Archive for January, 2011


Roid Rage

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article on my recent foray into the wonderful world of Polaroid photography for design and art culture blog, ‘Hard Up, Hungover & the Bastard Landlord‘. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

“This was the idea of my friend and fellow Norwich College alumni, Joey Dean, who asked me to write an article for this fine blog. I dug the idea primarily because back in college, the guy was a couple of years ahead of me in terms of cool stuff. See, being an immature, Photoshop filter reliant 16 year-old, I couldn’t quite understand what he saw in stuff like film photography. I mean, why would you want off-colours, not-quite-in-focus images and the inconvenience of not being able to see your shot right away? That shit is the past, it’s out-dated.

It wasn’t until my second year of university that the humble beauty of the stuff he had shown me really sunk in. It took quite a while for me to really ‘see’ what he, and the other millions of designers and photographers had been seeing for ages. It ain’t just photographs either, pretty much anything in our industry from times-gone-by excites me now like faux metal tutorials did back in college. Old book covers especially, which I have featured on my own blog quite heavily, have such a fantastic charm, a soul even, that I feel like I started seeing them with a different set of eyes.”

If you like, check out the whole article here.

Advertisements

My Favourite Movies of 2010

Now for the second part of my ‘Best of 2010‘ posts with what was originally going to be my top 10 films of last year. But what quickly became clear as I re-read my original reviews and compiled my list, was that I wouldn’t be able to cram all the ones I wanted to mention into just 10, and I also think it’s somewhat redundant comparing such diverse genres.

I’m pretty late to the party with this compared to movie critics and bloggers, but then those guys generally have alot more time to see the flicks as they are released, while I have had to play catch-up over the last month. This is also by no means a comprehensive best of the year as far as every release goes, as I generally only watch movies I think I’ll enjoy, so you’ll forgive me for not checking out the likes of Little Fockers or Gulliver’s Travels, because we all knew they’d be shite, I’d just be telling you what you already know but slightly angrier at wasting my time with such dross. I also don’t necessarily think that every film below is a masterpiece, or even ‘good’, depending on how you define it. These are films I enjoyed the hell out of regardless, that connected with me, and that I think deserve to be recognised for doing so.

Let’s kick off with the titles that would have to be omitted from an official top 10 because they’re technically 2009 releases. Even in today’s age of online piracy and streaming it takes films far too long to cross the oceans. As a film geek it’s unfortunate to live in the UK, as we often get stuff months or even years later than our American friends (especially the more niche movies, of which I am usually part of the audience.

(Technically) 2009:

Extract
Dir: Mike Judge
Starring: Jason Bateman, Mila Kunis, Ben Affleck.

What I Said at the Time: “A witty and down to earth comedy, with relatable characters and sharp dialogue, Judge does it again. The  cast here is fantastic (particularly Bateman and Affleck), and there are some truly great moments. One of the years best.”

As soon as I heard Beavis and Butthead creator Mike Judge was working on another film I was stoked. Hell, they could have announced he was making a feature-length episode of Glee and I’d want to see it. This is because Judge is the man  behind one of my favourite movies ever, the cult classic Office Space. I fucking love that film with every ounce of my being. I don’t think there’s a film that has connected with me as much as Office Space, and while his last flick (2006’s Idiocracy) was pretty good, I was quite disappointed. Extract however, is a fantastic, morose, relatable, down-to-earth flick that I really loved. It ain’t no Office Space, but then I don’t think it should be. It’s a slightly more mature film, but it has a similarly bleak and sarcastic smile on its face. The characters feel so real, largely due to Judge’s script, but Jason Bateman really makes it work. I’m sure the character of Joel was written with him in mind, because he just nails it. Honest, good-natured but fed-up and stuck in a rut, I think most guys can associate, he’s just a great character to spend a film with. The supporting cast are all pretty solid too, but Ben Affleck‘s pothead Dean steals every scene he’s in. I’ve always been a fan of (and often have to defend) Affleck, and he’s wonderful here, this is the guy we only really get to see in Kevin Smith movies. I can’t wait to re-watch Extract, and while it sadly won’t be to everybody’s tastes (Little Fockers made $134 million in the U.S. alone), this was my favourite original comedy of the year.

 

A Town Called Panic
Dir: Stphane Aubier & Vincent Patar
Starring: Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar, Bruce Ellison.

What I Said at the Time: “Silly, charming, insane and just so god-damn wonderful, I strongly urge everyone to see this. The style may not be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s refreshing to see something different, and it looks BEAUTIFUL. Seriously, watch this movie.”

I couldn’t agree with myself more. ‘God-damn wonderful’ describes A Town Called Panic to a tee. If any film of the last few years deserved a wider release, this was it. I’d never heard of the film or its creators until I read Capone‘s (spot-on) review on Ain’t it Cool News right at the start of the year. He called it a “…joyous work of pure brilliance.” so I checked out the trailer… “This. Looks. Awesome.” I thought to myself way back in January, and gradually over the year it got pushed to the back of my mind thanks it taking an eternity to reach the U.K. It was only about a couple of months ago I got to finally see it, and it is everything Capone said it was. It’s a completely bonkers yet immensely charming film. It looks great and makes a lovely change from the increasingly boring CG kids fare (though I did rather enjoy How to Train Your Dragon). I urge everyone to try and see this, because if you’re anything like me, you’ll fall in love with it.

 

Black Dynamite
Dir: Scott Sanders
Starring: Michael Jai White, Nicole Ari Parker, Byron Minns.

What I Said at the Time: “A criminally overlooked and under-seen movie, Black Dynamite is a perfectly crafted homage / parody of 70s blaxploitation. Extremely funny, well written and so much god damn good fun. I loved every minute.”

I only really discovered Blaxsploitation last year. Sure I knew it existed and I could see the style in alot of Tarantino’s flicks, but I never actually saw any of them until 2010.  Black Dynamite really does capture the spirit and feel of those classic, low-budget movies perfectly. It even looks like it was made back then. The style is spot on and sits alongside other old school throwbacks like Grindhouse and Machete as being both a wonderful homage and awesome movie in it’s own right. The care and detail the makers went to to re-create the look of flicks like Coffy and Black Samurai is astounding. The music, the editing, the colours, it’s all there, and exaggerated just the right amount. Michael Jai White and everyone else involved (and there are some notable names, such as Cedric Yarbrough, Nicole Sullivan and Bokeem Woodbine) are clearly having a blast sending up the flicks they almost certainly grew up with. White’s portrayal of the titular ‘Black Dynamite’ is inch-perfect, he’s a wise-talking, kung-fu fighting muthafucka, and with line’s like “Freeze you jive turkeys!” what’s not to love? He also wrote the script, which is sharp and hilariously funny. If this came out over here in 2010 it would be at the number 1 spot on my list (that is, if I had one). I have since shown this to friends who haven’t seen a Blaxsploitation flick in their lives and they found it just as funny as I did, so it works as it’s own film too. Another reason why Black Dynamite is the single greatest piece of awesome I’ve seen on my screen in years.

 

Action, Horror & Sci-Fi:

The Crazies
Dir: Breck Eisner
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Radha Mitchell, Joe Anderson

What I Said at the Time: “Man it’s just so great to see a horror flick that doesn’t cater to teenagers or cop out in some shape or form. Eisner clearly knows what’s he’s doing, with good actors, unflinching violence, and just a better understanding of what makes a decent horror flick, The Crazies is a very cool film.”

Most ‘Best of the Year’ lists are filled with dramas and Oscar-fodder, which I think is somewhat unfair as many great titles like The Crazies get forgotten about. Each year we get a slew of unnecessary remakes and dumb horror films that cater to the masses, so when somebody has the cojones to make a clever, smart horror film and succeeds as Breck Eisner did, they should be applauded. Now, The Crazies isn’t exactly Inception. It ain’t smart in the conventional sense, you don’t need a college to degree to figure it out, there are no complicated sub-plots or anything like that. It’s smart movie-making. Eisner and the producers know how to make an engaging, entertaining and thrilling film. It’s highly enjoyable, thanks to it’s slick style and on-the-level presentation. Like I said, no complicated multi-stranded story, just a group of people trying to survive when the world goes to shit. They have chosen great actors too, adult actors, which is even more unusual when you look at how the teen market is clearly the target audience for horror movies. This film and the next entry proved to me that there are directors out there that actually have a passion for the genre and know how to get it right. I wish more people in the industry focused on the basic principle of making a good movie, before making something marketable for teenagers or something everyone remembers from the ’80s. The Crazies was the only decent remake of last year (unless you count Bad Lieutenant and True Grit, which I don’t), much like Zack Snyder‘s Dawn of the Dead, they managed to make something interesting, completely entertaining and more than worthy of carrying the title of the original.

 

The Horde
Dir: Yannick Dahan & Benjamin Rocher
Starring: Jean-Pierre Martins, Eriq Ebouaney, Claude Perron.

What I Said at the Time: “A well directed, modern action / horror. Proving there are still good zombie movies waiting to be made if done correctly. This ain’t exactly ‘The Shining’, but it’s immensely entertaining and delivers on adrenalin, gore and gunshots.”

I had never heard of this French zombie flick until a guy at work asked me about it on the week of it’s release. Working in a supermarket I often see award-winning titles like Transmorphers and Flood grace the DVD shelves at Tesco. You see, absolute shite like that isn’t worth a theatrical release, but they still cost money to make, and with straight-to-DVD they can exploit the average Joe who’s simply too dumb to release that beneath the exclamation pointed taglines (NOT review quotes) and shiny cover there is in fact, a film not worth the disc it’s burned on. So when I had a butchers and saw The Horde on the shelf, I was a little reserved to say the least. Almost immediately I realised it was French, which was intriguing, as foreign films don’t often get decent releases over here, let along bad foreign films, so being a huge fan of zombies since I was a kid, I was interested. After a quick search online and reading some of the festival feedback I had to give it a go. Boy am I glad that guy at Tesco asked me about this, as The Horde (in much the same way as The Crazies) is a rock-solid, well-made and thoroughly entertaining action horror film. It tells the story of a group of police officers who kinda go rogue and decide to attack the gangsters responsible for killing their comrade. The gangsters are held up in a wonderfully dingy apartment complex and both parties are armed to the hilt. Just as things get real, bam! Fucking zombie apocalypse happens! I love how straight forward Dahan and Rocher make it, there isn’t even much backstory to the characters, the film starts right as the cops are about to enter the building, and it’s just flat-out from there. There’s no foreboding shot of a random stranger staggering in the shadows, or a glimpse of the news reporting some strange accident, it just happens smack bang in the middle of what would otherwise be a crime / action thriller.

What I liked even more was the characters react fairly realistically when people start coming back to life and attacking them. If there’s one thing that pisses me off about zombies flicks, is that the characters within them always seem to occupy a world where zombies flicks don’t exist. The first time they encounter someone infected there’s the stereotypical “Oh my god! What’s wrong?! Sir…. are you okay? Shit, this guy looks sick, are you alrig……AAARGH! HE BIT ME! WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING?!” Of course all the time we as the audience are shouting at the screen to just shoot the guy already. But not in The Horde. Nope, when a guy the characters clearly killed gets back up moments later with blood dripping from his mouth, his skin and face all messed up, they take aim and machine gun the motherfucker. They even know to aim for the head. I was sitting there watching this, and thought to myself “Well it’s about time! Thank God, someone finally gets it.” and by that I mean the film-makers as well as the characters. As soon as that happened, I knew I dug the shit out this flick.

The pacing flows quickly, and there’s alot of really great action and gore. The group of survivors who must band together in order to get the hell out of the building are all well acted and the supporting characters are two-dimensional in a good way. This is why it randomly showed up on the shelves at Tesco one week, someone thought here’s a flick that deserves to be seen, and it truly does. If you’re a horror fan check this out at the next opportunity, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

 

Devil
Dir: John Erick Dowdle
Starring: Chris Messina, Bokeem Woodbine, Jenny O’Hara.

What I Said at the Time: “Not for everyone I guess, but I found this supernatural Hitchcockian flick really quite entertaining. I dug the small scale and the performances are pretty decent too. Not amazing, but a good, solid flick nonetheless.”

From the Mind of M. Night Shyamalan’… The important thing to remember about this, is that this is ‘From the Mind Of’, and not FROM the director of The Last Airbender and The Crappening. I’d like to think this was just another cool, creepy film idea M. Night jotted down on the back of a cigarette packet and sold to Universal in order to make enough money to post-convert Airbender to 3D. He may even have thought of it back when he made ‘good’ films. All I know for sure is this does kinda fit in with the chilling likes of The Sixth Sense and The Village, and it’s a really solid movie. It isn’t amazing, but it is very decent, and it sucked me in almost from that first scene. The simple concept is executed really well, and it actually benefits from not having any massively famous stars in. I thoroughly enjoyed Devil when I first saw it, but since then, now that I’ve looked back on the largely low quality and forgettable-ness of most horror films that have come out, it deserves to be applauded. Director John Erick Dowdle amps up the tension, with a really sleek and eerie atmosphere. Even though it’s set it daytime, the weather’s over-cast, the colours are worn out and something evil is definitely going on. Every time we see Chris Messina‘s detective and the security guards looking at the CCTV footage it’s absolutely brilliant. I don’t like to try and out think a film, so I honestly didn’t know where we would end up until probably the last third, which is more than enough as far as I’m concerned. In my original review I used the word ‘Hitchcockian’, and I still believe that’s very apt for Devil. It’s the kind of multiple-character driven, all the pieces slowly coming together type of movie that I could quite see Hitch making back in the day. And if that isn’t enough to make you check it out, you probably won’t like it that much anyways.

 

Legion
Dir: Scott Charles Stewart
Starring: Paul Bettany, Lucas Black, Dennis Quaid.

What I Said at the Time: “Cheesy, predictable, and AWESOME. While not quite the epic actioner this could have been, it’s pretty close. Pissed off angels with machine guns? Fuck. Yes. This is the sort of stupid action flick I loved as a kid. Totally implausible, but violent, intense, atmospheric and whole lot of fun.”

Easily the most controversial title in this list, Scott Charles Stewart‘s Legion definitely has more haters than fans. Boasting an impressive 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, I know exactly why most people didn’t like it. You see, Legion, a film in which God decides it’s time to wipe out humanity again, this time with demonic-looking angels and features Paul Bettany as archangel Michael, fighting on our side with semi-automatic machine guns is….. wait for it……. DUUUUUUUUUUUUMB! Who could have predicted this film would be stupid? I bet anyone who went in expecting The Ninth Gate was pretty pissed. And you know what? Good.

Now I’m not going to turn around and say those who say the script is lazy and the plot is thread-bare are wrong. Because, well, they’re not. The script is lazy and the plot is thread-bare. But I had an absolute blast with it anyway. This film tapped into the kid inside me, the same kid who grew up watching films like The Running Man and Demolition Man, and loving the hell out of them. Legion is completely bonkers, it’s just impossible to take seriously. From the design of the angel-demon-whatever-the-hell-they-were-bad-guys to the cardboard cut-out stereotypes that comprise the last remnants of humanity, held up in a diner in the middle of arse-nowhere USA. It it sheer silliness, and I think it takes itself kinda seriously to boot. But in spite of all that, I got right into it.

Badass angels fighting each other with maces and machine guns, random down-on-their-luck guys and gals under siege from supernatural forces armed only with a cop car full of guns, and they’re stuck isolated in the desert. This appealed to me on two levels, the crazy-awesome action and the ‘last survivors’ aspect, which is also why I like zombie films so much. I can’t help but get behind them as they shoot as much evil as they possibly can and try not to die. Just like End of Days before it, I think you have to be a certain kind of person to truly enjoy Legion. It just so happens that that is me, and unlike most of the other titles on this list, I won’t think less of you for disagreeing.

 

Machete
Dir: Ethan Maniquis & Robert Rodriguez
Starring: Danny Trejo, Michelle Rogriguez, Jessica Alba.

What I Said at the Time: “Within the first 5 minutes I had a huge grin on my face which didn’t leave until way after the end credits. It’s everything I expected it to be, cheesy, retro, fast paced, action packed and hilariously funny. Easily the most enjoyable movie of 2010.”

I really did get a cheesy grin across my face for the entire film, and Machete was, without a doubt, the most gleefully fun cinema experience I’ve had since it’s forbearer, Grindhouse. Those two films (or 3 if you count the double-bill separately), along with Black Dynamite channel the style, spirit and feel of 70s exploitation, of which I am deeply in love with, so incredibly well. With Grindhouse I was in awe of the scratchy film, the vintage titles (‘Now Our Feature Presentation, Rated X’) and how gorgeous it looked, and if I could add any one thing to Machete, it would be a bit more of that. They haven’t gone down the faux-old route with this one, though it’s still a great throwback nonetheless.

I honestly don’t know where to begin with the wealth of awesome that is Machete. You have one of the most eclectic casts I think I’ve ever seen. Actors who I would never imagine being up for something like this, and looking like they’re having a great time doing so. Steven Seagal as uber-bad guy Torrez is inspired, it’s great to see the action star in an almost self-parodying role, and he plays it as only Steven Seagal could. Then you have Robert De Niro as Senator John McLaughlin… I’m sorry? Did you say Robert De Niro?! Yes, Robert De-Fucking-Niro, as a corrupt gun totin’ Senator. Granted the guy’s career has been a little, shall we say varied as of late (Meet the Fockers, Righteous Kill anyone?) but he’s in Machete? What’s more, is he’s pretty good too. Again, it looks like he’s having a pretty fun time, and it’s a whole lot of fun to see him lie and sneak his way through the flick. Next we have Michelle Rodriguez as Luz. Now a couple of my friends will tell you I’ve had a thing for her ever since The Fast and the Furious and Resident Evil (that’s like 10 years ago!), and it’s about time the rest of the movie-world realised just how amazingly hot this chick is. The role isn’t going to get her a Golden Globe, but daaaaaaaaamn, AND she gets to kick more ass than ever before, I mean, just look at the size of that gun. Everyone else is pretty good too, Lindsey Lohan also has a somewhat self-aware role and it’s probably her best screen performance ever, Jessica Alba is Jessica Alba and the always excellent Jeff Fahey returns from the original trailer.

Wait a sec, I haven’t even mentioned the most important character yet. Danny Trejo, I’d like to think the guy’s entire movie career has led up to this point. I first saw him in Con Air (a lads favourite and dumb classic) and there is something inherently likable about him. He’s also a tough-as-nails hard man in everything, and that includes Spy Kids. This is finally his moment to shine, to do what he does best, and do it he does. Trejo‘s stone-cold charisma fits the style well, and the character of Machete is an action hero up there with John McClane and The Terminator. The wonderful stupidity and craziness of his actions however, is something else entirely. Have you ever seen Stallone swing out of a window using someone’s intestines as a rope? No, no you haven’t. This is the final reason why Machete is a truly spectacular film. It. Is. Insane. Completely and utterly, insane. Unlike Legion, this knows exactly how dumb it is and plays is for laughs too, of which there are hundreds. It took me ages to wipe that dopey smile off my face once the credits had rolled, that’s because this film embodies everything that makes exploitation – and more generally – action movies ridiculously enjoyable and turns them up to 11, and it succeeds in doing so thanks to film makers who clearly love the genre even more than I do. If I could shake everyone involved in Machete‘s hand I would, as this was the best 2 hours I think I’ve ever spent in a theatre.

 

Dramas, Thrillers & Everything Else:

The Killer Inside Me
Dir: Michael Winterbottom
Starring: Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson, Jessica Alba.

What I Said at the Time: “Wowzers, this seems to upset ALOT of people. Probably because they somehow have us empathizing with a sadistic murderer, which is what makes this flick so damn interesting. Well acted, very well shot, and (brave) dark subject matter. I thought this was a fantastic movie.”

I think I summarised my thoughts pretty well in my original mini-review, and even now, a good couple of months after I saw this, I’m still thinking about it. I’m a big fan of the TV show Dexter, which sees Michael C. Hall play the titular blood-spatter expect who also happens to be a serial killer. Now as a viewer I like and root for Dexter because he’s a good person and only murders bad people, but in The Killer Inside Me, Casey Affleck plays a really dark, sinister and sadistic man who for all intents and purposes we should despise, and we’re somehow still on his side. Now we’re not quite ‘rooting’ for Affleck‘s Lou Ford as we do Dexter Morgan, he plays it deadly cold (a performance which gets even better the second time you see it) and isn’t even THAT likable, but we kinda want to see him get away with it anyway (at least, a part of me did). This is why I think a ton of people were upset and angry at the film. They don’t like the fact they were made to care about such a horrible character.

Without spoiling the whole flick, Affleck‘s Ford is a deputy sheriff who begins an affair with Alba‘s Joyce Lakeland, who in a self-destructing and twisted kinda way make the perfect couple. Ford gets off on hitting people, and Joyce gets off on getting hit by people (I hear Wedding bells! Or is that just the ringing caused by too many blows to the head?). Kate Hudson does a grand job of playing Ford’s girlfriend, and the rest of the cast are equally good in a distant, morbid (almost Coen-esque) way.

The Killer Inside Me will make you think about about yourself as well as the film, at-length. It’s a film that as I’m writing this I want to watch again. I want to revisit the irreverent, almost cheeky, darkness dwelling within Lou Ford. I think this will be snubbed come awards season, especially as we’ve already had a couple and this was nowhere to be seen. I’m hardly surprised, when it comes to the holocaust or some handicapped guy the Oscars light up, but the sinister side of the human condition is a little too much for those old fella’s to handle.

 

Defendor
Dir: Peter Stebbings
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Kat Dennigs, Elias Koteas.

What I Said at the Time: “An adult ‘Kick-Ass’ if you will, I really enjoyed this flick. Harrelson is brilliant, and as much fun as the aforementioned ‘real’ superhero movie was, ‘Defendor’ is smart, honest and has a lot of heart. It ain’t perfect, but I urge you to check it out nonetheless.”

I called this ‘an adult Kick-Ass‘ when I first saw it,  but I think ‘a more serious Kick-Ass is more accurate. While Matthew Vaughn‘s comic outing (which I liked a great deal) was like a jelly-bean sugar rush meets a serious super-hero flick, Peter Stebbing‘s Defendor is simply a serious super-hero flick. Don’t get me wrong, there are alot of light-hearted moments here, but while Kick-Ass was able to fight crime thanks to getting his bones replaced with metal or something, Defendor is a troubled man with no powers, who truly believes he is a super-hero. And what I loved about Defendor is that it doesn’t matter, he truly is a hero regardless. Woody Harrelson is an actor I’ve come to realise is not only a cool guy in real life, but a great actor who knows how to pick his films. Zombieland, No Country for Old Men, A Scanner Darkly, North Country, The Big White, all freaking superb. His role here as Arthur Poppington is by far the best performance I’ve seen from the dude though, the character is damaged yet incredibly sweet and kind-hearted, and you really get that from Harrelson. In fact, this was the only film I saw last year that almost got me to cry (in your face Never Let Me Go). Arthur truly believes he’s Defendor and it’s heart-breaking everytime someone has to tell him he isn’t. Yet he never gives up, and I found that wonderful.

At the same time as all that it’s also a fun, entertaining and  feel-good flick. It’s a very intelligent take on the super-hero paradigm, with Arthur devising imaginative, yet completely realistic (and often effective) ways of fighting crime and evil-doers. The supporting cast are all pretty decent too. Kat Dennings isn’t overly likable to begin with but she grew on me and Michael Kelly is great as always (easily one of the most under-rated actors working at the moment). Overall, Defendor deserved alot better than the straight-to-DVD release it got. If you hated it, you really can’t have much of a heart in my opinion, well, maybe a black one.

 

Inception
Dir: Christopher Nolan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page.

What I Said at the Time: “Nolan does it again, with this cinematic event that’s just so slick it makes 99% of what else is being released look like complete rubbish. Intelligent, immensely gripping, and a huge mess of fun, Inception is a truly wonderful, batshit awesome movie.”

There isn’t an awful lot to say about Inception that hasn’t been said already by far cleverer people than me and at length. Heck, even I put it pretty well in my original review. ‘Slick’ is what this film has in droves. Inception oozes cool, it’s got such an intelligent swagger about it, if films were comic-book characters, this one would be Hank McCoy, aka Beast.

It was just great to experience a summer film that didn’t have to rely on Megan Fox running around in slow motion to be a full-blown blockbuster. Back when it came out everyone was pondering if the times were a’changin’ and this would give birth to a new generation of ‘smart blockbusters’. While I didn’t think that was true, it was a nice thought. Everyone wanted to believe this would inspire other like it, but only because we get such utter garbage most of the time. It’s to Nolan’s credit then, that it seems only he can make big-budget box-office hits that appeal to the Frasier Crane and the Kenny Powers both at the same time (though I’m basing that on The Dark Knight as much as Inception). The cast he assembles is a cracking ensemble, and it was rivaled only by The Expendables (because, ya’ know, it WAS great seeing those guys in the same movie) and Machete. DiCaprio, who I’ve liked since Gangs of New York, had a heck of a one-two with this and Shutter Island, Ellen Page I can’t help but like for her Juno-style graceful quirkiness, and Tom Hardy, man, I said the guy deserved to do well after watching Layer Cake and Star Trek: Nemesis for crying out loud.

Inception is an incredibly engaging, action-suspense-look-at-that-the-freaking-roads-are-bending-thriller that had me glued to the screen from the very start. I thought the characters were well realised and the plot (and film in general) travels along like a freight train, constantly delivering great set-piece and scene and another. You’d have to be living under a rock not to have seen this, but if you haven’t, check it out ASAP.

 

Bad Lieutenant
Dir: Werner Herzog
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer.

What I Said at the Time: “I loved it just for how experimental it dares to be. Tonally it’s extremely cool, with Nicolas Cage FINALLY getting his teeth into some decent material, and get his teeth in he does. The dude is unhinged to perfection. Everything else is interesting and pretty entertaining. Herzog’s style had me gripped from the get go.”

Don’t let the bland poster and DVD artwork fool you. But then the studio didn’t really have any other choice but to market this as your average crime thriller. This is incredibly strange at times, daring at others and constantly engaging, intriguing and alot of fun. Werner Herzog is no small fish, when the dude wants to do something, he does it, and here I guess he wanted to see how much he could fuck with the traditional detective film and still make it work as a captivating and interesting story. Tonally it’s somehow all over the place and very much stationary at the same time, and as Nicolas Cage‘s Terrence McDonaugh gets crazier and crazier I genuinely didn’t know where this would end up. And it really is a joy to watch Cage rapidly descend into that madness we don’t see anywhere near enough of. Unhinged would be an understatement, border-line psychotic is probably closer. It’s still the same dead-pan, so serious he can’t possibly be serious but he is Nicolas Cage we still get alot of each year, but he devours the character with such sedated intensity and it’s awesome.

Some people will flat-out hate Bad Lieutenant, and I get it. This is by no means a film for the masses. This is a film for those of us who enjoy our cinema a littler more daring, almost subversive, and I just loved that there is absolutely no telling what will happen next. There is alot of craziness in Bad Lieutenant, and it’s quite possibly the strangest feel-good flick I’ve ever seen.

 

True Grit
Dir: Ethan & Joel Coen
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon.

What I Said at the Time: “Those guys have done it yet again, this is easily my favourite Coen outing since The Ladykillers (well I liked it at least). Superbly shot, captivating characters (all the actors are terrific) and that cold style which somehow feels rich, vintage and very clever. True Grit is a stunning, just brilliant flick.”

The most recently viewed and final entry in my list, and what an entry it is. The Coens are one of the most consistent sources of fantastic films working today (alongside Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith in my opinion at least) so I knew this remake was going to be great. It’s just an established fact now, if it’s made by the Coen Brothers, I will like it. The only exception to this rule is their first film, Blood Simple (and I never got round to seeing Raising Arizona). After the roaring success of No Country for Old Men, I thought True Grit seemed like a rather easy choice, after all ‘No Country is considered a western by some, and it does feel like one at times. But I still knew it would be good at the very least, and ‘good’ this film is not. This film is a whole thesaurus worth of ‘good’ synonyms and then some. Just bloody fantastic. The style is present and works just as well for the period setting and especially well for the subject matter: A young girl hires the help of US Marshall, Rooster Cogburn (played with seasoned gusto and old-man-affection by the Dude, Jeff Bridges) to track down the man who killed her father. The film is predominantly the two following the trail, while avoiding rucks and running into Matt Damon‘s Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf (pronounced ‘LaBeef’), who is a character Damon knocks out of the park.

Don’t pay attention to the billing though, the true star and main character of this film is Hailee Steinfeld‘s Mattie Ross. At the young age of 15 she not only plays the part impeccably well, but gives her character overwhelming maturity and if you like, balls. This is Mattie Ross’ movie, and she is a great character and the flick succeeds so much largely because of her. Saying that, the trio of Steinfeld, Bridges and Damon is something special indeed. When they’re together they have this great group dynamic, almost like a family. It’s the rich characters that I think I like the most about the Coen’s films, of course that and the vintage style which I will never grow weary of. True Grit is a marvelous movie, a piece of brilliance, and has earnt it’s place as my signing off point. Thank you very much for reading.

My Top 10 Albums of 2010

Just like every other year, 2010 has seen it’s fair share of awesome music, with big releases from the likes of Bad Religion, Alkaline Trio, Mad Sin, Bouncing Souls, Devil’s Brigade, G.B.H. and quite a few others. Only one of those bands made my Top 10, and I think that’s the main difference between this year and last year’s list. My music horizons were broadened quite significantly thanks to finding a ton of great music blogs offering bands and albums I’d never heard of, old and new, from all over the world.

I can’t recommend trying to seek out the kind of music you like highly enough, as you stumble on a wealth of great stuff. A few of my favourites include Authentic Ska, Trojan Spirit, Life in Monochrome and Tone and Wave, but the one blog that has been a consistent source of awesome for the last couple of years, is Onda PuNk! God knows how I found this Spanish ska punk site, but unlike alot of music blogs, it’s constantly being updated with albums from all over the place. From popular third wave bands from the States to obscure Russian bands I can’t even pronounce, the guys behind the site do a fantastic job. A couple of the artists I discovered from Onda are in my top 10, which goes to show there’s amazing music just waiting to be found (if you’re reading this guys, thanks a million and keep up the hard work). I think that’s enough preamble, let’s get to the list already:

10. The Black Pacific – The Black Pacific

The first release from Pennywise frontman Jim Lindberg’s new project is a belter of an album. I’ve liked Pennywise ever since my cousin gave me ‘The Fuse’ for my 16th birthday, but their stuff never got me THAT excited. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good mix of rock and punk rock, and Lindberg’s vocals are awesome (‘Fuck Authority’ is still a playlist favourite). The Black Pacific are still both of those things, and aren’t a million miles away from Pennywise, but when I listened to this album it just seemed like a more refined, perfected body of songs. Like Lindberg was able to reflect on what made the best Pennywise songs great and apply it to a whole album. Now every song isn’t a classic, and they are all very much the same style, but once it starts the album doesn’t let up. It’s fast pace and tenacity sucked me and I really dug it. In particular the song ‘Put Down Your Weapons’. It’s roaring, sing-along punk rock that gets my head banging every time. I also had the privilege of seeing them live a couple of months ago and they present the same energy on stage. For their first album they’ve set the bar very high indeed, I can’t wait to see what they do next.

 

9. Skatroniks Jamaica – Skalsa #1

From fast rock to traditional reggae ska. This band akins back to the legendary likes of The Skatalites, but with a more dubby, relaxed sound. I’d never heard of Skatroniks Jamaica before this album, but according to their MySpace info they’re from London, so someone needs to do a much better job in the promotional department. Skalsa #1 is a chilled-out journey through classic styles (the trad ska of ‘Tek it Eezy’) with a contemporary almost Slackers-like vibe at times (the light-hearted ‘Frenemy’). It’s a very diverse album, but it totally works. When I listened to it high it almost blew my mind, the free-flowing jazzy rythms practically gives your brain a massage (the song ‘Steppas’ in particular just oozes laid-back cool). It’s great to see such an appreciation for a diverse genre and I can only hope Skatroniks keep it going.

 

8. Off With Their Heads – In Desolation

Off With Their Heads is a band I’ve liked for a couple of years now. When I first heard ‘I am You’ on Mike Davies’ Radio 1 Punk Show I knew this was a good band. What makes OWTH’s awesome (at least, to me anyways) is the same thing I love about Teenage Bottlerocket, and that’s taking a genre as samey and bland as punk rock and making it as good as it can be. Every song is like that one good track from another generic punk rock band’s album, you know the one you listen to more than the others, go back to and that makes you sing along and fires you up. ‘In Desolation’ continues the band’s loud, ferocious style that simply blasts out of the speakers. Ryan Young’s gravely vocals are wonderful and really make them stand out from their contemporaries. Off With Their Heads seem to get bigger and garner more fans with each passing year, and rightly so. Here’s hoping for a UK tour.

 

7. Faintest Idea – Ignorance is This

Straight off the bat, I fucking love Faintest Idea. This (along with entries 1 and 2) was one of my most anticipated albums of the year.  The first time I heard of them was a couple of years ago when they were supporting [spunge], I checked out their MySpace tracks, liked what I heard (a lot) and bought their album ‘Put Your Mouth Where the Money Is’. Listening to that album for the first time can only be compared to the first time I heard Rancid‘s ‘And Out Come the Wolves’. The feeling that transcends everything and you know you’re hearing something which you will love for the rest of your life. I’ve seen them live several times now, when they have a full brass section and a decent crowd they’re absolutely brilliant. So you can imagine how much I was looking forward to this release. Of course, after ‘Put Your Mouth I was going to be disappointed, just like ‘Life Won’t Wait’ before it. Now while this isn’t as good as their last album, this is still a cracking release. It’s a little rougher round the edges, which I think is kinda strange, but their blend of street punk and ska still gets me nodding my head and singing along just the same. I always preferred their upbeat, dancier numbers (represented here by the infectious ‘Too Bad’ and ‘Bully Boy’), but the opening track, ‘Criminals’, it’s like a freight train, setting the tone of the album immediately. Fast, aggressive, and chock full of heart, I’ve been saying it for years, but these guys truly deserve to make it, here’s hoping 2011 sees the recognition they deserve.

 

6. Dirty Revolution – Before the Fire

I love reggae, I love ska… and I love Dirty Revolution. As soon as I heard Rebel Alliance was putting out their first full-length album I was really pleased, as now maybe Dirty Rev. would get the exposure and praise they deserve. Their last EP ‘It’s Gonna Get Dirty’ is fantastic, the joyful old school ska vibe and Reb’s lovely vocals instantly connect, and that’s remained very present in ‘Before the Fire’. Their EP to LP transition is very similar to what The Skints did in 2009, but while they left behind their upbeat ska stylings in favour of a more reggae dub sound, Dirty Revolution have carried it all across and simply added a couple of more diverse tracks. The ska is still predominant, and that’s their biggest asset. In fact, this is my favourite full-on ska album of the year, mixing a 2-tone feel with a more modern punky vibe, it’s just really good music. Songs like ’50p’ and anthem ‘I Love Reggae’ have been re-recorded (annoying as I now shout the wrong lyrics when I see them live), and new songs like ‘Firing Line’ provide a nice blend of tempos and show just how excellent a band they are. Also awesome live, their gigs are full of so much fun and unity I would go see them every week if I could.

 

5. Bouncing Souls – Ghosts on the Boardwalk

Arguably the biggest band on this list, Bouncing Souls have been a consistent source of great punk rock for years. I first saw them live supporting Dropkick Murphys when I was 14, and have been a fan ever since. While ‘Ghosts on the Boardwalk’ is technically a 2010 release, the band released one song every month of 2009, and while I didn’t grab all of them, the awesome ‘We All Sing Along’ was present on nearly every compilation I made that year. This is a much more mature album than say ‘How I Spent My Summer Vacation’. There’s still youthful energy in the almost ska-like ‘Mental Bits’ and the shout-along ‘Dubs Says True’ but this is nicely balanced with slower and more meaningful tracks like ‘Airport Security’ and the titular ‘Ghosts on the Boardwalk’. This is a great album and I can only hope they keep this style going for years to come.

 

4. Talco – La Cretina Commedia

Who the hell are Talco? I hear you ask. That’s exactly what I asked myself when I got this album (take a bow Onda PuNk). The album art is riffing on the classic Minor Threat (and later Rancid) image, and you better have something good if you’re going to invite comparisons with those two legendary bands. Well, turns out they do. While not really like Minor Threat or Rancid, you can hear they are heavy influences. Not speaking Italian I have no idea what the songs are about, but it just doesn’t matter. Talco have a sound unlike anything else I’ve heard before, it’s actually pretty hard to describe but I’ll give it a go. It’s like a ska-y Gogol Bordello without the gypsy-ness, with some added punk rock, mixed with the opening battle of ‘Gangs of New York’. I mention Scorsese’s awesome movie because a lot of the songs really do feel like they’re firing you up for some epic period battle, with trumpets and roaring guitars. Songs like ‘Non è Tempo di Campare’ and ‘Dalla Grotta’ have a frantic stand-up and cheer sound and really get my whole body moving every time. The album just feels so damn epic, and it came out of nowhere. I was stunned at just how much I got into ‘La Cretina Commedia’ and how freaking great it is to hear a band unlike any other going at the moment. Seriously, check this album out.

 

3. The Creepshow – They All Fall Down

The Creepshow are another band who have developed their own sound, fusing psychobilly with horror punk and more straight-forward punk rock, ‘They All Fall Down’ is a blinding album. Chock-full of heavy, loud, catchy tracks (‘Hellbound’ and the equally awesome ‘Last Chance’) with a brief stopover in 50s doo-wop with the wonderful ‘Sleep Tight’, the lively tunes with macabre subject matter have always appealed to me, and although you could argue it’s simply more of what made their last album, ‘Run for Your Life’ so good, I say what’s wrong with that? Sarah Sin’s vocals are great, and there’s simply not enough decent horror-inspired music these days. The Creepshow have created and refined their own monster-mash of genres, and with this album I believe they’ve perfected it further. A real joy to listen to.

 

2. Devo – Something for Everybody

Where the hell do I start with a band as influential as Devo? Returning after 20 years, the pioneers of new wave had a lot to live up to, and even that’s somewhat of an understatement. I honestly had no idea what to expect when this was announced as I only really got into Devo a couple of years ago, and while I love ‘Oh, No! It’s Devo!’ they’re not a band I adore everything by. The promotional campaign for ‘Something for Everybody’ was extremely interesting if not totally coherent (at least in the early stages). Saying that, I really dug ‘Fresh’ when they put it on their MySpace a couple of months before the album dropped, it wasn’t that much like their old stuff, this did indeed sound fresh. Turns out that was a mere taste of what to expect. This album is quite frankly, fucking excellent. It’s the same Devo, but super-charged with new technology, corporate cynicism and a sound like a techno-new-wave battering ram. The first time I heard it, it was so amazing I listened to it again immediately afterwards. This album exceeded my wildest expectations, each song is so incredibly rich in their own brand of techno-synthiness, I literally can’t turn it up loud enough. Their new style is so unlike anything I’ve really experienced, I think not only is it timeless, but it will continue to sound just as fresh and gleefully insane as it does now.

 

1. The Hitchcocks – Blood Will Follow

The Hitchcocks are one of the most criminally under-rated and under-heard bands of recent memory. I’ve been a huge fan of these Danish rockers since I got a copy of their 2007 EP ‘Mission Accomplished’. They take the genre and attack it with a chainsaw, injecting buckets of energy, fun and riffs so head-bangingly awesome I can’t rate it highly enough. ‘Blood Will Follow’ is their first full-length album, and it is simply relentless. They fuse traditional Misfits-style horror punk with fast, feel-good punk rock, it’s actually not a million miles away from bands like Off With Their Heads, Teenage Bottlerocket or The Copyrights, but ‘Blood Will Follow’ is so much ferocious fun I’ve already forgotten what bands I just mentioned. The whole album has some wonderfully retro bits and pieces, but The Hitchcocks have taken it to a new level here. I keep banging on about bands creating a unique style of their own, but it’s just as true with these guys, if not more so because it’s just so good. ‘Lust for Blood’, ‘Space Invaders’, ‘A Bomb’, ‘Dead to Me’, ‘Radioactive’, every track is like 2 minutes of sheer awesome. No other band has struck a chord with me in recent memory more than The Hitchcocks, which is why I’m amazed they’re not doing better. It seems perfect for the likes of People Like You or Hellcat Records, so fingers crossed this album finds its way to someone in the UK or US who can get them more exposure. I would pay A LOT of money to see these guys live too, I can only imagine the sheer, demented excitement I would feel seeing them perform in person. Check this band out, if you’re anything like me you won’t regret it.

Well that’s my music round-up for another year, if you agree or disagree please free to leave a comment, thanks for reading!

From Genosha to Asteroid M

I was up in my attic the other day when I knocked over a big pile of comics and magazine and found this X-Men book I remember having years and years ago. It was published in 1994 so I’d be 6 or 7, and it’s basically Where’s Wally / Waldo meets the X-Men (but instead of searching for a person you have to find random objects). It’s the sort of awesome idea I’d like to think came from some book publisher guy asking a kid what would make Where’s Wally better, after all, it’s just a bunch of people loitering someplace not doing anything exciting. Here we have absolutely insane double page spreads of our favourite mutants fighting crazy shit all over the place. It’s literally Where’s Wally published by Michael Bay. It’s gleeful insanity, and I have to share it, so I scanned in the entire book. The story’s actually quite fun too, simply because someone actually went to the effort of trying to tie all the images together and make it into a huge adventure. Click the images to enbiggen:

See what I mean? Crazy. You gotta hand it to illustrator James Janes, God knows how many hours went into each image. There are also a ton of really strange and funny little things going on in each one that don’t seem to make any sense at all. I’ll leave you with a few of my favourites:

Funny, I always remember Bishop being a black guy.