Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Great Film Moments #3: Edge of Darkness (2010)


Edge of Darkness is very much an underrated thriller. Mel Gibson's big screen return was a compelling and often shocking thriller about corruption in the highest offices of the United States. Perhaps held back by the strong anti-Gibson air around (and still here), the film was only a modest success at best and the film got unsurprisingly middling and mixed reviews. The remake of a 1985 BBC drama, Edge of Darkness will be remembered for several reasons; the aforementioned return of Gibson to the big screen, the brutal shotgun scene, the jaw-dropping car attack scene and the scene that I have chosen, Jedburgh's (Ray Winstone) final scene with the shameless politicians he protects after Gibson's Craven has been neutralised. 

Ray Winstone is a great screen presence. His ability ranges from playing quietly menacing characters to in-your-face madmen has been perfected over the years. Even his portrayal of Ray in Nil By Mouth, he exerted a likeability despite his callous and abusive behaviour. In Edge of Darkness, he is the primary antagonist, but becomes as much of a tragic figure as crusading Craven. The scene itself seems to be closing out without trouble, until they make an unfortunate joke out of Craven's terminal state (something Jedburgh relates to, as stated earlier in his own health woes). We see the best of Winstone here, the calm and collected consultant in a rare moment of emotion, snaps and viciously kills all two cronies in the room instantly. The Senator pleads for his life, stating he is 'An United States senator', to which Jedburgh replies; 'By what standard', before dispensing of the true villain of the conspiracy. It's brutal and shocking, but just what everyone watching want to see, given the corrupt behaviour and treatment of not only Craven, but Jedburgh too. It's a highly satisfying scene, but also a rather bittersweet one, as rather than shoot his way out of the building, he goes down without a fight, surrendering to an amateur guard who promptly shoots him dead.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

FILM REVIEW: End of Watch (2012)

Director: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Micheal Pena, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, Frank Grillo
Running Time: 109 minutes
Genre: Action drama

David Ayer has an impressive background in L.A. cop films. The writer of Oscar-winning Training Day, the underrated Kurt Russell pic Dark Blue and director of the silly, but highly enjoyable Street Kings returns with this searing thriller about two L.A.P.D. officers who get in over their heads with some with pretty nasty Mexican criminals. Using a variation of the found footage genre mixed with traditional camera set-ups, it makes for a compelling and gritty thriller that packs a punch and reaffirms Ayer's status as a promising writer/director.

End of Watch is not as much a cop film, more of a buddy picture that relies heavily (and thoroughly succeeds) on the performances of the two leads, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena. Simply put, either the film fails or succeeds on the relationship of the duo. Gladly, it is very much the latter as Taylor (Gyllenhaal) and Zavala (Pena) feel like fully fleshed out characters and the primary focus is on their relationship from the beginning with the oft hilarious banter or heart-to-heart conversations about relationships that don't seem forced and seems like everyday conversations two guys would have. The film's more intimate moments with Taylor and Zavala's families further back-up the full characterization of the two leads with Zavala's wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez) and Taylor's love interest Janet (Anna Kendrick) providing more personal insights into the two. Both Gyllenhaal and Pena are great, with Pena in particular excelling (as he has done consistently in his career) as second fiddle to Gyllenhaal's Taylor. The story unfolds slowly, but it does not take away from the momentum of the film, with some clever set-pieces that only heighten the sense of dread that trouble is around the corner. Once the two run into trouble, there are some hyper-violent and dazzling action scenes that are wonderfully shot and executed. Tense and thrilling in equal measure, Ayer has perfected tense gun battles (see the opening to Street Kings for further proof) and again here he excels. However, one aspect of the film that suffers is the bland generic villains that while being intimidating and proper psychopaths, never get a decent enough look inside their world to understand their motives. It is a small niggle in such an entertaining film however, as it truly is Gyllenhaal and Pena's show.

End of Watch is a tough and gritty thriller (partly in thanks to the use of found footage style) with plenty for fans of the cop genre. Moreover, there are plenty thrills, excitement and entertaining performances to be found that raise the film above the run-of-the-mill generic cop thrillers out there, thanks greatly to the commanding and charismatic performances by Gyllenhaal and Pena. 


Sunday, 11 November 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Deftones - Koi No Yokan (2012)

Artist: Deftones
Album: Koi No Yokan
Label: Reprise
Genre: Alternative metal
Length: 51.50

The seventh album from Sacramento's finest alternative metal band has arrived and in a similar vein to 2010's expansive Diamond Eyes. Very much a sister piece to Diamond Eyes (partly down to Chi Cheng's absence, still recovering from a near fatal car accident), Koi No Yokan is a conflicted monster of an album, the quiet melodic grace and beauty is in constant battle with the grinding guitar riffs of Stephen Carpenter and blind fury of Chino Moreno's scowls. The band has found the perfect place between the contrasting sounds of metal and alternative and it is Koi No Yokan.

Deftones are definitely survivors. After six albums filled with multi-platinum highs and internal/personal lows, the band continues to mature and have come back even stronger with a progression in their artistic style and Koi No Yokan is the culmination of this artistic redefining and is an unrepentant success. From the infectious opening riff of 'Swerve City' to the slow burn finale of 'What Happened To You?', the group display an intricate skill for mixing elegantly complex lyrical verses with Carpenter's heavy alternative metal guitar riffs that are backed up by Chino's varied vocal delivery. With any other singer, a lot of the tracks on Koi No Yokan would fail miserably, but with Chino's assured delivery and outstanding vocal range (which varies from hauntingly beautiful to loudly violent and intimidating) it makes the album a resounding success. 

What stands out most on early listens to Koi No Yokan is the tender and melodic tracks like 'Romantic Dreams', 'Entombed', 'Rosemary' and the aforementioned 'What Happened To You?'. This softer sound is much more prevalent than on their previous records and presents a more intimate and personal side of the band than possibly ever seen before. An album stand-out is 'Entombed', lead guitarist Carpenter's intimate and sweeping riff mixed with Chino's ability to balance the melodies with reaching the high notes. 

The album's first single 'Leathers', much like Diamond Eyes opening single 'Rocket Skates' and very similar in style and set-up is a decent advertisement for the album's broad sound and is very much the vintage Deftones sound. Containing heavy riffs, an epic chorus and top notch production values (again from Nick Raskulinecz), it's a good, solid rocker. The second single from the album, 'Tempest', is a different beast altogether. Clocking in at over six-minutes long, it is an epic slow builder with Chino's melodic delivery met with some top grinding from Carpenter. This is one of the more progressive songs on the album and is a joy and was a great choice for the second single.

For fans of the bands more heavy side, there is plenty to find on Koi No Yokan with tracks like 'Swerve City', Poltergeist' and 'Gauze' fill the quota to varying degrees of success. 'Swerve City' is a fantastic opener to the album, with a strong and stand-out guitar work from Carpenter to match Chino's ever impressive howl. 'Poltergeist' is by far the heaviest song on the album, and is an onslaught of heavy riffing and ominous vocals from Chino. 'Gauze' is a good solid rocker, but is one of the lesser songs in context of the whole album.

So far, so good, right? It gets better. The album's 9th track and centrepiece song, the near-seven minute long 'Rosemary', will go up there with the finest efforts in the band's long career. Describing this song as epic is an understatement. It is a layered, sprawling effort, with lavish production and a heavenly sound. It becomes clear at this point, that the Deftones are a band at the peak of their creative powers, a band on a creative roll who has reinvented themselves as an important band in the rock landscape. 'Rosemary' is this albums crowning achievement. 

The album closer, 'What Happened To You?' finishes the album on a perfect note. Similar to the sound found on their 2011 album Covers, 'What Happened To You?' sounds unlike a Deftones song. That is what makes it a success. A group willing to broaden their musical range and that is what Koi No Yokan is undoubtedly about, artistic progression. What started with Diamond Eyes has reached its peak here. 

Koi No Yokan is an unprecedented success. The group's seventh album builds on everything good in their previous efforts and adds a new dimension of layered sound and expands on the melodic sounds hinted at in Diamond Eyes and their previous efforts. It is refreshing that a band that has been around for so long is not afraid to evolve and refine their style without completely losing their trademark sound, Deftones have managed this with considerable success and acclaim. This album is broad and expansive with great variety and substance to it and a contender for album of the year.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Great TV Moments #2: Bobby Baccalieri Sr. does one last job

Tony and Bobby Sr. have a little chat.

Bobby Baccalieri Sr. (Burt Young) made one appearance in The Sopranos. And it was a memorable one at that. Dying from lung cancer, the fragile elder Baccalieri undertakes a hit on orders from Tony to kill Mustang Sally, his godson. It must be noted that this storyline is not of any significant relevance to the seasons main story arc (other than building Bobby's relationship with his father and his feelings about Tony). However, what this scene does is contain all the hallmarks of what makes The Sopranos probably the greatest television show ever made. It is a scene that is brutally violent, yet darkly humourous as Bobby Sr. takes out these two goons in a brutally improvised fashion. It's a terrifically tense scene, where the ailing Bobby Sr. fights two younger, stronger, but far less clever men. It culminates in the seemingly pleasant old man taunting an injured Carlos before killing him. Old habits die hard for Bobby Sr. who then celebrates with a cigarette. Of course, as only The Sopranos would do, to suffer a heart attack afterwards while driving home is the show at its dark hearted best. Moments of dark humour and violence have never been mixed so well, especially on television. While it's of no great significance to the overall plot-line, it is what made The Sopranos such a joy to watch (see the episode Pine Barrens for further reference), the ability of the show to go on tangents and to bring in smaller characters and make them fully realised and enjoyable while never sacrificing the main ensemble. This self-contained segment mixed with wicked humour and gratuitous violence makes it a memorable moment (one of many) in The Sopranos legacy.

Carlos interrupts Bobby Sr. and ruins his plan. Whoops.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Great Film Moments #2: The finale of The Way of the Gun (2000)

Christopher McQuarrie's follow up to the legendary The Usual Suspects is a criminally unseen and highly entertaining genre pic, The Way of the Gun. While at the time hyped up to Tarantino levels of possible awesomeness, it never really delivered on that level. Owing more to Peckinpah than Tarantino, in retrospect you can see why the film failed to receive the acclaim and box office receipts of Tarantino's best efforts. This is a crime film with a bunch of arsehole lead characters trying to screw each other over from the very start. These people are all bad and McQuarrie makes no attempt to hide it. It's a very uneven film, that is sure, it can be very funny, quick witted and clever in parts, but there are moments that overrun and slow the film down to a crawl. That being said, the film has several stand out moments and will be what it's remembered for. The opening scene is a classic comic scene that doesn't suit the tone of the rest of the film, but is mightily funny and uses some colourful language. The kidnapping scene is as tense as they come, and uniquely plays with genre conventions. The motel shootout/sniper scene is a glorious scene that tests 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound to the limit. These scenes are up there with the most enjoyable in crime cinema, but it's the final bloody set-piece that steals the show.

"There's always free cheese in a mouse trap" - Longbaugh

As Parker (Ryan Phillippe) and Longbaugh (Benicio del Toro) make one last go for their fortune, they come across a legion of goons and Joe Sarno (the great James Caan). What follows is one of the finest choreographed action scenes in film history. As far as film goes, it is also up there with one of the most realistic takes on a gun battle, the action is all around, a fully realised battleground with danger incoming from 360 degrees. Which is refreshing. And most importantly, it's thrilling, tense and packs a mighty wallop. It's one of the loudest and most frantic set-pieces ever filmed (perhaps only beaten by Michael Mann's Heat) and for the first time in the film, you also want Parker and Longbaugh to succeed and get away. Bar one dreadful bit (the shotgun to the nuts, which looks bad and dated) and a scene where the realism slips for one endlessly deafening barrage of bullets to draw one helpless goon out, bullets fly, Parker and Longbaugh battle on furiously, but taking heavy damage. A genuinely squirm inducing scene involving the fountain and Parker ups the gore ante and sets up the finale, ominous reel. Despite that one scene, the set-piece doesn't rely on gore and bloodletting, rather the sound is amped up and it works wonders in giving the scene an epic sound (5.1 has never sounded better). It is action cinema at its very best. 

Saturday, 6 October 2012


Directors: Adam Winguard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence
Starring: Calvin Reeder, Lane Hughes, Adam Winguard, Hannah Fierman,  Mike Donlan
Running Time: 115 minutes
Genre: Horror anthology

The found footage gimmick is becoming stale. It's resurgence in recent years due to the success of the Paranormal Activity has brought up a host of cheap and tacky imitations trying the same trick over and over. V/H/S is a breath of fresh air in that regard. Unlike the majority of these films threats of near-misses for 90 minutes and then one big reveal at the finish, V/H/S goes straight for the jugular. It's gruesome, nasty, vile, ultra-violent and disturbing in parts, but one thing you can't deny is that it is an effective horror film that sticks a middle finger to the safe horror that is constantly being thrown into cinemas.

Rather than being one long haul, V/H/S is an anthology film, broken into six short segments (five of which are seen in one main arc called 'Tape 56'). This allows for greater variety in tone and style, which is often a hindrance on such films, where the found footage gimmick can wear thin pretty quick. Tape 56 suffers the most from being broken up in bit segments while the other shorts play and is the most confusing, but there are a few chills to be found, despite the group being a bunch of douchebags. The opening short, Amateur Night (directed by David Bruckner) is the best of the bunch. Following three guys on a night out, their drunken antics (except the quiet and nice guy of the group cameraman) and their inability to see that everything isn't okay with one of the chicks they pick up from a bar. Cue madness. This segment is bat-shit bonkers. The warning signs are evident for the boys early on and it's horror movie school 101 stuff, but is executed with such thrilling style and makes exceptional use of the found footage format. Visceral and pretty much every young man's nightmare, it's a fantastic opening segment. The second segment, Second Honeymoon (directed by Ti West) is a more subdued affair. Anyone who knows West's output will instantly know his involvement here. Slow building and full of quiet menace, a couple on their second honeymoon become victim of a deranged stalker. Here, the use of the found footage is haunting and eerily creepy. West's horror instincts (as seen in the great The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers and probably the main reason I wanted to see this film) are old school, the slow build, the ominous signs and the night scenes. They are beyond scary. The stalker using the couples camera is a master stroke. The menace and threat of the stalker in those scenes do more than the blood-letting that comes afterwards. The shockingly brutal climax will warrant a strong stomach and is about as explicitly violent a film can get without being censored. Be warned! 

The third segment, Tuesday the 17th (directed by Glenn McQuaid), plays with the slasher movie format and after the first two segments feels like a let down. It has its moments with some genuinely spooky flashes. One or two of the kills are rough and nasty, but the over-reliance on gore here (and some shoddy effects/fake looking props) hinder. It has its moments, but nowhere as effective as the previous two. The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Young (directed by Joe Swanberg) is the weakest segment of the film. Relying on a Skype camera call scenario, a young woman who suspects there is a ghost in her apartment contacting her doctor boyfriend to keep a record of the events. There are scares to be had here, as the Paranormal Activity premise is turned on its head in pretty disgusting fashion. Two impromptu surgery scenes again keep the recurring theme of extreme gore at a high. This is perhaps the weakest segment of the film, but given the tricky and confining setting, it does well all things considered. The final segment is the most fun of the bunch, 10/31/98. Directed by Radio Silence, this segment has by far the most visual scares of the film, as a group of guys go to the wrong Halloween party and enter a real life house of horrors. The scares are not a gruesome as the previous segments and there is a lighter feel to this segment (for the opening exchanges anyway). The scares are great, giving more in jumps in 15 minutes that the combined Paranormal Activity franchise combined. 

V/H/S is a great horror film. Mean and nasty, but with enough clever touches to stop it from being exploitive, there are enough scares and blood here for hardcore horror fans. Definitely not for those with a weak stomach though. All involved have made an entertaining and genuinely unique take on a horror sub-genre that has relied on safe and basic scares. V/H/S rectifies this, with blood-soaked aplomb. Be warned, it is intensely violent and gruesome. One for Halloween then!


BOSS; the most underrated show on television

Starz is not a channel people would rank up there on the level of HBO and AMC for its programming output. Recently, with popular shows like Spartacus (haven't seen it, so I can't comment on the quality of the show) or the misfire that was Camelot; there have attempts at making grittier shows along with the likes Magic City and the upcoming Noir. But no have been successes on the level of the powerful brands of HBO and lately, AMC, whose shows Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Mad Men have seen the channel rise as a powerhouse of television. Boss was seen as being Starz answer to these shows and as a challenger. However, as seems common in the States, shows live and die based on viewing figures, with little regard for acclaim or critical praise. Even though Boss has made it to a second season, it's viewing figures have been abysmal and I'd be surprised if there'll be a third season. Which is a shame, because Boss is a pretty darn good show.

With this being billed as Kelsey Grammer's first serious lead-role away from his more comedic centred efforts for which he became famous for, it is a great and unsuspecting success. As Mayor Tom Kane, there is a new side to the man once fondly remembered as Frasier Crane. Tom Kane is a monster. A ruthless man with time against him. Diagnosed in the opening scene of the first episode as having Lewy bodies with dementia, we first see him at his strongest. This is the compelling point of this show. There will be no recovery for Kane. He is going downhill from the very first episode and unlike most shows when these problems tend to be resolved easily and thrown aside (something that always took away from Breaking Bad for me). Kane's battle to hide his illness from both his family and the public is a compelling look at a man losing control, who was perhaps not a likeable man before his diagnosis, but has become even more so as the series has progressed. Now I am not sure of the portrayal of Lewy bodies in the show, if it is a genuine portrayal of the illness or sensationalised for entertainment purposes. If it is a genuine portray; then it's a harrowing affliction as Kane (especially in the later episodes of season 1 and rises in season 2 and provides some of the seasons best scenes) loses his grip on reality, his hallucinations become more vivid and his mind veers away from stability. While not wanting to go into plot specifics and spoilers, Kane's conversations with right-hand man Ezra Stone (the terrific Martin Donovan) provide the series highlights. Stone's cool precision mixed with Kane's fury makes for thrilling television and even more so in the second series as the show evolves from political drama into a full blown psychological thriller. 

While not being the greatest show ever, it is great to see Grammer tackle more challenging projects. From start to finish of every episode, he is the focal point, confidently carrying each episode. It's Boss's greatest strength but also it's greatest weakness. This over-reliance on Grammer. While Donovan's Stone is the pick of the supporting characters, shows like the aforementioned Breaking Bad or classic shows of the highest calibre like The Sopranos and The Wire make use of a strong supporting ensemble, where often the supporting characters are the highlight; hello Mike Ehrmantraut and Christopher Moltisanti! Boss in this regard suffers. It is very much a one man show, for all the supporting characters plotting and scheming, they are not in the least memorable in the grand scale of modern television viewing. Which is a shame, because Grammer's Tom Kane is. Despite these flaws, the show is definitely worth having a look at, purely for Grammer's powerhouse performance.