Friday, January 30, 2015

Daft Punk - Discovery (2001) / Interstella 5555 (2003)

Original Discoish Synthpop from the French House Pioneers

The French House Duo Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter aka Daft Punk’s debut CD, Homework, was an unlikely candidate to reach the double-platinum sales mark. In a musical climate that was focused on the rise of bands like the Prodigy and Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk’s house-inspired fusion debut was a refreshing look back at the roots of dance/club/electronic music with a truly original feel. On their second album Discovery, Daft Punk replace the ‘80s synthesizers and drum machines and embrace vintage disco with garage house and synthpop overtones.

The debut single from Discovery, the impossibly catchy "One More Time," sort of sounds like a Giorgio Moroder remix of Kool and the Gang’s "Celebration." There are also nods to E.L.O. ("Digital Love"), Mannheim Steamroller ("Veridis Quo"), funk pioneers ("Aerodynamic" and "Crescendolls"), the French electronic group Air ("Night Vision" and "Voyager"), and R&B ("Face to Face"). 

Discovery isn’t as conceptually intriguing as Homework nor as their later releases, and it lacks any real dance floor burners aside from "One More Time." Instead of going for the easy carbon-copy sophomore release, Daft Punk go off in an entirely new direction. Homework worked for anyone who was a fan of classic dance music. Discovery, on the other hand, goes overboard on the disco influence and probably alienated a good portion of the band’s followers.

While one has to salute Daft Punk’s courage in pursuing this new direction, there’s only so much of that four-on-the-floor sound that one can take. However, it must be noted that Rolling Stone magazine included Discovery on their list of The 30 Greatest EDM Albums of All Time so there is probably more to this than what you hear in one listen.

Incidentally, Discovery also later resurfaced again in 2003 as the soundtrack for Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem, an scifi adventure anime film directed by Kazuhisa Takenouchi that was made in collaboration between Daft Punk, Japanese manga creator Leiji Matsumoto (known for Space Battleship Yamato), and the leading Japanese anime/manga company Toei Animation. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

High Heels and Low Lifes (2001)

A light hearted but entertaining brit crime caper 

2001 if I remember right was not an exciting year for small scale Brit movies and just when you thought they had reached rock bottom (well almost), along came a movie that raised the spirits. High Heels and Low Lifes was one such flick and a women-centric action comedy to boot.

It is rare for a screenplay to feel fresh, as if the writer hadn't shaped the plot in advance. It gives the film that what's-going-to-happen-next rush and this movie excels in it. This story of two girls, who become involved in a bank robbery by mistake, has many layers of surprise. Writer Kim Fuller's ability to avoid the obvious and director Mel Smith's reluctance to descend into farce make this one of the funniest British crime comedies since Nuns On The Run. 

Shannon (Minnie Driver) is an NHS nurse, Frances (Mary McCormack) a struggling American actress. They are best friends. After a boozy night, celebrating Shannon's birthday, they overhear a conversation between two crooks, who are in the process of breaking into the vaults of a bank in their street. They report it to the police, who take no notice, being too busy with Saturday night mayhem at the station. They decide to take matters into their own hands and demand money from the gang in exchange for their silence. "There must be a blackmailing website," Shannon says, desperately. They have no idea what to do and so make it up as they go along. They have a phone number and so start by ringing it. What they don't know, but will soon find out, is that certain members of the gang consider assassination the first line of defence. 

Fuller's script is inspired and the direction by Smith (who also gave us the George Lucas produced Radioland Murders and Rowan Atkinson's Bean) is almost faultless and on dot. Driver and McCormack work beautifully together. In fact, Driver hasn't been this good - or looked this good - since Grosse Point Blank. The baddies have the bumbling boy (Danny Dyer), the ruthless boss (Kevin McNally, playing a similar role to Ben Kingsley's in Sexy Beast, but without the loony toons) and the big nasty (Michael Gambon, as the man they call The Poof, in murderous form). In a nutshell this is a fun movie to watch on a lazy night. A.W.Murray

Monday, January 12, 2015

Transformers - Age of Extinction (2014)

The most boring installment of the blockbuster franchise. JohnnyTwoToes gives you all the reasons

A massive box office hit earning over $1 billion worldwide including the tag of the highest grossing film of 2014, Transformers - Age of Extinction or Transformers 4 as its popularly called is however the most boring entry into this noisy and obnoxious franchise and that too in spite of several bombastic action sequences that are staple for a movie of this stature.

This time around it is Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, a maverick inventor who is one step away from losing everything because he does not seem to have a real job. He tinkers with junk he finds and scratches out a living but cannot maintain the house payments or please his (overtly pubescent but still virgin) daughter, Tessa (a miscast Nicola Peltz). When Yeager finds an old truck in a busted up, abandoned movie theater (don't ask how it got there. I have no idea, I mean this IS a Michael Bay film.) it turns out to be Optimus Prime. Soon the feds, led by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) descend like locusts on the Yeager farm and the proverbial crap hits the fan. What then ensues is an almost incessant all metal and explosives driven 3 hour assault on the senses. Don't even try to assess the plot, please. It is merely a window dressing to see everything on screen blown up, crushed, eviscerated, disintegrated and obliterated. I would say there is not one car, building or any structure that is not left standing by film's end. 

The acting is sufficient with Walberg Stanley Tucci and Grammer carrying this film, but there is really nothing going on that I cared that much about. Bay seems to find plenty of time for the wall to wall action and it is well staged, but it is stifling to the characters, the story and the viewers. All of the action seems to go nowhere and quite frankly, it gets old and very boring. 

The running gag about Walberg's daughter maintaining her virginity is laughable since she is first in shorts that are so short that the barely cover anything up. Then she changes into jeans that are so tight, I don't know how she even moves without ripping them open. And, oh yes, the high heels. She lives on a farm but seems to love high heels. Even when she is being flung about by the machines and running from the machines she is sporting the pointy shoes with the stiletto heels. I don't know how ANYONE could run like that without busting a heel or their ankle. Apparently, his daughter can dress like a 'working girl' but has a 'don't look, don't touch' policy imposed by Yeager and, "For God's sake, NO KISSING!" It is all pretty ludicrous. 

This time around too, Transformers 4 is as awful as the last one and to a slight extent, Age of Extinction is loud and fun in spots but overall, this is a franchise that needs an overhaul. Bay directs with energy and gusto but never lets the film breathe any personality and his direction has the subtlety of a brick through a window. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger is not a bad writer but the details of these plots for the franchise seem to never make sense. It was good to see Titus Welliver take time out from hocking Comcast to play a pretty decent bad guy but the lovely Sophia Myles and Jack Reynor are wasted for the most part, in characters that are paper thin. Steven Jablonsky's score is about the only emotional hook I had to this film. He is an excellent film score composer and Bay is wise to keep using him.

Transformers - Age of Extinction is not horrendous but this is a franchise that needs to infuse some class or tact into its agenda for the fifth installment. Yes, you read correctly. There will be a fifth Transformers and Wahlberg has signed to be in it too. It’s set for release in 2016 so enough time to erase this crassly made mess from our memory. Maybe, by then, they will figure something out to get it right. Transformers - Age of Extinction- ** out of 4

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews what was perhaps 2014's best Sci-Fi Actioner!

If you are one of those who is yet to see it, Edge of Tomorrow is a clever science fiction action film that is kind of a cross between Groundhog Day and Pacific Rim but done with panache. If that does not peak your interest then you might want to skip it, but that would be a mistake because its rather well made with spectacular action sequences, good performances by the lead pair of Tom Cruise and Emily blunt besides terrific direction by Doug Liman who also gave us good flicks like Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Jumper and The Bourne Identity; all first-class films in their own elements and all very different, just like this one. 

Based on the Japanese novel 'All You Need Is Kill' written by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow was originally titled on the novel name, but since it was considered a tad negative with the word “Kill” in the titke, it was then rebranded to a more PC like, “Edge of Tomorrow” with the tagline 'Live, Die, Repeat’. A tagline that was later pushed and repushed aggressively more than the original title when this movie was released on video. At any rate, I guess it was irrelevant considering it’s a Tom Cruise vehicle. 

Set sometime in the future, the film stars Tom Cruise as Cage, a public relations attaché for the military who is sent to a boot camp in preparation for a huge offensive Earth is getting ready to execute against vicious aliens attacking our planet. Cage has never seen action before, has very little training and has little voice in the matter yet he is sent to a unit which employ special suits to fight the alien hordes. Inexperienced and ill prepared, he gets killed but he wakes up again to experience his death one more time and it repeats again and again. Each day he gets killed in combat and soon realizes he is stuck in a warped time loop where he wakes up the previous day, knowing very well what will happen in the battle ala Groundhog Day style. There are other, more supernatural elements in the story but since I am recommending this film, I don't want to ruin it by saying anything further. 

Edge of Tomorrow could have been a mess, given the rather ordinary one day plot. If Liman and writers Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, and John-Henry Butterworth simply repeated each day from start, it would have been a nightmare to sit through. Credit the filmmakers for a smartly written screenplay and giving audience credence for being smart enough to know what is happening without rehashing the same scenes over and over again. 

The characters are interesting especially the arrival of Earth's foremost warrior, Rita, played by the smolderingly sexy, Emily Blunt. She is fierce, fearless and has a mental connection to Cage who seems to be connected to the alien psyche. They have interesting chemistry as a screen couple, but the film does not oversell it; less is more, here. There are some scenes that we have seen before, as the two fall in love, but it works for the film. There are a couple of other scenes too we have seen before such as an extended training montage that is funny in spots. Still it has a nice touch and works for the film, for the most part. The cast all turn in solid performances and we care about what happens to them. 

In addition to the sharp script, direction and action, I have to give a hat tip to Cinematographer Dion Beebe and Film Editor James Herbert who create a vibrant world of the aliens and have the film cut to a quick pace so that we are up on all of the action and characters without a lot of extra nonsense to get back to that point. This is an exceedingly well edited film and for a film like this, it HAS to be otherwise we would all be snoozing in our seats. Christophe Beck's score is a hybrid of electronics and orchestral arrangements and it is quite effective for the battle sequences which are plentiful and the music gets you right into the action. Beck is an excellent composer who struck gold with Frozen and he gets it done, here with Edge of Tomorrow, his first scifi work. I also got a kick out of Bill Paxton as the drill instructor who comes across as a combination of a devout priest and a door to door salesman, complete with a prepared speech for each recruit. 

In spite of largely positive reviews, Edge of Tomorrow was sadly a flop at the domestic box office. Costing 178 million dollars to make, it barely broke 100 million in US ticket sales however it recouped over $269 million worldwide banking on the popularity of Cruise in the international market. And although not perfect, Edge of Tomorrow is fun, crafty, has a sly wit and loads of great action. All the expensive cost on screen looks great, is put to good use and the meat of this film is in Liman's direction, Cruise’s persona and the tight screenplay. They all work and, despite some hiccups, Edge of Tomorrow is a good night at the movies or at your home! Edge of Tomorrow-*** out of 4

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