Sunday, 30 December 2012

My Top 13 Songs of 2012

It's been a great year for music and has been very difficult to condense into a list of just 13 songs. Sorry Kelly Clarkson, you just didn't make the cut. 

13) M.I.A - Bad Girls
It may not have been huge- but 'Bad Girls' is a far superior song to the mega-hit, 'Paper Planes' in my eyes. Fierce Bitch.

12) First Aid Kit - Emmylou
These two cannot go a foot wrong - their second album is equally as strong as their last. I'm incredibly jealous of their talent.

11) Dirty Projectors - Dance For You
I'm not sure if this was released as a single, but this was a stand out from the album for me.

10) Lana Del Rey - Ride
Say what you like about Lana, her sometimes annoying persona, her overlong music videos or her questionable live performances - this song is still beautifully produced, written and sung.

09) HAIM - Don't Save Me
This is the female Hanson we've been waiting for since 1996. I'm feeling 2013 will be a big one for these three Californian ladies. 

08) Bat For Lashes - Laura
Another spellbinding record from Natasha Khan. Chills. 

07) The 1975 - Sex
This is a strong indie-rock (or pop?) record from Manchester newcomers - The 1975. 'Sexis catchy, fun and will get you on your feet, yet it still has a haunting aftertaste. 

06) Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill (2012 A Deal With God Remix) 
Though technically not  a song from this year, the remastered version of this 80s classic was one of 2012's most pleasant surprises. 

05) Miike Snow - Paddling Out
The second album from this Swedish Trio did not, admittedly, grab me as much as their first album. However, 'Paddling Out' is one of a handful of songs off the record that many artists would be lucky to boast.

04) Angel Haze - Werkin Girls
Move over Azealia. Sorry Nicki. This song might not be to everyone's tastes but I think Angel Haze is one of the most talented and real female rappers (or just rappers) we've ever seen.

03) Girls Aloud - Something New
I know it might be a difficult fact for many people to swallow - but Xenomania (The geniuses behind Girls Aloud) have made some of pop's most brilliant songs over the past the ten years. And 'Something New' is no exception - it is perfect celebration of everything great about pop. Once it grows on you, it never leaves you.

02) Sky Ferreira - Everything is Embarrassing
I don't know if this even charted in the top 200 in the UK. Either way, you only have to listen to this timeless and powerful song once, to know that it should have been number 1.

01) Marina and The Diamonds - Power and Control 
Though some of the magic was cut from the shorter, radio version of this song, it remains one of the strongest pieces of music Marina has offered us. An underrated pop masterpiece.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-man - Film Review

It has been only a short ten years since Sam Raimi brought our favourite arachnid to the big screen - and this instantly leaves us with the question of just how innovative this new telling of the story can really be. 
While the initial plot, though dressed up, remains the same, director Marc Webb does make some notable changes, the most obvious being a change in the love interest; Red-headed girl next door, Mary Jane Watson is replaced by yellow-haired Gwen Stacey, who alas, still just reminds us of Mary Jane – now donning a blonde wig.

Webb has the upper-hand with visuals, as special effects have come on a long way in the past ten years. With the addition of 3D, the film is truly spectacular making the climax one of the most thrilling climaxes to come from Hollywood yet.

One of this action fantasy's greatest assets is its actors: Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans and Sally Field all give charismatic and sympathetic performances, which help the rather thin and stretched-out story move a little faster. 

2002's Spiderman was one of the very first films to start up the modern phenomenon of comic-book movies. Luckily for him, Raimi got there first and since his adaptation was such a strong one, it was always going to be a difficult wall to climb over. 

Ultimately, this new offering of Spiderman may be thoroughly entertaining and even thrilling in parts, but it offers very little to the webbed crusader's world that we haven't seen before and nothing new to the Marvel Universe. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

2012 Film Round-up

The Best in Film of 2012 (So far)

We’ve passed the half way mark of 2012 and though nobody could deny that there has been a fair share of cinematic disappointments (American Reunion, The Dictator and even Prometheus) and even some outright turkeys (Piranha 3DD anyone?) but we have still had a reasonably strong year in film so far. With The Dark Knight Rises, Great Gatsby and Perks of Being a Wallflower still to be released, here’s a look at 2012’s finest offerings thus far.

Martha Marcy May Marlene Sean Durkin

his is one of those haunting films which subtly eats away at your brain even after the film has ended. Utilising the original concept of the film, rising star Elizabeth Olsen gives one of the most intriguing yet disturbing performances of the year. Her character’s paranoid mind flashes back to the years she spent living with an abusive cult, shortly after escaping from them. It may not be an enjoyable film to sit through, or even one that you'd care to go back to - but it is still a necessary experience... Mary-Kate and Ashley who?

Marvel’s The Avengers/ Avengers AssembleJoss Whedon

Nobody cam deny that this is 143 minutes of unadulterated entertainment. It may have some strong contenders when it comes to comic book adaptations; but  Avengers Assemble is certainly up there with the best. Showcasing a host of interesting and multi-layered heroes (sadly only one of which being female), a snappy script and a breathtaking climax there is not much to complain about. It may not offer anything that is tremendously original or groundbreaking but it certainly raises the bar for future superhero and comic book adaptations.

ChronicleJosh Trank

From one superhero picture to another, this hand-held adventure gives us a completely different experience: this is the Blair Witch of the superhero world. And while it could be a total disaster given its popular choice in plotline, it still packs a punch. Its three main characters could be the most complex characters we have seen in the genre - Dane DeHaan’s chilling performance is a standout as his sinister portrayal of Andrew pulls us uneasily in. Though it becomes almost too camp in some parts, this is a thrill ride you cannot miss.

Cabin in the WoodsDrew Goddard

Though a lot of critics were on the fence with this one, its ridiculousness has already generated a cult following. While The Avengers boasts a polished, well structured and Hollywoodised product of screenwriter Joss Whedon’s talent, Cabin in the Woods lets his imagination run wild and free. There are numerous winks to the fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and homage paid to various horror films of past and present.  This is by no means a ‘scary movie’, but it makes up for it by being just as thrilling as it is funny.

Moonrise KingdomWes Anderson

Every carefully grafted shot is framed like a painting or photograph in this off-beat comedy about childhood romance. Anderson’s depth and unique eye for detail makes this a visual feast. However, the way the film appears is not the only positive with Moonrise. Since it is not directed by Tim Burton, style and substance are on equal footing.  This picture provides us with two poignant, yet witty performances from its 13-year old leads which are backed up by impressive acting from Edward Norton and Bruce Willis. Though he is now a respectable auteur, this is arguably Anderson at his eccentric best.

The Five-Year year EngagementNicholas Stoller

If you are expecting another Bridesmaids or The Hangover; The Five-Year year Engagement may disappoint. This is as much a commitment to being a relationship drama as it is a comedy, as Stoller sacrifices some of the belly-laughs to showcase realistic relationship problems. While there are some questionable performances from the supporting cast, Emily Blunt and Jason Segel easily carry the film with their charm and wit. Admittedly, at least twenty minutes could be shaved off this Rom-Com, as the cinema chair begins to feel uncomfortable towards the end. However, this is still an honest insight into marriage and relationships with good performances and enough humour to keep it afloat.  The best comedy of the year.

Killer Joe - William Friedkin

While we wait for Django Unchained, William Friedkin keeps us occupied with his Tarantinoesque drama. I use the Tarantino reference lightly though, as though this black comedy does have a similar feel, it definitely is its own film, still baring Friedkin’s distinct stamp.
There are great performances all round, especially from the women, Juno Temple and Gina Gershon, who present us with non-clich├ęd and interesting female characters. Emile Hirsch also shines as he bounces back from a string of questionable films. 

This grotesque story of family can be a difficult watch and might have you swallowing your own vomit at times but you won’t look away as the story is as captivating as its characters. And what more would you expect from the director of The Exorcist?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

GIRLS - Review

After watching the first two episodes of HBO’s Girls I am going to make as bold a statement as to say that it is some of the best television I have seen in about half a decade.

Though I do not want to delve too far in to the racial politics, in fear of offending someone, I will just very quickly address the widespread criticism of the ‘All-white cast in a multi-cultural New York’. Admittedly, it did not go unnoticed – and certainly does not feel right: As a viewer you do definitely question the producers’ logic with regards to their casting decisions. However, I do not see this, necessarily, as a deliberate decision, but maybe as more of an oversight? It could have simply been that the actors, who were best suited to play the characters, just happened to be Caucasian.  Alas, while speculation is welcome, we cannot know the truth behind the casting at this moment.

Not since Six Feet Under left our screens in 2005 have I watched such a brave portrayal of women on the small screen. Even Alan Ball’s more recent True Blood, though deliciously entertaining, still falls short when it comes to the sincerity of its characters (yes I know, they’re vampires). Girls, in fact could be seen as the sassy product of Six Feet Under and Sex and the City’s wild drunken night at the HBO Christmas party – and that’s a good thing.

Though lots of the themes of Girls are similar to those of SATC, it is a more brutally relatable portrayal of the women. We know women (and men) may wish to talk about their various issues regarding sex: but unfortunately, not everyone can afford to spend the time and money doing so, every night, in a bar in Manhattan - whilst drinking an over-priced cosmopolitan. Instead we have penniless college-graduates discussing abortion as they sit in the STI clinic. It’s Bleak.

The Bravery of the writing makes the characters easily accessible and though we have only known these four women for a total of 57 minutes, we are already fully rooting for them. Without playing any ‘archetypal female roles’, we get four very different and complex characters – none of which could be seen as the stereotypical woman… Well, maybe Jemima Kirke’s Jessa (who plays the free-spirited and typically cynical Brit) but I’m willing to overlook this because she still remains an intriguing character.
Sex and the City showed the highs and lows of the women’s sexual life, but all four women seemed to strive for (and often achieve) perfect happiness in the bedroom.  Girls does not glamorise the orgasm or sex in the same way, we are only really seeing the lows. ‘Sex is really, really overrated,’ advises one of the girls.

It is this blunt writing style which makes this a fresh and terrific show, standing out from the crowd with heavy competition from various new (and old) shows. Let’s just hope that that the next eight episodes remain as strong and that we will hopefully see some more cultural diversity in the future.

One to watch.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Cartoons are for Kids - My Top Ten Animated Films.

I've always seen Animation as an under-appreciated form of art compared to other film. It is usually seen as something for kids and is kicked aside when it comes to talk of ‘serious’ film-making. So in retaliation, here is my tribute to the beautiful world of Animation, in my Top Ten Animated Films.

10) Alice in Wonderland. -(1951 - Clyde Geronimi)
3D glasses not needed.
Capturing Lewis Carroll’s vibrant and once-original novel has always seen trouble when transferring its magic from page to screen. Various adaptations began in the 1900s and have spanned a century leading up to Tim Burton’s muddled 2010 remake.
Disney's Alice in Wonderland opened in 1951 to universally bad criticism. However, 60 years later, with a much deserved reassessment, it is easy to look at this as one of Disney’s finest moments. Whilst still being a mash-up of both Alice through the Looking Glass and her Adventures in Wonderland, this, arguably, captures Carroll’s wild and whimsical magic in its most faithful adaptation. Not only does it still contain Walt’s identity in every brush stroke, but it also boasts Disney’s lesser known sinister side. Simplicity at its very best.

9) The Triplets of Belleville - (2003 - Sylvain Chomet)
‘Swinging Belleville rendez-vous
Marathon dancing doop-dee-doop!’
While I can confidently state that this one is not made for younger eyes, I cannot comfortably say who it should appeal to... Only the French could make a film as quirky as this. Though this is a foreign production, there are no subtitles needed as the bizarre story is told in a sequence of grunts. But if you have yet to see this adorable picture, do not let this put you off. This is still one of the richest, most individual and surreal productions of recent decades. The animation is unforgettable, the music superb and the characters are a perfect cocktail of what is both funny and melancholy.

8) Chico and Rita (2010 - Tono Errando)

Seducing with Colour.
Chico and Rita is sexy, sweet and at times sad: Another simple but ingenious production. The characters Chico and Rita are both interesting and multi-levelled personalities that the audience grows a strong affiliation with as their complex journey of love develops. It also looks beautiful - Its eye-popping colours illustrate 1940’s Cuban life and make the evolution of the jazz age look just as dazzling and vivacious as it should be.

7) Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009 - Wes Anderson)

Ocean’s 11: Re-enacted by stop-motion Foxes.
I was apprehensive when viewing this one. The trailer made it look as if it would be so ‘cool’ in its production that it would end up being rather dull. However, this is so organically slick; one almost forgets they are looking at Fox-puppets. While it would still be enjoyed more by adults, it still has a relatable multi-generational appeal. With an additional jab at Tim Burton, this is how a Roald Dahl adaptation should be done. Wes Anderson’s quick-witted adventure that plays up to the ever-lingering child in all of us.

6) Toy Story 1,2 & 3 (1995, 1999, 2010 John Lasseter)
Pixar’s De Milo.
I cannot single these films out as I would have to upgrade to an uneven ‘Top 12’. When commenting on a trilogy where all three films received overwhelming (but still well-deserved) praise from critics and audiences alike, it is difficult to come up with fresh input. Apart from Woody’s uninspiring love interest - Bo-peep; there is never a dull moment in all the collective 272 minutes of screen time. Pixar’s body of work can rarely be faulted, but the Toy Story Trilogy is undoubtedly its masterpiece.
5) Aladdin (1992 - Ron Clements)
Diamond in the Rough.
It is no secret that the 90s were a golden age for Disney: Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Tarzan, Pocahontas and of course, Aladdin. It was a tough call, choosing the shiniest of these stars, especially with Beauty and Beast becoming the first animated film to be nominated for a ‘Best Picture’ Oscar and the Lion King breaking several Box Office records. However, Aladdin’s fast paced, charming and exciting tale prevails. The classic story is well adapted and entertaining, but the winning ingredient is Robin Williams. His animated talent is finally married with animation itself and it is a genius ingredient that is probably missing from all other children’s films.

4) Mary and Max (2009 - Adam Elliot)
Tissues at the ready.

Yes, be prepared to blubber, because what starts out here as a satirical account of innocence and wonderment soon unfolds into what turns out to be a very tragic tale. This begins, narrated with Mary’s childlike demeanour, but the audience grows weary when she mentions that her mother ‘Tested the sherry...way too much.’ It is not all doom and gloom though, as some moments are extremely touching and humorous. This Australian animation did not get the publicity it should have, so here is your opportunity to go and watch it. Barry Humphries, Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman all do fantastic jobs in telling this wonderfully unique story of friendship.

3) Coraline (2009 - Henry Selleck)
Definitely not Tim Burton.
With most The Nightmare before Christmas enthusiasts believing that Tim Burton directed it, Henry Selleck was always its unsung hero; The ghost director. He was owed recognition and credit for his work but it was stolen by Burton. Luckily, Coraline fixes that. Not only is this film far superior to Nightmare but Selleck finally takes ownership. It is a faithful adaptation to Neil Gaiman’s bizarre children’s book. The plot is fun, exciting and thrilling with a strong female lead and a range of interesting supporting characters. I generally rise above the money-spinning gimmick that is 3D-cinema, but all will agree that this suburb animation certainly benefits from the extra dimension - making Avatar look like an old episode of the Smurfs.

2) Persepolis (2007 - Vincent Paronnaud)
‘The first marriage is practice for the second.’
However, as illustrated here, 3D and even colour is not always needed. Scaling back not only to hand drawn animation, but to a simplistic Black and White design, Persepolis still boasts a most poignant story. Whilst still being a pleasure to look at, Persepolis is an indulgent feast which fills us with a moving, witty and educational portrayal of Modern Iran, told through a young woman’s eyes. Satrapi gently pokes fun at the main protagonist’s youthful exuberance and naivety, making serious political points easier to swallow. A modern classic.

1) Spirited Away (2001 - Hayao Miyazaki)
The Anti-Disney.
Though Studio Ghibli’s work can admittedly be a little hit and miss, there is something about Miyazaki’s work which makes it effortlessly brave. Spirited Away has a rich honestly that makes it more touching and believable than anything Disney has ever produced. This is saying a lot, since it is a story of a girl who befriends giant frogs, gluttonous monsters and half-dragons to save her parents from becoming pigs for eternity... Whilst this is visually stunning, being released in 2002 was a risk considering the competition of several computer generated animations. However, it still managed to take the Best Animated Feature Oscar, a triumph for a Japanese film.