Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Sequels, Prequels and Remakes

As we embark on a new summer of blockbusters, from super heroes (Green Hornet, Jonah Hex, Thor) to gun wielding maniacs (The Expendables, A-Team) to threequals (the eagerly anticipated Toy Story 3), to just stop already (Shrek Forever After) one question seems to come to mind – where’s the originality in film making these days?

At every direction there seems to be a remake, (Nightmare on Elm Street, Mad Max, Karate Kid) a prequel, sequel or trilogy (Twilight) knocking around and this summer is no exception. Scream 4 has just begun shooting, and Top Gun 2 is in talks as THE film to save Tom Cruise’s sinking ship. A-Team is rearing its head to cash in on the successful 80s TV show, and Hollywood has even jumped on the bandwagon remaking recently released masterpieces, specifically the brilliantly dark, sinister and heartbreaking Swedish movie Let The Right One In, made in 2008 and directed by Tomas Alfredson. Did this movie really need to be remade into Let Me In? Are we as viewers unable to read subtitles, or do we simply just want to see the Hollywood stamp of approval smeared all over world cinema?

Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoy sequels; Kill Bill Vol 2 is one of my favourite Tarantino movies. (One of, there are many) and the thought that if many movies are too epic to fit into two hours they’d be shelved if sequels were void would be devastating. Saying this, the point I’m making is that I’m a strong believer that a movie should be a movie, for all intensive purposes, to entertain, maybe educate and enlighten an individual on a mass scale. But I do draw a line at a movie being commissioned to bump the $$$ of studio execs, feeding the already obese pay packets of the Hollywood elite. Star Wars' V and VI are brilliant examples of sequels that work, yet Star Wars I, II and III are, in my opinion, terrible attempts at milking a dead cow. Whenever the story might have been written, it just didn’t fit into the CGI scheme of things, and tried to be too big for its intergalactic boots. If that’s possible.

Disney is even in the process of making their most successful movies into 3D, specifically Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Call me old fashioned, but I believe that 3D cinema is killing the ‘classic’ movie experience. What next, a remake of Citizen Kane in 3D? Some things should be held sacred, and while the times are changing and entertainment is becoming more accessible to the masses on a grand scale, I strongly believe that movie making should not be for everyone, and each release shouldn’t be churned to outweigh previous records. Avatar springs to mind here, considering it was billed as one of the biggest and original blockbusters of all time, isn’t it simply a reworking of tried and tested fail safe narratives? I was expecting to see Clint Eastwood spring up from under a leaf on Pandora the way it was going. Bring on Christopher Nolan’s summer blockbuster Inception, which has a plot Nolan admits to being influenced by many past movies, including MGM’s Bond franchise, but is one of the first summer blockbusters in recent Hollywood history that isn’t based on a previously successful formula. Bring. It. On.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

A Single Man (2009)

Tom Ford’s directorial debut, based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, is an absolutely beautiful yet painful, honest and heartbreaking tale of the day in the life of a single man George (Colin Firth), as he struggles to come to terms with the tragic death of his partner (Matthew Goode). Set in California in 1962, A Single Man takes on the perpetual despair that is evident underneath the crisply controlled mannerisms of George, as he makes the decision to end his life, unable to bear the lift bestowed to him.

What is refreshing about A Single Man is that Ford, under the influence of Isherwood’s haunting novel, never makes George’s homosexuality the focal point of the plot, a common narrative tool used so frequently in Hollywood. This is a love story, regardless of sexual orientation, and Ford wholeheartedly focuses on the sheer magnitude of George’s grief, and the effect this has on his daily routine. Firth is cast perfectly as George, a man so disciplined and measured, yet consumed by guilt, frustration and pain, that’s bubbled beautifully beneath the surface of Firth’s dark rimmed spectacles. Every ounce of style, of wardrobe pressed to perfection, is painstakingly viewed through the heartache of George’s life.

Ford captivates George’s LA in detail beyond perfection, and credit should also go to cinematographer Eduard Grau, who keeps the tone of the movie very monochromatic, until George experiences what many consider to be mundane moments. These moments, whether in the bank or having a discussion with pivotal student Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) act as moments of clarity for him, where the light is literally lifted and life is almost vibrant, almost worth living, and briefly ‘technicolored’ to the max. This movie is essential viewing, where even if it provides only a fleeting spell of clarity; its purpose has been achieved.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Charly Coombes & the New Breed

Charly Coombes & the New Breed are an Oxford based four piece, the brain child of Charly Coombes, (the youngest brother to Gaz and Rob Superpgrass Coombes), and released their debut EP, entitled Panic in February 2010. Now, with obvious Supergrass comparisons aside, CCATNB’s debut EP is a welcome breath of fresh air to the current alternative music scene. As a relatively young band, having formed in July 2009, the all Oxford residing members have a nostalgic energy that is absorbed far too easily into the ear holes, that they’re left wanting more. This is always a good sign.

From the outset the opening track, Panic Between the Sheets, sets up some classic piano thumping led riffs that stomp, delight and blow away the musty music that’s been polluting the British airwaves for the past year or so. Serge, sounding a little like a track to a French crime fighting caper takes on a different direction to its predecessor, and is reminiscent of how music used to sound, before all this technological nonsense brought the geek into music, rather then promoting the classically talented, instrumentally led music that has a passion and a story to tell. CCATNB offer this kind of sound, that does evoke comparisons with the mid to late 90s British sound, but with an edge.

Hell Below is a pleasant track that gets the feet tapping to the beat, while For the Pain I believe is a secret EP attention stealing wonder. With a 70s rock feel to it, following the successfully tried and tested formula to alternative rock, this track will leave you feeling like summer is here to stay, and brings a sense of childlike realisation that there’s hope and all will be ok, even though the lyrics suggest a sense of despair. Yes the Coombes family are a talented bunch, but it seems Charly and his New Breed have a lot to offer, and have no need to fear the shadow of Supergrass, but can firmly step into the light off their own musical endeavours. I look forward to their future releases.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Movie Trailers, 13.06.10

Movie trailers, I believe they’re the best and worst part about a new release. They can get your hopes up, or dash them within two minutes and possibly ruin any expectations you had about a particular movie. But then there are different expectations as to what a particular viewer wants out of a trailer, and each expectation cannot be pleased wholeheartedly. Take the new A-Team trailer, in which most of the films’ plot is divulged in the extended two minutes and fifty one seconds, leaving little left to the imagination. Look, a damned tank falls from the sky! But I guess this kind of a movie is targeted to a demographic that doesn’t necessarily want to buy into a complex plot and the extensive narrative curves that give the new Christopher Nolan movie Inception, a fellow summer blockbuster, a run for its money. But that’s just my opinion. For I guess everyone has some days when they want a full on mind melt of a movie that scratches the synapses until they bleed with joy, whereas other days the mind is sheer mush and watching anything more taxing then the new Ashton Kutcher flic Killers would be enough to turn any significant brain activity into pulp.

But with this in mind – and a mind that is in between the mush and the ones working on overload - a little middle ground never hurt anyone, did it? I mean, when seeing some of the more ‘fluffy’ trailers used to fill the popcorn cups at each multiplex across the country, I wonder how some of these movies get put into production. If you take out the factor of taste, education and expectation, some movies REALLY shouldn’t have been allowed to see the dull light of an ushers’ torch, guiding the unknowing viewer to a sealed two hour doom of wasted money. But then again the popcorn pushers are just as guilty buying into the trailer park as the studios are. If there was no market for these big budget cushions then they’d be shut down.

Saying this, please don’t take me for some art house elitist movie buff, for I’m not. I love a good old summer blockbuster that is all action and no reaction like the next, I just struggle to see the justification behind some of the more feeble attempts at filling seats, compared with the summer movies that are a full on metal jacket explosion of sheer happiness. Take the new Stollone summer blockbuster, The Expendables, in which he directs and stars in the pure iron pumping man fest of fake sweat and blood splurged through the audible mainstream American ‘rock’ that underpins the trailer. You cannot get more all out American feel good than this, aside from the A Team. Which, to be fair, has more pretty boy eye candy in the shape of Bradley Cooper.

So, as summer fast approaches to shine it’s tried and tested basic narrative arch over us for a few short weeks, I accept that fluff is the name of the game. But when autumn approaches, and reality kicks in, I’ll cast my mind back to those shady days of wondering why, as much as I love movie trailers and all they have to offer in their short lifespan, are more and more made for TV features cropping up more frequently. Bring on 2011, when a blockbuster that stimulates the brainwaves and the eye sockets will be upon us, in the shape of JJ Abrams’ next feature Super 8, where the best blockbuster maker in all the land, Mr Spielberg, is behind the producing reins to bring joy to all those who love cinema and the many mind mysteries it has to offer.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Juliette Lewis, 'Terra Incognita', 2009

A few months into the release of Juliette Lewis’ new album and currently on a world tour promoting it, her third full studio album, Terra Incognita, a Latin phrase meaning ‘new territory’, takes a sweeping departure from her previous ones, and now as a solo artist leaves her Licks behind allowing a new sound and confidence to emerge. Where previously Juliette Lewis and the Licks belted out catchy rock and roll riffs that got the floors thumping and hearts racing with a sense of fun and energy, Terra Incognita has encapsulated a more mature, independent and bluesy sound that while still fun, shows a more personal side to Lewis that in many ways the Licks never appeared to set out to achieve.

Terra Incognita is still full of energy and classic Lewis vocals, which are both heartfelt, raw and passionate, but there is a darker tone to the record that allow greater levels and dimensions to the sound that on initial listening are not expected. Which is not a bad thing. Far from it. It’s hard not to compare this record to her previous ones with the Licks, but with Grammy award winning producer Omar Rodriguez-Lopez on board, the leader of Mars Volta, it’s no surprise that the sound is different, personal and crossing over many different genres to achieve this eclectic sound.

Looking at Juliette Lewis’ past musical endeavours, it’s clear that her albums with the Licks are a sound of fun, of female driven rock nostalgia and discovery, a sign of youthful energy and excitement. With Terra Incognita, Lewis has grown as a songwriter and musician, and I believe has cemented her as a fully fledged female rock musician, rather then a Hollywood actress playing with a side project. Great stuff.