Sunday, October 18, 2009

Fost/Nixon (2008)

Exuding class and almost effortless direction, Frost/Nixon is probably Ron Howard’s best film to date. Before giving him all the credit however, it needs to be said that the film succeeds so well mainly because Peter Morgan had already given the director a decidedly juicy script to work with. Without it, cries of boredom may well have been heard as let’s face it, this is a film merely about a few interviews between two men. Meaning, its success has more to do with writing and performances than direction. Howard does create a sleek and perfectly paced two hours of course - no mean feat in itself when you have such a dialogue driven setup. To make it compelling, almost edge of your seat material as well, is even more of an accomplishment. Ultimately, the combination of Morgan’s muscular writing and Howard’s increasingly developing flair behind the camera has proven a real winner.

Album Review: All Shall Fall - Immortal (2009)

Having anticipated Immortal’s first album in seven years for almost 12 months, I finally got my hands on it and after about three full listens, first impressions are simple: it is a punishing collection of songs. In fact, the onslaught is so much on first playing, I couldn’t even tell if it was any good. With an almost flawless production behind it, moments of brilliance do shine through without doubt and as expected, the atmosphere does reign supreme. It can’t be denied All Shall Fall is another grim, worthy frost bitten entry into the band’s legacy, but after seven years is it that much different, new or exciting? Not overly, but if you are a fan, almost any new Immortal material is an essential purchase.

Buoyed by Demonaz’s grandiose lyrics, Abbath’s cave troll vocals splice the guitar wall and pummelling drums with relief filled confidence. Perhaps surprisingly though, Fall incorporates elements from many of the band’s previous work as opposed to moving forward drastically like they did with 1999’s At the Heart of Winter. Overall, the album is short (clocking in at just over 40 minutes), but slower in tempo. Ferocious moments reminiscent of 1997’s Blizzard Beasts (‘Hordes to War’) are there, along with the epic notions of their last album, Sons of Northern Darkness (‘Unearthly Kingdom’, ‘Norden on Fire‘) and even a riff or two that sounds like it could fit into Abbath’s heavy metal-esq side project, ’I’ (’The Rise of Darkness’).

Is it all a step backwards then perhaps? I don’t think that would be fair to say as it is hardly dull. At the same time, it is definitely the sound of a band more re-finding their feet back into that wholly mythic universe of theirs. It is not a domination of it. I personally find it to be a testament to the notion that Immortal have always helmed grand plans with their art, believing in what they do almost frighteningly. If you don’t like it; it‘s of no real consequence to them. Their epic and constantly praised live shows are reminders that if you do have faith, you will be rewarded however.

Only time will tell if All Shall Fall will be end up being regarded amongst their best work, but when the disc finally spins to a stop, it and the band demand your respect. And if you call yourself a fan of extreme metal, it is hard not to look up and take notice. Despite it being a difficult album to devour, fans should rejoice while newcomers or sceptics will probably struggle to find anything new to grab them. Creating interesting Black metal in 2009 is a challenge in itself, and I think Immortal have at least proved with this "comeback", that they're still relevant.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Album Review: The Chair in the Doorway - Living Colour (2009)

Most people around my age would have heard of Living Colour. Their monster 90’s hit and FM radio staple, ‘Love Rears it’s Ugly Head’ saw to that, but I think people mistakenly write them off as one hit wonders even if they still heard the anthem that was ‘Cult of Personality’ from a few years before. Far from the truth of course because despite their respect and influence within the industry since the late 80’s claiming different, 2009 sees them finally release their fifth album in 21 odd years, The Chair in the Doorway, and it’s pretty solid.

I didn’t really catch their under-the-radar released 2002 effort, Collidoscope (a record and reunion apparently born out of reaction to the 9-11 attacks), but it is known to be an auspicious release given the long time between recordings. Having disbanded after 1993’s hard-rocking opus, Stain, a few live guest appearances started to happen in the early 2000’s, then Collidoscope came after which another (recording) hiatus ensued. Luckily for us, they have regrouped yet again, with what feels like more energy than in the past, and picked up where they left off in ‘93.

With a not overly clean production, hard-hitting Helmet-esq riffs puncture the heavier numbers of Chair. Songs such as ‘Decadance’ and ‘Out of My Mind’ could be virtual Stain B-sides with their black denim attitude. Not to say they haven’t evolved beyond or in that particular sound, more that they still thankfully retain it with a passion. They have always encompassed so many styles however, it was never easy to define what their sound was. The colourful early days of Vivid and Time’s Up saw them incorporate everything from soul, rock, blues, pop, reggae, punk and metal as well. Chair still embraces them all and what is achieved is a schizophrenic combination of the harder-edged Stain and the inspired creativity of songs such as ‘Cult of Personality‘or 'Bi'.

Guitarist Vernon Reid - once touted as the next Hendrix (though more like a black Tom Morello), impresses whether espousing metal-tinged chorus riffs or providing grand sweeps in tracks such as the instant single, ‘Behind the Sun‘ & the unforgiving ‘Hard Times‘. Reid’s manic solos still remain a highlight as they did over a decade ago too. Behind it all, the simplistic but absurd brilliance of Will Calhoun’s drumming is more than complemented by the precise bass work of Doug Wimbish. Vocalist Corey Glover’s distinct tone punctuates and soars over the three piece’s impressive musicianship, giving us a collection of songs that are just a pleasure to listen too. The lyrics on Chair explore themes of identity crisis and purpose - a possible reflection on the band’s present and unpredictable future states of mind.

Overall and defying the odds, Living Colour have once again produced something that goes beyond trend or what is designated as ’mainstream’. If only they had kept it up after 1993, they would deservedly be more well known as one of the most important American rock bands - black or otherwise - in the last 20 years. Better late than never, The Chair in the Doorway sees the band pick up where they left off with definite confidence. For some it may seem lacking and only occasionally great, but for fans, it’s in impressive return to form even if it doesn’t quite match their formidable previous albums.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Film Review: Funny People (2009)

In the third film from director Judd Apatow, Adam Sandler plays George Simmons, an arrogant, hugely rich movie star with a legacy of dire looking “family” blockbusters that dominate the box office. Bored with his excessive lifestyle, we meet him as his doctor explains he has a disease that seems to be incurable. Put on experimental medication, Simmons looks for happiness in his time remaining by returning to his roots as a stand up comedian. Here he runs into Ira (Seth Rogen), and they bond as Simmons asks Ira to not only write jokes for him, but become his assistant after he confides about his illness. Eventually lives start to grow, and then spiral as George becomes obsessed with getting back his ex-wife, Laura (Leslie Mann), before its too late.

It would be fair to say I had high expectations for Funny People, but at the same time not really knowing what to expect. To its credit, parts of it are gut busting hilarious and other parts equally dramatic. I was surprised by the sheer amount of crude humour used in the many stand up sequences however, given that story wise, this was probably Apatow's most mature work. It still had the director’s confidently unique trademark mixture of crude and poignant.

The main problem was the film’s second half. When it declares George is able to get better, things get bogged down finding a conclusion. For as great as Eric Bana’s appearance late in the proceedings (as Laura’s overwhelming Aussie husband, Clark), there were plenty of clumsy elements and rushed ideas that just seemed unrealistic towards the end. Relationships turn on a dime and while I feel a lot of it felt true through most of the first ninety minutes, there are moments that threw me off in the final thirty. For a film this long - though it never once felt like it was dragging, it was surprising to see such rapid extremes that appeared only to serve to conclude the story as quickly as possible.

Definitely the character of George Simmons was well realised, with his fake films looking so horrendously bad, it seemed too perfect and ironic that Apatow's longtime friend Sandler, was the lead. He was great in that sense then, but I truly believe the actor did not have to stretch much when his true nature (i.e. cruelly humorous arsehole) comes out in parts of the film. Seth Rogen is very good as Ira. Playing more down to Earth than usual, this is probably his best performance I‘ve seen. Aubrey Plaza as a friend, Daisy, was a highlight and the sheer number of cameos was bewildering, but fun. Judd seems to like to cast his wife in his films, and it started to feel a little self-indulgent by the end unfortunately despite the gorgeousness of Leslie Mann. Jason Schwartzman and Jonah Hill were integral as Ira’s roommates, but nothing overly special - though their sitcom, Yo Teach! was the perfect Welcome Back, Kotter parody.

Overall it was a good movie, but with obvious flaws. The narrative - which made it feel like a film in pieces rather than flowing, and Judd's direction being the major culprits. Direction wise, it was pretty bad at times - at least compared to his previous film, Knocked Up. Any of the deeper messages explored are only really bubbling under the surface, and perhaps a second watch will help me realise that this film works better than I think it does now. So far then, Funny People is merely an applaudable - if a little clunky - achievement.