leads into silky smooth, almost dreamy vocals. The middle of the song is nice but nothing fantastic; however, the last bit (from spooky piano bit on) is hypnotic, mesmerizing. The ending is a bit of a suprise and terminates while you’re waiting for a bit more. But hey! That’s what the next song, Whirlwind is for (provided you are listening to the album– one of the main reasons this is more satisfying than Shuffle).

I could go on about every song, but I’d rather not, because then I’d never get to sleep (and only a masochist would read it all anyway). Readers please note just because I haven’t detailed each song on the album, it doesn’t mean they’re not as good. I just don’t feel I could say as much about them. It suffices to say that Siren is a very good album (have I said that before?). In short, Bryan Ferry‘s voice and music is fantastic, all the songs on the album are favourites of mine (apart from End of the Line, which I consider nothing special)– they are both interesting musically and have a good feel. I think that’s important; because you can have music that is “interesting” from a theoretical viewpoint, but they don’t “feel good”. Ferry hits the note (literally and figuratively) with the songs on Siren. 5 Stars.

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Viva La Vida

I find it hard to form an opinion on Viva La Vida, Coldplay‘s fourth album. On the one hand, some of the songs were catchy and it was good enough to listen to; but it somehow felt unsatisfying, forgettable almost. It is certainly a step up from X&Y (their third album), but not as good or memorable as A Rush of Blood to the Head (their second album). 

I feel that Coldplay‘s desire to make music that will reach more people: the review from Spin commends Viva La Vida as “an album meant to connect with the masses”. But then again, they gave the album four and a half stars, where as Rolling Stone gave it three and a half: an assessment I’m more inclined to agree with.

And it’s not as if the band is “stagnating” or anything. They have moved in another musical direction (and certainly a positive one from X&Y!), which may be interesting theoretically; but what does that matter when the music doesn’t excite you? I’m almost inclined to compare it to the direction Muse took with Black Holes and Revelations, in that both albums were intended to reach a wider (some may say more main-stream audience); but that would be unfair to Muse in that Black Holes was a pretty good album and unfair to Coldplay in that they did move in a positive direction.

Probably the most catchy song on the album is Violet Hill (which was the first single released), but the song is by no means an excellent song destined to be considered a classic down the track. Its simple chord structure and driving rhythms make it something you’ll get stuck in your head and certainly a song that would be good live; but certainly not a song to make you go “wow”.

Other good songs on the album are 42, which is reminiscent of A Rush of Blood with its soft piano, ostinato chords and simple elegance; moving to a fuller sound and then effectively returning; as well as Yes, which has a quite interesting Middle Eastern sound and works well as a song as a whole (unlike several other songs on this album).

On the other hand, most of the other songs don’t really work for me. Cemetaries of London sounds a bit like something by Eskimo Joe and Lost! makes me think of Arcade Fire (keep in mind, both of those bands bore me to tears). Lovers in Japan sounds like something from a Sony ad but otherwise not terribly exciting; Strawberry Swing and Death and All His Friends don’t do it at all for me: completely forgettable, non-songs. 

On the whole, Viva La Vida is not a bad album. If I heard one of its songs on the radio, I wouldn’t change the station. While certainly better than than the tedium of X&Y, it doesn’t quite reach A Rush of Blood to the Head and is certainly not an album that I listen to a lot or would recommend to friends. While the Internet joke “Coldplay? I thought all their fans died years ago!” is a tad unfair, I wasn’t altogether pleased with the album as a whole. Luckily, the few songs I do like salvage the album to a respectable degree and with it, my opinion of Coldplay. 3 Stars.

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Jumper

I thought I may as well include negative reviews along with the positive reviews on this blog, just to give a bit of balance and perspective. Because if you mention what isn’t so good, that which is good seems better. It’s all relative, really.

Easily the most ridiculous movie I’ve seen for ages (with the exception of movies that go out of their way to be ridiculous, such as the Scary Movie franchise), Jumper is the story of a guy who discovers that he has the ability to “jump” through space, to teleport. After running away from his deadbeat dad and sleepy town to New York, David makes a living by getting through doors without having to open them.

However, things go wrong when his carefree life of disobeying various physical and federal laws is interrupted by the arrival of a strangely-clad Samuel L Jackson, who belongs to some secretive religious order that holds a grudge against teleporters (suddenly, fanatical religious assassins seem all the rage…). In short, the film goes: bad guy goes after good guy, good guy is too quick, bad guy is temporarily foiled, good guy gets a girlfriend, bad guy goes after the girlfriend, yadda yadda yadda, his estranged mother is part of said religious order (WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?!)

I can’t even be bothered explaining the plot, which is absolutely ridiculous. The main redeeming feature of the film (“redeeming” as in I didn’t give it zero stars) are the special effects, which seem to be the main premise of the film. The biggest appeal of the film is the visual aspect: that the character can teleport from New York to Cairo to London to Rome, etc…, but the special effects upon which the movie is primarily based get boring after a while: after all, we’ve seen them in other films that actually had a plotline.

The film tries to be more exciting by bringing in the whole idea of the religious order going against these “jumpers”, but that is never developed; neither, unfortunately, are the characters. The action in the film is good enough and one scene involving some dangerous car driving/teleporting in the streets of Tokyo is probably the most interesting scene in the film, but the ending is a massive anti-climax (you’d think in a ridiculous action flick, you could at least get the ending right!) which attempts some sort of moral vindication of the protagonist. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t want him to be a “goodie” but to kick the bad guy’s ass!

The consensus review on Rotten Tomatoes is pretty much spot-on: “Featuring uninvolving characters and loose narrative, Jumper is an erratic action pic with little coherence and lackluster special effects”. 16% of critics gave it a thumbs up and their average rating was 4/10. I’ll have to agree with that. 2 stars.

Trailer for the film:

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Lost Highway

Another Lynch film, I know. But I saw it for the first time last night and wanted to blog about it while it was still fresh in my memory. I’ll review a non-Lynch film one day, I promise…The film is sort of a spiritual predecessor to Mulholland Drive, and opens in a similar style- driving along a highway (see left) with a very effective and mood-setting soundtrack (the song in this case being David Bowie‘s I’m Deranged. In fact, the entire soundtrack (as with all Lynch films I’ve seen to date) works very well, the likes of Rammstein adding to the nightmarish freakishness of much of the film. 

Having seen Mulholland Drive first, I could see how the ideas, motifs and structure of that film were a continuation of Lost Highway, could see how his style involved. However, the latter (made in 1997), though by all means a fascinating and original film, is by no means as sophisticated and complex as the former (made in 2001). Similar motifs in both films include the use of dark corridors and corners to heighten tension- as you cannot see what is lurking around the corner!, psychological breakdown and repression, relationship breakdowns; as well as common visual motifs such as Mulholland Drive (the highway) and in fact the same type of telephone is used in both films. The films also follow a similar structure: what Slavoj Žižek calls a “bipartite structure”, creating a contradictory storyline that can be very confusing. Without giving too much away, halfway or so through the film, everything changes and it no longer makes sense (at least, in the literal sense). In both films, the action of the film (can be interpreted to) represent(s) the psyche of the protagonists, in terms of dreams or hallucinations. An interesting comparison of both films can be found here

The film begins with protagonist Fred Madison being told the cryptic words “Dick Laurent is dead” by an unseen visitor at the intercom. This directly ties into the end of the film (a satisfying full-circle at the ending, complete with a rehash of the opening credits and Bowie), but I won’t tell you how, because that would spoil all the fun! Another example of the postmodern nature of the film is the intense focus upon the inner character, his psychological state– mostly twisted and pathological. As in Mulholland Drive, the development of the protagonist is shown in the action of play; and the surreal, contradictory plot reflects the breakdown of the character’s psyche. The use of the device known as “unreliable narrator” means that we experience the events of the film through the protagonist’s phenomenological field, not from the objective, privileged perspective we are accustomed to.

In fact, it just occurred to me that this focus on the character and the inner (in Lynch’s case, SICK!) self is the polar opposite of Greek drama. This talk of characterisation affecting plot reminded me of the time we studied EuripidesMedea in Literature class and an essay I wrote on that, with reference to Aristotle’s seminal work Poetics, in which he states that characterisation is secondary to plot and significant insofar as it affects the latter. I found this really interesting, especially considering the way the medium of the fiction affects the story’s focus and the way it is told. For Euripides and other Greek dramatists, their plays were acted out in large auditoriums where the actors could not be seen closely and often wore masks (to make obvious their “mood”) and large gloves (to help accentuate gestures). In this setting, it would only be natural that the playwright would not be able to manipulate very many factors in the presentation of the play, so language and plot would be of utmost importance to communicate the message of the play. On the other hand, the medium of film, especially with special effects and the use of cinematography to influence the way the viewer responds to the film, gives the director an incredible level of control over the way the story is told and enables a complex exploration of characters and their psyches. (I’m well aware this paragraph is clumsy, but I’m tired and can’t be bothered making it more coherent- as long as you get the point that the postmodern focus on characterisation is the polar opposite of the prime importance of plot in ancient Greek drama).

A word of warning: Lost Highway is rated R18+ (in Australia) and features both quite a bit of sex (heterosexual this time) and a high level of violence. Otherwise, though not as good as Mulholland Drive (in my opinon), it is still very good and excellent to watch to see how Lynch’s filmmaking has evolved. Thrilling, suspenceful and completely bizarre throughout, Lost Highway is another fascinating piece of insanity from the twisted mind of David Lynch (again, I do promise to talk about a non-Lynch film one day…). 4 stars.

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