Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Let's Drive To Brighton On The Weekend

Bloc Party - A Weekend In The City (buy)

Pretty much overnight March 23-25 has become a great weekend for live music. Amy Winehouse is playing the Mod Club on the 23rd, The Roots are playing the Kool Haus on the 24th (got my ticket!), and Bloc Party plays a sold-out show at the Kool Haus on the 25th. In regards to Bloc Party, their sophomore album entitled A Weekend In The City hits stores next week (February 6). Fortunately, the band is allowing fans to sample the entire album via their myspace page. Initially, I was not impressed with the album. Although it is much more accessible (i.e. radio friendly), I could not shake the feeling something was missing; that extra little bunch that made their debut, Silent Alarm (buy), so memorable. Just as I was going to disregard the album as a "sophomore curse", a weird thing happened...the album really grew on me. I mean a lot. Sure it's no Silent Alarm, but it is foolish to think it would be. The new album has its flaws but is still a fairly decent album. A Weekend In The City is just as political as its predecessor, but the politics does not dominate this time around. Equal weight is given to topics such as relationships and city life. This is either a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. While there was not a song that instantly grabbed me like “This Modern Love” did on Silent Alarm; the album doe have several stellar tunes that could easily be hit singles. My current favourite tracks include "Waiting for the 7.18", "Hunting For Witches", and "The Prayer." Needless to say, I find the first half of the album stronger than the second. Ultimately, A Weekend In The City is Bloc Party's attempt at reaching a larger audience without losing their dedicated fans. In that regards, it does succeed in striking a happy medium for the most part. It just takes a while to grow on you.

Song: Bloc Party - Waiting for the 7:18

Video: "I Still Remember" from A Weekend In The City. Although there are stronger songs on the album, in this environmentally conscious society, I am all for promoting public transit. That is until the "crazy guy" appears; trust me every train has at least one.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Smokin' Aces

The Toronto WinterCity Festival officially starts tomorrow (link). There are tons of great things to see and do, not to mention a bunch of free concerts: The New Pornographers, Sloan, The Philosopher Kings, The Bicycles, etc. (full list of artists). The New Pornographers for free! Is it Christmas time already?

Smokin' Aces
The crap train of 2007 continues to roll at a brisk pace. Going into the screening of Smokin' Aces I really had no expectations; at best I was hoping for a mindless action movie. The trailers did not "wow" me; and the casting seemed to have high points (Jeremy Piven, Jason Batman) and some rather questionable ones (Alicia Keys, Common). Within the first 10 minutes the plot, which involves the mob placing a million dollar bounty for the death of an informant, is established; and the eclectic cast of characters are introduced. All that is left is to set your mind on cruise control and enjoy the ride, right? Oh, if only it was that simple.

The problem with Smokin' Aces is that it is never content with just being a zany film for the hyperactive video game generation. The film is a buffet of genres that refuses to give you a true taste of any one thing in particular. Clearly writer-director Joe Carnahan could have used a better script editor. Carnahan is constantly switching back and forth from 70's exploitation flicks, to madcap action (i.e. gratuitous violence), to Farrelly brothers’ style comedy, to moral based drama. Which is somewhat remarkable if you really think about it. Very few films offer convoluted plot twist, jokes about granny’s dildo, a karate loving kid on ridallin, sadistic skinheads, and speeches on loyalty all within minutes of each other. Needless to say the disjoint script hurts the performances also. Half the cast plays their roles seriously (e.g. Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, Ray Liotta, etc.) and the rest are completely over the top. It is pretty sad when Alicia Keys is one of the few standouts in a film that features an all-star cast. Jason Bateman’s cameo was hilarious; and Matthew Fox did a decent job in his cameo as well. Too bad their characters served no real purpose in the film. The same can actually be said for several of the main characters as well. Smokin’ Aces does have a few laugh-out loud moments, but the film is too much of a mess to recommend.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Children of Men/Primeval

So within 14 hour span I went from seeing the worst film (so far) of 2007, to one of the best of 2006. How's that for a time warp.

Children of Men

Set a mere 20 years in the future, Children of Men is an extremely bleak look at what the world would be like if women could no longer procreate. While it clearly divided the audience, I was completely enthralled with the film. The film has its flaws, but the questions posed out weighs the shortcomings. How Alfson Cuaron did not get a Director's Guild nomination is wonder. Cuaron’s films have always been compelling, but this is the first time I can remember his technical work being so stunning. It completely overshadows the acting. There are some sequences in this film that are truly jaw dropping. In one scene in the latter half of the film, Clive Owen must navigate his way through the hallway of a dilapidated building while being caught in the crossfire between the army and insurgents. Instead of using quick cuts, Cuaron opts for a single tracking shot to emphasize the tension. It is masterfully orchestrated. It is these types of images that will last long in your memory while you sort through all the questions raised.

As I mention earlier, the film received mix reactions from the crowd. Which mainly stemmed from the fact that the film never really explains how the world got to this state. We are just told that women can no longer have children; and watch as immigrants are being caged up like dogs. While I admit it would have been nice to have a few answers, I liked the fact that they leave it up to your imagination. Although there are several allusions to things in our current, and past, political landscape that could be the catalyst. Regardless, it is the questions that are raised that are the most important thing to take away from the film. Despite it flaws, Children of Men is one of the best films of 2006.


During an "Amazing Grace" sing-a-long moment, Orlando Jones jokingly remarks: "This is some embarrassing shit." That line pretty much sums up the movie perfectly. Primeval is currently being marketed as Texas Chainsaw Massacre style horror flick; which explains the larger than expected turnout at the previewing screen last night. The truth is, Primeval is nothing more than 90-minute episode of "When Animals Attack". That's right folks, despite a whopping 300 kills to his credit, the killer known as Gustav is nothing more than a crocodile with a weight problem. Essentially the film is a mixture of Anaconda, Lake Placid, and Jaws. There is also a splash of Deep Blue Sea and Hotel Rwanda. Now I know you're probably scratching your head about the Rwanda reference. It's okay, I was scratching my head throughout the whole film. The main plot revolves around a group of American journalist traveling to Africa to do story on Gustav. There is also a sub-plot about a civil war, and a warlord named Little Gustav. The film makes several statements about America ignoring the genocides in Africa. Which is important because without killer croc films we would never know what is going on in the world politically. Having said that, they probably should not have had the token black guy (Jones) make jokes about slavery being a good thing. Just a thought.

If Primeval had not taken itself so seriously, it may have made the "so bad it's good" canon of films. Lord knows I was laughing throughout this debacle. Unfortunately this wasn't the case, which means you have to endure every cliché in the book. There is the woman risking her life to save a dog, the blood thirsty tour guide with a grudge, the sensitive Aussie croc hunter, etc... Let's not forget the smarter than your average bear...err...croc, Gustav. He can set elaborate traps, save women from being raped, and still find time to eat through Land Rovers. While it is still early, it will be tough to top this level of fromage. Current front-runner for worst film of 2007.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Jack Bauer Returns In 6 Days!

I will be seeing Children of Men this Friday, so I should have a review of it post at some point this weekend. I was originally going to talk about the new albums from Nas and Ghostface Killah; but since I'm still a little tired from the Montreal trip, I opted for the softer sounds of The Shins today.

The Shins - Wincing The Night Away (buy)

Zach Braff's favorite band is back with their third album. Yet despite what the decent, but highly-overrate, film Garden State would lead you to believe...The Shins still won't change your life. The most they will probably do is entertain you for several hours with their brand of understated indie-pop . Although The Shins' sound has been fairly consistent with each new album, I enjoyed this album much more than "Chutes Too Narrow" (buy). Mainly because it reminded me of a their debut, “Oh, Inverted World” (buy), but much bigger. For the most part the formula is similar to the previous albums. Yet the subtle tweaks, such as the nod to 80's artist like The Smiths, help to expand the scope of the music. There are the several bouncy tracks, like "Australia", that will have humming along immediately. Yet the real strength of Wincing The Night Away arrives in tracks like "Sea Legs" and "Red Rabbit". While not necessarily toe-tapping ditties, the various nuances within both tracks make them standout. It is like I am constantly discovering some new in those tracks every time I listen to the record. If you enjoyed either of the bands first two albums, or enjoyed hiring them in Garden State, you should know what to expect from Wincing The Night Away. It does not drastically reinvent the wheel, but who cares, sometimes subtle changes to a familiar model is all that is needed.

Here is the lead of single, "Phantom Limb", from Wincing The Night Away. Although fans of the Venture Bros will agree that there can only be one true Phantom Limb (link).

Friday, January 05, 2007

This House Is Filled With Wine.

Amy Winehouse - Back to Black (buy)

Amy Winehouse has been appearing a lot on this blog recently. This is mainly due to the fact that I've been listening to “Back to Black” non-stop for the last week or so. Already a big success in the UK, Winehouse’s latest disc is a great blend of soul and brazen humour. While the album harkens back to the jazz and soul days of Ella and Billie; the songs that immediately grab you are the ones were Winehouse is just being herself. It is her playfully brash persona that really sets Amy apart from the likes of Joss Stone. Me & Mr Jones starts off normal enough with Amy crooning: "nobody stands between me and my man/it's me & Mr. Jones..." Yet just when you think it's going to be a gentle love ballad, Amy poses the question "what kind of fuckery is this?" Immediately the song becomes a tale of a relationship gone terribly wrong. The lead single "Rehab" is Amy's humourous response to her former record label's suggestion that she go to rehab to cut down her wild ways. In Hollywood this would be known as “pulling a Lohan.” Despite the inclusion of this amusing track and a few others (e.g. “Addiction”, etc…), Winehouse is far from a mere court jester. The majority of the album is filled with many great, songs (such as Wake Up Alone, Tears Dry On Their Own, etc...) that focus on love, life, etc... Back to Black is a great album that should please fans of jazz, soul, and R & B.

Here is the second single "You Know I'm No Good" from the Back to Black LP: