Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Melodic Alternative - Indie Rock from the Splendid Dublin Fourpiece
While the Devlins burst into the alt rock scene in 1994 with their spectacular debut album ‘Drift’ (produced by the award winning Malcolm Burn, a protégé of Daniel Lanois); I heard them first only in 1996 on the soundtrack of the Winona Ryder – Lukas Haas coming of age teen flick ‘Boys’. Like Ian Brown, another favorite of mine, the Devlins have constantly remained on my top 5 fav list since then.
Led by the multi-talented Colin Devlin and seconded by his brother Peter, the Devlins have released 4 albums so far - Drift (1993/94), Waiting (1997), Consent (2002) and Waves (2004) with Colin Devlin’s solo album Democracy Of One (2009) being the most recent. All their albums have been certified gold best sellers and in 2010, Colin Devlin was also nominated for the prestigious Meteor Awards.
Notwithstanding the wrong comparison with their most famous Irish cousins – U2, the Devlins play an inimitable blend of mellow alternative rock, soaked in terrific melodies and intense lyrics that are enhanced by intricate guitar work - instant hook-ups in the first listen itself. No doubt, their most recognized songs have all been soundtrack hits. Their first international hit single “Crossing the River” was featured on the ‘Batman Forever’ soundtrack followed by “Waiting” in the Tom Cruise starrer ‘Magnolia’. A remix version of “Waiting” received phenomenal recognition when it was featured on the pilot of the popular HBO TV series ‘Six Feet Under’. Later, in 2004, they achieved more fame when their hit “World Outside” was featured on the soundtrack of Mike Nichols’ “Closer”.
You can now hear all of their most well-known hits including my personal favorites in this special and exclusive selection, encompassing music from all their albums and soundtrack appearances. While I eagerly await their fifth album, now is the time for you to fall in love with the Devlins. Enjoy the love!
1. The Devlins - Almost Made You Smile (4:57)
2. The Devlins - Alone In The Dark (5:14)
3. The Devlins - Big Decision (3:16)
4. The Devlins - Consent (4:48)
5. The Devlins - Crossing the River (4:45)
6. The Devlins - Don't Let It Break Your Heart (3:47)
7. The Devlins - Everytime You Go (4:49)
8. The Devlins - Five Miles To Midnight (4:10)
9. The Devlins - I Don T Want To Be Like This (4:21)
10. The Devlins - I Knew That (4:01)
11. The Devlins - In Seville (3:50)
12. The Devlins - Kill With Me Tonight (4:06)
13. The Devlins - Montreal (4:01)
14. The Devlins - People Still Believing (6:15)
15. The Devlins - Snowbirds (4:46)
16. The Devlins - Someone To Talk To (4:45)
17. The Devlins - Static In The Flow (4:57)
18. The Devlins - Surrender (4:37)
19. The Devlins - There Is A Light (3:52)
20. The Devlins - Turn You 'Round (4:37)
21. The Devlins - Waiting (4:51)
22. The Devlins - Waiting (Tom Lord-Alge Remix) (4:51)
23. The Devlins - World Outside (4:22)
Saturday, April 26, 2014
JohnnyTwoToes calls this big-budget flop a travesty of Samurai films
Before I watch a film, I try to do some research on its history, so to speak; material it is based on, production, filming and its cast and crew. 47 Ronin has had a troubled production from almost the start of filming. Costing a stunning 175 million dollars and grossing a paltry 39 million in the United States is not an auspicious beginning for director Carl Rinsch. Now to be fair, 47 Ronin did end up grossing 155 million worldwide but it still is regarded as a failure. Rinsch has only been involved with creating 3 or 4 short films and that is it and his titles have been either first or second assistant director and producer. Not much of a resume to be coughing up 175 million on a film.
47 Ronin is based on a true story, although Rinsch's film has taken some liberties with some of the elements of the true story. Most notably a shape shifting female witch. The true story behind the film is that a band of masterless Samurai in the early 18th century, exact revenge on the man responsible for the death of their leader. The details are voluminous and, if you are interested you can Google or Wikipedia it, as it is a lot of reading but you get the picture.
Apparently, Universal was so displeased with what director Rinsch had completed that they wrestled the film from him and completed the editing and post production on their own dime and time. First of all, these studios HAVE to start making wiser decisions on who to give hundreds of millions of dollars to. Secondly, ENOUGH WITH THE 3D!! 2013 (and now 2014) saw bad films from accomplished directors or novices who managed to spend an unGODLY amount of money on films that were, shall we say about as much fun as passing a kidney stone. 47 Ronin is one of those films.
In spite of a great cast and the monumental budget, this film is so uninteresting that it disrespects the very people it tries to pay homage to. Keanu Reeves is Kia and he is a 'half breed' who is consistently spat upon by the Samurai that live in the village. Kia, of course, is a master of the sword himself but that matters not to the others. Reeves's character, Kia, according to the true story is supposed to be half British but my dog, Lucy is more British than Keanu is in this film.
As the film progresses, it goes from bad to worse with one dimensional characters, thanks in part to a very poor script by Chris Morgan and Hossien Amini that is dull, dreary, and uninteresting even though it tries to be anything but that. Morgan and Amini have amassed a long list of thoughtful and intelligent scripts from Drive to The Fast and The Furious films. So I know they can write. What has happened to 47 Ronin is a travesty. Despite its nobelist intentions, this film is excruciatingly slow (at a runtime of 118 minutes) and boring with not one character I found the least bit worthy of screen time.
While I look for the musical score in every film I watch, Ilan Eshkeri's score although it is excellent, is nonstop through most of the film. Rinsch's efforts to make the film an emotional one by cramming it almost from start to finish with Eshkeri's music suffocates it and never can the viewer soak up the emotion that the film maker's want us to feel. Instead, 47 Ronin is a slow death from a thousand cuts.
If you want to see a good film about Samurai warriors you can brush up on just about anything from Akira Kurosawa to Edward Zwick's terrific film The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise. That's right. I said it....Edward Zwick's TERRIFIC film with TOM CRUISE, The Last Samurai. Skip 47 Ronin and save two hours of your life. Instead, watch some of the other Samurai films I have mentioned or take a few classes trying some underwater basket weaving classes. Even maybe take a cross country ballroom dancing course. 47 Ronin-*1/2 out of 4.
Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Johnny Rotten was right after all!
A recent music review on the 70s Band - America attracted an unusually rancid response from readers of this blog's mailing list. While some questioned my authority to judge America, others have complained that I was doing die hard fans of America a big disservice (and possibly lose out a few readers too)! Some even called me the enemy of good rock and roll! Scathing criticism so to speak!
Well, one of my favorite quotes from Johnny Rotten (John Joseph Lydon), the lead singer of the Sex Pistols comes to mind. Rotten once told an interviewer that he wanted to "kill the hippies." When the interviewer asked him why, Rotten’s answer was simple: "Because they’re complacent." You see, Johnny Rotten recognized that the real Enemy of rock and roll was not lack of talent! Rotten’s own bandmates could barely play their own instruments, yet they recorded some of the most memorable and important music of the 1970s. No, the real Enemy of great rock and roll was the lack of passion. The lack of energy. The lack of desire. The real Enemy was complacency.
After the sex-and-drugs party of the ‘60s, the early ‘70s were pretty much just an extended morning-after period. We’d been to the moon. We’d fought for civil rights. We’d pulled out of Vietnam. We weren’t really all that scared of the Russians anymore. It was a pretty complacent time for most Americans. Things were, for lack of a better word, boring.
And the boredom of the early ‘70s can clearly be heard in the music of the time. We’d survived Woodstock and Altamont, and nobody really knew what to do next. The Beatles had broken up, so we couldn’t rely on them anymore. Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison had all passed away, too, making the void that much larger.
Into this void stepped a gaggle of strum-and-ponder "singer-songwriters." They were the prototypical sensitive males who tried to make the girls swoon by pretending that they were above trying to make the girls swoon. Instead, these victims of the sexual revolution wore their hearts on their sleeves and tried to impress everyone with just how sensitive they could be. These are men who would have had all of their testosterone removed if they’d been given the option. Their songs were often considered "deep" and "insightful," but that’s more of an indication of just how hungover America was at the time than the it is of the quality of the music. Listening to these songs today can be a downright painful endeavor.
I should know better– I’ve just finished (again) listening to 64 (yes, SIXTY-FREAKING-FOUR!!!) songs by the most complacent of all the ‘70s singer-songwriter outfits, ironically named America. It’s oddly fitting that this group, which represented the worst of our nation’s music at the time, would deem it appropriate to name themselves "America." Johnny Rotten was right after all. And now perhaps you know why my criticism!!!
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Thursday, April 17, 2014
Supposedly the Very Best of this Classic Country/Folk Rock Duo
The compilation box set Highway: 30 Years of America is allegedly considered the "best" of this folk rock band’s output. To be honest, a more appropriate "best of" collection for America would be a vinyl single with "Horse With No Name" on one side and "Tin Man" on the other. Even those two songs aren't all that interesting, but they do have at least a little camp-humor value. The other 62 tracks on this three-disc box set include typical odes to "Woman Power" such as "I Need You," "Baby It’s Up to You," "Only in Your Heart," and "My Dear."
There’s nothing wrong with uplifting songs about womanhood, but they all sound pretty forced when sung by a group of guys. Highway also includes quite a few songs with themes that still seem to be stuck in the ‘60s. How else could you explain song titles like "Nothing’s So Far Away (As Yesterday)," "You Can Do Magic," "The Last Unicorn," "Sister Golden Hair," and "Daisy Jane"?
Some of these songs were recorded well after the band’s heyday – America continued to record will into the mid-Eighties, even though no one really cared about them after the mid-Seventies. Their last album "Here and Now" was released in 2007. Halfway through the second disc of this box set, you begin to realize that America really only wrote five songs. They just re-arranged each of these songs a few times and changed the words around a bit.
Still, I can understood why someone would like to own a few songs by America – these songs are relaxing, smooth and non-challenging. It’s fine music for listening to when you’re in the lounge at a Holiday Inn, for example. But for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would want to own SIXTY-FREAKING-FOUR songs by America.
Saturday, April 12, 2014
JohnnyTwoToes revisits what was one of 2011's best film scores
2011 and 2012 brought two great scores from the BAFTA winning newcomer Scottish film score composer Paul Leonard-Morgan; 2011's Limitless and Dredd in 2012. Both feature Morgan with a mostly synthesized score and both films were inherently terrific films, as well, enhanced by his brilliant scores. Limitless with its sci-fi overtones was by far one of the best new scores by a new composer I have ever heard.
For those who haven't seen it yet, Limitless tells the story of a writer (Bradley Cooper) with a bad case of writer's block who discovers a magic pill that he can take that will unlock all of his brain's power and help him accomplish incredible feats. Only problem is when you crash you really crash and it is not long before all of the wrong people want what Eddie (Cooper) has.
The film was clever and intriguing and Morgan's score is an energetic and toe tapping blend of percussion and synths. At about 55 minutes of music, it is safe to say that this has most of the music actually used in the film. Starting out with 'Opening' where Eddie stands precariously on a ledge of his New York City apartment wondering how he got to this point, Morgan uses a wonderful theme that he sprinkles throughout the score. It is a six or seven note motif used in brilliant form for not just 'Opening' but my personal favorite tracks with 'Trading Up', 'Trashed Hotel', 'Hiring Eddie' and 'Happy Pills' where he infuses an array of electronics and synthesized percussion. If you are exercising, these are tracks to jam to.
'Psyched' starts with Eddie's frustration with his writer's block until he meets up with Vernon who gives him the pills. 'Eddie Knows What To Do' is a beautifully floating track as Eddie starts to feel the power of the pills take effect and his brain starts to burst out with ideas. It continues with 'Trippy' as the power of the pills seem to bring back even the most minute memories even from his college days. 'I Still Love You' is another sublime track as Eddie tries to patch things up with his girlfriend, Lindy (Abbie Cornish). She agrees to give him a second chance.
'Limitless' is the title track that shows Eddie on the fast track making friends in all the right places in finance and the stock market and 'Coming Up' continues with Eddie's success, but Eddie starts to see there is something wrong as he is almost out of pills. He also garners the attention of a hot babe who later turns up dead, a Russian loan shark and a man referred to as Tancoat and the music turns to the staccato and pulse pounding percussion as Eddie is chased by the loan shark and Tancoat. For Eddie, though there is no stopping him; onward and upward.
'The Walk Home' is a nice but short track that is when Eddie starts to realize he is coming down and 'Down The Hatch' continues with the down side of the addiction. The remainder of the album has a nice mix of hard pulsating and driving themes for 'Escaping Tancoat' and 'Lindy Chase' and the softer and more sublime tracks especially 'Van Loon', the billionaire business man who is dangerous to Eddie in ways Eddie has yet to learn and 'Lindy Leaves Eddie' when Lindy fears her own life is now in danger. 'Phone Tap' is a chilling track as the Eddie realizes the walls have not only sprouted ears but they are closing in on him, as well.
There is not one track that is wrong on this album. It is a happy and bouncy score that works on all levels. Be it soft or strong, pop or new wave, Limitless is an engrossing score and it will pull you in as will the film. Up until this point, I had never heard music by Paul Leonard-Morgan and although he had scored a few films (mostly shorts and Scottish documentaries), he had almost exclusively scored television shows most notably the British show, MI-5 also known as Spooks (which is available and highly recommended from Amazon and iTunes). Now he is on the fast track with two knockout scores for two of their respective year's films for Dredd and Limitless. Both are available from Amazon and iTunes for download. Morgan's most recent release is the John Cusack CIA action Thriller - The Numbers Station (2013). Know more on his official website.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
A Vivid Slice of 90s UK Club Culture
Made in the vein of Acid House (1998) and Go (1999) Human Traffic garnered a fair load of both critical and negative reviews and media hype when it was released. Considered a Cult movie now, some say it is the only british film that truly captures the nineties, the clubbing era of the UK 90s in particular, others will object to it's easy attitude to drugs and its frank depiction of youth lifestyle.
Human Traffic is not set in Manchester or London, but rather unglamourous Cardiff representing Anytown, UK. Towards the end, we see shots of the city that look like the world's most boring postcards, partly explaining why the youth turns to the 48 hour thrills. Some of the strong Welsh accents are hard to understand, so fortunately the main characters are from elsewhere: London, Liverpool, Ireland for example.
The plot isn't too complicated - the characters are introduced, then on Friday night they go to the pub, then a night club, followed by a party. They get high and come down. What is interesting is how they reveal their insecurities to each other. There's Jip, who works in a clothing store, and has a prostitute for a mother. He suffers from impotence. Koop works in a record shop, and is insanely jealous of his girlfriend Nina having contact with other men. His father is in a mental hospital. His girlfriend works in a fast food store with a lecherous manager. The other main female character Lulu, is a student with a history of attracting the worst boyfriends. Then there is Moff (Danny Dyer in perhaps his best performance) who supplies the others with MDMA. His father is a police superintendent.
This was Justin Kerrigan - the Welsh filmmaker's first full-length movie. It appears he was influenced by artsie directors like Woody Allen, Hal Hartley, Martin Scorsese and Kevin Smith though there is also a Tarantino like scene where Star Wars is analysed in the kitchen. Despite all that it is still a quintessential British youth movie of the 90s and a must for any serious 90s UK cinema cinephile.
A special mention about the soundtrack! Even if you don't end up liking this film, your sure gonna love the soundtrack. There's loads of 90s music from a wide ensemble that includes Underworld, Primal Scream, Orbital, Fatboy Slim, CJ Bolland, Armand van Helden, Carl Cox, Felix Da Housecat, Ferry Corsten and many more.
Monday, April 7, 2014
JohnnyTwoToes finds the charisma missing in this second installment
Thor : The Dark World picks up several months (maybe even years) after the last film ended. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has gone back to Asgard to try and salvage peace among the Nine Realms that are seemingly always at war with SOMEONE. Jane (Natalie Portman) and Darcy (Kat Dennings) have gone to England to do further research on the unknowns of space and time with their teacher Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard). When Darcy and her new intern, Ian find some kind of wormhole in an abandon warehouse in England that is when the proverbial crap hits the fan. Soon the Dark Elves have awoken, not in the best of moods and battle for the Aether that has possessed Jane for some reason. Thor must return to try and save the Earth and the Nine Realms.
I was not that impressed by the first Thor film. It had its moments and was not a bad film, I just did not get into it as much as everyone else did. I did however, thoroughly enjoy The Avengers which was a great film. Thor: The Dark World has some of the same elements as the first film as well as some fairly clever comedy sprinkled throughout. It also has some references to other characters from The Avengers that are kind of clever, as well. Where I seem to loose interest is when the film gets bogged down with so much detail we don't need about the Aether, the Nine Realms, the coming alignment of the Nine Realms, all of the scientific mumbo jumbo that is spewed throughout this film and the film's heavy reliance, once again on visuals.
Thor: The Dark World joins the lists of countless other big budget films that are overstuffed with snazzy visuals, extravagant production values and sets. These films then suffocate and become as stale as the croutons in my cupboard. The Avengers, Captain America, the Iron Man franchise all are heavy on the production side of the film BUT they have intelligent scripts that incorporate the visuals in a matter that enhance the story rather than stifle it. They also have interesting characters that interact with the visuals in a convincing way so that we accept the visuals as part of the story and even as a character in itself.
No one seems to be having any fun in Thor 2. Alan Taylor, who replaced Patty Jenkins as director in 2011 siting 'creative differences', had only directed Ian Holm in The Emperor's New Clothes(2001) as his biggest film. He has only 3 or 4 directed films on his resume, still he shows promise as a director and Thor 2 does have it moments, as well. There are some funny bits but as soon as we start getting into the characters and the story, here comes another special visual effect to break the magic.
Natalie Portman looks like she would rather be anywhere but here and as I read some of the background on the production of Thor 2, she was so angry that Patty Jenkins was replaced and she tried to get out of the film until the studio reminded her she was under contract. I guess she saw what was coming.
Thor 2 to its credit is a nice looking film and the visuals and production values are no doubt impressive. They have put some thought into the details of creating a fresh new world(s) on how the Nine Realms looks - the Dark Elves are truly malicious looking and the action is well staged. The problem is the script is heavily weighted on things most of the viewer (myself included) could not understand or even care about. I mean we get overall but it is detail overkill. For that I place the responsibility on director Taylor and script writers Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely with the story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat. It is simply a little too much.
Thor: The Dark World is a nice attempt and does some things well, is well acted and Brian Tyler's score is a lush orchestral score that fits the film nicely. It is too bad that it is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Thor: The Dark World-**1/2 out of 4