New Music Roundup – August 2013

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 6th August 2013.

On a recent trip to the States, I was disappointed to find that the record shop had become extinct. I wandered the shopping districts of NYC and Las Vegas, only to find that the major music retailers I remembered from previous visits had disappeared. Only the iconic Amoeba Music store in Los Angeles remained.

So for those of you who remember albums, here’s my rundown of the latest offerings.

The Pet Shop Boys have been producing their unique brand of synth pop for the past 22 years. Their twelfth studio album is entitled Electric and is a welcome return to the dance floor after the joyless creative failure of Elysium last year. Reminiscent of their Disco series of albums, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have rediscovered the right combination of beats per minute, catchy synth hooks and quirky lyrics to appeal to the Tony Manero is all of us. Electric is the first release through X 2 (“times two”), their own label.

Remember Lou Bega? In 1999, he hit the jackpot worldwide with Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…) and was subsequently never heard from again, thankfully. This week, his fifth studio album hit shelves and I’m predicting that next week, it will hit bargain bins. Entitled A Little Bit 80s, Bega gives his favourite songs from the decade without taste a little bit of the Mambo No. 5 treatment. That means dancehall style grooves and lots, and I mean lots, of synthesized brass hits. Unfortunately, Bega’s low vocal register means it is impossible to sing along with the tunes. Red Red Wine is not a complete disaster but best avoid his version of Olivia Newton-John’s Physical.

Hey, how good was Madonna’s last album? Nope, I have no idea either. Along with the rest of world, I didn’t buy it. For those interested in the other end of the Madonna timeline, an album of largely unreleased recordings has emerged under the title, The Early Years. I would suggest an alternative title: The Unlistenable Years. This collection of stodgy synthesizer tracks with avant garde German artist Otto Von Wernherr features Madonna vocals in the form of barely present samples accompanying a horribly augmented male singer. Imagine the vocal stylings from Taco’s Putting on the Ritz with Madonna on backing duties. Yep, it’s that bad.

Following a bizarre album and tour with New Kids on the Block, billed collectively as NKOTBSB, the Backstreet Boys return with a new album, In a World Like This. With Kevin Richardson back on board, the original line-up returns with a collection of inoffensive acoustic guitar riddled power ballads. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of hooks, making it one for the fans only. As crazy as it sounds, I’d recommend instead the also newly released offering from NKOTB (no longer new or kids) entitled 10.

Published in: on September 11, 2013 at 00:09  Leave a Comment  
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Film Reviews: Sydney Film Festival 2013 Day 1

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th June 2013.

Every June, cinephiles from all over Australia make their annual pilgrimage to Sydney in order to drink coffee, stand in queues, eat sandwiches and watch as many films as humanly possible. It’s time for the Sydney Film Festival. This year, due to time constraints, my scheduled involved seven films in two days, so find a seat in the general admission area, pop a No-Doz and enjoy these rapid fire reviews of my first day at SFF.

William and the Windmill is a doco about William Kamkwamba, a young man from Malawi, who built a windmill from junk to generate electricity for his family’s home. Championed by bloggers worldwide, Kamkwamba is thrust into the spotlight and soon becomes a celebrity and bestselling author. Now a student at the prestigious Dartmouth College, the film is a fascinating portrait of a man bridging two worlds, and whose native language does not have a word for stress.

Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill uncovers the disturbing truth behind the US Government’s covert operations in Dirty Wars. This documentary is slickly edited to resemble a blockbuster thriller and shows that nothing is sacred in the “war on terror”, not even innocent civilian lives, international borders or the assassination of US citizens. I left the screening feeling unsettled, which I am sure was the desired effect.

I really did not enjoy F@ck for Forest, a doco which follows a band of misguided free spirits in Berlin who produce and sell homemade porn to raise funds to save the rainforests. I must admit to having just a little chortle when the hippies arrive in the South American rainforests to find that the locals do not understand free love and have no interest in their money. Not for the faint hearted, this challenging piece made me realise that sometimes a cake stall isn’t enough.

A Hijacking is a taut Danish thriller about the ramifications at home and onboard when a cargo ship is taken for ransom by Somali pirates. Shot in a semi-documentary style on a ship that had actually been hijacked, it is hard not to empathise with both the crew and the company bosses as negotiations move painfully slowly and the days turn to weeks and then months. I’m sure an English language remake is just around the corner.

Legendary Australian photographer William Yang has been showing his work in a live theatre slideshow format since the eighties. I attended the world premiere of William Yang: My Generation, his tenth live show reimagined as a film. Yang lovingly relives his experiences as a social scene photographer amongst Sydney’s artistic elite. This film will screen on Sunday Arts Up Late on ABC1, Sunday June 16 at 10:25pm and comes highly recommended.

B Movie Buffet

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 16th April 2013.

Every so often I feel compelled to visit my local non-specific video store and take advantage of a special offer in order to bring you my B Movie Buffet. The popcorn is ready and the sneeze guard has been removed. Let me watch the dross so that you don’t have to.

First up in this cavalcade of clunkers is Silent Hill: Revelation 3D, a sequel to the 2006 original which was based on the Konami video game. Starring unknown Australian actress Adelaide Clemens, the film also features appearances from returning stars of the original, Sean Bean, Radha Mitchell and Deborah Kara Unger. Ah, the power of contractual obligation. The movie impressively adopts the nightmarish imagery of its source material. Abandoned hospitals, bizarre creatures, faceless scalpel wielding nurses…they’re all here. Just like the video game, the film also has no discernible plot whatsoever. The filmmakers really need to look up the meaning of “revelation” in the dictionary.

WWE Superstar Mike “The Miz” Mizanin stars as the third incarnation of the titular character in The Marine: Homefront, a direct-to-DVD entry in the franchise from WWE Studios. This reasonably new production company was established to showcase the acting talents of WWE wrestlers. Insert laughter here. In the prologue, the film explains that US marines are trained to deal with any situation. After watching this unintentionally hilarious film, this obviously includes saving your sister from terrorists embarking on the dumbest scheme ever with flaws and assumptions big enough to drive a tank through.

Next up on the conveyer belt of cheese is Red Dawn. A remake of the 1984 original which starred the late Patrick Swayze, this teen action flick was actually made in 2009 but delayed due to MGM’s financial problems. Prior to the film’s release last year, the remake’s villains were changed from a Chinese invading force to North Korean. There’s a lot of money to be made at the box office in China compared to North Korea, you see. Aussies Chris Hemsworth and Isabel Lucas lead up the Wolverines, a rebel fighting force formed by some good looking teens who manage to escape the initial invasion. In a ridiculous training montage, Hemsworth transforms the rag tag group into a tight military unit in a single day. Plot holes abound. How do the North Korean soldiers parachute into Spokane and then suddenly have tanks and jeeps? How do the Wolverines infiltrate the city to carry out their missions when everyone else appears to be locked down? Why do I care? My verdict: Tomorrow When the Bore Began.

Last up is the pick of the litter, although that’s not saying much. Here Comes the Boom stars Kevin James of The King of Queens fame. He plays a biology teacher who becomes an MMA fighter in order to raise funds to save his school’s music program, run by The Fonz. There are a few laughs to be had, and I must admit to rather enjoy seeing James, an incredibly annoying comic, get punched and kicked in the head. A predictable ending leaves a saccharine taste in the mouth, and it’s no surprise that this lightweight sports comedy comes from Happy Madison Productions, Adam Sandler’s production company.

Being John Malkovich 2: Being Lara Bingle

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 10th July 2012.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the sequel to the Spike Jonze comedy Being John Malkovich. It finally premiered on TV a few weeks ago but so far I’m not impressed. Being Lara Bingle has none of the indie charm of the original and I’m still waiting for Josh, Sharon or Hermonie to find the portal that leads literally into Lara’s head. I guess when that happens we’ll finally find out if one can breathe in a vacuum.

100 Movies in 5 Months

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th May 2012.

This past week I passed an important milestone. Sure, I celebrated my 24th birthday for the second time in my life. More importantly, I watched my 100th film for the year. Not bad for five months. Notice that I use the word “watched” rather than “enjoyed”. As a lover of cinema and a budding filmmaker, I believe that there is something to be gained from every film experience, even if it is learning what not to do. For every cinematic treasure, there are quite a few trashy clunkers. Here are three of my highest rated films (all 9 out of 10 in my books).

I really dislike 3D movies at the cinema. I find the picture too dark and have a hard time following the action. However, I love my 3D TV. The backlit LCD is easy on the eyes and I don’t have to pay extra for the glasses. Two of my top five are 3D documentaries that don’t use the extra dimension as a gimmick and are well worth hunting down.

TT3D: Closer to the Edge follows the riders who put their lives at risk to compete in the notorious Isle of Man TT motorcycle race. More than 200 riders have died since the inception of this race, all on public roads. In 2010, director Richard de Aragues filmed the trials and tribulations of leading entrants Guy Martin and Ian Hutchison. I have no interest in any motor sports (I drive a hybrid) but I was absolutely gripped by the nail biting race footage where every corner might be your last. This documentary cleverly lets the riders speak naturally rather than be interviewed and by the end, you can almost understand what drives these men (and women) to compete. Almost.

Werner Herzog is one of my favourite directors. Whether tackling fact (Grizzly Man) or fiction (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans), Herzog loves the idea of man versus nature and infuses all of his work with just a touch of crazy. Cave of Forgotten Dreams focuses on the discovery of the Chauvet Cave in France. Untouched since they were sealed by a landslide 25 000 years ago, the caves contain prehistoric paintings and fossils. The delicate nature of the artefacts means that people are rarely allowed to enter the caves and Herzog’s cinematic exploration may be the only way to see them. The 3D is breathtaking and the director’s trademark Bavarian accented musings and narration is unforgettable.

Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive is a gritty and violent crime thriller that deserved more attention than it received on release last year. Starring leading man on the rise Ryan Gosling as a stuntman who moonlights a getaway driver, Drive features an eighties inspired soundtrack and a remarkable supporting cast featuring Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman. The hardly original storyline of a disciplined criminal who breaks his own rules for a woman is freshened up with a tight script and expert cinematic craftsmanship from the cast and director. Not for the faint hearted, Drive will convince you that Gosling deserves his place on the A list and Winding Refn as the director to watch.

Rounding out my highest rated films are Hugo, The Hunger Games, Melancholia, The Hunter and Singin’ in the Rain.

Next week I’ll review my lowest rated films. Film 101 is already on the list and I’m on track to reach my goal of 200 movies for 2012.

My list is viewable online at http://www.imdb.com/list/e2oIoohE9ZM/

Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 09:55  Leave a Comment  
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My Razzies Diary 2012

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 17th January 2012.

The awards season kicked off with the Golden Globes yesterday, however, the most important ceremony is yet to come. Every year, on the night before the Oscars, the Golden Raspberry Awards are announced to celebrate the worst in cinema. As a member of the Golden Raspberry Foundation, I take my responsibilities berry seriously. At the moment, members are deciding the nominees for the final ballot. Having wisely avoided most of the past year’s dross, I needed to watch a dud a night this week to make an informed decision. This is my Razzie diary

Monday Tonight’s delight is Just Go with It starring Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston. I really want to like Adam Sandler but I’m constantly disappointed by his work. In 1995 I took my university friends kicking and screaming to the cinema to see Billy Madison, but they ended up loving the film. I guess his comedy schtick was fresh then. It certainly isn’t now. My test for deciding whether a comedy I’ve just watched is a dud is to watch the gag real. If the bloopers make me laugh more than the movie itself, it’s rubbish. Just Go with It is certified rubbish. There’s no chemistry between the leads and I’m not entirely sure what Nicole Kidman is doing here in a supporting role. I guess we all have bills to pay.

Tuesday Season of the Witch should be billed as part three of Nicholas Cage’s alimony trilogy, along with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and Drive Angry. It’s like he has chosen a terrible hairstyle and decided to wear it for three films in a row…any three films. Remember how great he was in Leaving Las Vegas? It’s been downhill ever since. Ron Pearlman, playing an almost identical role to his one in Conan the Barbarian, is probably the best thing in this disaster. He plays a disillusioned Crusader knight, alongside Cage, who decides to take an accused witch to a monastery in order to stop the Black Plague. As you do.

Wednesday I can’t believe that Ivan Reitman directed both Ghostbusters and No Strings Attached.  This so-so romantic comedy stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Kutcher isn’t nearly as terrible as his annoying character in New Year’s Eve (my pick for Worst Film). There’s a sense of smugness in all of his performances which I dislike. Oscar winners seem to choose lighter projects after their triumphs to prove their versatility. I prefer Natalie Portman in dramatic roles. As proven here and in the Star Wars prequel trilogy she should avoid comedies.

Thursday Arthur is a remake of the classic eighties comedy which originally featured Dudley Moore. In the title role this time is Russell Brand. I like Brand in supporting roles because I think a little of his comedy style goes a long way. I’m not entirely sure if he is acting or playing himself. No wonder Katy Perry left him. The best part of this film is Helen Mirren as Arthur’s nanny, Hobson. She has a gravitas that will overcome any crappy script, including this one. My girlfriend says she would happily watch this film again. I wouldn’t, but it certainly isn’t from the bottom of the barrel. Arthur passes my blooper test. The film itself is funnier than the gag reel.

Friday I can’t take anymore of this and go to the cinema to watch The Muppets instead.

The Year in Film: 2011’s Best

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday  27th December 2011.

In my annual wrap up of the year in cinema, we’ve so far waded through the stinkers and underrated gems that disgraced and graced the silver screen. After much deliberation (at least five minutes), it’s now time to announce my best films of 2011. Drum roll please.

3. Captain America: The First Avenger In the final lead up to The Avengers, the ultimate Marvel superhero team up, this year saw the release of Kenneth Branagh’s Thor and the far superior Captain America. Directed by Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III), this action adventure got the mix just right. A likeable hero (Chris Evans) and a charismatic baddie (Hugo Weaving channelling Werner Herzog), combined with some amazing special effects to render Evans as a pre-transformation weakling, plus a not too complicated storyline all made for an enjoyable ride. The setting of the film in World War 2 gave the flick some real stakes too. The final five minutes of the film were essentially an ad for the next film but I was having so much fun to care. The 3D effects were OK too.

2. Rise of the Planet of the Apes “Rotpota”, as it has become known, was really the little film that could this year. Dismissed pre-release as another unnecessary remake, à la Footloose, this reboot of the original sci-fi classic franchise was a taut thriller that features the best motion capture performance so far. Starring as the CGI chimpanzee Caesar, Andy Serkis was a revelation and brought true gravitas to what was essentially a bunch of pixels. He truly deserves a much touted Oscar nomination, the first for such a performance. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, this is a seamless blend of live action and CGI.

1. Super 8 J.J. Abrams’ homage to the eighties films of Steven Spielberg was simply magical. A throwback to a time when movies for children were allowed to be scary, this was The Goonies, Gremlins and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial all rolled into one. Abrams managed to elicit the most natural child actor performances from stars Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning since Henry Thomas left a trail of Reece’s Pieces to attract a certain alien. All of the Spielberg hallmarks were present: the single parent family, the military and the monster wanting to find its way home. In one hundred and twelve superb minutes, Abrams manages to encapsulate the wonder of childhood.

My notable mentions for this year are: Thor, Bridesmaids, Fast Five and X-Men: First Class.

2011 also saw the release of twenty eight sequels (that’s right, twenty eight). It shows that in the current financial climate, the major studios are not prepared to bet on original ideas when there are less risky properties and franchises to build upon.

2012 is already looking interesting with The Adventures of Tintin, Warhorse, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Muppets on the schedule in the first weeks of January. Have a great cinematic 2012!

Bargain Bin Blu-Ray Reviews

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th October 2011.

With the price of blu-ray discs coming down, there are now some great deals which bring the price of high definition discs in line with their standard definition DVD counterparts. One particular local non-specific music and movies store even has a special of 3 blu-rays for $40. This proved rather hard for me to resist so today I took the opportunity to purchase some movies which were not particularly well reviewed but I had some interest in, as well as an old favourite that I couldn’t wait to see in high def. So without any further ado, here are the reviews of my 3 for $40 marathon.

The Exorcist is regarded as the scariest movie of all time, and I must say that pea soup vomit in high definition does not disappoint. I never got the chance to see it during its original theatrical run, being minus two years old at the time, but it still packs a mighty punch. Even if you have no particular religious beliefs regarding demonic possession or exorcism, it is practically impossible to not get sucked into the spooky tale of young Regan McNeil and the events which transpire when her body becomes the temporary home for the evil spirit Pazuzu, as often happens.

This blu-ray edition features the 2000 released, “Version You’ve Never Seen”, which includes the infamous originally deleted but now restored spider walk sequence, where twelve year old Regan, played convincingly by Linda Blair, walks down the stairs on her hands and feet, backwards and upside down. I caught this version on the big screen at the time and believe me, it will send shivers down your spine.

The bonus features include some very interesting documentaries on the making of the film, plus an informative commentary from the director, William Friedkin. Unfortunately, the 2008 BBC documentary, The Fear of God: The Making of “The Exorcist” is nowhere to be found. A must-see for any fan of classic cinema, don’t watch it alone, or without extra underwear on hand.

Machete spun from a spoof trailer added to the 2007 Grindhouse double feature from directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Unfortunately, Australian distributors did not think that audiences would sit though two horror / exploitation flicks in a row, complete with fake coming soon trailers, and the films were released separately, bombing badly at the box office.

Starring ex-con turned actor Danny Trejo in his first leading role, Machete also boasts an all-star lineup of top shelf Hollywood actors such as Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez, as well as has-been acts including Don Johnson, Steven Seagal and Lindsay Lohan.

A violent, bloody celebration of B-grade seventies drive-in fare, the film is great fun, especially if you enjoy the work of director Rodriguez, who co-directs with Ethan Maniquis. If you’ve ever wanted to see Bob De Niro hamming it up alongside renowned thespian Seagal, then Machete should be on your bargain bin list. Don’t expect much from the extra features. There are a few deleted scenes and a pointless audience reaction sound track.

Faster stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Driver. Yep, no name, just Driver. To up the acting quotient, Billy Bob Thornton also stars as Cop. Hmm, perhaps they should have renamed the film, Movie.

The problem with Faster is that they’ve taken Johnson, one of the most charismatic Hollywood stars to emerge in recent years, and removed any sense of humour or fun from the film. An action packed revenge thriller, it takes itself way too seriously and made me want the film to end…faster.

For a few dollars more than the price of one new blu-ray release, I got one classic, one rewatchable spoof and one humourless dud, which translates into two keepers and one pretty coaster. Not bad for forty bucks, really.

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 05:22  Leave a Comment  
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A Year In Film 2010

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14th December 2010.

With the end of the year looming and it becoming very clear that my crazy Christmas schedule will not allow me to see the inside of a cinema before Boxing Day, here are my top five films of 2010. I haven’t frequented the flicks as regularly during this past twelve months compared to previous years so I have also listed what I think will be the critics’ top five picks, the majority of which I haven’t seen, but hope to, eventually.

My top five

5. Daybreakers – Directed by the talented brothers Peter and Michael Spierig from Brisbane, this clever Australian flick turns the vampire mythology upside down by creating a world populated by the undead with humans being the endangered food source. Featuring international stars Willem Dafoe and Ethan Hawke, with local actors Sam Neill and Claudia Karvan, this is a vamptastic sci-fi horror. The feature length making of documentary included on the blu-ray is fascinating.

4. Piranha 3D – Forget your lush alien planets and their blue skinned residents, this is exactly what 3D cinema should be about. It was crass, bloody and deliberately badly acted, and I loved it. A hoard of hungry, primeval flesh eating fish get unleashed upon a lake full of nubile teens celebrating spring break. Ok, so it’s not Shakespeare but you’ll laugh and scream as various body parts jump out of the screen at you.

3. Kick-Ass – Based on the Mark Millar comic book, this smart action comedy directed by Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake and Stardust) subverts the standard super hero movie genre and shows that actions have real consequences. Starring Nicholas Cage hilariously channelling Adam West’s Batman and featuring a breakout performance by Chloe Grace Moretz, don’t be distracted by the controversy regarding the use of a certain sensitive word, Kick-Ass is exactly what it says on the tin.

2. Toy Story 3 – The perfect farewell to some very well loved characters. Pixar continue their unbroken run of beautiful, near perfect pictures that somehow manage to reach out to the child in all of us. Released theatrically in 3D, nothing is lost in the two dimensional version now available on DVD and blu-ray. I may have shed a tear at the end but I’ll deny it if you ask me.

1.5 Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – Alright, so I can’t count. From the director of Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead, Edgar Wright, comes the strangest romantic action comedy of the year. Scott Pilgrim, played by Michael Cera, who hopefully has gone to the wimpish nerd character well for the last time, must fight off the seven evil ex-lovers of the beautiful Romona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) in order to win her heart. A flop at the cinemas, this is destined to be discovered on DVD and will soon be regarded as a classic.

1. Animal Kingdom: Wow, a home grown film as my number one. This Aussie crime drama will devastate you. With outstanding performances by Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce and newcomer James Frecheville, this is Jacki Weaver’s movie. Her portrayal of the matriarch of a crime family is stunning. I know that Australia has gotten a bit of a reputation for producing depressing drug and crime dramas lately but you simply must see Animal Kingdom.

My predictions for the critics’ top five

5. Let Me In

4. The Social Network

3. Toy Story 3

2. The King’s Speech

1.5 Sex and the City 2 (just kidding)

1. Inception