Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paul Weller - Illumination (2002)


Chas Newkey-Burden warms up to the original Modfather

Illumination, the sixth studio album of celebrated English rocker, singer & songwriter Peter Weller released in 2002 can be described as Weller's boldest solo effort, bursting with soul, character and sentimentality. Weller's never been one to play the game in the music industry but you sense that this, more than ever, in this album. It as if he didn't give a hoot to the music industry or the critics or whether they like it or lump it. 

It opens, as did his last two studio albums Heavy Soul and Heliocentric, with a long, mellow and mysterious track - 'One x One' which clocks in at over five and a half minutes. Featuring Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer of Oasis, it builds into a pleasing crescendo and grows with every listen. After the many masterpieces he produced with The Jam, The Style Council and during his solo career, for a song to be called a 'classic Weller tune', it has to be something special. 

The album's second track 'It's Written In The Stars' is something very special - a soul jive Stevie Wonder would have been proud of. With interesting brass effects, it deserves to be the soundtrack for driving around on a sunny day, with the roof of the car back. Also oozing with soul is 'Standing Out In The Universe', which marked the welcome return of Carleen Anderson and Jocelyn Brown on backing vocals.

So too is 'Leafy Mysteries' which is one of the catchiest tunes on the album. If it's rocking tunes you're after, you'll enjoy 'A Bullet For Everyone' which takes us back to the territory Weller stomped over during his Stanley Road era. But it's on 'Call Me No. 5' that your air guitar will get some real punishment. Weller duets the song with Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics, and the senior statesman wins the who-can-sing-the-most-croakiest-and-bluesiest contest hands down. 

But such noisy moments are few and far between on the mellowest studio album Weller's ever released. There's lots of quiet, acoustic stuff going on here with 'Bag Man' and the title track 'Illumination' most enjoyable, particularly to those still hooked on his acoustic live album Days Of Speed. They're sound of a mature artist for sure, but one who is quite at ease with his age. 

There are a few tracks that don't quite do it. 'Who Brings Joy', the album's most sentimental moment, is the musical equivalent of being cornered by a slightly tipsy man who has just become a father and wants to show you his photos. It's so slushy, it makes his last weepie, 'Sweet Pea', sound like 'Eton Rifles' in comparison. Some people will enjoy the mysterious two and a half minute instrumental 'Spring (At Last)'. But for me, it sounds a bit too much like the background to a self-help hypnosis tape. The final track, 'All Good Books', is a decent enough gospel tune but lacks the importance to work as the closer to the album. 

Overall, though, a cracking album. Weller, his superb material oozing soul, humanity and musicianship, continues to stand head and shoulders over any other British artists of his time. Perhaps his best studio album since Stanley Road, Illumination reminds you that we bandy around the world genius with far too much aplomb nowadays. Weller's one of the very few around at the moment to richly deserve that title. So lets paray he doesnt go hanging up that guitar for a while.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Bad food and bad sex go hand in hand!

Eating Chinese take-aways and having casual sex are two things I don't do very often, but after having a Special Chow-Mien the other night I realized the similarities between the two are numerous.  

The desire to indulge in either usually has something to do with alcohol intake and a night in the club. Being "under the influence" somehow heightens certain desires and the senses become slightly blurred. Instant gratification must be had. There are ways around this, but the rational part of our brains has long ceased to function. There's a good chance there is food in the fridge to put something vaguely edible together, and every girl or guy who knows how to scratch that itch should keep the inconspicuous snickers handy for times like these. But no, the juices are flowing, the Chinese take-way/casual sexual encounter must be had, despite those consequences. 

Seconds before consumption, a little voice will speak and you chose to ignore it. That voice will tell you that you still have time to stop, you'll regret it in the morning…. Yes, I am going to talk about the consequences, even though it hurts. Every time I do it I remember why I swore the last time I'd never do it again. So, for my benefit and the benefit of many others, here's some good reasons not to partake of either. Maybe the message will eventually sink in. 

Despite how good it feels at the time, (and you can be sure it feels gooooood!), within half an hour you will start feeling yucky. If you manage to sleep (full stomach/ stomach full, stranger in the bed maybe) you can be guaranteed you will feel so crap in the morning you will want to puke. You will hate yourself and vow to never do it again. You probably will puke, and take several showers. 

Then there's the smell. Chinese food has a way of lingering for hours, as does the latex smell of condoms. Even without condoms, sex has a smell all of it's own, not to mention sticky, sweaty bodies. The only thing to do is open the windows wide and wash everything in disinfectant, mouthwash or soap. 

I'm not completely knocking either sex or Chinese take-aways. What I will do though is suggest quality, rather than quantity. Try a sit-down meal in a restaurant, or a good Indian take-away for variation. The same goes with close encounters. If you never want to see the guy or gal again, a one-night-stand is the way to do it. If you do, I suggest giving him or her a sample of what's to come, lots and lots of snogging, even show him some nifty handwork. Or just put the whole thing down to experience. Pearl P

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Beach Troubles in Bangkok


A Van Ride to Nowhere (and then some adventures) 

We first met Günter and his family on a tour in Vietnam. Günter had been on the trail for about nine months and had been all over Australia, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. His mother and younger sister traveled all the way from Germany to have a nice pleasant stay with him in SE Asia. We met them on a Saigon City tour. Saigon City Tours operates out of Saigon, Vietnam. Most of their stay was fun and quite uneventful. However, there is one humid Bangkok day they are unlikely to forget. 

Günter's mother and sister were planning on returning to Germany in a couple of days. We were just hanging out in Bangkok trying to figure out what to do, and then decided to go to one of the beaches on the outskirts of Bangkok on a day trip. Günter went to a tour agency on KhaoSan Road, the backpackers mecca in Bangkok and arranged everything. An air-conditioned van would pick us up at 8:00AM the next day. Everything looked good so far. We were going to the beach! 

The next morning arrived and our waiting began. While waiting we managed to have a good breakfast of muesli with yogurt. The kind where they put the honey on top. Always a favorite. Then we waited and waited. Every so often some van would drive up, and assuming it was ours, we'd get up, only to be cut off at the pass by another group of travelers. 

The "air-con" van didn't arrive until 10:30. Nor was the van "air-con" van really "air-con". Angry but relieved to be on our way; we piled in and trusted our driver to safely deliver us to the beach. It looked like we could make it by 12:30, still enough time to get a tan. The driver sped off and we were on our way. About a half hour into the trip Günter noticed that the driver was going the wrong way. Günter told the driver about our apprehensions and the driver told us not to worry, that he knew just where he was going. And he did know where he was going; it just wasn't where we thought we were going. Nor was it where we should have been going. He eventually turned into a hotel parking lot. It turned out that we were there to pick up an Indian family. 

The father of this particular Indian family was extremely angry. First of all, the van was now over three hours late in picking him up. Second, the van wasn't air conditioned. His little girl, who was about nine years old, stuck her head in the van and proclaimed "This will not do. It's much too hot." The father began to argue with the driver and the manager of the hotel where he had booked the trip. They stood there arguing for about half an hour while our group waited in the van. Finally, the manager got him another ride to the beach. 

Our driver got back in the van and started the engine. We were on our way! Only problem was that it was now about 11:30 and getting the chance of getting to the beach at a decent hour seemed more and more remote. 

We discussed this situation among ourselves. The driver of the van spoke very little English and didn't seem to understand our discussion. Our final decision was to give up and return to KhaoSan Road. We then asked the driver to turn around and give us our money back. He refused. We protested. He then called the owner. The driver then offered to take us to the owner's office. We agreed with that. He then started to drive to the owner's office. Upon arriving at the building, the driver did not want to show us the owner's actual office; he wanted us to wait in the van. He took off for the owner's office; Günter and I followed him and watched him go up the stairs of the building. Günter then went up the stairs and actually got to speak to the owner. He refused to give us our money back! Amazing, but true! 

They decided that they would drive us back to KhaoSan Road. Even though we didn't get our money back (yet!), we felt that we had no choice but to go. At least that way we wouldn't have to pay for a taxi. Thinking that it was best to deal directly with the travel agency, we got back in the van and started off. A few minutes later, the driver stopped at the side of the road to get some water. He left us in the van. We waited patiently. He was gone about 15 or 20 minutes. 

While he was gone, I stopped a police car. I tried to explain our situation to the police officer. The officer didn't speak much English. The driver returned and he brought a friend. The driver explained his side of the story to the police officer. Of course, both the driver and the police officer speak fluent Thai. Naturally, we lost. He wouldn't help us but assured us that our driver would take us straight back to KhaoSan Road, with no stops. We adamantly insisted on no stops. The driver agreed. No more stops. 

We all get back into the van. About fifteen minutes later the driver pulled off the side road again, this time under a bridge. The driver got out and just left. I started to question his friend who had remained seated in the passenger side. His friend assured us that the driver would be gone for only a few minutes. By this time we were more than a little upset. We were getting pretty angry. 

Fortunately, luck was on our side this time. Foolishly, the driver had left the keys in the ignition! We began to discuss what to do. Knowing we didn't have much time, we immediately decided upon a plan. Günter and I both got out of the van. I started talking to the driver's friend from the passenger side of the van. Günter then walked around the van and took the keys out of the ignition. Everybody else jumped out of the van and ran across a crowded Bangkok street. We grabbed a taxi and got stuck in a traffic jam. The taxi drove by the parked van. Fearing that our van driver would see us, we crouched down in the taxi; but he still had not returned. The taxi driver headed for KhaoSan Road. 

Once safely back on KhaoSan, we went into the travel agency where Günter had bought the ticket. Günter explained what had happened and asked for a refund. They refused. They began to see our point of view when we showed them the keys. The travel agency then called the owner of the van. He finally agreed to refund our money, in exchange for the keys. Victory! 

We walked out with our pockets filled with Thai Bahts and had a late lunch at one of KhaoSan Road's many fine eating establishments. Even though we never made it to the beach, we had a far more exciting experience than we ever would have had just sitting in the sand. And that's what great travel is all about, isn't it?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Jurassic World (2015)


JohnnyTwoToes from Movie Slackers loves this mildly cheesy but entertaining reboot

Before making Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow had only directed just one film - an indie flick titled “Safety Not Guaranteed” that released in 2012 and was screened at the Sundance Film festival. Other than that he has one TV film, one documentary and one short. So for him to take on a mammoth sized franchise and to do it well must have been a major undertaking. Jurassic World opened to a record breaking weekend raking in over five hundred million dollars worldwide making it the biggest box office opening for any film ever made. But is it any good? 

I went with my movie chums on a Thursday evening screening and the theater was about half full and there were a number of smaller children there. When the film ended, nobody to my knowledge had walked out and, for the first time this year, people applauded. The general consensus was the this outing was pretty darn good. Unfortunately, these films have lost their “awe factor” and become more of a creature feature, than anything. 

This outing though, is undeniably fun, if nothing else. The film opens with the new park open to the public. It apparently treats 20,000 visitors to petting the docile dinosaurs, safari to see more dinosaurs, and an aquatic beast that would give Shamu a run for its money. All is well and good, until the Indominus Rex (A genetic creation of all kinds of dinosaurs) gets loose and goes on a tear through the park. Other less than hospitable creatures are cut loose, as well, so you can only imagine the kind of mayhem that ensues. 

Chris Pratt is a young man named Owen who is ex Navy. He has been brought in to train the Velociraptors not to be so mean. Call Owen the Doctor Doolittle of Cretaceous Period. Complete with a clicker you might use to train a dog, he has been able to train all four of them to not eat everyone they come across. Well, almost. The scenes with Owen and the clicker made me chuckle. Velociraptors have the brain the size of a walnut, if I am not mistaken, and, shall we say, don’t have the mental capacity to be trained to do much of anything. When the Indominus Rex gets loose you have your movie.

Some of the concepts of Jurassic World are completely silly. I mean, how many times are they going to keep trying to get the park open without someone getting gobbled up. What insurance company would underwrite this park, knowing its track record? Who would want to go to a park where you might be eaten by the amusements, themselves? Director Trevorrow and fellow writers Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly touch on this but it is brief. There is still the ‘military’ concept of using the dinosaurs as the new weapons argued by Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio). There is the new financier, Simon Masrani (well played with humor and class by Irrfan Khan) who is also a new helicopter pilot. There is the bean counter, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the nerd, Lowery (Jake Johnson) and the two kids that get lost at the worst possible time, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson). The two boys just happen to be the cousins of Claire who have come to visit while the parents work out their divorce. Let us not forget Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) who is the creator of the dinosaurs, as he is the lead geneticist. 

All of the staples of the Jurassic franchise are here. The big dinosaurs that prey on the smaller ones, the visitors and destroy everything in their paths. The film is sprinkled with humor and loaded with action. The acting is good and the characters are at least interesting, even though we have seen this all before. The script (written by two of the writers for the new Planet of The Apes films) does a nice job of balancing the science with the human elements of the story. I invested in these people and cared what happened to them and Michael Giacchino’s rousing score (with John Williams Jurassic Theme music) is a pleasant treat. Pratt and Howard have chemistry and I could see them as a couple, since it is referenced their characters did go on a date with one another. “What kind of a girl brings a printed itinerary for a date?” Owen asks. “What kind of man wears shorts on a first date?” is Claire’s response. “Hey, it’s hot down here,” Owen shoots back. It has a number of scenes like this and they work. There are also number of references to the original park and some of their equipment, as well as John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough RIP) which are all welcome. 

Jurassic World is not as good as its predecessors and there is a lot to pick apart in this film. But, I had fun. It was exciting and I have to say entertaining. I did not care about the gaping holes in the dinosaurs authenticity or the cheese of some of the material in this film. Jurassic World is a solid thriller and it delivers the goods. 

Please check out the Movie Slackers video review of Jurassic World on YouTube @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqfKdnHzdvE 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Vanilla Ice - Hard to Swallow (1998)


A colossal misfire from the rasputin of Rap

Listening to his third studio album, you start to wonder if the american rapper Vanilla Ice aka Robert Van Winkle should have stayed an obscurity after his initial super duper reign of success. His long absence from the music scene was hardly noticed, until this ill conceived mishmash of an album with rap core and nu-metal elements reminds us of why rap and hiphop fans are glad he's been gone. 

In his heyday, he tried to pull the wool over our eyes and have us think he was a gangsta rapper from Miami, and legit. This image go-around finds him hoeing a row different than before this time, but it's just as pointless. Hard to Swallow is just that. 

The eleven proper songs are indicative of his prior style stealing. This time the victim is the metal-esque rap metal done by bands like Rage Against the Machine, Korn, etc which Ice calls "Skate Rock". The songs are all way too long and wear quickly. Ice raps in a lower register as he attempts to growl / rap in a poor de la Rocha imitation. All in all, the whole idea is way too contrived. 

The raps themselves are ridiculous. "Fuck Me" is a long rant through all the finest of foul language. He spouts off obscenity at every turn for no real reason. Did he think we would find him cool because he can swear? Then we have the needless "Zig Zag Stories." In another attempt of trying to convince us he's cool, Ice spouts off a story of smoking blunts and every other pot cliché and nickname you can think of. In addition to this beauty, "Prozac" finds Ice chanting "We gets crazy like Prozac." Isn't that backwards? you're crazy so you need Prozac? To top off this banality is the utterly idiotic "Stompin Through the Bayou" with its faux metal swamp guitar and Ice's mundane refrain. 

All through the record Ice refers back to lines from the first piece of schmaltz: "Ice, Ice, baby" gets many repeatings in many different contexts. An album like this is hard to review as it's so contrived. From it's style copping music and raps, to the bare breasts on the cover it is one piece of material that reeks of corporate composition in an attempt to cash in and revive a dead stars career. It is an abhorrent waste of money, time and plastic and nobody would have missed it's existence.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Any Given Sunday (1999)


Your typical big budget 90s sports movie, Oliver Stone Style

Seeing this ensemble casted, sports drama makes you wonder if the egomaniac tendencies of Oliver Stone are clearly evident here as he pulls a few tricks in providing an intriguing story set around the American football scene, and with an excessive running time. He gives us a dose of slow-motion sequences, black and white fading, quick cuts, and other gimmicks. It does take a while before the viewer is able to settle down to living the plot.

"Any Given Sunday" tells of the working conditions both on and off the football field. The film is a typical sports movie and has to take in many plotlines. Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) is coach of the fictional Miami Sharks team. They are in a losing streak and he feels his team coming apart. D’Amato also needs to contend with his disruptive family life, as a divorcee who never seems to have time to see his kids. His passion for football is very evident, yet he feels frustrated with the intrusions of the female owner of the team, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz). In a man’s world, she is a new breed. Making a profit is more important than the traditions. She also fights with the esteemed position that her late father held in society. She wants to succeed in her own right. 

The season turns bleak when ageing player Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) is hurt with a potentially career-ending injury. D’Amato has to rely on the brash, unproven talent of Willie ‘Steaming’ Beamen (Jamie Foxx) to lead his team out of trouble. Willie has trouble as a leader. His maturity is not yet developed, and his selfishness causes the team to unravel. D’Amato has a real dilemma on his hands. Oliver Stone shows us the ugly side of the sport – the temptation of fame, money, affluent lifestyles, and the exploitation of players. His use of dramatic and photographic overkill is frustrating, though. 

The script is slightly complicated and the ideas for the Jamie Foxx character are mysterious. He is the flashy new football star, yet Foxx’s acting didn’t generate much interest for me. Al Pacino is his usual dynamic self, turning up the volume as Stone would want. Cameron Diaz does another unusual turn and continues to build herself up into a fine character actress. James Woods, as the team doctor, turns in another fine performance. It is recommended that the soundtrack be given a good listen. Featuring Fatboy Slim and Moby, it is great value. 

Stone has been plagued, in as many years, with big budget overkill within his films. Perhaps he should be asked to have a set budget of a smaller scale to force his hand in great filmmaking techniques again. Above all, however, the fact remains that this is an American sports movie with a familiar story and cameos by many former American football greats including Jim Brown, Lawrence Taylor, Dick Butkus, Johnny Unitas, Pat Toomay, Warren Moon, Y. A. Tittle, Terrell Owens,  Ricky Watters, Emmitt Smith & Barry Switzer besides good actors like Charlton Heston, James Woods, LL Cool J, Matthew Modine,  Lauren Holly, Aaron Eckhart, John C. McGinley and more

Certainly, this flick would be recommended for such fans because there is good material to grasp Stone’s out-of-control motives. It may not be that accommodating to the other side. Dung Le

Sunday, June 7, 2015

In the Light of the Moon (2000)


A fairly okay movie on Ed Gein, the famed Serial Killer of the 50s

Before serial killing became a fashionable hobby, Ed Gein was doing terrible things to women in Wisconsin in the Fifties. Usually they were dead and he stole their bodies from the grave, but occasionally, when his mother told him, "It's time for you to do the Lord's work," they were alive. By then, his mother was also dead, which made it doubly weird.

The producers are eager to point out that Gein was the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence Of The Lambs. It's true that Ed adored his mother and she filled his young mind with images of Old Testament damnation and after she died, when he was 39, he became increasingly reclusive and strange. He would flay the flesh of unresurrected corpses and use the skin to make lampshades and chair covers and clothes.

He lived alone in a farmhouse, reading books on the female anatomy, Nazi war crimes and Polynesian head-shrinkers. The place was filled with macabre momentoes and junk. He ate tinned pork-and-beans and human body parts. He would go to the bar in the little town of Plainfield, where the locals made fun of him, and occasionally to a neighbour's house to watch TV and play draughts. His shyness with women was acute.

Given such real-life material, writer Stephen Johnston and director Chuck Parello (Henry II: Portrait of a Serial Killer) go against the trend for explicit gore. They recreate the atmosphere of a rural community during the Eisenhower era, when life was slow and easy, with infinite care. Steve Railsback plays Ed as a man tormented by visions, caught between the need to bring the dead back to life and do his mother's bidding. He is neither vicious, nor intimidating, rather sad and gentle. The madness that drives him belongs in another place.

Carrie Snodgrass gives herself more room. Ed's mother controlled her children with an iron will. Religious mania clouded her judgement. She would save her boys from the wickedness of the world and destroy sin through the instrument of her second son, as Jehovah did at Sodom and Gomorrah. After her death, when she appears to Ed, she has become a figure of nightmares. 

Ed Gein, the movie, is a fine example of horror as an extension of private delusion, rather than the expansion of something beyond human experience.

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