Wednesday, 25 July 2012

MUSIC: The Magic of Bruce Springsteen

There is no show like a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band show. Performing for well over three hours, Springsteen and company delivered another sprawling, enjoyable, often humorous, sometimes emotional, but always a thrilling show and had the audience under their spell for the duration. They are relentless in their pursuit of entertaining the audience, providing value for money on a scale rarely seen these days. For well over three hours last Tuesday, Springsteen made you believe that nothing else mattered and he was there to entertain you and not that you there to see him sing a few songs. The man is out of this world in terms of being a performer and it is obvious he loves every minute of it, and it is reflected in his energetic performances that in turn drive the rest of the band.

It was obvious from early on that he was on mischievous form and in the mood for fun, making light of the Hyde Park curfew mess and using it as a starting point and setting the mood for a great rendition of 'I Fought the Law'. From there on, the band rampaged through 30 songs from their extensive back catalogue. Even songs I confess that I have no time for or dislike (songs like 'Dancing in the Dark' do nowt for me) were rip-roaring and the band had the audience in their raptures for large spells, blazing out classic after classic and the RDS was afloat with joy and pure entertainment. This brings me to perhaps what I think the main reason for Springsteen and the band being such an enduring presence and maintaining their high levels of popularity is their diversity and for every 'Dancing in the Dark' and 'Born in the U.S.A.' are a 'My City of Ruins' (which had me in awe and was arguably song of the night for me), 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' and 'My Hometown'. These are collections of songs so contrasting in style and substance, but which provide a perfect mix of emotions that allow for the band to remain relevant and to keep going for such a long time. 

Among other highlights of the night was the thrilling and lively 'Murder Incorporated' as well as a selection of the songs from the latest album, Wrecking Ball. The epic encore, consisting of crowd favourites like 'Born to Run', 'Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)' and another standout, 'Tenth Avenue Freeze-out', that contained a wonderful tribute to the late Clarence Clemons was a wonderful summarization of what this collection of musicians are all about. Even though it's my third time seeing them, it is still an awe-inspiring and breathtaking spectacle, there is no reliance on a light-show or big gimmicks, just a band doing what they do best.

SONG OF THE DAY: 25/7/12

A song taken from The Veils second album Nux Vomica; Jesus for the Jugular has all the peculiarity of the early Nick Cave output, but yet having enough oddness of its own to keep it from becoming a cheap knock off. I heard this originally in the film The Devil's Double, a film that is worth a look at purely for Dominic Cooper's terrific performance. Cool song, cool film, check it.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

RETROSPECTIVE: The Bourne Identity (2002)

Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Clive Owen
Running Time: 118 minutes
Genre: Action adventure

Matt Damon's first outing as Jason Bourne in 2002's The Bourne Identity was an exciting and occasionally exhilarating Euro thriller. The film (even more so with Greengrass's sequels) helped shape a new, darker and more realistic hero and take on action cinema, with its strive for realism over sensationalism and a reliance on intrigue and suspense filled action thrills over high and extravagant body counts. The Bourne Identity was the catalyst in the re-imagining of a genre on the wane. Released in the same year as the twentieth Bond film, the abysmal Die Another Day, Doug Liman's take on Robert Ludlum's spy franchise provided the perfect antidote to the now silly and irrelevant Bond saga that had began to sink under the sheer ridiculousness of the special effects driven gadgets and unimpressive villains/character development. Jason Bourne came at a time where films like xXx were being made and while being profitable, were just not very good. Bourne in essence returned action cinema to positive critical reception and reshaped Hollywood ideals on what the audience wanted to see.

Damon's Bourne is a complex character, one who is not the same man he was before the yacht shooting, a killer who has regained his conscience. In contrast to the ultra assured and confident guise of Bond (and backed by M16), Bourne is seen as a threat to his government, is suffering from amnesia and doesn't remember anything of his former life and has little to no backup or support. This change around, with the lead having to utilize basically a guerilla defence against his former employers and his constant being on edge with the prospect of assassins constantly on his tail allow him little time for wisecracks or any of the suave elegance Bond was afforded. There is a pace to the thrills in Bourne, they are quick and elaborate but never cross the borders of realism (on-screen 'movie' realism anyway). Perhaps the finest set-piece of The Bourne Identity (embedded below) that typifies the gritty and serious direction the film goes in is Bourne's confrontation with fellow assassin 'The Professor' (Clive Owen). There are no smiles, humour or show-boating, it is just what has to be done and the little talk between Bourne and The Professor (and with all credit to Owen, who gives a memorable performance despite the small screen time he gets) is not one hatred or illogical dislike for each other, it was what they are trained to do and The Professor's talk about the headaches (which Bourne complained about earlier) fills one with sympathy for him, as he is ultimately in the same predicament as Bourne. 

The films central villains Conklin (Chris Cooper) and Abbott (Brian Cox) are as reprehensible as possible, only self-serving and out to cover their backs which leads them to use Bourne as a scapegoat. Cooper is excellent and has a menace to his performance that draws you even closer to Bourne's fight. The most important plot point that makes Bourne likeable is his relationship with Marie (Franka Potente) and their relationship comes off as being genuine and Damon excels at these scenes, where you can see Bourne slowly falling in love with her, much like a boys first crush. A scene that Marie shows her obvious attraction to Bourne (but he is too preoccupied to notice) is when they arrive at the apartment in Paris, is a scene of genuine sweetness that only makes the viewer hope that they get away and live happily ever after. Despite all its strengths (and perhaps being held up to the vastly superior sequels), The Bourne Identity suffers from being too long and drawn out in parts and with Wombosi storyline in particular given too much screen time (despite it's necessity to the overall plot, it could have been handled better). 

Despite these small issues, The Bourne Identity all serves as a great origin story (much like Casino Royale, Batman Begins and countless others would do in the wake of Bourne's success) that Paul Greengrass would build on and elevate to unprecedented levels of greatness in the two sequels. Moreover, The Bourne Identity works as a great standalone thriller and equally serves as a good set-up for the sequels. Damon's now iconic performance as Bourne contains many of the traits that the modern action hero has come to embody, with his relationship with Marie as an emotional anchor and compass for him in his search for the truth and ultimately for freedom. Identity is a classic of modern action cinema.


SONG OF THE DAY: 14/7/12

Taken from their 2007 album War Stories and featuring the vocals of Gavin Clark, Unkle's Broken was a song I first heard on the end credits of 2008 film The X-Files: I Want to Believe and perhaps remains one of the few positive aspects of that film (even as a big fan of Mulder and Scully). I've never really heard many of Unkle's songs except maybe their remixes of Ian Brown's F.E.A.R. and a couple of Queens of the Stone Age tracks they did which were on a QOTSA B-Sides album. This song is a nice little melodic and atmospheric tune with decent vocals by Clark. The chorus in particular is a standout for me, where all of Unkle's production skills come to the fore.

Friday, 13 July 2012

SONG REVIEW: Pure Love - Handsome Devil's Club (2012)

Artist: Pure Love
Song: Handsome Devil's Club
Genre: Alternative rock
Release Date: 22 July 2012

While not having the bang-wallop factor of 'Bury My Bones', Pure Love's second single is everything that the title of their debut album (the ever-so-aptly named Anthems) suggests an absolute rocking sing-along treat. 'Handsome Devil's Club' is such a catchy song (the chorus is immense) and grows in stature and impact on repeat listens. Lead singer Frank Carter's Morrissey-lite lyrics and raw delivery only reinforce the lovelorn and careless in love vibe of the song.

With Anthems not being released until the Autumn and a small UK tour inbetween now and then to rouse anticipation even further along with Handsome Devil's Club will satisfy fans needs until then with ease. It's hardly going to reinvent the rock world, but it is most definitely a catchy and infectious rock song that will you begging for more of these guys. Also, for anyone looking for more Pure Love material, be sure to check out Daytrotter's live sessions for terrific live performances of songs from the upcoming album. 


SONG OF THE DAY: 13/7/12

One regret I will have for the rest of my life is not getting to see these guys perform live, especially their multiple visits to Dublin in the latter part of their career. R.E.M. loved Dublin and a collection of their Dublin concerts have become their official live releases. This song, The Ascent of Man, from their 2007 album R.E.M. Live exhibits all the range of Michael Stipe's immense vocal capabilities.  Never have the most basic lyrics of "Yeah" over and over again sounded so powerful with Stipe giving it his all. It is a wonderful little gem of a song. 

Thursday, 12 July 2012

SONG OF THE DAY: 12/7/12

What I like about Seasick Steve is that he has been there and done it all before. His wise words are even truer because you know he has lived what he has said and has the life experience to show. As you go through life you learn things and often despite some peoples best attempts to unhinge and get to you, it only exposes their own direct lack of meaningfulness in their own lives. More annoyingly so, is the callousness and insincerity of people and lack of consideration of their actions and the hurt it causes. For that reason, Seasick Steve's opening track from the aptly named 2011 album You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks, called Treasures is a wonderfully poignant choice of song for today. 

FILM REVIEW: The Thing (2011 prequel)

Director: Matthijs van Heijiningen Jr.
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Running Time: 102 minutes
Genre: Horror thriller

A prequel to the 1982 classic of the same name on paper is totally unnecessary and uncalled for. Even now, 30 years after its release, the original film remains a masterpiece of psychological horror storytelling and the creature effects remain miraculously decent despite its age. So this prequel has an awful lot to live up to and it essentially comes off very much like 2010's sequel Predators, a film which captures the spirit of the original classic, but does little to elevate it from being a modern rethread.

A film like this can't help but be compared to the original as there are so many nods and winks to it throughout its 100 minute running time. Finding out how the Norwegian camp from the original came to end up like this was an interesting idea and at a basic level the style and set-design are excellent for the most part and consistent with the original. But much more important and an essential part of what made the original so tense was the characterization, the strong central cast who felt like more than filler for when the trouble began. In this aspect, this film fails, we are given Mary Elizabeth Winstead's Kate Lloyd, who is the sole character we get to know or appreciate in any way, with supports like Carter (underused Joel Edgerton as a Kurt Russell clone) and the two-faced Adam (Eric Christian Olsen) wasted. The rest are either cardboard cut-out characters, like the callous Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen), who are underdeveloped and given little room to be nothing but stereotypes. This would not matter if the film had a hidden ace up its sleeve, but it doesn't. Once the alien is loose, it becomes a stalk'n'slash horror with the body count rising steadily and some shoddy CGI (even compared to 1982's version, where prosthetics have held up considerably better) kill any tension that could have been sought from the creepy premise of not knowing who could possibly be the creature.

While entertaining as a throwaway action horror film, this prequel does not do enough to distinguish itself from the classic 1982 film. Much like other new rethreads of older classics, this film serves more as a homage to the original film rather than trying to invoke any unique and original scares/thrills of its own. Only for die hard 'The Thing' fans.


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

SONG OF THE DAY: 11/7/12

Jane's Addiction are a band that name was always familiar to me, but never know much of their catalogue (bar maybe 'Just Because') until one evening when I heard their latest single 'Irresistible Force (Met the Immovable Object) on Paul McLoone's radio show on Today FM. So I sought out that song on their new album, The Great Escape Artist, and along with Irresistible Force, I'll Hit You Back are the two stand-outs. I was surprised to find out that this was only Jane's fourth album since 1988 and in an age where disposable albums are released yearly in a overly-saturated and quality declining market, it's good to see bands like Jane's Addiction still going strong.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

SONG OF THE DAY: 10/7/12

From what I would call a mix between Faith No More and Living Colour on their more funkier exploits; Fishbone's 'Fight the Youth' from their 1991 album The Reality of My Surroundings is a bombastic and catchy tune with political and social issues scrutinized to a funky groove. I came across this song while watching an old episode of Beavis and Butthead and I found myself humming along almost instantly and had to search it out. A band that never got the commercial success that some of their work deserved, it's a shame that songs like this one are forgotten but it is further proof that there are great undiscovered songs out there just wanting to be found. 

Monday, 9 July 2012

FILM REVIEW: A Lonely Place to Die (2011)

Director: Julian Gilbey
Starring: Melissa George, Ed Speleers, Sean Harris, Eamonn Walker and Karel Roden
Running Time: 99 minutes
Genre: Thriller

I saw Julian Gilbey's 'A Lonely Place to Die' knowing very little about the film. Marketed as a mountain climbing adventure that gets out-of-hand by the wonderfully misleading posters/promotional materials for the film that advertise a Cliffhanger-type thriller hide a truly great and thoroughly entertaining thriller that is tough and unforgiving and builds to a highly effective and strong finale. This is all propelled by a strong cast, relentless pace and terrific set-pieces. 

Set in the wilderness of the Scottish Highlands, a crew of inexperienced mountaineers come across a kidnapped young foreign girl buried in a chamber. What follows is their attempts to get to a local town and warn the authorities. However, the kidnappers are on their trail and what should be a routine mountaineering expedition becomes a nightmare for all involved. The group, who are perhaps slightly generic on the surface with the battling female lead, the funny guy/love interest, the arsehole, the mother who misses her child and the fake lead. But with credit to Gilbey, the characters do not have long to fill these roles as once the kidnappers find out the young girl is missing, the action is relentless and the kidnapper's vicious in their pursuit of the girl. We are given very little insight to why the girl is so valuable, but with the introduction of  Darko (Karel Roden) and Andy (Oz's Eamonn Walker) the pieces fall into place. Melissa George is a great lead, tough yet inexperienced, she makes you feel for her plight. Ed (Ed Speleers) could easily be an annoying sidekick, but Speleers does a good job of keeping him amusing and genuine, and his making light of their horrible situation provides much needs moments of comic relief. The villains Mr. Kidd (the vastly underrated Sean Harris) and Mr. McRae (Stephen McCole) are worthy adversaries and are cold, vicious and brutal (as exhibited in their memorable introduction). Not to spoil from the films best set-pieces, but once the first shot is fired, the film becomes relentless in pace with the action non-stop and Kidd and McRae's menace becoming swiftly ominous. 

'A Lonely Place to Die' is a great little thriller. Despite the minor logic flaws, this a tough and entertaining film with George carrying the film with her charisma and presence in opposite to the devilish and sinisterly excellent Harris and McCole. If you like films with a raw edge, non-stop tension and action and a satisfyingly tense finale that packs a punch, 'A Lonely Place to Die' is for you. 


SONG REVIEW: Blur - Under the Westway (2012)

Artist: Blur
Song: Under the Westway
Genre: Alternative rock
Release Date: 2 July 2012

Blur's first single since 2010's 'Fool's Day' is a double release; the oddity 'The Puritan' comes the wonderful poignant 'Under the Westway'. While being no die hard Blur fan and more of a casual listener, this came as a wonderful surprise to me. Despite releasing a single in 2010, the band have not released an album since 2003's Think Tank and any worries about the group losing their touch can be cast aside with this sweepingly beautiful and gorgeous song.

Blur's music varies from their more playful singles like 'Country House' and 'Parklife' to the more serious and melodic offerings like 'Tender' and 'The Universal'. 'Under the Westway' is firmly in the latter bracket and is essentially a love song, but with enough Albarn dramatics and strong lyrics for it to avoid being melodramatic of over-emotional to the point of parody. Albarn's delivery is unique and is not the high note hitting masterclass like crooners, but rather a voice driven by pure emotion and therefore infinitely times more effective.


Tuesday, 3 July 2012

TV REVIEW: Deadwood: Season 3 (2006)

WARNING *major series spoilers follow*

The third season of HBO's acclaimed Western-drama follows the high standards set by the previous seasons. Unfortunately, all the promise and set-up for a fourth season is squandered after the show was prematurely cancelled. This is rather infuriating (but understandable give the high production costs) and cuts short one of the finest television shows ever created. As with the previous seasons, the set-design, characterization and writing are all of an enormously high standard. The added threat of this season's stand-out charismatic antagonist George Hearst (terrifically performed by a menacing Gerald McRaney) gives the show extra edge and menace (as if it didn't have enough of that before).

Season 2 ended with the arrival of the sinister and feared Hearst and his disdain for the camp gives a new immediate threat to all the settlers. Hearst's arrival not only increases an already intense climate in the camp, but starts a bloody campaign that threatens the lives of major characters. Early in the season, we see no one is sacred in a brutal scene between Hearst, Captain Turner (Alan Graf) and series favourite/anti-hero Al Swearengen (an impeccable and devilishly cunning performance by Ian McShane) where Al is learns first hand (or finger) of Hearst's ruthlessness. The interactions and tensions between the three main factions (Hearst, Swearengen and Cy Tolliver's (Powers Boothe) crew) provide the main storyline for the season, while the addition of Brain Cox's Jack Languishe and his theatre provide new faces. Seth Bullock's (Timothy Olyphant) struggle to contain his aggression in the face of goading by Hearst and in particular with his  continuous intimidation of Alma Garrett (Molly Parker) lead to to arrest Hearst and drag him to jail by ear. The ongoing storylines from previous seasons continue, like the tumultuous relationship between Sol (John Hawkes) and Trixie (Paula Malcomson), the tragic relationship between Alma and Mr. Ellsworth (Jim Beaver) and the burgeoning friendship/maybe more between Jane Canary (Robin Weigert) and Joanie Stubbs (Kim Dickens). 

As plans are laid out and tensions between Hearst and Swearengen rise, it brings about some of the finest episodes in the 36 episodes of the complete show. Episodes 10 and 11 (titled 'A Constant Throb' and 'The Catbird Seat') are the best episodes of the series run where threats are turned into actions with the attempt on Alma's life and when Mr. Ellsworth becomes victim to Hearst's orders at the hands of the Pinkertons. These (like the death of William Bullock in season 2) are gorgeously choreographed scenes, as is an enthralling and brutal fight between Captain Turner and Dan (W. Earl Brown). Despite these scenes of violence, the show remains true to the previous seasons set-up, rather than ending up with full-on war and sacrifice of wonderful dialogue for brutal action, concessions are made and bitter agreements put in place. But knowing that their is no fourth season leaves a slight sour taste. As yet again, like with the previous seasons, the final episode is used to relieve some season storylines, but to build up others for the next. So we are left with a raft of unanswered questions and character arcs that have not finished. It is a terrible shame and overshadows the final scenes of yet another wonderful season of essential television viewing. 

Despite this being the final season of Deadwood, one can only feel that this show was only starting to get into its stride with the major underlying themes that were still only being established in the previous seasons. Despite this abrupt end, Deadwood was one of the most consistently brilliant and best written (and acted) shows ever to be made. As said previously, the gorgeous and expansive set-design ultimately was too ambitious for a show with a small loyal following and ultimately led to its cancellation, but can still be regarded as one of the most ambitious, brutal and tense shows ever produced. A joy.