Archive for December 2005

Spookey – Spookey Cat

Of course, if I was going to be lazy, I’d start banging on about the mighty Spookey being the kawaii bastard offspring of The Shangri-Las and The Ramones. I could rehash my iffy (in fact borderline racist) theory about the japanese taking ‘western product’ and selling it back to us in neater more efficient (and smaller) packages. I could do that, if I was being lazy. (Can you see what I did there?)

And, I’m going to try not just froth at the mouth insisting that this is the greatest album ever and that your are seriously lacking something essential to your soul until you own a copy and have embraced it into your life. No, not that either. I’m going to try be a little objective.

What we have here is the finest bubblegum rock ‘n’ roll from a band that are tighter that a really tight thing. No messing a bout, no studied insouciance. Thundering bass and loud wild guitar. All pinned together with some of the finest ‘proper’ rockabilly drumming I’ve heard for donkeys. They stop, they start just where they should. But what really drives it all along is the sheer joy of the three part vocals. In the way that The Chrystals were always better than The Ronettes just by force of their exuberance.

They have a grasp on this songwriting malarkey that would shame many a supposed troubadour twice the age and three times the size. They shout ‘Hey!’ and count tracks in just the way rock ‘n’ roll should be. The songs in the main seem to be terribly sweet (not sickly – despite the occasional lapse into Engrish) anthems to hanging out, eating chocolate and driving cars really fast.

I’m so cute when I’m with you…

What more do you want? For those that waited for the new GirlsAloud album with baited breath (and, for some reason I know just so many of you): You are just selling yourself so short in life.

It’s not all uniform, though, when lead vocals duties are taken by the bass player (for what I assume are here songs) there’s an added sense of pathos and longing added into the mix. Even managing to make a cod-ska track seen quite deep.

I defy you all not to leap up and punch the air when the chorus to the title track kicks in for the first time. There’s two uncredited ‘bonus’ tracks on here that have more fun and playfulness than most of the entire output of the last year.

So objectively: Beautifully crafted, completely rocking, and you’d be a moron not to love it.

And, subjectively? Well…

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Written by Tony Kiernan

29 December 2005 at 6:39 pm

Posted in Records

Half Man Half Biscuit – Achtung Bono!

I was recently banging on about Half Man Half Biscuit being a much maligned and misunderstood band. So, without covering old ground, let me offer Restless Legs the opening track from this latest album as further evidence for the case. Most of the young pretenders out there would give their left knacker to have come up with this track. Catchier than the entire output of The Strokes, sharp as a tack and damned hilarious.

Shit metal bands (Shit Arm, Bad Tattoo – actually quite a few tracks on here, tbh), the people that write to local papers to complain about pigeons (Letters Sent), hangers-on (Mate Of The Bloke), mental health (the wonderful Depressed Beyond Tablets) and generally inconsiderate buggers (Twydale’s Lament) are among the many banes of modern life to find themselves at the wrong end of Nigel Blackwell‘s satirical venom. I’m not certain what Joy Division Oven Gloves is all about though, but it’s pretty groovy.

Not as monumentally awesome as the last full LP Cammell Laird Social Club, but then very little in this life is. Still, like all of their albums it’s never short of really good with a smattering of future classics.

It fills me with joy to see moshers out jogging

And, full marks for the best song title of the year (well for this week at least): We Built This Village On A Trad. Arr. Tune.

Written by Tony Kiernan

29 December 2005 at 3:34 pm

Posted in Records

Where The Truth Lies

Atom Egoyan is one of the most original and, lately, oft-imitated directors around. Recent hit melodramas Crash and 21 Grams both owe more than a passing debt to his previous works – despite neither of them having the genuine humanity of any of his (although, Crash does almost get there at points). Both of those films seemed to think that making use of a fractured and repeating narrative style would lend themselves some weight. To be honest, the style soon became all they were about. Not that either is a particularly bad film. Both are well worth seeing. It’s just that whereas with Egoyan you’d find yourself mulling over something a few days later, there was a sense of having been cheated before the credits started rolling at the end of those two. Like some cheap close up magic trick that’s held you distracted while cards were being plucked out your ass.

Most of his films have a heavy element of mystery to them. Somewhere at the heart of each there is a detective figure, searching out the truth buried somewhere. His structures using a fractured unraveling of plot built largely of flashbacks, has it’s roots in the noir or the forties and fifties and is nearly custom built for the purpose. So, this adaptation of (what has to be) a fairly pulpy book should be right up his street. Also, it takes a director I much admire into the seedy underbelly of 50s-70s showbiz (yes, a la Ellroy), which should be right up my street.

Lanny Morris and Vince Collins are a hugely successful, loosely mafia tied, comedy duo in the 1950s. (Much has been made of the duo being based on Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Morris’ has bandy legs and gurns. Collins is supposedly more sophisticated and tries to keep him in line. They are famous for marathon telethons. That’s pretty much about it. Any other comparison must surely be completely libelous. Either that or I know sod all about Martin & Lewis. Which could be quite likely.) After an incident involving the body of a young woman being found in their hotel suite, the duo split up. 15 years later a young journalist tries to piece together what really happened that night.

Similarly to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, central to the success of this film are two damn fine central performances. Colin Firth is, as ever, charismatic and suitably balanced. The perfect balance between sophisticated restraint and seething passions. Which is what you get Firth in for really. The press for this movie has made much of it being against type for him. Other than the fact that we’re not used to seeing him as a pill-popping near-psycho, her really just does what he usually does. And, despite the fact that he’s been in some of the most dreadful and reprehensible work of the last decade or so, he’s always a pleasure to watch. Well, I think so anyway – right, girls?

The other performance comes from movie geek standing joke Kevin Bacon. Again, gaining particularly rave notices, which is a bit odd not only has he’s always been really good but his last movie (well the last one that got a cinema release here as opposed to the thirty-odd straight-to-DVD things he’ll have squeezed in) The Woodsman got exactly the same I-can’t-believe-it’s-really-Bacon treatment. That said, he is pretty amazing in this. The outward clown and charmer is excellent, but what lifts the performance is a certain reticence that he hints at throughout. It’s not the ‘crying on the inside’ cliche, but just the impression of a man desperately trying to keep a hold on something that is him and his alone – not public property. In the later years it’s similar to the Jerry Langford character in Scorsese‘s King Of Comedy played by…oh, hang about…

Where the film falls down (we’ll ignore the stupendously young starlet cast as the journo, who while pretty good, just doesn’t convince) is on points of plot failure. When we learn the big bad secret it’s pretty cliched. When the ‘twists’ are brought in to tie everything up, they’re signposted to the extent that their nearly in braille. No real surprises. No real horror. Of course, I shall blame that on the source material. There is a sense that Egoyan has been given the novel to adapt by a studio as his first Hollywood film. And while this is better than average (in fact most directors would sacrifice at least one limb to have made this), not one of his greats. But, that’s not really a criticism.

This film didn’t get classified in the states. I have no idea why, but shall assume it’s the studios hatred of putting anything out rated x (NC-17? 18? Can’t think off hand what the US equivalents are).

Written by Tony Kiernan

20 December 2005 at 1:30 pm

Posted in Film

Flying Matchstick Men/The Needles/Titus Gein/How To Swim – The Arches (6 December 2005)

There appear to be about twenty people in How To Swim, but I can’t really for the life of me work out why. Previously I’ve know a band that as soon as they found a female that could play any instrument they crow-barred them into their line-up. This has led to many a bizarre (and not particularly innovative) euphonium and washboard solos. Not that this seems to be the issue here. Maybe it’s a poor sound – hard to say when you’ve never seen the band before – but for all the strings and brass up there they sound like a regular guitar based four piece. Not a particularly impressive one, either. At least I don’t thinks so, hard to say when you’re completely distracted by the sheer number of musicians on the stage. Maybe that’s the idea.

Titus Gein are all about the riff. A metal trio with a belief in making it heavy. And, jolly good they are at it too. Oh, there’s enough touched of retro-keyboard in there to make them look suitably ironic and not proper sweaty metal. So they seem to go down well with the indie-kid audience here tonight. I liked the one’s with keyboard best, too. Someone points out they would be dreadful if they had a singer. He has a point.

The Needles (googlable names, kids – googlable names…) seem to have been about for ages. They have a reputation for their energetic live performances. And, indeed tonight they pull shapes and leap around like it’s nobody’s business. However, much as rock ‘n’ roll is all about poise and, indeed, pose it’s not really enough on it’s own. (And, to be honest, their not really that great at it.) Gone are the matching Gene Vincent leathers, in are the more ‘now’ short sleeved shirts and pencil ties. Unfortunately, a uniform does not instantly make you a unit. Akin to shouting ‘goddamn’ at every opportunity, there’s something of the dressing up box about this band. You don’t just assume the mantel of rockers and instantly become gods. (FFS I own a cowboy hat. It doesn’t make me Clint Eastwood. Unfortunately.) Of course this would all be by-the-by if there was any evidence of a tune in there tonight. It’s all surface.

Flying Matchstick Men were originally billed second bottom for tonight. However, in recognition of their current irresistible rise, they are made the headline act. (Considering, I’d planned to catch them then get an early night, this results in a shocking hangover the next day.) This is understandable, as they are in a completely different class to the company this evening.

In matching sensible jumpers, they look the part, and it works. They pull the shapes (if that’s what you could call scaling the pa towers), and they pull it off. And, they pull it off by simply being so damned exciting. A doddle.

I’m not sure what exactly the term intelligent pop means. I always get picture of clever-clever folk that people admire, but no one really likes their music. Oh, that ’twere all like this. Ass-shakingly tuneful and with something to say. Or at least arching an eyebrow and giving you the impression that it’s got something to say. Which, to be honest, is fairly smart in itself.

Written by Tony Kiernan

19 December 2005 at 3:16 pm

Posted in Gigs

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Shane Black has been responsible for writing some of the best completely lightweight comedy thrillers of the 80s/90s. Anyone of a certain age that doesn’t have a soft spot for Lethal Weapon is a goddamn liar or clinically anal (although, more than likely both). And, while Bond was floundering he knocked out The Long Kiss Goodnight which basically showed them how it should be done (lots of people are doing that nowadays, it’s amazing how complacent you can get with a guaranteed branding). After a fairly long period of silence from him comes his directorial debut
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
.

On the run from the cops, a low-rent crook stumbles into a Hollywood audition and his ‘method’ wins him a role and a trip to LA. Where he is packed off learn how to be a detective by shadowing the real thing. On their first run of the mill stakeout, a corpse turns up (the first of many) and they find themselves caught up in…oh, you get the drift.

And, bloody good it is too. Laugh-out-loud funny at more than a few points, and with just the right balance of wise-cracking buddy stuff (that you would expect) and bang up-to-date gross out humour.

But, what really makes this are the central performances from Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer. Both of whom looked at one point poised to be lauded as among the greatest actors of their generation. This, sadly, was never to be. On Downey’s part this was down to a rock ‘n’ roll spiral into drug addiction and all that type of stuff. Kilmer, through some serious bonehead career choices. Both have always had a certain affinity for comedy (always the sign of a good actor). Seriously, over the festive season keep and eye of for Weird Science or (probably more likely to be stumbled across when lying on the couch hungover) Chances Are and tell me that there was ever any doubt the Downey was the only choice to play Chaplin – he has a command of physical comedy that seems to be a dead art. And, here, both have never been on such fine form.

So what if the chemistry between the main characters is handled a bit strangely. Not that it’s not there, but they just seem to go from the squabbly stage to buddy-buddy with no real transition. The actual story is pretty flimsy and luckily completely irrelevant to enjoying the movie. There are numerous false endings, a whole chain of feel good denouement(s?) that verge on the irritating. There’s just one too many – although I’m not certain which one.

This film is far from perfect, and certainly not a classic. But, it’s a darn sight more worthy investment of your time than a lot of stuff released this year.

Written by Tony Kiernan

19 December 2005 at 12:03 pm

Posted in Film

Flightplan

A spoiler is a strange tithing. There are times when people should be summarily ripped to pieces by a gang of rampaging gnomes for even contemplating letting certain things slip. (Imagine my pleasure when first seeing The Usual Suspects to discover that the graffito Keyser Soze and an arrow pointing to – well – one of the characters, was the crux of the entire thing. If I ever meet the bastard behind that I will not be held accountable…)

There are those times where people not wanting to spoil it can build up your anticipation to an extent that the film can only be a bit of an anti-climax. (You have no idea how mundane the amazing ‘twist’ in A History Of violence seemed. Luckily it was still a good film.)

However, there are times when you just have to tell the whole damn thing to hammer home just how goddam awful a film is. Flightplan is one such film.

Now, let’s get this clear from the outset: I love Jodie Foster I suppose I kinda grew up with her. She was always that cool, older, sassy, squinty mouthed, slightly geeky and completely sexy girl that I had a bit of a crush on. The fact that she’s a good actress makes it all the better. Since Silence Of The Lambs, Foster’s hollywood persona’s been pretty strange. Apparently, she’s one of the few women with the pull to actually open a movie (bet she wouldn’t have been in your top five guesses). And, they seem to have pigeonholed her into this strange ‘noble’ figure who always stands up to adversity (be that convincing folk to send her into space, or being pursued round her house by a psycho). She does however turn up in the occasional strange more arty place (she’s the best thing in Jeunet Brother‘s horrendously long and hopelessly sentimental (and accurately titled) A Very Long Engagement). Boy she’s great *sigh*. I even own a copy of Catchfire, a film so horrendously shredded by the film company that it’s director – Dennis Hopper – completely disowned it (just what is Vincent Price doing in there?), purely for the full frontal Jodie. (Actually, I still quite enjoy it. You can almost see the film it coulda been. When did he suddenly acquire an oil empire?)

For those of you that haven’t been in a cinema in the last six months (and therefore have not seen the trailer), Foster plays an aeroplane engineer flying from Germany to he states to bury her dead (possible suicide) husband. She boards the plane with her young daughter. After a snooze, she awakes to find her daughter missing. After a frantic search by herself and cabin crew, it transpires that there is no record of her daughter having been on board. A quick telephone call later, and they tell her that her daughter is actually dead and has been for two weeks. Cue lots of neurotic episodes, and continual attempts to escape the sky marshall she’s handcuffed to to cause havoc throughout the plane.

As I said, all of this is in the trailer. And, to be honest, any is she or isn’t she (barking) stuff is pretty much covered in there too. No, really, they don’t go into it any deeper than that. Anyhoo, we all know she can’t be not Jodie.

And, then we come to the big twist that you can almost here the backslaps from the business department as soon as it happens. Turns out that sky marshall Peter Sarsgaard has kidnapped her daughter and tied her to a bomb in the plane’s nose cone. You see, that way he can convince everyone that she’s a nutter demanding a ransom (no, I didn’t quite follow that either) which he will then pocket. Of course to make it really convincing he did have to go kill her husband to get her distraught enough. Well, he didn’t bank on spunky Jodie. Who cotton’s on, whacks him on the head with various close-by implements, saves her girl and blows him up (saving herself and the kid though her superior knowledge of plane engineering). The film even closes with whispered comments from the other characters that had her down as a loon “You see? She never gave up on her daughter…”. Christ, I’m cringing even typing that.

So what starts out as a ‘psychological’ thriller that, to be honest, takes itself far too seriously degenerates to embarrassing farce. Hang your heads all involved. (No, not you Ms Foster, I’ve got a special punishment for you….)

Seriously, if you are tempted to go see this, try something else. Better still, rent Red Eye a film with no pretentions (but some actual tension – Arf!). And, a much better film by a mile. If you don’t like it, you can just imagine how bad this is. Also, it’ll probably have a trailer for Flightplan on it, so you’ll see all the good bits. Just DO NOT GO ANY FURTHER THAN THAT, no matter how tempted you are or intriguing it looks. On this one, trust me.

Written by Tony Kiernan

15 December 2005 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Film

The Transporter 2

Within the first minute and a half of this film we learn that Jason Statham‘s ex-special-forces-turned-shady-driver Frank Miller is stylish, mean, fast as hell and has a heart of gold. And the rest of it pummels on at pretty much the same pace.

This is not a film for physicists. In fact, half the fun in this is the sheer preposterousness of the action. Kinda like a Jackie Chan movie for gadget freaks.

Luc Besson seems to be a single handed genre with this kind of thing. And, to be honest, there’s a lot worse things to be know for than stylish, very silly thoroughly entertaining thrillers (look at Ralph Fiennes). He’s certainly doing better out of Hollywood than poor John Woo (wanders off shaking head and muttering what a waste….).

Super model type in their undies. Particularly toting huge guns. Besson invented this. And, I’m all it. But, could we actually get someone a bit sexy next time. Kate Nauta may well be very pretty and she may command vast sums of money to strut catwalks, but she has the body of a teenage boy. Whatever happened to curves? Now, Anne Parillaud…

Written by Tony Kiernan

15 December 2005 at 1:27 pm

Posted in Film